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Favourite quote #9. “The Word of God is like a lion…”

On more than one occasion Charles Spurgeon used the following illustration in a sermon:

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”

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Image by Evan Animals on Flickr

I don’t know if he used those exact words, or if that quote is a summary of the point he is known to have made in two sermons; his Christ and His Co-Workers sermon he says:

“A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best “apology” for the gospel is to let the gospel out. Never mind about defending Deuteronomy or the whole of the Pentateuch; preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. Let the Lion out, and see who will dare to approach him. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will soon drive away all his adversaries.”

It’s a wonderful point.

I’ll also take this moment to share possibly my all-time favourite quote outside of the Bible, also from the indomitable Spurgeon, though I only know it written in reported fashion:

Spurgeon is quoted as saying that he was so sure of his salvation that he could grab on to a cornstalk and swing out over the fires of hell, look into the face of the devil, and sing, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”.

I’d be hard pressed to say how much I love that quote.

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English is full of snuffbumble

The story of English fascinates me as few subjects do. It’s rich, quirky, and a true underdog story.

This irreverent YouTube video outlines the rise of English from its Anglo-Saxon / Old Englisc* days through the Norman Conquest, the King James Bible, the rise of science, the spread of the British Empire, up to Internet speak and abbreviations. Take a look!

And what is snuffbumble, you ask? The answer: nonsense 🙂

*The digraph ‘sc’ is the Old English version of today’s ‘sh’ sound.

Let’s get creative when we vent

grumpy suckerI work in an office of about 20 people. Most of us don’t like swearing, but there are a couple of guys who really do. (They know who they are, and I dedicate this post to them!) Since we all sit in an open-plan office space, throughout any given workday our collective hearing is peppered with “F***  this” and “F*** that”, and an array of similar auditory treats.

As the company copywriter, it has occurred to me that perhaps it is up to me to suggest more elevated rantings. We all have occasion to need to vent, but I prefer more creative and wordsmithy options that get the point across but are less generally offensive.

So here are my suggestions of some more inventive insults and expletives they could try:

(Note: not all are original. Also, quick caveat: I’m NOT promoting hate-filled rantings! Just light-hearted, cheeky insults …)

  1. That lily-livered lout.
  2. You first-rate turd. (Thank you, Johnny English.)
  3. He’s a real turnip.
  4. You miserable wench. (What my mother’s biology teacher called the schoolgirls if they didn’t do their homework.)
  5. Fredumkim! (Just sounds expulsive to me.)
  6. You bag of nail clippings.
  7. Foo!
  8. You chewed up toffee. (Let’s bring it back!)
  9. The plonker.
  10. She’s a real domipootrix!
  11. He’s half a bubble off of plumb. (An old Americanism, meaning kind of crazy.)
  12. The crazy hoot owl.
  13. Like a fart in the face from a warthog. (A toned-down version of a Blackadder favourite.)
  14. He’s a bogus booger.
  15. Mary Poppins! (I’m sure that if said with enough feeling, this could be a cathartic expression of frustration … Go on, give it a try.)
  16. You smelly crone.
  17. The little lickspittle. (An C18th insult that equates to the modern-day ‘suck up’.)
  18. Twerp. (Such a goodie.)
  19. Lazy lummox.
  20. Thou animated offal.

Take it from there, boys!

Megan’s UK diary: Ted Hughes Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank, West Yorkshire. The art of life writing.

Life writing is simply what it suggests – writing that is rooted in the experiences of real life, whether biography or memoir, or something akin to that. One of the best things I discovered through my week-long residential course at Lumb Bank was the clarity and authenticity that life writing afforded me in the story-telling process.

Photo by Phil Champion

Photo by Phil Champion

Lumb Bank was originally built by a mill owner in the C18th. Eventually Ted Hughes bought it, and his wife, Sylvia Plath, is buried in Heptonstall, the hilltop village less than a mile away.

This area of West Yorkshire is full of hills and dales, tight lanes, moors and forests, sheep farms, abandoned mills and steep villages.

The view from my attic bedroom

The view from my attic bedroom

During an Arvon residence course, which takes in about 17 writers per course, you take part in morning writing workshops, cook one meal (in team), attend evening readings, have one-on-one tutorials with the two published authors leading the course, and still have free time in the afternoons to write, gaze at the abandoned mill, chat in the garden, concoct plum-based mulled wine, and, in my case, hop up and down over every bunny spotted on the lawn and then go get lost on the moors.

We were an eclectic bunch, ranging in age from 20 to 84, coming from England, Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria and South Africa, and presenting a mix of personalities and perspectives. As a group, I imagine it could easily not have worked, and yet it did. It really did. The success of it had something to do with all the hours spent around the diningroom-cum-workshop table where we got to know each other through conversations as well as through each other’s writing. We laughed hugely (sometimes we downright crowed), occasionally we gasped, and also occasionally we cried, because, well, this was a life writing course, and life isn’t always neat or pretty.

Here are the lovely and talented writers that now make up the group Subtext:

All the lovely people that now make up the writers' group Subtext.

Megan’s UK diary: Summertime, and the living is easy at Newton-by-the-Sea

A poor woman from Manchester, on being taken to the seaside, is said to have expressed her delight on seeing for the first time something of which there was enough for everybody.

(Sir John Lubbock)

These are some photos from my visit to Newton-by-the-Sea in Northumberland.

View from up on the dunes:

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You know how folks in the West, when seeing an image of African children playing with a primitive ball on a dirt field or smiling over a slice of watermelon, are prone to say something like, ‘Ah, bless – see how happy they are with so little!’? I must say that travelling around the UK I find myself thinking things like, ‘Ah, look at them little British kiddies making the best of their cold, blustering summers to visit the beach!’

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A simple shot:

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I like the pattern of the water and the sand in this photo …

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In the photo below, it is as though someone thoughtfully placed this lifebuoy up on the hill expressly for the sake of photographers. It’s probably a clichéd pic in the opinion of experts, as it’s reminiscent of an emotional film finale where the fallen knight’s sword is stuck in the ground and the camera gives us a low-angle, sky-backdrop view, so that our hearts might soar to transcendent heights … , but I lapped it up with the freedom of the novice:

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Here we have a sparrow. I asked him to show me his right side …

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… and then I asked him to show me his left side. (He said he looks good from both sides.)

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This puts me in mind of these verses from Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Ah, how romantic …

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… unless that’s his mother. I really can’t tell.

A view of Dunstanburgh Castle:

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More about Dunstanburgh in a future post.

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For more ‘Megan’s UK diary’  posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night.

For other photography posts, go to Edinburgh shows off and Buttercup view from Stirling Castle.

For a history and photography post, go to Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre).

Megan’s UK diary: Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre)

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Two Englishmen, having climbed the Matterhorn, were regarding the wonderful view that stretched before them.

‘Not half bad!’ commented one of them.

‘No,’ replied the other, ‘but you needn’t rave about it like a love-struck poet!’

I thought on this quote, having come across it only that morning, as I strolled around Haddon Hall. You see, Haddon Hall is WONDERFUL, and my thoughts were thus in the territory of superlatives and exclamation marks.

A mediaeval castle in the Peak District, Haddon Hall is a quintessentially Norman building, square and solid, believed to have been built in the C12th. It is a romantic castle, containing everything from the Middle Ages that delights us in today’s world: battlements, very low doorways, a chapel decorated to the hilt, wildly uneven flagstone floors, and I could go on, but you are getting the picture, aren’t you, clever reader?

Moreover, the family who own the Hall, the Manners (it has been in their family since the C16th), has thankfully not gone the common route of restoring it to within an inch of its life. There still isn’t a perpendicular anything, anywhere. Some of the stone steps are curved into almost non-existence in the middle as a result of centuries of footfalls, and the decaying wooden chests and ill-fitted windows have been left alone.

wish I had the capabilities of the love-struck poet ridiculed by the Englishman above, because the only words that presented themselves to me to describe Haddon Hall were words like lovely, outstanding, amazing, and truly wonderful. Bleugh! The frustration of living in a society where such words are regularly used to describe getting the parking spot you wanted or a tasty sandwich, meaning that when I want to really express that something is special, I can either go with one of them, and sound bland, thereby failing to capture the imagination of a hyperbole-drenched readership, or I can go all Italian and really do risk sounding like an overwrought poet whose been sniffing heavily on deadly nightshade. Not great options either of them.

I will have to satisfy myself with something very simple. I will say that, to the C21st tourist, the castle is perfection.

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The Long Gallery, with a mom in it. My mom, in fact.
Long galleries, apart from their other uses, were intended as places where residents could find exercise, no matter what the weather. Elizabethan ladies, moreover, didn’t expose their skin or clothes to sunshine, so they could either walk the gallery or I suppose do sit ups in their bedrooms?
Is anyone else put in mind of Bingley’s sister asking Elizabeth to take a turn around the room with her?

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A very impressive old tapestry, coupled with some fresh oranges to give the room a lived-in feel.

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The garden was bursting with summer flowers, and as such was delightful in the special way that only English gardens can be. During my visit there were English roses, day lilies, thistles, agapanthus lilies, nasturtiums, yellow daisies, deeply purple clematis, red-and-white fuschia, and too many others to list. It was a garden of every colour.

IMG_2011One of the most striking things when you stepped out into the garden was the abundance of white butterflies (also called cabbage whites). They were everywhere, as were the bumble bees and wasps. I’ve perhaps never seen such a ‘busy’ garden.

IMG_1933The Jane Eyre connection

I also rather enjoyed discovering the Jane Eyre connection with Haddon Hall. The 2011 Jane Eyre film adaptation with Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender (how fussed are we really if Mr Rochester is decidedly good-looking this time round?) had Haddon Hall as Thornfield Hall.

I recognised the little pavilion where Rochester and Blanche Ingram play at keeping a feather in the air, the courtyard where Rochester drags Jane off to the church so they can marry, and the narrow stone bridge that leads to Thornfield Hall. The romance of the castle and its grounds are so well suited to the romance of Jane Eyre – a gold sticker for the film’s location manager, please!

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Tra la la … I’m never wearing my C19th gown at the right moment.

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For more posts on castles and stately homes, go to:

Megan’s UK diary: Chatsworth House forever

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen and Edinburgh Castle at night

Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

Megan’s UK diary: Sir Walter Scott (the greatest author never read)

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It’s hard to get a full-length shot of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, simply because it is so dang BIG. In fact, it’s the largest monument ever built anywhere to a writer, and stands at 61 metres tall (that’s more than 18 storeys!).

I generally think a single great shot speaks louder and more eloquently than multiple shots, but I wasn’t able to produce any one shot I was completely happy with, so I’ve included this next shot as well, as it better shows the heftiness of the monument …

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… while this next shot, I’m hoping, conveys how tall it is …

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You can climb all the way up to the very top balcony of the monument by way of an extremely – I stress, extremely – tight stone spiral stairwell. It’s not too bad to begin with, and you can reach the first and second landings fairly effortlessly, but the final two stairwells tested me, and I had to remind myself that I do not suffer from vertigo, dizziness or claustrophobia, all three of which suggested themselves to me.

IMG_1563The main problem was that the upper stairwells have no windows, and so you’re acutely aware of the numerous tight revolutions of tunnel both above and below you (while being unsure exactly how far above or below you they extend), so there is no quick escape in either direction. That, at least, was my issue, and I’d entered the memorial with nary a concern in my head.

I’m a little miffed with this picture, which shows the entrance to the one stairwell, as I don’t feel it accurately portrays how narrow the upper stairwells are. The final portion can’t have been any wider than a foot and a half. I seriously think larger folk would come unstuck in that part (unstuck insomuch as they would of course become actually stuck).

The Scott Memorial was built by the Scottish people from a desire to show ensuing generations just how highly the man was esteemed by his own generation. The monument is impressive but also rather ungainly. This is what Dickens, a big fan of Scott, wrote of it:

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Ah, Dickens, you always say things so much better than any of the rest of us could ever hope to!

Scott (1771-1832), a poet, novelist and playwright, played an important part in the Scottish Enlightenment, which was a sudden burst of Scottish intellectualism, innovation and creativeness, centred in Edinburgh. Importantly, he invented the historical novel, blending fictional and historical characters based in a time before his own birth. Dickens, Thackeray and others acknowledged him as their predecessor in this.

His importance to the Scots was and is about how he helped to foster a renewed interest and pride in their own, distinctive history, and about how his works brought Scotland greater international recognition and fame.

Last week I visited the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum on Lady Stair’s Close. The museum focusses solely on Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. While there I was interested to read the preamble to Stuart Kelly’s book Scott-Land, wherein he ponders over the immense popularity and impact of Scott in his own time and how he helped to shape a nation’s identity, and how he is yet completely overlooked and unread today. To this I have to say: so true. I’ve never read a single one of his works, and I love historical fiction. Rob Roy has sat on my bookshelf for years, but when it comes time to pick up a new novel, I always pass over it for something else. Why is that?

Linked to this, I’ve always had a hard time even remembering him in the distinct way I do other authors. What I mean is, I find that Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson are forever confusingly entwined in my mind, and whenever I think on either of them, I have to pause and ask myself: okay, so which one is it again that wrote Treasure Island?

The same goes for Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas – I know that I know who wrote what, and yet I must always take a silent moment to re-establish it in my mind every time I think on any of their works anew. Am I horribly Anglo-centric? Yet I know other French authors, like Jules Verne most obviously, and I don’t muddle him up with anyone else. It’s really rather perplexing.

However, having stood high up on that top balcony of the Scott Memorial, with my back pressed ever so firmly against the inner wall whilst I looked out (but never down!) over all of Edinburgh, I hope this confused entanglement of Scott and Stevenson will, at long last, be laid aside.

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For more “Megan’s UK diary” posts, go to Edinburgh shows off or Chatsworth House forever.

Another history post: Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

Other posts interested in the classics: Jane Austen and Edinburgh Castle at night, William Makepeace Thackeray and battle lore, and Bookcases, bedtime reading, libraries and story-telling.

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night

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There’s so much going on at the Edinburgh Festival, and not only strictly-speaking Festival things, but also other events capitalising on the crowds that the Festival brings. Like the Jane Austen evening we stumbled upon that was being held by Charlotte Chapel, a church that can be found in the pretty pedestrian, bunting-lined Rose Street. Like pilgrims, we journeyed to Rose Street on Friday evening to attend the event, secure in the knowledge that any evening devoted to Austen would be a good one. We arrived, and, intriguingly, were among a crowd of women only.

While queuing to go in we were all given an Austen quiz to fill in, and from thinking I would dominate I was instead chagrined to realise I knew very few of the answers with any certainty. For example:

– Who can say what the title of Pride and Prejudice was originally going to be? Options: “First Impressions”, “Elizabeth and Darcy”, or “Pemberley”.

– Also, which actor prompted a phone call from the Jane Austen Society to the director to complain that he was too handsome to play his assigned role? Options: Greg Wise (Willoughby), Hugh Grant (Ferrars), or Colin Firth (Darcy).

(Answers at the end of the post.)

It was a small, intimate affair – maybe 100 of us, tops? – and I really enjoyed it. One lady played Jane, sitting at the desk in the picture above, and she would read aloud extracts from Jane’s letters to her sister, Cassandra, wherein Jane would introduce her latest book and explain the primary themes she addressed in it. Other women from Charlotte Chapel would then appear, dressed in regency costume, and read relevant extracts from the novels. Sometimes snippets from some of the TV/film adaptations were also shown. My only complaint is that they used the BBC Emma when wanting a scene from that story, and I can’t stand that version; the 1996 McGrath version is superior in every way, from casting to directing to editing to … well, yes, everything. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam forever!

Some of the titbits that most struck me were:

– Jane was very concerned with showing a development in self awareness in her heroines, and often her lead males too, Elizabeth and Darcy being prime examples. Only Fanny Price didn’t really need a journey of self-realisation, but rather it was those around her, like Edmund, that needed to learn a thing or two about themselves.

– Of all her heroines, Jane liked Elizabeth the best. Me, I have more sympathy with Emma and Anne.

– Jane dreamt up the independent and wilful Emma in response to complaints from her readers that her last heroine, Fanny, was too much of a doormat.

At the very end, a 30ish, single lady from the church chatted about how Jane’s preoccupation with marriage was very understandable, given that women of that period could only find any kind of financial or practical security through a husband. She then asked why, as modern women, we are still as preoccupied with romance and marriage, since we no longer need it to be financially secure? She pointed to our desire to have a relationship with someone who will love us and meet all our needs. Jesus, she said, is the only one who can actually be that person for each of us.

Charlotte Chapel seemed a really lovely, motivated church, and I was glad to have visited. I really admire them.

Afterwards, we walked home, a stroll of at least an hour that took us first through Princes Street Gardens, then up and over the Mound, before dropping us down again alongside Bruntsfield Links and our little res. As a South African, I have to give a nod to the awesomeness that is a late evening stroll through the city without a care for safety. So, yes: a big nod to that.

This is the beautiful sight of the castle at dusk, as seen from Princes Street Gardens:

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Answers: “First Impressions” and Hugh Grant.

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For more posts from “Megan’s UK diary”, go to Chatsworth House forever, The green spaces of Sheffield and Edinburgh shows off.

Megan’s UK diary: Edinburgh shows off

Edinburgh is beautiful. I visited it for just 24 hours a while back, but was sufficiently captivated (not a word I use lightly) that I have always maintained I will return. Now I am here for the Edinburgh Festival – lucky sausage that I am – and I am seeing it at its best; the streets are overflowing with all sorts of interesting people, the sun is shining (not warmly, but at least it is there), and the late evening hours are about pink, streaky clouds and expansive parks filled out with lounging, relaxed people.

This is the view from the university residence where I am staying. The photo was taken at about 9pm. I love the romantic architecture, the warmth of the brick face as lit by the last, low rays of the sun, and the pretty, broad leaves of the trees, which were swaying in a bracing, night-is-coming breeze.

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For more “Megan’s UK diary” posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Chatsworth House forever.

Book review: The Honk and Holler Opening Soon (by Billie Letts, author of Where the Heart Is)

Cover of "The Honk and Holler Opening Soo...
Cover of The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon is set in the small, ‘nowhere’ town of Sequoyah, Oklahoma. More specifically, it focuses on a roadside diner originally intended to be called The Honk and Holler, but known as the Honk and Holler Opening Soon because the owner made a drunken phone call to the company tasked with making the roadside sign, and so consequently, 14 years later, the diner is still known as The Honk and Holler Opening Soon. An eclectic cast of characters work or dine at the Honk, and it is their interrelated stories that drive the narrative.

The cast

In terms of our main characters, there is Caney Paxton, the 40ish paraplegic Vietnam vet who is the owner of the diner and who has never left its walls since he was wheeled in after leaving the hospital.

There is also MollyO, his surrogate mother who waitresses at the Honk and pines after her runaway teenage daughter.

Then there is Vena Takes Horse, a homeless Crow woman who rocks up just before Christmas with a three-legged dog she rescued off the highway. Vena muscles her way into a job by showing her skills as a revenue-garnering carhop.

There is also the sweet-natured Bui Khanh, a Vietnamese refugee looking to find a way to bring his wife to America. Bui, who becomes the Honk’s handyman, is also homeless and he sneaks into a local church at night for shelter.

Finally, there is an assortment of other folks who pepper the story with local colour, problems and humour – many elderly, some rather nosy, a few with disabilities, and at least one downright dangerous. These men and women come to the Honk daily for coffee, meals and gossip, and the narrative thus never lags or lacks for storylines.

Why I like it

Letts’s writing is imaginative and skilful. She knows how to tell a story you will care about, but her writing is far from sentimental and she doesn’t wallow in anything – the pace is steady and you are quickly caught up in a handful of interconnected plots. And it’s certainly refreshing to read a story set in Oklahoma.

Thinking about it, you know what else is refreshing? Reading a story wherein none of the A- or even B-level characters is described as beautiful, stunning, handsome, gorgeous, rugged or even pretty. There is just a host of ordinary-looking people whose appearances affect very little about their lives, yet they still have stories worth telling. I like it.

I think what I perhaps loved most about the novel, aside from its humour, is the way that Letts avoids writing cheese while at the same time refrains from writing soul-destroying flint. She describes the dire – people at the bottom of society, desperate situations, all-too-familiar personal tragedies, and some really cheap, Slumsville settings – while still managing to impart a sense of optimism. She does not shy away from describing cruelty, darkness and hardship, and yet cruelty is always ameliorated by kindness, darkness by light, and hardship by hope. Letts somehow leaves the reader feeling that their eyes have been opened to the world and yet they have also been affirmed in the goodness of humanity and the possibility of redemption. I think that rather masterful.

An extract to help convince you to read it

Here is one of my favourite passages, written just after MollyO’s daughter Brenda once again runs away (having first, of course, stolen cash from her mother), which showcases Letts’s humour as well as her heart:

MollyO came on to work the next morning, weepy and exhausted. She hadn’t slept for twenty-eight hours, but it wasn’t the first time she’d spent a night walking the floor in despair.

When Caney found out what Brenda had done, he was so furious that he raged around the rest of the morning, his anger splattering like bacon in hot grease. He banged around the kitchen, slamming skillets onto burners, hacking the meat cleaver into the cutting board, knocking cans of corn and peas from the pantry shelves and cussing onions and eggs as if he’d found them sneaking around telling lies.

But once, when MollyO came back to the sink to wash her hands, he grabbed her around the waist and buried his head in her chest, held her without a word, then rolled away and smacked five pounds of ground beef, punishment, perhaps, for whatever grief that cow had brought to its mother.

I really loved this book. It has a strong sense of place and is funny, imaginative, tense, and heart-breaking and heart-warming at turns. It has a cast of interesting and truly individualistic personalities that you quickly come to own as your own, and so follow their stories with interest and concern. I read it flat-out it was that fun, engaging and easy to read.

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Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Someone said to me the other day that I should try writing book reviews. It’s not something I’ve ever really concerned myself with (not since the days of forced book reviews in high school).  But I do find myself wanting to share with others when I’ve read a book I really enjoyed. I’ve never really kept up with the latest books, so any book reviews I do stand little chance of being current. But good books surely stand the test of the time, so I won’t worry myself with that. Hence this review of a book written 15 years ago! If you haven’t read it before, I hope you can lay your hands on a copy and that you too will have some fun hours of reading.

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If you enjoyed today’s post, you would probably also be interested in The 25 best novels of all time, A ditty was promised, so a ditty must be written! Also, a love poem, an old railway advert & Gibson Girls and What have I been reading?.

Dictionaries and tyrannical grannies

Barn-dictionaries, from the blog A Pretty Book, at http://aprettybook.com/2011/05/04/dictionaries-with-tabs/How many of us still look up unknown words and spellings in a big, weighty paper volume called a dictionary, instead of online? I do so quite often, hauling out my wrist-breaking tome and paging through it, embracing the dangers of a paper cut and a little extra effort.

I can picture that fifty years from now, I’ll be the elderly curiosity in a family gathering … when an unknown word crops up, or a Scrabble dispute breaks out, I shall heave myself up and hobble off to the bookshelf to fetch the dictionary whilst the younger generations wave their phones and other gadgets in the air, confused expressions on their faces as they tell my retreating back that they already have the answer.

But I will stubbornly persist – perhaps pretend I don’t hear them? – and will eventually waddle back into the room, tilting to the side because of the weighty antiquity tucked under my arm.

I will sit down, page through it, most assiduously ignoring the sighs and complaints of boredom, and I will nod my head as I’m told the digital definition, all the while still paging through, and finally nodding in assent, “Yes, you’re right, tinctorial does mean to stain or dye something.” The young’uns will raise eyebrows and nod to each other, eyes agleam with filial mockery, whilst the very young will throw their hands up in exaggerated horror, telling me they told me so.

BUT, just as they’re all leaning forward to resume the game, or the meal, or the whatever, I will hold up a bony (or chubby?) finger and claim the floor once more, saying, “Now that is interesting … just here on the same page … do you know what a ‘timocracy’ is?”

“Huh?” will come the universal reply.

“A ti-mo-cra-cy.” I will enunciate. “Anybody?”

Of course nobody will have a clue, and I will flash a short, sly smile of my own into the pages of the open book.

“A timocracy – t-i-m-o-c-r-a-c-y – is a ‘political system in which possession of property is a requirement for participation in government’.”

I will glance up with reproof at their impassive, bored stares, and (old lady that I am) plough on. “OR,” I will say, with great stress, “it can also refer to ‘a political system in which love of honour is deemed the guiding principle of government’. Now isn’t that interesting?” More bemused looks while folks consider how long a pause is necessary before they can resume their pre-dictionary-episode activity and the youngest grimaces over how irritating Nana is.

Just as I hear someone inhale to speak, I shall jump in with, “It says here the word derived from sixteenth-century France, and before that from the Greek timokratia, where timē means worth or honour.” I will then snap the volume shut and look up – happy, unperturbed and really quite innocent – no doubt to meet with expressions that thinly disguise I am an old, tyrannical fossil.

Until, that is, one small soul admits to the spark of a thought. “A government based on honour…?” They all ponder this for a moment. “No way!” this child will say, disbelief evident on his face. Smugly, I will say nothing.

I will at this point gently ease myself back into my chair. Happy to be guiding the mini mass before me, I will quietly contemplate my budding wunderkinds, nodding along intermittently to the ensuing discussion on noble government and men who fall on their swords. I will be the very picture of white-haired amiability and redundancy.

Whether or not I will leave it there for the day, or will verbally (and superciliously?) spell out a little moral to the story, or will perhaps delineate the dictionary as the Wikipedia of my youth, is uncertain. I have not quite decided on the overriding personality of my twilight years; will I be the archetypal wearer of purple socks who eats sausage all day? a saucy, cutting Betty White? a watery-eyed trembler who uses aches and pains to have my way? a softly spoken background meddler, artfully camouflaged in my curtain-like floral jacket? or a quiet little sage who trots out unhelpfully helpful quotes at tense moments? Time will tell.

~~~

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Patrolling the streets of this blog: the quest of a deranged cop

A superlatively random collection of 11 very short, quotable quotes

1. I just speed-read War and Peace. It’s about some Russians. (Woody Allen)

2. Life reeks with possibilities. (Lauren Bacall)

3. Remember, candy is dandy, but fruit makes you poop. (Kim Possible)

4. It might have been […] chance, or its more flamboyant relative, destiny. (Carlos Ruiz Zafón)

5. You have a tremendous grasp of the obvious. (Wipeout)

6. Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. (L. Peter & R. Hull)

7. If you want to forget all your troubles, wear tight shoes. (Anon)

8. Whether they find life there or not, I think Jupiter should be considered an enemy planet. (Jack Handy)

9. There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good. (Edwin Denby)

10. I woke up this morning in the mood to not be awake. (23thorns)

11. I have learned from my mistakes, and I am sure I can repeat them exactly. (Peter Cook)

A ditty was promised, so a ditty must be written! Also, a love poem, an old railway advert & Gibson Girls

One of my readers – Sean Smithson – spotted an error in my “About” page; the underlined “as” had been accidentally omitted: “If you read my posts you’ll inadvertently learn probably as much as you would like to know about how this mind of mine works.”

Well spotted, I say! I promised the reader who found a mistake a ditty, and so the below is what I devised.

But first, in case some of you don’t know what a ditty is, it’s simply a short, simple song or poem (from Old French ditie – poem).

Here’s mine:

A ditty (that embraces the silly)

Oh, run away word,
where have you gone?
Your home is right here,
are you going to be long?

Sean S., the word catcher,
caught the thing in its haste;
that word was sent packing,
and now sits in its right place.

Perhaps after that I should share a ditty or two as penned by the pros, so as to highlight all that they can be!

A Ditty (by Sir Philip Sidney)

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one to the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven:
   My true-love hath my heart, and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides:
   My true-love hath my heart, and I have his.

Now, for an example from the early C20th, the image below is one of a series of advertisements used by the Lackawanna Railroad in the eastern US to capitalise on its use of anthracite, a kind of hard coal that burns cleanly, not creating the soot and cinders that normal coal does.

The advertisers came up with the fictional character of Phoebe Snow, whom they used to promote the line they accordingly dubbed The Road of Anthracite.

1024px-Phoebe-Snow-ditty

The quote below, from Steamtown: Special History Study, explains how the railroad developed this advertising strategy:

Early in 1899, […] Mark Twain, wrote the company after a trip to Elmira that he had worn a white duck suit and it was still white when he reached his destination. [The company] seized upon the idea of taking advantage of the line’s clean-burning coal in advertising for passenger traffic and adopted the slogan for the Lackawanna Road as “The Road of Anthracite.” As a symbol, probably for the first time in 1901, the railroad seized upon the image of a demure “Gibson girl” dressed head to toe in sparkling white, and published a seemingly endless series of jingles or poems.

Three more of the Phoebe ditties go like this:

Here Phoebe may
By night or day
Enjoy her book
Upon the way
Electric light
Dispels the night
Upon the Road
Of Anthracite

Says Phoebe Snow, About to go
Upon a trip
To Buffalo:
"My gown stays white from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite.

A coach or sleigh 
Was once the way 
Of reaching home 
On Christmas day 
Now - Phoebe's right - 
You'll expedite 
The trip by Road Of Anthracite

To read more, you can click here.

During WWI, anthracite was needed for the war effort, so trains couldn’t use it anymore and Phoebe Snow disappeared.

220px-Gibson_Girl_by_Charles_Dana_Gibson

An archetypal Gibson Girl

Phoebe was drawn as a Gibson Girl, and Gibson Girls, I’ve just learned with interest, were designed to be the epitome of supposed feminine beauty at the time: gracious, curvy, fashionable, independent, at ease with themselves, and possessing a fragile outer beauty.

300px-Gibson_Girls_seaside_-cropped-_by_Charles_Dana_Gibson

More Gibson Girls, who were popular images in the late C19th and early C20th

The Gibson Girls creator, Charles Dana Gibson, had this to say about his drawings: “I’ll tell you how I got what you have called the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores […] There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.”

– Quote from Marshall, E. (1910-11-20). “The Gibson Girl Analyzed By Her Originator”. The New York Times.

Camille Clifford, a Belgian-born American actress who was the most famous model for the Gibson Girl drawings

Camille Clifford, a Belgian-born American actress who was the most famous model for the Gibson Girl drawings

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Quotes for writers

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Favourite quote #8. “Never believe, accept, or affirm that because you are down you are defeated.”

Wonderful words! Amazing! Stinking wonderbaar! These words, from Faith for Daily Living, really resonated with me when I read them. The implication is this: Jesus ALWAYS redeems, restores, and renews. Always, always.

ae89bc0f89313d5c4ddf4a581071a022I think the real problem often enters in when we’ve been down so long that we start to believe we’ll never be ‘up’ again, and that this is therefore the ‘new me’ or a new, depressing way of being. Squash that thought! Jump on its sorry head! God’s plans are always to redeem you, restore you, and renew you. Always, always. So we must never “believe, accept or affirm” that we are defeated, because if Jesus is our saviour, he won’t let us stay down forever – he will help us walk up out of that valley to reach the heights again, where we are able to see far and clearly, and feel the wind against our faces.

If you do believe you’re defeated, you’ve believed a lie. It just is not true. Grief, pain, loneliness, failure, and all those things – they are REAL, and they HURT, but they are not your destiny. They are not going to be your life. Not when you are in Christ, because he is a conqueror, and his love and power and heart of kindness towards you are greater than the sum of all your fears.

What does it mean to “affirm” that because we are down we must also therefore be defeated?

Answer: we speak it. We say any or all of the following aloud:

  • “This is it. I’m done.”
  • “I can’t take it anymore.”
  • “I give up.”
  • “This is too hard – I’m over it.”
  • “I don’t believe things will ever change.”

Honestly, I’ve said them all at some point over the past 12 months. Sometimes more than once, and sometimes with real feeling.

But words have power, and so I probably made things harder for myself by speaking them. We should never speak defeat aloud over our lives. In faith, even if it’s just a stubborn, darn-it-I-WILL-believe sort of faith, speak aloud only biblical truth, so that the powers and principalities in the world that are industriously at work against you may know the truth.

I’m not saying don’t be honest and open with someone like a friend, family member, pastor or counsellor. We’re not to be superstitious or scared of sharing our true thoughts and feelings. But I believe (based on the book of James in the Bible as well as elsewhere) that our words have greater potency than we often realise. James 3:6 tells us that our words are like sparks that can set the whole course of a life on fire if we are not careful about what we say!! That’s sobering. Words can set a whole life on FIRE! Hectic stuff. Basically, you can ruin your life through words. (Not irredeemable ruin – there’s no such thing in the spiritual sense – but ruinous consequences.)

Back to why we should speak scriptures aloud, but not destructive words …. When we speak words from the Bible, what do demons and Satan hear? They hear the voice of God. It may be our human voices, with accents and cadences all our own, speaking the words out loud, but for all intents and purposes Satan et al. hear the voice of God, because it is the living Word of God we are speaking. They hear God’s authoritative voice, and so they flee. Remember that Satan is not omniscient. He doesn’t know our inner thoughts. But when we give voice to negative thoughts and unbelief, he has more to work with.

As someone who rather likes to talk, and who has had years of majoring in self-deprecating humour, I realised some time ago that I need to be careful how I joke around, because often there’s a kernel of belief in what I say. I can still have plenty of fun, but I choose my jibes more carefully now, not adding fuel to the fire of my doubts, shortcomings and insecurities.

Sometimes I still do believe or am tempted to believe that I am in fact defeated. But I am working at not giving voice to those thoughts. When I think them, more and more often I am remembering to speak aloud the opposite from Scripture, for example: “I have not been given a spirit of despair, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Boom! Take that, powers and principalities! In saying that verse and others like it, I have chosen not to affirm the lie that has entered my mind, and has perhaps been accepted in whole or in part. I am instead fighting the battle for my mind with the sharp, sharp sword of victory.

~~~

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If you found this helpful or encouraging, you might also like to read any of the following:

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From the Hope Blooming in Darkness blog: Red Raw and Itching

Patrolling the streets of this blog: The quest of a deranged cop

toonvectors-2654-460One of my jobs is editing and proof reading, and when operating in that role I have the excitable, obsessive tendencies of a crusading, steroid-popping policeman. When I sit down to edit, I am working off the grid – tasering spelling mistakes, eradicating typos, roughing up formatting evils, bombing inconsistencies, not to mention roundhouse-kicking indecent grammar and breaking the kneecaps of all other content-related bad asses.

So naturally I hate it when I hit that “Publish” button on a post, and then at some future date (often only seconds later) come across a devious typo or a word stoned out of its mind. It makes my patrol car come to a screeching stop, my coffee spills on my lap, and my mouthful of doughnut sticks in my throat.

But mostly I hate typos and their cronies because they steal the reader away from the content, rudely dragging him or her into the warehouse of linguistics, where they must endure the reality of clanking semantics swaying in the rafters, and have scar-faced goons from the wrong side of the shift button breathe heavily into their face. I work hard to maintain streets that encourage wanderers to contemplate the beauty of the green words on the trees, lose themselves in the lyricism carried in the wind, and relax into the encouraging warmth of the environment. A kidnapping detracts. Always.

So while cruising through yesterday’s avenue of thought (WWII, Socrates, Rwanda & personal boundaries) in an historic part of the local campus, what do I see but this sly malfeasant of a letter sidling up next to an innocent Private Eye:

“It do not consider it necessary or even helpful for me personally in my lifetime […].” What?! Hands up, you low-life, you stinking interloper of a ‘t’! I arrest you on the spot for trespassing on the property of Prof. Reader.

So this is my proposal to all my readers: I will be keeping an eye out for any typos or mistakes in my neighbourhood, but if any of you (citizen of the blog or tourist) should spot one and point it out to me first, then that person will receive the honour (?!) of having a ditty written either about them or with their name in it. I will make a post of it. Your fame will reach to all of my half dozen readers!!

I have no idea if I can write ditties on command (I’ve only ever written one ditty-ish thing that I can think of – Ode to a posy of flowers sitting on my desk), but should the occasion arise, I will do my best, and then we can all muse over the outcome.

So now that I’ve invited you to partner with me in my cop car, hopefully we’ll clean up the streets of Living my write life in no time, and we will all be able to take pleasant Sunday-type strolls anywhere we want, enjoying the peace of mind that comes from a world completely free of typographical thuggery.

~~~

A note: I am not inviting a traditionalist/prescriptivist scrutinising of my grammar – I don’t want to hear about sentences that start with a conjunction, etc. Sometimes artistic concerns must prevail. I am, however, inviting you to alert me to typos and mistakes because I want those to be as foreign to my streets as tanned legs are to a Scotsman.

Bookcases, bedtime reading, libraries, and storytelling

I live in one of those homes where there are bookcases and bookshelves in every room – in the bedrooms, the living room, the lounge, the dining room, the office, the kitchen, even the hallway. Only the bathrooms escape this fate. We have mini libraries of cooking books, fiction, reference books, history books, theology, atlases, […]

Favourite C.S. Lewis quotes

I guess it’s no secret that I think C.S. Lewis is a genius. While I don’t normally think in terms of literary heroes, if I were to compile a list, I’m guessing Lewis would be vying for top spot with John Bunyan. It’s not often you find an author with whom you feel completely safe, […]

Casualties of Time: quanked, bovate & ecbole

quanked Most lost words were lost for a reason – they no longer served any useful purpose. But the word quanked (meaning to be overpowered by fatigue) – now that is an awesome word, and I would love if it were brought back. It’s so darn expressive. bovate Another word I like, but completely understand […]

William Makepeace Thackeray and battle lore

I love poetry. At school it seemed this impossible, confusing aspect of literature, but I can now appreciate that once you’ve grasped certain handles, you’re set free to enjoy its lyricism. Poetry is poignant insight, ballad, word glory, beautiful escape. I recently stumbled upon a wonderful epic by Thackeray (best known for Vanity Fair) in one of those […]

Quotes for writers

Today I thought I’d simply share some of my favourite quotes concerning the art of writing.  I find them excellent touchstones in the writing process. Less is more * As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off; a continence which is practiced by few writers …. (John Dryden) * […]