New Year’s Eve twitters.

Hashtag: celebrations?

Annual round robins arrived safely.

Perhaps we could meet up in person, this year…

Promises, promises.

Yearly broken.

Neighbours visited.

Enmities put aside.

We’re joining the wassail.

Yule log gathered, ready to burn.

Encouraged to sing out:

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!/And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

Really mean it, this year!

Photos from AMBERBALTICS and Pixabay.

Happy New Year, my friends. I’ve disabled the comments section for today. Hope you have a lovely evening, whether you’ll be celebrating or not. 🙂

The time has come, the Walrus said…

Talk of Many Things is smaller than modern annuals, and my copy has lost its shiny paper dust jacket. It was a First Prize at Westcolt Infant’s School in 1944, and time has not been kind to its exterior. Or perhaps it’s just been well read, though not by me, for a long time.

So long, in fact, that I’d forgotten what was inside. The subtitle promises, A Book of True Fact and True Fancy in Prose and Verse. Now there’s a promise I can’t resist, it’s so much in keeping with that conversation the Walrus had with the Carpenter. Sure enough, on page 26, there is the whole Lewis Carol poem, plus an illustration of the grieving gourmands preparing to eat their companions.

I flick on through. Oh, that paper, it’s what tactile reading is about, smooth surfaced, and heavy. There are some lovely illustrations, in bright strong colour, as well as nice line drawings.

What starts as a browse becomes a dipping-in. My attention is caught by Dust and Clouds. It begins:

It is always exciting to watch something that appears and disappears as if it had a “cloak of invisibility” like a prince in a fairy tale. That is why most people like to look at the tiny specks dancing in the beam of light that steals between the curtains into a dark room.

Instead of skipping straight on to the True Fancy I began reading science. Is this True Fact? There’s certainly plenty of knowledge, but it’s a long way from dry.

Did you ever watch dust motes in a shaft of sunshine? Look at how Maribel Edwin explains it.

Children playing at signalling with small mirrors can exchange messages from a long way off. When they are standing far apart they cannot see each other’s mirrors, but the flashes of light are perfectly clear. In the same way it is not the finer motes themselves that are seen, but simply the play of light on their surfaces.

Reading this as an adult, it is not the science that captures me, it’s memories. In writing for children, all those decades ago, Maribel Edwin has reminded me of the wonder I remember.

Dust and light together make pretty patterns in a shaded room; but, what is much more wonderful is, that it is dust that makes the sky so beautiful. There is dust in the heart of every raindrop and snowflake, in every cloud or wisp of mist, no matter how white it looks.

Which suggests to me that since we can’t avoid the stuff, maybe there’s no need for me to spend time on one of the most tedious parts of housework there is. I can’t think why I haven’t read this before.

I’d like to recommend ‘Wild Seed’

I can’t think why I’ve not read anything by Octavia Butler before. Surely she’s been available.  My copy of Wild Seed is from the Victor Gallancz Science Fiction series, and there are elements of science about this fiction.  But I’m not so sure it’s the category I would have shelved it under. Maybe I haven’t been looking closely enough at the genre sections lately.

The setting is recognisably historical, it begins in 1690s Africa: 

Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see about what was left of one of his seed villages.  The village was a comfortable mud-walled place surrounded by grasslands and scattered trees. But Doro realized even before he reached it that its people were gone.  Slavers had been to it before him. With their guns and their greed, they had undone in a few hours the work of a thousand years.

This is a time so far away from most of our experiences that it is easy to accept that word ‘seed’ dropped into the first sentence.  Perhaps it’s a contemporary word.

Then again, what does the reference to ‘a thousand years‘ mean? What is the work that has such a long history, and how is Doro related to it?  

These questions are first indications that we are in the company of a character who has special characteristics.  Not only does he have control over several villages, it’s apparent he has no need of companions.

It was a matter of pride with him that he protected his own.  Not the individuals, perhaps, but the groups.  They gave him their loyalty, their obedience, and he protected them.

He had failed.

What I liked about this opening is that Butler doesn’t pause to explain, she continues to describe Doro’s responses to the situation.  There’s a sense of pace that keeps the reader moving, leaves no time to query or question.  If they wish to keep up with Doro, they must accept the unexpected revelations. 

He wandered southwest toward the forest, leaving as he had arrived – alone, unarmed, without supplies, accepting the savanna and later the forest as easily as he accepted any terrain.

 The suspicion, the improbable idea, that Doro is exceptional is building.

He had not been this far west for several hundred years, thus he could be certain that whatever, whoever he found would be new to him – new and potentially valuable.  He moved on eagerly.


That was the moment the story truly hooked me, several hundred years? Doro was interesting, a puzzle.  I wanted to know about the something that drew him away from the importance of reclaiming his missing villagers. It had to be powerful, and my money was on ‘the woman‘ mentioned in the first line. 

I’d been waiting for her return. She was a promise, a foreshadowing of a significant introduction, and I wanted to know more.  Butler soon brings her into focus.

Anyanwu’s ears and eyes were far sharper than those of other people.  She had increased their sensitivity deliberately after the first time men came stalking her, their machetes ready, their intentions clear.  She had had to kill seven times on that terrible day – seven frightened men who could have been spared – and she had nearly died herself, all because she let people come upon her unnoticed.  Never again.

From one promise to the next.  Here’s my woman, and she’s not going to be a push-over, even for Doro.  I’m on the second page, and there’s already so much at stake I’m getting deeply tangled. 

Anyanwu has a conscience.  She is not a psychopath, the list of her killings are qualified in the same sentence, by the language: ‘that terrible day‘, and her understanding that the men were ‘frightened‘.  Her recognition that their deaths were due to her failure tells me a lot about her personality.  Yes, I’m hooked, I read and read.

Is it science fiction or fantasy? I’m not sure that matters.  It’s a story that is escapist, and yet it’s also about slavery, power structures and race.  There are three more books in this Patternist series, plenty of pages to make my mind up.

What links ‘A Christmas Carol’ to ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’?

This month’s challenge, from Kate, at  #6degrees, is to create a chain of books that starts from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The call for participants always goes out the first Saturday of the month, but I can find no deadline, so I’m going to arrive fashionably late – do people still say and do that at parties, I wonder? 

If not, they should.  You might say that’s what Scrooge does, after the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future have provided their version of shock therapy, and transformed him from an obsessive miser into an avid party-goer. His crisis may have happened a little after mid-life, but does result in a turn-around on his personality.

Whereas the businessman, John Thornton, in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, is approximately thirty when he meets nineteen year-old Margaret Hale. That’s when his world begins to tilt.  He’s never seen any young woman the equal of this southern lady, and has no idea how to respond. If he’s to have any hopes of winning her, he has to transform.  Margaret too has a few things to learn.  She’s never met the likes of John, transplanted as she’s been from the softer, genteel climates of London and Hampshire.  

Another transplant is the feisty and knowing Flora Poste, who must move from super-sophisticated London to Cold Comfort Farm in the rural backwaters of Howling, Sussex. Stella Gibbons’ novel is a wonderful comedy that parodies a variety of writers.  When Flora is orphaned, and discovers she’s penniless, she invites herself to stay with some relatives she’s never met.  There, because she’s a very-well-read young woman with modern ideas and no fear, she is able to predict and counter the primitive conservatism and various oppressions that have held her unfortunate family in desperate misery for decades. Yippee, don’t I keep saying all we need are stories? 

millenium trilogyThe orphan Lisbeth Salander, in The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larson, is also modern and fearless, and proves to be a powerful ally for friends in trouble.  She has created a code of rights and wrongs that she adheres to, even though this often brings her into conflict with conventional authority. 

Another orphan in conflict with authority from an early age is Jane Eyre.  Charlotte Bronte’s feisty heroine provided a role model for generations of girls. 

The bullying she experiences at the hands of her Aunt Reed are mirrored, one hundred and fifty years later, by the orphaned Harry Potter who is taken in by his aunt and uncle Dursley. J.K. Rowling’s central character will also be enrolled at a boarding school.  There he will find mentors and friends, and learn the extent of his inner strengths by facing up to some challenging situations.

Well, that’s my chain. I wonder which links you would choose for A Christmas Carol

If you want to check out how other people created theirs, have a look on booksaremyfavouriteandbest. You’ll also find information about next month’s challenge.  

What’s in a name? How the Dickens would I know?

I started keeping a couple of hens as soon as I owned a garden.  My first two were cast-offs, from a friend of a friend.  They were huge black birds that had silhouettes like Queen Victoria in mourning, and arrived accompanied by a cockerel*. 

After two days, the cockerel was not popular with my neighbours, Dave and Gina, who found his 4 a.m. crowing impossible to sleep through.  Even occasional donations of half-a-dozen eggs didn’t reconcile them to him, which is a shame, because passers-by invariably commented on how handsome he was.

Roughly a year later, Gina told me how Dave cheered when Cockerel’s early morning crow broke off midway through his chorus. ‘At last,’ Dave cried, ‘the ****** thing’s had a heart-attack.’ 

I dug a deep hole, and planted a black-currant bush on Cockerel. For me, names are important.  I don’t name everything, animate or inanimate. Somehow, Cockerel never needed any other name, though the two hens were Henrietta and Flossie-the-flew. 

I replaced the hens as time took it’s toll, but decided that I’d leave out cockerels and keep on good terms with my neighbours.  Then Dave asked if I could drop some tools off for his friend, George, as I was passing through the next village.

‘Thanks,’ said George, when I arrived with a car-boot full of drills, spanners and hammers. As we emptied the car, he said, ‘I hear you’ve got hens.  What about a cockerel to keep them company?’ He’d rescued eight male pullets from a colleague who had hatched out a batch of eggs to amuse his children and only wanted to keep the hens. ‘He was going to put these boys in the pot.  Look at them, you couldn’t live with that, could you?’

I said I could, and pointed out that he would be risking his and my friendship with Dave and Gina. ‘Besides,’ I said, ‘my hens are full grown. He’ll get bullied.’

‘Not for long,’ said George. ‘Besides, better bullied, than roasted.’

‘Are you vegetarian?’ 

‘No, and yes I eat chicken, but that’s not the same,’ he said, as he put a cockerel into a box and loaded it into my car.

No one noticed the extra bird.  He hadn’t grown his adult plumage or his voice.  Ray and I watched him skulking under shrubs, and dodging the sudden attacks of our three hens, One, Two and Three.

Benny HillWe invited Dave and Gina round for a drink. ‘Meet Turkey-Lurkey,’ we said, leading them out to the garden.  Turkey-Lurkey was running for cover after another unsuccessful attempt to win over the hens.  ‘It’s straight out of Benny Hill,’ said Dave, when he’d recovered from his laughing fit. 

Turkey-Lurkey matured.  He grew in height and stature, developed a fine plumage, a finer voice, and took his place at the top of the pecking order. He was handsome, and we were fond of him.  He developed idiosyncrasies that seemed to be expressions of his name.  One morning we noticed that all three hens now followed, rather than ran at him.  Turkey-Lurkey strutted and postured.  Now his lurking took the form of lying in wait for intruders, whether that be the postman or our new puppy.   

turkey lurkeyWe apologised, laughed, and enjoyed him, but: ‘We would happily give him away, if we could find someone who wouldn’t put him in a pot,’ I told anyone who would listen. 

Dave and Gina were patient, and possibly more motivated than us.  One afternoon, Gina told me about a family who would love to adopt Turkey-Lurkey. 

I don’t know if his new owners adopted his name as well.  I like to think not, that they took their own measure of his personality and found the right symbol to express what he meant to them. 

Does it matter that I’ve called my neighbour Dave rather than David?  What if I’d called him Paul, or Arthur?  Then there’s his surname: I never mentioned it was Pecksniff, but if I had, and you’ve read some Dickens novels that might have influenced the way you pictured him.

  *  In America, cockerel’s are called roosters.    

Top Photo: Benny Hill chase-scene.