Her mother threw birthday parties on rationing cards, dressed three children in the living room curtains, and sent them to bed with a kiss on the forehead. Her father lived only in the stories, the captain that went down with his ship, the war hero.
Sixteen years later she stepped ashore where her father set sail, trying steps after crossing the ocean that took him, three dresses and a Bible in a tattered suitcase. Governess by day, she told tales of foreign forests before sending new children off with a forehead kiss, Lady in the evenings, at Dr Flemming’s dinner parties, keeping her kisses to her chest like cards.
When the words for hands and home and country were of no use anymore, they slowly slipped away.
Sixty years later, I get off the plane in the country she no longer remembers. Her memories are smoke signals no one can read, but I look to the sky to try anyway.
When I reach the sea, I put my hand in the water, I feel the cold against my skin, how it circles my fingers, my palm.
In a pocket with fraying edges I’ve still got her rationing card.
And there goes July. I’ve spent the last two weeks in small French mountain villages, driving along winding forest roads, swimming in a lake and eating more cheese than anyone should eat in a lifetime – let alone a summer (of course this is not true at all, if you find yourself some really good brie there is never a reason to not just eat all of it). There was not a lot of phone reception and even less internet to acquire, and so this post is a bit late. But as Harvey and I are on the train-tram-plane x2-coach journey home now, it seemed like a good time to post the July wrap-up post and video!
July’s been a good one on many accords.
I’ve gotten to:
Get to know, to hold and spend a lot of time with my new nephew!!
Work at the library
Do a lot of baking and cooking
Get to know my sister’s husband’s family better as they came and stayed with us for a week
Fish for crabs again like we did when we were children
Travel to France on my own
Stay a night with a (lovely) family who I didn’t know at all (but who literally saved me), because Harvey’s plane (from England) got cancelled and suddenly I was stuck in Lyon all alone
Go to a beautiful wedding in St Segolene
Eat my own body weight in French brie and baguettes
Know and stay with Harvey’s family, which was lovely
Get a little bit of a tan!
So this has been my July; new nephew, work, food and France. Not a bad month summed up. And Harvey’s come back to Norway with me, and is staying for another 3 weeks, so fingers crossed August will be wonderful too.
“Confession: I have read Pride and Prejudice two hundred times. I get lost in the language, words like: Thither. Mischance. Felicity. I am always in agony over whether Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are really going to get together. Read it! I know you’ll love it.”- Kathleen Kelly, You Got Mail (1998)
And so began my confused relationship with Jane Austen’s authorship; watching Meg Ryan so eloquently discuss literature I deemed far beyond my 8 years of life well-lived, on my grandparents VHS player.
As explained in this post, I’m not very good at New Year’s resolutions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still give it an honest go every single year. A resolution that’s followed me around ever since getting to visit the Jane Austen House in Chawton (on three lovely occasions in 2018, you can click here to watch pictures and read last year’s Andrea chatter on excitedly about it), has been to read all of Jane Austen’s books. I’ve never read any of her work to completion, but I love the idea of her as a writer. The woman who sharply criticised the society she knew, who challenged the notion of a women’s role in relationships and in societies, and who published her first novel not by her own name, but signed “Written by a lady”.
The resolution was to finish all of her books, but as I still keep restarting Pride and Prejudice, I haven’t gotten any further than I was in February 2018. I had a real boost where I read it all up to where Darcy writes Elizabeth the letter (slight vagueness to avoid any spoilers of this much loved and 206 year-old narrative) but then life got hectic and I didn’t sit down with the story again until it felt wrong to pick up where I left and so I had to start all over again. Cue this happening multiple times, and come July 2019, I’m none the further.
So, let’s get into what this post is really about. I am breaking up with this new years resolution, as I think maybe I’m not ready to delve into all of Austen’s books just yet. I do love the stories of hers which I’m familiar with, and I love hearing people talk about them, but I think right now they may not be for me. I don’t want them to be books I just get through, I want them to be stories to be cherished. 21-year-old me was so sure that I was finally ready to understand what Austen wrote about, but 23-year-old me isn’t so sure. And so I’ll remove this point from my list of (rather lacking) New Years Resolutions, and get to them in my own time. May be when I get back to uni over the summer, or in a couple of years, and who knows, maybe I won’t ever read all of Austen’s books. The ones I do end up reading, however, I will read properly, slowly, and with a big mug of tea in my hands. I’ll process the story and grow on it. In my own time.
July is here and summer’s officially started. I mean, it’s been summer for a while, but July is kind of the “proper” summer month, you know?
The strange thing about reading is that it’s one of my favourite things to do, but I’m just really bad at doing it. There’s always something more important to do, an exam to revise for, work to go to, social media to scroll through (this is the worst one, but I know I’m guilty of it). May saw exams and June saw work, and books haven’t really been brought center stage yet. Until now.
Work won’t stop me now because I’m back to working at the library, and let me tell you, nothing fuels your want to read like working in a library. I love to hear people chat about the books as they hand them in, or be excited about new titles they are checking out. Stacking books others have picked out of the wooden shelves exposes you to a lot of books you wouldn’t have found any other way, and I’m so here for it. Also, I got a little bit obsessed with the new Good Omens mini series, and have therefore dug out all the Neil Gaiman books left on my own shelf that I haven’t read yet for this. This is why, this summer I’ve made a provisional Summer Reading List, which will most definitely change throughout the summer. I’m excited.
But without any further ado; here we go. Bring on 2019’s Reading Summer.
The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
Blurb: Tony Webster and his clique first meet Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, terribly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life. Now, Tony is retired. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.
Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
Blurb: Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartbreak, of dread and desire. Of after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls. There are stories within stories, whispered in the quiet of the nights, shouted above the roar of day, and played out between lovers and enemies, strangers and friends. But all, all are fragile things made just of 26 letters arranged and rearranged to form tales and imaginings which will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul.
Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman
Blurb: In Gaiman’s richly imagined fictions, anything is possible – an elderly widow finds the Holy Grail beneath an old fur coat in a second-hand shop; under a bridge, a frightened little boy bargains for his life with a very persistent troll; a stray cat fights and refights a terrible nightly battle to protect his unsuspecting adoptive family from unimaginable evil…
The View from the Cheap Seats – Neil Gaiman
Blurb: “Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation.” This collection will draw you in to exchanges on making good art and Syrian refugees, the power of a single word and playing the kazoo with Stephen King, writing about books, comics and the imagination of friends, being sad at the Oscars and telling lies for a living. Here Neil Gaiman opens our minds to the people he admires and the things he believe might just mean something – and welcomes the conversation too.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson
Blurb: Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon. The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They will conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of the empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.
The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion
Blurb: “Terry’s last request to me was to make this something he would be proud of. And so that has been my job.”
As already mentioned, and as you can see, I’ve got a Gaiman-heavy summer planned. However, this is just a suggestion. Like I said, now that I’m back at the library, my favourite thing is picking up books from there and reading stories I’d never been introduced to otherwise, so I’m still not sure what the Books (with capital B) have got planned for me this summer. It’s best that way.
Do you make reading lists, or do you just read whatever you feel like, next? If there is a list, what’s on it, and what are you reading nowadays?
Nope, it’s most definitely not January, but January might as well have been yesterday. This year is flying by, and I’m both here for it and a little bit worried about it. June’s brought music, it’s brought people, sunny weather and moments I’ve never experienced before. I spent the beginning of June working at the cathedral, the middle of June “holidaying” at home with cups of tea and read-for-joy books, and on the last day of June, my sister had her baby boy and I got to say hello to my little nephew. He was born at 04:35 am, and we got to come meet him at 2 pm. I’ve never seen so small and “new” a baby before, but he was absolutely wonderful. June was also the month I registered my little business, and now I’m officially self-employed in my own one-woman-company that deals with text production, copywriting and translation. What a crazy month.
So, in bullet points, June has consisted of:
Getting all my exam marks back
Having my last day before summer at the cathedral-job
Having my first day of summer at the library-job
Starting up my own little company
Sleepovers and lazy breakfasts with friends
Saying goodbye to a lot of wonderful study friends that are going away on uni exchanges next year
Setting up a summer reading list
Sending 13 postcards through PostCrossing
Making a lot of tea
Getting completely and utterly obsessed with the new Good Omens mini series
Meeting my nephew for the first time
I hope June’s been kind to you, and I’m excited to see what July brings! It’s going to be a good one this year, I can feel it.
I work in a cathedral; I translate and interpret, and function as a guide during the tourist season.
I am not a Christian, but no doubt do I work in someone’s place of worship, and there is something quietly comforting about that. As I wash the pews – soap, water, tools to remove old chewed up gum – maybe left there by bored kids on a Sunday that dragged on – from even older wood, someone is lighting candles for a family they hope to see again soon. While I’m relaying interesting facts to tourists, about the spire that went missing in ’45 and how all Norwegian churches don models of ships, someone is sat quietly in mourning. As I refill the oil lamps in the candles on the altar, I think about how I’m lighting the fire that someone may find their God in today. It is a privilege to work in a place that can bring people peace.
As I find myself in this church for eight hours a day, it is easy to forget the holiness the people that visit will bring to these walls, the wooden domed ceiling, the stained glass windows of old. But for eight hours every day, I get to be a part of people’s journeys. I see them enter through the oak doors, and as the church room reveals itself, I see their reactions; as varied as the people.
Some cross themselves, some take pictures for the annual family holiday album, some just stand. Quietly. Some people enter this room that I put on my uniform and go to work in everyday, and they have to take a second to breathe before they enter.
I’m grateful to be working in this building, with its doors wide open to a bustling city, and centuries of life lived and years passed visible in the wear on the rugged stone steps.Church bells tell me when another day has passed, and on the daily I handle artefacts that have existed more than 200 years longer than I have. Everyday, I work accompanied by organ music, from more than 4000 pipes. This building isn’t just holy because a religion says it is, its holiness lies in its history, in the people who sought refuge in its halls, in the music and the songs that have seeped through the doors and out into the city for generations. It is holy for the children who sees the aisle as too long a straight stretch not to race down, and for the older generations who made these pews their home when they were still so young that their parents braided their hair at night.
This place is holy because of the woman that comes in everyday. The woman who walks quietly in and lights four candles in a little cluster, where others normally just light one. She lights them like a family holding around each other, flickering together.
I’m not a Christian, but no doubt I’m working in a holy place.