This book has been on the giant toppling TBR pile by my bed so large that I had to start reading it before it toppled off the heap and killed me. I don’t think that I will give anything away by saying that the narrator of the book is is a woman who “had begun enquiring about domestic help the momemt we finished moving our library-sized collection of books and our rickety old furniture”. Literary and film experience has shown that likely candidates for such a position can range from Jane Eyre, Mrs Harris and Mary Poppins by way of Mrs Doubtfire and Nanny McPhee up to The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. In this case the successful applicant is a cross between Mrs Harris and Mrs Doubtfire, without the drag or the haute-couture aspirations. A couple of decades ago I came across a similar individual. She “did” for most of the big houses near our small flat and an arrangement was only entered into if SHE decided to take you on and not the other way around. The penultimate sentence of the third page states, “I killed Emerence” so a chill that is not just generated by summer swiftly turning to autumn here is definitely hovering around. This book is definitely accompanying me on a weeks’s holiday starting tomorrow.
What a title! What on earth can the book be about? If I’m honest I don’t really care. With a title like that I know that sooner or later I will will have to read it. The book is published by Gallic Books a publisher I have never heard of but already i am tempted to see what else has been put out into the world by them. So far, and before I have even seen it or held it in my hands, this book has gained two points, Firstly it has a title that intrigues, secondly it has a cover that is more than acceptable and probably as elegant as the spiny one that it contains, I think that before long I will have to get my hands on this volume and I have a feeling that it will jump towardds the top of the TBR pile. If you are as intrigued by the title as I was then you can read the beginning of the book on Gallic’s website.
I’m the oldest, then there’s Sister C who doesn’t have a blog but does have an allotment. But hers is not just any old allotment, oh no! “The St Anns Allotments are the oldest and largest detached town gardens in Britain, possibly the world. Their unique history and heritage has been recognised and it is a Grade 2* listed site.”
The picture above is of her latest adventure in that listed land – A RECYCLED PLASTIC BOTTLE GREENHOUSE!!!! Her allotment neighbour (seen above) helped her make the timber “outline” and then with the help of anyone she has ever known she collected, and is still collecting, empty, lemonade, cola, ginger beer bottles. My baby sister, the writer, who has two allotments with her partner on the same site, explained how the bottles are used. She is suffering from what they call “White Hand” an affliction that falls upon you after a session of cutting the bottles with scissors. The repeated scissor-action drains the lifeblood from the bottle worker, turning it white! The base of each bottle is removed, with scissors. Then a V-shaped slot is cut on either side, near the top of the bottle after its location being carefully measured. A little V-wing is then able to pop out of each side of the bottle so that when the next layer of bottles is stacked it does not slip too far down. Clear as mud? I was given the gory statistics of how many bottles were in the roof and how many bottles were still needed to complete the project but I never was very good with numbers.
A while ago I was auditioning fabric for a quilt destined for my own bed this time. So here is the result.
The fabrics in the quilt are:
some samples of shibori indigo dyeing that I did several years ago
an already tie-dyed sheet from a jumble sale
sections of a curtain from another jumble sale
one or two small remnants from a friend
some old pieces of sheet dyed by me in yellow & blue
The whole thing was backed with a dark blue piece of sheeting and now I have started a sort of sashiko type quilting. In other words I am using a very visible cotton thread. On the reverse side this often shows up in high contrast. Particularly noticeable are the flowers, fish and “compass”. I still have quite a lot of the quilting to go but I am not going to reush it. When the spirit moves I will pick it up and do a little. I might even take it on holiday with me at the end of September at least I won’t be cold.
Life, work, quilting, everything seems to have come before reading this book which I have been carrying backwards and forwards to work on the train for what seems like long enough for me to have harvested my owngarlic crop.
The book is not an easy read. For one thing everyone seems to be called Gao or Fourth Uncle/Aunt or Elder Brother. On this naming problem alone the book is more complicated to navigate than any Russian tome. I think that if I started to read this book again I would note down a new major character as they appeared. My problem was mainly with the Gaos. One Gao was all set to elope with 4th, or was it 8th Uncle’s daughter, and she confusingly referred to her prospective joint-elopee as “Elder Brother” as a mark of respect rather than any indication that they were siblings. Another Gao was flung into jail but then so were so many others, including xth Aunt and goodness knows who else. I should have understood, before I started that in China John Smith would be known as Smith John, his brother would be Smith Michael and probably at least half the population would also be Smith something or other. If each chapter hadn’t started with a few words from a ballad written to commemorate something in e.g 1987 I would have forgotten that this book is set in the 1980s. Life is so primitive and the treatment of people both by their families and by the authorities and police is barbaric. We’re not like that are we? Have things moved on so much in 20 or 30 years? Last night I saw a few minutes of a programme about police shows on TV. The part that I saw was talking about “The Sweeney” made in the mid to late 1970s and co-starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. The programme mentioned the fantasy police series “LIfe on Mars” in which a present day policeman finds himself transported back in time and working with a detective who is close to being a clone of Reegan, the character played by John Thaw in “The Sweeney”. With hindsight the attitude and behaviour of the police in those programmes is unacceptable but at the time it was just how things were. We in the west are not so lily-white and without fault as we get on our high-horses and look down on how things are done in China. We are a very small nation and we still haven’t cleaned up our act completely so we shouldn’t be too quick to criticise others.
Reading “The Garlic Ballads” helped me to understand how rural and primitive China is, or at least still was at the end of the 1980s. Think how things have changed for us in that same space of time. Did you have a computer, an internet connection, a mobile phone in the 1980s? Now think how much of your daily life is influenced by those three things today. Because of the Olympics China has opened up. Let’s hope that that enormous country can learn from some of our mistakes.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I still haven’t finished the book.