A week in the land of cream teas and alpacas plus a few books

20140918_162333 H and I have spent the past week being entertained by the boys at Popham Farm – that’s what the owners call the breeding male alpacas who were munching away in the field just below Lynher Cottage where we were staying. I’m not sure how they managed to keep us occupied for so many hours: it’s not as if they do much besides mince about, lift a leg to scratch delicately – 20140918_175810 fleas seem to be a bit of a problem – then stride purposefully off before stopping for a steady nibble at an identical bit of grass to the one they’ve just abandoned. Perhaps it’s because they look so endearingly silly – a cuddly toy of an animal, some with a topknot  left over from shearing, others more llama-like with longer coats. Tracy, who looks after the herd of around 150, introduced us to a couple of young ones who had been bottle-fed – very friendly with amazingly soft fleeces. Hard not to come away with one or two but our ancient cat and suburban garden wouldn’t accommodate them.

Other than alpaca-watching, we explored Launceston and Tavistock – both attractive, thriving market towns stuffed with real shops – healthy survivors of the dreaded out-of-town supermarket developments that have destroyed so many other British towns and the livelihoods that depend on them. Naturally, cream teas were consumed – a couple of particularly fine ones Cover image at the Edgecumbe on the Cothele estate – and a few books read, the best of which for me was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. It’s taken me ages to get around to this novel and I’m not sure why. It’s a very fine piece of writing which explores the Nigerian immigrant experience in both the States and the UK through Ifemelu and Obinze, two lovers who pursue separate and very different lives. My three other holiday reads were Rosie Garland’s imaginative nineteenth-century circus fantasy The Palace of Curiosities, Araminta Hall’s Dot which is about what happens when the truth is withheld, however kindly, and Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs about which I’m still cogitating. I remember much being said when it was published in the UK about an interviewer who asked Messud why her narrator was so unlikeable. Messud gave a somewhat waspish response – and who can blame her? How tedious fiction would be if every character was nice. That was my week – how about you? What was yours like?

10 thoughts on “A week in the land of cream teas and alpacas plus a few books”

  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed your holiday, Susan. Your llama pictures reminded me of a school trip from my primary-school years. My family was living in Southampton at the time and Marwell Zoological Park had just opened near Winchester (so it was THE destination of choice for school trips in the early days). I can’t recall if the unveiling of the park had been delayed in any way, but the place had only been open to the public for a week or two by the time my class pulled up in the coach. Imagine our disappointment when the grounds were a little short on animals – the ‘star attraction’ was a pair of llamas! Many more species to see now of course, but I’ll never forget the fuss over that trip.

    1. Thanks, Jacqui. Your comment made me smile! I bet those llamas continued to munch away oblivious to all those schoolchildren hoping for lots of exotic animals.

  2. I’ve heard very mixed reports on ‘Americanah’ all from people whose views I really respect. I suppose that the only answer is to read it myself, but where to find the time…….

    1. I was surprised at how quickly I read it, Alex, but perhaps that’s because I was on holiday. I’m attracted to novels about the immigrant experience and thought this one a fine example.

  3. Oh to have more time to read, I’ve been struggling to finish my Simone DeBeauvoir and decided even though I am so close to the end, to read a few pages of another book which might pull me in and get my reading mojo back- it was Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend which I have been wanting to read for a very long time and it’s done the trick, I think I need to have the two on the go at the same time to restore my faith in my reading ability. Some books just demand a lot more time than others and slow us down! Well, I have to admit life’s been speeding up at the same time, so maybe a combination of the two 🙂 However, there’s nothing like an excellent, compelling novel to solve the problem.

    I really enjoyed Americanah, it had it’s flaws, but was a 4 star read for me, I have enjoyed everything of her’s I have read and this was no exception, I thought it was original and having visited Nigeria and been involved in a few local customs and lived in London as a foreigner, it was especially poignant. And it included a blog! Which has now gone live as we speak. I’m looking forward to her next work and really want to see the film adaptation of Half of A Yellow Sun.

    Love the holiday pics!

    1. Thank you, Claire. I thought of your sheep-shearing video when Tracy was explaining her alpaca technique! Very interested by your comments on Americanah. She seemed to me to capture the loneliness of living in a culture other than your own very well – the contrast between Ifemelu and Obinze’s experiences were so stark, too. So glad to hear that you’ve got your reading mojo back.

  4. Well I finished Andy Miller’s Year of Reading Dangerously and was inspired enough to go out and buy a Patrick Hamilton – Twenty Thousand Streets – which will be started next. Loved reading about Andy’s bookselling days – good and bad! And then I did my last exam for bookkeeping (well last if I pass it!) all weekend so today we went to the seaside. Aberystwyth – home of the Library of Wales. A beautiful sunny day and a great town. Tapas for lunch and then up the cliff on the railway. Too tired for Patrick I think. Glad you enjoyed your holiday – when we were in Devon we used to go to Tavistock regularly.

    1. Thanks, Rachel. Tavistock was a bit of a surprise for us, but a pleasant one. I expected it to have suffered death by Tesco et al but it seems to have escaped. Nice little bookshop, too. Andy Miller made me chuckle and no doubt brought back similar memories to yours! Fingers crossed for those exam results.

  5. What a lovely restful holiday this sounds! I confess to being horribly ignorant: is a llama and an alpaca the same thing? Your alpaca pics are adorable – those creatures look so endearingly cuddly, though I expect you might get a kick if you tried. Araminta Hall is an author I’m very tempted to read and I found the Messud book interesting and flawed in ways it was very hard to put my finger on. I felt at the end that Nora acts as if she has been intolerably wronged, but that denies her own culpability in her relations to the Shahid family. She may well be angry, but victimhood is by no means the full story of what’s happened. As ever, when authors lean really heavily on one significant event, held over until the end of the story for maximum suspense, it’s rare the event lives up to its billing. Or at least I think it’s a risky strategy. I look forward to reading your review!

    1. It was very relaxing, indeed. Llamas and alpacas belong to the same family as camels, apparently. Alpacas are smaller than llamas and you’re right they have a tendency to kick particularly when approached from behind should you ever encounter one!

      The Messud was a perplexing book and I was sorry that she ended it the way she did. I found Nora’s relationship with the Shahids and theirs with her much more interesting than that. I think I will be cogitating about it for some time.

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