Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout

In the interests of not breaking the habit of a lifetime, I am, once again late to this party. This is a winner of The Pulitzer Prize For Fiction no less. Not entirely sure what that is to be honest. I mean, I know it’s very good to win it and hurrah and all that but couldn’t give you details of what it actually is. If this were a proper blog, I would go off and research that and we would all learn something. Unlucky. However, what a book. Sometimes, when people write well, in my ignorance, I read things and I think – well it seemed a little overwritten. Lots of descriptive stuff can make me think that that authors are trying too hard to, well, win the Pulitzer Prize. This, however, this genuinely is beautifully written. It’s a quite ordinary story of an ordinary woman in a small town in Maine. She’s imperfect, kind, sharp – I believed that she is a real person. I think the phrase is a “properly fleshed out character”. In a way not much happens but actually things do happen in this small town. Some events, she is on the periphery of and others have her at their centre. Olive is a retired school teacher in a 25 year marriage to a lovely man. She has a problematic relationship with her grown up son and, as I said, things happen. I loved it – very very much. It’s going on my (much reduced) keepy bookshelf. A few years ago I bought HOH the DVD of this story with Frances McDormand because it had won a lot of awards I think. When we moved I found it at the bottom of a pile with the cellophane still on. (ingrate) so I Ziffited it. I’m a bit sorry now – would have liked to have seen it.

Did we talk about Little Women? I expect lots of you have seen it. My opinion is here. I will not be taking questions. I cried more or less all the way through. I loved the book as a child and the film is just beautiful. The relationships between the sisters are wonderfully played and I also liked the way Beth doesn’t get altered to be the youngest which happens in the films sometimes. (This is VERY important. Amy is the youngest. Why change it)? Florence Pugh’s Amy is fantastic – just the right mix of peevish and sympathetic but for me the stand-out was Saoirse Ronan as Jo. (I had to look spelling her name up – you won’t be surprised to learn). She is so brilliant playing, in my humble opinion, one of the great literary characters EVER (No. No. No. I said no questioning. I am correct). She won’t win anything for it because all the prizes go to people doing impressions of other people so the Judy Garland impression will win. But I loved her so much. It’s a great film.

HOWEVER. (Crashing symbols for effect) The film isn’t perfect. The Professor is too young (and beautiful for that matter but I don’t really have a problem with that) Also Greta Gerwig (who directed and adapted and may be a bona fide genius) has changed the end ever so slightly. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and I say unto you again WRONG. Again. I am taking no arguments. I feel very strongly about this. (Can you tell)? Otherwise. Quite brilliant.

Lastly and briefly – promise. If you have Netflix do yourself a favour and find “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?”. It’s the documentary about the character Tom Hanks plays in the upcoming “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.” It’s about Fred Rogers whose programmes revolutionised American Children’s TV. It is so lovely. I cried a few times. There is an interview that Mr Rogers conducts with a young boy who is a wheelchair user about his spinal surgery and how his life is. It is honest, non-patronising and just full of goodness. When they sing “It’s You I Like” together, you almost feel the world might make it. A bit.

Weekend

So where did that weekend go then? It is my firm conviction that the days that make up the weekend have less hours in them than the days that make up the rest of the week. I also think days off go quicker when it is sunny and it has been sunny here – yasssss! Apologies if it is not sunny where you are but we have been up to our Arks in rain for the past fortnight and the whole country has been dark and soggy. (Obviously Australia you would, I suppose, give your eye teeth to be soggy. Sorry. Again. To be frank I’m sorry I even started this).

We have been quite busy for old people. We have visited Aged Parent in her new abode. Some days she loves it. Some days – not so much. For it is she and that is how she is. I have had a series of anguished phone calls telling me how unhappy she is – which was worrying. However, though an unrelated set of circumstances, I was chatting with the lady that leads her team of carers who casually informed me that AP was one of the more social people that she looked after and that she went downstairs for coffee everyday to have a chat. She was very surprised when I told her about the calls I was getting and offered to have a chat with AP. I think there may have been an element of “caught out” about this chat because since then, we have seen a bit of a change. AP has told me about her exercise class (seated obviously – my kind of exercise class) and demanded £50 to continue to play Bingo.

Me……Er £50? Who are you playing with? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

AP……Well I won’t spend it in one go obviously. That will keep me going for a while. One of the prizes is a mug with a dog on it.

At this point I am staring at a mug tree the size of a beanstalk in her kitchen but decide not to argue. It’s her money.

Then we had a very nice lunch with people which, as I said was lovely but left me amazed at how much a restaurant can charge for a pizza. I mean, they are on offer at Iceland for £1 a go at the moment. I know mine had spinach and cranberry sauce on but really. I think I am getting old because I am so full after something like that, I always think I will never eat again. However, not to worry, within a couple of hours I was giving due consideration to a small bag of Maltesers.

This morning, for reasons that are far too complicated to go into here, we found ourselves at a Wesley Covenant Service. After two weeks of “New Beginnings New You” nonsense, it was refreshing to think about the New Year being about committing yourself to something that had a bit more depth to it than losing half a stone or cutting down on the time you spend on Instagram. I’ve copied John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer below and the thing that struck me about it was how freeing it is. It’s not up to me – it’s up to you God. It seemed to be about letting go of striving, which is surely a good thing. Because striving takes its toll and we are all older than we think. Well apparently I am. Witness this conversation between AP and me.

AP……I’ve been to singing class.

Me……Excellent. Did you enjoy it?

AP……Yes, we sang all the old songs “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line” Do you remember it?

Me……(Affronted) No. I do NOT remember it Mum because it was WWII.

AP……You do remember it (singing now) “We’re going to hang….”

Me……(Rudely interrupting) Yes, I KNOW it Mum. I just don’t REMEMBER it.

AP……Oh you do surprise me. Looking at you, I thought you would remember it.

The Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Lady In Waiting

Anne Glenconner

I got this book for Christmas. I think there is every possibility that you might have got it for Christmas as well. The giveaway for me is that it is a hardback book. I need to either be obsessed with the possibility of the book to buy a hardback or it’s a present. (Apologies for rubbish photo with £3 off sticker etc. Must work on flatlays and photos more).

I dropped heavy hints about wanting this book when Lady Glenconner appeared on Graham Norton, telling frightfully witty and amusing stories about her husband – Lord Glenconner and about being Lady-In-Waiting to Princess Margaret.

I have to say first of all that this is a brilliant book. I couldn’t put it down but it isn’t what I thought. There’s a lot of money and a lot of privilege. When she talks about money worries, I don’t think it’s money worries they way that you or I would understand them. There also some really interesting historical detail – she was one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting at the Coronation. For those of you of a more salacious bent (i.e. me) there’s lots of gently gossipy stuff about Princess Margaret and Roddy Llewellyn. Bu, it isn’t packed out with the LOLS as the young people say.

I found the amount of family tragedy that she deals with through her life borderline shocking. It’s too spoilery to go into too much detail – her husband’s battles with mental illness are well documented but I had no idea about the extremes she was dealing with and life with her family gets to a point where it is one awful happening after another.

Yet she goes though life with stoicism and grace. She’s a good and faithful friend to Princess Margaret when the more mean spirited among us may feel that PM didn’t always deserve it. She moves heaven and earth to nurse one of her children and is very honest about her own shortcomings as a parent – mostly influenced, I think, by it “just not being done that way” in her time and social circle.

As I said, I thought it was brilliant – not for the reasons I expected – she is I think, an admirable person.

Just a quick note to recommend the film Jo Jo Rabbit. This is a very divisive film and if you saw it and hated it, I would completely agree with you. However, in that annoying way I have that I am always fair to me, I may be agreeing with you because you are probably right but I still loved this film. It is about a little German boy in the last months of the war. Germany are losing but the Nazis are keeping that under their hats. Jo Jo is a committed Nazi and Adolf Hitler is his imaginary friend. (I know, I know). He then discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house. I think you need to know that Taika Waititi – the writer/director/Hitler friend person is Jewish – it made a difference to me around the things that I found uncomfortable. But, it does that classic thing of scaring away the horror by laughing at it and it IS very funny and warm and dignified with acts of immense courage. It isn’t showing everywhere but see it if you feel you can. I thought it was excellent.

Time

Sorting out stuff again. I think this is about 1966 or so. This was my little family then. Dad, Mum, me and Rosebud. (Rosebud is the doll – not my brother – he wasn’t born then. Although he did once try and change his middle name to Sparkly so he would probably be ok with the name). Apologies for the quality – it’s an old photo and it’s seen a lot of life. I think – even with the reduction in pictorial values, you can see that I was a stunning child – always beautifully turned out and a credit to my parents. By the way, you shouldn’t get the wrong idea. Despite appearances, I think it is unlikely that my parents were actually on speaking terms here – they usually weren’t. However – weren’t they gorgeous? Really good looking. I feel that Rosebud and I may be lowering the aesthetic tone a little. Now my father is ravaged by dementia and cancer and my mother has her own struggles – some of which I have documented here.

Again – I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression. I don’t really look back on this with much fondness (although I loved Rosebud very, very much). My father was a distant figure and AP and I have a “complicated” relationship. I think what surprised me about it most was that I remember it. I remember the photo being taken. And, cliched though it is I cannot believe where the time has gone.

I am a time waster. I don’t mean that I should spend every spare moment in noble pursuits that bring peace and harmony to the world. I can barely bring peace and harmony to my knicker drawer but I am aware of the time wasted reading stuff on my phone (not about Megan and Harry though – pages and pages in the papers and have you met one single person in real life who is bothered what they do?) But when I think of what I could have done from when this photo was taken to the present day I can feel quite defeated.

So, as an antidote to getting maudlin at Christmas and New Year (Not that I do obviously), I’m thinking of making a few changes. What’s the best way? Do people set targets? I’m not sure I would be very good at that. I always end up losing the exercise book I make the list in. But you don’t want it to be so wishy-washy that you think “What was I meant to be achieving this evening?” and then you can’t remember so you eat a Twix and play PS4 for six hours. (Again – not me equally obviously).

Lots of people I read have come up with words for the year. These are creative, organised people. I’m going to use “Redeeming” – the context being Redeeming the time from Ephesians. I think the King James Version has the edge here although I do like The Message talking about “Jumping out of your coffins.”

So I’m off now because I have important things to do. Because (klaxon) Vera is back!! Hurrah. I am off to mindfully watch it. Have a good week.

Tat-Ta 2019

There’s a scene in the new Star Wars – I don’t think it’s a spoiler because it happens in most Star Wars films, where someone has half the fire power of the galaxy thrown at them. There’s a huge blast with lots of smoke – the person must be dead. Then, out of the blue, he walks out of the smoke and everyone is astonished. This week, my friends, I am that person.

Blimey we’ve worked hard. Every spare moment has been spent getting Aged Parent moved and then settled. She is now in a nice flat with lots more support on site and a three course meal served every day in a lovely dining area. Obviously it isn’t plain sailing. Firstly, all the other residents are “too elderly.” The lady who runs the daily activities is “very bossy and needs putting in her place” and some of the meals have been “just awful.” This led to AP cancelling her lunch twice and living on Marks and Spencer pineapple cakes for two days. We are hoping that this is just a temporary glitch because she is a bit nervous and unsettled. Still it was borderline funny watching the lady from the Crisis Team, (who has always insisted that AP would be fine here) as her face fell when confronted with an unhappy AP who told her “There are not my kind of people in here.” HOH and I are not too worked up about all this at the moment. We know from experience that it could just as easily turn on a sixpence and she will love everyone all of a sudden. Either way, there’s no Plan B so lets hope so.

I hope all are well. I have been lurking and reading blogs even though I haven’t had the wherewithal to comment. Lots of people have been very thoughtful about 2019. I haven’t really had time to be looking back at things although I wish I had. Best I can manage is Favourite Film – Knives Out. Catch it if you can. (Little Women nearly made it but botched the ending – simply wonderful other than that. Will talk about it at later date.) Favourite Book – Probably “Educated” by Tara Westover although I also listened to “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker which I loved. It was the first time I had listened to an audio-book and I liked it a lot. Does anyone else do it? I am thinking of a subscription to Audible or something. Best Christian book was Pete Grieg’s How to Pray – nearly always normal and very helpful. Best Telly for me was Chernobyl (and I had to be cajoled into watching that) with Mum a close second. I didn’t bother with Dracula. There are times when you know that you are not the target audience. Although, I loved the line in all the adverts – “I’m undead – I’m not unreasonable.” Also, I very much enjoyed watching Marcus Rashford score the penalty that – against anything that right-thinking people could ever believe would happen – sent Manchester United through to the next round of the European Cup by beating Paris St Germain. I don’t suppose that counts as a telly programme but it’s the only thing that made me stand up and cheer so there. Best Podcast was Fortunately – which makes me laugh every episode and Brexitcast was very helpful (and funny). For the record, I have been a big fan of the BBC’s election coverage and I include Laura Kunnsberg in that. I think it is unlikely that she or any of them for that matter are secretly in the pay of (a) Big Business or (b) Russia.

Most overrated things for me? The Irishman on Netflix. The performances were very good but three and a half hours long! I cleaned the bathroom halfway through and came back and it didn’t seem like I had missed much. Also Fleabag. I mean it was fine and everything and shes obviously very clever but….I don’t think I found it as shocking as I was supposed to.

So onwards hopefully. Last year’s worst event was the loss of Morecambe which we are still dealing with. Both of us have been surprised by just how much a snappy Jack can get under your skin. Speaking of loss, Rev Richard Coles lost his husband Rev. David Coles just before Christmas. Now how you feel about gay marriage is up to you. I am not your conscience one way or the other (heaven forfend). As I have said before, I am not really sure where I am, so I’m happier not preaching or judging – just liking people as best I can. However – the Reverend Richard has received hate correspondence over the death of David. Much of it contained scriptures (often underlined in green etc.) which he has had to hand over to the police. Now, quite apart from what kind of light this shows Christianity in, I am going to make a bold statement. I would say that if your only reaction to a tragedy like this is to preach and scold, then I would question your faith. I would question if you have ever looked into the face of God and known his forgiveness and grace or the relief of sins forgiven. There. I have said it and I am unanimous in this. (Thanks Mrs Slocombe)

I think that I have nagged enough. Except to say that if you follow me on Bloglovin’ I am thinking of unsubscribing from it. I keep getting new followers that want to show me their knickers and things and there is no way to block them. I am not important enough in the firmament to put up with this nonsense so at some stage in the future I will probably quit – when I get time. If you still want to read my stuff I am on Facebook (Author Page) and Twitter (When I remember but I always post a link). I will post further updates as and when. Have a good week.