I have only very recently discovered a new to me, very powerful, story teller: Elizabeth Strout. "Olive Kitteridge" is a beautifully observed novel, each chapter introducing and later revisiting and fleshing out a set of characters, all interconnected, living in a small town in coastal Maine, New England. It took me a long time to accept the emotional pain and troubled lives Strout uncovers for the reader, but she is gentle and empathic at all times and her characters, though complicated and flawed, become likeable in spite of themselves. I am glad I persevered, I have already bought "Olive Again" and will certainly explore more of her books, which are quite famous in the UK now, since she won the Pulitzer Prize.
I have been reading a lot of lightweight mysteries, as well as rubbishy novels which I've given up on (life's too short to let irritation take hold); lately I have felt that a better reading diet would do me good, so I've downloaded Anne Tyler, Penelope Lively, Rose Tremain, Maggie O'Farrell, Ali Smith, and a few others whose work I don't know yet; and for light relief, Nancy Mitford and P.G. Wodehouse. I have just counted the unread books on my Kindle, including non fiction, Travel, Myths, Nature and Poetry, there are 40 books in total. The unread books on my shelves come to a hundred or more; is it time I stopped buying new books? Is it possibly an excuse that my Kindle books are all very cheap, under one £Sterling, all offers by clever booksellers and publishers to draw the unwise in? Winter is coming, it's too cold and wet to do much gardening, and I can most often be found curled up in a comfy chair with a book (or Kindle) in my hand.
Talking of gardening: I haven't yet mentioned the Open Gardens on the last weekend of June. As always, visitors seemed to enjoy themselves. Saturday was cool and damp and windy and there were fewer than a hundred people all told.
On Sunday the weather was glorious, warm and balmy, neither too hot nor too cold and crowds turned up.
I sat on the sun terrace and had generously placed a few garden chairs around, there are always lots of people who have need of a sit down and many gardeners enjoy a natter about all things horticultural. As do I. There are also a few benches dotted about here and there and visitors are always welcome to make use of them.
I had quite a number of enquiries this year about trees; I watched a group of people clearly wondering what sort of tree my elderly walnut tree was and seemed unwilling to accept my explanation - in a nice way and with much exclamation of surprise. Not many people nowadays have walnut trees in cottage gardens. Another couple was smitten with my weeping pear tree. I admit it is a rather splendid specimen, I hadn't cut its umbrella of thin, graceful ash grey branches and silver leaves at all this year. It looks like a ballerina in a wide hoop skirt about 2 ½ metres across. I too would admire it if I came across it in somebodies garden.
I am glad that I decided to put myself through the effort and hard work; I freely admit quite an important reason for my decision was to show the world my "suffering at the mean hands" of my neighbours. (He actually turned up, the cheek of the man!) That's not all, of course, I like gardening and am quite proud of the result of my labours, as well as the positive feedback from visitors. Nearly everybody always praises my views; like I told the estate agent who came to value my house "It's a location to die for". Well, maybe not quite.
There is something I learned from the Open Gardens too, something about a failing I know I have and have had forever: I am inclined to judge people by their appearance.
There was this elderly couple, late 60s maybe, a little drab, even shabby looking, with the colour of people who work outdoors, gently strolling about. By and by they reached the sun terrace where I was sitting and stopped to chat about a plant or two, I forget which. I don't know how it happened - did they ask who tended the garden?, was I the only gardener?, did I live alone? how did I cope? ; eventually, in the most unassuming manner, without in the least pushing themselves forward, they opened up and said that they had both been widowed and quite accidentally found each other and saved each other from the blight of loneliness. I was right to think that they lived on and off the land. She said "he brought a flock of sheep into the union." They were quietly happy and contented, probably not very well off. I had the impression they had everything they needed. So there was I, sitting on my sun terrace, with a house behind me larger than one person needs and proudly showing off my garden to these people who have so much more than I have in my lonely existence. Me and my stupid middle class superiority, I have swallowed wholesale the idiotic English attitude that class matters. Time I remembered where I come from. I have envied the little couple ever since.