Friday, 30 January 2009

Late post

This week post arrived forwarded from our old address.

Three items came in a plastic envelope. 'Accountancy' magazine for me: rather puzzled, as thought I'd successfully changed the address but (as often) didn't read it. Two letters for hubbie. One was his payslip, the other some compensation from the train company. Delighted with both ... only to discover it was July's payslip, and August's Accountancy mag (you see how I've missed it?), and the train vouchers have an expiry date. 

Better late than never?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

To boldly go...

I was fascinated to read this article from the New York Times and learn about the reasons for the confusion with President Obama's swearing in to office. Clearly the official got muddled up with his split infinitives, thus muddling the president elect, and ultimately requiring a re-run of the oath. The event was momentous enough without this quirky scrambling of words.

It reminded me of my own past. After many long hours, much scratching of head and several periods of brain-outage, I finally completed my dissertation for my History O-level. 'Dissertation' is what it was called, although few would feel it worthy of that title. Anyway, it was the only piece of coursework that constituted part of the final result, so the whole weight of passing this exam seemed to fall into those few pieces of paper.

I gave it to my Dad to read, as a final check. Some moments later, having read it carefully through (picture him: sage old man, peering through his half-rimmed specs, studiously reading his teenage daughter's scrawl...) Eventually the verdict came.

"It's good," he said. "Only two split infinitives."

Two split infinitives? Firstly I had to ask what they were, then I had to scour my hard work for these dreadful insults to the English language. I couldn't find them. In distress (obviously, the deadline was the next day) I confessed this to my father.

"Well, they can't be that important then."

I felt utterly deflated, so miserable that my work was not perfect. It hung over me: perhaps the examiners would also be split-infinitive pedants? 

But it turned out all right in the end: I got an A...

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Trees of the world

You just have to look at this!

What a magnificent list of trees.  I was waiting and waiting for the Baobab - the ubiquitous tree of Africa, branches like roots in the air. Then finally - voila! I love its use as a toilet (honestly - click on the link and see!)

Now, with more tree-hunting research, I discover that the wonderful Thomas Pakenham clearly has a love of them, writing a whole bunch of books and being labelled as an arborist (a new word for me to use!)  TP is, in my mind, most famous for writing the epic The Scramble for Africa which everyone ought to read (I'm half-way through: have been for 3 years now). It is billed as the defin
itive history of Africa and I certainly have learnt far more in half a book than I was ever told at school. Evidently his research led him to meet many trees - I guess some will have been around at the same time as we colonials exploited all African riches. (Rashly I put that in the past tense.)

My photo is of a friend enjoying a tree...

Monday, 19 January 2009

Mapp & Lucia

In a rash moment, I thought I'd pretend to add depth to my blog by reviewing the books I read. I'm procrastinating on getting my own book (a) perfect and (b) off to publishers, so am going to show the wide range of my literary education. Well, what I got for Christmas and other stories.

So to Mapp and Lucia. This is a Penguin Classic, written by E F Benson in 1935 (well, possibly written before then, as that's the date of publication, but it gives you a general idea as to its age and style). Now, before I go any further, you should know that as a general rule I like modern books: Dickens never did anything for me, although one of my unwritten New Year's Resolutions is to try one of his books. Sometime. At some point this year. Perhaps.

Mapp and Lucia, it turns out, is the fourth in a series of six books about the two title characters: Miss Mapp and Mrs Emmeline Lucas, known as Lucia. The good news is that you certainly don't have to read the first three to enjoy this one: it stands alone as a book of quality. The characters are clearly defined from the start and, having got myself settled into upper-middle-class 1930's home-counties' Britain I was delighted to lose myself in the character's battles.

Oh yes, battles is the word. Except for when it is war. The story revolves around the one-upmanship of these two formidable ladies. Since reading the book I have learnt that there was a television series of it in the 1980s with Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan in the title roles, so you can get an idea of the characters from this!

Following the death of her husband and a year of self-imposed mourning Lucia decides she needs to be back at the helm (i.e. the centre of attention in her village). However, this is difficult for her to do without losing face, so on seeing an advert for the lease of a house in Tilling for the summer months, she decides to move there. The house is Miss Mapp's: in her turn, she moves into another house in the village and thus a chain of temporary summer moves evolves, each getting a better rent than they pay.

Miss Mapp can't let go, though. She noses her way back into her own house, ostensibly for an egg whisk or some other such triviality, but really to spy on her tenant. Lucia, with her sidekick and friend Georgie in the house next door, turns to become the centre of the social life in the village, hosting dinner parties and bridge evenings ... often without Miss Mapp.

One of the delightful things about the book is that you actually like the characters, even though both ladies are essentially such awful people! I wouldn't want to know either of them personally (though given my ability at bridge I'm guessing they also wouldn't want to know me). You can't help feeling sorry for Miss Mapp, previously in command of her village and friends, now being usurped by the slightly smarter, sharper Lucia. And you do wonder how the author is going to fix it so that Lucia does play Elizabeth at the village fete, as surely she must, whilst neither being present in the village nor cast in the role. Finally, the image of both ladies floating away on an upturned table will last with me a long, long time.

All in all, it was a thoroughly good read and not something I would have picked up or thought of if I hadn't been given it for Christmas. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


This house-hunting lark is a headache.

Firstly, this comes about from hours spent on the internet looking at potential properties, then dismissing them (rooms too small, no downstairs toilet, no ensuite, 'garden' really means 'paving slabs with small bush in middle'). 

Some estate agents don't put up floor plans - how else am I supposed to orientate myself? And those that do have a horrible tendency to make them miniscule (more headache as nose touches screen trying to work out what it says).

Then, we have to consider schools. More double-clicking to view Ofsted reports. Can you rely on something from 2005? How can I tell if the house I am hypothetically interested in is within the catchment area? Our home in London was round the corner from an excellent school but still too far to be considered for a place.

Then there's the on-going headache: wasting my life on the internet looking for the perfect place to live, when I should be re-writing the book (oops!) or playing with the children or doing the washing (yes, everything gets shoved to one side while I dream of my multi-million pound mansion ...!!)

I'm off for a paracetemol and a lie-down.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Wanderings ...

The blog is not called Withenay Wanders for nothing.

Blogger silence has been enforced by Christmas capers, attention-seeking children being around and family visits. Oh - and the need to assimilate the news of a complete change for the family in 2009.

Yes, we are filled with joy and delight that my husband has got a job in Manchester. It is close to being his dream job (clinical rather than academical medicine, but otherwise perfect!) and we - the family - are very, very, very proud of him.

We are also upset that we have to move. We love Newcastle: it is such a vibrant city and we have the most wonderful friends here, despite only being here about fifteen months (so far...) Manchester is a whole new ball game.  Neither of us know anything about it and, we have discovered, have few - if any - friends living in or near it. 

So New Year heralded a weekend of house-hunting - or rather, driving round and round suburban Manchester thinking, "Would we like living here? I wonder what the schools are like? Can you find a garden in a city? Are there any houses that would suit us?" For me, this last question is easy to answer: Yes! Unfortunately, not necessarily ones we can afford...

So, Withenays wander yet again, this time across the country from East to West (well, in a general south-westerly direction from here) and establish new roots and homes.  Life's never dull!

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