Tag Archives: books!

When close is just not close enough.

When I was brand new to this crazy, stressful, wonderful parenting game the first time round, a friend signposted me to a book called The Wonder Weeks, by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij.  ‘Wonder Weeks’ essentially being explained as predictable cranky periods, preceding a big new step forward in physical skills, understanding or capabilities for your baby. It is my Teaser Tuesday choice for this week, and an absolute saviour for new parents looking for some confidence giving, baby-related logic and reassurance!

The book was a total revelation.  And the concept of Wonder Weeks helped enormously in making sense of some of those seemingly inexplicable periods in a baby’s life where everything goes completely off course, and then almost as suddenly, bounces straight back to normal again. It gave me so much comfort.  When I remember back to those first few months, I can clearly remember how totally overwhelming it sometimes felt, having this tiny, dependent, crying bundle to figure out.

Now we have our little man too, I don’t refer back to our parenting ‘library’ anywhere near as often as I did when our girly was young.  For me, it definitely feels more innate the second time round.  But I do dip in to The Wonder Weeks occasionally.  Normally when we are having a period of unsettled sleep or fussiness, which has me wondering if there might be a Wonder Week on its way.  This week I checked back in to the book for exactly that reason, and yes indeed, week 26 is one of the Wonder Weeks!  SO that explains that then!

‘One of the most significant relationships that your baby can now perceive is the distance between one thing and another.  We take this for granted as adults, but for a baby it is an alarming discovery, a very radical change in his world.’

The Wonder Weeks, Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij.

At the moment our little man is all smiles and laughter, until he thinks I might be trying to put him down or sneak out of the room without him!  The tears stop as soon as I give him a cuddle or hold his hand, but  whilst he goes through this temporary super-needy phase, close is just not close enough! But actually, that’s fine by me.  I am so keenly aware that already my tiny newborn baby is a bonny six month old who is rolling, and almost sitting upright by himself.  It is almost frightening how quickly it has happened.  So while he needs me to hold him close and cuddle, I am making every last second count.

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Intriguing doorways and forgotten brick walls.

There are some places and spaces that become inexplicably and inextricably part of the fabric of your life.  A favourite riverside walk, a building you walk past every single day, a moss-covered, crumbling collection of headstones that always draws your eyes through the railings round the local cemetery.  They are places that you think about, ponder the history of, have your own memories interwoven with. A quaint little rural Warwickshire village has just such a place for me.

Walking along the main road through Barford, you can’t help but notice the high boundary wall that runs the considerable length of the grounds surrounding the grand Regency-period private home, Barford House.  Made of old red bricks, softening and crumbling along the bottom rows, the wall itself is quite an arresting sight, but it is the very low, almost hatch-like door at its furthest end which always makes me wonder.

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What is it there for?  Who used it? Why would you make a door that at best is child-height, or chest-height for an adult?

I have tried to find out a little bit more about the property and the interesting little door in the wall.  I got a genuine thrill when I realised that an all-time favourite author of mine, Evelyn Waugh, may perhaps have passed through that very door.

The rather grand country house, hidden behind the brick wall, was once the home of Alastair Graham.  Alastair was one of Evelyn Waugh’s first loves, studying at Oxford University in the early 1920s, alongside Waugh.  Just a short ride from Oxford, they often visited Barford House together.

The author of one website I looked at for information – http://www.evelynwaugh.org.uk – mused about that little hatch in the brick wall…‘When Alastair and Evelyn came back from the village pubs, in particular the Red Lion [today known as the Joseph Arch], did they walk all that way to the front drive? Or did they slip into the property via the arched door that you can see at the corner?’.

It would have been an ungainly entrance that’s for sure, but I like the escapist fantasy of the idea.  The necessity to scramble through, almost childlike, on hands and knees.  It could well have felt like they were stepping back into the carefree days of younger years, and an enchanted world beyond the wall.  Indeed, for a covertly homosexual couple in the 1920s, it may well have been.  A private refuge and sanctuary, where they could be themselves.

Even long after any romantic relationship between them had ended, and Evelyn had followed convention and married a woman called Evelyn Gardner, visits to Alastair Graham at Barford House continued.  Part of Decline and Fall was written there, and there are references in Brideshead Revisited that make me wonder if Waugh was taking inspiration from the house and that little door in the wall.  The moment when Charles Ryder ponders over lunching with Sebastian Flyte is a good example:

“But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognised apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.”

(Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945).

And later in the book, when the golden days between Charles and Sebastian are over, Charles comments:

 “A door had shut, the low door in the wall I had sought and found in Oxford; open it now and I should find no enchanted garden.”

(Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945).

Of course, it is equally possible, as an Oxfordian himself, that Waugh took that particular inspiration from the low door leading into the Dean’s Garden of Christ Church College, to which the fictional character Sebastian Flyte also belonged.   But I prefer to think that a little village, tucked away and off the beaten tourist track, may just have a hidden literary piece of treasure.  Entirely overlooked by the hoards of Shakespeare fans just a short drive away in Stratford-upon-Avon, and even the most committed of Evelyn Waugh admirers.

My Dad has lived in the village for a few years now, and I have strolled past that high wall more times than I can count, pushing a baby pram, heading to the village pub or shop, or just out for a walk down one of the nearby country lanes. Each time I visit I feel a great sadness, tingeing my curiosity, about the wall and the house it protects.  The whole place seems in decline.  Peeling paint, cracked plaster work, wood and brickwork rotting and eroding under the strain of nearly 200 years of exposure to the weather.

Barford House was assigned Grade II listed property status in the late 1960s.  When a property is listed there suddenly comes considerably comes greater regulation of, and responsibility for, permitted work. English Heritage, which oversees listed buildings, is an organisation which is incredibly particular about restoration and renovation work.  Nothing can be done cheaply, hurriedly, or unsympathetically.   It is an admirable approach, laudable in principle.  But it does mean that owners of such properties have to have very deep pockets, as well as huge commitment, drive and passion for the future safeguarding of the building that they have become a guardian for as much as an owner.

There are so many great buildings and architectural treasures in England slowly disintegrating because their upkeep is an almost impossible and financially ruinous task. I hope Barford House does not become one of them. From the road, although elegantly impressive, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the place.  Neither does it promote the association with Evelyn Waugh as an income generating stream, which in my opinion is a pity.

But whether or not it is a famous landmark or simply another brick in the wall of Evelyn Waugh’s life and loves, it would be sad to see Barford House, it’s wall and little hatch door, forgotten and entirely fallen.

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An old brick, dug from the soil in my Dad’s garden, made at the nearby brickworks in Leamington. It’s probable that the same bricks make up the perimeter wall for Barford House.

 

The inspiration for this post came from the WordPress weekly photo challenge theme this week: Wall.

no, No, NO!!! And getting into character.

I’ve mentioned before that we’re a book loving family. Our little girl definitely already has her favourites.  But when you are reading the same story for the third time in twenty minutes, knowing that the same request will probably happen the next bedtime, based on precedent over the past three nights, you come to think ‘enough is enough!’.  So now we rotate our book stock, if only for parental sanity!

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Who doesn’t like a good read in the bath?!

The other day I refreshed the book shelves, meaning that Julia Donaldson’s Monkey Puzzle was back in the bedtime stories pile again. I’d always thought it was one of the more popular ones, so I was confused when our little girl spotted it and rushed over to it, shouting ‘no, No, NO!!’.  Even more surprised when she sat down on the carpet, patted the floor and demanded me to ‘sit, sit, sit’, and then proceeded to turn the pages in rapt fascination.

And then I remembered.  The ‘no, no, no’ bit is a recurring line throughout the book as the butterfly tries to reunite the young monkey with his mum. It had been weeks, maybe even months since we’d last read the book together.  Even so, just seeing the front cover had obviously brought back a rush of memories and excitement for my little girl.  It gave me such a lovely feeling, watching her at that moment.

Today is World Book Day, and what finer way to start than with a little light reading?  As expected, that was totally fine with our little one, who has recently gotten into the habit of waking up, calling for us from her cot, and then once she been lifted out demanding ‘story, story’ before we can even change her nappy! As two current favourites, Julia Donaldson’s Monkey Puzzle and Cuddle by Beth Shoshan and Jacqueline East were, of course, on the reading pile. I’ve also recently added a couple of new ones to the shelves – The Magic Beach by Alison Lester, and Millie’s Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura.  In a rare treat for me – as most parents who read with their children will understand – I am still relishing the newness of these books, having not yet entirely memorised them from endless repetition.  So they were my choices for the morning!

My own reading is taking a bit of an intellectual back seat at the moment.  I’d been wading through The Goldfinch, which is the incredibly long, wonderfully written, but soul crushingly depressing 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner by Donna Tartt. Note the past tense, because frankly, I got a third of the way through (at around 300 pages!) and just couldn’t face anymore.  Too sad, too slow, and as I am reading for pleasure rather than intellectual merit these days, quite honestly, just not gratifying enough!  So in total backlash I’ve just started C’est Modnifique: Adventures of an English Grump in rural France, by Ian Moore.  It’s not a Pulitizer Prize contender; it doesn’t pretend to be.  But it is a welcome opportunity for escapism, a thoroughly enjoyable read so far, and I am wanting to find the time to read on.  And after all, isn’t that what reading should be all about?

Are you reading anything at the moment – to little people or for your own enjoyment? Or is there a book that you’ve recently finished and just couldn’t put down? I’d love to hear your World Book Day recommendations.