Well, perhaps I picked it for the cover, but then again Graham Swift is an excellent writer. ‘Mothering Sunday’ is what the industry I suppose calls a novella. Anyway I made it last three nights as I was so enjoying it. It’s about upstairs downstairs, the tragedy of war years, a personal tragedy, a lifetime perhaps based on regret but fully lived, and the transformation of a maid into a well-known writer on the literary scene (which appealed to me because of all the authors we have had along to events). It is very sensuous and that is an extremely difficult art to pull off. Graham Swift does it with finesse. And cleverly it is one of those books where your own imagination has to supply gaps. All in all a mini masterpiece I should say, worth every penny of its 150 pages.
I have been doing rather a lot of reading about Cornwall recently and the book I started with was an out of print ‘We Wander In The West’ by S P B Mais. I don’t like second-hand books. I don’t like the smell, I don’t like their grubbiness, and I don’t like the thought of who might have been handling them. But I really wanted this book out of nostalgia really, as whenever we went abroad when I was a schoolboy my mother always started by reading the relevant S P B Mais and quoting it with relish. A good writer in a nostalgic way. This particular book covers the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and a lot of it is to do with Mais’s childhood memories of being brought up in the West. When you gather that it was written in 1950, you will realise that Mais is talking about another world. To my son this would be pre-history. Hardly any cars on the roads, deserted villages, social mores vastly different to those of today. I have to say it was interesting, but it did strike me as having been rather thrown together. It doesn’t sound all the time as though Mais is making the trips he talks about but recalling them from yesteryear. There was an obvious faux pas when a full-page illustration of the church at Just-In-Roseland was inserted next to a discussion of the St Just near Land’s End. Still, an enjoyable jaunt through historic West Country.
‘Cornwall’s China Clay Country’ was a different beast altogether. Much nearer to home, literally as we are fairly near to the land of the white pyramids around St Austell. I always remember when we were looking for houses despairing when we found just what we wanted but then found it was absolutely surrounded by very deep white pits on all sides. We all know that the Eden project was built in a china clay pit, but we perhaps don’t realise what an important industry this still is to Cornwall, employing 2000 people and carrying on exporting huge amounts. This book is all about the discovery of the china clay deposits in Cornwall and the history of their workings and a lot of it is based around walks and drives around the various mines – which makes for fascinating reading and a vow by me to follow some of these up.
‘Gardens of Cornwall’ is a coffee table book which is an absolute delight to read. We have visited a few of these gardens in our time but this lavishly illustrated book brings together the famous and the not-so-well known making for a vow from us to get round to the ones we haven’t been to as soon as possible. And next time we are bemoaning the wet conditions (having spent a few years in Dartmouth we are used to them) we will remember that Cornwall’s climate is what makes it such a brilliant place for extravagant gardens. And extravagant they are…lush, tropical and often with stupendous sites with views through to the sea they are utterly memorable, and one of the main reasons living in Cornwall is such a joy to retirees like us.
One other read was ‘Cornovia – Ancient Sites of Cornwall and Scilly 4000 BC – 1000 AD’. This explores in some detail 250 out of the incredible 50,000 ancient sites in Cornwall. The writer, who has great experience in examining such sites, certainly knows his stuff but he is also capable of explaining the various types of site – from hill forts to fogous – with enthusiasm and clarity making this a great read even for those with no particular knowledge of, or interest in, our pre-history. I love the way he starts with an excerpt from the history of Diodorus of Sicily in the 1st century BC (expanding on an even earlier account) who was talking about how the Romans traded with Cornwall for its tin. He visited Cornwall and investigated the industry first-hand and recorded what he saw. Craig Wetherhill then takes us on an extended trip with him, expanding the rather sketchy account into something very plausible indeed. It is all quite exciting, and made even more interesting by the knowledge that here was the first part of Britain ever to be written about…West Cornwall. We have been to a few sites, and indeed the stone circle at Duloe is in our next village, but what treasures this splendid book reveals are still for us to explore. Magical indeed.