Monday 28 September 2020

Nature Study: Spring in Australia

Hails and I finished our 6 week Natural History Illustration course offered by the University of Newcastle this month and we are planning to join a session with a Nature Club in October via Zoom. Covid has opened up some online educational opportunities that weren't available to us before, and they've been free, too. A bush walk during the first week in spring was too early to spot many wildflowers but a week later they were all out in their splendour.


One of our Natural Illustration assignments - quick field sketches. My kookaburra did not cooperate. 
My page is the one with the large blank section!

A trip to the beach. We were sitting outside the fish and chip shop and this pelican came along to check out the menu. 

He decided it looked pretty good and went in to place his order

This is his usual eating hole

Interesting sculpted rocks

A wee froggie that jumped out of some washing I had hanging outside

Notebooking our spring flowers

A couple of suspicious looking characters hanging around the neighbourhood

Friday 25 September 2020

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012)


Magical realism is not a genre I’m that familiar with and when I picked up a copy of The Snow Child at the library I wasn’t aware that it was in this category until I started reading it and was a few chapters in. I was expecting a fairytale retelling and in some ways it was, but it took on a life of its own and added a heavy dose of gritty reality. Gritty, but wondrous, and beautifully written. 

Generally I’m unimpressed with much modern writing that tries to pass as literature. It often feels forced or clumsy but Ivey’s writing was poetic, and like that of a naturalist. I could picture the Alaskan landscape of the 1920’s that she described and sense the wild danger of the place. 

The story is loosely based on a Russian fairy tale that Mabel, one of the main protagonists, remembered from her childhood and its theme is repeated throughout the story, so in one sense I felt that I was reading a fairytale, but the realistic setting tripped me up. As I said, magical realism isn’t something I’ve had much experience with so I spent most of the book trying to work out what on earth was going on. The ending was sort of expected but it also left me up in the air. 

BUT...I still loved the story and it lingers in my thoughts. A little unsolved mystery.

‘...the land was vast before her...No fields or fences, homes or roads; not a single living soul as far as she could see in any direction. Only wilderness.'

'It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.'

Ivey very sensitively portrayed a marriage that was worn out by the burden of loss and hardship; a couple that had waited years to communicate their pain about the past to each other, only to find that their own personal view of the situation had been so skewed. It's a strange thing, this blocking of the heart and how we build up our own narrative without understanding the intent of another.

The friendship between two women of very diverse natures and backgrounds played a major part in the narrative as well and was one of my favourite themes in the book.

The idea of fading, often using the colour gray, recurred a few times in the story and described not only a physical aspect but also that of the soul - a general wearing out and despondency of spirit.

‘...she spotted a few strands of silver in his reddish-brown beard. When had they appeared? So he, too, was graying. Each of them fading away without the other’s notice.’

‘Everything was sparkled and sharp as if the world were new, hatched that very morning from an icy egg.’

The Snow Child is a poignant story of friendship, marriage, childlessness, love, loss, grief, beauty and nature. Due to the nature of some of the themes, this book is best for an adult reader. The magical realism of the story wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea but I think it's a very worthwhile read.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Back to the Classics 2020 Challenge: Final Wrap Up

Well, this is the earliest I've ever posted my final wrap-up for the Back to the Classics Challenge! I've managed to fit in a lot of books so far this year, thanks mostly to Covid! I'm very happy to have finally read The Lord of the Rings...and to have enjoyed them so much. They were just the right books to read as we went into lockdown here. I also watched the movies, which I'd put off viewing until I'd read the books.

A pleasant surprise for me out of this list was Martin Chuzzlewit. I've read just about all of Dickens' novels, and wasn't busting to read any of his others but by chance I found this book, had no idea of its storyline, and had never seen it reviewed. I decided to read a chapter and if I found it too rambling I'd give it a miss, but I fell into it headlong and continued. A great read!

A book that made me cry (which doesn't happen very often) was The Death of Ivan Ilyich. A perfect (short) book to pick up for a first introduction to a Russian writer.

Saplings was very different to anything else I'd read by Noel Streatfeild - definitely not for children like many of her other books; a tragic tale of the impact of WW2 on a family.

Sadly, Miss Pym Disposes is the last of of Josephine Tey's crime/detective noels I had left to read. I've thoroughly enjoyed her books.

The only book I didn't really like was The Island of Doctor Moreau. There was a reason it was my abandoned classic!

19th century Classic: Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens (1843-5)

20th Century Classic: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1957-8)

Classic by a Woman: The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1901)

Classic in Translation: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886)

Classic by a Person of Colour: To Sir With Love by E.R. Braithwaite (1959)

Genre Classic: The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (1930)

Classic With a Name in the Title: Miss Pym Disposes by Joesphine Tey (1946)

Classic With a Place in the Title: Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge (1948)

Classic With Nature in the Title: The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge (1963)

Classic About a Family: Saplings by Noel Streatfeild (1945)

An Abandoned Classic: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells (1896)

Adapted Classic: The Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien (1949)

Monday 14 September 2020

Come, Tell me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan (1946)

Come, Tell me How You Live, which Christie describes as 'a meandering chronicle' of life on an archaeological dig, is just delightful! I came across this book accidentally when I was looking for some of her crime novels with an archaeological setting.

Agatha Christie met the distinguished young archaeologist, Max Mallowan, in 1930 when she visited Leonard and Katherine Woolley in Baghdad. Her first marriage had come to an end a few years previously and she and Mallowan were married about six months after they met and enjoyed forty-six years together until her death in 1976. During the pre-war years, Agatha accompanied Mallowan on all his digs and took an active part in the photography, recording and preservation of the finds. Come, Tell me How You Live was written to answer a question that was asked of her very often:

'So you dig in Syria, do you? Do tell me all about it. How do you live? In a tent?...'

The book was begun before the war but was put aside for four years while she was engaged in volunteer work in war-time London and Max was serving overseas. In 1944 she picked it up again and said that it was a joy and refreshment to her to live those days again.

'Writing this simple record has been not a task, but a labour of love. Not an escape to something that was, but the bringing into the had work and sorrow of today of something imperishable that one not only had but still has.'

Come, Tell Me How You Live revealed a side of Agatha Christie that I would never have guessed existed. Her warmth, humour and honesty shone through the writing and I felt I got to know her as a person and not a detached narrator. It was such a pleasure to read about her relationship with Mallowan. They obviously were very secure and comfortable with each other. I had to laugh when she describes an 'archaeological packing,' which consists mainly of books. (I can relate to that!) Mallowan asks if she has room in her suitcases and promptly rams two immense tomes on top of her smugly packed clothes and forces down the lid. The next morning...

'At nine a.m. I am, called in as the heavy-weight to sit on Max's bulging suitcases.

'If you can't make them shut,' Max says ungallantly, 'nobody can!'

Max saw everything through an archaeological lens. Seeing a folded printed linen dress in one of Agatha's suitcases he asked what it was and when told commented that it had 'fertility motifs all down the front.' Another time he suggested she wear 'the greenish buff with the Tell Halaf running lozenge pattern.' He described everything in pottery terms - 'pinkish buff,' and was obsessed with Tells.

Agatha continued her crime writing while on the field and found much inspiration for her books in her Middle Eastern travels. One day, one of the expedition team who had newly arrived and was very sociable, interrupted her while she was getting down to the gory details of a murder. He asked if he could join her in the office while he labelled some objects, but she had to be firm:

'I explain clearly that it is quite impossible for me to get on with my dead body if a live body is moving, breathing, and in all probability talking, in the near vicinity.'

Mice, fleas, mechanical breakdowns, fighting workers, eccentric personalities, post office dramas, conniving sheiks, are all a part of life and are described vividly.

'Anointing beds with carbolic merely stimulates the fleas to even greater displays of athletics. It is not, I explain to Mac (a young archaeological assistant), so much the bites of the fleas. It is their tireless energy, their never ending hopping races round and round one's middle that wears one out. Impossible to drop off to sleep when fleas are holding the nightly sports round and round the waist.'

I've shared in a previous post the Archaeological Studies I'd put together for my daughter in which I included some fiction as an added interest and also because she's always hunting for books to read. After reading Christie's memories of her and Mallowan's archaeological expeditions in the Middle East and enjoying it so much, I decided I'd add this to her reading in Year 11.

252 pages.

Linking to the 2020 NonFiction Reading Challenge at Book'd Out: Memoir

Thursday 3 September 2020

To Sir With Love by E.R. Braithwaite (1959) Non-fiction

Edward Ricardo Braithwaite was born in 1920 in the former British Colony of Guiana (now independent Guyana.) Both his parents were middle-class Caribbean intellectuals and were educated at Oxford. Braithwaite attended an elite school in British Guiana and then studied engineering in New York. In 1939 he went to England for post-graduate study and volunteered for service with the Royal Air Force in 1940. 

To Sir With Love opens after the end of WWII and the author's demobilisation. At this time Britain had an urgent need for people with an electronic background and Braithwaite was confident he would find work in this area. However, after a string of employers rejected his application for work purely because of the colour of his skin, he became bitter and disillusioned.

As a boy he had grown up British in every way and it was without hesitation that he signed up with the R.A.F. and was ready to lay down his life for the preservation of the ‘British Way of Life.’ As a West Indian Colonial, his ties to Britain were strong but the reality was that ‘it is wonderful to be British - until one comes to Britain.’

‘I am a Negro...I had believed in freedom, in the freedom to live in the kind of dwelling I wanted, providing I was able and willing to pay the price; and in the freedom to work at the kind of profession for which I was qualified, without reference to my racial or religious origins...’

It was very interesting to read his comparison of prejudice in the USA to that of what he experienced in Britain.

'I reflected on my life in the U.S.A. There, when prejudice is felt, it is open, obvious, blatant; the white man makes his position very clear, and the black man fights those prejudices with equal openness and fervour, using every constitutional device available to him...In Britain I found things to be very different. I have yet to meet a single English person who has actually admitted to anti-Negro prejudice; it is generally believed that no such thing exists here...The betrayal I now felt was greater because it had been perpetrated with the greatest of charm and courtesy.’ 

In many respects the war had been an equaliser. Communal fear and terror had promoted communal virtues but now that the war was over and economic recovery was taking place, those virtues were dissipating. After eighteen months without work Braithwaite became bitter and disillusioned, a state he described as a cancerous condition, but a chance encounter with a kindly, wise, older man in a London park changed the course of his life. The elderly man struck up a conversation with the reluctant, truculent younger man and in the end encouraged him to take up teaching. Braithwaite did so and his experience in a school in the slums of the East End of London makes up the substance of his book.

This passage reminded me so much of Charlotte Mason's ideas of education and her belief that every child should have a liberal education, regardless of their background and capabilities:

‘Assembly was a simple affair without religious bias or emphasis. It began with a hymn and prayer in which every child joined...the invocation for guidance, courage and Divine help was for each and all. After prayer the Head read a poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci. The records which followed were Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu and part of Vivaldi’s Concerto in C for two trumpets.

They listened, those rough looking, untidy children; every one of them sat still, unmoving and attentive, until the very echo of the last clear note had died away...they were listening, actively, attentively listening to those records...their bodies were still, but I could feel that their minds and spirits were involved with the music.’

To Sir With Love is an inspiring and articulate true account of a man who rose above bitterness, dealt with his own arrogance and prejudice, and enabled a bunch of feral teenagers to embark on adult life with dignity and hope. A book well worth reading and a great story for a future (or present) teacher to immerse themselves in. 

Linking to 2020 Back to the Classics and 2020 Non-Fiction Reading Challenge @ Book'd Out: A Book Related to an Occupation.


Tuesday 1 September 2020

A Peek into Ambleside Online Year 10

We only have about five weeks left of Ambleside Online Year 10, so while we're still in progress I thought I'd share some of what we've been doing in recent times. I've mentioned before that this year Miss 15 yrs ('Hails') had developed a liking for free form poetry. One of her favourite compositions is 'Home,' which was published in the latest edition of the Common Place Quarterly.

This year we've only done one of Plutarch's Lives - Alexander, as it's spread over 24 weeks. We finished it about a month ago and now we are doing Shakespeare's Henry V. I stopped including both Plutarch and Shakespeare each term some years ago as it always felt a little crammed with everything else we do.
The Life of Alexander has been one of the best lives we've done since we began studying Plutarch eight years ago with Hails' three older brothers.

The Wilderness by Amy Mack - we finished this last week. It's only 40 pages but it is a delightful look at a little 'wilderness' the author found near her home where she observed Australian native flora & fauna.

We started reading James Herriot's third memoir about his veterinarian career a few weeks ago. This book contains 'Vets Might Fly' and 'Vets in a Spin,' and begins with the author's wartime R.A.F. training in London. As he goes through the misery of rigorous training on a foggy morning, his thoughts go back to another foggy morning in the Yorkshire Dales when he was woken at 5.30 a.m. by a phone call from Lord Hulton whose sow had a prolapsed uterus.

"It was no good me telling him that I had seen five prolapsed uteri in pigs in my limited experience and had failed in every case. I had come to the conclusion that there was no way of putting them back...
And the journey to the Hulton farm was not enlivened by my memories of those five other sows. I had tried everything; full anaesthesia, lifting them upside down with pulleys, directing a jet from a hose on the everted organ, and all the time pushing, straining, sweating over the great mass of flesh which refused to go back trough that absurdly small hole. The result in each case had been the conversion of my patient into pork pies and a drastic plummeting of my self-esteem."

Hymn: There is a Fountain

Folksong: Country Roads

Music Appreciation/Composer: This is another area where we've diverged from the AO Curriculum and have adjusted to our specific circumstances. Hails is studying the cello at a fairly high level and is also involved in an orchestra so she covers a wide variety of classical music. We tend to focus on listening to the pieces she has to study. This year they've included Joseph Haydn, Astor Piazzolla, and C├ęsar Franck.

Artist/Picture Study: Charles Condor - An Early Taste of Literature, 1888. We've concentrated on some Australian artists this year. We look at about 5 or 6 pieces from the same artist over a term and after about 2 weeks studying one painting Hails write a description of it from memory. In the past she has also done a quick sketch of a composition from memory.

When we finish up the year I'll write some more about the books etc. we've used this year.

Free Reading

Some books Hails has read in July & August with her ratings:

Books by P.G. Wodehouse - all 10/10:

A Damsel in Distress
Something Fishy 
Jeeves in the offing
The Small Bachelor
Summer Moonshine
The Adventures of Sally

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens 9/10

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte 9/10

Books by Ngaio Marsh - all 10/10

Hand in Glove
Dead Water
Death at the Dolphin
Vintage Murder
Overture to Death
Death at a White Tie

Adam Bede by George Eliot 8/10