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?

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

 

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?

 

Diary of the Ordinary Happenings of a Kolkatan Lady (1/12/19-8/12/19)

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This is a diary and account of the extremely ordinary happenings that occur in my life in Kolkata. We (Me, my husband and 7 year old daughter) live in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood in Kolkata. We moved back to India after spending ten years in the US. Be prepared for some moaning and groaning because as you will see – life in Kolkata has its fair share of ups and downs.

Find November 2019 diary entries here.

 

Sunday, 1st December 2019

Lo and behold, the last month of the year is upon us. This year, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to reading and writing. It’s been a year of house buying, renovations, moving and settling in – all valuable new life lessons for certain but I’m glad that the episode is behind us.

Look forward to a new year and a fresh beginning.

Mum visited us late on Saturday and we spent the evening putting up the Christmas tree, lights, christmas cards on a string and decorations. I put Christmas carols on and we drink hot tea (note to self: must make hot mulled apple juice – Meli would like it). Am able to fully appreciate last year’s crop of beautiful Christmas cards, simply hung on a piece of string and illuminated with twinkly fair lights. This is something our Mother would do for us during past Christmases in England. The part of Christmas I find the most enjoyable is the observance of family traditions – vestiges of the past that come back to comfort, year after year.

Feel disheartened on Sunday evening at the prospect of full and very busy week ahead. As usual feel that Time has conspired to constrict the weekends and elongate the work week.

Monday, 2nd December 2019

Seems that new life lessons still present themselves. This time in the form of trying to sell our old flat that belongs to my parents. The escapist in me would much rather not have to deal with it, and instead disappear from time to time, into a vintage novel set in the English countryside. This is why am dipping into ‘Milton Place’ by Elisabeth de Waal from time to time. Most excellent book with developing and unexpected drama that I feel better equipped to handle. 

Meli has an extra singing class in the evening and spend the time she is at class in walking about the neighbourhood. Clock in 10,000 steps at the end of day and feel most pleased with myself. Receive lovely advent card from Beth Bonini and Meli and I take turns opening two windows. Impatiently awaiting arrival of Christmas puzzle.

Tuesday, 3rd December 2019

Almighty informs me of the unfortunate incident of his lost cellphone. We have a new upstairs neighbour, a neighbour whom none of us has yet met and who lives for the better part of the year in Singapore. ‘Madam’ as Almighty calls her was leaving for the airport on one such flying visit. Almighty in assisting her with loading her luggage into the car had his cellphone unwittingly slip out of his pocket into depths of car boot. By the time Almighty discovers disappearance of phone, phone is already at Dum Dum Airport, en route to Singapore. Plans are currently being hatched for its safe recovery. 

Wednesday, 4th December 2019

Went to the Post Office to post dear Brother’s Christmas parcel to frosty, far-off Berlin only to be informed – no stamps at local Post Office. Have a silent tirade against country’s deplorable shortage of postage stamps and gird my loins to travel to nearest one at Jadavpur University. Pick up Meli from school bus stop, trundle her into nearest available auto-rickshaw, armed with Christmas parcel and savoury snack for Meli (to tide over the lunch time hunger pangs). Arrive at destination and take out parcel only to find it besmirched with oily residue of Meli’s snack – a savoury paneer puff. Refuse to go home and change wrapping. Thankfully receive requisite postage stamps and proceed to cover up oily spots with numerous stamps. Take comfort in the thought that dear Brother may (or may not) derive satisfaction from lingering remnants of paneer puff from the Homeland.

Almighty’s cell phone in Singapore. Very sad for him.

Thursday, 5th December 2019

We are four books into #BookishAdvent this year. A book a day in the month of December till Christmas Day. Only this year I don’t have a book for every day, so I imagine we will skip a few days. We don’t really buy Meli many toys or things but I do spoil her outrageously with childen’s books. I imagine not too many 7 year olds have such an extensive collections of children’s books. And by books I’m taking about the gems of literature that are nearly obsolete. Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Noel Streatfeild, Malcolm Saville, Edith Nesbit, Ruby Ferguson and all the wonderful children’s classics. 

I don’t think it can spoil anyone to be spoilt by a wealth of books.

Learn how to make paper snowflakes from the Internet for Meli’s art project. There’s a first time for everything. Now want to dress all the windows in house with them.

Friday, 6th December 2019

Dad’s 78th birthday, although he will insist on calling himself 79. Go to Mum and Dad’s after Meli’s school, laden with mostly edible gifts. Mishti doi, roshogolla (men at sweet shop know me well now), fenugreek paratha and more. Also have a vintage facsimile edition of Hercule Poirot’s ‘Peril at End House’ for him. You can’t really go wrong with Agatha Christie with my Dad. Have planned to visit Alipore Zoo tomorrow as part of the birthday celebrations. 

Saturday, 7th December 2019

At around midday after an early lunch we take an Uber to Alipore Zoo. The outside of the Zoo is buzzing as usual and we buy our tickets. Inside of the Zoo is bursting at the seams too although not the heaving crowds that are to be seen closer to Christmas Day. Strange fact : many people, particularly from the suburbs and villages like to celebrate Christmas with a visit to the Zoo. Don’t ask me why?). Visits to the Zoo are annual affairs, usually led by the enthusiasm of Mum and Dad and Meli. This time around Meli had brought a notebook and pencil and proceeded to painstakingly write down the names of each animal she saw. We started with the primates first, proceeded to giraffe, kangaroo, zebra and elephant, several types of deer, crocodiles, panthers and lions etc. we were actually able to step into the Reptile House this time around and saw a number of alarming specimens. Is it just me, or does everyone, when seeing a scary species imagine head on encounters between self and animal, to the detriment of self? 

Lots of people having picnics and lie downs in the picnic areas- more so than the people viewing the animals. Spy lots of steel tiffin boxes with egg curry, puffy luchi and lots more. We peel oranges and indulge in sweetmeats in the gazebo.

Sunday, 8th December 2019

Haven’t had a relaxed weekend in a long time and although there were many odd jobs to do around the house and errands to run, I was able to devote some time to the things I like best- one of them being reading and losing oneself immersively in a book. Being allowed two or three hours of uninterrupted reading time is something of a treat, particularly with modern day distractions and our obsession of glorifying the state of being perpetually busy.

After finishing ‘Milton Place’ late on Friday I decided that it was time to launch myself into festive reading. Here are a few books I have pulled together for that purpose:

  1. Christmas Mouse by Miss Read
  2. Stories for Christmas by Alison Uttley
  3. Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories
  4. A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer (previously published as Envious Casca)
  5. Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith
  6. Village Christmas by Miss Read (a re-read)

Spent stray bits of Sunday listening to Classic FM and reading the Christmas Mouse. Miss Read manages to write such cozy, meaningful Christmas stories with all the delicious details of Christmas food, preparations and presents. Despite the lack of plenty there is a focus on the feeling of goodwill, sharing and thinking beyond the immediate family circle.

Awaiting arrival of highly anticipated 1000 piece Christmas puzzle.

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Diary of the Ordinary Happenings of a Kolkatan Lady (23/11/19 – 30/11/19)

This is a diary and account of the extremely ordinary happenings that occur in my life in Kolkata. We (Me, my husband and 7 year old daughter) live in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood in Kolkata. We moved back to India after spending ten years in the US. Be prepared for some moaning and groaning because as you will see – life in Kolkata has its fair share of ups and downs.

Find the previous entry here

Saturday, 23rd November 2019

Spend most of the day tidying our flat in preparation for Sunday’s large party. About 90 of our closest family and friends (mostly from Raja’s side because our family/work colleague numbers seem to be dwindling?) will visit us for the first time in our new home. We are planning food and seating arrangements downstairs in the garage and surrounding ground floor area – because obviously home too small! Today the decorators arrived with long bamboo poles, lengths of fabric and other paraphernalia to create a covered tent to house the caterers and the food. Fingers crossed that everything goes according to plan. Not having too many squabbles with Raja about issues related to party as most have things have been taken care of. Feeling less stressed about life than the time of the house move. Nevertheless…

Sunday, 24th November 2019

The day starts bright and early with a ring on the door from our building’s caretaker – Mr Maiti-pronounced as in “My- T” only with a soft ‘T’. Raja secretly calls him Almighty, perhaps due to his air of grand deportment. On this particular morning Almighty announces with an apologetic smile that the building’s water pump has run amok. Visualize 100 people descending upon us without a drop of water for the caterers, not to mention the impossibility of performing ablutions and using the facilities. In a fit of frenzy I start obsessively filling every bucket, container, vessel at hand and phone my mum in a panic. Dad arrives on a rickshaw within ten minutes bearing large 100 gallon plastic water drum with tap, which we place downstairs near the food stations. Decorators have arrived and are arranging the chairs and tables. Request extra water drum from them which they supply and proceed to fill it but am told off by Raja because am not acting normally it seems.

At 10.30 am first of family arrives and am still in nightie. Sister-in-law helps me to wear green-gold saree, worn for only the second time in last fifteen years. Everyone arrives and we have a wonderful time. House much admired particularly the library. Food is delicious. After the flurry of guests subsides at 4pm, find out pump had been mended at midday!

Monday, 25th November 2019

Husband and I both wake up with sore throats and the beginnings of colds. I spend the day pootering about at home, setting the rooms to rights and putting away the many gifts we have received (six sets of bedsheets!). Heat up catering leftovers – lots of yellow pilau rice, cauliflower curry and daal but not so much mutton curry, fish fry et al. Raja and I both seem to taste the food for the first time and nod appreciatively at our excellent catering choice. 

Buy Meli a children’s magazine on the way home from school today. Remember the joys of childhood magazine reading as something to look forward to every month. Meli enjoying the jokes in said magazine exceedingly and starts relating them to me umpteen times throughout the day. Have to appreciate the joke with fresh enjoyment every time.

Tuesday, 26th November 2019

Have resolved to spend some time this week at the local bank in attempts to boost dwindling financial resources (depleted especially after house-buying). Many lucrative options present themselves but as usual opt for the safe and reliable low interest method of fixed term deposits like my ancestors of yore. Look forward to meager but assured promise of some book spending money this time next month. Book buying being a major motivation in life. 

Lots of leftovers from Sunday.

Wednesday, 27th November 2019

Meli has the day off from school and we have planned a nice day of watching Frozen 2 at the cinema, followed by subway sandwiches for lunch and a visit to the bookshop. Luckily all are to be found in local Mall for which I am very grateful. 

We both enjoy Frozen 2 very much. I especially enjoy the beautiful autumnal and wintry scenes. There is an Olaf joke involving ‘Samantha’ that Meli finds hilarious and repeats frequently. Meli demands to watch the next show of Frozen which I firmly decline as I don’t love it that much and frankly cinema tickets extortionary. 

Meli assuages grief in chicken sub sandwiches with extra olives and honey mustard and we spend the evening listening to the Frozen 2 soundtrack on repeat.

Still eating leftovers.

Thursday, 28th November 2019

Spend the morning editing a few articles. The early mornings are dank and foggy and for a small window of time, one doubts whether the sun will come up at all, from behind the puffy clouds of pollution. Delhi is said to be very bad with regards to pollution but I imagine we don’t lag very far behind. The ironing man with his makeshift ironing booth on the corner of our cul-de-sac is I expect, a serious offender in that department. From around 6.30 am he lights his coal scuttle (used to warm his heavy metal iron) and sends plumes of grey smoke into the ether. Meli and I hold our breath whilst going past him on our early morning walk to the bus stop and then gasp for air, with flushed faces when we have turned the corner. Meli asks when it will be cold enough to blow clouds of smoke into the air. I tell her that it will come soon enough.

Nearing the end of last Sunday’s leftovers. Ate the baked tomato fish with a garden salad and soya bread. That was our Thanksgiving Dinner this year. Very thankful for nice, new place to stay this year.

Friday, 29th November 2019

Meli has the day off school again. Write and package off the last of the Xmas parcels. I expect there will be more to post next week though as I always seem to miss people or people unexpectedly send me things and I feel the need to reciprocate. Go to local Post Office – the one with the perennial dearth of postage stamps. Informed not enough postage stamps for the Rs 216 parcel. Ask in great indignation how this can be possible. Am informed that might be issued the requisite amount in smaller denominations of 5 rupees. Agree to this dolefully and proceed to stick 43 stamps on the envelope whilst the 7 year old reads a book in a murky corner of the Post Office. Advise her to swing her legs continuously on wooden bench as feel sure Post Office is riddled with mosquitoes.

After pasting the myriad stamps, hand over the envelope fervently hoping dear Nora, in far-off snowy Canada, will enjoy the package and contents with multiple images of esteemed Indian freedom fighter- Mr Abul Kalam Azad.

Saturday, 30th November 2019

At the midnight hour, it suddenly strikes me that today is the last day of November and that from tomorrow, December, Advent and the gloriousness of the festive season will be upon us. Traditionally we like to put up our artificial tree and decorations on the weekend following Thanksgiving, so that we have the whole of December to enjoy them (and towards the end of the month grow heartily tired of them).

Usually we have lots of plans for December and not all of them come to fruition. I host a festive readalong on Instagram (this year Miss Read’s wonderful ‘Village Christmas’), have a pile of festive books, watch Vlogmas videos on YouTube, take out the Christmas movies. This year we even have a Christmas puzzle on the way.

Mum visits us in the evening and we dress the tree and marvel at all the treasured ornaments that we have forgotten about in the span of a year. I always try to add one new decoration to the collection every year and hence, the family grows. Put up a string of Christmas cards received over the years. Most of them are from Bookstagram friends who have grown very dear to me. I love this season of putting into play, the lost art of sending snail mail.

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