E F BENSON

Since being given, by my children, a Kindle, I’ve acquired a bad habit (to add to my many other ones) of purchasing books in the middle of the night during periods of sleepless boredom.  At such times you are probably more inclined to re-read some known and liked author rather than venture into the unknown territory of an untried author.  My latest purchase was a collection of the Mapp and Lucia novels by E F Benson, to the delights of which I was first introduced, years ago, by my erudite friend Elizabeth, now of Oxford.

They tell of English small town (really village) life – a subject of which I know practically nothing.   The period covered is one in which well ordered households still rejoiced in servants – parlour maids, cooks, gardeners.   Although you might think this would be a  cosy subject, in fact internecine wars are waged, campaigns fought, battles lost and won – all over significant issues such as who will play Queen Elizabeth 1 in a summer tableau.

One of the pleasures of reading this novel is that the house occupied at various times by both Mapp and Lucia is that of the novelist himself, Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex.      (This house was also occupied at an earlier period by the more famous author, Henry James.)    This  house is open under the National Trust scheme, although on a very restricted basis, so although it would not be entirely accurate to say it was only open when the moon was full, the wind was in the east, and it was a Wednesday with a P in the month, it certainly feels like this whenever you try to storm its barriers.   However, the actual house and the wider town of Rye are described with great accuracy in the novels and the recognition of these features is one of the pleasures of the books.    They are nicely observed, and very funny.

I recommend E F Benson.

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THE SOUND OF SILENCE

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

All my life, I have found myself with very little tolerance for noise.   Considering that I am a woman who can talk alot, I am extremely fond of silence.

Absolute silence is actually hard to come by, but there are certain quiet scenes in which those noises present are lovely.   Imagine yourself lying on a blanket in an English country field (No, it’s none of my business why you are lying there.)   Although it is warm, you can hear the small movement of a light breeze in the leaves above you.   Further off, there is the faint gurgling sound of a stream.   Over the hedge in the next field, you can hear the peaceful tug, tug, and chewing of cattle in grass.   Far off, and you are just aware of it, is the soaring sound of larks.   You can hear your companion’s breath falling slowly and rhythmically in and out of his body.   All is well in your world.

But how often do you hear these  sounds?

I thought I’d list ten of my liked, and ten disliked, sounds

Those I like include:

The sound of the feet, and then the voice, of someone you love.

The waves crashing on the shore.

The call of your cat (or other pet) in greeting to you as you return home.

A blackbird’s song in the evening.

A baby’s laughter.

A wind arising.

The hum on the trackline that signals your train is coming towards you.

A pipe band when you are far away from Scotland.

The piping sound some bird calls just before dawn.

Silence.

And to dislike:

The sound of the chain saw.

The braying noise made by those classes who have nothing to say but plenty of energy to say it and appear to have no volume control.

A door banging.

A football being kicked against a wall.

Leakage from people’s personal music system.

A child crying.

The noise of a motorway.

The voice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer whoever he may be.   (He never says, we’ve all done well, let’s treat ourselves to something really nice…)

Any music I have not chosen.

Any noise whatsoever from any person living near you but not a member of your household.

Sometimes, love over-rules all other considerations.   Men can be particularly noisy and bothersome.   But the noise made by the man you love is all music to your ears.   The peculiarity of his steps by which you can hear him coming long before he arrives;   the timbre of his voice, so yoiu can identify him in speech in another room even though you cannot distinguish what is being said.    The man of my life can sing and whistle, but even if what he produced was tuneless, you would still find it tolerable.   His saw, hammer, car engine, coughing – they are all beloved by you because where they are, he is.   Clearly the answer to noisy neighbours, is to love them!

You also become accustomed to certain noises.   In our childhood we often lived right beside railway lines, and we ceased to notice the noise of trains crashing through, but we became aware immediately of any problem on the line that caused the trains to stop.   Similarly I have never been able to tolerate the ticking of clocks and have been known to place clocks outside bedrooms in which I have been a guest.   So when John brought his father’s grandfather clock home, I wondered about it.   Yet it’s slow and steady tick-tock and its sonorous chiming are part of the fabric of our life, and again we only notice when it stops.

Some people of course do not have the gift of hearing and I must remind myself to be grateful for this enrichment of our lives.

PS   I sometimes rhapsodise about the dawn chorus.   This morning we awoke in our caravan in  a field at Rye, East Sussex, and the dawn chorus, I kid you not, consisted of a donkey, an owl, and a flock of seagulls!