The View from behind the Waterfall

Our view from behind the waterfall – Plémont Bay, Jersey

We cheated coronavirus last week – risking the swab test and two weeks quarantine in an expensive hotel – and escaped to Jersey for a short break before school reopened for Young Friend of the Elephants. It’s a tiny island of gorgeous beaches and on the second day when we hiked the north coast, we arrived, with the weather closing in and the rain spitting, to Plémont Bay: a sandy beach with caves in the rock face and a waterfall. It put me in mind, immediately, of one of the favourite books of my childhood: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, the second novel of the Leatherstocking Tales, and arguably Cooper’s best book:

“We are then on an island!”

“Ay! there are the falls on two sides of us, and the river above and below. If you had daylight, it would be worth the trouble to step up on the height of this rock, and look at the perversity of the water. It falls by no rule at all; sometimes it leaps, sometimes it tumbles; there it skips; here it shoots; in one place ’tis white as snow, and in another ’tis green as grass; hereabouts, it pitches into deep hollows, that rumble and crush the ‘arth; and thereaways, it ripples and sings like a brook, fashioning whirlpools and gullies in the old stone, as if ’twas no harder than trodden clay.”

(James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans)

For those of you who haven’t read it, the book is set in 1757, during the French and Indian Wars, and in the episode quoted above the main characters take refuge from the pursuing Hurons in an island cave in the middle of some waterfalls – Glens Falls, in the Hudson River. According to his daughter, Cooper actually got the whole idea for the book when showing the falls to some Englishmen, one of whom commented that it would make an excellent setting for a romance. I looked it up on the internet, but there is nothing you can really see nowadays – instead of the wilderness described in Cooper’s story, it’s now a completely built up area. I suppose I hoped that it had been preserved as a national park!

Leatherstocking Tales is a series of five books, following the life of Natty Bumppo (you have to wonder where Cooper got such an odd surname from), and through his life telling the story of the expansion of the American colonies towards the west in the second half of the 18th century – with the last novels set in the by then independent United States. In The Last of the Mohicans I think Cooper got it just perfect: it’s an enchanting blend of adventure, nature, history and romance, with a sad ending to the story which makes all the difference. In fact, all of the Leatherstocking Tales have an air of melancholy about them as Natty witnesses the wilderness he knew in his youth gradually vanish to be replaced by ‘civilisation’ and Cooper’s descriptions of nature add greatly to the atmosphere of the stories.

Natty goes by several names in the stories, given to him by his Indian friends and by his enemies – I mostly think of him as Hawkeye, sometimes as La Longue Carabine (Long Rifle in French) but never as Natty Bumppo. He was always a bit too holier-than-thou for my liking, however, and I always preferred his Indian sidekick Chingachgook, a classic noble savage (was Karl May’s Winnetou inspired by him?), together with his family. Chingachgook’s wife, Wah-ta-Wah, appears in the first novel, The Deerslayer, and their son, Uncas, is the last of the Mohicans. Except, of course, that he… but that would be telling.

Nagy indiánkönyv – J. F. Cooper

I first read the Leatherstocking Tales when I was ten – my mum gave me a book voucher worth 100 Forints for my birthday – an absolute fortune in those time, especially for a ten year old – and then took me to the bookshop in the Pioneers’ Department Store on Rákóczi Street so that I could spend it. At the time I was obsessed with Karl May’s Indian (as in Native American) adventure novels, and when I saw a massive book in the shop titled the Big Indian Book, costing a whopping 72 Forints, I just had to have it. My mother, who probably hoped that I would get a dozen books of worthwhile literature like Sir Walter Scott or Alexandre Dumas, was horrified. But you know what? I’ve still got the book. It is nothing more, nothing less but the full Leatherstocking Tales – quite as worthwhile as Scott or Dumas actually, as my mother probably came to realise in due course. (By the way, I did also get round to read Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas, and voluntarily, by the time I was twelve, and I warmly recommend them too, along with Robert Louis Stevenson.)

Further Reading:The novels of James Fenimore Cooper on Project Gutenberg

Lockdown Diaries: Day 60 (Running Away to Sea)

Virtual Escape: Running Away to Sea

It’s such a beautiful day today where I am – blue skies, glorious sunshine… we’re only missing the sea, the sand and the palm trees to make everything perfect.

So I thought today we’re escaping to the sea with a few books…  The first of which absolutely has to be:

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 39 (Lassie Come-Home)

Locked Down in London, Day 39: Self-Isolation

If your kids are anything like mine, they’re spending the entire lockdown in self-isolation – absolutely voluntarily. Which is what their normally do anyway, whenever they’re home: ensconce themselves in their bedrooms, facetiming their friends/boyfriend (as the case might be), all – the – bloody – time.

They only come out to eat! 🙂

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 25 (In Space)

Locked Down in London, Day 25: ISS

Sometimes when the weather is nice and the night is clear, I check when the ISS is  due to pass overhead at a reasonable hour and then sit in the garden waiting to spot it. And I think of the people aboard, and of space, and of science and adventure; and I nightdream of a future when mankind will, somehow, crack the secret of travelling faster than light or through wormholes, or what-do-I-care, as long as they will be able to get to the centre of our galaxy and even to far away galaxies and live on other planets.

The ISS is not passing anywhere near me for a while (you’re in luck in North America around the US-Canadian border and in Australia and New-Zealand) but the reason why I mention them is because since this whole lockdown madness started, several of the astronauts on board talked about how they cope with their isolation and being locked into a small space.

So imagine yourselves on board of the ISS, people!

Jessica Meir using a laptop on the International Space Station [Photo courtesy of NASA]
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Lockdown Diaries: Day 24 (The Games People Play)

Locked Down in London, Day 24: Dungeons & Dragons

Last week in Lancashire we found Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s old (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons books and set of dice in his late parents’ garage. Thank you to the lockdown, today we gave it a go.

D&D dice [Image by Diacritica via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0]
For those of you who don’t know, Dungeons & Dragons is an old role-playing game from the 1970s. I’ve never played it before, and well, what can I say? Setting up the characters alone took a couple of hours… and on our first encountering a new character in a pub, we didn’t know what to do next, until I had the happy notion to invite him for a beer! It seems an incredibly complex game, not helped by the fact that Mr Anglo-Saxonist, who is acting Dungeon Master (a sort of game master and umpire), can no longer remember the rules or even understand the abbreviations in the rule books… But we did kill 3 hours this afternoon, and although it gave him a headache, the rest of us were reasonably entertained. As this is a game that apparently just goes on and on, we’re taken care of for another few weeks of lockdown at least?

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 9 (The Land of the North-West Wind)

Locked Down in London, Day 9:

Braving the freezing wind and the sudden scattering of hail, gone for a walk with Young Friend of the Elephants. To celebrate the Sunday, we walked to our local beauty spot, from where you can get great views of the centre of London in the distance. It was cordoned off. Why, I’m not sure, because it’s such a spacious area that it was never crowded even in the best of weather. The walk that was meant to raise spirits merely succeeded to reinforce my sense of loss: we can’t even enjoy the views now.

How I miss the great outdoors!

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 7 (Dead London)

Locked Down in London, Day 7: The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…

The online delivery services now appear to be completely collapsing and there are long – socially distanced – queues outside the supermarkets. But our local tradesmen are bearing up heroically – the little corner shops are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, while our local butcher happily supplied us with 2 pounds of Cote de Boeuf for our Sunday roast after our online shop failed to deliver the topside… (And well he might have been happy, given what Cote de Boeuf costs!)

In any case: we’re having our traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday.

Our family 1 – Coronavirus 0.

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 3 (A Walk in Madeira)

Locked down in London: Day 3

Today the health service sent me a text message, saying that as I’m one of the 1.5 million people in Britain who are at high-risk from the coronavirus, I should stay at home for a minimum of 12 weeks, keeping at least 3 steps distance from my husband and daughters at all times. (Where do they think my husband will sleep? In the doghouse?)

I know the health service means well but the text freaked me out. Do they really think I will lock myself into our bedroom (thank you for allowing me to open the window, by the way) and won’t hug and kiss my family for 12 weeks (minimum)? Frankly, I’d sooner die of the coronavirus.

So, a big breath… rant over. Let’s try to hold it together – by going for a walk in Madeira!

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Give a Quarter of a Year to the Mixture and Beat it Until it Cheers Up

No, I haven’t gone insane (yet) due to having to stay at home: the above gem in the title comes from Google Translate. It’s a paragraph from a tarta di Santiago recipe, which I was sharing with family & friends on Facebook, as part of my Lockdown Diaries. (I have to post bilingual on Facebook for everybody to be able to understand and I was too lazy to translate an entire recipe. 🙂 )  

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The Wave (The Anatomy of Mass Hysteria)

A history teacher in a Californian high school finds himself unable to answer the question as to how the German population could allow the holocaust to happen. He decides to start an experiment in class… which quickly spirals out of control.

This is the premise of The Wave, a young adult novel by Morton Rhue which I found abandoned on the coffee table in the living room one evening earlier this week – Young Friend of the Elephants has this annoying habit of abandoning her books and empty tea mugs on the coffee table when she evacuates the sofa. On being questioned about it, YFE, currently aged 14, commented that the story was good but that the quality of the writing would make a moron weep; a summary with which I fully concur after reading it. (But that’s ‘young adult’ for you – it’s too moronic even for a young adult.) 

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Dark & Moody

Or Books for Moody Teenagers

The universal cry of Not Fair! can be heard all of over the land wherever there is a moody teenager, usually accompanied by sulky looks and followed by petulant silence. Well, we’ve all been there; contrary to what moody teens believe, it’s a familiar territory for all of us. And like us, they will come out the other end, (hopefully as civilised adults).

In the meantime, perhaps we can try to make the life of our moody teens – and our own – a bit more tolerable. Reading is fun and can be a solace (not to mention instructive and character forming). So here are a few books to add to a moody teen’s library – all suitably full of dark and gloomy landscapes, sinister occurrences, brooding heroes, monsters, misfortune, madness, ghosts and star crossed lovers… the lot. If they show a slight feminine bias, it’s because, well, I’m a female and so are my children – the younger of whom is currently in the moody teen phase. (Moody Friend of the Elephants, this is for you!)

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Beats Working in a Bank (Mejor que trabajar en un banco)

Or

Three Authors Who Escaped their Tedious Day Jobs by Becoming Writers

We start with the one who gave the idea for the title of this post: the one who did, in fact, work in a bank.

And loathed it.

O

Tres autores quienes escaparon sus trabajos penosos convirtiéndose en escritores

Empezamos con el que dio la idea para el título de este post: el que, de hecho, trabajó en un banco.

Y lo odiaba.

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Are You Smarter Than a Robot?

Well, you’d like to think so. Sure, you can’t calculate the cube of 17,302¹ as fast as Siri but you’ve got a brain that’s capable of solving the kind of problems which cause a robot – your computer, your smart phone, your human shaped domestic slave (if you’re reading this in 3000 A.D.) – to freeze.

Shall we put it to the test?

Image by Geralt via Pixabay [CC0].
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¡Elefantástico!

Read this in English

Mingling with Elephants: Young Friend of the Elephants on Elephant Apprecition Day in Whipsnade Zoo / En la compañía de elefantes: Joven Amiga de los Elefantes en el día de apreciación al elefante en Whipsnade Zoo

El sábado pasado (22 de septiembre) fue el día de apreciación al elefante. ¿Hay un mejor manera de celebrarlo que con unos libros memorables sobre elefantes?

Gente es tan complicada. Dame un elefante cualquier día.

(Mark Shand)

¡Que disfrutes!

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Elephantastic!

Lee esto en castellano

Mingling with Elephants: Young Friend of the Elephants on Elephant Apprecition Day in Whipsnade Zoo

Elephant Appreciation Day is on us again and what better way to celebrate these lovable animals than with a collection of memorable books featuring elephants?

People are so difficult. Give me an elephant any day.

(Mark Shand)

Enjoy!

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Storybook England: Greenway House

Murder, She Wrote

A well-known murder mystery writer is employed to organise a novelty Murder Hunt at a village fête held at the local rich man’s mansion. The victim is to be played by a Girl Guide, clues are hidden on the grounds and there is a prize to be won for solving the mystery. There’s only one problem: the writer feels that something sinister is going on behind the scenes. She calls on Hercule Poirot..

Call me a fool if you like, but I can only say that if there was to be a real murder tomorrow instead of a fake one, I shouldn’t be surprised!

That is the premise of Dead Man’s Folly, a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery featuring the ubiquitous Belgian private detective and his handlebar moustache.

The crime scene from Dead Man’s Folly – the boathouse.

By no means would I call Dead Man’s Folly one of Agatha Christie’s best books but it has one great merit: she set the book in her own holiday home and herself appeared in the book as one of the characters.

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A Bear of Very Little Brain (The World According to Pooh)

The other day, in the course of an argument, somebody called me a person with a small brain.

Even while I took offence, I recalled a line from my childhood bible, Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne:

“For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me.”

(Winnie-The-Pooh)

I’m all with the Bear of Very Little Brain on this one: long words bother me too. Especially when used by people who don’t know what they mean.

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