RIP Christopher Tolkien

It took self all of December to read one book, The Annotated Hobbit.

That book was the only copy in the San Mateo Public Library system, a label on the cover said: DO NOT RETURN IN THE BOOK DROP.

If only the library knew what far-flung places she had taken this copy to!

A few days ago, on 15 January, she heard that Christopher Tolkien, JRR Tolkien’s youngest, who was “a devoted curator of his father’s work,” had passed away. Amazingly, none of the nightly news remarked on it. Philistines!

Here’s a piece in The Guardian about Christopher Tolkien’s legacy.

Stay tuned.

Anthony Johnson on ‘Folk Memory’

Oh what a treasure trove of riches is this book Solving Stonehenge (which self had in her possession for at least over a decade, which she never had the time to read properly until now)

Mystery: Who/ What transported the stones to Stonehenge? (The stones are “bluestones” from west Wales)

In pre-literate societies the shaping of important facts into narrative form was a sure way of ensuring their survival in the collective consciousness of the community.

My Irish grandmother would often say that a kettle, on taking a long time to boil, ‘had stones in it.’ I was six or seven years old at the time and had no idea what this meant and, more importantly, neither did she … almost 20 years later while working on an archaeological excavation … I was examining a collection of large, scorched and fire-cracked pebbles that had been subjected to a greater episode of burning than represented by the small prehistoric hearth on which they lay. Similar stones had been found elsewhere on the site, remote from any burning — they were of course ‘potboilers.’ My grandmother was, unknowingly, referring to the use of stones to boil water by heating them and dropping them into earthenware pots which would have been incapable of withstanding the direct heat of a fire. This was a revelation; an ancient memory had been relayed to me from days when water was boiled not in metal pans or kettles, but in pottery vessels … Archaeology and oral tradition are not necessarily incompatible.

Self has a question: HOW were those bluestones transported from Wales? They look hella heavy. Another question: WHY? Seems like such an enormous investment of labor and time. She means: if people were laboring to transport, they couldn’t be hunting. Only large, settled communities could spare that much manpower for the time it took to transport and erect the stones. It involved organization — the assigning of specific tasks.

A Bronze Age man did not in isolation have an AHA moment where he said: let me try and move these BIGASS stones from Wales to here. He wouldn’t even have had the imagination to think up such a project. He didn’t up the ante by saying: I’m going to put two lintels here, and then raise a massive horizontal slab to lie on said lintels (which BTW must have been required enormous, enormous strength — the strength of many people. There had to be a fairly large human settlement.

Enter Henry VIII and his personal project: the cataloguing of England’s antiquities (Wasn’t Henry VIII the one with the many wives? Self knows him so well for one reason only: he beheaded Anne Boleyn, lol) The job was assigned to John Leland, who labored FOR TWELVE YEARS (from 1533 to 1545)

This is all so RUSSELL HOBAN. His novel, Riddley Walker, is about bards who travel up and down Britain, singing songs about a man named Adam whose body was pulled in two directions at once and who eventually split in two. Way to keep the memory of the atom bomb and the nuclear holocaust alive! After the apocalypse, there are no more libraries. No more books. No internet. But, there ARE ‘walkers’ to tell the tale.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Hedgebrook to Self: There’s Always Centrum

Years ago, when Calyx Publisher Margarita Donnelly was still alive, she told self about Hedgebrook. She said, It’s the most magical place. But you can only go once. So don’t waste it.

Self had Hedgebrook, that tantalizing lure, in the back of her mind, for decades. Eventually, she started writing a novel. Then she thought: This could be finally be the project I can apply to Hedgebrook for.

She did not hear back on her application, for almost a year.

Wow, they must have tons of applications, self thought.

Finally, because her landlady was pressuring her to extend her lease, and self didn’t want to do that if she was going to Hedgebrook, she decided to call Hedgebrook.

“Umm, hello,” self said. “Have the results of next year’s residencies already been released?”

Impactful (maybe also painful) silence.

Who is this?

“Marianne Villanueva.”

Another long silence. “The results were announced six months ago. We’ll have someone call you.”

And that’s when self’s gut fell all the way to the bottom of her shoes.

Sure enough, someone did call to tell self she’d been rejected. Not wait-listed. Just flat-out rejected. “There’s Centrum, if you like the area,” said the caller.

“Oh,” self said. “Thanks so much for the recommendation.”

Stay tuned.

Tweet of the Day

next time you see a man three times your size riding a lion in the forest in the festive period do not doff your cap — call the police

— Royal Academy @royalacademy

BOOM!

When Her Husband Left Everything to Kent, the Servant

As if things were not just getting absolutely awful for poor Anne Glenconner (Her two eldest sons dead, the third in a coma), her husband Colin flees to the Caribbean, and becomes close to a servant named Kent.

A Night at the Opera, p. 294

It was going well until halfway through the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves in the opera’s third act when, to my absolute horror, Colin started to wail and scream beside me. “Colin, what is the matter?” I asked.

“I wish Kent was here,” he wailed.

“Honestly, I don’t think Kent would enjoy it, but I am here.”

But he continued to wail, “No, no, I want Kent!”

By this time, more and more of the audience were turning their heads in our direction. Seeing the rug over Colin’s knees, I grabbed it and threw it over his head, hoping it would shut him up. To my amazement, he didn’t tear it off and, with his wails now considerably muffled, the audience turned their attention back to the stage. Shrinking into my seat, I hoped the saga was over, but the worst embarrassment was yet to come. When the chorus finally ended, the conductor turned to the audience and announced, “Under the circumstances, I think we will have to have that again.” I was utterly mortified as the chorus began again.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The British Stiff Upper Lip on Full Display

p. 232 of Lady in Waiting:

Three years after their eldest child became hooked on heroin, the Glenconners decided to dis-inherit him. The boy was 19. He had to sign a contract, agreeing to relinquish all rights to the British properties (there were substantial properties also in the Caribbean, but the contract only covered Britain. Because the British properties were more important to the family name?)

Darn, even at 19 the kid had enough savvy to require two conditions: a) a bigger monthly allowance; b) an agreement that his parents “cover his future medical bills.” (Did he, self wonders, hire his own lawyer?)

The parents’ fear was that, if anything happened to them, and their ‘seat’ fell to the eldest, he would sell it for drugs. The contract protected the property for future generations. The decision must have been very painful. But — three years? They reached that decision when their son had been addicted for just three years? That was a business decision.

Stay tuned.

Imelda Out-Colins Colin

Anne Glenconner pinch-hits for an ill Princess Margaret in Manila, where she and her husband are wined and dined by Imelda:

“The singing sprees continued until 3 a.m., when she would drop us off at the house, only to arrive again at eight the next day. Colin continued to be an asset, although after enduring a few days of Madame Marcos’s intense entertainment, he declared, “I simply can’t stand this anymore. This is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. I’m going home.” — Lady-in-Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown, p. 211

And Colin is no slouch, either: among other things, he single-handedly turned the island of Mustique into a playground for the wealthy.

The thing about Filipinos: their hospitality is relentless. And if you shun them, they do bear grudges.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Challenges of Being a LADY IN WAITING!

Anne Glenconner accompanies Princess Margaret on a tour of Australia. It rains very hard in Melbourne.

p. 194:

  • Princess Margaret’s shoes got terribly wet, so when we sat down for lunch, I took them to see if they could be dried, giving them to the lady in the cloakroom, who, some time later, gave me an almost unrecognizable pair of shoes back. They were horribly misshapen and completely stiff. When I asked what she had done, she proudly said, “I put them in the microwave.” Princess Margaret, who had no choice but to put them back on, hobbled around glaring at me for the rest of the day.

Lady in Waiting, An Endless Can-You-Top-This

That time when Anne Glenconner’s husband, Colin, decided to drive a Winnebago across America (self’s father had this dream of doing similar) and stopped anywhere he felt like it, ignoring all parking signs, which predictably enough ended up with two policemen approaching the Winnebago while Colin was in a shop:

“Ma’am, you can’t park there, it’s a violation. You need to move.”

“I don’t know how to drive it, Officer,” I replied. “My husband’s just in the shop. He won’t be long.”

Sure enough, Colin soon appeared, dressed in a bright pink tutu, wearing plastic boobs, a tiara and carrying a wand.

Lest you think, dear blog readers, that this is the most sham marriage of all time, Glenconner and her husband endure and have five children together. Despite Princess Margaret telling the bride’s mother just before the official announcement of the engagement that the prospective husband is “a degenerate.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Incredible Sentence: Anne Glenconnor

Self had to pinch herself to make sure this was a sentence in an actual book she was reading, not something she had only dreamed about reading:

While our family had been established in the fifteenth century, springing from fortunes in law and then land, the Tennant family had made its — albeit vast — fortune through the invention of bleach in the Industrial Revolution.

— from Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown, pp. 85- 86

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