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Saturday 23 February 2019


This will be posted as a New Month Old Post on 1st April 2023

Sunday 17 February 2019

Review - A. S. Byatt: The Children's Book

A. S. Byatt: The Children's Book
A.S. Byatt
The Children’s Book (4*)

The Children’s Book traces the lives of an enormous cast of characters through the years from 1895 to 1919. Most belong to families of socio-political visionaries: Fabians, Quakers, socialists, anarchists, artists, writers and free-thinkers, living in cottages around the Kentish Weald and North and South Downs. The children grow up and enter into relationships, the adults have muddled secrets which are gradually revealed. Then along comes the brutal cull of the First World War.

Byatt’s descriptions of artworks such as the Gloucester Candlestick are lavish as ever. Her portrayal of the 1900 Grande Exposition Universelle de Paris is exquisite. Pottery, puppetry and fairy stories form central elements of the story, and time and time again we are given lovingly detailed accounts, such as descriptions of shapes and glazes, and how they change when you hold and feel, rather than simply look:
The glaze was silver-gold, with veilings of aquamarine. The light flowed round the surface, like clouds reflected in water. It was a watery pot. There was a vertical rhythm of rising stems, waterweeds, and a dashing horizontal rhythm of irregular clouds of black-brown wriggling commas, which turned out, inspected closely, to be lifelike tadpoles with translucent tails. The jar had several asymmetric handles which seemed to grow out of it like roots in water, but turned out to have the sly faces and flickering tails of water-snakes, green-spotted gold. It rested on four dark green feet, which were coiled, scaled lizards. Or minor dragons, lying with closed eyes and resting snouts. (p23)
The overwhelming, almost clinical detail is the problem. The book reads in places like a social, cultural and political history of the period. There are so many characters (Wikipedia lists 44 fictional characters plus 10 historical who play some part in the novel) it is difficult to keep track of who’s who. You do begin to feel you know most of them before the end of the 615 pages, but I wished I had printed out a list for reference before starting. 

Like Possession, it needs a second reading. On just one, it was not as satisfying. I know I’ll be back, but can’t face another month with it just yet.  

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Thursday 14 February 2019


HMP Wakefield prison register, June 1900

In my family history research, I keep coming across instances of people being sent to Wakefield Prison for being drunk.

What a good job they don’t do that now. From what I’ve heard about Wakefield on a Saturday night, they’d need a bigger prison.

Saturday 9 February 2019

Limerick Leanings

Limerick - The Young Lady of Niger

It’s an affliction. Whenever I see a quirky or unusual place name, or sometimes quite a straightforward one, I just have to compose a limerick. 

(Limericks, if you are not familiar with them, are humorous five-line poems, in which lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme and scan with seven to ten syllables, and lines 3 and 4 rhyme and scan with five to seven syllables. The form was popularized by Edward Lear, and well known examples include the nursery rhyme Hickory Dickory Dock, and The Young Lady of Niger, above.)

A popular blogger I started to follow recently (Going Gently) mentioned he had been caught by a speed camera, and, as an alternative to points on his licence and a fine, he had agreed to be indoctrinated on a speed awareness course in Mold. Well, Mold! What a name. Irresistible. A limerick immediately began to form in my head. I posted it as a comment on his blog:

          I went on a short course in Mold,
          To be told what I had to be told,
          The days are now past
          Of me driving too fast,
          My right foot must be more controlled.

We play it as a game in the car on holiday (not to be recommended because it’s so easy to stop concentrating on driving and go too fast through speed traps). As Mold is in Wales, here’s another we came up with in that country (although I’m not sure whether the basic idea is that original):

          A fragile young lady from Wales,
          Tried buttered toast spread with snails,
          She shivered and quivered
          When all the snails slithered
          To the edge of her plate leaving trails.

They don’t emerge only in Wales, or only in the car for that matter. A couple of years ago we went for a walk on Exmoor in Devon, through the village made famous in Lorna Doone, and out came this:

          A naïve young fellow from Oare,
          Was stopped in the street by a whore,
          “Hello love,” she said
          Let’s go to bed,
          Now he’s not so naïve any more.

          (OR - Now he knows what his ***** is for.)

I think that’s quite enough of that for now.

Is anyone else encumbered with this?

Sunday 3 February 2019