Gardening Blues

This is my third gardening update and I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to forgive the slightly pessimistic tone of this blogpost because my horticultural endeavours are Not Going Well. I was away for almost the whole of July and despite having some lovely people come round and water the plants/feed the pets while we were on holiday, the garden now seems to be struggling a bit.

I planted out my 4 zucchini plants in between the rows of spring onions in one of the raised beds before we left, but it seems that some hungry bugs have been munching on them because the leaves have all but disappeared on two of them and the other two are also looking a bit disheveled. I had high hopes for these, seeing as they grew so quickly in the pots, but it looks like we might be struggling to get any zucchinis this year. Perhaps if I buy some slug pellets or other type of bug repellent, they might do a bit better, but I’m not feeling terribly optimistic.

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The carrots, on the other hand, are still growing nicely – they seem to be the only outdoor plants that are thriving right now – which is odd, because I thought I had read somewhere that carrots were not ideal veggies for beginners. Having said that, I know from previous experience that they might be green and bushy on top without having much going on below the soil, so there may still be a distinct lack of actual carrots later on!

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The small tub of radishes I planted also didn’t make it, which is rather disheartening, because I had read in several places that radishes are super easy to grow, but it might be that the containers weren’t right and perhaps didn’t have enough soil. I might try them again if I have some seeds left – and this time, lavish a bit more care and attention on them!

The most disappointing of all, however, are my strawberry plants, which seem to have developed a fungal disease called Leaf Scorch. Apparently this can be caused by “overhead watering” which I think is what I’ve been doing, as well as overall damp conditions. The soil hasn’t seemed overly damp, hence me watering them on a regular basis, but perhaps I’ve been watering them too much. Apparently thinning out the plants, ceasing overhead watering and re-planting with new, unaffected plants after the season is finished can help to control the disease, so that’s my plan for now. If anyone has any other tips or suggestions, please let me know! Its a particular disappointment because the poor plants were doing so well up until this point; they were flowering and ready to produce fruit, but now they all seem to be dying. Ah well, this is as much, if not more, of a learning experience as growing healthy plants would be, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

My indoor plants are doing somewhat better – especially the hot peppers, which are now enormous. However, they are now a problem, because I had to re-plant two of them in bigger pots that won’t fit on the windowsill, but I also can’t put them outside because it seems to be too windy, even in the somewhat sheltered porch! I did try it, but after a day the plants were actually losing leaves because of the wind, so I brought them indoors again. I guess I need a mini greenhouse or something, so they can be outside and absorbing sunshine, but protected from the wind.

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My spearmint is also FINALLY growing – still very slowly, but it is at last making progress. So it’s not all doom and gloom!

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My plan for the next couple of weeks is to start again with the radishes (in a more suitable container with lots of decent soil), maybe buy some slug pellets to protect the zucchinis and perhaps remove some of the strawberry plants that look like they’re too sick to recover. Hopefully I’ll have better news in my next update. Onwards and upwards!

 

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My Top Five Audiobooks

I adore reading and devour books whenever I get the opportunity to sit and read for a few minutes. But I also spend a fair amount of time walking or driving around rather than just sitting still and it is not advisable to be reading a book while doing either of these activities. Audiobooks are an excellent way to cram yet more reading in to a busy lifestyle, because you can be doing something else while listening to a book, plus you get the added bonus of someone reading to you, which is something most people last experienced as a child, when their parents read them a bedtime story.

I’ve sometimes heard people say that they are not keen on audiobooks because they don’t like having to listen to a story and would rather read at their own pace. I admit that when I first started using audiobooks, I found that I needed to concentrate a bit more than I would when reading on my own, because I wasn’t used to listening to voices for such long periods of time. At one point, however, I was listening to audiobooks more than I was reading actual books, and when I started reading books again, I found that I had to adjust a second time, because now it seemed to take more effort to read for myself than to listen to someone else. I currently have a good balance of books and audiobooks, which means that I get the best of both worlds.

Before discussing my top five audiobooks – and hopefully giving those new to audiobooks some suggestions for where to start – I want to mention two important points. First, audiobooks are usually pretty expensive. It generally works out better to buy them through Audible, or even to buy the CDs on Amazon and then upload them to your computer later. However, it is even cheaper – sometimes actually free – to borrow them from your local library. I would recommend trying all of these things before going to your local Waterstones, where audiobooks are generally about £20 each and thus, in my opinion at least, prohibitively expensive.

The second and most important point about audiobooks is one that probably seems blindingly obvious, but is nevertheless worth reiterating. The narrator must be very, very good. Just as badly written books can be intensely irritating to read, badly read audiobooks can be painful to listen to. Even when the narrator is good, sometimes something about their voice (pitch, accent etc) can be really grating – and this is often something that is personal to you, other people might love a particular narrator, but you may find them unbearable. In my list, I have mentioned four narrators that are absolutely superb at what they do. The other audiobook is read by a group of people rather than one single person – although they, too, are all extremely good.

  1. Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome, read by Hugh Laurie

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My first choice for my top five is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It still amazes me that this was written in the late 19th century, because it still sounds so fresh – and hilarious! Initially intended as a piece of travel-writing, but marketed as a comic story, Three Men In A Boat tells the story of three guys (and a dog) going on a boat trip down the Thames and describes in great detail the various adventures that they experience along the way. The reader, Hugh Laurie, is best known for his role in House, or, if you’re British, for his parts in Blackadder and Jeeves & Wooster. He is also a talented musician and is a magnificent audiobook narrator. It seems unfair for one person to possess such a staggering amount of talent in so many areas, but he is so very good at what he does that we can forgive him. He has also narrated some other books that I love, but this is the one that I go back to again and again and again. Unfortunately it is an abridged version (about two and a half hours), but his voice and narrative style are so perfect for this book that I don’t even care.

2) Just William by Richmal Crompton, read by Martin Jarvis

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I have always adored the Just William series and still re-read them occasionally. Although they appear to be children’s books, they were actually originally aimed at adults, something that is abundantly clear when you read them as an adult and can appreciate how utterly bonkers some of William’s escapades are. Martin Jarvis has narrated many other audiobooks, but his readings of the William books are the best, in my opinion. Like Hugh Laurie and TMIAB, he hits just the right note in terms of tone and style, capturing William’s indignant attitude towards the apparently insufferable adults in his life perfectly. Miriam Margoyles selected the Just William audiobooks as one of her Desert Island Discs, so clearly I am not the only one who appreciates Jarvis’ talents!

3) Literally anything by PG Wodehouse, read by Jonathan Cecil

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Martin Jarvis has also narrated some of PG Wodehouse’s books, but, apart from the fact that his versions are usually abridged, his readings do not quite cut the mustard, for me. I much prefer the beautifully modulated tones of Jonathan Cecil, who narrated the Jeeves stories, the Ukridge stories and several others. Sadly Cecil passed away a couple of years ago, before completing his readings of the whole Wodehouse oeuvre, all of which I would have purchased, had it been available. He does all the characters wonderfully well and his voice somehow matches Wodehouse’s world in a way that is difficult to describe, but just works for me. There is also a wonderful moment in his narration of Love Among the Chickens, very near to the beginning, where he is obviously struggling not to burst out laughing at the line he is reading, which I just love. This also happens with Hugh Laurie reading another book – it should really, I suppose, irritate the reader and distract from the story, but I think it just enhances the whole experience, to know that the narrator is not detached from the story, but is enjoying it just as much as the listener.

4) Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, read by Alan Bennett, Julie Walters, Thora Hird, Maggie Smith, Patricia Routledge, David Haig, Eileen Atkins, Penelope Wilton and Stephanie Cole.

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This is an odd one to include and I must admit that I struggled to decide on what to pick, after selecting the other four, rather like when I was trying to choose my top five Wodehouse books. The first four came easily, but the fifth took some serious pondering. I finally chose this one, because although I listen to other audiobooks more often, they are mainly books read by the four other narrators on this list and I wanted to include five different readers, for variety’s sake. In fact, there are a number of different readers for this audiobook, which is a collection of Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, read by several very well known actors. The monologues cover a range of themes and characters and are by turns poignant, playful, creepy, heartbreaking and, in a couple of cases, seriously unnerving. Hearing one character speak alone for about 20 minutes sounds rather boring, but Bennett’s extremely sharp observation of human nature and the way we behave and react towards those around us ensures that these stories will stay with you long after you have finished listening to them.

5) Harry Potter by JK Rowling, read by Stephen Fry

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Last, but by absolutely no means least, my favourite audiobook series so far – Harry Potter. The magical world that JK Rowling created is brought to rich, colourful, joyous life by the effulgent Stephen Fry. He too has read a wide variety of audiobooks, but this is the absolute pinnacle of his narrative work. Despite the vast cast of characters in the Potter world, Fry manages to create distinct and memorable voices for each one, to the point where, even when you haven’t heard from a character for a while, when they suddenly pop up again in the story with no introduction, they are instantly recognisable from their voice alone. I don’t have enough superlatives to tell you how brilliant these audiobooks are – and if you happen to be an HP fan, they are an absolute must-listen.

So there you have my top five audiobooks! I do hope this list encourages you to try at least one of them – and if anyone is persuaded to give audiobooks in general a go after reading this, I would be absolutely delighted!

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Gardening Update!

Wow, I’ve just realised that it’s been almost two months since my first garden-related post back in April! I’ve been meaning to do an update for a while, but I’m actually glad I waited until today because I have much more to talk about now.

First of all, thank you to everyone who read my last post, and especially to those who commented – I loved reading all your thoughts on gardening and your useful tips and advice!

I mentioned in my first post that this gardening malarkey was something of an experiment for me and I didn’t have huge hopes of growing vast amounts of food, I would just be happy to see what happened and learn from my mistakes. Having said that, I have to confess to being rather disappointed when none of my carrots or spring onions germinated…I think this may have been because I planted them too early – there were a couple of cold spells after I planted them that may have finished them off before they had a chance to begin. This means that one of my raised beds is still empty. I’m not sure whether to try planting something else in there, or just to leave it for this year. I do have a few seeds I haven’t tried yet (lettuce and tomatoes) and some carrot seeds left, so I could try those and see what happens. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or advice on this!

After planting the carrots and spring onions, I discovered some tubs in the garage left there by the previous owners and decided to bung in some zucchini in one and some radishes in the other. Despite making sure there were holes in the bottom of the containers, the soil remained remarkably damp after several days of rain and I think this may be why the zucchini didn’t germinate. At this point, as you may imagine, I was somewhat disheartened by my failure to produce even a few seedlings – HOWEVER, yesterday I checked the containers and found that the radishes have actually started growing! At first I was suspicious and thought they might just be weeds, but they’re growing in a fairly neat row, which is how I planted them, so I think they probably are baby radishes.

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Radishes = SUCCESS!!

The strawberry patch is looking much better now that I have cleared all of the dead matter away and given them a bit more room. I was delighted to see so many flowers on the plants – but I read in my gardening book just this evening that it is apparently necessary to cut back any blossoms that appear before “midsummer”, so I may need to eliminate them. I assume this is so that more energy goes in to the plant rather than the flower, but I’m not sure. Furthermore, I don’t know whether “midsummer” refers to the yearly halfway point of June (Midsummer’s Day) or halfway through the summer season of whatever locality you happen to be in. I would guess the author probably means the latter, but in either case, it sounds like the flowers have to be removed.

From the end of April, when it was still pretty chilly and there were few signs of life in the garden, till now, everything in our garden has been growing at an almost alarming rate. This finally resulted in a mammoth tidy-up session this weekend, which involved a severe haircut for our lawn, which was starting to look frankly hippyish,  and a huge amount of pruning of various bushes and shrubs. Our garden now looks much more respectable – and, having cleared out two pots and a hanging baskets by the front door that still had last year’s dead plants in, I was actually able to sow more seeds – snapdragons, freesias and a wildflower mixture. I also discovered, much to my delight, that two stray pansies were growing right by our front doorstep! I adore pansies and had almost given into temptation a couple of weeks ago and bought a tray of them, but I resisted because we already had so much going on in the garden already and I wasn’t really sure where I would put them. And now we actually have a couple of pansies that have grown all by themselves! They must have grown from seeds produced by the pansies that were apparently in the hanging basket last year.

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Surprise pansies!

Finally, here is a picture of part of our garden in full bloom. The tulips are dying off now, but they did look stunning for a few weeks. I’m excited to see what comes up next – I know we have raspberries to look forward to in a couple of months – and the rhododendron will start flowering soon too, but we may get a couple of surprises as well! We haven’t lived here a full year yet, so there may still be something that we haven’t seen.

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Radishes = SUCCESS!!

Oh also, my basil and pepper plants are still doing well – I think the pepper plants may need an even bigger container soon!

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Hopefully next time I’ll have better news on the vegetable front. Thank you for reading!

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

So it looks like spring is slowly beginning to arrive in Newfoundland. Technically spring doesn’t really happen here, winter is just slowly overtaken by summer at some point in June, but there are crocuses blooming and the snowfall is definitely lessening, so I have decided that spring is definitely now arriving, albeit with frequent delays and setbacks!

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Our crocuses have now survived two dumping of snow🙂

When we moved in to our current abode, I was thrilled to note that there were two raised beds already set up in the garden – one of which was full of strawberry plants. I have been desperate to try my hand at properly growing stuff for a while now and this place seemed ideal. We even have a raspberry patch that we share with our neighbour – it’s on the narrow strip of grass and hedge that divides the two houses.

Up until now, we haven’t had much chance to do anything, because of the snow and so forth, but the last couple of days have been fairly bright and sunny, so I decided to seize the opportunity and get out in the garden. I enthusiastically bought some seeds at the dollar store a few months ago and had completely forgotten what I had purchased, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover I had carrot seeds and spring onion seeds, both of which were apparently suitable for sowing in early spring. I may be optimistic in sowing them now, but this is really all experimental – even if we don’t get any veg from them at all this year, it will be interesting to see when and how – or even if – they start to grow.

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Carrots on the left, spring onions on the right!

I discovered to my dismay that the strawberry plants had already started regrowing – this was a problem because I had not thought to remove the dead parts of the strawberry plants from last year, so now the new baby plants are fighting to get through the older, dead plants and there isn’t enough space. Unfortunately, the plants are all matted together, so it’s impossible to just rip up the old ones without dislodging the new plants – in fact, they seem to be joined at the roots, so I will need to buy a pair of secateurs or something and carefully cut away all the dead vegetation – according to strawberry plants.org, anyway.

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Entangled strawberry plants.

I am entirely new to this growing business – apart from an ill-fated attempt to grow carrots in a container during my undergrad years in Liverpool – they grew, but were extremely thin and spindly, so we didn’t get anything edible from them at all! Thankfully, Google is my friend and I’m fairly certain I can find the answers to most queries I might have through a quick search online. However, if anyone reading this has any advice or suggestions, do let me know!

In addition to outdoor plants, I also have a couple of basil plants that were given to me by a friend of a friend – we had our first ‘harvest’ from them a few days ago and they were delicious, so I am very keen for the leaves to grow back so we can use them again! I particularly want to try one of the basil buttercream recipes I’ve just found online – I can’t really imagine what basil buttercream even tastes like, but am deeply curious to try it!

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Basil. My fish (George) is on the left.

 

What else? Oh yes, another friend has given me four sweet pepper plants – unfortunately one is already looking a bit far gone, because I hadn’t realised they needed frequent watering (oops!) but the other three are doing well, so I can hopefully transplant them to a larger container soon.

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Sweet pepper plants. Not sure if the front right one will make it!

Finally, my girlfriend has started growing beansprouts from a tub of mung beans, so we have those to eat too.

Why the sudden fascination with growing our own food? Well for me it isn’t really that sudden – I grew up on a farm and we always had our own fruit and vegetables available, os that just seems natural to me. Plus – and I know this is such a cliche – I really do believe that our homegrown fruit, in particular, tasted better than anything I’ve since bought at a supermarket. The supermarket practice of chilling things like strawberries and raspberries ruins the flavour, in my opinion. Strawberries should be sun-warmed when you eat them, not cold. This may be partly to do with nostalgia, but anyway, fresh fruit and veg is bloody expensive here in Newfoundland (we mainly buy frozen veg for this reason), so anything we can grow ourselves will definitely help both our diets and our grocery bill!

I will post regular garden updates with photos, but I don’t expect anyone else to be particularly interested – there are a bajillion other blogs doing exactly the same thing as this already, and they are probably much better organised and more engaging – I think this will mainly be for my own benefit, so I can keep track of our progress over the next few months.

I will of course still be posting my usual blogposts about various topics of interest, so this definitely won’t turn into a gardening-only blog!

Thanks for reading🙂 If you have any tips or advice, or just want to share your own stories about growing food/flowers etc, I would love to hear from you, so please do comment or message me!

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Thoughts on Life Dissatisfaction & the Desire to Trade Places with Someone Else

I don’t have time to write a full blogpost this month, as I have several BIG deadlines to meet in the next week, but I wanted to post something, even if it was fairly short.

So I hereby present you with one of my absolute favourite poems.(I saw James Fenton read this poem at a live event a few years ago and it was wonderful to hear it being read by the actual author).  I love the subtle humour, especially the embarrassed-yet-defiant description of drunkenness and the author’s outrage at someone having stolen his life, despite the fact that he himself no longer wanted it! There’s something very human about his reaction there, with which I think pretty much all of us can identify.

 

“The Skip” by James Fenton

I took my life and threw it on the skip,
Reckoning the next-door neighbours wouldn’t mind
If my life hitched a lift to the council tip
With their dry rot and rubble. What you find

With skips is – the whole community joins in
Old mattresses appear, doors kind of drift
Along with all that won’t fit in the bin
And what the bin-men can’t be fished to shift

I threw away my life, and there it lay
And grew quite sodden. ‘What a dreadful shame, ‘
Clucked some old bag and sucked her teeth. ‘The way
The young these days…. no values……. me, I blame….. ‘

But I blamed no-one. Quality control
Had loused it up, and that was that. ‘Nough said
I couldn’t stick at home, I took a stroll
And passed the skip, and left my life for dead.

Without my life, the beer was just as foul,
The landlord still as filthy as his wife,
The chicken in the basket was an owl,
And no one said: ‘Ee, Jim-lad, whur’s thee life? ‘

Well, I got back that night the worse for wear,
But still just capable of single vision;
Looked in the skip, my life- it wasn’t there!
Some bugger’d nicked it – WITHOUT my permission.

Okay, so I got angry and began
To shout, and woke the street. Okay, OKAY,
AND I was sick all down the neighbour’s van
AND I disgraced myself on the par-kay

And then…. you know how if you’ve had a few
You’ll wake at dawn, all healthy, like sea breezes,
Raring to go, and thinking: ‘Clever you!
You’ve got away with it’ and then, Oh Jesus,

It hits you. Well, that morning, just at six
I woke, got up and looked down at the skip.
There lay my life, still sodden, on the bricks,
There lay my poor old life, arse over tip.

Or was it mine? Still dressed, I went downstairs
And took a long cool look. The truth was dawning.
Someone had just exchanged my life for theirs.
Poor fool, I thought – I should have left a warning.

Some bastard saw my life and thought it nicer
Than what he had. Yet what he’d had seemed fine.
He’d never caught his fingers in the slicer
The way I’d managed in that life of mine.

His life lay glistening in the rain, neglected,
Yet still a decent, an authentic life.
Some people I can think of, I reflected
Would take that thing as soon as you’d say Knife.

It seemed a shame to miss a chance like that
I brought the life in, dried it by the stove.
It looked so fetching, stretched out on the mat
I tried it on. It fitted, like a glove.

And now, when some local bat drops off the twig
And new folk take the house, and pull up floors
And knock down walls and hire some kind of big
Container (say, a skip) for their old doors.

I’ll watch it like a hawk, and every day
I’ll make at least – oh – half a dozen trips.
I’ve furnished an existence in this way.
You’d not believe the things you’d find on skips.

 

Actually, this idea of trading lives with someone else has reminded me of this gem from Jerome K Jerome’s “Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow”, which always makes me smile:

One wonders that fancy dress balls are not more popular in this grey age of ours.  The childish instinct to “dress up,” to “make believe,” is with us all.  We grow so tired of being always ourselves.  A tea-table discussion, at which I once assisted, fell into this:—Would any one of us, when it came to the point, change with anybody else, the poor man with the millionaire, the governess with the princess—change not only outward circumstances and surroundings, but health and temperament, heart, brain, and soul; so that not one mental or physical particle of one’s original self one would retain, save only memory?  The general opinion was that we would not, but one lady maintained the affirmative.

“Oh no, you wouldn’t really, dear,” argued a friend; “you think you would.”

“Yes, I would,” persisted the first lady; “I am tired of myself.  I’d even be you, for a change.”

 

Hopefully I’ll be back with a ‘proper’ post next month.

Thanks for reading!

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Overcoming Boggarts, Dementors & Roderick Spode: The Transformation of Emotion as a Coping Strategy

I have been meaning to write a new blogpost for months now, but due to the demands of my clinical psychology course I have been struggling to find the time. The evidence for my plea that this course seems to have taken over my life is clearly illustrated by the fact that even this blogpost has a psychology-related theme to it. It also, however, mentions Harry Potter and Wodehouse, so all is not lost just yet.

In case any of you have eyed the title of this post with scepticism and are concerned that it will in some way be celebrating the “power” of positive thinking, let me reassure you that this is absolutely not the case. I am a confirmed cynic when it comes to affirmations, mantras and “inspirational” quotes – and feel vindicated by studies like this, which demonstrate that positive thinking can actually be harmful rather than beneficial. But why should positive thinking be harmful? Why can’t we just wish our negative thoughts and feelings away? If it doesn’t work, how do we know if we’re just not wishing hard enough?

Having recently learned about emotion-focused therapy in one of my clinical psychology classes, I became interested in the concept of emotion transformation. This is the idea that in order to overcome a maladaptive emotion, it must be replaced with a more adaptive one. “Maladaptive” in this sense means unhelpful or not useful. Examples of maladaptive emotions: fear, shame, guilt etc. These emotions can lead to us feeling stuck and unable to move forward with our lives. Adaptive emotions, on the other hand, are those that help you to process the experience and move on: joy, humour, forgiveness – even anger, in certain cases. Leslie Greenberg (one of the founders of emotion-focused therapy) says that the philosopher Spinoza was the first person to point out that in order to change an emotion, it must be replaced with another emotion (Greenberg, 2002). In other words, all the rationalization and positive thinking in the world will not help you change your maladaptive emotion unless there is a stronger, more powerful emotion to take its place. Thoughts cannot change our emotions – only emotions have the power to transform other emotions.

Greenberg incorporates this idea into the theoretical orientation behind emotion-focused therapy. I won’t go into detail about this here because I don’t suppose it would be particularly interesting to anyone who isn’t studying psychology, but if you want to learn more about emotion-focused therapy and how it works, check out the article in the references section at the end of this post.

While transforming negative emotions may seem at first a purely psychological concept, it occurred to me, even as I read the article, that I had seen examples of this kind of emotional transformation before, in literature. Any of my readers who are Wodehouse fans will no doubt have spotted the Spinoza reference above. I have no idea whether Wodehouse actually read any Spinoza, so the fact that Jeeves uses the theory of emotional transformation to help out Bertie and his friends on several occasions may be a complete coincidence – I suspect it is.

Let me use a quote from Greenberg’s article and a quote from Wodehouse (“The Code of the Woosters”) to illustrate my thoughts on this.

“Thus in therapy, maladaptive fear, once aroused, can be changed by the more boundary-establishing emotions of adaptive anger or disgust, or by evoking the softer feelings of compassion or forgiveness.” ~ Greenberg

 

“Well, as I say, I went to Jeeves, and put the facts before him… He approached the problem from the psychological angle. In the final analysis, he said, disinclination to speak in public is due to fear of one’s audience…We do not, he said, fear those whom we despise. The thing to do therefore, is to cultivate a lofty contempt for those who will be listening to one…You fill your minds with scornful thoughts about them.”  ~ The Code of the Woosters

And there you have it. Gussie Fink-Nottle’s fear of Roderick Spode and Sir Watkyn Bassett is turned into contempt and dislike and he is able to view the prospect of making a speech in front of them with no qualms whatsoever. Jeeves really does know all about the psychology of the individual!

For those among you who have not yet read Wodehouse, I set forth another example – well, two, in fact, from a book series that is so popular, I have no doubt that everyone will be familiar with it. In the third Harry Potter book, Harry has to cope with several new challenges that are of a somewhat darker nature than those he has encountered in his first two years at Hogwarts. As well as trying to solve the usual mystery and intrigue, Harry also has to try to overcome his own fear, as illustrated by his encounters with Boggarts and Dementors. In the first case, Professor Lupin shows Harry and the rest of his class how to beat a Boggart – a creature that turns into the object or person that you most fear and can only be defeated by laughter. This is a perfect example of transforming the maladaptive emotion of fear into a more adaptive one – humour.

“Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears…The charm that repels a boggart is simple, but in requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a boggart is laughter. What you need to do is to force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.” ~ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Of course, when Neville Longbottom is forced to confront his greatest fear (Professor Snape), he manages to overcome his terror by imagining Snape wearing his grandmother’s eccentric and old-fashioned clothes, thus providing considerable amusement for the rest of the class, as well as himself.

The final example I shall mention is also taken from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In this book, Harry encounters Dementors for the first time – dark, soulless creatures who prey on human emotions by sucking all the happiness and hope out of anyone that comes near them. The negative emotions associated with them are fear and despair – both of which are obviously maladaptive. As with the Boggart, the way to defeat a Dementor is to summon up the opposite of despair – a powerful, happy memory:

“‘The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive – but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the Dementors can’t hurt it….’

…‘And how do you conjure it?’

‘With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.’” ~Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Here again, we see that a powerful, positive emotion is used to displace a negative, maladaptive one. Even though Harry has to think of a memory in order to overcome his fear, it is the emotion attached to that memory, rather than the thought itself, that is the key to his success.

The musings that prompted this post have definitely helped me understand the theory of emotion-focused therapy a little better and I hope it might have entertained you as well. As much as I like studying psychology, it definitely adds to that enjoyment when I can also link it to my favourite books!

 

patronus6

 

References

Greenberg, L. (2002). Integrating an Emotion-Focused Approach to Treatment Into Psychotherapy Integration. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 12(2), 154-189.

Rowling, J. K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Wodehouse, P. G. (1938). The Code of the Woosters.

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My Top Five Wodehouse Books

Greetings, dear readers! I have been away for almost the whole of August visiting family and friends back in the UK, so unfortunately I didn’t manage my usual monthly blogpost last month. Hopefully I can now get back on track with two posts in September.

I was thinking recently about my favourite Wodehouse books and decided to try and narrow my favourites down into a Top Five list. This includes two Jeeves books, one stand-alone, one Psmith book and the only full-length Ukridge book. I have not listed them in order of preference – that process would be too drawn-out and agonising – but I have composed a small summary for each one, detailing why I like that particular story and some of the stand-out moments in each book. I know this post will probably be much more interesting for my readers who also happen to be Wodehouse fans, however, I am also secretly hoping that some of you who have not yet read Wodehouse may be intrigued and try one of his books. I am issuing a SPOILER ALERT for all of these because I talk about most of the plots in some detail. 

  1. The Adventures of Sally

Sally

Many people who read Wodehouse do not go beyond the Jeeves and Blandings stories. This, in my opinion, is a mistake. PGW wrote several excellent stand-alone stories and this one is my absolute favourite. It features a superb heroine, the eponymous Sally, who is bright, friendly, smart and very kind, as well as being fiercely independent. You can’t help cheering for her right the way through the story. The hero, Ginger, starts off seeming somewhat diffident and a bit shy, but soon shows himself to be courageous, charming and, of course, hopelessly in love with Sally. Wodehouse stories generally feature one of two main types of love affair. Either there is love at first sight for both parties, or the boy loves the girl, but she isn’t interested in him – at least, not at first. This particular story falls into the latter category. It is unusual in that there are a couple of genuinely sad moments in the book – the most notable being when Sally realises that her previous boyfriend has been messing her about and she suffers real emotional torment over it, before finally being able to move on.

The story also contains some fabulously comic moments (the dog fight scene in particular is very good) and a thoroughly satisfying ending. What more could you want from a book?

  1. Love Among the Chickens

Chickens

This is the only full-length Ukridge story, the rest all being short stories. It is also the first one that Wodehouse wrote, which seems odd when you realise that Ukridge introduces his new wife Millie in the first few pages, but she is never mentioned in any of the other stories. I rather like Millie – she is so utterly trusting and supportive of her husband, in spite of his glaring faults and madcap schemes! In this particular story, Ukridge has decided to make his fortune by starting a chicken farm on the south west coast of England and inveigling his long-suffering friend Jeremy Garnet into helping him set up this new enterprise. Unsurprisingly, chaos ensues. The chickens cause far more trouble than one would have imagined, Jeremy falls in love with the neighbour’s daughter, their diets become increasingly restricted to seemingly endless variations on the theme of chickens and Ukridge manages to enrage all of the local tradesmen.

I took a while to warm to the short stories featuring Ukridge, but I have always loved this book. I am not quite sure why this should be the case – perhaps because there is more to this story than Ukridge’s usual bungling approach to money-making – for example, Jeremy’s romance with Phyllis, and minor characters such as Phyllis’ father, the peppery old professor who boils over at the least mention of his home country of Ireland. Lastly, there are (how could there not be?) some superbly funny scenes – including almost any that involve the chickens, particularly the supercilious Aunt Elizabeth, Millie’s cat Edwin getting stuck in the chimney and saving the professor from drowning to name just a few. It’s one of Wodehouse’s oldest works (first published in 1906 and later revised in 1921) but that just shows what a wonderful storyteller he was, even right at the beginning of his career.

  1. The Mating Season

MatingSeason

I have recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Mating Season for the umpteenth time. It is my favourite Jeeves book for many reasons, but primarily because of the village concert scene, which features the appalling Kegley Bassington posse, Gussie & Catsmeat’s tragic cross-talk act and Esmond Haddock’s smash-hit performance of “A-Hunting We Will Go”. Everything about this scenario is fabulously funny. If you have never read this particular Jeeves book, I urge you to go out and find a copy immediately. You will not be disappointed.

As well as the village concert, the book also features some outstanding supporting characters, including the aforementioned E. Haddock, Corky & Catsmeat Pirbright, Constable Dobbs, Sam Goldwyn and, of course, the ‘surging sea’ of aunts who reside at Deverill Hall, led by the magnificent Dame Daphne Winkworth.

There are no fewer than four active romances going on in this book, along with the ridiculous situation involving Gussie Fink-Nottle and Bertie having to impersonate each other for most of the story. I have absolutely no idea how PGW not only manages to come up with such a screwball plot, but keeps it all together perfectly and maintains such a high level of hilarity throughout the whole book. It really is staggeringly good. If I was forced to choose just one Wodehouse novel to take on a desert island, this would probably be it.

  1. Psmith in the City

Psmith

I think I am probably right in saying that the majority of Wodehouse fans rate “Leave it to Psmith” highest of all the stories featuring Psmith. I’m not entirely sure why I prefer this book to LitP, but it probably has something to do with the fact that the story is semi-autobiographical. I love getting a more direct insight into an author’s mind and that usually only occurs when a story is wholly or partly based on a phase of their own life. Wodehouse was not able to go to university after finishing school, so he had to go and work in a bank. He was not suited to the work and it was almost certainly a relief for both him and the bank when he finally left to become a full-time writer. The start of this book sees Mike being told by his father that he cannot go to university like his brothers, but must go and work in a bank. There is a rather beautiful, melancholy moment when Mike, having just moved to his rather depressing new lodgings in the city, sits on a bench and gazes longingly at the playing fields of a local school, wishing he was back there again. It is not difficult to imagine the young Wodehouse having a similar experience during the first few days of his new career. The story follows Mike and his friend Psmith as they settle in to their new lives as bank clerks. Mike muddles along fairly well most of the time, but Psmith – a person for whom the word effulgent might have been invented – is on his finest form here, as he gently torments their boss (the irascible Mr Bickersdyke) and cunningly befriends the jittery Mr Rossiter, so he will not report any of their minor indiscretions to Mr Bickersdyke. Anyone reading this book who works or has worked in a office job must surely have longed for their own, real-life version of Psmith, to help brighten up the dull monotony of office life and bring the sunshine back into their souls. The ending is everything it should be and Mike and Psmith’s final escape is positively heroic!

  1. The Inimitable Jeeves

Jeeves

I had serious trouble choosing the fifth book for this list. The first four were very easy, but this one was more of a challenge. I wanted to make sure I picked something that I would be happy to read/listen to over and over again, like the first four. But nothing immediately sprang to mind, unlike the first four, which were very easy to select. I had thought about choosing a Blandings novel, but (apart from Leave it to Psmith), none of the Blandings stories stand out for me. Then I realised that The Inimitable Jeeves was one that I had re-read on numerous occasions and contained several of my very favourite Jeeves stories, so this book won out.This Jeeves book is really a collection of short stories, which are all connected by Bingo Little’s seemingly hopeless romantic pursuits, finally terminating in his joyful union with the popular novelist Rosie M. Banks. My favourite story within this book is probably “Comrade Bingo”, in which Bingo pretends to be a communist in order to further his romantic cause with the ghastly Charlotte Corday Rowbotham. The exquisitely funny scene when Bingo, Charlotte, her father and Comrade Butt come to Bertie’s flat for tea is just superb.

Bingo’s uncle Lord Bittlesham is also a splendid supporting character – and he is wonderfully voiced by Jonathan Cecil in the audiobook. As most Wodehouse fans know, Bingo does finally find his soulmate and settles down to a life of married bliss.

So there you have my top five Wodehouse books. Do you agree with my choices? Which ones would you choose to go in your top five? Should we even attempt to single out favourites at all? Do let me know your thoughts!

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