Dear Readers, what would a birthday be without a pile of new books? It’s true that I still have a tottering ziggurat of books to read after Christmas, but then clearly I need to have some to take me through to, say, about March, and so a few more turned up, and very welcome they were too.
First up was Alan Bennett’s slim volume ‘House Arrest – The Pandemic Diaries’. I find him extremely readable, whatever the subject, and this little book is about the same size as the Ladybird books that I loved as a child. I can’t help but think of it as ‘The Ladybird Book of Covid’ or something similar. His close attention to his own foibles and those of others, his occasional waspishness and much more frequent generosity make for a thoughtful read. I don’t always agree with his conclusions about life, but I always understand them.
Then, here’s a cheerful birthday read…
I find myself more and more fascinated by death and the things that surround it. I picked this volume up in Waterstones, and was instantly intrigued – Rupert Callender is no ordinary undertaker. As the blurb at the front of the book says:
‘Ru has carried coffins across windswept beaches, sat in pubs with caskets on beer-stained tables, helped children fire flaming arrows into their father’s funeral pyre, turned modern occult rituals into performance art and, with the band members of the KLF, is building the People’s Pyramid of bony bricks in Liverpool – all in the name of creating truly authentic experiences that celebrate those who are no longer here and those who remain’.
How could I possibly resist? I shall let you know how I get on.
And here is a blast from the past.
I studied ‘The Rainbow’ for my A-levels, and read most of Lawrence’s work when I was doing my BA in English Literature. I loved him then, but haven’t read him since. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found his ideas about so many things difficult to take, although what I loved as a young woman was his tumultuous vitality, the sense of life tumbling out of him. Some of his scenes feel so true to human nature, uncomfortable as they are. So, this book, where Lara Feigel decides to re-read Lawrence during the pandemic, feels like both a challenge and a provocation. I wonder if it will incite me to start reading Lawrence again? Let’s see.
It wasn’t all books though…I got a huge box of chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, with the flavours based on different kinds of patisserie. When I tell you that I ate the custard tart flavoured one before breakfast you’ll have some idea of my degree of self-control.
And my lovely friend A bought me these! I shall be firing them off to all and sundry.
And because the only way to truly celebrate a birthday is with a trip to the garden centre, off I went with my friend J to the Sunshine Garden Centre in Bounds Green, where she bought me this:
This is a Kilmarnock willow – a form of goat willow which is a bit better behaved than they usually are, but which has those invaluable early spring catkins that provide pollen for all manner of bees. I will pot it up at the weekend, and as it’s in full sun in the front garden I hope it will be appreciated. I honestly didn’t think I’d find one, but here it is. I could not be more excited.
And so here I am, 63 years old and wondering how on earth I got here. Last time I looked I was 36. But I rather like being in my sixties – things I would have worried about don’t matter so much, and I’m starting to truly appreciate the things that do matter – good friends, a loving partner, the buds on a willow tree, an interesting book. It’s true that I have less time for nonsense and might even be a bit more grumpy than usual on occasion, but that’s what comes when you realise that you don’t have forever. And today was full of lovely moments, and surprises. And chocolate. Don’t ever underestimate chocolate.