Friday, 30 October 2015

A question of Darcy

Recently, a friend attributed my love of Pride and Prejudice to the appeal of a soaking wet Colin Firth emerging from a lake. Heaven knows in the 20 years since it aired it's remained one of the iconic heart throb moments and caused millions to swoon.

I. Think. Not.

I hate that scene. It's one of my most loathed scenes on telly. More than the time Gordon Ramsay tricked a vegetarian into eating pizza with bacon and boasted about it, more than any appearance by Jeremy Clarkson.  Even more than John Selwyn-Gummer shoving a burger into his little girl's face during the BSE crisis.  Allow me to explain.

I love Colin Firth. I think he's marvellous - very talented, extremely attractive and charming. I've seen Fever Pitch more times than I can remember and pretty much every film he's made since. Although singing in Mamma Mia wasn't one of his better moments...

In no way whatsoever is Colin Firth responsible for that dreadful scene. It's entirely the fault of Andrew Davies, the ferociously successful TV writer.  He wanted to sex up the dry and proper Mr Darcy for modern audiences so he had him partially disrobe and plunge into the water, emerging all tousled and hunky.

That's attractive and all, if it weren't for the fact that I know Fitzwilliam Darcy. I know him pretty well; I've spent countless hours with him.  I read P&P at least twice a year. What he looks like is pretty fluid and the nuances of his motivation I'm happy to let others play with, but at his heart I know him. I know his faults and his strength and I love him for them.

Mr Darcy is a very proper young man. He, like another of Jane Austen's heroes Mr Knightly, believes in honour, dignity, duty and being a gentleman. He is proper in the old-fashioned sense. Darcy is intensely private and reserved - rather shy really, retreating into stiffness when confronted with the unfamiliar.

His reversal in behaviour comes when Elizabeth forces him to recognise that his sense of self-worth has lead him to behave with arrogance, valuing his consequence above all else. It's awful realising you're in the wrong. He is hurt and but once his temper cools he realises the truth in her accusation. So when he sees her in the grounds of Pemberley he wants to prove her wrong, to be welcoming. Gracious even. "Look how wrong you were about me, I am a true gentleman" which progresses into "I realised you were right, so I've fixed it."

That meeting is both awkward and touching - both characters discomfited, neither quite knowing what to do, and aware of a change in themselves they can't yet let the other know of.  I love it. It's perfectly written just as it is.

Darcy wouldn't plunge himself into a lake on his way home unless her were actually aflame. Even then he'd be more likely to take the offending jacket off and throw it to the ground. He's not the impulsive, physical type. Andrew Davies wanted to make him more appealing to a modern viewer by showing a relaxed, unguarded man indulging in a relief from a stuffy day. In a different character I'd have liked it - hell, as a human, heterosexual woman I like it, but I absolutely loathe that he did that to Darcy. Davies rewrote him to sex it up a bit, and that re-write became the image of Mr Darcy in popular culture.  Andrew Davies deserves a slap with a kipper.

Incidentally, Matthew Macfadyen's Darcy works well for me - again, there's a modern slant as you see more vulnerability, but it's emotionally and psychologically consistent with the Darcy Jane Austen wrote. Nice work, Deborah Moggach (except for the ghastly scene added for American audiences that I've done my best to blot from memory.) It helps that Matthew Macfadyen is utterly lovely.

I know my fixation with some of my literary heroes can make me a cussed thing - I refuse to watch Life of Pi because the book in my head is so perfect. (This drives Luke crazy. ) I am happy with my images from the author's words and don't want them supplanted by someone else's vision.
I wouldn't watch To Kill A Mockingbird until I was in my 30s because Gregory Peck plainly isn't Atticus Finch. Gregory Peck is about as handsome, authoritative and charming as a man can be, and an absolute idol. Atticus is older, thin, with fading eyesight, thinning hair and a tendency to stoop, and he can't play ballgames like the other kids' dads. He isn't a fine figure of a man but he's a very fine man indeed.

Anne Shirley, Gilbert Blythe, Laura Ingalls, Scout and Atticus, Charlotte and Wilbur, Lizzie Bennett and Darcy, Elinor Dashwood, Dorothea Brooke, The Grand Sophy and so many others have been amongst my dearest and most cherished friends for years. I want to share them with the world, buy copies for my friends' children, revisit them regularly.

I don't need to shove them in a lake to see their appeal.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

All Change

16 and a half years ago I went on maternity leave from my full time office job. Back then the leave was 14 weeks. I worked to 37 weeks and Luke was a little late being born. This meant I was due to go back to work full time from 8am to 5pm when he was just 9 weeks old.  

I couldn't do it.

I quit.  I worked from home as a web designer, admin and tech support woman for small businesses for a few years then started Cake Box, my bakery from home.  Other than 9 months of popping into a local estate agent to update their online files on a Saturday when our first child was a toddler I've worked based from home all that time.

All this changes now. I've got a job. Yikes.

I shouldn't be so surprised, of course. Millions of people have jobs. It's *normal* to have a job. And it's not like one dropped from the sky into my lap, I did have to apply for it. Indeed one of my challenges for this year was to find a way to earn money. But to work in an office, not be my own boss, have colleagues and - gasp - childcare issues seems kind of intimidating right now. I'm trying to work it all out in my mind so life will go smoothly but there's such a lot to think about . I need to leave the house at 7:30 am and Mark is in Slough some of the week, so getting our 9yo sorted and to school on time will be interesting. I am fortunate in having Very Excellent Mates who are willing to help out.

It's going to be fine, of course. It will mean a lot of changes for everyone in the family but after a couple of months it will be normal to us.  

One of the things I'm clearly going to need is a reliable method of transport. The school I'll be secretary for is just over 3 miles away, not on a direct bus route. Oh look, what a perfect reason to buy a new Vespa!

I picked a Vespa Primavera 125 - it's a lovely dark grey-blue colour with a beige seat; it's quite retro looking. It runs like a dream and those lovely new tires grip the road so well compared to my poor old ET4 it was a totally different riding experience. I'd better like this job; I have to keep it so I can pay for my bike!

My now-defunct ET4

Isn't that a pretty bike?

vroom vroom

Some of the other things I wanted to attack this year were  - 

  • See friends regularly - I'm getting better at this

  • Attend at least 5 book group meetings  - Tick
  • Have a week of decluttering one room a day.  A month of decluttering weekends would do too - I've got some areas much improved but there's loads still to do.
  • Walk 30km in a month - my ruined knee kind of scuppered this one, so I need to get back on track now.
  • Learn a new skill
  • Go to a WI meeting - I've been to 3 meetings and a meal, and have joined
  • Volunteer on a weekly basis  - Between reading with the school and the food bank work I was doing more than once a week. Most of that will have to stop now I'm working, though.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

In which people are just lovely

I was in for a cracking weekend.

I'd planned it months ago. Registered for Rugby World Cup tickets, booked my Yarndale ticket, had all my favourite things with some of my VERY favourite people.  Fantastic.

Friday night Dad headed here to avoid the match traffic and Mark bought fancy fish from the lovely fishmongers and cooked us a gorgeous meal. I'd never had halibut before. It's lovely.

Saturday was match day. Mark, Miss B and Luke went to the cinema to see Inside Out (and were treated to popcorn at the Everyman by the rather ace Jessica who works there) while Dad, Zach and I were off to the rugby. Canada vs Italy, and given the crushing defeat in the Canada vs Ireland I was trying prepare Zach for disappointment. I needn't have worried. It was marvellous.

I mean, yes, in the end Italy won but it started with a 10 point lead for Canada and right up to the last 5 minutes it could have gone either way.  Masses of action, great excitement and huge men with beards battling it out mere metres away from us. We were so close to the touch line; any closer and we'd have been in the scrum itself.  I'd had a pig of a job sorting out Zach's ticket after they'd allocated him a seat in another part of the stadium. After 4 1/2 hours on the phone I got him moved to directly behind us, assuming I'd take that seat myself. In the event the lovely blokes next to us swapped so we could all be together.

(Given how loudly I cheered, Zach and Dad might have preferred to have left me sitting a little further away. I do get rather excited.)

That evening I got yet more excited watching a punishing match between England and Wales. I texted my apologies to the next door neighbours after an injury-wracked Wales roared to victory in the final moments. Marvellous stuff.

Sunday was Yarndale. All hail the Yarndale crew for a third event that brought so much happiness to others. It was so organised and well considered that it was a joy to attend. I had every faith it would be.

I had hoped to go with my Very Excellent Mate Rach again, but it didn't quite work out. A mum from the school run had asked to go with me, too, but her work schedule clashed with the event. My neighbour Vanesa had also planned to come with me but had to visit a relative in hospital. That's OK - I had a brilliant time the very first Yarndale when I was on my own, so at 9:30am I set off on my beloved Vespa at half nine for a day of yarn, craft and meeting new people. There was plenty of mist and it was pretty chilly but that would soon burn off and we were promised a glorious sunny day. I love a chance to ride in the sunshine through the gorgeous scenery of this region, and I was confident I could squish my purchases into the storage space on the bike.

At 10:25, a few miles outside of Skipton, it went horrible wrong. My poor Vespa lost power and made some truly appalling noises.  I drifted to a stop at the hard shoulder of the A65 as lorries blasted past me.  My iPhone told me I was 7 minutes from my destination.  It was wrong.  I wouldn't make it to Yarndale until 2pm.

While I was waiting for the breakdown truck and feeling very isolated indeed, people were ace to me.  A bloke in a car on the other side of the carriageway pulled up to say he lived in the next village, so would it help if he fetched me some petrol? Then a guy on a Ducati pulled up. Roger had owned a Vespa ET4 like mine some years back and offered to see if the problem was something he could repair. He had a toolkit on his bike, had a look and a listen.

We agreed our Italian bikes sure had style but that if it was reliability you wanted, Hondas were hard to beat no matter how clunky they looked. Ducati and Vespas were more temperamental beauties. Roger did his best but the fault was beyond his skills. He offered me a lift to Skipton but I needed to stay for the recovery truck.  He reluctantly went on his way, but I was very touched by his help and concern.

The lad driving the recovery truck was called David.  He and the insurance service were thrashing out the details of taking the bike back home for me as it was 25 miles away and my cover had a 20 mile limit. Drat.  Then I remembered Colin Appleyard Motorcycles had a branch nearby.  Before their Leeds branch shut down I'd used them for repairs for 15 years - perhaps they could take the Vespa? Google claimed they were open on Sundays, so I started ringing while David loaded the bike up.

We set off, with me continuing to ring the garage.  In between calls, David told me all about his upcoming holiday to Dubai with his partner, and how much he was looking forward to it. He was so friendly and pleasant he made a tough situation much nicer. However, Google's information was wrong and the garage was all locked up. Oh bugger.

By this time Mark, with Miss B in tow loudly protesting the interruption of her pancake-making activity, arrived at the garage too. He'd brought me a flask of coffee which is one of the many reasons I love him so much. I drank that while David rang his depot to run something past them. Rather than leave me and my bike stranded or drive the 25 miles to Leeds which still wouldn't get the bike to a garage, David offered to take it back with him to the locked depot overnight and drop it off at Appleyard's in the morning.  That meant Mark could take me to Yarndale, the insurance would still cover the distance and the Vespa would be safe and secure until I could get her looked at.


Mark got me to Yarndale where I had a lovely couple of hours despite feeling knackered by the events so far. Jane from Baa Ram Ewe gave me a big hug when I arrived to help soothe me from my bike upset, and I had a cuppa and a butty before diving into the stalls. I had a go at lacemaking with bobbins like the people I saw on holiday in Bruges - very cool! I met up with exhibitors I knew, chatted to the Yarndale committee, bought everything my mother-in-law requested plus a hank of hand-dyed alpaca wool for myself. I met fellow rugby enthusiast and many, many fellow crochet junkies. I got home by public transport, complete wiped out, and Mark had made me another lovely dinner.

My Vespa is beyond repair, it seems, and I am feeling bereft. But I am also very touched by the friendliness, good nature and kindness shown to me in so many ways by match stewards, fellow fans, motorists, Roger, David and Mark and everyone at Yarndale.
People are just lovely. I'm glad to have met so many of them.

J xx