It may be weird but it’s my weird

It’s not hard to watch a webinar and apps are after all just software for mobiles.

I remember my mother’s cramped handwriting all in capitals as she struggled with the orthopaedic. To my shame, I don’t remember the details of her complaint  – of little interest to immortal self-centred youth. She had an ancient manual typewriter where sourcing new ribbons was slightly easier than finding the holy grail. With the wane of my self-centeredness, I made efforts to introduce her to a more modern electric typewriter but to no avail, the function keys were just too alien.

And I swore to myself then that I would not be a neophobe when I grew old. I haven’t done too badly, aided by my four children. But sometimes, the new is tiring and I still haven’t mastered the electronic entry system to my flat (in practice, a non-problem as I routinely don’t hear my mobile ringing).

But there is a thrill of achievement when I succeed in hauling myself over some new techno threshold; I am just about there when it comes to apps and webinars, which I can now watch without conveying the impression that I am making a silent Charlie Chaplin movie.

This time, it was an erudite man from Somerset, West England, talking about the history of the decline of the Turberville family.  The Turbervilles became known through Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and her alcoholised father John Durbeyfield, a plebeian scion of a once notable family. Hardy was fascinated by this theme of the old stock degenerating and being replaced by professionals on the rise (like himself). He was though, as in many other areas, a contradictory and complicated man and seemed not averse to London life where his status as a literary giant enabled him to hob nob with the aristos.

It felt fine to retreat to the Wessex of mine and Hardy’s imagination for an hour or so, away from the turbulence of the now.

I have just finished Rashid Khalidi’s “The Hundred Years’ ´War on Palestine”, which I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand better developments in Palestine and Israel from the Palestinian point of view (or at least the point of view an educated, westernized Palestinian family).

And now I’m going back to my preparations for my soon trip to Pembrokeshire in Wales and trying to think through what I would like to know more about, the difference between Norman feudalism in southern Pembrokeshire in what later became the English side of the language divide, and Welsh agriculture, the complicated impact of the Normans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Welsh and Irish Q-celts from over the water, the Vikings and even the immigrant Flemings on place names in the vicinity of the cathedral city of St Davids. And I would like at least to be able to pronounce Welsh place names correctly. And then there’s Pevsner and the architecture of the tract. And increasingly. physical frailty requiring careful study of the terrain, contour lines, aids to mobility and how to make one’s way successfully in the battlefield of life without torturing the organic.

And every day I aim to study Bengali for an hour but I routinely allow it to get squeezed out so that I engage in crashing to fulfil my plan targets as my fortnightly lesson approaches. At least, the presence of Bengali relatives, including my recently met third grandchild fills my sails with wind.

And I want to improve my German too.

Then there’s correcting yesterday’s cock-ups, becoming a substantial part of life. Back to Arlanda to rescue a forgotten fleece at lost property; not altogether logical as the lost property office fee and the nasty Arlanda “passage ticket” ate up a substantial part of the remaining value of the fleece but I know I will forget about the money while the memory of the fleece will haunt me beyond doomsday if I don’t collect it.

And in the middle, an old schoolfriend from pre-yore tells me that he is in Sweden and would love to come and look at the kings’ graves with me, as they were covered with snow on his last visit.

And I am looking for a cheaper flat and plan to move a lot of my library into a shelved storage unit as my lungs coexist uneasily with hundreds of dusty books. This is later, post-Wales, but it requires a careful plan to avoid an overpowering mountain of jumbled books. I still remember with pleasure the look of consternation on the faces of the removal people as I explained the principles for moving my boxes of books last time and how, once trained in the swing of things, their exchanging comments on the whereabouts of box 19 or 23. One thing I still have from my years as a teacher, don’t give up, be patiently persistent, don’t accept people’s self-definition that something is too complicated, not for them.

But I need turbulence to feel well. The standard Swedish retreat to the countryside from the troubles of the world; I understand the birds, bees, flowers and gentle company with cake and coffee but it’s not for me. It makes me feel like an overturned steam locomotive with my wheels spinning uselessly in the air. And now that I am retreating from life as a translator with Wagnerian opportunities to tackle thousands of words by the morn, I have to find other sources of kindly stress. But with my ability not to see the trees for the twigs, I’m not seriously worried by the threat of implosion under the weight of leisure.

The Return of the Native

I have a pile of books to read: Rashid Khalidi’s  “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine”, which feels urgent and the most important; and then a pile of books on Wales, on the national question, David Ross’s Wales, History of a Nation, the Pembrokeshire volume of Pevsner’s architectural guides and various academic volumes on Welsh and Norman agriculture to help me better the understand the language divide in south-western Wales.

I know so little about Wales despite my Somerset upbringing, with Wales a few miles across the water while priority was given to filling that tousled head with the Appian Way and the Trojan Horse.

Also important but imparting knowledge of our close Celtic neighbours had not been amiss.

And a few evenings ago, tired and unable to choose the next step, I pick up Hardy’s Return of the Native which I haven’t re-read since my teenage years. I remember mostly the spectacular –  Hardy’s architect’s eye for landscape, represented here by Egdon Heath, which unlike many of Hardy’s places has no equivalent in the Dorset landscape; Hardy constructs it from various patches of gorse-strewn ground in East Dorset and makes it massive. And the caravan-dwelling reddleman, stained red from head to foot by reddle used by farmers to mark their sheep. And then there was the adder that fatally bit Clym Yeobright’s mother, as well as the dramatic death in the weir of Eustacia Vye and her erstwhile lover Wildeve.  Weirs I have had a healthy respect for since then, although not understanding why the water close to them is so dangerous until more recent watery excursions.

But other aspects of the book have only become visible to a later eye. Hardy’s description of the varying social status not just of the grand people but right down to the marginal layers of “the middle class”. And his character types that crop up in book after book; the rural working class treated both with respect and ridicule and associations with Greek choruses or Shakespearian light relief; the dedicated lover who has often fallen on hard times but overcomes adversity by strength of character and who wins his lady in the end, usually after other less worthy contenders have been killed off or sticky ended in some other way.

And the modern Victorian, perhaps from a relatively humble background, who becomes a respected professional, reflecting Hardy’s experience of becoming an architect and leaving Dorset for London.

And the female characters, from the prim to the profligate. Hardy is often praised as understanding women but only the women he writes about, those he has made up himself. I have been to Max Gate home in Dorchester where he lived in fractious disharmony with his first wife who died alone in her attic quarters unwanted and  unloved. And Hardy’s second wife Florence who found it easier to accept being the great man’s muse. Hardy was stricken with grief and guilt after the death of his first wife and wrote many high quality love poems to her after her death; the course of love was not so smooth for his second wife either. I don’t know his poetry well but must make an effort to remedy this as he was predominantly a poet for the last 30 years of his life.

My version of the Return of the Native has a long introduction by George Woodcock, who also wrote the useful notes at the back. He seems to have been both a serious anarchist as well as a  literary academic, an entertaining man whom I should like to know more about. From the notes I learn about Lammas day in early August, celebrating the early harvest, about the sixteenth century historian John Leland and the maenads, female devotees or attendants of Dionysius “celebrated for their dangerous  and self-mutilating ecstatic frenzies” which sounds refreshingly unprim. And also the transferred epithet (see tousled head in the first paragraph). And also wondered about the difference between “pagan” and “heathen”, the first from Latin and related to rural folk and the second Germanic, where unconverted pre Christians scampered around the heaths.

I couldn’t live in Hardy’s Wessex, after a long joyful stay, it would become claustrophobic and I would need to escape. But I love to be able to dip into this world, to learn more about it.