Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Moab is my Washpot - autobiography by Stephen Fry - review


Sue's Reviews > Moab Is My Washpot

bookshelves: might-read-again, non-fiction, funny, biog-memoir

Four Stars - I don't know why only three of them appear below.

Stephen Fry is funny and rude, clever and incredibly knowledgeable. I know who he is, of course I do. He’s entertained me on the telly for three decades, but did I want to read his autobiography? Not especially, I don’t read that many biographies except of the artists I’m researching.

Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is funny and rude, clever and incredibly knowledgeable. I know who he is, of course I do. He’s entertained me on the telly for three decades, but did I want to read his autobiography? Not especially, I don’t really read biographies except of the artists I’m researching.

However when I saw this salmon pink paperback on a bookseller’s shelf, I bought it for the cover. I might well have bought it even if I was quite unfamiliar with Stephen Fry and despite the obscure title. Who is Moab, why does he/she/they matter? And what in heaven or hell is a Washpot? Yes I guessed the reference was from the Old Testament, but I had no intention of re-reading that tome to find out.

My main reason for the purchase was because the cover was largely filled with the monstrous, wise, preposterously ugly but somehow charming visage of a bull elephant seal, with a proportionately tiny blackbird staring up his bulbous nose. An elephant seal, Lain name Mirounga angustirostris - there's my one bit of erudition. As a child I had seen one in Berlin Zoo, as far as I know Stephen never visited Berlin in his childhood. So why an elephant seal? Just why?

The autobiography encompasses the first 20 years of Fry’s life and no elephant seals are involved. It’s an intense, highly personal, self-deprecating book. He writes an eruditely meandering – or maybe I mean meanderingly erudite – and excruciatingly honest story.

He presents us with his family, who he basically loves but, especially as a teenager, refuses to get on with and who love him but find him often hard to comprehend. We see him in middle-class boarding schools, and how he coped with school life, not always well or honestly but mostly he coped, by using his wits to dodge the system and outwit authority. And we see his love life as his sexuality begins to emerge.

I did enjoy Stephen's book, it’s poignant, scathing, funny and engrossing, occasionally self indulgent bit I forgive him. I skimmed here and there, mostly through the meanderingly erudite sections. I don’t have the advantage of his classical education, if it is an advantage. The Washpot is mentioned in the afterword, as a metaphorical container for the author’s dirty linen, and I believe Moab was a sinner. But the vast elephant seal, I still have no idea because it looks nothing like him!

Will I read it again? I might , but probably only after I’ve read what comes in the next volume.

Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Garden Trees - the Fairweather Gardener

I have always planted trees in every garden I've had since student days, now in garden number four The first was a long, narrow, town garden, with an old wall all around the perimeter. We took down three laburnums and planted two plum trees so that was a net loss of trees, though I wasn't thinking in those terms at the time.. However the best thing in that garden was a massive, mature apple tree.  No idea what the variety was but it produced large red and green apples which were superb eaters or cookers.  

The second Garden wasn't so large and when we purchased it, the triangular back garden was unpromising, it consisted of a soggy, sloping lawn with concrete, North facing patio and the only trees were three whitebeam behind the sparse beech hedge, a couple of wild cherry and a lot of leylandii. 

When we sold after twenty-two years there were fewer leylandii, though we kept a hedge of them for the sparrows. But we'd planted lilac, two apples, a pear, hazel, stella cherry, morello cherry, damson, horse chestnut, two Norway spruce (ex-Christmas trees), two holly and no doubt some I've forgotten. Picture shows fruit trees in full blossom in April. 

Hawthorn had begun to occupy spaces in the beech hedge and more wild cherry had taken up residence behind the hedge. And out the back, the landowner had planted more native trees which we enjoyed watching grow into woodland as we lived there.  Our trees helped transform that garden from a slightly boggy area to a woodland edge garden which is what sold it! The purchaser wanted her kids to live with trees. 

In the next garden we took out a four-tree leylandii hedge which was too close to the building plus we needed to make a parking area. Then we took down a big ash tree and a laburnum which were in danger of pushing over the 8 foot high, stone retaining wall. We planted fruit trees, three apples - Cox's Orange Pippin, Braeburn and Egremont russet - also a Victoria plum, greengage, conference pear, stella cherry and apricot.

Where we are now, the back garden is just too small for so many trees. It already has an apple tree which is a very early producer and I think is a Worcester Pearmain. We've already finished harvesting the fruit - began end of July which is early even for Worcesters.  They don't keep well so the freezer is full of stewed apple. There's a rowan tree which began to also produce fruit in July, the weather was so hot and dry.  

We might plant a pear tree against the wall next to the rowan but need to improve the ground, there's a lot of rubble. And with deliberate optimism we've planted an olive tree, which is growing happily. Given the rate of climate change, we hope to harvest edible olives before the decade is out! 

Friday, 23 September 2022

The St Leonards' Writers

St Leonards-on-Sea   Beach Huts 

My local writers' group, The St Leonards' Writers, of which I am currently the chair - which in this context means group leader - has after various changes of personnel and ethos, acquired a new website - www.Stleonardswriters.com 

Our new website is clear and uncomplicated which we wanted, and will hopefully attract a few new members to our friendly meetings. In the area? Do come and meet us or contact - stleonardswriters@outlook.com

 The site was made for us by Paul Gilbert, brilliant website and video producer at Welcome to Eventertainment.co.uk (lubbdupp.com)

Meet Gulliver

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Matter - A Culture Novel - By Ian M Banks

 When I was on page 305 of 'Matter' I wrote myself a note:-  

"So far so nearly good. Apart from a gory murder early on this Culture story (which isn't totally a Culture story as it's set on a world beyond the periphery of the Culture) is almost entertaining enough, actually funny in places. The shell-worlds are an interesting and convoluted idea which could only have come from Iain M Banks' fervent imagination. There's just a little too much description and back story/side story/technical and/or political and/or philosophical detail which holds up the narrative."

Now I've finished its almost 600 pages I still agree with my previous thoughts but I have enjoyed the novel, despite the convolutions which are mainly in the technological descriptions not the narrative. There is much humour, especially in the heightened dialogue and philosophical discussions between human and alien characters. Despite plenty of murder, gore and mayhem, 'Matter' is not as dark as, for example, Ian M Banks' earlier Culture novel, 'Use of Weapons'.

The three main characters are: Ferbin, Prince of the Sarl who does not want to be king,  Holse, the Prince's right hand man and probably the most intelligent human present, and Djan-Siery who is Ferbin's sister and not what she seems, having spent time visiting the Culture and being adopted by the Culture's Special Ops department.

With part Medieval cultural beliefs and steam-punk technology, the Sarl become embroiled in an unexpected conflict which nearly leads to the destruction of their home land and the entire colossal shell-world on which they occupy the eighth level. Only Ferbin, Holse and Djan-Siery can save the world...

Saturday, 30 July 2022

Biscuit - Flash Fiction

Mike just wanted to have his cake and eat it and I wasn’t the cake. I was just a biscuit that he liked to nibble on sometimes. I didn’t even know if I was the only biscuit he liked and was I a Bourbon cream? Or a Lincoln biscuit, the one you nibble the dots around the edges? Hope I wasn’t a Garibaldi, all those squashed flies!

I first met Mike down the Bull Hotel. Not at the bar, girls didn’t go in bars then, it was in the back room where there was a folk night every Friday.  The Folkies weren’t welcome in the bar either, not really but the landlord wanted their money so he sent a boy in to take orders, then carry them back on a mucky tray. If you didn’t have the right change for your drink it would cost you. Pints of mild or bitter was all they’d sell. I drank a half of mild, it was ten-pence and I could make it last all night. I used to go with Billy, he’s my brother and he’d buy me the half and tell me to make it last. I didn’t really mind, I was only sixteen and I wasn't that keen on the beer anyway.

I did like the music though. There was a girl singer, she had long, dark hair. I so wanted hair like hers, mine’s ginger and fluffy and I can’t hardly tie it in a ponytail, like the other girls there. Anyway this girl, she sang like Joan Baez and she was good but I preferred the guys singing. Then that night Mike appeared, with his guitar, he wasn’t a boy he was older and he had a man’s voice and he sang like Johnny Cash.

I got off with Mike, even though Billy said he was married and I should stay away from him. So when he came back, after I hadn’t seen him for weeks,  I just told him we was finished. So that was that.

Come to think of it Mike probably had thought I was a biscuit,  I was his ginger nut.

Friday, 22 July 2022

Why Write?

I  write because I very much need it, to escape the mundane. I could instead have taken up pottery or channel  swimming, I used to be a good swimmer! But there used to be characters in my head wanting their voices and conversations to be heard, their stories to be out here, somewhere. It seemed to be my responsibility to let them out. There were days when I felt detached from reality, going through the motions during the day, impatient to get to the evening when I could just sit down and write down what I needed to write.

Some nights, I’d write till 2 or 3 at night, even though I had to get up at seven to get the day started, kids off to school, watch husband drive off to his job, get some laundry on etc. before going to work myself.

Those days I’d walk along the road talking to myself like a loony, the dialogue for the scenes in my head tumbled out. Writing was at times obsessional. But when I could just sit and the words ran away with me, the feeling was almost miraculous, it filled me with delight.

Later I began writing plays, taking my ability to write dialogue to its logical conclusion. That was a different kind of joy, it required far more concentration on the technical aspects because with playwrighting you don’t need too many long speeches, exposition is the theatrical equivalent of the info-dump. However unless you’re Samuel Becket some information is needed for plot development, has to be incorporated into the dialogue.

Now I write because I want to but very seldom because I have to. I can’t write in that first intense way and recapture that joy I used to have, because storytelling doesn’t work in the same way for me.  When I first realised I could no longer do that I was very upset, became convinced that I’d lost my imagination. It took me a long while to try again and joining a small, local writers' group has been immensely helpful in encouraging me. I can still get engrossed and write for fun, for personal record keeping which I do quite a lot, and I write for my blog, which has a small audience and that’s gratifying.

So my fiction writing is for pleasure and with the hope of publication. My poetry when I do occasionally write a poem is to catch the intensity of a moment, epic poetry is beyond me.

And I want to write more plays, I think for the technical challenge as well as for the magic of seeing my work onstage again, with clever actors bringing my words to life. That’s where I think the joy could be for me now.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday - book review

Sue's Reviews > 

The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

's review on Goodreads

did not like it
bookshelves: novelstried-to-read
I did manage to finish this, it took a bit of doing. I just found it impossible to empathise with either of the main characters. We get both their first person viewpoints, in alternate chapters, but it just didn't work for me.

Sorry Paul Torday, you can write but this one's not for me. I do like the cover though!