Night falls on North Yorkshire, at approximately 3:45 pm. Soon, the wolves will start to gather.
I have twenty five minutes before I can justifiably throw the children into their pits, snarling and scratching at their bars. You can have them. The minutes, not the children. Well, maybe you can have them too, what with the Top Gear marathon and the precisely pitched shrieks of outrage and the losing of all key possessions and the endless, endless fighting, god, the fighting. Hello! Happy new year.
(interruption to exclaim insincerely over the imperceptible-to-me joys of 'Marvellous Maths')
So, the holidays. We went away for two whole weeks and, apart from repeatedly having to try and placate a distant, content hungry and imperious Content Management System, I spent the whole time disconnected entirely from, well, my brain. In York we sat around in a bovine fashion waiting for Prog Rock to shovel more food into us, as already catalogued here. Then we went to the Dales for a week, where it was dark by four each afternoon and profoundly rainy. Every day we would walk up something boggy and punishingly inhospitable in the morning, eat something involving chips in a pub, then settle in back home for long, delicious afternoons of intensely languorous hygge. Sometimes we sat in front of the fire and watched terrible films, sometimes we played cards; more often I crept away for a long, boiling hot Radox bath, followed by an almost accidental detour to bed, to crawl under the patchwork quilt from my childhood, as familiar (and as worn and ragged) as my own skin. The stream behind the house roared and raged with peaty, fast run off, and the wind was high, but in my bed, everything was warm and heavy and there was usually half a stolen Chocolate Orange and a pint of tea on the bedside table and the ever-present possibility of a small nap. Mmmm, so hygge.
(interruption to mediate in a fight about a microscopically small and hitherto unloved pot of blue paint)
My reading matter, however, was anything but cosy. In order of reading:
Scissors, Paper, Stone - Elizabeth Day
God, this was grim. A sad, tight, claustrophobic tale of a small, unhappy family. Very well done, skin-creepingly tense, some redemption at the end, but left me quite unsettled. Brrr.
Toast, Nigel Slater
I know this lovely, poetic and rather waspishly funny memoir is a paean to the sensual delights of food and full of precise, delicious, affectionate descriptions of 1970s gastro-dubious treats, but what stays with you when the Angel Delight fades is the story of a small boy losing his mother and living a cold and confusing life leached of any affection or warmth.
The Killer Next Door, Alex Marwood
Drains blocked with rendered person fat. Mummification. Excrement everywhere. Unpleasant scenes of a sexual nature. Genuinely quite revolting (but also gripping).
Maggie and Me, Damian Barr
A really lyrical, sharp, deliciously readable prose style doesn't stop this being a terribly sad story (at least in parts, it's not all misery and in parts it's very funny) about a wee boy, brutalised by his foul stepfather and leading a shitty, confusing, hand to mouth, existence in 1980s Lanarkshire.
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
OH MY GOD THIS BOOK. I absolutely adored this, it was perfect for the long, dark afternoons with the wind whistling around the stoic sheep of Coverdale. It is, however, an unremittingly bleak tale about a real life 19th century Icelandic murder drama. Beautiful, evocative and BLEAK AS HELL. 19th century Iceland: not a tourist destination. I was fully harrowed at the end. So harrowed.
The Thora Gudmundsdottir novels by Yrsa Siguroardottir
On the recommendation of someone here (for which many thanks, I treasure and follow up all of your book tips and they are almost always bang on), I read three of these, because, despite (i) dismemberments (ii) eyeball removal (iii) a rich catalogue of human misery and dysfunction, they constituted light relief after the forgoing.
Would I recommend? Well. They were all good, no question, but is this really what you need in January? With the overdraft and the new chins and the constant viruses and the endless night? I'm going back to PG Wodehouse, smartish. Maybe even the Pullein-Thompson sisters.
What did you read over the holidays? Would you recommend for surfing the waves of despair of a dreich January?