Another Christmas has come and gone, another New Year’s Eve celebration followed it as always and has also passed and now we are back to the everyday life that we know.
All the festivities and fun are great. It’s always good to catch up with friends and family and what better time than at Christmas and New Year? But don’t you feel rather flat when the day has passed, the friends have left for home and things are really no different than they were on December 24th? If like me, you were lucky to receive some gifts and now you have a few more ‘things’ to find places for, you will be adding the fact that you have friends and family who care to your Gratitude List.
Here in the Southern Hemisphere of course, it is summer (?) Well here in Wellington we had a glorious Christmas Day – Mother Nature pulled out all the stops, sunshine, no wind and not even a hint of rain. The next day was the same but since then we have had a really mixed bag. Sunny and warm one day, overcast and windy the next. Today we are living through gale force winds. We went for a walk in the Town Belt (625 hectares of Crown-held land “reserved for the enjoyment of the public and not to be built upon,”) that circles our city. Unfortunately it was a very short walk as the wind was so strong that several times it threatened to blow me over – and Lotte? Well her ears were blown right back as we walked into the wind and forward over her face when we walked in the other direction. Really it is not at all the warm, dry summer we were promised.
Many people are away on their Christmas/Summer holidays and this weather is not helping them enjoy themselves. In the South Island we have heavy rain warnings in many places; roads are closed; the Milford Track said to be NZ’s premier walking track has been closed for the past two days because of heavy rains. Approximately 120 trampers were stuck as the track was too difficult to maneuver. Trucks and cars are stuck in the Buller Gorge in the north-west of the South Island. And parts of the North Island are faring no better with Severe Weather warnings in place for parts of the lower island.
So what to do in the face of this awful weather. There is always the television of course and today I chanced on a wonderful programme written and fronted by Griff Rhys-Jones about the “Wind in the Willows”. Along with Alice in Wonderland, this has been an all time favourite of mine.
In this programme, Rhys-Jones introduced us to Kenneth Grahame, the retiring scholarly man who wrote this story for his somewhat troublesome only child Alistair. At the time, Grahame was the Secretary of the Bank of England. He had written some books about children for adults but this was the first (and only) book for children. Do you know this fabulous fable?
The story is set along a river bank. In fact it is subtitled Tales of the Riverbank. We are introduced to the kindly, self-effacing, industrious Mole (Grahame himself perhaps?), Rat, Badger, Otter and of course the incredible, irascible Mr Toad. Who hasn’t met a Mr Toad in real life?
These woodland animals are given human characteristics and live an indolent life on the riverbank often messing about in boats.
But Toad it is who fills the book with his antics and exploits. He is very sure of himself and he is very conceited. He sings about himself “Ho, ho! I am The Toad, the handsome, the popular, the successful Toad”. And he thinks that he alone knows anything. Consider -
“The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr Toad”
When Toad sees a shining red motor car he cannot resist it and drives it off eventually being caught and being sent to prison -
“The motor-car went Poop-poop-poop
As it raced along the road.
Who was it steered it into a pond?
Ingenious Mr Toad!”
The book was originally published in 1908 and my copy of the book is 55 years old, well read, well-thumbed but still securely bound in spite of that.
Quite late in life, by then considered a confirmed bachelor, Grahame married the shy and retiring, scatty and whimsical Elspeth Thomson. They had only one child, a boy named Alastair (whose nickname was “Mouse”). Unfortunately, he was born blind in one eye and plagued by health problems throughout his short life. It was for this child that the book was written.
So I am glad for a cold, windy January evening that allowed me to find this programme on the TV. I thank Rhys-Jones for taking us along the riverbank and telling us about Grahame and his strange little family.
And as an aside in 2010 a First Edition of the book was sold by Bonhams in London for 32,400 GBP.