I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas. Things were a bit disorganised here, so I didn’t go in for fancy icing of my Christmas cake, or any decorations beyond the tree and putting up the cards.
Frost was sparkling on the ground this morning, reminding us that time is rushing on towards Christmas. As usual, I am trying to do too much in too little time. However, I’ve cheered myself up by buying a painting in the Christmas exhibition at our local art gallery, the Eduardo Alessandro Gallery www.eastudios.com It’s an oil painting by Alister Lindsay entitled Winter in Strathtay, a local view which perfectly captures the winter light in this part of the world.
Are you familiar with Maine Coon cats? They are a very distinctive breed, very large, and we have two, a brother and sister, Tobias and Tirza. They are remarkably similar to Norwegian Forest cats and one theory holds that they were brought to Maine by the Vikings who first “discovered” the Americas. Either some of the cats escaped or were traded with the native people. Certainly later European settlers found that cats were a valuable trading commodity as there were no native domestic cats in the Americas and they were prized for keeping down rodents amongst the grain stores.
We are back in Scotland after about a month in Herefordshire, where David was hard at work on the garden again. One area along the side of the house had become impenetrable with undergrowth (I wish I’d taken a “before” picture). Twice before he has cleared it and tried to reseed the grass, but as we haven’t been there to give it any tender loving care, it has failed to grow. And over the last three years the James Grieve apple tree growing here has gradually died, so that had to be removed, together with two huge industrial-sized bags of mistletoe from the Blenheim apple tree. By this point, it looked like this:
I have to begin this month with a tale of woe. On the 12th August my laptop crashed irrevocably and although a computer repair service managed to salvage most of my data, I am still having serious problems. One of the most serious concerns my newsletters. I have been using something called High Impact Emails 5 for the design and layout, which sends the completed newsletter to MailChimp, my mailing service, which then sends it out to you.
I have a lot of pictures to show you this month, so there will be rather less talk. The big event of June was the Gaudy at my old Oxford college, Somerville. http://www.some.ox.ac.uk If you are unfamiliar with the term, it means a reunion of graduates for a garden party, formal dinner and various other festivities. (In case you’re wondering, ‘gaudy’ derives from the Latin verb gaudeo = I rejoice.) This year the eleven matriculating years invited included my own, for the first time in about six years. As most of my college friends live a few hundred miles south of here, I don’t see them often, so this was going to be a wonderful opportunity to meet.
I know we talk obsessively about the weather in Britain, but what a roller coaster of a ride the weather has been this spring. In March we seemed to be basking in summer (I think it was the warmest on record). One day they said Scotland was hotter than Athens or Bermuda. As for April showers! April deluges, more like. (And I think it was the wettest on record.) Now May has started cold and miserable, then turned positively hot. Is there no end to the weather’s infinite variety? What will it do to the crops? At the end of March we had heavy blossom on the damson tree in Herefordshire, but our plum tree in Scotland is looking very sparse. The apple trees in Herefordshire were reluctant to blossom, but look at this in Scotland:
For most of the last month we have been down in Herefordshire, where I had been looking forward to the level of spring blossom we saw last year.
However, despite the exceptionally warm March (at least here in Scotland), everything was much further behind this year in our Herefordshire garden. The damson tree was covered with blossom and there was a good showing of tulips
This month I seem to have done very little apart from editing the current work-in-progress. My original vague idea of finishing by the end of February was clearly far too optimistic, given how busy January and February always are in our family. However, since the beginning of March I’ve had my head down, beavering away at what I suppose I might call Edit Number 3. I think it will probably need just one more thorough edit, but a slow, careful one. I still don’t have a title. Sometimes a title comes at the outset, as it did with The Testament of Mariam. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and thought. My second published novel was called from the beginning (for me) The Paparuda. It’s the name of a ritual to bring on rain in times of drought, which used to be practised in eastern Europe, involving poppies, the pouring of water and a gypsy girl. My editor at Random House, however, thought that was too obscure, so I had to settle for The Travellers – in my opinion much less striking. The central theme of the book is the way the lives of the main characters, who have endured emotional drought, are restored once more, as the dry countryside blooms again after rain, so I felt The Paparuda was much more appropriate. I did at least get the gypsy and the poppies on the cover, using a painting from the local art gallery, which – by an astonishing coincidence – appears to make reference to the Paparuda.