More from the diary of home improvements. But it is something to be quite smug about: top cupboards all done. We got spice racks that hang on poles from Ickier-and-ickier, then my motley collection of ancient and encrusted old spice jars, reused jam jars etc didn't fit and really looked a bit yuk, so for the first time in my life I have a set of matching, spring clip spice jars (not from Ickier), all lined up and new and shiny. My slight unease that I may have sold out my make-do and mend anti-consumerism, that I have descended into the final stages of Stepford wifedom and my brain has shrivelled to the size of a pistachio, is easily allayed by the sense of order and the quite immoderate delight I take in spring clips. I didn't throw out the old spices, mind. I observe that I own very few dried herbs, only really oregano and tarragon, preferring fresh ones.
The only cupboard remaining to be built is the one over the cooker hood. We had begun to hate the old cooker hood, which was quite a few years old now. It was noisy and inefficient, bits had broken off it, it had sharp edges inside which would cut us when we tried to clean it. Tom tore it down and took it to the tip. I understand steel, which it mostly was, is totally recyclable and recycled. We got a new one, from aforesaid Swedish-home-store-bent-on-world-domination-much-hated-by-many, with charcoal filters. In the picture above it can be observed held in place by a piece of kitchen string, an interim arrangement. It came with its own screws and rawl plugs, Tom began construction of the cupboard above it, removing the string, believing he could trust said fittings for a short time while he did so. He stepped outside the door to cut a piece of wood, where I was already to be found, probably doing something pumpkin related or putting away the deckchair after an interlude under the sumac tree with a cup of tea and Mr Weston's Good Wine, for such is the indolent and whimsical life I lead while my husband toils to improve our worldly lot.
We hurried inside when we heard the crash. The hood lay prostrate on the cooker rings; it was still plugged in though the pins were rather bent, but the motor and even the bulb still worked. Our beloved yellow tea pot, Tom's new china tea mug with the periodic table of the elements on it, and various other important, cherished or simply potentially messy items which were close by the scene of the catastrophe were mercifully untouched. A saucepan of peas defrosting on the cooker had been interestingly catapulted across the surrounding area, but there was no water in the pan, and they were easily picked up and rinsed, though one or two showed up in unexpected places later. Tom was mortified and could only see the calamity, while I could only imagine how much worse it could have been and felt rather silly with relief. I don't tend to think of myself as a glass-half-fuller; I suppose if it had been something for which I had felt responsible it might have been different.
The screws turned out to be pathetically inadequate wood screws, and barely to make an impression in the ill -fitting rawl plugs. They were replaced by something more fit for purpose, and as I write now, the whole structure is much advanced, the cupboard largely built and, like the rest of the kitchen for which Tom had sole responsibility, it is of industrial strength and solidity.
And while we're in the kitchen, I did the done thing with the Roscoff pinks, or the ones which were up for being kept, there were a few which were damp affected and needed to be used straight away. It's not exactly a bicycle-handlebars' worth, but they're very good and satisfyingly strong-stemmed for plaiting.
Mr Weston's Good Wine. Though I'd read a few John Cowper Powys books over the years, and knew about this one by his brother Theodore, for some reason I'd never picked it up before, and can't remember quite how I came to decide to do so now, except I've long been fond of Salley Vickers' Mr Golightly's Holiday, but only lately understood its debt to Powys's earlier novel. Though in an afterword Vickers acknowledges this debt, while asserting that the essential idea which they share came to her initially independently, I hadn't quite realised quite how much of an after type of work Mr Golightly is. I felt somewhat cheated, as the whole conceit of that book, which ideally one shouldn't spot immediately, but which once you do, makes you want to re-read it again to pick up all the previously unseen pointers, jokes and references (such as the line about how, within the firm, Michael was considered to be a 'perfect angel', which the first time I read it was unconsciously with the stress on the word 'angel', then, with hindsight, it shifts to the word 'perfect') seemed so original and surprising, whereas now I know that if I'd been acquainted with the earlier work I would have seen everything straight away and wouldn't have been so pleased and surprised.
I had a bit the same experience reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty before I read Howard's End.
This doesn't constitute a review, and is somewhat elliptical, I know, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't read the books but wants to. I don't actually like trying to write reviews; picking up that Wiki link about Zadie Smith, or anything of the kind really, gives a glimpse into a world of ideas such as hystoriographical metafiction which I am too atrophied, dull and limited, and always was, to gain admittance. Never mind, there are always kitchens and pumpkins.
I keep wondering whether to give up on contemporary literary fiction altogether. One way or another I often seem to finish up feeling cheated and or unsatisfied, but then I'd miss out on so much too, cutting off my nose...
B the German doctor passed on a Joanne Harris, Coastliners. I really wish she hadn't, I'd given up on her (JH) once but felt I ought to try again as a friend had offered it. Anyway, I just found this review of it which made me heave a sigh of relief that it wasn't just me who felt that way, but in the same sigh made me miserable that I didn't have the courage of my convictions, or couldn't have expressed them so forcefully, or that even perhaps I saw something of myself and what I do here as practising something of the same crass romanticising dishonesty ...
Anyway, at least I didn't waste my time trying to finish it, and my excuse when I returned it was a genuine one, that I really can't cope with the strain of dialogue which is supposed to be in French in the story written in English. I don't know how this can be done well, or at least to my satisfaction; it will either sound like it's written 'with a French accent', using words and idioms conveyed as transparently and literally as possible, which ends up sounding cod and self-conscious, or else you write in ordinary, colloquial English which is equally unconvincing because of course language isn't only about expressing the same ideas using different words, the words actually shape the ideas, people think differently, express things differently in different languages, or even different dialects or versions of the same language, which is why Americans writing as Brits and vice-versa can seldom quite pull it off. I just keep finding myself thinking, yes but can you, would he, no you couldn't ever say that in French, or if so, how? It may be partly a block of my own; I'm frustrated that I wouldn't know how to say those things in French myself, and the strain is greatly increased when the characters concerned are Anglophone's supposedly speaking French amongst French people, so that a sense of jealously mingles with the unsuspended disbelief that they should achieve such a degree of mutual ease of expression and comprehension when I can't. Whatever, it gets in the way. It got in the way of my owning the conviction that Joanne Harris writes totally meretricious rubbish (at least in this book, and in the other French set novels of hers I've read, I quite liked that spooky Victorian Gothic pastiche she wrote before she got famous with her winning formulae), because I thought perhaps it was just my problem, and it perhaps gets in the way of my appreciating better writing when I can't get past it.
Don't know if this makes any sense, or if it matters or is of any interest.
Jean-Paul has finished at last, and his work is beautiful. More on that very soon.
Angel in the house.