First published in 1961, for most of my adult life Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch – 22’, has been acclaimed as one of the great novels of the twentieth century. Until now, I had never read it, yet my 1974 second-hand Corgi paperback copy mysteriously appeared in my library more than 40 years ago.

Catch 22 - cover and loose pages

There are several reasons why I was deterred from opening this book. Firstly there are 478 very browned pages of small print. Secondly, the binding is Perfect. This is a low cost method of glueing individual unstitched pages to an adhesive coated spine. After a while the pages loosen and tend to fall on the floor.

Catch - 22 loose pages

This is particularly awkward if you are reading in bed. Okay, okay, I know it is not meant to last for 44 years.

Catch - 22 stained pages

My particular volume has stained pages. I fondly hoped this was caused by water, tea, or coffee. On the other hand, the previous owner could have had an incontinent cat.

Catch - 22 back cover blurbs

I tend to question blurbs that claim a book is ‘brilliantly funny’, nevertheless the review extracts printed on the back cover are, in my view, surprisingly accurate.

It was on-line discussions with WordPress friend Uma that encouraged me to pick it up.

At times, sensitively poetic, Heller’s breathtaking prose often rampages at breakneck speed through the pages. Some of his descriptions of action seem brutally accurate. The sexuality is both erotic and indelicate; the detailed violence at times exhausting.

I understand Heller was a bombardier during World War II, but I am sure that the absurdity of events and characterisation here is aimed at all wars. As is my wont, I will attempt not to give away the story, but to speak of my impressions.

The film and TV series MASH never appealed to me and I only saw extracts by mistake. Unfortunately this, by association, put me off Heller’s book. Having read this I have investigated views on the web about any links or similarities. It seems I was in error to consider them in the same light.

The absurdity of war and its management is clearly what this book is about. The author’s brilliance is that he manages to convey stupid brutality, and self-serving incompetence in a hugely entertaining way. Paradoxical, repetitive, and logically irrational, it even has a character called Minderbender.

We are shown devious corruption and precarious self-aggrandisement. We see that this scale of management of events is impossible.

War, we know, is destructive. The real impact of this is brought home in the later stages of the book. Not only is it destructive of life, but of morals, of ethics, of faith, of trust, of relationships.

Yet, we want to know what happens to the major protagonist, and, finally, we are given a glimpse of hope.

I enjoyed it.

During their recent stay, Florence and Dillon discovered Arthur Rackham. This was in a shop selling framed prints that had been removed from now antique books. I was pleased to be able to give our granddaughter two of my unvandalised first editions.

The first was Undine, featured in my post of 17th May 2016; the second of Richard Wagner’s ‘The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie, translated by Margaret Armour, published in 1910 by William Heinemann in London, and Doubleday, Page & Co in New York

I published the Undine post before I began to place pages for the purpose directly onto my scanner. At that time I was photographing them, which is not such a faithful operation. There are 34 tipped in colour plates, protected by still pristine tissue sheets; and each scene in the drama is topped and tailed by exquisite vignettes. In order not to strain the spine of this book which is still in very good condition, I have simply selected

the front cover board, the title page, and six sample plates.

On the window sill of one of our spare bedrooms stands a breakfast set consisting of a plate, a bowl, and a mug, painted by Flo for me when she was very small. The crossword, the fire, and the books indicate her associations with me. I do hope our granddaughter, a fully paid up punctuation police person, will permit the preservation of the superfluous apostrophe on the mug.

Given that Flo and Dillon were on their way back to South Carolina, her books have been left with us for safe keeping. I was therefore able to read The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie again today.

For our dinner this evening, Jackie produced pork chops with mustard and almonds; roast potatoes; red cabbage with peppers and onions in red wine; crunchy carrots, and broccoli. She drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Chateauneuf.





I failed an intelligence test this morning.

Well, in fairness no-one told me that the weedkiller sachets contained further such items. You see, it was my task to zap the weeds in the cracks between the concrete sections of the front drive, and its accompanying gravel path.

Weedkiller sachets

So. I merrily tore of the top of the outer covering and tipped the contents into 5 litres of water. I would have immediately added four more inner sachets. But I noticed a transparent packet bearing floating minuscule sections of what looked like vermicelli, and strove to extract this. Ah. It was soluble. So I got the poison all over my fingers and had to wash it off. Of course, the mini-pasta also dissolved, as it was meant to do.

Well, now I know.

Iris foetidissima

Our first iris foetidissima bloomed today. Its days are numbered because The Head Gardener is less partial to them than I am. It must be something in the name.

This afternoon I finished reading:

Undine title page

This volume has adorned my bookshelves for 34 years, but, although I have often perused the pictures, I only began to read it a few days ago.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has this to say about the author:

‘Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte, Baron Fouqué(born February 12, 1777, Brandenburg—died January 23, 1843, Berlin) German novelist and playwright remembered chiefly as the author of the popular fairy tale Undine (1811).

Fouqué was a descendant of French aristocrats, an eager reader of English and Scandinavian literature and Greek and Norse myths, and a military officer. He became a serious writer after he met scholar and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel. In his writings Fouqué expressed heroic ideals of chivalry designed to arouse a sense of German tradition and national character in his contemporaries during the Napoleonic era.

A prolific writer, Fouqué gathered much of his material from Scandinavian sagas and myths. His dramatic trilogy, Der Held des Nordens (1808–10; “Hero of the North”), is the first modern dramatic treatment of the Nibelung story and a precedent for the later dramas of Friedrich Hebbel and the operas of Richard Wagner.’


It is a measure of the prowess of the artist, the foremost English book illustrator of the early twentieth century, Arthur Rackham,

Undine cover

that it is his name that appears on the front cover,

Undine spine

although the writer features on the spine.

One reason I never pursued book illustration as a career was that I knew I had no hope of ever matching this master.

Undine illustration 1

Undine illustration 2

There are 15 colour plates in my Heinemann edition. I forced myself to make a limited selection, and chose these two examples of the many moods Rackham is capable of evoking. He is noted for his trees.

Undine vignettes

Each chapter is topped and tailed by an exquisite little vignette, pertinent to the story.

Let us not forget the translator, W. L. Courtney, who has produced a beautifully poetic rendering of the original romantic fable of 1811. I do not know how far from the original he has strayed, but suitably quaint archaic language speaks of the bygone days of knights, honour,  chivalry, water sprites, and magic.  The poetic prose is especially descriptive. It was fun to read, even without Mr. Rackham’s input.

This evening we dined on chicken marinaded overnight in lemon and piri-piri sauce, carrots, runner beans, ratatouille, and mashed potato and swede, followed by lemon tart and cream. The Cook drank Hoegaarden and I drank la Croix des Celestins Fleurie 2014.


Michael and Emily drove down to join us for the day.  As they are great National Trust fans, Michael having made a superb investment by subscribing to life membership at the age of nineteen, I suggested a trip to Mottisfont, a National Trust property situated just four miles North of Romsey.  Michael drove us all there and we enjoyed a day at this establishment dating from a thirteenth century priory.  Rightly famous for its walled rose gardens, there is much more to enjoy there.

We were greeted by a small bridge over a stream, the river Test, from which a number of families were throwing bread into the swirling waters.  Upon investigation we saw that trout and ducks were vying for the offerings.  Later on we took the riverside walk which had clearly inspired Kenneth Grahame to write ‘The Wind In The Willows’, incidentally one of my favourite books of all time.  The highlight, for me, of the visit to the house was the exhibition of E.H.Shepard’s illustrations to that wonderful novel.  In an exhibition case, among other editions, was one sporting Arthur Rackham’s marvellous work.

Although the roses were clearly past their best, it was apparent that the walled gardens were a wonderful display, still featuring many different species, still blooming.  Buddleiae were attracting a range of butterflies and bees.

During the visit to the house itself, Elizabeth was being sold a raffle ticket in one of the rooms.  As I approached the desk, I realised I would be invited to buy one myself.  I don’t believe I have ever won a raffle in my life.  I hate selling tickets.  In fact, if an organisation I am involved with sends me a book of tickets to dispense, I buy them all myself.  I still never win.  So I look the other way when I am expected to buy someone else’s.  This time there was no avoiding it.  I sidled up to Elizabeth, looked as if I belonged to her, and glanced from the volunteer sales assistant to my sister, in a proprietorial way, hoping to indicate that I was with her and her ticket would cover us both.  It worked.  I was unsolicited.  Michael, who had followed minutes later, was not so fortunate.  You never know, one of them may collect the £10,000 first prize.  Then I will feel I’ve missed out.

Tree bark, Mottisfont 9.12

We really did pick a gorgeous autumn day for our visit.  The light was superb and the temperature was warm.  As we entered the building we passed a knot garden which had been planted in a most suitable arrangement in this year of the Queen’s 60th. Jubilee celebrations, the football World Cup, and the London Olympics.  Jackie was upset by the sight of one particular weed in the arrangement, and therefore pleased to see it extracted.

When we returned to The Firs I immediately began the preparation of a sausage and bacon casserole.  Jackie and Danni rendered invaluable help with the vegetables.  As is often the case, I was quizzed about ingredients.  The mention of green cardamoms took us back ten years.  It has long been a tradition that I produce a Boxing Day curry with the left over turkey or other unfortunate bird that has graced our Christmas table.  When Oliver was about five, I forgot to mention that the meal contained this particular spice.  Oliver bit into one and promptly threw a tantrum.  He rushed out of the room, to be persuaded back in by Jessica.   I had to explain and apologise.  Eventually he calmed down, the offending items were removed from his plate, and we continued to enjoy the meal.  The next year we again enjoyed Gramps’s curried turkey.  Soon after we began, Oliver asked: ‘what were those green things we had last year?’.  I told him.  ‘Can I have everybody’s?’, he asked.  Donations were readily given.  He promptly and proudly ate the lot.

This evening, the casserole was followed by Jackie’s apple crumble.  A variety of red wines were drunk, except by one of us who had Hoegaarden.