A Strip In The Library

Somewhat assuaged by the merry tinkle of the water fountain and the joyful chirping of sweeter birdsong, but neither by the drone of bees nor of power tools nor of overhead aircraft, my dead heading this morning focussed on the prolific plants resident in the rose garden desperate for a haircut.

Longer term readers will remember that we converted our garage into a library, part of which became a utility room which possessed one strip light which has spent years annoyingly flickering on and off

requiring supplements of trailing sockets draped, dangling, everywhere like lametta lacking sparkle.

Today, Ben Renouf, of Abre Electrical provided us with a safer, less unsightly arrangement. Beginning with replacing a double switch that had served both the strip light and outside lights around the house, with a single one for the outside and moving the double to the other side of the kitchen door and serving

two new strips – one newly fitted for library and one the new utility room replacement.

New sockets are now in place in the utility room and on the wall outside the kitchen.

Ben worked steadily, efficiently and finished the task first thing this afternoon.

It remained for me to remove all the extraneous gubbins, pile them onto the library table, and wonder what to do with them.

This evening we dined on roast chicken and duck pieces; crisp roast potatoes, some of which were soft and sweet; crunchy carrots; firm Brussels sprouts; tender green beans, and tasty gravy, with which Jackie drank Rueda Blume 2021, and I drank more of the Malbec.

The Evolution Of A Room

Today was hot enough for us to open doors and windows.

One of these was the stable door. It is my fond imagining that a horse was once kept in what became the garage, which we converted to

a utility room leading to a library, fronted by

a boarded trellis bearing clematises, solanum, nasturtiums, petunias, geraniums, etc.

I do hope this accurately describes the evolution of a room.

A few days ago I had taken my copy of J.L. Carr’s short novel, ‘A Month in the Country’ from my library, and I finished reading it this afternoon. Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize for 1980, the book is a many faceted gem. Two men are linked by the fact of having survived Passchendaele and each having accepted commissions to uncover secrets of a medieval church. I will try not to reveal too much, but can say that in economical, well-placed, prose encompassing just 121 pages of my Folio Society copy of 1999 the author speaks of heaven and hell; of judgement, redemption, and damnation; of joy and pain; of culture and spirituality; of time and eternity; all with a slowly seething undercurrent of suppressed sexuality. It wasn’t heterosexual love to which Lord Alfred Douglas referred as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, yet there are other reasons for fear of revealing feelings.

Ronald Blythe’s perceptive and informative introduction reflects the author’s style.

Ian Stephen’s detailed illustrations are true to the text.

The front and back boards are each printed with a copy of the artist’s engraving for the frontispiece.

Here are the rest.

Early this evening we took a brief trip into the forest.

From Pound Lane near Thorney Hill we watched ponies paddling in Whitten Pond, alongside which a young woman played ball with a pair of dogs.

On our return we dined on a second helping of Mr Chan’s excellent Chinese Take Away with which we both drank Tsing Tao beer.

The Containers Were Cleared


The kitchen may have looked neat and tidy when we finished yesterday’s decluttering. Now we have to rid ourselves of the piles in the library. We may not pass on the stool in the top right hand corner of the vertical picture. We’ll probably keep the wine for lubrication. The A-Z book in the bottom right of that image is one in which I feature as Mordred. Beneath the clock in the landscape photograph is a flyer for ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Book piles are those which Richard eased off the shelves when fitting the duct for the extractor fan. They will be returned when access is clear.

This afternoon I watched the Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Scotland and most of that between England and France.

Flo with Chinese meal finished

This evening Mat, Tess, Poppy, Flo and Dillon came to stay. Jackie drove to Hordle Chinese Take Away for our delicious evening meal. Mr Chan and another customer opined that she was buying too much. They were wrong. The containers were cleared. Beers, wines, and soft drinks were imbibed.


Packing Up The Kitchen


Shelf in Utility Room

This morning we began preparations for the kitchen work beginning on Monday. First, a table in the Utility Room was cleared to receive the electric kettle, toaster, and microwave during the two weeks the Culinary Queen will be deprived of other cooking facilities.

Then began the clearing of the cupboards and packing their contents into boxes Jackie has collected in recent weeks.


The containers were then transported to the Library.

This afternoon, I watched televised Six Nations rugby matches between Ireland and Italy, and between England and Wales.

The Culinary Queen has committed much of her creations to the freezer, but we were able to enjoy a second helping of yesterday’s beef in red wine this evening. I kept back a bottle of Reserve des Tuguets Madiran 2014 and made a start on that.


The Garage Frontage

Today continued wet and warm, but not so windy, so Jackie was able to reorganise her plants fronting the garage.

This prompted me to produce a variation on the before and after theme. We were never going to use the garage for its original purpose. Soon after our arrival overnight on 31st March/1st April 2014 we began to clear and clean the area, full of rickety metal shelving, containing, among other things, pots of paint, oils, and other unpleasant materials leaking all over the floor on which some of it had coagulated.

I dumped all the shelving in the garden, as one wall at a time was made ready for our IKEA bookshelves.

Library in garage

The first were in place by 7th April.

Garage library

Michael had given us a carpet that we thought would fit the room, but on 17th April it still lay alongside boxes of books that I found far too daunting to lift.

Matthew in garage library

When Matthew visited on 26th, shifted all the cartons, and laid the carpet, it was a huge relief.

Library shelves

Most of the shelves were in situ four days later. Jackie did most of the assembling. We positioned a sheath of disused IKEA wardrobe sections between the back three and the garage doors.

Novels A box

I just had to sort out the books.

Library progress

This was the progress by 1st May,


Six days later, the job was done.

Plants from Walkford

Jackie’s sister Shelly, had fostered the potted garden Jackie had created around our Minstead flat. We reclaimed this on 7th June, and positioned the plants in front of the garage.

Portable garden in front of garagePots in front of garage

By 11th July that same year, it was established in its new home.

Garage frontage

As it is now the time to tidy up for the winter, Jackie bought some wooden trellis to replace the lower, wrought iron structure. She fixed this up today;

Wrought iron fencing

and recycled the iron to extend the piece by the side of the house at the front.

Jackie produced tender roast lamb, crunchy roast potatoes, and crisp carrots and green beans for this evening’s dinner. Dessert was perfect apple crumble with evap.

Finishing Touches

We have a long, but not tall, Chinese oak cabinet which has gone up and down stairs in our new home like a yo-yo. The library had seemed its most likely final resting place.  The almost completed project no longer offered space for it. So back upstairs we carted it. When I bought the chests of drawers from Fergusson’s, one was intended to stand beneath this piece of furniture. We had second thoughts. Now we have thought again.
I then emptied the last four boxes of books; Jackie got out the vacuum cleaner; and we set about transporting the games table into the library. Had we not covered the garage door this would have been quite a simple matter. But we had. So it wasn’t.
The table was surplus to requirements in the sitting room. We carried it into the hall, intending to take it through the kitchen into the library. We couldn’t get it into the kitchen. So we took the casters off. We got it into the kitchen cupboard known as the glory hole. We couldn’t get it out into the kitchen itself. So we shifted it back into the hall and had a think.

I then had the bright, albeit somewhat tardy, idea of taking it out through the front door, round the side of the house, and in through the back door which now leads straight into the library. This worked like a dream. When I suggested to Jackie that we may not have needed to remove the casters, she suggested that I should not ‘even go there’.
The legs of the piece had taken a bit of scuffing in its various moves, so Jackie applied wood stain to the wounds and polish to both limbs and surface. A piece of string held the slightly loosened leg in place whilst the glue dried.
The carpet that Michael had given us had just one grease mark on it. To complete the creation of the room my lady got down and scrubbed this with an application of Vanish. She fixed a clock to the side of one of the bookcases.
Still visible in one corner of the library are a handful of Safestore boxes containing a selection of volumes for a charity stall our friend Heather is running in August.

A wander round the garden followed. The bungalow next door has been unoccupied for many years and such fence as there ever was between this and our property has been swamped by shrubs, one of which is a photinia. We think it is not ours, but never mind it blooms in our garden.

There are also a couple of yellow flowering shrubs we could not identify until Jackie’s research revealed them to be corokia cotoneasters which originate in New Zealand.

The copper beech is now in full leaf.

White was the dominant colour of the hedgerows in Downton Lane as I took an early evening walk into a fierce headwind coming off the Solent.

Cow parsley, stitchwort and may blossom have replaced the yellow daffodils and dandelions.

Rooks struggled against the wind to keep their bearings as they winged to and fro to their now clamouring chicks.

It was an evening for kite surfing such as my friend John Smith would relish.

As I arrived at the coastline a lone surfer was about to be joined by others walking down the steps from Hordle Cliff top. They were still setting up by the time I left the beach on which the rollers were again piling up the shingle. An intrepid yachts person was seen in the distance, and the Isle of Wight and The Needles made a landmark backdrop to the scene.

The surfer didn’t manage to keep out of the water.

Hordle Chinese Takeaway provided a spread for our evening meal. The Co-op’s cheesecake was to follow. Jackie drank Hoegarden and I finished the chianti.

Hours In A Library

During the night I began to realise that, although ‘Monkey’ by Wu Ch’eng En was snuggled up in the novels section of the library, there was no Gibbon among the shelves that I thought had been accurately filled yesterday. That meant that there had to be another History container somewhere among the 24 left to empty. This morning’s search demonstrated no such luck.
There were two.
Consequently another couple of hours was spent moving books along and adjusting the heights of shelves. After lunch it was the turn of Biography. In searching for the first of those, I came across a third History box. It was well into the afternoon before I could tackle the stories of people’s lives. Library progressThese were all on their shelves soon after our evening meal which consisted of liver, bacon and sausage stew with roast potatoes, carrots and beans, followed by a chocolate eclair. All delicious. I drank via di Cavallo chianti 2012 then got back to finish the last of the biographies.
Leslie StephenOver the past day or two I have spent so much time on the task of housing a lifetime’s book collection that I have often thought of Sir Leslie Stephen. Virginia Woolf took the name by which we know her from her husband Leonard. She was born a Stephen, her father being the eminent Victorian man of letters. Hours in a libraryThe reason he has come to mind is that the Folio Society edition of a selection of his writings is called ‘Hours in a Library’. I have spent many of these lately, but, I think, not quite in the way he did, which was in reading and writing. It seems a bit antisocial to hide away with a book, whereas sitting in company with one doesn’t to me.
Stephen was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, the first volume of which was published in 1885 by Smith, Elder & Co. This is a record of the lives of notable UK people that continues in regular supplements today. From 1917 it has been produced by the Oxford University Press. The original edition ran to 63 volumes, which are now reproduced on the same sheets by OUP, albeit on thinner paper with one third of the number of tomes.
I do have the complete set which we are going to need more bookshelves and organisational ingenuity for me to keep. So it will be off to IKEA tomorrow.
Some OUP publications supplement my 23 of the original nineteenth century issue. How I came by these is a story worth telling. Sam and Louisa, when they were both quite young, had been given the task of hiding these books, individually wrapped, around the house and garden. I had the job of following their clues, as in an Easter Egg hunt, each one leading to another. I wondered when the supply would run out and how many there would be. They were a birthday present from Jessica who had found them in a second hand bookshop in Lincolnshire. I have never discovered any more, although, much later, I did find odd copies of the modern edition, with which to complete the collection, in a shop on Marylebone Road.

Spot The Dummies

Before tackling shelf-filling again I took a wander round the garden. I here present two plants for my readers, please, to identify. The first is the white one originally featured on 28th April:White unidentified plant
It is from a bulb and has trefoil petals. Maybe this photograph will aid recognition better than the last.Allium

Secondly, can anyone name this allium?

Zola novelsAnother complete day in the library probably progressed the project, although at times it looked as if we had more boxes to empty than we had when we started. However, by lunchtime the Zola novels were in place. This gave impetus to the afternoon’s work, and poetry, plays, literary criticism, and history were all on their shelves by early evening. We might have been even quicker had we not kept coming across more containers labelled history, and another of poetry and plays just when we thought they were all done.

The discovery of the day for me was an annual report cover. In the 1970s and ’80s I was a member of the `Committee of the Queens Park Family Service Unit. I designed several of the covers of the Charity’s Annual Report. As with other drawings for such purposes, I never kept the originals which were retained by the organisations concerned. One summer, a few years ago, I found myself walking past the said FSU and popped in to see if they had a spare copy of a particular publication. I was told that the unit was moving the following week and I could help myself from a box of annual reports that were about to be binned.Sam as cover 1981

I couldn’t believe my luck when I found exactly what I was looking for. This was the annual report for 1980-1981, featuring Sam reaching for a daisy being handed to him by Jessica. Our son is on the back, with the two hands on the front. The drawing is taken from a black and white photograph taken late in 1980 at the Owl House Garden at Lamberhurst in Kent. The Annual Report is a bit grubby and I have left it that way.

I thought I had lost it again, and found it sandwiched between two history books.

There has been the occasional moment when Jackie has politely requested that I remove myself from her china shop. This I believe is a reference to the phrase ‘like a bull in a china shop’ applied to someone who rushes in without thinking and messes everything up. It seems a little unfair to me, but I have to admit that Shelly reminded me yesterday that she had witnessed one such event. We have some tiles on the kitchen wall which had been covered en bloc by a large sheet of cork tiling. we thought this ugly, so I took the said bull by the horns and started stripping it off. We then discovered what the cork was doing there. There were two tiles missing.

Tiles & dummiesThe glue used to stick the offending cork in place was pretty strong, so there were bits of it stuck to the remaining tiles. This bull had, in fact, made a right pig’s ear of it.

Among my art materials is a stock of variously coloured card, and an assortment of pastels. Jackie has used some of these to produce dummy tiles, and fixed them in place with contact patches made from carpet tape.

Are you able to spot the dummies?

This evening’s dinner consisted of a delicious liver casserole Jackie produced, with crisp carrots, cauliflower and boiled potatoes in their skins. Afterwards we enjoyed a Post House Pud. This is what I erroneously called Post House Mess yesterday. In my defence I submit that it is prepared in the same way as The Firs Mess. It has now been given the benefit of alliteration. One of today’s ingredients was breakfast apricots from a tin. I don’t suppose it matters that we consumed them at the other end of the day.