Going Back


“Treasure Island”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, and “The Wind in The Willows”, are just three long-term classics that have been marketed as children’s books. I keep no such distinction on my library shelves. That is probably why

Going Back001

Penelope Lively’s “Going Back” stands alongside Mario Vargas Llosa’s “In Praise of the Stepmother” among my novels.

I finished reading Ms Lively’s short novel a couple of days ago. I can offer no better review than to reproduce the author’s preface to the Penguin editor of 1991. She writes: “Going BackΒ was first published [in 1975] as a children’s book. I suppose that was what I thought I had written. Reading it now, I see that it is only tenuously so; the pitch, the voice, the focus are not really those of a true children’s book. Looking at it fifteen years later, I see it quite differently, and recognise it as a trial run for preoccupations with the nature of memory, with a certain kind of writing, with economy and allusion. I was flexing muscles, I think, trying things out, and it was only by accident that the result seemed to me and to others to be a book primarily for children. It has been in print ever since, but has led a shadow-life, I suspect, skirted by children properly way of what perhaps was never an apt offering anyway, and unknown, to others who might have found something in it. When a new addition on the adult list was suggested, I thought this a reasonable idea.’

Market it for whomever you like, it is splendid example of reminiscing into a well-remembered wartime childhood as a vehicle for exploring the author’s themes.

Desk cleaned and tidied

I overslept this morning enough for Jackie to get at my untidy desk still bearing a layer of fine dust from the installation of the new kitchen. This she cleaned, tidied, and polished to a level to make me frightened to spoil it. The items now perched on my printer and scanner were rather scattered around the desk. Well, I knew where everything was. Now, like polishing a new car at least once, I will just have to sort the piles and maintain its current condition. Even the keyboard and mouse are shiny, and, when scanning old slides and negatives, I will now know which are blemishes in the scanned material needing retouching, and which are globs of something unpleasant on the screen.

The history of The Church of St John the Baptist, Boldre, can be seen on my blotter, which contains more coffee than ink. In yesterday’s post I mentioned that we would need more visits to supplement the information given there. With another day of unrelenting rain we decided on going back to seek out

Grave of Edward Watts, St John the Baptist, Boldre

the oldest named tombstone in the graveyard. This is that of Edward Watts, who died on May 12th 1698. After all it wouldn’t matter much if that was wet, would it? Now, far more lichen obscures the inscription than on the photograph that illustrates the booklet, which directed visitors to take twelve paces from the East end.

East Window, St John the Baptist Church, Boldre

The East Window helped me locate the stone that I had missed on a previous visit focussing on the graveyard. This, in 1967, was designed by Alan Younger of London, in memory of two generations of de Mowbray Royal Naval officers. It was fortunate that the artist lived until 2004, because he was able to restore the piece after someone had thrown a brick through it in 1995.

I had a pleasant conversation with the Revd Canon Andrew Neaum, who was, with two helpers, working on decorations.

Rain on windscreen

Perhaps we experienced divine intervention when the rain lashing the windscreen on our arrival, suddenly ceased, and

Lichen covered trees

lichen covered trees opposite visibly brightened.

Water running down Church Lane

Nevertheless, rainwater streamed down Church Lane,

Water running under fence

ran under a fence,

Waterlogged garden

waterlogged the garden at the bottom of the hill,

Swollen stream

and swelled the river running through it.

Lichen covered fence

Just like that on the gravestone and the trees, lichen clung to an elderly rustic fence opposite.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb spicy pasta arrabbiata with which I drank Paniza gran reserva 2009


    1. Apparently it can be done, but is not recommended – all depends on the natures of the lichen and the stone. (One website suggests photographing at twilight with a torch at an angle!) Thanks for prompting me to check this, GP

  1. The stone looks quite remarkable with all the lichen covering it. I don’t know how old it is, but it looks ancient. The running water and swollen river made for some lovely photos.

  2. Loved everything about your day. We had a similar story with cleaning up and dusting out the office. πŸ˜‰ How does Jackie make the pasta arrabbiata I wonder?
    Wishing the two of you sunny and Happy Holidays ? ✨?✨?
    The Fab Four of Cley

  3. I wouldn’t have gone out driving in that rain if I had a choice. Jackie really is a brick. Chauffeur, Chef and Chief Arranger of a tidy desk. Mine always gets into a state too, no matter how many times I tidy it. . . . Love the ancient cemetery.

    1. Very many thanks, Gwen. I didn’t mention she got stuck in wheelspin on muddy verge – got out of it by reversing over a hessian shopping bag which is still out there

      1. Sometimes I think about that very same thing, Gwen, I am sure it would read differently, I then have to remind myself this is NOT my blog. I sometimes think it would be fun to write a blog from the shadow of the great man but then again I do not have the energy or time!! He does it so well.

  4. I need a Jackie!! Like so many of your readers I love that lichen. I nowt know it isn’t removable from some types of grave stones too. Today has not been wasted πŸ™‚

  5. I am tempted to read Ms Penelope’s lively offering. Something about the pictures from Boldre tells me the series might continue its journey.

  6. I am inclined to the view that lichen should be removed from gravestone inscriptions and then a preservative applied. The lichen has lots of places to grow; obscuring fascinating history should not be one of its functions.

  7. Oh Derrick, I just love that picture of Church Lane, It could well be an old painting of the English country-side, for such a wondrous image.

  8. What a wet day! I too, shall seek out the book, which sounds fascinating. The blurry edge between children and adult fiction is always of interest.

  9. Penelope Lively is one of my favorite authors, but I have only read a few of her “children’s” books, so missed this one. I’m very glad that you brought it to our attention.

  10. There are many books we read as children and then upon re reading them as adults we understand them in very different ways. C.S. Lewis had apparently said that “No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

  11. I agree those children’s books make good reading again later in life. I am not familiar with the author you mention here, but the book sounds intriguing. Thank you!

    Moss and lichen erase the writings of man, given enough time.

  12. I went “back” in your posts to this fine summary of a children’s (labeled such originally) book which you recommend, Derrick.
    I liked your rainy trip back into the 1600’s, too. Church, lichen covered headstone and water but shimmery views were​ all fabulous! Thanks for the mind awakening post as I sit with Micah.
    We discussed only one more Freedom Sunday until I have to start working on Sundays. We are all skeptical about the suggestion we will enjoy our Thurs – Sat days off. Fifty day shift and sixty night shift workers quit since the change in hours and days changed. . . How will we get the required work done in a mere forty hours if we could not do it with previous better staffed shifts couldn’t? Oh well, I am blessed overall. . . As we realize, aging helps to “count our blessings” of family and dear friends like you. ✨

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