Monday, 31 December 2012

Dickens and dyslexia

The hols have allowed me to take some time out to read and I've just consumed my first ever Dickens. How shocking to have attained my great age with such an omission from my education, but it was a treat to meet a 'new' talent. I'm a slow reader - partly due to my dyslexia, no doubt - and I've never learned to skim, so I enjoy and savour books which speed readers forget.

Poor sickly Mrs Gradgrind came up with my two favourite quotes from Hard Times. The first was her speaking to her children:

'I wish,' whimpered Mrs Gradgrind, taking chair... 'yes I really do wish that I had never had a family, and then you would have known what it was to do without me!'

Then the other reminded how difficult some people find it to describe their symptoms. This also made me smile.

'Are you in pain, dear mother?'
'I think there is a pain somewhere in the room,' said Mrs Gradgrind, 'but I couldn't positively say that I have got it.'

Here's hoping 2013 will bring you lots of good reads to make you smile too.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Brits and the Weather

Brits are known for forever pontificating about the weather, and it is not until you leave our unpredictable climate that you realise what a gift our weather is.

In Sri Lanka, the year-round temperature is stuck at about 31. There are no seasons. No autumn. No spring. No season of rebirth after the winter. No change in day length. It is warm, luxuriant and there’s lot’s to love but it is so predictable. All that changes is the humidity, and the number of showers you need each day.
Autumn in Sussex
On one of many drives between Embilipitiya (our then home) and Colombo I noticed that the rubber plantation was changing into glorious rusty autumn colour. The vision made me weepy and yearning for home.

The delight of England’s changeability is that familiar scenes are seen anew. Summiting the chalk highlands at Wandlebury, there was a suggestion of dawn ahead – a subtle yellowing between streaks of black cloud and naked trees before a navy sky. On down through the last of Cambridgeshire and into Essex. The ex-marshes at Dartford have never looked as lovely as last Sunday morning. The industrialised hinterland of Tilbury Docks and Bluewater are concreted into submission and even the slight chalky undulations and hillocks are quarried to nasty open wounds.

That morning though the sun rose on a patchwork of fields painted in muted purples and grey-greens. Soft undulating mists highlighted hedgerows I’d never noticed before and disguised ugly buildings that would have been blots on the horizon. It was easy to see small patches of nature that shelter the Dartford warbler and other small cute wildlife.

Passages in Conrad's Heart of Darkness (first published way back in 1902) catch the mysterious but ever-changing atmosphere of the Thames Estuary: "the mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises... and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds."
and at the end of the book...
[The Thames] "was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky - seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness."

We drove on, over the Thames all busy and twinkling with tiny lights and finally to Gatwick and a long-promised trip to the Polar North.

Oslo Airport - waiting to go north
Looking out at the snow falling in Oslo