Actually, the week before the week before Christmas:

MONDAY 12/12/22:

It’s very cold and all the dogs round us are in dog jackets or jumpers and my, they do not look happy about it. The only one who can treat the whole thing with disdain is a greyhound who has a very stylish grey jacket and still manages to look beautiful. A pot of thyme seems to have had a near death experience while spending the night inside the kitchen so my partner revives it with sips of water and placing it under a bright light. Our conversations are all about the weather. Shall we put the heating on? When shall we turn it off? I get a complicated mathematical thing off the internet to work out how much a unit on our gas meter is actually costing us especially when we see the increase in the direct debits.

TUESDAY 13/12/22:

We try and buy a tree only to be told they are sold out. Sold out! It’s a fortnight before Christmas! How can they be sold out? I troll off to another place where I think they are being sold and am greeted with, ‘Alright, mate?’ I put it down to the hat pulled down to the level of my eyebrows. ‘How much are they?’ ‘I’ll get Tom.’ Tom emerges from a hut and doesn’t look too happy about it. ‘Can I have a look at some of them?’ I say. They tear the netting off one which I don’t like. ‘It’s all spindly and bald at the top,’ I say. ‘Oh, we’ve got bushy,’ Tom growls and rips the netting of another which I do prefer. Before I can prevent them they’ve whacked the trunk into a big wooden block. Cash changes hands. ‘Now I have to see if I can carry it,’ I say. ‘Oh, you’ll be alright,’ one of them says and lifts it into my arms. I stagger to the corner and get out of sight before dropping it. I was hoping to drag it but can’t because of the wooden block. Takes me a while to get home, forearms burning.

tabby cat on green christmas tree

Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels.com

WEDNESDAY 14/12/22:

To the theater for the first time since Covid to see A Christmas Carol at the Bridge theater with Simon Russell Beale as Scrooge. It was first put together for Christmas 2020 and we all know what happened then. It’s lovely to be back in a theater and because it’s a relatively new one the place does not overheat or run out of oxygen. Very few coughs I notice. Pre-Covid it wasn’t unusual to have whole theaters hacking away. I suppose if you have a cough now you stay away from crowded spaces. I would hope so anyway.

THURSDAY 15/12/22:

A miracle occurs we have Christmas cards, we have stamps, we write out cards. I look at the list of names I sent cards to last year. A few have a series of little question marks next to them like this ????? Did I or didn’t I? Do I now? A feeling of falling into a bottomless pit overwhelms me. Time for a cup of tea.

We watch Lucy Worsley’s take on Agatha Christie. The media has this obsession with the ‘new’. Everything has to be new. Has Lucy made new discoveries about Agatha’s disappearance? Well, no she certainly hasn’t, the whole fugue state theory round Christie’s disappearance has been around forever, but it doesn’t stop the BBC doing a three hour series with Lucy as the presenter. It’s perfectly watchable but her theorizing lacks rigour. I also feel irritated by her comment on Agatha’s first husband being incredibly hot. Mean little eyes and the slab like face of a bully. And he behaved incredibly badly. Why doesn’t she comment on Agatha’s rather beautiful face. The programme is about Christie after all. Or is it really all about Lucy.

FRIDAY 16/12/22:

We watch Vienna Blood. I love the setting, the clothes, the interiors. In fact everything but the script which is appalling, incredibly wooden and clunky. Couldn’t they have spent a bit more on the script for heaven’s sake? The same could apply to Strike. I like Tom Burke and Holly Grainger but that is all. Again the script is awful and some horrible attempt at comedy using a caricature of an elderly woman with IBS is unbelievably vile. Fart jokes? Really? OK, Strike is supposed to be the strong silent type but Burke can act. Give him more and better lines. Don’t just have him stand around looking like a lugubrious Labrador in a big coat.

SATURDAY 17/12/22:

All this week we have been obsessed with condensation. As a consequence we now have the cleanest kitchen windows ever. EVER. I go to Paperchase and all their cards and a lot of their goods are 30% off and there’s a week to go before Christmas. I’ve never seen that before. We crack and get Apple TV to watch Slow Horses. This series is so very good – smart, funny and pacy. It reminds you it can be done. I’d rather watch Gary Oldman (as Jackson Lamb) eat Chinese noodles (1st episode, second series) for an hour than waste any more time on Vienna Blood or Strike.

SUNDAY 18/12/22:

I watch the world cup final. As the match progresses I realise I am very heavily invested in Messi lifting the World Cup so when everything appears to be going pear shaped with France’s two goals in 90 seconds, I decide I can’t watch the rest. I just keep an eye on my phone. Then when they win I regret not watching. I don’t know how proper football fans can stand it. I fall asleep wondering about those little??? against certain names. Did I or didn’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I?

How are your Christmas preparations going?


It was 1996 and a friend of mine had just died. Looking back, I now know that if he had survived a bit longer he would have benefited from the antiretrovirals and combination therapies that were to revolutionise the treatment of AIDS but he just didn’t make it. He was 42, it was awful and my sister and I were his executors. The aftermath of his death was fraught for all the usual reasons and we’d reached the point of going through everything and deciding what to throw out and what to keep and who got what etc. I was going through his papers and came across a catalogue which I can best describe as being for rugged Americans. His main interest was leather but this catalogue was filled with butch men wearing lumberjack shirts and the kind of heavy boots which would easily resist a dropped chain saw. It was all very John Wayne and also from another angle very YMCA. In this catalogue, LL Bean I think it was, there was also a two-layer, red union suit. If you don’t know what that is feast your eyes below. A bit wrinkly but you get the general idea. Incidentally my partner suggested I might like to pose in it. Think what you’ve been spared.


At the time I was living in a Housing Association house in Finsbury Park in North London. The house was wonderful but it was also bitterly cold; ice on the inside of the windows cold. So cold that the house cat (like the inhabitants, relatively feral) would crawl into bed with me at night and sleep against my kidneys. This union suit, I thought, would be the perfect item to ward off the cold. This was the very early days of the internet and so I must have filled out the sales slip and posted it off with my credit card details. And waited.

At some point in the middle of the summer, a postman turned up with my parcel demanding an eye watering amount of tax. It was about a quarter of the value of the clothes. I paid somewhat bitterly and tore open the parcel and there was my union suit. Now I just had to wait for cold weather. Eventually, a suitably cold day arrived and I put it on. Hurrah, I thought, the cold will not defeat me. Out I went in it and down into the underground, Piccadilly line as I remember it, quite a toasty line. And then on a very crowded, rush hour train I almost fainted from heat exhaustion. The trouble with a union suit I had discovered was its unity. It is impossible to get out of a union suit on a crowded tube and it is impossible to get any air into it. After that I was a bit wary. I remember once falling asleep wearing it when the electric blanket was on. The cat really approved of that episode. She became so soporific she couldn’t be bothered to swipe and bite when I scratched the top of her head. I had to drink about 2 liters of water to recover.

I still have it and feel that my union suit might be about to come into its own, what with the increase in energy prices and everything. But I now know that I can’t wear it out when I will encounter a range of warmer temperatures. Even though there are now all kinds of more sophisticated warm clothing (UNIQLO and their Heattech range for example) I still have a sneaking affection for it. I could have given it to charity or a passing cowboy but I haven’t.

Actually I blame my mother. She loved a good western and had a penchant for Zane Grey. But really what was I thinking of, these things are designed for people chopping down trees in snowy Montana or Maine (the home of LL Bean) not hopping on and off the tube in London. Who did I think I was? John Wayne’s sister?

P.S. Incidentally, if you’re interested LL Bean still sell them and I can vouch both for their warmth and their durability!


Amidst the family papers I was writing about last time were letters and stamps and after the death of the Queen I found myself looking at the stamps in a slightly different way. Noticing things I hadn’t before. Some of these I removed from family letters, thinking I should send them off to charities that can sell them. Some I found loose among the family effects.


From the top, two penny reds, Queen Victoria, George VI, Edward VIII (who abdicated), George V and then George V and his wife (the late Queen Mother). This one celebrated the coronation in May 1937. The stamp of Edward VIII is actually dated 1937 but he abdicated in December 1936.  I suppose there will also be a delay before the head of Charles III appears on our stamps.


What I found interesting in the above photo was that the first stamps of the Queen in the 1950s have her looking out at us; they are not a profile view. Now why was that done, I wonder? Was it because she was young and pretty? Will we get Charles looking out at us or in profile? Psychologically, I think the positioning of the head is interesting. After all if someone is looking at us, it is more intimate, warmer. She even seems to be smiling slightly. She becomes less symbolic and more human – a young woman, not just a queen. There was also clearly a certain point where the image of the Queen on the stamps stopped ageing. The ones bottom left being relatively recent. Incidentally none of Edward VII, King from 1901-1910. Maybe my family just stopped letter writing then!

I wonder how long stamps will last for. I love Christmas stamps and still send Christmas cards but I know lots of people don’t and I don’t blame them. A first class stamp now costs 95 pence, quite a cost when we are in a cost of living crisis.  Why do that when you can send an e-card with fireworks and dancing squirrels and tweeting birds? I love them by the way but they don’t hold history like a stamp, do they? It’s going to be a lot harder for social historians of the future with all those e-mails locked away behind password protected accounts.

When was the last time you put a stamp on an envelope?


The first novel Miss Marple appeared in was Murder in the Vicarage published in 1930. However the first description of her is in a short story published in 1927 titled the Tuesday Night Club later published in a book called The Thirteen Problems in 1932. She was to appear in 12 novels and 20 short stories (Poirot was 33 novels and 50 short stories). Here is Agatha Christie’s  first ever description of her.

“Miss Marple wore a black brocade dress, very much pinched in about the waist. Mechlin lace (excuse me, what?) was arranged in a cascade down the front of the bodice. She had on black lace mittens, (mittens?)and a black lace cap surmounted the piled-up masses of her snowy hair. She was knitting (knitting with mittens? Now there’s a thing.)- something white and soft and fleecy (her own hair perhaps?).”

In Murder in the Vicarage the vicar’s wife is not at all taken with Miss Marple describing her as ‘the worst cat in the village’ which makes her sound weirdly funky. The vicar himself, as he should be, is somewhat more charitable describing her as,  ‘A white haired old lady with a gentle and appealing manner.’ This last description is the one Christie seems to have settled on for the future books although the cat description is not ditched entirely. Sergeant Hay describes her as ‘an old tabby,’ in A Pocket Full of Rye (1953).

Here’s Miss Marple arriving at Yewtree Lodge in A Pocket Full of Rye.

“So charming, so innocent, such a fluffy and pink and white old lady was Miss Marple that she gained admittance to what was now practically a fortress … far more easily than can have been thought possible.”

And here she is on the same page.

“Crump saw a tall, elderly lady wearing a old fashioned tweed coat, a couple of scarves and a small felt hat with a bird’s wing. The old lady carried a capacious handbag and an aged but good quality suitcase reposed at her feet.”

This is the way she is portrayed in the many TV and film versions. If Christie’s physical descriptions of her vary the knitting remains constant.

Here she is waking up in At Bertram’s Hotel (1965).

“Miss Marple got back into bed, plumped her pillows up, glanced at her clock, half past seven … Then she picked up her knitting and began to knit, slowly at first, since her fingers were stiff and rheumatic when she first awoke, but very soon her pace grew faster, and her fingers lost their painful stiffness.”

And here she is in A Mirror Cracked from Side to Side (1962).

“Miss Marple uttered a sharp exclamation of annoyance. She’d dropped a stitch again. Not only that, she must have dropped it some time ago. Not until now, when she had to decrease for the neck and count the stitches had she realised the fact. She took up a spare pin, held the knitting sideways to the light and peered anxiously.”


Throughout all the books she appears in she is depicted knitting, dropping her knitting, dropping and counting stitches, pushing her knitting away from her, sending people knitted items:  Thank you so much for the pullover, it’s just what I wanted etc. There is even in 4.50 from Paddington a description of her being ‘particularly woolly and fluffy  – a picture of a sweet old lady.’  It could make you long for Madame Defarge.

I like this exchange between Pat and Miss Marple in A Pocket Full of Rye:

“What are you knitting?”

“Oh, just a little matinée coat, dear. For a baby you know. I always say young mothers can’t have too many matinée coats for their babies. It’s the second size. I always knit the second size. Babies so soon grow out of the first size.”

Pat stretched out long legs towards the fire.

“It’s nice in here today,” she said. ‘With the fire and the lamps and you knitting things for babies. It all seems cosy and homely and like England ought to be.”

“It’s like England is,” said Miss Marple…

Although, as we know, Miss Marple’s England is far from cosy and homely. It is a place riddled with appalling people committing terrible crimes and no amount of stuffing wool in the ears or pulling woolly hats over the eyes can hide that. However by the end of each book Miss Marple has solved the crime and returned us temporarily to that cosy and homely place where we can draw breath and doze by the fire to the comforting clacking of her knitting needles before the next shocking eruption of violence occurs.

In Nemesis (1971) the final novel that Miss Marple appears in, Jason Rafiel writes to her (from beyond the grave) in the following terms inviting her to solve an unspecified crime:

“I envisage you knitting more jackets, head scarves and a good many other things of which I do not know the name. If you prefer to continue knitting, that is your decision. If you prefer to serve the cause of justice, I hope you may at least find it interesting.”

As any knitter will tell you, Jason has got it all wrong. Although he’s dead so we can’t tell him. Miss Marple serves the cause of justice by knitting. It helps her think. It helps her unravel what is going on. It helps her solve the crimes. She follows the patterns of human behaviour just as she follows a pattern for a baby’s jacket. She serves the cause of justice by knitting not by setting it to one side.  I suppose in that respect she could be seen as being similar to Madame Defarge whose death register of a scarf she also sees as serving the cause of justice.

Finally, a very important question. Have you ever tried knitting in mittens and how did it go? Oh dear, I fear that won’t get the comments flowing so how about another one. Who would you prefer to knit you a scarf Miss Marple or Madame Defarge? That should get the little grey cells hopping about.


Evil knitter Number One is definitely Madame Defarge. Here is how Charles Dickens introduces her in A Tale of Two Cities, a book set during the French Revolution.

brown and black tiger lying on ground

Photo by Julissa Helmuth on Pexels.com

“Madame Defarge was a stout woman … with a watchful eye that seldom seemed to look at anything, a large hand heavily ringed, a steady face, strong features, and great composure of manner. There was a character about Madame Defarge  from which one might have predicated that she did not often make mistakes against herself in any of the reckonings over which she presided.”

I’m guessing no dropped stitches then. And you see where all that knitting leads to? GREAT COMPOSURE OF MANNER. That’s my aim. Madame Defarge embodies vengeance and the need for revenge. Not qualities you’d necessarily associate with an avid knitter but the cause of her blood thirstiness is that her family has been destroyed by the aristocratic Evrémondes.

“Madame Defarge being sensitive to cold was wrapped in fur, and had a quantity of bright shawl twined about her head, though not to the concealment of her large earrings. Her knitting was before her but she had laid it down to pick her teeth with a toothpick.”

Bloody hell. I can’t say I’ve ever lain down my knitting for a toothpick, a sip from a glass of white wine, would be more like it. But what exactly is Madame Defarge doing as she sits in her husband’s wine shop watching the comings and goings? This is what a spy wonders and is brave enough to ask her. Here is their exchange.

‘You knit with great skill, madame.’

‘I am accustomed to it.’

‘A pretty pattern too.’

”You think so?’ said madame, looking at him with a smile.

‘Decidedly. May one ask what it is for?’*

‘Pastime,’ said madame, still looking at him with a smile while her fingers moved nimbly.

‘Not for use?’

‘That depends. I may find a use for it one day…’

Pastime? What she is actually doing is knitting the names of those she thinks should meet their end under the guillotine’s blade. Knitting as code then. Knitting as a sentence of death. A bit chilling, isn’t it? And the exact opposite of something cosy and domestic. Later on we get this rather nice scene.

“Take you my knitting,” said Madame Defarge, placing it in her lieutenants hands, “and have it ready for me in my usual seat.”

Her usual seat incidentally being near the guillotine where she can watch the heads roll. I don’t know what’s happened to the world but there’s a severe shortage of lieutenants for carrying one’s knitting around at the moment. Can’t find one anywhere. I blame Brexit. Might just have to carry it myself then.

There are three chapters which mention knitting in the book. Chapter 15 KNITTING, Chapter 16 STILL KNITTING, and then the penultimate chapter, KNITTING DONE. The last one, you won’t be surprised to hear, is the one in which Madame Defarge meets her end at the hands of Miss Pross. She does call Miss Pross, ‘Woman imbecile and pig-like’ which is pretty rude all things considered.

Miss Pross on the left, Madame Defarge on the right.

Finally, here is a fine description of Madame Defarge striding through the streets of Paris. Dickens, it seems to me, is half in love with her, half horrified by her.

“There were many women at that time, upon whom time laid a dreadfully disfiguring hand; but there was not one among them more to be dreaded than this ruthless woman, now taking her way along the streets. Of a strong and fearless character, of shrewd sense and readiness, of great determination, of that kind of beauty which not only seems to impart to its possessor firmness and animosity, but to strike into others an instinctive recognition of those qualities; the troubled times would have heaved her up, under any circumstances. But imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and an inveterate hatred of a class, opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had the virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her.”

So there we have her the pitiless knitter, the tigress, the embodiment of revenge, Madame Defarge. I aspire to all of her skill but none of her vengeance!

* Please note that ‘No you may not’ is a perfectly appropriate reply from any beginner knitter to this footling question.


Oh, there you are. Or are you? Given that it’s approximately one year and seven months since I was last on here, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you weren’t. There, that is. But if you are, a very big warm hello and thank you. If you’re completely new, know that this blog has had an absence and has now returned and please do come along for the ride.

Now that I’m back I want to talk about knitting. I know the title of the blog is Of Writers and Writing but there we are, things and people change. The pandemic has altered us all. Perhaps I should rename it Of Writers, Writing and Wool.

What happened was this. I had a secret yearning to knit. I went on Etsy and bought a beginners kit and then I bought another and then my partner said: ‘How many scarves can you wear?’ And now I’m hanging around online ogling wool shops although for some reason I haven’t been able to set foot in one. Not strictly true I did go in one but only because I was encouraged. When I was a bookseller I thought it was good to bear in mind that for some people bookshops were intimidating. Well for me a wool shop is because I don’t know what I am doing. Will I point at patterns and scream with horror or laugh inappropriately. Do I know my DK from my Aran, my chunky from my super chunky. Well, just look in the mirror darling.

So, I know you long to look at my knitting. Here are the early ones that I might join to create a sort of Tom Baker/Dr Who thing.


I was rather proud of the one on the seat of the chair until I made the mistake of wearing it to my local Co Op and had a set back. The woman serving me clapped her hands to her cheeks and exclaimed:  ‘Oh my God, that scarf just screams Christmas.’ And dear reader we were regrettably many months from that date. I did also think, turquoise and orange? What sort of Christmas are you having? Can I have it too? Maybe what she meant was that it was the kind of dodgy present an aunt might give to you that you immediately put away and then give to a charity shop. Incidentally during lock down our Co Op appeared to have taken on a large number of staff who had previously been acting in West End musicals. I particularly enjoyed the blond boy who raised an eyebrow when he looked at my shopping basket containing a pineapple, a roll of bin liners and a bottle of white wine and said: ‘Friday night essentials?’ This is a very good reason for not using those self service machines. They don’t make you laugh in the same way.


These are better I think. The wool is spun by The West Yorkshire Spinners which sounds like a sixties band.


This one is my current work in progress. My partner keeps saying what is it because she’s terrified I’m going to throw it on the bed which is clearly not a good idea. I think it’s a huge shawl thing. Or maybe I’ll put it over my knees in the winter like an elderly crone. That’s presupposing we ever have another winter. Takes a bit of time to get that 40 degrees out of your system, doesn’t it?

Sorry for the absence. Lovely to be back. Next time, hopefully not one year and seven months later, you might get a little of the neuroscience of knitting. Or a yarn about yarn. And eventually I’ll probably get back to the writing and writers thing. Tune in to see if I get over my wool shop phobia. Tell me below of your experiences of knitting. Did your mother, grandmother, father or grandfather or aunt knit. Is that a pair of homemade socks I see on your feet? Have you seen a nice bit of knitting on film? Could you explain to me how you use circular needles without feeling dizzy?

* Madame Defarge evil knitter in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities.


The starting book this week for Six Degrees of Separation is Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. If you want to find out about how to join in here’s the link at Books are my Favourite and Best. It’s not a book I’d heard of before but I gather that in it a young girl talks to God about her problems.

The opposite of God is Satan so my next book is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis in this book Screwtape is an elderly devil high up in the Infernal Civil Service who is giving advice to a younger one, his nephew Wormwood, as to how to lead human beings into sin.

The Screwtape Letters (Annotated) by [C.S.  Lewis]

Anthony Hopkins played C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands. The film was about Lewis’ love affair with the american Joy Davidman and her subsequent death. Hopkins also played the butler, Stevens,  in the film The Remains of the Day which was based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Another famous fictional butler is of course Jeeves of the P.G. Wodehouse comic novels so my next choice is Thank you, Jeeves.

A bit of a blurry cover but at least you can see the banjo. In that book Jeeves quits because of Bertie’s terrible banjo playing. A famous banjo playing scene occurs in Deliverance a book by James Dickey turned into a film with Burt Reynolds. In that book four friends decide to go on a canoe trip in the north west Georgian wilderness and all kinds of terrible things happen to them.

Another book set in a boat is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. In that book a young boy is shipwrecked in a boat with a Bengal tiger who he has to persuade not to eat him.

And finally another book with a tiger in it is R.K. Narayan’s A Tiger for Malgudi in which an ageing tiger encounters a guru and learns about non-violence. It’s written from the point of view of the tiger.

So there we have it from God to Tigers in six degrees or should I say tiggerish bounds? Have you read any of these and if so what did you think of them?

Next month (January 2nd, 2021) the start book is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Why don’t you join in?


“I went out to the kitchen to make coffee – yards of coffee. Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved. The life blood of tired (wo)men.” THE LONG GOODBYE

brown coffee beans

Photo by Vitaly Vlasov on Pexels.com

During the first lock down, once I had stocked up on loo roll,  my main fear was running out of coffee. Obviously a lot of people felt the same because to start with I couldn’t get any. I had some stores but I was fretting. Obviously displacement fretting but all the same fretting. And then I went shopping one day and lo and behold packs of coffee so hurrah and snatch snatch off the shelf. It was only when I got home that I realised they were packets of beans and I have no grinder. I did consider smashing them up with a hammer or a rolling pin; I certainly felt cross enough to do that but my partner dissuaded me and then ground coffee became available fairly soon afterwards and so the bags of beans were shoved to the back of the cupboard. 

Time passed.  

I live opposite a car showroom and this came out of lock down quite early. Lester was the man who used to work for them washing the cars and cleaning the forecourt etc… Lester knew everyone in the district because he used to hang out in the open and chat.  The car show room is situated at the beginning of a cut through which follows along the base of an overground part of the London tube which is lined with garages. It is used by a lot of people and Lester was one of those people who talks to everyone.  Lester kept the cars and forecourt immaculate and did so with very little fuss and other than friendly chat, and a bit of hail fellow well met, not much noise. Unfortunately he also occasionally took to the bottle so  he was fired and everyone missed him.

A replacement was hired who, for the purposes of this post, I’ll call LBM (Leafblower Man). He wears a bright orange jump suit and has a leaf blower which he loves. I became aware of him and the leaf blower because it  was a new and persistent noise. I am used to noise. If you live on a busy main road with the tube rumbling past, and the skip lorries taking the corner at pace and the jingle jangle of the chains that hold them in place you either get used to it or you go mad. I am also used to the very distinctive whine that bus engines make when trapped in traffic.

The leaf blower drove me nuts because it was on so long and he was using it in such a hopeless way. So I took to watching LBM from the window with a running commentary of why I found him so irritating and how there were still lots of leaves under the cars which he had not blown out and that he was simply blowing the leaves into the bicycle lane and the wind was blowing them back and what was the point of that and Lester would quietly have raked them up and put them in green bags while shooting the breeze with whoever etc etc and making everyone feel better about life. So I went on like this until my partner told me to stop.

two coffee latte

Photo by Anna Urlapova on Pexels.com

Then one day I looked at the beans and I thought I have to buy a coffee grinder, so I did. This was about six months after buying the beans. I am what is called a late adopter. And on the first day I was happily grinding my beans and I realised how much I was enjoying making a new and not very persistent noise. And now, strangely enough, LBM no longer annoys me. All it has taken is 20 seconds a day in order to drink my own ruthless, strong depraved …. etc. 

So, have you got anything sitting in your cupboard that you bought in a panic/by mistake in the beginning of lockdown? Or have you bought a new gadget? Tell me about it. Has anyone out there got a milk frother?


Six degrees of separation is an idea of Kate’s at Books are my Favourite and Best, where the idea is that everyone begins with the same book and links to six other books to form a chain. To find out more take a look here.

The start book this month will be different for everyone because it is either the last book you read or the one you ended the last one with which in my case was Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabwala, a Booker Prize winner set in India. You get heat and dust in a desert and so my next book is Desert Hearts (Film) /Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule.

Desert Hearts [The Criterion Collection] [Blu-ray] [Region Free]

The book was a landmark lesbian novel that came out in 1964 and was turned into a film in 1986. I went to see the UK premier. Every lesbian in London was in that cinema (slight exaggeration) and it was a very appreciative audience! It’s about a college professor who comes to Nevada to get a divorce. She has to be resident for six weeks  and in that time she has an affair with a young casino worker. It’s a long time since I’ve read it and I imagine it’s fairly dated now but reading it in the 80s was a big fat relief mainly because it wasn’t The Well of Loneliness which is my next book. 

What to say about The Well of Loneliness (1928)? It’s a lesbian classic and Hall was brave to write it but it’s extraordinarily overwrought, gay people are described as inverts and they are all miserable and doom laden, so don’t read it if you want to be cheered up. And don’t whatever you do give it to your parents. The writer Mary Renault (see below) read it in 1938 and remembered laughing at its “earnest humourlessness” and “impermissible allowance of self-pity.” So you’ve been warned! Moving swiftly on, let’s now jump down that well. And here we are in a Haruki Murakami’s book, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, in which a man ends up spending some time in the bottom of a well. Don’t ask me why but he definitely does. I don’t remember him being that lonely. I think he goes down there to think. Oh, and there’s a missing cat and a man gets skinned alive. Well, that’s Murakami for you. Be warned.

Another book Murakami wrote shares a title with an Ernest Hemingway book titled Men Without Women.

Hemingway’s was a collection of short stories. The Undefeated is about an injured  bull fighter trying to work his way back into the ring. Bull fighting was one of Hemingway’s obsessions (see Fiesta) and so this brings us to the aforementioned Mary Renault and her book, The Bull from the Sea.

Prod most historical fiction writers and they may well cite Mary Renault as  one of the reasons they write in that genre. The Bull from the Sea describes what happens when Theseus returns home from having vanquished the Minotaur and is the sequel to The King Must Die. I wonder what she would make of the many books coming out covering the Greek Myths: The Song of Achilles, Circe, The Silence of the Girls, A Thousand Ships, Orpheia etc, etc… I could have gone there but instead I’m going to wade into that sea. But only up to my ankles. 

Sea is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, isn’t it? Too many potential places to go. The Sea, the Sea, by Iris Murdoch. The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I started with a Booker prize winner and so I could end with John Banville’s, The Sea. That would deliver a nice kind of symmetry but instead I’m going to jump to another book of his The Untouchable, a brilliant book that should have won the Booker, but didn’t. A much better book, incidentally than The Sea. It’s about the spy Anthony Blunt. If you have any interest in the Cambridge spies, Philby, Burgess and Maclean or the earlier John le Carre novels check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

So, I’ve started in the Desert and ended with spies. Maybe I should have put The English Patient in there or Lawrence of Arabia or Ice Cold in Alex. But I have to stop because that’s my six. Doing this is proving strangely addictive! If you’d like to join in, check out Kate’s website and get going. Next month (5th December) begins with a book celebrating its 50th year, Are You there God. It’s me Margaret? by Judy Blume.


So, what to say about the new film of Rebecca directed by Ben Wheatley now available on Netflix? There are going to be SPOILERS in here. First off, Lily James is much too pretty but this is always the case with film versions of Rebecca, so was Joan Fontaine (in Hitchcock’s 1940 black and white version). No one is going to cast her as she is in the book which is someone plain and gauche. Secondly – oh my God, the yellow suit! Maxim that is sooooooo damn yellow, an absolute custard marvel but you’re supposed to be classy … sack your tailor, man!

Rebecca (1940 film) - Wikipedia
This man would never have been seen dead in a yellow suit. Well, maybe in The Entertainer…

Enough rambling. The film was perfectly pleasant. It’ll while away a couple of hours especially if you don’t know the book and haven’t seen the Hitchcock film. I feel mean to be picky but here goes.

If you decide to adjust the characters to modern sensibilities watch out for what it does to the narrative as a whole. Something weird has happened to the character of Maxim in this version. For a start he’s too young. There’s supposed to be a substantial age gap between the two. Maxim is a ‘father figure’ to her. He should be moody, with a vicious temper, shut down and ‘wounded’. Armie Hammer’s version is way too amiable and lacks err wounds. Making him sleep walk adds nothing. He’s called de Winter for a reason. How can he be wintery in such a sunny suit?

There’s only one point where he shows any fire and that’s when his wife comes down the staircase dressed in the same costume that Rebecca had worn to the ball. Shove Maxim into the background and his wife comes to the fore. I understand why Wheatley wants to give her more agency. His fear, I imagine, was that she’s simply too passive, too insecure, too mousy and so too unsympathetic for modern sensibilities. But he obviously made a quick list. Let’s call it the Ben’s agency list:

  • have her drive. If she’s driving she has agency so there we are.
  • have her attempt to sack Mrs Danvers. I feel mean about this because in my previous blog I made rather a big thing of it but when the first attempt happened I burst out laughing. I also burst out laughing when she said later, ‘Pack your bags I want you gone by …’ I can’t remember when but it was probably the morning. It usually is isn’t it?
  • have her save Maxim all by herself. Oh yawn. By driving to London all by herself and finding the file that reveals Rebecca has cancer all by herself. 

In this version the neutered Maxim is locked up in prison when everything goes pear-shaped at the coroner’s inquest. Now this won’t do at all. One of the main themes of Rebecca is class division. In the book and the Hitchcock film the local magistrate, Colonel Julyan, is a friend and there is no doubt that he is  ON MAX’S SIDE. There is never any suggestion that he  thinks Max killed his wife because he is an aristo/massive landowner and as such is morally beyond reproach. He certainly wouldn’t lock him up because then he’d never get an invite to the Manderley Ball again and his wife would divorce him. In the book Favell, a man from the wrong side of the tracks, is clear about how this works when he says to Colonel Julyan, once Max is off the hook: ‘You can dine at Manderley once a week on the strength of this and feel proud of yourself. No doubt Max will ask you to be godfather to his first child.’ 

What of Mrs Danvers? Kristin Scott Thomas doesn’t go for the full schlocky-campy version which was rather disappointing. I didn’t find her frightening enough and the exchanges between her and the new Mrs de Winter were rather stilted.

At least in this version Maxim says he’s shot Rebecca. In the Hitchcock one it’s an accident. I suppose because the morality of the time (of any time actually) was such that someone should not be seen to have got away with murdering their wife.

There’s a very silly scene when Jack Favell (Rebecca’s cousin and lover) teaches her to ride. Frankly, if you want to suggest sexual loucheness you don’t need to straddle a horse just have George Saunders (in Hitchcock’s film) jump back and forth through a window and say toodle oo. 

Manderley is also an important ‘character’ in the book, malign and unwelcoming to the second Mrs de Winter. I didn’t really get much of an impression of it, although at various points I expected a National Trust volunteer to spring forwards and tell us about the wall hangings.

So what did I like? I liked the murmuration, used to signify the evil presence of Rebecca about the place, and also some dark scenes in the ball. I liked Mrs Van Hopper played by Ann Dowd. And I suppose I quite liked the ending which is upbeat. In the book and Hitchcock’s film you know that they’ll never be free of Rebecca and Manderley even if one’s dead and the other is burnt to a crisp. But in these Covid days I could do with a bit of cheer and ending on an optimistic note albeit in Cairo (which, incidentally is where du Maurier wrote the book) was fine even if completely at odds with the sensibility of the Gothic genre.

Have you seen it? What did you think?