Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us. SIR THOMAS BROWNE Urn-Burial
Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy; neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. For we are born at all adventure, and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been; for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart, which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air, and our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof. For our time is a very shadow that passeth away, and after our end there is no returning; for it is fast sealed, so that no man cometh again. Come on, therefore, let is enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments; and let no flower of the spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered; let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness, let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place; for this is our portion, and our lot is this. The Wisdom Of Solomon, ii, 1-9
These two quotations preface John Hadfield's A Book Of Beauty, which was published in 1952, and was one of my mother's favourite anthologies.
Yesterday was my mother's birthday. She died on 3 November 2004 at the age of 82 after suffering Alzheimer's disease for five years. During that time my father - himself in his mid-80s - looked after her as best he could for four out of those five years.
When my dad died on 13 January 2009 I rescued some of mum's treasured books from the old family home - poetry books, travel books, history books, reminiscences of rural life, Bibles, a beautiful 1911 edition of The Works Of Shakespeare, TE Lawrence's Seven Pillars Of Wisdom. She had been an avid reader all her life. Religiously halfway through each morning she would make herself a cup of coffee and do a little Bible study. Every Saturday she changed her books at the public library and brought home takeaway fish and chips for our lunch. It's from her I inherited my passion for books and reading and poetry, and my love of nature and the countryside.
She also used to keep commonplace books, and make scrapbooks of poems, pictures, old magazine and newspaper cuttings. In the late 1970s a facsimile edition of Edith Holden's nature diary for the year 1906 was published in the UK under the title The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady. It became an instant bestseller. My mum loved this book. So, when Nature Notes of The Country Dairy Of An Edwardian Lady came out in the early 1980s, I gave her a copy. It's inscribed 'Christmas 1983', and mum filled in the entries for every single day of 1984. Above is a page from the book showing her birthday week (double-click to enlarge). On her birthday, 18 February, she wrote in a neat, tiny hand: My birthday. Perfect Spring day - blue sky & no clouds. Several blackbirds in garden.