I couldn't sleep last night. Irony! Because I'm super tired! Damn you, Irony. Who invented you, anyway.
Anyway, around 3 a.m. I finished the book I've been reading for a couple of weeks: Bilgewater by Jane Gardam (suggested by Lily [thank you Lily!]). (I also got to read in the bathtub on Sunday afternoon, which was seeeeeriously awesome — thank you for that, honey.) Sort of a coming-of-age novel, published in 1976, it was slow and weird but readable and random, and wonderful for that — kind of like a Shakespeare comedy, I thought, actually? — and just perfect for what I felt like reading right now. Marigold Daisy Green lives with her father, the housemaster of a boys' school in Yorkshire. Here's how Thursdays are there:
Thursdays were always the evenings when these conversations with Paula took place and had done so "from long since" as our Mrs. Things say, because Thursdays were the evenings when father received visitors.
He had done this since before the way, even before he was married, and the visitors had always been the same: one or two, never more than three Old Masters. Uncle Pen and Puffy Coleman were inevitables and the third was often an amalgam of cobwebs and dust called Old Price. Every term-time Thursday at about seven-thirty these people came roaming around like elderly, homing snails. They unwind garments in the hall when it is not cold, drop walking sticks — Uncle HB has a shooting stick — into the hall-stand and trail dismally into the study. Paula [the house matron, and Marigold's frequent companion] takes them ccoffee and glasses and father slowly unlocks the shelf-cupboard in the bottom of his desk and brings out a bottle of wine which he never opens until well after they have all arrived and would probably never open at all if he were not kept very firmly at it by Uncle HB who often brings a personal hip-flask, too, though I don't think father has ever noticed. . . . If Old Price drank more than two sips he'd go up in a little wisp of smoke. . . .
Sometimes, when I was little I was allowed to sit with them for a bit — well, not so much allowed. I just did. They did not seem to notice and I learned much. When I was four or five I would sit for ages under the desk playing with a heap of old shoes . . .
As I grew older I became too large to fit under the desk and . . . I abandoned the Thursday receptions for Paula's sick bay readings and learned there much more interesting, universal, and philosophic things.
I have read novels now full of intelligent conversations. In novels there is often a set-piece thrown in called The University or College Conversation. This can take place between students or long afterwards, in the evenings of the students' days. there are a great many pauses in it and as the pipesmoke rises and the firelight flickers on the rows of mellow old volumes, wisdom and gentle nostalgia hang in the air. The nature of God, the reality of solid objects, the non-existence of Time are touched upon, tossed gently to and fro. Not so with father's lot. Up with Paula, the floor above — and Paula has had no education at all — we talk on and on about:
particularly ethics, e.g. when Posy Robinson comes in all tearful for his mama and we have only two eggs and two rashers and two spoons of cocoa, our four feet on the fender and a lovely play coming on the wireless after the news.
But downstairs! Here is a sample of the chat on one of the Learned Thursdays:
"Pretty cold. Got your coal yet?"
"No. Got your oil?"
"Time this House had oil. No more expensive."
"Not at all. No shovelling, what's more."
"Your house has a Man."
"Man! Idle oik. If we got oil we could get rid of him."
"Get rid of Gunning? Get rid of Gunning?"
"'Bout time. Been here since the zeppelins."
Uneasy pause while it is considered whether Old Price has been here since the zeppelins.
"I once saw the zeppelins," says Puffy Coleman kindly. "I was just a boy. There was a burst of flame out over the sea — off Scarborough — and then we saw a lot of little flames dropping into the water. . . . That was a terrible war.'
"What was terrible?"
"Well — the Last War. The — zeppelin war."
"I can remember," says a very feeble voice in hte corner if it is a warm evening — he comes on chosen evenings. Old Price, like Masefield's blackbird — "I can remember the zeps. All the boys ran out along the cliff tops cheering. In their pyjamas."
"Ah, " says Puffy Coleman, lowering his teeth.
"Ah, says Uncle Pen HB. then, "It wasn't that war."
"Yes it was. What d'you think it was? The Napoleonic War?"
"Scarborough was bombarded in the Napoleonic War," whispers Old Price.
"Now then Price, you weren't in the Napoleonic War," says Pen.
"No. No. I only said — uff, uff, uff — "
Father gazes at the uplifted wine. The Primavera watches through her wicked eyes.
"D'you think Price was in the Napoleonic War, William?"
"Uff, uff, uff — "
"Ha, ha, ha, ha," says father, bewildered, looking round sweetly, kindly at one and all, not at all sure, for he is a good bit younger than the others, what might or might not be so.
Oh it's wild stuff.
Ha! I thought that last line was funny. I like how she writes. Mimi and I went right down to Powell's and bought all of her other books that they had. Then I finished this one and I really liked it (luckily, since I did that backwards a bit). Hopefully I'll like the others, too. And now I have to go because it took me about five hours to type this thing (but it was actually kind of fun to type — I like typing) and I'm starving!!!
*These are not our chickens, and this is a local community garden, not mine. Just photos from our walks.
**And yes, it does sort of remind me of I Capture the Castle. And also The Country Life by Rachel Cusk.