Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

20.12.12

Something in the water.

The first time I visited New South Wales was by river. I swam across the Murray when I was a teenager. Why walk across the bridge when you can swim? I wouldn't do it now; happy to read a book by the bank while the sun goes down. I never read before mid-afternoon. One of those habits you slip into after a lifetime of enforced academic and, later, work-related reading. But I'll read well into the night, light and eyelids permitting.

Right now, it was the time of night when the birds in the trees have shut up at last and the only sound was the far-off groan of trucks on the Murray Valley Highway. The book started this way:
I had just finished breakfast and was filling my pipe when I got Bullivant's telegram. It was at Furling, the big country house in Hampshire where I had come to convalesce after Loos, and Sandy, who was in the same case, was hunting for the marmalade.
All right, that brings me to another curious first. This was the first book I read completely online: John Buchan's Greenmantle. Must have been in the early 2000s when Project Gutenberg started. Now I was re-reading it in hardback and managed to get a few chapters in before dark. It seemed more exciting in print. Maybe it had just been a strain reading a book on a screen. Or perhaps it feels better reading about an environment completely foreign to the one you are in:
The day had started bright and clear, but a wrack of grey clouds soon covered the sky, and a wind from the east began to whistle. As I stumbled along through the snowy undergrowth I kept longing for bright warm places. I thought of those long days on the veld when the earth was like a great yellow bowl, with white roads running to the horizon and a tiny white farm basking in the heart of it ... 
Especially when the lead character longs for the opposite. I put the book down. The light was failing but the heavy air was still very warm. The dying fire cracked twice and then an odd rippling noise came from the river. Are fish nocturnal? Or was it someone down by the water?

*

Catfish John was a river hobo
Living by the river bend

Don't hear harmonies like those much any more.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Dr. Alice said...

The opening you quote is a great way to start a book. I now have a lot of questions: why did the narrator go there to convalesce? Did landowners just decide to open their great houses to wounded soldiers during and after the War out of patriotism and generosity? Was the government paying for this, or did they commandeer the house? How did that system work?