In the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, the narrator remembers his childhood when tasting a madeleine cake dipped in tea. I get pulled back to my childhood by the sight of a wall topped with blue bricks.
The house I grew up in had this sort of wall facing the street, and I hadn’t really noticed it was a regional thing until this trip. The blue bricks are made from Etruria Marl, a red clay found in Staffordshire, which turns blue when fired in a high temperature, low oxygen environment. They are particularly strong and water resistant, so you see them a lot in the canal system, as well as being used to cap walls.
I was taken back to Walsall again today when a boat called Sister Dora went past. Sister Dora was an Anglican nun and nurse who worked at the hospital in Walsall in the 1800s. Though she had no formal medical training, she became a better practical surgeon than the doctors she was working with, dealing with the victims of the industrial accidents that were common in the factories and railways of the West Midlands before modern health and safety laws. She was adored by her patients, and after her death from breast cancer at the age of forty six, a statue of her was put up in central Walsall. It’s claimed to be the first public statue of a woman in the UK who was not royalty or a saint. Of course, the boat was owned by a Walsall couple, because nobody from anywhere else has ever heard of her.
I picked my first ripe wild blackberries of the season today.
That means we’ve gone strait from Aprille with his shoures soote to mists and mellow fruitfulness with only about six days of actual summer in between.
We are moored in Newbold-on-Avon, just north of Rugby. We’re close to a park that was made out of a disused quarry.
Of course, the words disused quarry immediately bring to mind all those low budget Doctor Who episodes from the 1980s where the local quarry stood in for whatever planetary surface was being infested by Ice Warriors, Silurians, or Cybermen. However, this one seemed to be entirely free of hostile alien life forms, or even BBC extras in rubber body suits. They must have been hiding in the undergrowth.
Then there’s this.
A convoy of battle swans. Look at the size of that family. If every pair of swans has eight offspring every year, in ten years the entire country will be twenty two feet deep in swans. The only solution is to increase the number of natural enemies the swans have. Due to a strange quirk of the law, the only people in the UK allowed to eat swans are the queen and the fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge. There would probably be some pathetic constitutional objections to cloning the queen, but St John’s could easily start handing out honorary fellowships to anyone hungry enough to eat swan. (I hear they taste pretty fowl.) It’s either that or we all drown in white feathers, webbed feet, and vicious pecky beaks.
I would summarize the rest of Proust for you, but nobody’s ever read further than half way through Swann’s Way so the rest of the plot rests in a state of quantum uncertainty, like Schrödinger’s cat, poised between murder mystery and romcom. I’d hate to spoil it for you.