Seasonal rantings & a short pause.

As I write this, a flurry of last-minute gift ideas is descending into my in-box. Every one of them smacks of desperation. Am I tempted? I’m not.

No, not me, why would I be? Do I seem so disorganized?

How do they know, these smart-alec sales-people, that I haven’t been stockpiling gifts since the autumn? Actually, scratch that thought, perhaps I started my shopping last January. I might have a drawer full of choices. Maybe I’m so well prepared they’re all wrapped and labelled, too.

Am I so lacking in imagination that the best I can manage is a bar of chilli-chocolate; a jar of seasonally decorated brandy-butter, or a packet of cranberry and orange fudge? All, of course, offered with festively-inflated last-minute price tags.

Perhaps the producers of these specialised goodies have one week to sell them in, and the profits have to keep them afloat for the other eleven and a half months of the year. It’s probably only cynics who believe that those marketeers are marketing wizards, cashing in on our desire to celebrate with ever increasing pizzazz.

On the plus side, Dan, our postman, tells me that he’s happy to be working extra shifts this Christmas. ‘It’s all the parcels,’ he says. ‘We’re struggling to get on top of it all. So many people do their shopping on line, these days.’

I can feel Mr Scrooge hovering at my shoulder, pre-transformation, whispering, ‘This rampant consumerism is the disease of your time.’

I’ve checked, and while Mr Scrooge has a point, some believe that the roots of our Christmas celebrations are found in ancient Rome’s celebration of Saturnalia. For centuries, the gifts given in December celebrations were sweets, fruit and small homemade objects. It may be that, in Britain, we can blame the industrial revolution (nineteenth century) for changing our spending patterns. Yahay, it’s not our fault!

Albert Chevallier, 1911

Excuse me while I go off to look in some bookshops, in the High Street, because the reality is that I am a last-minute shopper looking for inspiration, and what better gift could I give? Hmm, perhaps a gift to charity?

I hope you have a lovely festive season and a Happy New Year. I’m taking a festive break from blogging, and will be back on 6th January 2020. βœ¨πŸ·πŸŒ²πŸ’–β‡πŸŒπŸ₯³βœ¨βœ¨β‡

Marcel Rieder, 1898

My Life in Books, 2019

Over on Annabookbel’s blog, this week, I discovered a quirky approach to summing up my year of reading. The idea is to finish fourteen sentences using some of the titles of books I’ve read during the past twelve months.

Apparently this challenge has been circulating since at least 2009. I’ve never been adept at keeping pace with any kind of fashion, but even so, ten years late is probably a record for me.

So here I am. Are you ready? Who knows what these add up to…

In high school I was The Day of The Triffids (John Wyndham)

People might be surprised by The Secret History (Donna Tartt)

I will never be The Power of The Dog (Thomas Savage)

My fantasy job is Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynne Truss)

At the end of a long day I need Bluebeard’s Egg (Margaret Attwood)

I hate The End of The Affair (Graham Greene)

I wish I had Our Man in Havana (Graham Greene)

My family reunions are The Blush and other stories (Elizabeth Taylor)

At a party you’d find me with Resurrection Men (Ian Rankin)

I’ve never been to The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan)

A happy day includes Essential Stories (VS Pritchett)

The motto I live by, I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

On my bucket list is, The Public Image (Muriel Spark)

In my next life, I want to have My Cousin Rachel (Daphne du Maurier)

A buswoman's holiday

What I often end up doing, on my days off paperwork or teaching, is housework. Sadly, it’s the thing that is at the bottom of a my chosen-occupations list.

At the top of my favourite list, the one titled, What I Would Buy if I Won the Lottery, is, ‘hire a house-keeper’. I have in mind a Mary Poppins type character, but I’d settle for a Mrs Danvers, just so long as I never again had my attention caught by the state of the kitchen floor. As I don’t even do the lottery this is clearly fantasy. I’ve more hope of teaching Rusty how to wipe his feet before he bounds in.

Which reminds me, an old but useful tip, regarding missing homework (school or domestic) is, blame the dog. It got me past many a potential detention in my delinquent school-days.

Yes, it is an ancient cliche, but here’s the thing, while I don’t believe anyone has actually, ever, believed it, it tends to raise a smile. It’s a cold soul that hands out a heavy punishment when they’re appreciating your wit. On the other hand, if I could step back in time with some good advice to my younger self, I’d tell her to make the effort, and just do her homework.

Now I’m an adult, of course, I’ve reversed my aversion to lessons to the extent that on Saturday, I used one of my precious free-days to sign up for a day-school: ‘Free Verse – or playing tennis without a net?’ with the Clevedon Adult Study Association (CASA).

Who cares about that kitchen floor, anyway? (Actually, as a seasoned multi-tasker, I’m fitting it in between paragraphs as I write this.)

‘Really?’ said my niece, Cecily, when I told her what I had planned for the weekend. ‘Isn’t that what you teach, though?’ I was giving her a lift home from her part-time job in a shoe-shop, where she had, she’d told me, spent four hours measuring feet. ‘So boring, but it’s good having money of my own.’

‘I teach stories,’ I said, ‘this is about a particular style of poems. I get to relax, learn, and let someone else keep watch on the clock, and work out what comes next.’

‘Okay,’ said Cecily. ‘It’s not what I’d want to do.’

Cecily, choosing subjects for A-levels, had dropped literature, like a hot potato. When I told her it was the only school subject that had kept my attention she said, ‘Maybe they taught it differently, then.’

I was reminded of her supposition as we reached the end of our time ‘unpacking’ poems, on Saturday. Poet, Phillip Lyons, our guide through the labyrinths of alliterations, consonance, cadence, metaphors, similes, enjambments etc… was winding up our day with some reflection. ‘What,’ he wondered, ‘were our individual responses to free-verse poetry? What thoughts would we take away with us?’

‘I wish someone had taught us poetry in this way at school,’ Paula said. There were murmured agreements from around the room.

‘How did they make it so boring?’ Tim said.

‘On behalf of all retired English teachers,’ Sheila said, ‘I apologise. We did our best.’

‘My teacher was amazing,’ said Pauline. ‘Inspiring.’

My teachers, too, I thought. There’d been two for me. Had I been particularly lucky? Maybe. English-classes were an oasis in the desert that was my secondary school. It’s so much easier to share an interest than to instill an interest where none exists in the first place – ask any of my maths teachers…

There are times when I can’t avoid seeing how lucky I am. Saturday was one of them.

What had I got? Introductions to some poems I might not have found on my own; a chance to discuss them, in detail, with people who were as curious about them as I was; added insights from someone who looked at them with a poet’s eye, and an opportunity to share his enthusiasm for his subject.

Where Lorna Doone meets The Godfather, & The War of the Worlds.

Go on, admit it, my title has intrigued you, at least a little, hasn’t it?

No, this isn’t a review of a new ‘mash-up’ novel, though I’d be quite interested to see how ‘girt* Jan Ridd’ and his family would measure up to an alien invasion. I’ve not been impressed by his dealings with the Doone ‘gang’, who have been robbing, raping and pillaging the Exmoor neighbourhood for decades, while everyone shrugs and says, ‘Well, what do you expect? Poor things, loosing that rich estate in Scotland, then being banished by the King, it’s not surprising they’re bitter.’

Several of my reading groups have seen parallels with Francis Ford Coppola’s, The Godfather. Sir Ensor, the patriarch of the Doones, like Vito Corleone, is a traditionalist who demands respect and is supported by a crooked lawyer, in this case, his son, ‘The Councillor’.

The Councillor’s son, Carver, is evil. He’s the distillation of all the bitterness in Sir Ensor and The Councillor. Of course, we only see any of these characters through the eyes of our narrator, John (aka Jan) Ridd, who is competing with Carver for Lorna. Despite John’s repeated assurances about his own honesty, I can’t help feeling that there may be some bias in the story he’s telling.

Carver, as his nickname might suggest, lacks the subtlety or charm of Michael Corleone. What he has in spades, is muscle and ambition, oh, and wives. Yes, your read me right, it turns out that Carver has so far strayed from the path of respectability that when the den of thieves finally is challenged, he is discovered to be keeping ‘ten or a dozen‘ wives – so many in fact, John can’t be exact. As for the children, there’s no attempt to count them!

In suggesting these parallels I’m not claiming that Mario Puzo once read Lorna Doone, though I wish I could have asked him. These are outlaw stories, and it could be argued that both rely on stereotypes. I do, however, wonder if Puzo ever saw one of the film versions. His novel, The Godfather, was published in 1969. Four of the six Lorna Doone films had been made by then, and one of the two series for the BBC.

I’ve seen extracts of all except the 1912 and 1963 versions, which don’t seem to exist any more. The rest seem, to me, to say as much about the decade they have been produced in as they do about the original they draw from. That’s not so surprising. To convey all of the events and nuances of this hefty novel would take more hours than have yet been given to it.

Lorna Doone has also been adapted for stage and radio. As has, HG Wells’ novel, The War of The Worlds.

I’ve been watching the latest screen version of that, on the BBC (it finished last night), for the last three weeks. The selling point, for yet another remake, was the claim that it kept closer to the book than others had.

I’m not so sure that’s true, but I’ve enjoyed it. As I have every other version I’ve watched, despite (or maybe because of) the liberties taken.

Wikipedia lists 10 direct screen adaptations, and 14 for radio (including the famous 1938 Orson Welles version). Add to that the musical interpretations (Jeff Wayne’s was not the only one), plus numerous comic books and sequels, that’s a lot of inspiring.

There was no implied criticism in wondering why the story was getting another incarnation, only curiosity. I was reminded that someone funded the 2000 Lorna Doone film only ten years after the previous version had been made. Even in these fast moving times, that surely counts as being within living memory. So,why?

Well, I have a theory. I think both novels foreground plot rather than character. Maybe those kinds of stories leave more room for the adapter, or even the well-known actors.

* Girt: dialect version of great – meaning ‘large’ or ‘very big’.