PIle of birthday books

My last Persephone book from my 2020 birthday, and again from Ali; we do love buying these super grey volumes for each other and have been doing so consistently for years! This is one of their domestic non-fiction volumes, which I enjoy just as much as their reprinted novels, even though I am far from domestic myself (“How to Run Your House Without Help” did set me off planning room-by-room housework, temporarily …).

Stella Martin Currey – “One Woman’s Year”

(21 January 2020, from Ali)

Like other reviewers I’ve read, I set off reading this compilation volume, first published in 1953 (and dedicated to her friend, Tirzah Garwood) with an eye to reading a chapter a month, enjoying matching the seasons and preoccupations with my modern ones, etc. And of course it’s so charming and easy to read that, as well as dipping in and out of it as I did again while writing this review, it’s all-too-easy to just keep on going until you’ve consumed the whole lot!

Each month has a beautiful woodcut as an opener, then an excerpt from The British Merlin, 1677, with gardening, cooking and health tips. Then you have a longer essay (for example, “Books for the Family” which included many classics of my own childhood: do children read the actual classics any more?), the Most Liked and Most Disliked Jobs of the Month (getting one’s hair cut when the children go back to school versus getting the sand out of sandwiches), a recipe, an excursion (the Tower of London or, more prosaically, a modern telephone exchange), and then a couple of linked excerpts from novels or poems.

It’s a jolly read with plenty of domestic mishaps and disasters, from buying a piece of furniture slightly too large to go up the stairs comfortably (we donated ditto after trying to move it up a floor a little while ago) to having a sticky kitchen moment when attempting to make brandy snaps:

If you have never tried to clean stalactites of brandy snaps out of an oven it is one of the experiences of life you can afford to miss. The pale golden sticky substance hangs everywhere, and on the oven sheet is a thin, heaving, unworkable volcanic mass. By the time you have cleaned the oven, cleaned the sink, cleaned the cloth that cleaned the oven, cleaned the trays, burned the toffee-like remains in the boiler, washed your hands, you have decided on scones for tea, and hardly have strength to make those. (p. 210)

It’s gentle and sweet, quietly acerbic about rudeness and chores, quietly perceptive about England seen through a French schoolboy’s eyes, and obviously a period piece but also comforting as the months roll round and things aren’t maybe quite so different as one would imagine. Another Persephone triumph.