So ... now that's done I can emerge blinking into the light and catch up with lots of other stuff. Like this blog for example. I have several posts in my head, just waiting for me to have time to write them. First of all, I wanted to tell you about my birthday a few weeks ago.
Both my grown-up children were here for the day. I use the phrase 'grown-up' hesitantly as I'm not sure if I'm grown-up yet and, if I'm not, then how can they be? Anyway, this is where we went ...
This is Compton Verney, a beautiful house with grounds landscaped by 'Capability' Brown which also happens to be a National Art gallery. It's in the middle of the countryside between here and Stratford-Upon-Avon and I've recently re-discovered how good it is.
We went to see two exhibitions there - more of that later - and we also had a birthday picnic at a bench overlooking the lake. A small bird flew past us, close to the water and, when it dipped its wings (I assume it was some sort of birthday salute to me), we saw it was a kingfisher. These little birds are very beautiful, very fast and very tricky to see. It's only the third time I've seen one and the first time I've actually seen the bird rather than just catching a glimpse of blue out of the corner of my eye.
There were two exhibitions on in the house that we wanted to see: The Lost Words and Quentin Blake: Inside Stories. I'll leave the Quentin Blake to another post but, after seeing the kingfisher, it seemed appropriate to talk about the other one here.
The Lost Words is a beautiful and completely original book that's taking the book world here in the UK by storm at the moment. It's written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris and is part poetry, part art book, part nature guide ... and so much more than that. The book was inspired by the rapid disappearance of words for natural things from children's vocabulary. If we have no word for something, how can we value it? So, 'The Lost Words' is a sumptuous book of spells, designed to be read aloud by children and adults to help conjure the words and the creatures and plants they describe back into view.
The book itself is huge - you could fit four average sized paperback books on its cover - and it's a joy from start to finish. Each word has three page spreads: first there's a picture of the landscape as it would be without the thing being described, then there's a glorious painting of it, together with the spell and, finally, a picture of it restored to the natural world.
For example, here are the 'before and after' paintings for the Starling ...
... and here's the bird itself ...
A photograph can't do these wonderful paintings justice
The spell for the starling conjures up the glistening array of this bird's colours 'Should green-as-moss be mixed with blue-of-steel be mixed with gleam-of-gold' while also remembering its tendency to copy from us 'if you sampled sneaker-squeaks and car alarms and phone ringtones you'd still come nowhere near the Rooftap riprap stree-smart hip-hop of starling song'. These few lines give you some idea of how musical these spells are - they just cry to be read or even shouted out loud. I think there are lots of echoes of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great Victorian nature poet here.
In contrast to the long strings of words of the starling's spell, the magpie's is short and to the point.
It begins 'Magpie Manifesto: Argue Every Toss! Gossip, Bicker, Yak and Snicker All Day Long!'
You get the general idea. One more thing about these spells, they're also acrostics with the first letter of each line spelling out the word. This is a wonderful book, do go and find it if you can. I haven't spoken as much about the paintings as they're difficult to reproduce here; you need to see the book or, better still, go to the exhibition to appreciate them in all their glory.
After all that excitement, I still had birthday presents to open. I'll just show you a few, mostly books again.
New books on Jane Austen. I was ridiculed here when we re-arranged the books recently and they discovered just how many books about her I had but, nonetheless, these two arrived on my birthday. As you can see, I've started the textual criticism one already (note the use of my best bookmark) and it's really good. It's already had me pulling out some of my oldest editions to compare them with those mentioned.
Would you believe that both of these - early twentieth century editions of 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Northanger Abbey' & 'Persuasion' (these two in one volume) - were only a few pounds in charity shops? I bought them some time ago but, even so, that's got to be cheap.
Both books feature illustrations by Hugh Thomson which are wonderful, if a little whimsical. From 'Pride and Prejudice' here's the start of the chapter after Mr Collins' proposal ...
... and look at this one,
... Mr Bingley and a few cupids in a tug-of-war against the influence of his sisters and his friend.
One of my favourite books as a child was Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses so I was delighted to be given this picture book version from 1951.
It was illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen, 20th Century American artists whose work I knew from this book, 'A Peaceable Kingdom: The Shaker Abecedarius'.
Anyway, back to my 'The Child's Garden of Verses'. Here's the start of a poem I remember very well, I used to chant the opening lines out loud - yes, I was an odd child.
I also got this beautiful new children's book, illustrated by one of my favourite modern artists, Karl James Mountford.
Last Stop on the Reindeer Express is written by Maudie Powell-Tuck and tells the story of Mia's magical journey to deliver her Daddy's card in time for Christmas. The story is restrained and well written and the whole book is a beautiful to hold and explore, with cut-outs and rich colours throughout.
I didn't just get books for my birthday though. Amongst other things, I got three new CDs to add to my collection.
Two violin and one recorder. So far my favourites are the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major and Dvorak's Serenade for Strings. I heard this last piece at a concert given by the Adderbury Ensemble in a candlelit church just before Christmas last year and it was such a joyful experience. Here's a taste of it for you.
That's all for now. I shall be back soon.