Lost Horizon – James Hilton

Shangri-La has come to represent a forgotten world of youth & beauty. We’ve all heard of it even if we’ve never read the book, Lost Horizon, or seen the famous Frank Capra movie. James Hilton seems to have had a knack of writing stories that have been made into successful movies. His other books include Random Harvest (one of my favourite movies) & Goodbye, Mr Chips. Lost Horizon is an exciting adventure story with a core of melancholy & loss which I wasn’t expecting to find.

The story is told in the form of a manuscript within the narrative. The narrator is having dinner with a group of people in an unnamed European capital. Berlin or Vienna, I think, as they dine at the Templehof. He’s come across a couple of old school friends & they hear a curious story from another man about a plane hijacked in central Asia in the middle of a revolution. The plane disappeared, along with the four passengers. One of the passengers was Hugh Conway, a man they knew from school. After dinner, Rutherford takes our narrator aside & says he saw Conway long after he was assumed to be dead & heard the remarkable story of what happened to the hijacked plane. Rutherford is an author & he wrote down Conway’s story & now gives it to the narrator to read.

Conway & his fellow passengers – Charles Mallinson, a young attache at the Embassy, Henry Barnard, an American businessman & Miss Roberta Brinklow, a missionary – had boarded the plan to escape from Baskul during a revolt. Instead of being taken to Peshawar, they soon realise that the pilot is headed in another direction entirely. The plane stops to refuel in a remote valley & armed men prevent them leaving the plane or asking any questions. Eventually, Conway realises that they are heading for Tibet by the mountainous terrain.

The pilot bungles the landing & dies before he can be questioned. While the passengers are debating their next move, a small party of men descend the mountain & take them by a tortuous route to a lamasery high in the mountains. Their guide, Chang, is Chinese but speaks good English & makes them comfortable. Conway asks many questions but Chang politely refuses to answer most of them. They are all surprised by the modern conveniences but anxious to leave & frustrated by Chang’s inability to answer their questions. Conway soon relaxes into the curious atmosphere of the lamasery called Shangri-La as do Barnard, who turns out to be a fugitive from the law, & Miss Brinklow, who sees an opportunity to convert the inhabitants. Mallinson is desperate to leave & impatient with everyone & everything. He refuses to relax & is suspicious of the motives of Chang & the other inmates.

Conway is taken to see the High Lama & hears an amazing story of the founding of the lamasery by a European missionary called Perrault. The missionary brought Christianity to the inhabitants of the Tibetan mountains but the lamasery he founded has elements of all religions. The peculiar atmosphere of the mountains leads to Perrault & the other people there living long lives as long as they stay at Shangri-La. When Conway realises that the High Lama is Perrault, who came to Shangri-La in the 18th century, he is not as shocked as he should be as he has gradually come to realise that the lamasery is a magic place. Few outsiders ever discover the way in & the lamas are adept at enticing in the people they want as once you enter Shangri-La, you can only experience eternal youth if you never leave. The story takes place in the 1930s but there is a young Manchu girl there who arrived in the 1880s. There’s also a man who learnt the piano from Chopin & can play unknown works by the composer. The inhabitants do grow old & die but so slowly that their lifespan is measured in decades rather than years.

The High Lama has chosen Conway to succeed him & when he dies soon after, Conway must decide his own fate & that of the others. Barnard & Miss Brinklow are quite prepared to stay but Mallinson rejects Conway’s fantastic story. He is determined to leave, taking the Manchu girl, Lo-Tsen, with whom he has fallen in love, with him. He needs Conway’s help to escape & Conway has to decide where his own future lies.

Lost Horizon is certainly an adventure story but it’s not a swashbuckling adventure in the tradition of The Prisoner of Zenda. Conway is a man who has fought in WWI & been changed by the experience. His career in the diplomatic service has been mediocre but his experiences in the War have left him empty & directionless. The shadows of the next war are present & the idea of escaping from the world & the horrors to come are very attractive. However, I found the whole atmosphere of the book sadly melancholy & the idea of eternal youth quite depressing. Conway is tempted by the thought of seclusion & safety but he’s a realist as well. We already know that he does leave Shangri-La but not how & what the consequences are for himself, Mallinson & Lo-Tsen.

Now that I’ve read the book, I’d like to see the movie with Ronald Colman. Looking at the cast list on imdb, I think a few changes have been made to the story. Jane Wyatt doesn’t look like a female missionary to me & Conway appears to have acquired a younger brother! Still, I’ve requested the DVD from work so I’ll be able to compare the two.

Looking for Yesterday – Marcia Muller

I’ve been reading Marcia Muller’s detective novels since the early 1980s. I’ve watched Sharon McCone move from a legal co-op in San Francisco to running her own business as a private investigator. She’s discovered her roots as a Native American; married the love of her life; Hy Ripinsky; learnt to fly a plane & ride a horse; gathered a group of loyal friends & family around her at work & at home; almost lost her life & found herself in more than a few tight corners.

In Looking for Yesterday, Sharon is hired by Caro Warrick. Caro was acquitted of murdering her best friend, Amelia Bettencourt, but public opinion wasn’t convinced by the verdict. She’s estranged from her family, lost her job & is living in a rundown apartment. She has agreed to co-operate with a journalist writing a book about the case but another journalist is also working on the story from the angle that Caro is guilty & Caro wants Sharon to reinvestigate the murder & find Amelia’s killer.

Sharon finds herself feeling ambivalent about Caro & her story. It seemed like a pretty straightforward case & Sharon isn’t sure Caro is being completely truthful with her. Amelia was having an affair with Caro’s boyfriend & Caro had confronted her about it. On the night of the murder, there was a witness who said they saw Caro at Amelia’s house but Caro has a gap in her memory & can’t remember where she went afterwards. Sharon isn’t sure that she believes Caro’s story but she agrees to take the case on the basis that Caro is absolutely truthful with her.

Sharon’s investigations lead her to Caro’s brother & sister. She discovers that they’re in regular contact with their sister although their parents have distanced themselves from all their children. This, as well as other new facts, contradict Caro’s story but before Sharon can confront her, she arrives home to find Caro on her own doorstep with life-threatening injuries. Caro dies & Sharon must not only investigate Amelia’s death but Caro’s as well.

Marcia Muller writes a fast-paced, exciting story. Her books are always a breathless read & I read this one in a day. As well as the investigation, Sharon is dealing with a move to new business premises & Hy’s desire to merge their two investigation businesses. Sharon has always had a nostalgic yearning for the old days of San Francisco in the 70s when she & her friends set up the All-Souls Legal Co-op & social justice has always been a strong impetus to her investigations. Her uneasiness about Hy’s merger proposal reflects her desire for independence. Running her own show is important to her but she also realises that she & Hy would see more of each other if they worked together. I love the details of Sharon’s life & meeting up with the operatives at the agency as much as the details of the current investigation.

Marcia Muller is often called the creator of the modern female PI novel & she’s won the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America, along with many other awards over the past 30 years. I hope she keeps writing about Sharon so I can enjoy a visit every year or so for a long time to come.

Holiday Monday

It’s a holiday Monday here today, the official public holiday for Australia Day, January 26th. The weather has cooled right down in Melbourne & it looks set to be mild, if not cool, for the next week. Other parts of Australia are dealing with fire, torrential rain & flooding so hopefully the weather improves for them as well. I’d be very pleased with a little rain at the moment. We’ve had no rain since before Christmas & my tanks are nearly dry. I used mains water on the garden for the first time in years last weekend. You can see how dry the lawn is in the photo of Phoebe I took this morning. She’s just about to pounce on that stick but she’s seen Lucky quietly minding her own business in the corner of the garden

& she thinks maybe chasing Lucky is going to be more fun than playing with an old stick. Lucky had been supervising my tidying up of dead branches & cutting back the camellia & hebe so I can get to the big water tank more easily.

Another of Phoebe’s favourite places to survey her kingdom is the car. Lucky runs away from the camera but Phoebe poses, revelling in the attention which is just what she believes she deserves.

I’m still looking for ways to use up the zucchini glut so I’ve made another cake to take into work tomorrow. This time it’s a zucchini, almond & chocolate cake. I’m also planning to make some pesto this afternoon although I had to buy a bunch of basil to make it. Last year, I had so much basil that I was able to freeze pesto & I was still eating it in the winter. I don’t think I’ll be doing that this year. I also finally have a couple of tomatoes changing colour so I think they’ll be ready to eat this week.

The other theme of my long weekend has been Richard III. The results of the scientific tests on the remains found in a car park in Leicester will be announced next Monday & I’m beside myself with excitement. The Richard III Society have funded a facial reconstruction of the skeleton & they will be producing a special Ricardian Bulletin for their members with details of all this work. There will also be a documentary on Channel 4 next Monday night, The King in the Car Park, & I would love to be in the UK to be able to see this. Fingers crossed it’s released on DVD or picked up by TV here. The film crew followed the archaeological team throughout the dig & were there for the great discovery &m the scientific tests that have taken place over the last few months. It’s all looking very much as if the team will be announcing that the remains are those of Richard III. The title of the doco gives it away, doesn’t it?

So, I’ve been rereading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time for the umpteenth time. I’ve written about my love for this book here & I also have a biography of Richard by David Baldwin so I may read that next. I read on Facebook that the paperback edition of Baldwin’s book will be released soon with extra chapters on the dig & its results. If the remains are those of Richard, it won’t give us a definitive answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower or whether he poisoned his wife & planned to marry his niece. However, it will clear up some myths about his appearance. The hunchback myth could be dismissed at last & the facial reconstruction will be fascinating. The wounds on the skeleton could also answer the question of how Richard died. So, lots of interest in not just the central question – is it Richard? – but also the scientific tests & their analysis will keep historians busy for some time to come.

Sunday Poetry – John Clare

This will be the final John Clare poem in Sunday Poetry for a while. As well as the 1968 Penguin Book of Romantic Verse (where the last few week’s poems have come from) I also own a much newer & bigger anthology, The New Penguin Book of Romantic Verse. This 2001 anthology has impeccably Romantic credentials as it was edited by Jonathan Wordsworth (descended from the poet’s brother, Christopher) & his wife, Jessica. This anthology is organized by theme so I thought I would choose a few poems from each section & see how many favourites I can find, along with some new poems. This book has a much greater proportion of poems by women. Actually, that’s not such an achievement as there are no poems by women in the 1960s anthology which is sad but unsurprising.

This poem, An Invite, to Eternity, is reminiscent of old ballads like The Unquiet Grave, in which the dead speak to those left behind.

Wilt thou go with me, sweet maid,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through the valley-depths of shade,
Of night and dark obscurity;
Where the path has lost its way,
Where the sun forgets the day,
Where there’s nor life nor light to see,
Sweet maiden, wilt thou go with me!

Where stones will turn to flooding streams,
Where plains will rise like ocean waves,
Where life will fade like visioned dreams
And mountains darken into caves,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through this sad non-identity,
Where parents live and are forgot,
And sisters live and know us not!

Say, maiden; wilt thou go with me
In this strange death of life to be,
To live in death and be the same,
Without this life or home or name,
At once to be and not to be –
That was and is not -yet to see
Things pass like shadows, and the sky
Above, below, around us lie?

Happily Ever After – Susannah Fullerton

January 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. As Jane Austen’s most famous novel regularly tops lists of the world’s favourite novels, the celebrations of this milestone have been gathering steam for some time. I plan to reread the novel itself very soon but I’ve also been reading this lovely book about the phenomenon that is Pride and Prejudice by Susannah Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia.

Happily Ever After tells the story of the novel from its first incarnation as First Impressions to the publication of the book By A Lady, to the first reviews by the critics &, more importantly, Austen’s friends & family. She discusses the style of the novel & Austen’s use of free indirect speech & irony which set it apart from other novels of the time. Having just read Fanny Burney’s Camilla, I can only agree that Pride and Prejudice represents quite a departure from other books of the period. Fullerton looks at the characters & the plot, dissects that famous first sentence & looks at the aspects of the story that have spawned a million romance novels from Mills & Boon to Bridget Jones’s Diary & the pastel-covered chick lit of the 1990s.

Pride and Prejudice has been translated into over 20 languages & has been the subject of countless sequels & continuations. Elizabeth & Darcy’s marriage has been analysed in every possible way & they’re even the sleuths in a series of detective novels. The futures of most of the other characters have also been speculated about. My personal favourite has to be the novel where Mr Collins is killed off leaving Charlotte a happy widow. Then there are the erotic & horror novels that are “inspired” by Pride and Prejudice. I would much rather reread the original than read any of these but it’s fun to read about them & I’m grateful that Fullerton has done the disagreeable work for me so that I will never feel the need to read them myself.

There have also been stage & film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice . The most famous of these are the 1940 film with Greer Garson & Laurence Olivier, the two BBC series in 1980 & 1995 & the 2005 movie with Keira Knightley & Matthew Macfadyen. I’ve always had a fondness for the 1940 movie because I love Olivier, even though Greer Garson is too old, the costumes are all wrong & the screenplay was based on a stage version rather than the book so some of the plot points are mangled. I love Melville Cooper as Mr Collins & Edmund Gwenn as Mr Bennet. I must have seen the 1980 series with Elizabeth Garvie & David Rintoul at some stage but I don’t remember much about it. It’s available on DVD so I’m tempted to buy it as Susannah Fullerton obviously has a great fondness for it & Elizabeth Garvie’s performance is generally regarded as excellent.

The 1995 series with Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth needs no introduction. I love it & have watched it many times. I didn’t like the 2005 movie at all & have no desire to see it again although I probably should as my experience of it in the cinema was ruined by giggling teenage girls so I may have been too irritated to appreciate it. I’m sure I don’t need to see some of the other adaptations discussed, especially the Mormon version made in 2003 or the 60 min version made for American television in 1959. The actress playing Elizabeth was 40 & the film ends with Elizabeth asking Darcy his Christian name. When he replies Fitzwilliam, she sighs happily & says “Ah, how nice.” There’s a still from the film in the book & even the costumes look wrong – Victorian, I think.

Happily Ever After concludes with a look at the merchandising that has been produced, especially since Darcymania took over the world after Colin Firth & that wet shirt scene set a million hearts fluttering. I find it quite odd that that scene, which of course isn’t even in the book, has become so imitated (very wittily in Lost in Austen) & parodied that the character of Darcy has floated free of the book entirely. It’s not even Elizabeth & Darcy, just Darcy or maybe it’s really Colin Firth that everyone sighs over. Merchandising isn’t new. There were Pamela gowns, fans & prints inspired by Samuel Richardson’s novel in the 18th century & Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White inspired clothes & even a quadrille in the 19th century. However, there’s been nothing to match the Jane Austen industry that has flourished in the 20th & 21st centuries. Everything from jigsaw puzzles to heritage-themed holidays has been linked to Jane Austen & her books.

Happily Ever After is a delightful book about one of my favourite novels. Pride and Prejudice isn’t my favourite Austen novel. It would come third after Persuasion & Sense and Sensibility but I’m looking forward to reading it again & probably getting out my DVDs & watching Elizabeth & Darcy fall in love many times over the next few months.

Camilla – Fanny Burney

Camilla Tyrold is the eldest of three daughters of a country parson. As a child, she lives with her rich uncle, Sir Hugh Tyrold, & is considered by everyone, including Sir Hugh, to be his heiress. After a series of events which leave Camilla’s sister, Eugenia, lame & scarred from smallpox, Sir Hugh changes his mind & takes Eugenia into his home & makes her his heir. Sir Hugh is a silly man. Ignorant, vapid yet much loved by his family & servants, it is his fault that Eugenia becomes ill after he ignores her mother’s instructions. Camilla returns to her modest family home feeling no resentment at all. Camilla’s brother, Lionel, is a silly, thoughtless young man who thinks nothing of proprieties & puts his sisters into some very embarrassing situations. He plagues both his uncles (Sir Hugh & his mother’s brother in Spain) for money as he’s always in debt & uses emotional blackmail on Camilla which leads to serious consequences for her future happiness.

Sir Hugh also has another niece & nephew who have expectations from his generosity even though he has tried to make it clear that Eugenia will inherit everything. Clermont Lynmere is sent off on the Grand Tour to become learned & cultured as Sir Hugh intends him to marry Eugenia & in that way, share in her inheritance. His sister, Indiana, is a beautiful but shallow girl who has been flattered & encouraged by her governess, Miss Margland, into believing she has only to enter a room to make slaves of every man in it. Eugenia has been well-educated by the ill-tempered, absent-minded Dr Orkborne as Sir Hugh believes that her fine mind will make up for her lack of personal attractions when Clermont comes home to marry her.

Camilla has become attached to Edgar Mandlebert, a young landowner who has been under her father’s guardianship. Edgar returns her feelings but is worried by the propriety Camilla’s enthusiastic, open manner. He is advised by Dr Marchmont, a clergyman who serves as Edgar’s moral as well as spiritual guide. Unfortunately he takes rather a jaundiced view of the female sex after some sad experiences in his youth so Edgar veers from determining to throw himself at Camilla’s feet & offer her his hand & disapproving of her behaviour.

Camilla becomes acquainted with Mrs Arlbury, a witty, worldly woman who takes a fancy to her & asks her to visit. Camilla then meets Sir Sedley Clarendel, a fop who is taken with her beauty but deterred by her lack of money & Major Cerwood who pursues her without mercy. There are conflicting rumours in the neighbourhood as to which of the Tyrold sisters is actually Sir Hugh’s heiress. This leads to Eugenia being pursued by the plausible but smooth Mr Bellamy & Camilla finding herself an object of attention to several men as well as the garrulous & vulgar Mrs Mittin who manages to get her into considerable debt on visits to fashionable resorts like Tunbridge Wells & Southampton. Camilla also meets Mrs Berlinton, a beautiful young woman who is unhappily married to an older man & likes to cultivate sentimental but potentially dangerous friendships with handsome young men.

Camilla & Edgar are at cross-purposes throughout the entire book. Edgar is a serious, priggish young man who sets himself up as Camilla’s moral guide, a role she is quite happy to allow him to play. However, Camilla’s love of excitement & her tendency to be dazzled by women such as Mrs Arlbury & Mrs Berlinton lead to situations where her actions are misconstrued & her motives questioned. Unfortunately Edgar is too ready to believe that Camilla is engaged to Sir Sedley or trifling with Major Cerbery & so he spends a lot of time stalking off to consult with Dr Marchmont when he should just sit down with Camilla & ask her what’s going on. Camilla is helpless as only a young, unmarried woman of the time can be. She is at the mercy of her hostesses & she finds herself entangled in debt & obligations which she cannot escape. Her principles are sound but she can be frivolous & stubborn where her pleasures or her friendships are concerned.

Camilla is a very long book, over 900pp. The first four volumes follow Camilla on her journeys from her home at Etherington to Sir Hugh’s estate at Cleves, her visits to her friends & the growing web of entanglements & misunderstandings that separate her from Edgar. In the final volume, however, the comedy of manners is replaced by a Gothic story of abduction, forced marriage, desperate illness & mysterious death. It’s quite a change in tone but it’s a lot of fun. Maybe Fanny Burney realised that she had to create some drastic plot twists to force the story to a conclusion. I enjoyed Camilla very much although I found I had to put it down occasionally because I was so frustrated by Camilla’s ability to dig herself further & further into a pit of trouble.

There are some wonderful characters in the book. Miss Margland is a spiteful, embittered woman who thinks herself superior to her post as governess & is determined to find Indiana a rich husband so she can to live out her days with her grateful pupil. Clermont Lynmere is a boor who returns from the Grand Tour with no manners & without absorbing any culture at all. He is rude to Sir Hugh & dismissive of Eugenia, shrinking in horror from the poor girl. He is also greedy, reaching in front of people to get at any food in sight. Sir Hugh’s old Yorkshire friend Mr Westwyn & his son, Harry, are men with hearts of gold. Westwyn had conducted his son & Clermont on the Grand Tour & has a pretty shrewd opinion of the worth of both young men. Mr & Mrs Tyrold are paragons & it’s easy to see how Camilla shrinks from confessing her faults to two such moral, if loving, parents. Still, for all its delights, the book is much too long. I can only agree with Edgar when he declares,

‘O Camilla,’ he cried, ‘if, indeed, I might hope from you any partiality, why act any part at all? – how plain, how easy, how direct your road to my heart, if but straightly pursued!’

Sunday Poetry – John Clare

Another poem by John Clare. This one’s a melancholy tale of unspoken love, secrecy & shyness. As always, Clare’s descriptions of the natural world are lovely.

I hid my love when young till I
Couldn’t bear the buzzing of a fly;
I hid my love to my despite
Till I could not bear to look at light:
I dare not gaze upon her face
But left her memory in each place;
Where’er I saw a wild flower lie
I kissed and bade my love good-bye.

I met her in the greenest dells,
Where dewdrops pearl the wood bluebells;
The lost breeze kissed her bright blue eye,
The bee kissed and went singing by,
A sunbeam found a passage there,
A gold chain round her neck so fair;
As secret as the wild bee’s song
She lay there all the summer long.

I hid my love in field and town
Till e’en the breeze would knock me down;
The bees seemed singing ballads o’er,
The fly’s bass turned a lion’s roar;
And even silence found a tongue,
To haunt me all the summer long;
The riddle nature could not prove
Was nothing else but secret love.

Garden update

It’s been an odd summer so far. Below average rainfall & spikes of very hot temperatures that last a day or two before a welcome but dry cool change. My small rainwater tank is almost empty. I’ve been filling it up with water from the bigger tank on the other side of the house & I’m about to put a hose from the big tank to run around the back of the house to the vegie garden. I put the tanks in nearly four years ago when the drought finally broke & I’ve barely touched the big tank since. The small tank is in a good position for the vegie garden & it’s never been close to empty until this last month or so. It’s frightening to think how soon the garden dries out. The lawn is brown already.

However, my vegies are coming along beautifully. I’ve done almost everything differently this year as I read more & try different things. The tomatoes were planted a month earlier because the vegie garden wasn’t set up until December 2011 & I think it’s made all the difference as well as adding potash when planting & again when the flowers appeared & using pea straw mulch instead of the harder, woodier mulch I used last year. The result is about 30 green tomatoes of various sizes & I can’t wait to see them ripen.

Last year, I didn’t get any zucchini at all. The weather was very wet & humid & all my plants had downy mildew. This year, I’m desperately searching for zucchini recipes! I’ve had zucchini slice several times, zucchini fried with lemon & herbs on toast, zucchini & tuna risotto, zucchini, tomato & chickpea soup, a summer vegetable bake inspired by Rose (I had this with some baked salmon & it was delicious. Can’t wait to make it with my own tomatoes) & I’ve made several zucchini cakes for morning tea at work. This is the zucchini that got away. It’s huge & I’m too intimidated to pick it.

This one is more manageable. I’ve planted basil, rosemary & parsley in the same garden bed & they all seem to be getting along fine.

Lucky & Phoebe both enjoy sleeping on the windowsills, especially if I leave the window open & there’s a cool breeze. Here’s Lucky looking a little apprehensive of the camera as she always does but ready to settle down as soon as I leave her in peace. Here’s hoping for some rain soon & some relief for the many people affected by bushfires in other parts of Australia.

Ringing Church Bells to Ward off Thunderstorms – ed Justin Lovill

Ringing Bells to Ward Off Thunderstorms is a collection of letters & replies from Notes and Queries. This magazine started in 1849 & is still published today. The idea was that people, mostly fussy antiquarians & clergymen by the querulous tone of the letters, wrote in with interesting facts about history or language or with a question like Were animals put on trial in the Middle Ages? or Was Clarence really drowned in a butt of Malmsey? or Do game bird’s feathers in a pillow or quilt stop the ill from dying? This last made me think of the scene in Wuthering Heights where Catherine has fasted for three days & tells Nelly that she couldn’t die because there were pigeons’ feathers in her pillow. Very obscure & pedantic but interesting all the same.

The modern editor of the book, Justin Lovill, gives a history of the magazine & often adds some context & extra information to the entries. It’s the perfect book to dip into in an idle moment. I kept it beside my reading chair & read a few entries every day as well as looking through the table of contents to find entries that piqued my curiosity. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by entries such as

BOILING TO DEATH : A punishment for cooks?
BYRON’S BRAIN : How much did it weigh?
CUSTARD : Why did the Puritans abominate it?
DEAD MEN’S HEADS : Unusual attachment to
LIVERS, WHITE : A sign of murderers and cowards?
MELANCHOLY : Does it cause waistcoat-bursting?
SWEARING : An Act of Parliament against

I found it fascinating that people could write in with their queries & someone fossicking in their library would come up with an answer or a reference to the original  account of a legend or the derivation of a word or phrase. The book is illustrated with woodcuts & other pictures of the time. As Justin Lovill explains, Notes and Queries was the first magazine almost entirely written by the contributors & readers & can be compared with internet communities like Wikipedia. The contributors used pseudonyms such as Bookworm, Mr Blink, Dryasdust & Old Fogie to protect their anonymity so they weren’t without a sense of humour. Lovill has picked the plums from the original volumes of Notes and Queries & if you’re at all interested in history, the etymology of words & phrases or even just about the kinds of subjects that interested the 19th century scholar, this book has a lot to offer.

Sunday Poetry – John Clare

Another poem by John Clare this week. After over a week of hot days & no rain in sight, I’m looking for a little wish fulfillment. A cool early Spring day in the English countryside is just what I need to imagine during a Melbourne summer. The Pale Sun is something I can only dream about at this time of year.
I’ve also discovered this lovely blog about the life & works of John Clare. I’m going to enjoy exploring the archive over the next little while.

Pale sunbeams gleam
That nurtur a few flowers
Pilewort & daisey & a sprig o’ green
On whitethorn bushes
In the leaf srewn hedge

These harbingers
Tell spring is coming fast
& these the schoolboy marks
& wastes an hour from school
Agen the old pasture hedge

Cropping the daisey
& the pilewort flowers
Pleased with the Spring & all he looks upon
He opes his spelling book
& hides her blossoms there

Shadows fall dark
Like black in the pale sun
& lye the bleak day long
Like black stock under hedges
& bare wind rocked trees

‘Tis chill but pleasant – 
In the hedge bottom lined
With brown seer leaves the last
Year littered there & left
Mopes the hedge sparrow

With trembling wings & cheeps
Its welcome to pale sunbeams
Creeping through – & further on
Made of green moss
The nest & green-blue eggs are seen

All token spring & every day
Green & more green hedges & close
& everywhere appears –
Still ’tis March
But still that March is Spring