In a small and muddled garden. Dorset. England.
Thoughts about gardening
and thoughts while gardening.
Housework, politics
and book reviews too.
Esther Montgomery.

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Friday, May 22, 2015


What do I grow in my garden?

Anything which fits and easily grows.

Dandelions, cowslips, marjoram and mint.

Aquilegea we were given by friends long ago.

Honeysuckles from cuttings.

Autumn cyclamen and sedum.

Lots of willow herb which grows ten inches tall.

And petty spurge foaming over the edges of pots.

There are foxgloves; those million-seeds-each-year makers. And orange crocosmia which doesn't know when to stop.

I had a nettle in a pot. It died.
But now I have a new one; it came up in a seed tray and is still very small.

I have an apple tree and a bay tree, two cordylines and three contoneasters.

I have loveage and balm and box.

And three tomato plants in a grow bag.

In winter nearly everything dies and the garden goes flat and boring till daffodils pop up in the spring.

By summer it's lush.

I have to tell you these things because I've made a surround for my page and you may wonder why dandelions feature so strongly - it's because they are cheerful and yellow and I planted them there.

P.S. What do you make of the new design? It's not that I'll suddenly start posting photos (I don't think so anyway . . . ) but it's quite cheerful, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


I said I'd say something about books. I didn't forget. But I've struggled. The thing is . . . I'm a bit embarrassed about a change in my reading tastes. Thinking of the books I've read and enjoyed over the last year I find my tastes have changed since last I suggested a reading list.

The world is a frightening place.
It seems to have grown darker.
And as it grows darker my tastes grow lighter.
I hide in simplicity.

In the 'old days' threats were clear and the way people responded to them were clear too; focused.
CND opposed nuclear weapons.
The Anti-apartheid Movement opposed apartheid in South Africa.
IRA bombs killed indiscriminately but the IRA's goal was precise - a united Ireland.
Factions in the Spanish Civil War are confusing but those involved probably knew who their enemies were.
And in all these conflicts and campaigns there was room for community. However little else the people who took part in them had in common, a common cause bound them together.
In the Second World War there was the 'The British Spirit'.
Greenham women camped in groups in the woods outside the American airbase.
And people sang. Singing was a part of politics

But now?
There are bombs.
But who are exploding them?
Women and young girls are being abducted and hidden in remote places.
Whole populations are being expelled from their homes.
History is being destroyed.
But who is doing this?
What is ISIS? What is Boko Haram?
What do they stand for? What do they want?
We don't know.
Who are their leaders?
We don't know.
Who can we talk to?
We don't know.

Yesterday there was a review of a book about the Boston Bombers on the radio (I think it was this - The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy). The family had trekked backwards and forwards across Europe looking for work and a safe place to stay; but wherever they went there was conflict so they were forced to move on. On and on and on. Then they arrived in America and just when they thought they'd found a footing and an income - the recession struck and they were knocked back again.  The elder brother was an accomplished boxer but didn't have the right papers for the Olympics. Their mother's business folded. Their story is that despite the family's efforts everything, everything, over and over went wrong and wrong and wrong because history – other people's wars - kept getting in the way of their lives.

Did they kill for a cause? Then what cause?
Is the cause anger?
Randomness is frightening.
They became random.

So I've gone wimpish and buy easy-to-read books. Gentle ones. Humorous ones. Stories where it all comes right in the end. I've always liked a happy outcome but until recently I've been prepared to make an effort before I get there. Now I can't wait. I want an easy ride. So – here's a list of easy reads. Some are well written. Some are not. (Some don't have happy endings.) But they are books I've enjoyed in one way or another over the last sixteen months. A catch up!

Here we go then:

General Stories
Finding Mr Flood – Ciara Geraghty – A young woman sets out to find who and where her father is in order to save the life of her sister.
The Nothing Girl – Jodi Taylor – A young woman is guided from an infantilised existence to maturity by a magical horse.
Ice Cream for Breakfast – Elaine Johns – Friendships in a run-down hotel
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce - A retired man sets out on a long walk to visit an old work colleague who is dying.

The Greek Village series – Sara Alexi - The story in each book is centred around the same village so the characters walk in and out of each other's lives.

The Jenny Cooper Coroner Series – M.R. Hall – A Coroner on the border of England and Wales addicted to pick-me-up pills and prone to panic attacks does some detecting. Unlikely but entertaining.
Jordan Lacy series – Stella Whitelaw – A young woman combines running a second hand shop with being a private detective. Quick but delightful reads.
Inspector and Mrs Jeffries series – Emily Brightwell – A nineteenth century housekeeper and her staff solve crimes while making their detective employer think he solved them. Wildly unlikely, very quick, light reads.
A Kiss Before Dying – Ira Levin – Sequential murders solved in dramatic ending.
The Black Echo – Michael Connelly – Detectives detecting in the catacombs of Paris in response to a bet.
The Psalter - Galen Watson – A mediaeval book about a 9th Century librarian is stolen from the Vatican library, his life curiously mirrored by the life of the contemporary man who sets out to retrieve it. (Detecting/Thriller)

The Greek Mysteries / Detective - Anne Zouroudi - A semi-divine (sort of) detective appears in various places and manipulates events so wrong doers receive justice and their victims retribution Written as if it's an ordinary sequence of events.

Two Detective Series by Julie Smith
I'm putting these together and apart from the other detective books because initially I struggled to understand them. New Orleans is another world. Race is right up front important. Shades of colour are important. (Shades!) Gender is important. Wealth and poverty are important. It's a realm of accepted extremes. The culture is different. People take food when they visit. You have to say particular things to fulfil 'manners'. There are guns. There are new-to-me words that I have to look them up. And on top of it all they haven't invented mobile phones. But once I'd got a grip on the setting I was hooked . . . This is light and engaging reading. (The subtitles suggest they are 'cozy' and 'humorous'. Ignore that.)

Skip Langdon Series – Detective in gradually evolving extended family solves crimes in Los Angeles.

The Talba Wallis series – Black, female, private detective in New Orleans. ('Black' and 'Female' are important.)

The Talba Wallis books follow on from the Skip Langdon ones. I like them better. They are crisper, sharper - except I don't understand why she's supposed to be a good poet. Perhaps her poetry needs to be said aloud to be appreciated. It's a minor matter. I'll go with it. 

87th Precinct Series – Ed McBain – Detective solves crimes in Manhattan. I'm not sure when this is supposed to be set. Perhaps 1950s. (Anyone know?) Quick, old fashioned reads.

Jeff Aiken series – Mark Russinovitch – Contemporary Cyber Crime / Thriller. You may need to concentrate to follow the computer-code elements - but this time it's worth it.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series– Stieg Larsson – Journalist does detecting accompanied by an unusual computer expert. Gripping.

Fiction Written as Biography
The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter – Craig Lancaster – The career of a sport's journalist is determined by the success or otherwise of the boxer he writes about.
Big Brother – Lionel Shriver – A woman stands aside from family life to rescue her brother from terminal obesity.

Science Fiction
The Day of the Triffids – John Windham – The disintegration of life in London when under attack by dangerous, large and mobile plants. (Genetic engineering gone mad? Sort of.)
The Stepford Wives – John Windham – How is it that ordinary and interesting women in a small American town are suddenly and dangerously turned into boringly perfect housewives?
The End of Mr Y – Scarlett Thomas – How to kill the book before it kills its next reader.
The Chronicles of St Mary's – Jodi Taylor – Historians (the bravest of all scientists and explorers) travel around in time to learn more about past events. Humour.
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton – It's the 17th Century. The number of models in an ornamental dolls-house mysteriously grows larger, foretelling and commenting on the life of an isolated young woman who has been sent to Amsterdam to marry a man who is not only much older than her but also homosexual.

Fiction in a Historical Setting
Winter in Madrid – C.J. Sampson – Spanish Civil War
Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier – Portugal in the time of the 20th Century dictator Salazar
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton – New Zealand in 1866. When a group of men secretly share their knowledge of apparently separate events they are able to solve a crime.
The Devil in the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson – A thriller set in the Marchalsea Prison (London) in 1729
The Four Streets Trilogy - Nadine Norris – Poverty among Irish Catholics in 1950s' Liverpool, including a time in Ireland and back. (A reviewer in the Daily Telegraph said 'The Four Streets' is the worst novel he's read in ten years. Ignore him. 
A Cuppa Tea and an Aspirin - Helen Forrester – Even greater poverty in Liverpool in the 1930s. A much harsher book than The Four Streets. (Which is saying something!)
The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kid – A tale (based on fact) of the relationship between a white family and its black slaves in 19th century USA; slow and painful movement towards emancipation for slaves and women.
Look Who's Back – Timur Vermes – Hitler returns to Germany and is puzzled to find no-one believes it's really him.

Saxon Series – Tim Severin – a Saxon man goes on his travels.
Viking Series – Tim Severin – a Viking man goes on his travels!

Pompeii – Robert Harris – Story set around the eruption of Vesuvius.
Biography / Autobigraphy
H is for Hawk – Helen McDonald – While grieving for her father the writer distracts herself by training a Goshawk. While doing so she reflects on the life of her father; also on the life of novelist Terence Hanbury White who (cruelly and unsuccessfully) set out to train a Goshalk in the 1930s.
Running Like a Girl – Alexandra Heminsly – How the author prepared for running the London Marathon and how women won the right to take part in competitive events for long distance running. (Women were excluded from marathons until the 1970s. (1970s!))
This Boy – Alan Johnson – The former Home Secretary Alan Johnson describes how he grew up more or less parentless and in great poverty in 1950s London.

And last, but not least, four good-read classics
Barnaby Rudge – Charles Dickens – A man with learning difficulties is caught up in the Gordon Riots of 1780
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens – A father-daughter reunion during the horrors of the French Revolution. (End of 18th Century.)
The Trumpet Major – Thomas Hardy - Sexual harassment in Dorset during the Napoleonic Wars. (Early 19th Century)
Mayor of Castorbridge – Thomas Hardy – 19th Century England. A drunken itinerant worker sells his wife and his baby daughter at a village fair. By the time they catch up with him many years later he's the respectable Mayor of Casterbridge. In the intervening years his wife has been 'married' to a sailor and the Mayor himself has been engaged in a long-distance romance. All of which means . . . the reunion throws up a lot of problems. (!)

* * *
Have any of you been reading any of these books? If so - what did you think of them?

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I've not been posting here.
I've been feeling a bit constrained by the layout.
Ridiculous but true.
I thought I'd like a sophisticated background picture instead of doodles so I made one from a photograph. Sophisticated it may have been but dark and depressing it was as well. So I abandoned ship.

I haven't forgotten you though. I've still been talking to you in my head.

I silently mentioned that the Clematis armandii is flowering late this year - end of April instead of February.

I nearly told you that my apple tree had died.
It hasn't. (Phew!) But its buds looked dessicated.
I didn't think there was any way they would open. But opening they are.

Not that I could fully understand how it had died.
Surely it couldn't have been that I'd disturbed the roots so much when I planted the tulips (the tulips which got eaten every time they stuck a bit of green above ground) along beside it?
Then there's scale; quite a lot of it but surely not enough to kill it?
Or maybe woolly aphids last year. I know I should have dealt with them sooner.
In the end I decided it was because there's not been enough rain.
I've never watered my apple tree in the winter but it's growing in shallow ground next to an aridifying brick wall so perhaps I should have done. No matter. It may not produce many apples this year but at least it's not dead.
Sort of.
An espaliered apple tree along our south-facing wall means tall flowers can't go there too. They'd act as a sunblock in front of the low ripening fruit.
So the garden's a bit unvaried and flat; and flat geographically means emotionally flat too.
Tomatoes compensate for this somewhat but they are only there for the hottest part of the year.

(I'd been thinking I might train runner beans up dead apple branches and am a bit peeved that I won't be trying it.)

Oh. The books. I've waffled on about the apple tree when I'd promised to recommend books.
(Not gardening books but good reads.)
(Not that gardening books can't be good reads but I wouldn't be comfortable snuggling under the bedclothes with a tome on how to prune roses.)

Maybe I'll tell you about them next time.

Or maybe I won't.
I'm not very good at sticking to plans - even plans I've set for myself.

Meanwhile the background is blank. But that's probably just for today.
Will I be able to resist fiddling with the layout?
Probably not.
Tinkering with colours and the text is one of the things I like most about blogging.

(I've just sown lupin seeds in a seed tray. For a reason I've lost track of I was using my bed like greenhouse staging staging at the time. Now I have potting compost all over the duvet - and under it too. When Ming comes in I'll see if telling him I'm an Earth Mother turns out to be an acceptable excuse. That idea attracts me more than changing sheets on a Sunday afternoon.)