Bookish Nature lately rang the doorbells of a few blogs and left a Lieber Award, a token of appreciation which is then shared by answering eleven questions and choosing another eleven blogs for the award. Like the contestant in The Sound of Music singing competition who just won’t stop bowing, I’ve duly answered every question. You’ve been warned.
1) Why did you start blogging?
A friend suggested it. I’d drawn a line under the work I’d been doing for the last few years, couldn’t work out where to go next, but was lucky enough to be able to take a break for a while. But in that space it just happened that family, etc., were suddenly dependent on me in a way I’d never experienced… and the energy needed to restart just wasn’t there. A blog was a way to collect some of the things that inspired or inspire me, to get me going again… to just put stuff down without feeling self-conscious or bothered about perceptions. In my early youth I studied literature and critical theory: it put me in a place where I felt at home in lots of ways, but it also left me feeling a bit stranded from things I loved, things which many of that mind-set underestimate and dismiss. There’s a danger of losing the ability to just enjoy without awareness of cynicism, whether it’s your own cynicism or other people’s. Looking back to the things I liked as a child, in this blog, was a path to shedding that feeling.
2) You’re going on an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to a far flung part of the planet. Where would you go? And what would be the one luxury item you would pack in your rucksack?
Somewhere with plenty of ‘interesting’ individuals… how about Tove Jansson’s Moominvalley? Life-affirming but enrichingly melancholic too. I’d take a decent jumper – it would have to be pure new wool, but nothing too folky. There’s something assuring about wool jumpers or sweaters or whatever you want to call them… being enfolded in something natural, timeless and universal.
3) If you lived in the same parallel universe as Lyra in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, what animal would your daemon be? Or, put another way, what settled form would you hope it would adopt, and why?
I immediately want to say otter, but just because it’s my favourite animal doesn’t mean we have anything in common. Yet they must have qualities which attracted me. They’re a little bit aloof but not in a stand-offish way; like their privacy and probably stay up late – my brain is at its best sometime after 9pm, which is probably quite ottery. They also seem to have quite a straightforward and child-like sense of inquisitiveness, if only in what catches their interest; and then there’s a sense of contentment to their slumber which is always something to aim for. I like rivers and streams too: the lazier ones are an instant fix of Zen-like calm, especially if you can dangle your toes in them. Just a shame I can barely swim. My daemon could be quite hare-like though – they look like they fret a lot and something about them suggests they don’t suffer fools gladly.
4) If you had the chance to step into a painting, and to spend a magical hour wandering its world, which painting would you choose? Maybe it would be Constable’s Hay Wain? Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Or, perhaps you’d like to join in with Edvard Munch’s Scream?? Or – much more light-heartedly – maybe you’d prefer to go trip-trapping over Monet’s bridge? The possibilities are endless. It’s your choice…
Not Whistler’s Mother. I’m drawn to early morning or evening atmospheres in pictures, slightly nebulous light. I would have said someone like Burne Jones or a Pre-Raphaelite at a younger age, when I would have liked to rush Chatterton or Ophelia to A&E. Stepping into a painting is different from something you would appreciate at a distance – I like John Piper but actually getting lost inside his paintings might be a little forbidding. I’ll settle for a real adventure in Rex Whistler’s canvas mural at Plas Newydd, Anglesey.
5) The Doctor has invited you to time travel with him on board the Tardis. Which period in history would you most like to visit and why?
At one time I’d have said the 17th century, which stems from a few things. It might have started with Captain Marryat’s The Children of the New Forest, about a family fleeing the Roundheads to hide in my (then) local woodland. I felt sorry for Charles I because, despite his bizarre beliefs, he appeared to be quite a sensitive, arty character, and Puritans seemed like hell on earth. I was also for the dandier cavaliers because, aged 7, I wanted to be one of the Three Musketeers. Now I’d be happy with the 1930s, to see Britain before it was blitzed, or 1967 – just to soak up a time before everything was a postmodern plate of mash.
6) If Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Will Shakespeare were alive today and were regular tweeters, I’d definitely be persuaded to join Twitter! Is there anyone from pre-internet days who, if they were alive today, you would love to see dazzle us daily with tweets of sheer brilliance and delight? Or are you glad they never had to suffer the tyranny of 140 characters?
Prefer Twitter for genuine news or links to interesting stuff… I’d rather take the time to catch up with people properly and share the warmth of their wit. It encourages too much ill-thought-out opinion, or it’s all a bit self-regarding – at worst, like an incessant Round Robin Christmas Card. Twitter is quite democratic I suppose – once it was only the Royal Family that issued dull updates on their everyday lives. Marie Antoinette was probably ahead of her time with ‘Let them eat cake’ though.
7) Which three books and three pieces of music would you take with you to a desert island?
Devilish question, but easier if you think of a desert island as needing something that you can revisit time and again and see something new. So something lengthy and Victorian (I’m seeing the closing scenes of A Handful of Dust here) and that would be Tess of the D’urbevilles, because Hardy was perfectly balanced here: English countryside in every mood and scenes of great happiness amid the general descent. It would also tell you the human race isn’t worth missing on your desert island. I’m enjoying Patrick Leigh Fermor at the moment so any of his books would widen the horizon a bit. Alexandra Harris’s book Romantic Moderns would be a good choice – plenty of arts stuff to rifle through. Other than that a very sensible practical survival handbook…
Music… I’d need music that hints at lots of eclectic stuff so I could, err, travel sonically. Plenty of indie guitars, so maybe P J Harvey’s A Perfect Day Elise, or Let England Shake just because it captures a particular spirit rather than saying the songs are better than anything else.
Then something with a bit of classically-trained depth and breadth but general experimental eclectic-ness… just now, Patrick Watson’s Adventures in your Own Backyard (perfect title for a desert island).
But most of all Swing Out Sister’s album Somewhere Deep in the Night – for escape into any film of choice with cinematic, soulful melancholy on soaring, uplifting air currents.
8) Out of all the species of wild animals or birds you have yet to see, which one would you most like to encounter?
I’d take tea with an otter. A splash in the water is the closest I’ve got.
9) Which of the following would most closely correspond to your natural habitat? a) Out on the moors with Heathcliff; b) In the Forest with Robin Hood; c) Out at sea with Long John Silver; d) Cosy by the fireside with a Pickwickian gathering of genial folk, sharing a bottle of your favourite tipple; e) The bookish calm of a country house study – in mutual retreat with Mr Bennet; f) Striding across the meadows with Elizabeth Bennet, a healthy glow in your cheeks and mud caking your boots; g) In the Attic with Jo from Little Women, scribbling stories and dreaming of adventure; h) Absorbed in the life of the city streets – in the company of a fictional detective of your choice; i) Roaming Manderley – and the windswept Cornish cliffs – with the second Mrs de Winter; j) Wandering alongside William and Dorothy Wordsworth, pacing out poetical rhythms on the Cumbrian fells, and waxing lyrical about wild daffodils; k) In a cave with Gollum; l) Hey, Mel – I’m an incredibly complicated human being – a mix of all.
Great question! I think I’d spend the night with Robin Hood, then I’d wander up over the moors for some Yorkshire gales and to give Heathcliff a copy of I’m OK, You’re OK. I’d pick up some Yorkshire tea on the way to the station and take the train West in time for fireside cake in the library at Manderley with Mrs de Winter. Leaving behind a season ticket to the Ladies’ Championships at Wimbledon for Mrs Danvers, it would be back on the train to Oxford for a pint in a decent pub with the new Inspector Morse, Endeavour, because then it’d be 1967 and there’d be something black and white and subtitled on at the cinema.
10) Where would you rather live and why: Toad Hall; Bag End; Green Knowe; Little House on the Prairie; Green Gables; Kirrin Island; 221B Baker Street.
No contest – Green Knowe. Lucy Boston rescued and restored the manor at Hemingford Grey and I’m really drawn to houses and their ebb and flow over time. I can really relate to people who think homes have human characteristics. It’s also an ancient building: you could drift off into any century.
11) If you had to go on a long journey with a fictional character, who would you choose? And what form of transport would you take – ship, hot air balloon, train, canal boat, motorbike, bicycle, gondola, skateboard, horse drawn gypsy caravan? Space ship?
Lucia from E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels. She has form with unusual transport, so I expect it would be an upturned kitchen table again. I could learn Italian on the journey.