in which I have a wifi free weekend.
I write today feeling much more relaxed than I may have been had I posted last week. Ian and I spent the bank holiday weekend in the Cotswolds with some friends and two of their three children. It was, as they say, just what the Doctor ordered. There’s just something about time spent with good friends. You know how there are some people who you just kind of click with, who it doesn't matter how long it is between visits, when you do get together it's like no time has passed? That's what it's like with these guys and the whole weekend was just full of laughter, so much that I gave myself a stitch, and finishing each others sentences and so much food.
The kids are the greatest too. Millie (she's 12) borrowed her Mum’s phone to text while we were stuck in traffic (hours and hours on theM6. Awful.)
'I'm at your service' she said 'if you want me then start your text pineapple; if you want mum then start it grapes.' How utterly fabulous. She painted my nails, and Ian and Flynn played Top Trumps for hours and it was just, it was the best of times.
Mark is working in the Cotswolds at the moment filming the third series of Father Brown for the BBC (which you should totally watch, because it, and Mark, are excellent. The Radio Times described him as ‘a joy’ on a review of series two, which is always nice,) and we headed down for his birthday on Friday. We spent the weekend in a property owned by the Landmark Trust. The Castle, as we affectionately called it, was immense. It was actually the old banqueting suite of an old Jacobean house in Chipping Campden: the only part of the house left standing after a fire in 1645. Amazing. When we arrived, Flynn (10) put a hand consolingly on my arm and sighed heavily. 'Theres no wifi. It's like the olden days.'
No wifi; little telephone signal; overstuffed armchairs that begged to be occupied by a girl (being me) and her book; a massive dining table fit for a King (or if not a King then more than fit for us); grounds big enough that when the boys took off to try out a new boomerang they became little more than specks in the distance; and a pub within walking distance. You see why we loved it?
Access could only be gained through a padlocked gate and a walk through the fields that had once been the grounds, and as you walked, the East Banqueting House –our weekend home – loomed, both imposing and inviting in the distance.
The house, built by Sir Baptist Hicks (financier in his day of the lavish court of James I) was one of the grandest houses of it’s era and today, despite being destroyed by fire so that the gateway and the two banqueting houses are all that remain, is classed as one of the most important Jacobean sites in the country. Fancy, huh? It felt a little bit like going back in time.
The banqueting houses would originally have been used as places of retreat after a main meal, used solely for drinking wine and eating cake. This, I thought, is the life. A whole wing of a house just for drinking wine and eating cake? Clearly I was born in the wrong era.
We all ooh-ed and ahh-ed as we climbed the spiral staircase from the small kitchen to the banqueting hall. ‘This place’ Mark said, flinging open the huge wooden doors onto what would have been the terrace and taking a seat at the dining table, ‘is crying out for a Sunday roast.’
& so we silenced its cry. Granted, it wasn’t quite as it would have been, back in the day (although it definitely felt like we had retreated, from life if not from just another wing of our super fancy home, and there was wine. & cake,) and I wonder if that old table had ever seen so much food. We ate and ate and ate, all weekend: large breakfasts and plates piled high with pasta and then Sunday lunch and SO MUCH DESSERT. Ian has a lifelong hatred of bananas. He had three helpings of banoffee pie. This was the banqueting house after all and blimey, Emma can cook.
As there was no TV Ian commandeered my book – I was re-reading Oryx and Crake – so I decided to acquaint myself with Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. I say ‘decided’ but what I actually mean is Mark said ‘have you read it yet’ and I said ‘no I’ll start it right away.’
Anyway, that’s what I read.
I liked it.
Set in 18th century Germany, it’s the true story of (slightly crackers) philosophy student Fritz (later to become the poet Novalis) as he meets and decides he must marry ‘his philosophy,’ 12 year old Sophie – plain, simple and not at all a match for his brilliance. It’s well written and subtle. There’s no…demand for enjoyment I guess? None of the characters are written especially favourably, and there’s very little in the way of sentimentality but still, you’re drawn to the people – the Von Hardenburgs and Karoline especially – and sucked into the story. Fitzgerald’s style of storytelling is rather different, here at least; the book is short at around 225 pages and you feel as though every word has been carefully considered and placed, so at times it feels sparse and a little lacking in atmosphere and yet, and yet, at the same time it has a certain quality to it that keeps you turning the pages, you have to sort of just sit back and read it - don’t try too hard or look too deeply.
It begins, rather excellently, with the Von Hardenburg biyearly wash-day and it continues with these little insights, descriptions, snippets of dialogue that make you see just why this book is so highly thought of (nominated more than any other as Book of the Year 1995 by all accounts)
Apparently, when asked how she might celebrate the novel winning the National Book Critics Circle award, Fitzgerald replied, ‘well I certainly shan’t do any ironing today.’ I think that’s rather excellent.
It’s not my book of the year, it won’t even make the top five, but it’s a good read, and an interesting one. I’m glad Mark pushed me to read it. Cheers, mate.
[Fitzgerald didn’t publish anything til she was 60 as a by the by – perhaps there’s hope for me yet!]
In other news, before I go, I hope you’re all getting excited for The Bookshop Book! Just over a month til publication day! *happy dance* I am very excited about this book, if you weren’t aware!
There’s all sorts of fun stuff going on over at Jen’s Facebook page of late actually, including a rather fabulous book club. You ought to check it out: www.facebook.com/weirdthingscustomerssayinbookshops