‘O The Brave Music’ by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

‘O The Brave Music’ by Dorothy Evelyn Smith is a coming of age novel about a young child who experiences a number of losses, early on in her life. Despite the extraordinary and quite oppressive  circumstances of her childhood, this is a joyous novel which is rooted in the firm and deeply devotional love that she feels for a boy, five years older than her.

I wanted to write about this novel a day or two after I finished. I always find that it is hard to talk objectively about a novel that you strongly connect with, leaving you tongue-tied in instances. I become so involved with the characters and the story that it is difficult for me to talk about the novel constructively and I don’t want to merely gush about how much I adored the novel. However, I will try to put down my thoughts on paper…

The story of her life is told to us by Ruan Ashley in retrospect and she tells her tale in quite a sentimental, emotional voice. Although she relates the events of her life starting from the time when she was seven years old there are instances in which she jumps forward and reveals which turn her life takes in the future. For instance, quite early on in the novel, Ruan reveals the story of how she first met the love of her life. Rather than take away the surprise element of the story, I found these revelations to quite build up the emotional tension in the novel.

Sylvia and Ruan are the daughters of a non-conformist minister. They have an infant brother who has some kind of disability – we are not told about this clearly – but baby Clem cannot talk or walk like other children his age. The children’s mother is a beautiful woman, a skilled equestrian from a wealthy, landed family. However, by picking up the mantle of being a minister’s wife, in a run-down Manse, which is part of an impoverished neighbourhood. She misses the comfort, affluence and leisure of her previous life and after a few years her love for her husband is dimmed by a life of perpetual denial and hardship. The marital discord between the couple is quite evident, forming an uncomfortable shadow over the family.

Sylvia, the older daughter is beautiful like her mother and her only ambition in life is to marry a rich man and have many children. Ruan, only wants to read and write books and to spend time with her one true love – a boy called David.

David, an orphan, is the ward of a wealthy businessman and they live in a modern house on the extremities of town that is on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. A large part of Ruan’s childhood is spent in David’s home under the care of his older step-sister, especially during holidays. For Ruan, David’s house becomes a second home. They roam freely on the wild Yorkshire moors, make friends with the local village folk and it is here that David and Ruan forge their strong bond of friendship. The love that Ruan feels for David is one of great devotion and it is this love that lends her strength despite all the debacles that life places in her path. For life does present tremendous sorrow to Ruan and it is her love that is her salvation.

It’s quite hard to discuss this novel without giving away too many spoilers so I’ll refrain from revealing too much about the plot twists. 

‘O The Brave Music’ is a coming of age novel and the novel has been compared to ‘I Capture the Castle’ and ‘Guard Your Daughters’ by Simon David Thomas who is also series consultant for this excellent series. Certainly all the young female narrators in these three books have strong personalities, all of them with quite original voices and a way of very candidly expressing emotion, which is quite endearing. However, I would say that the feeling of melancholy pervading ‘O The Brave Music’ was quite deep – sometimes I was reminded of the hardships of Jane Eyre. Some of the descriptions of the Yorkshire moors was certainly reminiscent of ‘Wuthering Heights’, along with its pent-up passions. Another theme of the novel was that of loss and abandonment and it was particularly hard to see Ruan cope with these emotions so bravely during her young life.

Another emotion that is described most evocatively is that of Ruan wanting something very badly in life and then delaying the gratification of fulfilling her wish. She consoles herself with the thought that prolonging the realisation of certain dreams at least allows her to dream of them and hold on to them, rather than have them destroyed by unavoidable circumstances. These tender moments of philosophy that touch this book make it ever so special.

The topic of childhood love was dealt with great sensitivity in the book too. At no point in the novel do we feel that the love between David and Ruan is inappropriate. This is often quite a tricky topic for authors to address and Smith manages to convey the feeling of great love without any sexual undertones in her story.

I particularly enjoyed Ruan’s rather feminist character. Born at a time when marrying well was considered an achievement for women, Ruan is cast in a very different mould. Here is a heroine who cuts her hair short, wears boyish clothes and wants to educate her mind with books. I’ve always enjoyed bookish references within books. The multitude of books that Ruan received and collected was another lovely little detail of this novel. 

At the heart of the story, ‘O The Brave Music’ is a story about love. Ruan’s great love for certain members of her family, David, her books and the Yorkshire moors. But I think it  is quite an original love story and one I will remember for many days. Dorothy Evelyn Smith mingles intricate  social detail along with domestic detail and weaves an elaborate and often heart wrenching story. This will probably be my most favourite novel of the year and I’m still struggling to articulate why. Perhaps the best and most emotional novels do that to us. 

‘O The Brave Music’ by Dorothy Evelyn Smith was a gift from British Library Publishing and is part of the British Library Women Writers series, directed at shining a light on works of female writers that were popular in their time. As always, all opinions expressed about the book are my own.

‘Miss Plum and Miss Penny’ by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

Yesterday I finished ‘Miss Plum and Miss Penny’ written by Dorothy Evelyn Smith and republished by Dean Street Press as part of the Furrowed Middlebrow Collection. The e-book has been sent to me for review.

First of all I want to alert everyone that this particular book is the perfect one to read in the lead up to the Christmas season. The book starts two months before Christmas Day, on the day of Miss Penny’s fortieth birthday and most of the major events happen around and after Christmas. This is hence the perfect festive read.

The story introduces us to the world of Miss Alison Penny, unmarried and leading a comfortable life in the small Yorkshire village of Greeth, in a house, romantically called ‘The Laurels’ bequeathed to her by her parents. Alison Penny wants for nothing in life, except a suitable romantic interest. On the day of her birthday, her most pressing problem is with whom she shall while away the few hours of the evening, in front of the television. Will it be her faithful maid of many many years, Ada, the retired and slightly hypochondriacal bachelor, Stanley Hartley or the village vicar – the widowed Hubert Sturgess? 

All things come to a pass however, when Miss Penny steps into the village park on her birthday morning and thereby rescues a suicidal woman from drowning herself in the duck pond. Unsure of how to deal with the situation, kind hearted Miss Penny, decides to bring Miss Victoria Plum home. Since, Miss Plum has no relations, no friends and no place in the world- this seems to be the best option to her.

Miss Plum is brought home, much to Ada’s consternation and Miss Penny and Ada help her to regain her health and strength in a long convalescence. However, in the lead up to Christmas, Miss Penny doesn’t have the heart to turn Miss Plum out, or help her find a job at the local employment agency. Everything is postponed till after Christmas, especially as Miss Plum seems likely to have hysterics whenever the future is mentioned.

Ada and Alison both fall ill simultaneously and in that instance, Miss Plum nurses them back to health. Though her efforts at housekeeping aren’t up to Ada’s standards, she does seem eager to please and certainly seems aware of where things are kept and how the house is run. Everyone wonders about the new member residing at The Laurels. Hubert and Stanley are asked to help in resolving Miss Plum’s future but everyone’s plans are disturbed when a mysterious stranger from Miss Penny’s past, knocks on her doorstep on Christmas Eve and threatens to disturb the delicate balance of things at The Laurels and in the village, in general. 

Though the book is centred around Miss Penny’s simple life in the small Yorkshire village of Greeth, it is noteworthy that the title of the story is ‘Miss Plum and Miss Penny’ and not the other way around. Definitely, the character of Miss Plum is at the centre of affairs in the book. The reader’s sympathies wax and wane for Miss Plum as the story progresses. She certainly seems very alone in the world but is she more manipulative than is apparent at first glance? Why is it that the interests and sympathies of the entire village menfolk are aroused by Miss Penny’s predicament? What quality does Miss Penny possess, that makes her the centre of attention in Greeth?

I won’t say much more because this would reveal too much about the plot but suffice it to say that I thought that the writing and the character development in this book were excellent. Each individual character was beautifully fleshed out and seemed so real. I loved the quirks of character in the old-aged bachelor Stanley Hartley. So pernickety and used to having his comforts arranged ‘just-so’, it was a delight to read about his life and his domestic arrangements. At the other end of the spectrum was the widowed vicar and his estranged teenage son – in dire need of home comforts. Even minor characters were so well drawn. 

I found Miss Penny’s predicament most interesting – to give up the comforts of hearth and home or lead a more adventurous, exciting life abroad with a rakish character? Luckily, for Miss Penny, she was a woman of independent means, and she didn’t need to resort to the path of marriage as her only salvation, like many others.

On the surface, Miss Plum and Miss Penny is a delight of a story. Set in a charming Yorkshire village in the autumn and winter – there are idyllic chapters of night time carol singing, skating on frozen lakes in the depths of midwinter. Below these layers though, this is a more serious story about women and their struggle for financial independence. It is a story about homelessness, loneliness and the choices that women make in life to secure their future. It is a story of personal worries, anxiety, the need to do good but also the conflicting emotion of not wanting one’s life rearranged to please someone else. 

I’m so pleased to have read this heartwarming story. In my opinion, one of the best from the Furrowed Middlebrow publications so far!

10 Ways I Plan to Keep My Child Preoccupied During Times of Coronavirus Induced Social Distancing

Noel Streatfeild - Laura Ingalls Wilder

I have an eight year old daughter and whilst she is a bookworm – it can be hard to keep her engaged during long periods of isolation, like those required during the Coronavirus social distancing recommendations.

I’m going to share ten tips on how I plan to keep my daughter engaged during these long periods of indoor time and I hope it will be helpful to some of you:

 

1) Read Books

It helps that my daughter is a bookworm and is happy reading for hours on end but I know that not every child is in the same situation. My daughter is still at that happy stage that she likes to enact scenes from her favourite books through her menagerie of soft toys. I could write a whole blogpost about her favourite books and will probably do so at one point. Some of her current favourite are : The Laura Ingalls Wilder Series, Chronicles of Narnia, ALL the Enid Blyton’s, Roald Dahl and so much more.

 

2) Make Puzzles

My daughter recently finished a large 250 piece Winnie the Pooh puzzle. Making puzzles can happily engage children for long stretches of time and also tests their problem solving skills. I helped my daughter with some hard bits. Having someone do the puzzle with you – is encouraging to them.

 

3) Listen to Audiobooks Together

I’m a big Arthur Ransome fan and have a beautiful hardcover set of his ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series. My daughter has her own paperback set too. A lovely way to spend some time is listen to chapters of the audiobook together whilst reading from your own editions.

 

4) Practice Your Drawing Skills via YouTube Videos

There are many lovely YouTube videos that share how to draw animals, cartoon characters, birthday cakes and so much more. Set kids up with drawing supplies and the video and they can hone their drawing skills all by themselves. This activity is SUCH a favourite with my daughter.

 

5) Give Kids a List of Chores

My daughter takes great pride in doing things by herself. Some of the chores she enjoys are – tidying her room (I might need to give her a bit more encouragement on this one), making herself a snack (sandwiches), watering the plants, folding clothes etc. Make a fun chores list with stickers and stars when they get the job done.

 

6) Play Boardgames

Our favourites are Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Junior Scrabble. I still haven’t embarked on the endless game of Monopoly with her.

 

7) Have Afternoon Tea Together

Sharing the ritual of making and eating afternoon tea together can be fun. Make some sandwiches, have some small cakes and a cool refreshing drink at hand.

 

8) Make a Fun Playlist of Songs that Make You Want to Dance

My daughter loves all the current dance tracks (Maroon 5 and Ed Sheeran are some current favourites). Letting them dance off all that extra energy can be a good thing. I’m looking into sourcing some cool indoor strobe lights for added effect.

 

9) Provide Some Structure to Their Day

I find, at least for my child, that unless I give her day at home some structure – things can get a bit out of hand. I’m afraid I’m one of those mums who gives their child homework every day, even during the summer holidays. I find that without some feeling of having done some ‘work’ my child is unable to appreciate or give value to her ‘play time’.

Some learning activities that I think my child has benefited from have been learning poems, learning a new language (Bengali in her case), writing short essays, practising spelling, practising mental sums, writing short book reviews and learning from the atlas.

10) Screen Time

I do let my child have some screen time during holidays  but it’s always limited. Some of her favourite things to watch are still Disney classics, Winnie the Pooh, BBC Dramas, Swallows and Amazons, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Parent Trap.

I realise that not all children are the same and some of these points may not work for your child, but I do help that these tips can help you create alternative ideas to suit your child.

I’d love to hear your tips of keeping children occupied indoors.

February 2020 Month in Review

My February Diary

February was a very busy and challenging month but a good month overall. My parent’s both had minor surgeries so I was pre-occupied with that. The 8 year old had school sports and to her great joy actually won a silver medal in the Class 2 relay race. She displayed her medal the next day on the dresser with a hand written plaque in front of it – ‘Mehuli’s first medal’.

The highlights of the month included watching ‘Little Women’ at the cinema – oh so good! Reading ‘William’ by EH Young – do read it ! And having an article accepted for publication in an Indian magazine (I’ll share more soon).

I also got to meet up with a school friend visiting from San Francisco and it was great catching up. The weather changed into beautiful sunny, balmy weather. I was gifted three rose plants that are still alive and I made the husband buy me a Valentine’s present (of course a book). Read on, to discover more! Much love and hope you had a great February.

 

This is my month in review :

The Books I read in February:

1)The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Chalet School in Exile - Elinor M.Brent Dyer

I re-read ‘Chalet School in Exile’ after many years. It stills remains my most favourite Chalet School book with the thrilling flight from Austria at the outset of WW2 forming part of the plot line. What made reading the book even more special was reading in this unabridged Girls Gone By edition that contained a chapter I had never read before. What a treat!

 

William by E.H. Young

William by EH. Young

My first time reading an E.H. Young novel did not disappoint. Dealing with the topic of parental expectation and differential reactions to the news of a child’s decision to leave her husband and live with a lover, the book ‘William’ has discourses on morality that are deep and meaningful. Definitely going on my list as a contender for Best Books of 2020.

The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope

I was able to complete ‘The Duke’s Children’ by Anthony Trollope in the space of one calendar month. Yay! This was another book about the reactions of parent’s to the decisions their children make in choosing their life partners. I thought it was a fitting ending to the concluding book in the Palliser series.

Ichigo Ichie by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

Ichigo Ichie by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

‘Ichigo Ichie’ by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles was my non-fiction pick of the month. The book describes the Japanese concept of Ichigo Ichie- or the art of cherishing each and every moment in life. I found it a helpful and comforting book.

Mixed Media in February

Podcasts

I listened to ‘Reading Resolutions’ – the January podcast from Slightly Foxed. Also Episode 81 of ‘Tea or Books’ – Style vs Plot and Living vs Loving by Henry Green. Though I haven’t read Henry Green, Simon and Rachel’s discourse didn’t leave me overly enthusiastic to put Henry Green’s novels on the TBR, any time soon.

Movies

I actually got to see Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ at the cinema. I’ve written about it in the blogpost listed below. I absolutely loved it!

As I enjoy watching old black and white movies the most and don’t have the ability to concentrate on movies for protracted periods of time anymore, I’ve resolved this issue by watching movies in short bursts – whenever I have some downtime during the day. This month I watched ‘Meet John Doe’ by Frank Capra and I highly recommend it. The story is so heartwarming and the acting very good.

I’m looking forward to watching a few more next month as I easily get bored of many of the Netflix dramas.

Music

Our song of the month was ‘Senorita’ by Camilla Cabello and Shawn Mendes. This is a song that definitely makes you want to dance. On YouTube I’ve been watching the channel ‘Our Stupid Reactions’. A group of Americans react to videos on Indian culture. I find the videos very entertaining and enjoy the appreciation of our rich Indian culture, especially those on Indian Classical music.

What I Bought or Received in February

Book Haul - February 2020

Here are the second-hand books I bought or received in February. Some of course are my daughter’s but we always agree to share.

1) The Full Colour Edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘The First Four Years’ and

2) The Full Colour Edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘On the Banks of Plum Creek

3) ‘The Vicar’s Daughter’ by E.H. Young

4) ‘The Runaways’ (alternative title ‘Linnets and Valerians’) by Elizabeth Goudge

5) ‘White Boots’ by Noel Streatfeild

I also asked my husband for a Valentine’s Day present (shameless, I know!) and his gift was

6) ‘Bookworm’ by Lucy Mangan

Books received from publishers included:

7) ‘Ichigo Ichie’By Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (gifted review copy)

8) ‘Business as Usual’ by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford (Handheld Press e-book gifted for review)

Posts I Published in February

I published three posts in February. The first – January Month in Review. The second post was an ode to watching the new Little Women movie. Lastly, a book review of the magical, fairytale – ‘A City of Bells’.

Diary of the Ordinary Happenings of a Kolkatan Lady – January 2020

Love and Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Love

Elizabeth Goudge’s Magical ‘A City of Bells’

A City of Bells - Elizabeth Goudge

The Highpoint of February

The high point of February was meeting up with a schoolfriend on her annual visit to Kolkata. She lives in the USA and five of our friends met up for a Valentine’s Day brunch and we did a gift swap. I came home with a lot of good memories, essential oils, face masks, body cream and tea.

 

Favourite Book Quote of February

“In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. They find it widens life. We’re all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can’t give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously.”

~ Grandfather from ‘A City of Bells’

 

Ichigo Ichie was received as a review copy from Hachette India but all opinions are my own.

Elizabeth Goudge’s Magical ‘A City of Bells’

 

D8E8BF18-CF11-446A-B342-8060B59E8BCC

A Cathedral town that seems to be straight out of a fairytale, memorable, endearing characters that stay in your mind forever, a quaint bookshop with a winsome bookseller, a romance at the heart of the story and a mysterious plot regarding the disappearance of a literary genius – ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge is all this and much more. 

‘ A City of Bells’ is the third Goudge novel I’ve read (others being ‘A Bird in the Tree’ and ‘A Little White Horse’) and so far, is perhaps my favourite.

 

The Plot of ‘A City of Bells’

‘A City of Bells’ deals with the story of Jocelyn Irvin, a war veteran, who travels to his grandparent’s house in the fairytale Cathedral town of Torminster. He seeks calm and solace and he also seeks to escape a life of being tied down to a clerical job in an office in London, that has been approved by his parents. Quite by chance, Jocelyn is induced by friends and family, to take up residence in a quaint old house in Torminster and become a bookseller. Whilst there, he befriends a whole community of unique characters and endeavours to solve the riddle of the disappearance of the man who had inhabited the house before him – one Gabriel Ferranti. In the lost manuscript that Ferranti leaves behind him, Jocelyn with the help of his dear friend Felicity Summers, tries to piece together Ferranti’s work – a play – and thereby try to resurrect his genius. The question remains – where has Ferranti gone and more importantly, is he still alive?

 

The Setting

The setting of the story is the delightful town of Torminster. It is a Cathedral town and is supposedly modelled upon the city of Wells in England. The descriptions of the Cathedral town are delightful. There is a medieval feel to the place. The Cathedral Close, the Village Green, the Cathedral clock, the quaint bookshop with their vivid descriptions seem very real. The blue hills and the countryside loom up into the distance and form the perfect backdrop for the picturesque town.

There it was, Torminster, her home, the place that she loved as she would love no other place all her life long. There were the old roofs and chimneys and the church spires, the smoke lying over them like a mist, and there, towering up above the smoke, was the grey rock of the Cathedral with its three towers.

Delightful Characters in ‘A City of Bells’

One of the aspects of ‘A City of Bells’ that really appealed to me were the very well drawn characters. I think this is the great strength of Goudge’s writing – her ability to create beautiful and very lovable characters. From gentle, philosophical old Grandfather, cantankerous but lovable Grandmother, Jocelyn with his disability but his literary bent of mind, beautiful, exuberant Felicity Summers- the actress and last and best of all – the charming child Henrietta. To me, Henrietta’s charming character was the highlight of the book and I long to learn about her future in the sequels to the book.

 

Beautiful Nature Descriptions

Th beautiful nature descriptions in ‘A City of Bells’ is another reason why I enjoyed the book so much. Here is a description of a particularly memorable nature ramble.

“… the Tor woods in May were Paradise.

The primroses and violets were faded but the wood anemones were sprinkled over the dark earth like stars. Here and there a shaft of sunlight pierced through the new green leaves overhead and touched their whiteness to a shimmering silver, and sometimes a puff of wind made them all shiver and stir, as though they were bright points of light on water. That poised look, peculiar to them, as of something so frail that it might at any moment blow away, made them look away, made them look more like butterflies than flowers whose roots were in the earth.”

 

Favourite Quote in ‘A City of Bells’

“In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. They find it widens life. We’re all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can’t give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously.”

~ Grandfather from ‘A City of Bells’

You will enjoy this book if you enjoy …

… the books of L.M Montgomery. The nature descriptions of Goudge do remind me a lot of Montgomery’s beautiful nature writing.

Also the quirks in Goudge’s characters, although quite slight, are very enjoyable to me and remind me slightly of Dodie Smith’s quirky character drawings in ‘I Capture the Castle’.

 

I read ‘A City of Bells’ with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram.

Love and Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Love

I had the great joy of watching Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ on the big screen, this past week. I won’t spend this post purely gushing, because there is a lot to gush about in this movie. The sets, the similarities between the sets and the interiors of Orchard House, where I have had the pleasure of visiting in person, the exquisite costumes, the acting… and so much more were a pure delight. I wasn’t too sure about the non-linear storytelling in the movie. Sometimes I found the juxtaposition of scenes a little confusing – and they certainly were too much for my 8 year old- who shouted mid- cinema – “Look Beth is alive again!”

She also lamented – why does this story have to be so sad! But in my mind – the poignancy of the story is one of the greatest strengths of the plot and why it feels so endearing even centuries later.

As I’ve been re-hashing the Little Women story by Louisa May Alcott, over and over in my mind, in recent days, I thought it would be nice to muse about Love and Little Women, and examine all the different kinds of love we witness in one of the most enduring children’s stories of all time. (PS : this post contains spoilers so don’t read it if you haven’t read the book yet. And if you haven’t read the book yet – what are you doing?!).

 

So here goes my essay – Love and Little Women- specially for Valentine’s Day:

1) Jo and Laurie

They are the quintessential pair at the heart of the story. They are inseparable, they grow up together and in the eyes of Alcott – they have TOO much in common. So, when Laurie professes his love to Jo and she rejects him, our hearts are broken because we don’t want their unique bond to break. Here is a love that is youthful, powerful and passionate.

 

2) Jo and Meg

The eldest March sisters, Jo and Meg, have a sweet relationship. Jo is fiercely possessive of her older sister and dislikes her growing up and assuming grown up ways. She certainly dislikes any amorous attentions that anyone might show Meg.

 

3) Jo and Beth

It is endearing to see how protective and nurturing Jo is towards Beth. These two sisters have opposite temperaments, Jo being strong and Beth weak. Nevertheless, the differences between the sisters means that they depend on one another deeply. Beth depends on Jo to provide her with courage. And Jo depends on Beth for love and affection and for the example she sets. Beth reminds everyone that she meets of the virtue of being good.

 

4) Jo and Amy

Jo and Amy are the two March sisters with the most artistic temperaments. Jo with her passion for writing and Amy with her passion for painting are constantly sparring with one another. Amy wishes to be treated with the respect of an adult and when she is ignored she lashes out in the worst way possible. The competition continues between the sisters in both love and patronage by wealthy Aunt March.

 

5) Meg and Mr Brook

Meg is the actor of the family but unlike Jo or Amy, she lacks any artistic aspirations. She only asks for a loving husband and family and she certainly finds a loving husband in John Brook. I’ve always loved the bit in Little Women where Mr Brook steals Meg’s glove and keeps it to himself. Alcott keeps Meg and Mr Brook’s relationship very real, by showing how money and the lack of it, can place strain on the strongest bonds of love.

 

6) Aunt March and Jo

Cantankerous Aunt March and Jo share a curious relationship. Aunt March uses her money and all the power that comes with it, to buy companionship. She is an extremely lonely old woman but at heart she shows a secret disposition to improve the fortunes of her poor relatives and promote the artistic talents of Jo and Amy. Revengeful in nature, she chooses Amy as a companion on her European travels but in the end bequeaths her house and wealth to Jo.

 

7) Marmie and Her Girls

Marmie, Hannah and her four girls share the loveliest bond of love. I always think of Laurie looking wistfully in, from the outside on the festivities of the March household before he befriended them and being envious. Who wouldn’t be envious of such love and friendship?

 

9) The Love Between Laurie and Amy

When I was a young girl, I could never understand the love between Laurie and Amy and always found it blasphemous that Laurie should so easily transfer his love to another of the March sisters. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize that a marriage between two hot-headed individuals is an undesirable thing. So you might say, even though I don’t understand Laurie and Amy’s connection I’ve learnt to accept it.

 

10) The Love Between Jo and Prof. Bhaer

Here is another relationship that I think I’ve learnt to accept and understand as I’ve grown older. Jo and the philosophical professor share a love for literature and have much in common. Whereas Jo is hot-headed, the Professor is wise and practical. Not the most exciting relationship but one that perhaps endures.

 

11) The Love Between Jo and Her Father

The worry for their father, his health and involvement in the war always lingers in the background of Little Women. When he falls sick and Marmie and Mr Brook rush to nurse him, Jo sacrifices her ‘one, true beauty’ – her magnificent hair – in order to scrounge up money for the trip. Later she cries for the loss of her hair, but her sacrifice shows just how much she loves her father.

 

12) The Love That Jo Has for Writing

Lastly, we come to the most inspiring love of all – the love that Jo has for writing. Many of us who like to read, have a love for writing too. And Jo March’s example of writing her first book is very inspiring and I’m sure has motivated many generations of aspiring authors.

 

Is ‘Little Women’ a favourite read? Which example of love, do you love the most?

January 2020 – Month in Review

 

My January Diary

January was a month of new beginnings. On the work front I had new things to learn and new projects to embark on and they kept me very (pleasantly) busy. I was also craving good book discussions and participated in two readalongs on Instagram. One – was ‘A Winter Away’ by Elizabeth Fair. I read this with a close group of friends and the book was light and it was amusing to share excerpts and peculiarities of character, whilst reading.

The second book I read with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram – ‘A City of Bells’. I had this beautiful first edition sitting on my bookshelf – just crying out to be read. I enjoyed this book so much.

We had two birthdays in the family – my daughter’s and my Mum’s. I bought Amitava Ghosh’s ‘Gun Island’ for my mum because she is a huge fan.

Mid-January, the husband and I had four nights of attending Dover Lane Music Conference – an Indian classical musical soirée in Kolkata. Two nights, we stayed up all night and walked home as the sky was turning pink at dawn. There is nothing so uplifting as music and is so needed to lift one’s spirits. I’ll think of the good music I listened to and it will make me happy when I remember it throughout the remainder of the year.

The weather has been unseasonably cold in Kolkata. That, and perhaps the new flat is rather chilly! Whatever the reason – I finally caved and bought a space heater. We celebrated Republic Day with Subway Chicken Tikka sandwiches and Dutch chocolate ice-cream. There was a holiday deal. Sandwiches are the highpoint of our (Meli and my) fast-food life!

Meli spent most of January practicing for Sports Day at her school. She is reading aloud ‘Little House on the Prairie’ to her grandmother, who is visiting at the moment.

I hope you all had a good start to the New Year.

 

This is my month in review :

The Books I read in January

A City of Bells - Elizabeth Goudge

1) ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge

I read ‘A City of Bells’ with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram. The lady who hosts the readalong accompanies the books with wonderful images taken from the scenes of the book… in this case the city of Wells, England. This definitely helps to make the book come alive.

’A City of Bells’ was such a charming book. Very well written, a nice plot that was engaging to the last and a host of very endearing characters. And the best of all! The story contained a quaint little bookshop. How can a bibliophile not love a book with a bookstore in it? More on the book later… as I hope to review it in depth.

2) ‘The Prime Minister’ by Anthony Trollope

I’ve been listening to Trollope’s ‘The Prime Minister’ on audible for a few months now. I finally managed to finish the book in January and enjoyed it overall. I think the fact that the central character had a very dislikeable personality deterred me from listening to the book. Sometimes, his vices and personality got too much for me. The book is the fourth in Trollope’s famous ‘Palliser Chronicles’. The most important themes in the book were politics and a greed to make easy money.

3) ‘A Winter Away’ by Elizabeth Fair

Elizabeth Fair - A Winter Away

 

4) ‘The New Chalet School’ by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

I read ‘The New Chalet School’ in an Armada paperback version and it is abruptly cut short at the end. I will have to search for the next Armada book ‘A United Chalet School’ where the story continues to satisfactorily resolve the story. Next month I will pick the most momentous book in the series – ‘The Chalet School in Exile’ and I have an unabridged Girls Gone By Publishing edition that contains the missing chapters of the Armada editions. As ‘Exile’ is my favourite book in the series, I am VERY excited to proceed.

 

Mixed Media in January

I didn’t watch much television at all in January but did manage to watch a few episodes of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. Particularly haunting, was the tragedy that befalls a Welsh mining town. Meli and my Mum are re watching episodes of ‘Anne with an E’. I hope to catch up with the newly released third season soon.

I was ever so hopeful that the ‘Little Women’ movie would come to theatres in Kolkata but it hasn’t and I’m still hopeful and waiting!…

Meli and I have discovered Maroon Five’s ‘Memories’. Quite distressingly, Meli has also picked up the lyrics which might not be the most appropriate for an eight year old …

I listened to the Slightly Foxed podcast. Episodes that I enjoyed included Episode 13 (Nature and Story) and Episode 14 (The Vital Spark). The latter was a very engrossing discussion on what sparks a lifelong love of reading. This is a topic very much after my own heart as I take great efforts to encourage Meli to read.

The husband and I spent four very lovely evenings (and in two instances whole nights) at the 68th Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata. It’s an Indian classical music conference held every year in our city and I attended the event after many years. My favourites were a Double Violin recital by L Shenkar and a vocal recital from Ustad Rashid Khan.

 

What I Made in January

Noel Streatfeild - Laura Ingalls Wilder

I made a delicious chocolate banana almond bread in January. Although we enjoyed it, I still found it on the dry side and will be tweaking the recipe further.

I also baked a chocolate layer cake with coffee chocolate icing for Meli’s birthday. It was delicious and not too heavy on the icing at all, which we like. Meli loves to have Cadbury Gems (or M&M’s/ Smarties) spell out the birthday number on the cake. I’ve been doing this since she was a small child and she loves the tradition.

I’ve been making and drinking a lot of cardamom milk tea this January. I find it very soothing to drink during the colder months. Simply boil pierced cardamom pods in water, add strong black tea and gently simmer for about 5 mins on the stove top. Add milk and sugar to taste and then serve.

 

What I Bought or Received in January

January Book Haul - Laura Ingalls Wilder- Enid Blyton

I purchased books for the 8 year old’s birthday, because as she says herself – books make the best presents. The books I gave her were Noel Streatfeild’s ‘Holiday Stories’. I was a bit naughty in that I wanted this beautiful book for myself but I managed to convince my daughter that she would enjoy it too when I mentioned that one of the stories was labeled ‘Chicken for Supper’. As my daughter loves to eat chicken and food in general, she didn’t need much convincing after that! The second book we gave her for her birthday was a Full Colour Edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘By The Shores of Silver Lake’. There was also another old book find – to add to the Famous Five collection. She also received a splendid illustrated edition of ‘The Goblet of Fire’ by J.K. Rowling from a generous uncle.

Books I bought for myself included a second hand copy of E.H. Young’s ‘William’ and two Girls Gone By Publishing stories – ‘Highland Holiday’ by Jane Shaw and ‘Refuge for the Chalet School’ by Amy Fletcher.

 

Posts I Published in January

Milton Place - Elisabeth de Waal - Persephone Books

I regained my blogging mojo in January and published a few posts that I’ve listed below:

6 Tips to Overcome the Post-Christmas Blues

The Faded Glory of the Old English Country House: Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal

Best Books of 2019

The Highpoint of the Month

Brown paper packages

I received a wondrous package from two dear Instagram friends – Kathy (kstarnes on Instagram) and Shelbi (the nobbylife on Instagram). I spent a whole afternoon opening the parcel and enjoying its contents while sipping on a cup of tea. The wrapping was so pretty that I had to take a flat-lay photograph to share. The books are highly coveted vintage editions of O. Douglas – out of print and hard to find. I love them so much. I feel very grateful to have such considerate friends.

O Douglas - The Setons - Priorsford

Favourite Book Excerpt of the Month

“I think it will last,” said Grandfather. “In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. Yes. They find it widens life. We’re all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can’t give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously.”

~ ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge

Best Books of 2019

Best Books of 2019

I always look forward to posting my Best Books List every year and they are some of my most favourite posts to peruse on other blogs too.

2019 was a year of comfort reading. I always find my mood for the year reflected in the books I choose. There was a Chalet School book every month, along with a Miss Read book – and although many of these will not feature in my best books list – they certainly did their job of providing comfort. For this I am very grateful.

It was also a great year for acquiring many old paperback puffin and penguin editions. This was due to the 2 second hand book sales that I was lucky enough to visit and where I bought books by the box load (all that you can fit into a box at a flat price). 

I hosted a few readalongs on Instagram this year. Memorable were the DE Stevenson readalong of Katherine Wentworth and Mrs Tim’s wartime diaries. Also of course,  Miss Read’s Fairacre series culminating in the reading of the supremely cozy Christmas book- Village Christmas in December.

I read 44 books in total in 2019.

So, without much further ado :

Here are my top 10 books of 2019

1. Greengates by RC Sherriff

Written in the slow, delicious and detailed style of RC Sherriff, this was a wonderful novel tracing the life of an old couple who are adjusting to life after retirement. The small recalibrations of daily life that are needed to restore equilibrium to the couple are exquisitely described. The novel is highly domestic, the trials and tribulations might seem petty but the feelings are very real and instantly identifiable. Hats off to Sherriff for dealing with a non-glorified and lesser described stage of life – but one, nonetheless, that is very important.

 

2. Mrs Tim of the Regiment by DE Stevenson

Mrs Tim Carries On- DE Stevenson

In the introduction to the book published by Bloomsbury there is an author’s original note. Stevenson mentions that Mrs Tim was the result of her own personal diaries being read by a friend who wanted to learn some insights about the reality of living in a Highland Regiment. The friend was so amused with the diary that Stevenson was encouraged to send her notes to a publisher. The results were the highly popular Mrs Tim books.

I’m a big fan of the epistolary novel – although personally I need to read these kind of books in little bites. They are the perfect kind of book to sneak in a few pages before bedtime or during breakfast or a lunch break.

What makes this novel particularly delightful is the excellent writing, amusing anecdotes and the glimpses of life lived in Scotland.

There are a few interesting relationships and characters in the book too.

Hester reminds me of the Provincial Lady (EM Delafield) – slightly clueless about what is going on around her- in her own dreamworld.

She is happily married to Tim-  a major in the Regiment- but she still has a bevy of admirers who are perhaps struck by Hester’s endearing personality.

The latter half of the novel is set in Scotland and I think for me, is the better part of the novel. There are many lovely outings to beaches, local fairs, Scotch cities. The writing is a lilting ode to Scotland.

In my mind the book ends a little abruptly – so I’m eager to follow along with the further adventures of Hester in ‘Mrs Tim Carries On’.

 

3. The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill

The Call- Edith Ayrton Zangwill -Persephone Books

I finished reading ‘The Call’ this week – review copy gifted to me by @persephonebooks) . ’The Call’ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill follows the personal story of a young woman scientist, through the course of historical events that dominated the women’s suffrage movement in England, leading up to the outbreak and onset of the First World War.

Although the story is one of fiction, the series of events that pervade the novel, come across as remarkably real, no doubt drawing from the personal experience of Edith Ayrton Zangwill – a member of the WSPU herself.

The ‘Call’ refers to the call to action experienced by Ursula Winfield. A call to shun and relinquish everything she held dear, in order to enable the progress of the women’s suffrage movement.

However, as the novel progresses, we discover that this call to action is experienced by other people and for other causes- be they women’s suffrage, the call to do one’s duty in the war, or the call of a more personal nature- that of all-consuming love.

I gave this book a 5 star. I think it’s such an important book to read, dealing about an important chapter in women’s history.

 

4. Katherine Wentworth by DE Stevenson

Katherine Wentworth’ was such a dreamy, lovely book- filled with the gentle romance of yesteryear. Some of my favourite things about the book were the settings – in Edinburgh, England and the Scottish Highlands. In particular, the last third of the book was set in a little cottage, skirting the shores of a Scottish loch. I enjoyed ‘Katherine Wentworth’ so much that I was eager to read more about Katherine’s future. I’m sorry to say that the sequel didn’t enthral me as much- but that is alright…

I’ve been trying to analyse what endeared me to ‘Katherine Wentworth’. I find I’m particularly drawn to books that capture realism – the kind of realism that is part of mundane, everyday life. For within the tapestry of quotidian everyday events, there emerge moments filled with little sparks of joy- if we have the eyes and the receptiveness to appreciate them. DE Stevenson writes with incredible sensitivity – rendering the dull, less than perfect life of a widowed Mother of three – to interesting heights. There are little moments of delight and I love writers who make ordinary people and their cares and concerns – more than ordinary.

 

5. We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet tells the story of a small child called Pamela, who has been mistakenly placed on a bus that is heading out of bomb torn Southampton during the Second World War. When the bus arrives with the evacuees in the quiet village of Upton, Pamela is discovered by a village resident – newly married Ellen Parr.

Nobody knows anything about little Pamela’s precedents – who might be her parents, where she came from and why she was separated from her mother.

Childless Ellen takes the small girl into her heart and her home but when the time comes for the two to separate – we learn about Ellen’s past and the heart wrenching grief she feels to let go of Pamela.

This book was just beautifully written and there were many times when I thought I might break down and cry. At the heart of ‘We Must Be Brave’ is Ellen’s poignant history. The history of her childhood deprivations, how it feels to have your world crumble around you and feel truly alone. We Must Be Brave is a story set in War times. Though the backdrop of the story is the war and the bravery of the men and women fighting in the war, the bravery referred to in the title is one of personal bravery. Bravery of the spirit and soul. Bravery at times when life surrenders to all encompassing loneliness.

 

6. Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson

Jill was one of my most delightful discoveries in 2019. I had read and greatly admired Ruby Ferguson’s ‘Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary’, published by Persephone Books. It hadn’t struck me that I would find her children’s books so engaging. I’m not particularly taken by pony books either. However, Jill’s story was so well written and so inspiring that I recommend that you all find these books and read them! Ferguson’s voice in these books reminded me of E Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett. There were some economic hardships that Jill’s family faced in the book – but it was wonderfully inspiring to read how Jill managed to realize her dream of keeping her own pony and participating in a gymkhana. Jills’s voice is particularly candid and endearing. Read this if you enjoyed ‘The Railway Children’ or ‘A Little Princess’.

 

7. The New House by Lettice Cooper

The first book I read by Lettice Cooper and already I am looking forward to reading her ‘National Provincial’. Another very slow book, drawn out over the course of a single day. A day in which a family undertake a move to a new house. A house that is much smaller than the family are used to. A house that fits in with the changing fortunes of a once rich family who have fallen on harder times. We see familial tensions stretched out on the wire under the straitened circumstances. The petulance of a spoilt widow and mother, the hardship of the unmarried, elder daughter under the burden of heightened economy and the responsibility of her mother. An interesting novel that deals with changeable social circumstance.

 

8. The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I started reading the sweeping saga of the Cazalet family with a group of friends on Instagram. The novels require you to dedicate a large chunk of your time to their reading but are well worth the effort. A compelling drama that encompasses many interesting characters whose lives are deeply affected by the onset of World War 2. Whether you read the books for the family drama, the social history of the crumbling fortunes of the aristocratic class, or because you are a history enthusiast, ‘The Light Years’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard makes for compelling reading.

 

9. The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read

The Christmas Mouse - Miss Read

The perfect book to put your feet up with a pot of tea and a mince pie during the Christmas break. The story has all the lovely details of Christmas preparation and a moral to the story too. As usual, Miss Read provides all the comfort needed and much more. Already on my list of annual Christmas re-reads along with ‘Village Christmas’.

 

10. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Although I strongly disliked the protagonist, Emma Bovary, with a passion that slowed down my reading of the novel, Flaubert’s beautuful, rich, prose, bordered on the lyrical. An exceptional story that makes me eager to read more by the author. One can only imagine what it would be like to read the writing in the author’s native French.

I received We Must Be Brave from Harper Collins India and The Call from Persephone Books, as review copies. However, as always, all opinions are my own.

The Faded Glory of the Old English Country House: Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal

Milton Place - Elisabeth de WaalMilton Place’ is the story of an old English country house and that of its owner, Mr Barlow and the turn of events that present themselves, when he invites the daughter of an old friend into his heart and home.

As with all good stories, Milton Place is a tale that has a dual storyline. On the surface, there is an absorbing story that recounts the complex tangle of relations and relationships between a group of individuals who either live in or visit Milton Place. But peeling back the layers of the story, ‘Milton Place’ is an ode to the old English countryhouse, the old aristocratic way of living and thinking that perished in the face of two earth shattering World Wars. It is the story of the dissolution of a way of life and the attempts of the English landed gentry to hold on to the old life, for as long as possible and de Waal renders this picture, quite perfectly.

The story starts out with elderly Mr Barlow, owner of Milton Place, receiving a letter from the daughter of an old friend. We discover that the old friend was a sweetheart, who lived in Vienna and whom he was unable to marry due to family and societal expectations. Mr Barlow invites the daughter, Anita Seiler, a widow to his old, rundown countryhouse, Milton Place.

Barlow, a widower himself, lives alone with the help of an elderly couple who endeavour to take care of the house and those duties that are required in minimally keeping up such a large house. There are two grown-up, married daughters. Cecilia, who has married a doctor and lives a restricted and unhappy provincial life. They have a teenage son Tony, who benefits from a private education due to the largesse of his grandfather, much to the chagrin of his son-in-law. Emily, his other daughter has married well and lives a busy life involved with several local committees and charities.

The life that Mr Barlow leads is a lonely one, in a ghostly shell of a house that has known better days. His daughters are completely self-absorbed. Cecilia suffers from pangs of depression and is bullied by her bitter husband. The estranged relationship with her only son, doesn’t help matters.  Emily is constantly scheming to sell Milton Place and remove the burden of the upkeep of a country house languishing on dwindling resources.

Anita Seiler, with all her energy, efficiency and pleasant demeanour comes as a breath of fresh air to Mr Barlow’s dull and dreary life. Slowly but surely, Anita, who has come to England in search of work, carves out a place for herself at Milton Place. She is a companion to Mr Barlow, devotes time to long walks and conversation and even tries to revive certain rooms in the old house. Mr Barlow’s daughter’s see her as a threat to their lives and are unhappy with her continued presence at Milton Place. Then, an unexpected event occurs that threatens to upset the delicate balance of Milton Place and things must come to a head…

Though Elisabeth de Waal’s storytelling was quite compelling there were other aspects of the book that made it stand out in my mind- and that was the background story of the dwindling fortunes of the English countryhouse. Although the comparison might be a tad long-drawn, the books of Thirkell come to mind when examining Milton Place.

Thirkell’s plots are often quite loose, some might deem them as silly, but I enjoy reading the books to learn about a lost era, a long forgotten way of life. Social history and domestic detail are so important for our better understanding of historical and political events. Snippets of daily life add luscious detail to the intricate tapestry of human living. Each story from the past can provide rich details to render this picture, all the more clearer.

There are also particularly moving musings on life and old age, seen through the eyes of old Mr Barlow:

At my time of life every season, almost every day day, is a grace, and the spring is not an ache, but a glory. It is true, one loses most of one’s desires, but one also loses one’s impatience, and there is given to one the only moment of life that is real- the moment that always had seemed to escape- the present.

 

If you read Milton Place, I hope you will enjoy the story, but more so, I hope the facade of the crumbling old house, the gentle manners of an old English country squire, the long walks in the English countryside, descriptions of flora and fauna that grow in the gardens will inspire you, as they have done me, to read more and learn more about that particular time, that is no more.

I was provided a complimentary review copy of ‘Milton Place’ by Persephone Books, but all opinions are my own.

6 Tips to Overcome the Post-Christmas Blues

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

 

We are now in that bleak stretch of the year – when the jollity of Christmas and the New Year are behind us and the promise of Spring and lighter, brighter days seems like a faraway dream.

I personally enjoy the winter but this year it’s a little different. Even in Kolkata, with its mild winters, our homes, built for the long Indian summers, have been rendered unseasonably chilly this year and everyone seems to be suffering from the sniffs and the snuffles.

 

Here are my 6 tips to alleviate the post- Christmas blues and help to soften the blow of the winter months.

Read books that are wintry, partly Christmassy or are written in a diary format

I do put away my Christmas reading in New Year. It just seems wrong to me to be reading about festive frolic in January. I must admit that books with ‘Winter’ in the title, snowy scenes or those that have occasional Christmas chapters are acceptable to me, however. At the moment I’m reading ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge. Her writing is so mellow, beautifully descriptive and luckily enough, this book has a bookshop in it AND a Christmas chapter or two. Would you just look at that beautiful cover too! Other books on my January TBR are Elizabeth Fair’s ‘ A Winter Away’, recently reissued by Dean Street Press. I’m also reading a review copy of Peresephone’s latest offering – Stella Martin Currey’s ‘ One Woman’s Year’. To start a book in January, with January as a first chapter is perfectly satisfying, as I’m a diary writer myself. If all else fails, EM Delafield’s ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ is sure to provide comfort.

 

Bake season appropriate confections

Firing up the oven during the cold months and making something from scratch feels particularly gratifying. I find Christmas cakes a bit on the heavy side. For the winter months I love baking with raisins, fruits and nuts and find that the addition of cinnamon, orange peel, ginger and other aromatics makes cakes, perfect for snacking with a hot cup of tea or coffee. The best cakes in my opinion, combine equal amounts of sugar, butter and flour.

 

Indulge in all the Vlogmas videos you weren’t able to cram into December

‘Vlogmas’ or the art of vlogging every day in December till Christmas Day is a tradition we indulge in at the end of the year. Although I have never knitted a pair of socks, can’t run a sewing machine and haven’t picked up a pair of needles in a few years, I enjoy watching Vlogmas videos from the following makers : Sew Sweet Violet and Sandy By the Lakeside. There’s something particularly cozy about their videos as they open advent calendars, bake and sew, craft and knit and drink Nespressos. Their videos really put me in the mood for Christmas. Owing to the lack of time to devote to YouTube during December, I always have a backlog of Vlogmas videos in January and it feels just lovely to watch them then.

 

Take down the tree but keep the fairy lights and Christmas cards up

I receive many of my Christmas cards well into the New Year. I’ve even received them in April in past years. There’s nothing as lovely to crack open an envelope from a far away place and feel the pleasure of reading a handwritten note from a thoughtful friend. The greatest gift we can give each other in this fast day and age, is the gift of time and it certainly takes time to pick out a card, write a note and post it. This is why I like to leave the cards up in January. Twinkly fair lights also help to brighten the gloomy days and long evenings.

 

Walk in Nature for even 30 minutes and listen to something

I really am not very good at hitting the gym but I do like to walk in a park or if possible, run my errands on foot. I walk in a small park near my home every day.  It’s a monotonous stretch of path that winds in an ‘L’ shape around a lake and the sameness of the scenery is broken up by listening to various bookish podcasts and audiobooks. Walking in greenery instantly lifts my mood and I take the time while listening to notice small details around me. The patterns of the different leaves, birds flitting by, the undulating motion of branches swaying in the wind. Being mindful while listening to a discussion, a piece of music or a story is calming and grounding. I’m currently listening to Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Prime Minister’ on audiobook. Listening to long unedited, Victorian novels helps me put in those extra steps and keep my mind and body healthy.

 

Drink mulled apple juice and lace it with brandy for those cold cold nights

I’ve discovered mulled apple juice this year. Take cloudy apple juice and dilute it with water to suit your taste and toss in a cinnamon stick, handful of cloves, slit cardamom pods, slivers of ginger, orange slices and then gently bubble it on a stove top. Lo and behold, after ten minutes of steeping, you have a hot drink that will warm the cockles of your heart. Drink it in a mug and warm your hands while nursing the drink. Slosh in some brandy if you feel so inclined.

 

There are many things to look forward to in the new year. Setting up a new diary. Planning seasonal reads. Lighting candles. Baking. Wearing warm socks, creating a winter playlist and taking a hot water bottle with you to bed at night are some small ways in which you can bring greater comfort to your life.

 

Now that I’ve poured out my old-fashioned ways to you, tell me, what can we add to this list of wintertime comforts?