Thursday 26 February 2015

Espantos de agosto (The Ghosts of August) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I read this story as part of my Spanish Challenge. It is a classical ghost story like those of Charles Dickens or MR James.  It comes from his collection Strange Pilgrims / Doce Cuentos Peregrinos. Reading these Marquez’s short stories for the first time, I conclude that they are probably more accessible than his magical realism novels to many readers.

One Sunday in early August, a family seek out The Renaissance castle of Venezuelan writer Miguel Otero Silva for a visit in the Tuscan countryside. They have difficultly locating it and on asking directions are warned that the house is haunted and not to stay overnight. Inevitably they do. But before retiring to their modernised ground floor room, they are shown the rest of the house including the unchanged room where the original owner, Ludovic, killed his wife and set his own dogs upon himself. .All seems well when the man of the family wakes up the following morning. His wife is still sleeping soundly and his children are in the adjacent room. But all is not well. 

Marquez hardly builds any tension in the story, but lays the foundation simply in the warning and in the description of Ludovic’s room.

“Era el dormitorio de Ludovico.
Fue un instante mágico. Allí estaba la cama de cortinas bordadas con hilos de oro, y el sobrecama de prodigios de pasamanería todavía acartonado por la sangre seca de la amante sacrificada. Estaba la chimenea con las cenizas heladas y el último leño convertido en piedra, el armario con sus armas bien cebadas, y el retrato al óleo del caballero pensativo en un marco de oro, pintado por alguno de los maestros florentinos que no tuvieron la fortuna de sobrevivir a su tiempo. Sin embargo, lo que más me impresionó fue el olor de fresas recientes que permanecía estancado sin explicación posible en el ámbito del dormitorio.

Subtle and not over the top. No blood and gore. Just well drawn. Note: pasamanería  - I had to look this up even in English which uses the term passementerie for the art of making fancy trimmings and edgings for clothing or furnishings using gold or silver braid,cord, silk threads, or beads.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Un día de éstos – One of those days by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Continuing on with My Spanish Challenge and reading this one by one of my favourite authors. It is part of the collection entitled Las Funerales de Mamá Grande / Big Mama’s Funeral and is also reproduced on Collected Stories. The Spanish version I worked with is found here.

It is the story of Aurelio Escovar, a dentist, who finds himself with the mayor as his patient. The unnamed mayor has had a damaged molar for five days and has a swollen face and is in lots of pain. Initially the dentist refuses to attend to him, but is then threatened by the mayor, a military man clearly used to getting his own way. Time therefore for the dentist to extract comeuppance for the mayor’s activities around the town “Tiene que ser sin anestesia” “¿Por qué?” “Porque tiene un absceco” Great excuse! The dentists extracts the tooth murmuring “ Aqui nos paga veinte muertos, teniente” Here you pay as for 20 deaths, lieutenant.

Monday 23 February 2015

The Big Crunch

When I was small

my world was.

Mum, dad and me.

I explored the garden

and as it grew

I did too.

I ventured forth

down the lane exploring

to the next village courting

School and uni

meeting the new, the different, the unexpected.


When I was small

I was besotted with space

a universe beckoning

From “Thunderbirds are Go” and Marvel Comics

a girl’s own adventure story

for real as Tereshkova circled my earth.

Sci-fi became sci-fact

with non stick Teflon pans in the kitchen

with televisions in every house, in every room, in every hand

miniaturised open access to all, for all.


When I was small

my world was.

Now, the coin has flipped

the world wide womb,

a net of time

fast folding over me,

shrinking my view,

constraining my movements,

the black hole weighs in on me

“Beam me up Scottie”

for today is a good day to…..


Note: The Big Crunch is the term used in cosmology for one possible ultimate fate scenario where/when the expansion of space reverses and the Universe re-collapses back on itself, ending in a Black Hole or another Big Bang beginning.

It seems to me that life’s path is somewhat analogous to this, and if one believes in reincarnation or has a faith in the hereafter this moment of recycling is similarly comparable.

© Sheila Ash, 23rd February 2015



In the undergrowth, by dappled light

patiently, persistently

my reptilian guard lies waiting.

A stem hugging, leaf clinging sentry

anticipating a morning snack of passing insect.


With the rising sun warming his blood

encouraging circulation, inspiring elongation

my camouflaged guardian slowly stretches

one graceful limb by one graceful limb

into a lumbering swagger

out onto the corner of the house wall.


And there he stays

standing guard by my kitchen door

waiting my lunchtime return.


In cobra pose

this sun worshiper stares skyward.

His bearded flaps unfurled

catch rays bounced back off the concrete

catalysing life

pumping his heart, pushing his blood

ensuring the day’s work and the night’s survival.


Erect and proud

his head high atop his long back

the commander of all his dominion

surveys his world

his eyes watching me as I walk along the passageway.

My own private figurehead

in defiant ascendancy

this astral reincarnation of a dragon by my door.

Statuesque, dignified, poised

a soldier

armed and ready to pounce.


© Sheila Ash, 23rd February 2015

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Hear my words read by another

I was amazed when Blackheath Dawn publishers approached me a few weeks back for permission to record and publish one of my poems which I had originally posted here on ashramblings. Now I have a huge smile on my face to see it in print and hear it on their website .

Monday 16 February 2015

The Consequences of Good Faith Actions

The Lowland


Jhumpa Lahiri

Like my other recent read The  Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, this book has as its backdrop the rise of Naxalite  insurgent activities in Bengal following Naxalbari. Two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, two years of age apart but sounding like each other,  have a comfortable childhood, stealing into the Golf Club, to collect golf balls and generally having fun in their neighbourhood. But as they grow up they go in different directions: Udayan, the younger but more adventurous one, becomes involved in student politics amongst the rising Naxalite rebellion, whereas Subhash goes to America to continues his studies.  Subhash’s life in America continues to be intimately linked to his brother, his actions, his death and its consequences after Subhash seeing injustice in his own family takes matters into his own hands. Those consequences percolate through Subhash’s life, and the coming generations just as the continuing Naxalite activity affect that part of India still to this day. Taking action to overcome an injustice does not always lead to a better situation. Although Subhash marries his brother’s pregnant wife, Gauri, to free her from the marginalisation of his parents anger, his good intentions do not bring happiness. Everyone struggles through their grief and loss in their own ways, becoming the people they end up being because of it, flat lining their emotional responses in order to survive.

In many ways the title refers not only to the geographical lowland near the family home, where Udayan dies but to the lowland of the characters subsequent emotional horizon. Not until very near the end of the book do we really understand how his actions affected Udayan himself and thereby Gauri and how in turn this impacted her relationship with their child, Bela. The only emotional highs occur with Bela’s outbursts of anger at first Subhash, and later Gauri and it is only these that allow her the possibility of breaking the cycle of the family’s linkage and ties with the Lowland. Lahiri’s other book The Namesake" also about a Indian family living in America and is also about identity.  There and here she writes very well about the minutiae of family relationships and this is where the strength of this novel lies.

Reading this book took me on a trip back to India with memories of aspects of everyday life coming flooding back, those things which are different to everyday life here, even the Bengali words, recognisable from their Oriyan counterparts and from my landlady's first language, tiny things like the fact that house doors have padlocks on the grills and huge bolts on the inner outside door, of rice and dal rolled together into balls for eating, of phenyle for cleaning, and of the barsha kaal or kal bisaki as it was known where I was. These memories echo and reinforce Lahiri’s themes belonging and alienation, of place and displacement. Her writing just seeps into your soul as you read it and never leaves, a bit like the dampness of the Indian monsoon.

ashramblings verdict 4* This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013 and the 2013 National Book Award. Another good book from an excellent writer.

Sunday 15 February 2015

¿Tejar o tejer? To tile or to knit?

Casa Tomada


Julio Cortázar

One of this first ever stories, it can be found in his collections Bestiario (The Beastery) and Casa tomada y otros cuentos. Still consulting a dictionary, I read this as part of my Spanish Challenge.

In the story, an unnamed man and his sister, Irene, stay on in a huge old house that had belonged to their parents and their grandparents before them. Bother are middle aged and unmarried. Irene knits, but unravels much of her work.  He reads and smokes a pipe. They have no contact with other people outside of the house. One evening upon going to the kitchen for a glass of water he hears sounds coming from the library or the dining room. “Han tomado la parte del fundo” / They’ve  taken over the back part” he reports back to his sister. After this, they live in the  other wing of the house separated from this part by a large oak door. They have to leave many things behind them on the other side of the door.

The scene repeats itself, with the man going to the kitchen for a drink, hearing the noise from the kitchen or the bathroom, until the two become convinced the noises have moved onto their side of the oak door into their wing of the house. “Han tomado este parte / They taken over our section” Irene said.  There and then at 11PM they decide to  leave the house leaving behind them everything, their clothes, his books, her knitting and 15,000 pesos hidden in the wardrobe. On exiting the house, he locks the door and flings the key down the drain because “It would not do for some poor devil to decide to rob the house now it has been taken over”.

A strange short story. When reading it I assumed it was either a ghost story or a nightmare due to the recurrent nature of both the knitting of the sister and of him hearing the noises. In fact Cortázar himself said in an interview that it was written from a nightmare of his own – “One of my first and most popular stories, “House Taken Over,” is a nightmare I had. I got up immediately and wrote it.” Whoever/whatever has taken over the house is never identified, because neither the brother or the sister make any attempt to investigate the causes of the noise. They have been trapped in the house by their past, their mundane life existing on a day to day basis without change or excitement, without contact with others. Then they are trapped in ever reducing set of rooms by their fear of the unknown. Only at the end do they appear to break free and venture forth into the world beyond their house. Perhaps a story of grief and grieving.

Spanish learnings:  I made a mental note of interest of the similarity between to knit = tejer, el tejido = the knitting  and el tejado = the roof, tejar = to tile

Wednesday 11 February 2015

My Spanish Challenge

In my 30s I read a lot of Latin American literature, fell in love with magical realism and made a promise to myself that once I was retired I would take my basic tourist level Spanish and not only brush it up but improve it to the level where I could read the Hispanic classics in their original language. My  ideal goal would be to read Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which in the meantime I promised never to read in English.  Whether I ever make it to that pinnacle, is in many ways irrelevant: what matters is the journey there.

So I have been taking Spanish classes this past year, going back to basics to learn properly that which I had taught myself and just picked up along the way. It is slow going this going back to beginner level – sitting there with students with much less vocabulary, doing the basics like the Present Tense etc, but it also lets me know not only what I know but more importantly what I didn’t know. The group, now on its second course together, is of mixed ability, mixed requirement and mixed time to spend learning. Luckily I have found 2 other woman of like mind and the 3 of us compliment each other very well with our Spanish skills sets. One has a very clear voice and articulates the language very well; the other had learnt Spanish years before at school and this course is bringing it all back – she is stronger on the grammar points; and I would say I was strongest on the vocabulary. We have taken to meeting outside of the class and working in more depth on new readings, doing extra exercises etc. I think it is working well.

Alongside this I have on my own now started to read some more adult stories – no not adult in that sense !– just more interesting reads than the “in the hotel” or “at the train station” scenarios of textbooks and courses which after a while do get a bit  boring.  I wanted to set myself a private challenge to maintain my interest levels and since I think reading improves vocabulary enormously. Being an avid reader anyway and quite often reading short stories with my Constant Reader buddies online, this form provides the ideal starting point.  So a few weeks ago I sat down with my first proper story which I had not read before in English. It was The Blizzard  - La Tempestad de Nieva by Pushkin. Yes, I found difficult. Then on Sunday I sat down with my second  - Emma Zunz by Jorge Luis Borges. I decided, as much for my own benefit as anything, to write a few words here to record progress on this challenge.

Both stories have been a challenge. With the  Borges, I have not read much of his work in English so I was not familiar with his style. I have had to sit with the dictionary and consult it several times a paragraph. I found some of the sentence structures quite difficult -  usually those in the passive voice which really test out my verb tense recognition skills. But I got there!  Now the challenge is to remember the new words and try to apply some of them in my writings and speech within the class and the group in order to reinforce them in my memory :)

Monday 9 February 2015

Fox furs

I can imagine

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

dawning her fox fur stole

elegantly stepping out onto Kensington High Street.


Much the same as mum

would proudly wear

her chinchilla gloves

to church on winter Sunday mornings.


In the dressing up box

Auntie Jessie’s clothes from another era

would come out for another play

The crepe de chine cocktail dress -  navy with yellow orchids;

The Chinese silk -  bright red and gold;

and the furs.


My small hands would stroke each one in turn,

these soft, fusty comforters,

but only till I touched their feet, their face.

When I would stop,

wrap them in their white tissue paper shrouds

and ever so gently

return them to their suitcase.


© Sheila Ash 9th February 2015

Friday 6 February 2015

A challenge to our concept of a character or plot based novel

The Wandering Falcon


Jamil Ahmad

This is an engaging book about a part of the world I have never been to but always wanted to travel to.

According to Kamila Shamsie who reviewed this book for the Guardian/Observer , “In the early 70s, Ahmad, a civil servant in those parts of Pakistan now frequently in the news with the adjective "lawless" appended to them, wrote a collection of loosely interlinked stories about the people and tribes among whom he'd been working. More than three decades later, his brother turned on the radio and heard about a short story competition in its inaugural year – he submitted Ahmad's entire manuscript. It arrived past the deadline and the judges (of whom I was one) never saw any of the stories. But the critic Faiza Sultan Khan, who was co-founder and administrator of the prize, saw the promise in the manuscript and sent it to an editor at Penguin India. Now, at 78, Ahmad is a published writer in a world that has become familiar with many of the names in his writing – Waziristan, the Mehsuds – for reasons that would have been impossible to predict nearly four decades ago.”

Set in the decades before the rise of the Taliban, this region of high desert and mountains was for thousands of years traversed by hundreds of nomadic tribes. The book was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asian  Literary Prize, for its depiction of this highly traditional, honour-bound culture of these peoples as they move from high mountain homes to the plains with the changing seasons.

The book challenges our thoughts as to what constitutes a novel versus a collection of short stories. The child born to runaway lovers in the first section appears in all but one of the other sections and is named only about 1/3 of the way through the book as Tor Baz or Black Falcon. Through the book, he takes on very different personas to survive in life - the orphaned child,  the informer, the guide, the seller of women. It is not so much his story but a series of tales tangentially linked by his presence. Whilst he, as an individual, may be of interest to us Western readers of novels, those seeking a character based or plot based novel will be disappointed. Instead this is the collective story of the peoples of the region, as exemplified by the various tales within the book, that are I suspect what was important to the author as he, in the style of those cultures, tells us stories and fables to convey the moral, social, socio-political  fabric of a world long since disappeared but whose remnants presumably play their part in that area today.

ashramblings verdict 4*  I had assumed that this book might have been through the hands of a translator before I read it, but now I think not. The prose flows beautifully. It is like you are sitting in front of a consummate storyteller listening with ease and being hooked on every word. 

Read more about this book

Thursday 5 February 2015

Thought you knew who Elizabeth Taylor was? Think again!

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont


Elizabeth Taylor

Not an author I had heard of, although seemingly very respected and well known in her time, and not a book I would normally have picked up  but it was recommended by someone at my in person book group and another person mentioned that they had enjoyed the film version with Joan Plowright . A little bot of research revealed that BBC radio Bookclub had celebrated the author’s centenary in 2012 and David Baddiel had spoken about this book available on iplayer and Jim McNaughtie has written about it on the BookClub blog where he says that Baddiel sees Taylor as “the missing link between Jane Austen and John Updike”, and like Updike Taylor has the ability to "give the mundane its beautiful due”. I can really relate to that from reading this novel. The BBC also covered some of her short stories which sadly have no iplayer links available at the time of writing.

Taylor’s prose is soft, gentle to the point of being gentile, and in places it has a quirky tone in which she encapsulates so much in a moment, for example “Silence, almost, in the dining-room. They lowered themselves into their chairs. As they aged, the women seemed to become more like old men, and Mr Osmond became more like an old woman.” Basically set I suppose in predecimalisation, 70s Kensington, London. Mrs Palfrey, a widow, has moved into The Claremont hotel to live out her lonely retirement. After a fall in the street, she is helped by a young struggling writer, Ludovic, whom she passes of as Desmond, her nephew, to her fellow residents. Ludo, honest but hard up, is happy to go along with the deception in return for dinner and a source of inspiration for his writings on elderly women. You really care about what happens to both of them. Unsurprisingly, “le vrai Desmond” turns up grudgingly on orders from his mother, Mrs Palfrey daughter who lives in Scotland. Tragically, the ending is inevitable as this is a story of the last years of one’s life which the reader can but hope would have been immortalised in the book Ludo is writing and finishes at the tail end of the story “They Weren’t Allowed To  Die There”

ashramblings verdict 3* I can see why Taylor s well regarded but also why she is forgotten – her stories and characters are finely written but come from a bygone era if this one is anything to go by. I am now definitely going to try and get hold of the aforementioned film – I could clearly see Plowright in this role as I read the book.

This is a sweet sad story which makes one hope that the latter years of one’s own life are not so lived whilst at the same time hoping that those who deal with one’s funeral arrangements realise they might not have known everything about your life and your friends.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

A Rune Tale–Tala’s Story

Our Creative Writing tutor arrived for Monday’s class with a bag full of stones, each with a Rune engraved on them.  Each student picked one our of the bag, I got  Laguz/Water . We then had to use this as a trigger for our writing. Here is my first attempt at writing Fantasy .

Tala’s Story

“Thou shalt not pass” bellowed in their ears as they stood on the banks of the Great Divide. Its dark depths haunted their childhood tales with giant serpents and man eating river monsters and they shook in fear. They would surely die either in the seething mass of its waters or from the raging army of Grekans advancing steadily behind them. Many decided their end was night and fell to their knees weeping and wailing. Others held their children close so their young eyes would not witness the approaching horror as it befell them. But one young woman’s voice shouted back. Initially trembling Tala grew stronger, shouting “We shall. Who are you to deny us passage? Neme is with us and we shall prevail. I carry her stone” For round her neck hung the symbol of Neme, handed down from mother to daughter through the ages, secretly so no one else knew their power. Tala had inherited it when her mother died, as she had from Tala’s grandmother before her. She’d been told all the ways, all the invocations, incantations and recitations, all the books of old. Stories as she had always thought of them as a child and she was little more than that now at 14. But something stirred in her and she knew what she had to do. Her time had come. Only she had the power. One she could save her people and lead them the rest of the journey to freedom and the new land beyond the Great Divide. The River Lord should bend to Neme. If only she could remember the right words. So she started to recall the Words she had sat for hours listening to her mother drill into her.

“By the hand of Neme the Powerful the Magnificent, lord of all nature. I, Tala, only daughter of Topa from her union with Tepe, son of Toma, granddaughter Taima and her union with Tredo ……speak for the people of ……”

At first Tor, the River Lord, would not be subdued and his waters flowed fast and furious, raging and crashing his fists he created huge waves that crashed into t he shore, threatening to engulf all the people standing their and pull them into him. The people were very scared. But as Tala progressed through her heritage and the source of her authority he calmed. A huge white horse head spumed out from the water and came to within inchaes of her face. The River Lord scrutinised her face, pierced through here yes into her very inner soul. Trembling she stood her ground, the neckstone held high and defiant. Tor shook his mane and was appeased and soften into a supplicant tone. “I, Tor, Lord of the waters of the Great Divide, keeper of the Deep, Master of the water beings, recognise the authority granted to Tala, daughter of Topa out of Taima, daughter of Timee and Priestess of Neme. You and your people may pass. But do so quickly because you have evil on your heels.” In one tremendous wave of his hand he parted the Great Divide and the children of Neme passed through the waters of the Great Divide and arrived safely in the land beyond which they called Nemia, which is where we stay to this day.

© Sheila Ash, 2015.

Monday 2 February 2015


It was Holocaust memorial Week last week and I happened to watch one of the programmes on TV. It was about the lives of several very different people who had survived and were alive when Auschwitz was liberated. They came from different backgrounds – a Polish Jew, a Central European Sinti. the programme also included an interview with the German grandson of the Camp Commandant who is the only member of his family who does not deny The Holocaust. I was very touched by how differently they had chosen and been able to deal with handling their horrific experiences, the different ways they told their children and the lasting effects on themselves and on their children. One in particular stood out. Now living in American and looking like a balding version of Ralph Richardson, Max Epstein now, like so many survivors, talks to school children so the world never forgets. I was particularly struck by him saying that after liberation all he wanted was to forget so he “chose to remember the sparks” because in the camps “ the smallest acts of kindness shone like sparks in the dark”.

With apologies for any errors caused by my memory from the programme and with some poetic license on my part, here is my most unworthy tribute.


I was born in Lodz

I lived in the ghetto and camps

where the smallest acts of kindness

shone like sparks in the dark.

My name is Max.


I am an old man now

my hair is receding

its colour all but gone

But I choose to remember the sparks.

My name is Max Epstein.


I wanted to forget

but it was impossible to do

I told my children

“if I loose my arm, they’ll know where to return it to”.

My name is Max Epstein and I am a Jew.


I have children and grandchildren a plenty

who generate life anew

The very thing they wanted extinguished

simply because

I was

Max Epstein, Jew, 17702.


© Sheila Ash, 2015

Sunday 1 February 2015

The Hat

Bobby Charlton should have had one. Never embarrassed by his single hair straddled across his bald head which we all agreed just looked plain silly. A hat, or perhaps more appropriately for a Northerner, a cap would have been more stylish, but then hats were out of fashion. 1960s men preferring to let their hair flow wild. “Roll back the window and let the wind blow back your hair” but Springsteen’s wind was never so wild as we were facing now amidst the sand storm that rolled in around us as we arrived in Turpan covering our heads and eyes with anything to hand, shielding them from the fierce, fiery cutting edges of the flying silica as we made a mad dash from bus to hotel foyer. He’d moved his stall inside, I think. 3 rows of hats made of fur and skins, all shapes and sizes, black, white and piebald like the plainsman’s horses of his ancestor Genghis Khan. The Uighur salesman claiming his winter warmers were the best bet for our delicate western heads unused to such exposures and extreme.

© Sheila Ash, 2015

Early memories

Monday morning

washboard rhythms

dancing Fairy suds.

The heavy mangle

loaded up

clasped in place across the sink

squeezing, pushing, pressing

water gushing, dripping.

Clothes on the line breezing

Tea on the go brewing

Mum singing.


Soft berry summer days

sweet smells

burning red hot pinkish scum

That enormous jam pot

busy atop the stove.

Glass jars lie in wait throughout the kitchen

saucers at the doorstep setting

bees at the saucers buzzing

me licking my lips.


© Sheila Ash, 19th January 2015

The challenge – 13 short stories in 13 days–No. 13 and my final thoughts

The American Lover


Rose Tremain

Story 13 – 21st-Century Juliet

Decided not to wait till tomorrow to read the final instalment in this short story collection and was swept along at break neck speed by a modern day Romeo and Juliet.

Written as a diary and sounding a bit like Adrian Mole meets Bridget Jones, Tremain picks up the pace with this final story and changes tone to be quick, sharp, young and modern.   Casting Juliet as a thirty year old spinster whose upper class family is going broke and who are about to loose their home “Capell House” , “Peregrine “Perry” Paris  as the money-bearing suitor, and Tremain nicknames Juliet's employer, the philistine Aussie Jimmy Anselme, Nursey because “he massages the egos of the rich and famous” . Romeo becomes an illegal migrant builder from Moldovia  letting Tremain bring economic migration, immigration and racialism into play. Perhaps Nursey is the one transfer that works less well.

However, I love it when Tremain goes for this re-telling/ re-working/ re-imagining style which she carries on on each occasion with great skill and aplomb. I agree with the Spectator reviewer “The most successful stories are the three which reimagine key scenes from other writers’ lives or work”. This is when she is at her best namely No.13 - 21st-Century Juliet, No. 8 – The Housekeeper and No. 3 – The Jester of Astapovo.

ashramblings verdict – 5* I thoroughly enjoyed the experienced of reading stories by such a craftsman as Tremain and contrary to some reviewers opinion that these are unconnected stories I think the theme of “doing one’s duty” does tie them together. The fact that I couldn’t wait to read the final story says it all. Highly recommended.

The challenge – 13 short stories in 13 days–No. 11 and 12

The American Lover


Rose Tremain

Story 11 – Lucy and Gaston

Lucy cannot go near the water. She fears the sea which she believes is the resting place of her wartime pilot husband, father of her only child, a daughter he never knew.

Across the Channel in France, Gaston stubbornly refuses to let his son  Paul plant trees in the flood prone meadow of their farm in order to improve the drainage. His father had been very keen to plant willows in the very same spot but never did because he was killed on the road home during the war.

Tremain paints an emotional tapestry of events to tie their two stories together in both wartime and mid 1970s time ending in Lucy’s release from her fear. 

Story 12 The Closing Door

Single mother sees only daughter off at the train station to her first term at boarding school. Both are distraught. Mother follows two other mothers, much happier at the departure of their children, home to see what life she has been missing.

I thought this was perhaps the weakest of the stories so far, perhaps because I am neither a mother nor boarding school educated girl I felt it difficult to relate to this story on any level. The old adage “When one door closes another opens” springs to mind and all I felt at the end of this story was predictably the door was opening for the child, but as for the mother….it was her who was left at a loss in unfamiliar territory, both geographically having followed the women to Sloane Square instead of going home to Muswell Hill and emotionally, wanting to exclaim “I don’t know what I’m meant to do now”.

ashramblings verdict  - No. 12 was probably my least enjoyed story of the collection so far, perhaps I was just missing something in it? To me it didn’t have the intensity that her other stories have had.  I read somewhere that many of the stories in this collection had been published separately elsewhere, so maybe it was written earlier, I just don’t know. But something didn’t gel with it for me.

Last story tomorrow!