Not long back from a week in the French countryside. Time to reflect, to read, to sit and drink in the landscape, the deep blue sky and fields of maize and sunflowers. Terracotta tiled roofs, delicate orange poppies, pots of carmine geraniums, beds of red sage, lavender and rosemary. Self seeded walnut trees and catalpa. Tall, flamboyant hollyhocks. Masses of small yellow daisies which close up their petals at night, wake up with the sun. Dew on the grass in the morning. Going for a run (unheard of for me) up a track between fields, cows eyeing us languidly, on through a farm, saying bonjour to the donkey who brays so mournfully, on past the house that used to be known as the colonel’s daughter’s house (how that phrase struck me on our first visit several years ago, became the seed for a poem), up a short slope, panting along the last stretch, past a chained farm dog straining to get at us. Puffed, thirsty, chuffed to have done it. And soon ready to get stuck into weeding our hosts’ veg patch before the sun is too high and too hot. Eager to earn our gardening stripes, we clear between onions and broad beans, rip out rampant acacia, dig up the last small bulbs of garlic. Later, we’ll eat freshly dug new potatoes. Now, we ache in the best way, feel we’ve earned a lunchtime bevvy.
And reading outside, in the shade of an umbrella, Patrick White‘s last, unfinished novel The Hanging Garden, published in this his centenary year. Wartime Sydney; two children, English evacuee Gilbert Horsfall and Greek-Australian refugee Eirene Sklavos, are thrown together in a crumbling house with a wild ramshackle garden. Guilt and suffering, the concept of pneuma, the brash ugliness of suburban Australia, the cutting details and spot on lingo; all the trademark Patrick White elements are there, and of course his uncompromising, unmistakable fashioning of sentences. Reading, tantalised at what the novel might have become, but still stimulated and excited to have this first section delivered into the world.