Posted by Tania Kindersley.
The Younger Niece sets off for university. I displace any empty nest sadness into a hysterical concern that she has not read Brideshead Revisited. I prepared for my own first term at university by reading Brideshead and Zuleika Dobson, because I have never been afraid of being a big, fat cliché. Then, when I got there, I felt ashamed that there were still so many great novels I had not read, so I sat down to War and Peace and Les Misérables.
I decide not to over-face the Niece, so I send her off with nice Penguin Classic editions of Vile Bodies and The Great Gatsby, and a warm scarf so she will not get a chill. She seems quite sanguine about the whole thing.
The Man of Letters calls and I tell him all this.
‘Do you think the young people have no idea who Evelyn Waugh is any more?’ I said. ‘Do they still read?’
‘Oh,’ he says, quite blithe. ‘They read.’
There is a pause.
‘Possibly not War and Peace,’ he says.
I wonder where my reading habits came from. My father famously did not read anything apart from Timeform and The Sporting Life. When I told him, in high excitement, that I was reading Middlemarch for my O levels, and that I was entirely in love with George Eliot, he said: ‘Oh darling, has he written any other good books?’
Even though I did English for O and A level, I realise now that our reading lists were quite limited. There was a bit of Keats, a bit of Jane Austen, the usual Shakespeare and Chaucer, George Herbert, Robert Lowell, and Joseph Conrad. I really think that was about it. Where on earth did my obsession with Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald come from? My adoration of Virginia Woolf appears to have sprung, fully formed, from the depths of my funny little head.
I have no recollection of any adult I knew having any interest in Waugh, but it was because of Vile Bodies that I decided I wanted to write novels. I think I actively wanted to be bookish, that somewhere along the line I decided this was a good and desirable thing.
One writer would lead to another. I am almost certain that it was because of the Anthony Blanche scene in Brideshead, when he sobbed lines from The Wasteland to the meaty rowers returning from the river (‘they are all Grace Darlings to me’), that I went on to become entranced by TS Eliot.
I can’t really imagine a day without reading. My life is furnished with the lovely papery artefacts that are books. When I went south a while ago, I decided to give the Kindle for iPad a whirl. I was trying to pack light, and this seemed the perfect time to carry ten books in one small electronic device. There is a brilliant thing where you can download unlimited classics for zero pence. I loaded up with free Trollope and felt rather smug.
When I got to London, I actually panicked. I needed a real book in my hands; the flat screen turned out to be no substitute. I ran into Blackwell’s in the Charing Cross Road and got a copy of Hitch 22 and felt the panic subside. I almost kissed the lady at the till. I was grinning at her so madly that I could see her wondering whether she should call security.
I think one can overdo the reading thing. It is a bit of a holy grail for me, but really it is just a pleasure like any other. Because it is one of my keenest delights, it does not follow that someone else’s life would be thin and poor without it.
I hope the young people do go on reading, but I’m not going to call it the end of civilisation if they do not. Although I do think it would be a little bit sad if they never get to read the line: ‘Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.’ We all need questing voles in our lives, especially in these troubled times.
Now for the photographs:
Last of the lavender:
Hydrangea still flowering like crazy:
These little phlox were all eaten by rabbits in July. Today, like a little miracle, they are suddenly flowering again. I love them very much for that:
The cyclamen just go on and on and on. They may be the best value plants I ever bought:
The little blue geranium:
This shot of my rowan tree has the focus all over the shop, but I rather like its abstract effect:
The dear old pot table:
And now for the special Friday Pigeon. These two pictures were taken at different times of day, and from different angles. It amazes me that the colour and the light is so different. In this one, she looks midnight blue:
And in this one a deep black with shades of chocolate:
Her real colour is somewhere between the two.
And today’s hill, also rather out of focus, I am afraid. There are some days when, however much I concentrate and squint my eyes, I can’t quite get the photographs to come out. Lucky I’m not a perfectionist or anything:
Oh, and here’s a lovely piece of serendipity. I thought I had just better check the questing vole line, as I could not remember if it was fen or fens. As I was in front of my computer, I googled it, and, in the way of the internet, I stumbled upon this quote from gloomy old Dostoevsky, having a most uncharacteristically sunny moment:
‘Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.’
Good old Fyodor. I’m taking that as my maxim for the week.