28 February 2009

A bit of an enigma

Some time ago I happened upon these two pairs of shoes left on the pavement - not outside the mosque, but outside the back gate of the museum. I have no idea why they were left there - I suppose one pair could have been abandoned as uncomfortable, but two? They were gone by the next day...

27 February 2009

Fiction: twenty five favourites

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)
Collected Ghost Stories, M R James (1931)
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons (1932)
The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L Sayers (1934)
The Laird and the Lady, Joan Grant (1949)
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey (1951)
The Tiger in the Smoke, Margery Allingham (1952)
Cotillion, Georgette Heyer (1953)
The Once and Future King, T H White (1958)
Love on a Branch Line, John Hadleigh (1959)
Too Many Ghosts, Paul Gallico (1961)
Tree and Leaf, J R R Tolkien (1964)
The House on the Strand, Daphne du Maurier (1969)
The Ringed Castle, Dorothy Dunnett (1971)
Thomas the Fish, Diana Morgan (1976)
Glimpses of the Moon, Edmund Crispin (1977)
The Roses of Picardie, Simon Raven (1979)
Flying to Nowhere, John Fuller (1983)
Noah’s Ark, Barbara Trapido (1984)
One Thing Leading to Another, Sylvia Townsend Warner (1984)
Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd (1985)
Knots & Crosses, Ian Rankin (1987)
Unaccustomed Spirits, Elizabeth Pewsey (1997)
Unicorn’s Blood, Patricia Finney (1998)
The Book of Dave, Will Self (2006)

That was hard!

Quite a lot of it at one extreme or the other, it appears: happy and joyful (or at least humorous) or distinctly Gothic. It leaves out an awful lot of favourites, like Elizabeth Goudge’s Towers in the Mist, and like Jilly in her jillysheep blog, I often found it difficult to choose among a series or an author’s work, like which of Dorothy Dunnett’s ‘Lymond’ books to go for. And the M R James and the Sylvia Townsend Warner are short stories rather than novels, of course.

Apart from the Will Self, what about the last ten years’ worth, you may ask? That was when I finally tipped over into reading more non-fiction – cue yet another list, perhaps.

24 February 2009

Children's Books

I'm not absolutely sure, and I've put them in date order because order of preference is too hard, but I think these might be the ones I'd keep from my collection of nigh on two thousand, if I could have only twenty five. It would be a devilish hard choice, mind!

Alice Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll (1864)
(or Thogh the Looking Glass, as I was convinced it was called on first reading, aged seven)

Eight Cousins (or possibly An Old-Fashioned Girl) Louisa M Alcott (1875)
(Both much nicer than Little Women, in my not so humble opinion)

Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard Eleanor Farjeon (1921)

Bunkle Butts In M Pardoe (1943)

The Little White Horse Elizabeth Goudge (1946)
(still the favourite!)

The Lost Staircase Elinor M Brent-Dyer (1946)
(Brent-Dyer in a more romantic/ historic mood)

Eudoria’s Broomstick Victor Knowland (1950)

(totally obscure fantasy adventure, but with typically postwar emphasis on food - especially steamed puddings, for some reason)

A Swarm in May William Mayne (1955)

The Warden’s Niece Gillian Avery (1963)
(I had the opportunity of telling the author how much I loved it and she was disappointed because it was one she'd written so long ago!)

Nurse Matilda Christianna Brand (1964)
(always makes me think of my hordes of cousins, knowing the author was similarly placed)

Bottersnikes and Gumbles A S Wakefield (1967)
(more fantasy - the cranky snikes versus the jolly gumbles in the Australian Bush)

The Owl Service Alan Garner (1967)
(still one of the most haunting things I've ever read)

A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K Le Guin (1968)

Creed Country Jenny Overton (1969)
(family dynamics and historical research, so two favourite themes combined)

Septimus and the Danedyke Mystery Stephen Chance (1971)
(about as much a children's book as Garner's are...)

The Cuckoo Tree Joan Aiken (1971)

The Cricket Term Antonia Forest (1974)

Robinsheugh Eileen Dunlop (1975)
(more time travel, this time in Scotland)

The Bassumtyte Treasure Jane Curry (1978)
(the one I always read when I'm ill, for some reason: it always takes me out of myself, perhaps because of the time travel/ reincarnation element)

A Midsummer Night’s Death K M Peyton (1978)

Fire and Hemlock Diana Wynne Jones (1984)
(technically by far the best of her books - this one's literature, to my mind)

The Hounds of the Morrigan Pat O’Shea (1985)

They Do Things Differently There Jan Mark (1994)
(completely surreal!)

Artemis Fowl and the Eternity Code Eoin Colfer (2003)

The New Policeman Kate Thompson (2007)
Celtic fantasy with lots of Irish traditional tunes woven in

What I noticed when I first attempted this exercise was the preponderance of 1960s and 70s titles - so books I'd encountered in my teens and twenties rather than my childhood. Sadly, I notice that I’ve virtually given up on contemporary children’s books, apart from those by authors whose work I already know (always happy to read Diana Wynne Jones, Eoin Colfer, Kate Thompson), which is a great shame. But too many of the current crop are all alike to me – too often I find that fifteen or twenty pages in I’m struggling to remember the characters’ names – and can’t feel very bothered about them anyway. That's a fairly unfortunate observation when you consider that one of my favourite genres is fantasy, which should be memorable if nothing else.

Publishers are far too obviously desperate to find the next J K Rowling. There actually may not be one, guys, or at least not for a bit. I’d say the previous comparable equivalent was Enid Blyton, and she published her last full length work in 1965!

15 February 2009

Idiolect – It’s the way I speak, innit?

I’ve long been aware of idiolect, or personal vocabulary, and fascinated by it. Not so much words or phrases which are unique to somebody – they’d obviously be part of it, but are only a tiny percentage – but what makes your vocabulary yours. Constructions, choice of words, aberrations, idioms. Shibboleths come into it, too, obviously: many English-speaking Canadians pronounce the word ‘about’ as ‘aboat’ for example, to the extent that if I do hear it I find I’m usually listening to a Canadian, or at least a person who has lived in Canada or spent a lot of time with Canadians. Speaking of which, a former colleague of Keith’s, who was a translator and linguistics expert, once said to me that he would always have known that I was East Anglian. Well, OK, I though, but you have been told, and you’re East Anglian yourself, so that’s hardly surprising. Then he went on to ask – at which point I nearly yelled with surprise, since he had no way of knowing that – “How come you’ve spent so much time with Irish people?”

I do draw the line at pulling out a notebook and writing down what people are saying to me, as was the practice of a German room-mate I once had. Still, that was a question of trying to improve her vocabulary in a foreign language, which is perhaps a bit more understandable (I wonder if she still remembers an expression our Welsh room-mate used of the doctor’s receptionist “Oh she’s a real nasty old piece of knitting”?). That Civil Service hostel I inhabited in my middle twenties certainly had a varied and changing population, and my idiolect still carries some of the souvenirs, such as the useful verb ‘to broddle’ (to dig/ poke about in order to find something), as contributed by my Yorkshire-born friend Sheila Mary.

I’m not sure that that one hasn’t passed into the ecolect (what the household speaks), actually. In almost thirty years it’s inevitable that Keith and I have caught usages such as ‘a driddle’, ‘never ask’, ‘meesen’ (mice), ‘chop chop’ and ‘no-brainer; from each other, and coined a few between us. “What is Termite soup?” asked our friend Victor, looking bemusedly at the joint shopping list. But then Victor himself was one of those astonishing people who not only speak several languages, and manage to keep them separate, but can just switch in and out of them. My spoken idiolect has too much mixing of languages in it, and definitely too many bastardisations (even if they are deliberate). Trouble is, these things can be surprisingly memorable. Typos from letters of enquiry, for example, such as musume, everlope and samp. And then there are the ones which start as mis-read words and then stick – that’s a category all on its own, though I know I’m not alone there. Yesterday a friend mis-read ‘Pie of the Day’ as ‘Pig of the Day’ on a menu, for example, and we all agreed that his version sounded much better…