16 October 2017

Affinity by Sarah Waters

It wouldn't be October without reading something atmospheric with a dash of spooky.  I feel that a  novel set during the Victorian era is something of a prerequisite for this time of year, when the nights draw in.  A lonely Gothic mansion ticks a lot of boxes, but a prison weeping with damp, squeaking with mice, and scattered with scurrying beetles works quite nicely as well.  And then there's the fog...

'....yellow fogs and brown fogs, and fogs so black they might be liquid soot - fogs that seem to rise from the pavements as if brewed in the sewers in diabolical engines.  They stain our clothes, they fill our lungs and make us cough, they press against our windows - if you watch, in a certain light, you may see them seeping into the house through ill-fitting sashes.'

Set during the first half of the 1870s, Margaret Prior begins regular visits to Millbank Prison.  As a respectable woman, she has been assigned the duty of speaking with female inmates in the hope they will be inspired to correct their criminal behaviour.  We won't get into the politics of why some women unjustly end up in prison as we're quite aware that starvation and abuse can lead to desperation. In any case, it soon becomes apparent that Margaret is herself under care, having recently recovered (physically, anyway) from a suicide attempt.

Living in Cheyne Walk with her mother, Margaret has experienced the death of her father and loss of her lover.  Helen has bent to the pressures of society and married Margaret's brother.  Margaret's heart breaks when she learns Helen will honeymoon in Italy, a trip the women had dreamed of taking together.  At nearly thirty years of age and unmarried, Margaret is both a disappointment and dependent on her mother.

'I saw her growing bitter, because her son and her favourite daughter had homes elsewhere - had gayer homes, with children and footsteps and young men and new gowns in them; homes which, were it not for the presence of her spinster daughter - her consolation, who preferred prisons and poetry to fashion-plates and dinners, and was therefore no consolation at all...'

Visiting the bleak prison in her mourning black, Margaret soon focuses on Selina Dawes.  While most of the prison is dark, it's almost as if a light shines from the young, fair woman as she sits in her cell, fingering a ball of wool.  Accused of fraud and assault during a seance which resulted in the death of another woman due to fright, the reader may wonder whether Selina's mystical powers are real or imagined.  Somehow, without visitors or letters, Selina holds a single violet in a room of stone.

As Margaret and Selina form a friendship, Selina tells Margaret things about her father that she couldn't possibly know.  Then items begin to appear or disappear from Margaret's room, leaving Margaret to believe that Selina does indeed possess mystical powers.  It's also possible that the chloral dispensed each night by Mrs Prior to keep Margaret from the verge of hysteria is muddling her thoughts.

Being extremely fond of London, it never fails to thrill when certain streets or places are named.  I found myself wondering how many houses separated Margaret's address from the Carlyles on Cheyne Walk and how the view of the Thames has changed since the 1870s.  The Reading Room at the British Museum is still a mystery but walking up the steps to the front door is not.  And I wondered which side of Great Russell Street the Association of Spiritualists was located on....fictitious or not.

There are plenty of topics to explore within this novel, such as the appalling prison conditions, mental illness, women's rights, housing, why single women were frowned upon but single men fussed over,  women's access to a bank account, and lack of social assistance.  Also, just what was going on behind the curtain during Selina's seances, and who is the mysterious Peter Quick?

A plot twist at the end of the story means I won't be passing my copy on to someone else just yet.  At some point I'm going to read this book again, to pick up on the clues that Waters has cleverly woven throughout.  Highly recommended as an ideal read for October!

15 October 2017

Guillermo del Toro at the Art Gallery of Ontario

(Young Mako Mori's dress, from Pacific Rim, 2013)

The autumn is my favourite time of year.  Pumpkin pie becomes a food group, the temperature is cool enough to wear my favourite cardigans again, fall fairs dot the calendar and the perfect drive in the country is rich with the aroma of wood smoke.  My husband and I have been busy dividing hostas, planting mums, tidying up the edges on the flower beds, and we've finally worked up the nerve to rip the carpet from the stairs.  Youtube gives you all sorts of confidence to believe anything is possible - fingers crossed.

We ladies with dogs in the neighbourhood decided to start a book club.  The idea came about at a birthday party in August, the same party where I was taught how to sabre a bottle of champagne.  My husband couldn't believe how calm I was, to which my reply was 'Not my champagne, not my knife, not my house!'...what could go wrong?  Well, yes, the possibility of a nasty wound but, to my sheer amazement, it worked!  I'm not so sure about the book club though.  The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry was my choice, especially leading up to Halloween, but only one other person finished the book.  It's true what they say about book clubs, and in our case the discussion was even shorter than the norm!  I'm not sure it's a good fit for me and it wouldn't be fair to further twist the arms of my dear friends.  If they didn't get on with Sarah Perry, there's little hope for the likes of E.M. Delafield or Virginia Woolf, and I'm not very keen to leave my favourite authors behind for weeks on end.


 So while I get back on track with my reading and posts, here are a few photos from the Guillermo del Toro exhibit at the AGO.  We visited last Thursday as part of an afternoon away from domestic duties and mundane errands, and SO glad we did. 

 Victorian family portrait with deceased family member

 Costuming and set pieces from the film Crimson Peak

 The Angel of Death from Hellboy 2
(the eyes in the wings are very creepy!)

 The Faun from Pan's Labyrinth, 2006

 Statue of H.P. Lovecraft

One of del Toro's many notebooks detailing script ideas.

As you walk through the exhibit a pianist plays suitably atmospheric music, although I did a double-take to notice the sheet music was on a tablet, rather than paper.  So much old, so much new and all an awful lot of fun. 

8 September 2017

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

There was a time when I would pick up a book, and should there be even a hint of a despicable character, the book would be set aside.  Reading should be for pleasure, to enhance idle moments.  I had little time for manipulative ne'er do wells or spoiled brats as characters.  I've since come to realize that I was an immature reader.

Being slightly obsessed with London as a backdrop in my reading material, Patrick Hamilton stood out as an author who supplied not only a novel rich with scenes of London, but evocations of the inter-war period as well.  I bought two of his books, The Slaves of Solitude and Hamgover Square.  A few years ago I read the former title and was put off by the copious amounts of drinking, surly behaviour and the bleakness of a dreary boarding house.  Needless to say, Hangover Square was then sentenced to neglect, continuously passed over for something more cheery or domestic.  I have now been enlightened.

'Click!...Here is was again!  He was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again...Click!...'

This story begins on Christmas Day in 1938 and George Harvey Bone is visiting his aunt.  It's not out of kindness or affection, but rather for the £10 note coming his way as his annual gift.  At thirty-four George leads a down at heel existence in a shabby Earl's Court hotel.  He's been aware of the 'click' in his head ever since he was a boy, leading the reader to interpret some sort of personality disorder, perhaps schizophrenia.  When George feels the 'click' on Christmas Day he's driven by an intense urge to kill Netta, a manipulative slattern if ever there was one.

So far, not very cosy, is it?  And yet Patrick Hamilton's writing is absolutely brilliant.  He had me standing on the street corner with breeze-blown newspapers and cigarette butts, sitting right there in a smokey pub, walking up the filthy stairs of a run-down bedsit, and you can just about taste the gin.  The mention of an odd cup of tea came as a relief....and I was riveted by what would happen next.

George Harvey Bone worships Netta, who in turn uses George for his casual acquaintance to a man connected with a movie company.  Despite knowing his time and precious money is being wasted, George finds Netta is every bit as addictive as alcohol.

'...in spite of her intelligence and quick wits she couldn't act for nuts (he had ascertained that): but principally because she was spoiled and lazy, and drank too much - because she had expected success without having to work for it, and now drank and was lazy in a sort of furious annoyance at the fact that success was not to be had that way - a vicious circle of arrogance, and laziness and drink.  In other words she had never got out of being the bad-tempered, haughty tyrannical child she was at the beginning.  She lacked the imagination and generousity to do so.  And that brought him to the present Netta he had in front of him - the one who was making use of him in order to be near a man who might be of use to her.  For the moment he was sorry for her, and rather happy.'

As the situation with Netta and a peripheral crowd of punters in Earl's Court leads George further down a path of demoralization and depression, he turns to an unyielding plan of revenge.  And I couldn't be torn from the last pages of the book for anything.

Published in 1941, I never fail to be in awe of writers accomplishing such stellar pieces of work while bombs rained over England, buildings lay in ruin, and there were petrol and food shortages.  I was also saddened to learn that much of Patrick Hamilton's childhood was spent living in the type of boarding house he wrote about, with an alcoholic father of limited means.  He left school at fifteen and as an adult, Hamilton faced his own struggle with alcoholism, dying of cirrhosis of the liver in 1962.  

Hangover Square couldn't be further from my usual preference of a cosy read, but Patrick Hamilton shares the distinction of many of my favourite authors from this era in that their books fell out of favour.  I'm sure I could mention Patrick Hamilton to any number of readers at my library and be met with a blank stare, and that is a great shame.

Publicity photo from Hangover Square (1945) starring Laird Cregar and Linda Darnell.   

4 September 2017

Visiting the Penguin Random House Shop


It's the Labour Day long weekend, but I worked on Saturday and my husband is working today so Friday was 'fun day'.  We took the train to Toronto, along with scores of people attending Fan Expo and the Canadian National Exhibition.  It was like being in a Star Wars film; a quarter of the train was filled with costumed characters from all sorts of video games and films, which certainly bumped up the fun factor!

Our destination was BMV on Bloor for second-hand book shopping and if we had time, a stop at the Penguin Random House office tower at 320 Front Street.  We made time.


The Penguin Random House shop is on the ground floor, watched over by staff from the office on a rotation basis.  A nice diversion from desk work, I'd say!  The space isn't very large but it's cleverly stocked with sliding shelves to maximize space.


The eye-catching colours and beautiful cover art, complete sets of tempting novellas...well, it's enough to make a bibliophile's pupils dilate.


This micro-shop also stocks mugs, tote bags, cards, pins and t-shirts.  You could manage your Christmas shopping while on your lunch break.  Rather enticing....


Between BMV and Penguin Random House, we came home with four books each.  In my case, one book containing two stories, two novellas and one short story.  Yes, it's still all about Virginia Woolf.

If you live in the GTA and didn't know about this micro bookshop, I hope you're encouraged to add it to your list of places to visit.

28 August 2017

The Duchess of Jermyn Street by Daphne Fielding

Serendipity played a hand in my reading this book, but a session of dusting the bookcase in the spare room can have that effect.  Seeing 'Jermyn Street' on the spine brought to mind my time spent walking there while on holiday in July.  Although, Rosa Lewis occupied this part of Mayfair long before congestion charges, it was the horse and carriage moving people from place to place.

Rosa Lewis was born on 26 September, 1867 in Essex, the fifth of nine children.  Leaving school at the age of 12 to work in domestic service, she soon progressed from washing floors to an interest in cooking.  Honing her skills while working for the exiled Comte de Paris in France, it wasn't long before members of the upper classes were eager to taste her creations.  Once back in England, Rosa was in demand to prepare meals for society balls.  At the peak of her catering career, she prepared food for 29 balls in a single week.  A regular customer of Covent Garden, Rosa was there each morning at 5 am to choose the very best of what was on offer.

While having definitive ideas about worldly dishes, Rosa regarded herself as 'one of the lads' and would lace her Cockney accent with a torrent of expletives.  An early marriage to a man she wasn't in love with ended quite early, leaving her to shoulder a large debt.  Working all hours of the day and night, she cleared those debts and saved ownership of the Cavendish Hotel.  Running the hotel as though it were her home, rather than a business, Rosa would do as she pleased.  She would sometimes short the bill for poorer clients and then tack those charges on to the bill of someone financially better off.  She would decide when it was time for a guest to leave or refuse a customer altogether, particularly if those potential guests were writers.  Also, during the Great War, Rosa distributed white feathers to gentlemen as she saw fit.

While writers were persona non grata at the Cavendish Hotel (for some unknown reason of her own), the welcome mat was most definitely rolled out for artists.  The likes of Whistler, Sickert, Orpen and Sarpent were visitors to the hotel as were royalty and the aristocracy.  When Doris Delevigne was mentioned for her famously gorgeous legs and list of rich suitors, a quick Google search proved my suspicion...she's the paternal great aunt of Cara Delevigne.

Doris Delevigne (Viscountess Castleross) and painter, Sir John Lavery

Having come a long way from the Edwardian era, Rosa was aging and becoming increasisngly confused.  A lack of leadership at helm, as well as some serious damage sustained during the Blitz resulted in the beginning of the end for the original Cavendish hotel.  As early as 1932, Aldous Huxley wrote in a letter...
'It was like staying in a run-down country house - large comfortable rooms, but everything shabby and a bit dirty.  We were not bibulous, so much have been a disappointment to Rosa Lewis.  However, she put up with us.  Once, I remember, a young man in what the lady novelists call 'faultless evening dress', top hat and all, came swaying into our bedroom at almost 2.30 am., and had to be pushed out.  How sad, but how inevitable, that the hotel should now be doomed to destruction.'


Rosa Lewis died in her sleep in 1952.  Her funeral was held a short walk from the hotel at the Georgian church of St. James's, Piccadilly followed with burial at Putney Vale Cemetary.

The Duchess of Jermyn Street by Daphne Fielding is a fascinating read.  As Evelyn Waugh writes in his preface...'It was most desirable that a definitive study should be made before she passed into legend'.  While Waugh didn't feel he was close enough to the situation to writer Rosa's story, Fielding was a close friend and many of the details in the book are first-hand accounts. 



And coincidentally, as so often is the case, a new book features Rosa Lewis as one of its subjects (thanks, Mary)!

Rosa Lewis at the end of the Edwardian era.

20 August 2017

The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Volume 2 1920 - 24

My Rose Macaulay book has been put aside for the moment, in favour of Virginia Woolf's diary entries.  With Monk's House still on my mind since my visit there, I placed an inter-library hold on Caroline Zoob's beautiful book Virginia Woolf's Garden.  Once it arrived, the pressure of a due date loomed so a good bit of spare time has been spent on the patio enjoying it.



As National Trust tenants, Caroline and her husband lived at Monk's House for ten years, beginning in 2000.  I enjoyed and so appreciated the intricate embroidery that illustrates various locations of the property before realizing they were all done by Caroline herself.  A loving tribute that I would love to see as an exhibit in itself one day.  Could it ever happen?



The Woolf's purchased Monk's House in 1919.  A date that reminded me of owning a volume of Virginia's diary (a more decrepit copy you'd be hardpressed to find) that begins in 1920.  One peek at entries describing the comings and goings at Monk's House in Rodmell, Gordon Square in London and Hogarth House in Richmond and I couldn't stop.  While sympathizing with Virginia's fragile mental health and physical ailments, the ability to switch back and forth between city and countryside sounds appealing.  Although, there were times when the feeling of being settled took days, and then the guests appeared.  Sometimes stimulating, but also intrusive for someone wanting a quiet mind in order to focus on work.

Reading this volume of Virginia's diaries before venturing too far into her fiction has widened by view of her situation and mindset.  It's also incredibly readable!  Nothing missed her gaze and sometimes the remembrance was both brutal and vivid, such as describing soldiers at Waterloo station, missing limbs, as 'spiders propelling themselves along the platform'.  But with wonderfully restrained humour she wrote ' Lytton stays at home with Lady Strachey, who has taken to fainting on the floor'.

No other author seems to consume Virginia Woolf, at least in this volume, as Katherine Mansfield.  She praises her work, then cuts it, and questions a feeling of relief at her death...'a rival the less'.  Virginia continues to mention Katherine at intervals throughout the diary but I was shocked by a comment towards the end of this volume.  Despite being dead almost two years, Katherine was still hovering in Vriginia's consciousness as something of a threat or competitor....

'The thought of Katherine Mansfield comes to me--as usual rather reprehensibly--first wishing she could see Southampton Row, thinking of the dulness (sic) of her death, lying there at Fontainebleu--an end where there was no end, & then thinking, yes, if she'd lived, she'd have written on, & people would have seen that I was the more gifted--that wd. only have become more & more apparent.'

Usually I would find that sort of arrogance off-putting but the many facets of Virginia Woolf make me want to learn more about her.  For all of the images I've had of this remarkable author, not one of them involved her in the kitchen making bread but she was quite good at it.  Thinking of Virginia as having days of happiness while enjoying the garden, walking the fields in Rodmell with their dogs, canning fruit from their trees balances the stories of a complex writer struggling under the weight of depression.  Now to track down the other volumes of her diaries.

The experience of visiting Monk's House has certainly lingered and if I could, I would line up today to take it all in again.

Leonard and Virginia at Monk's House

9 August 2017

Larking About on the Thames


The history of mudlarking goes back hundreds of years when people, particularly children, would scour the shore looking for anything to sell on or use themselves.  For me it was an opportunity to connect with the past - to hold something that was once in a Victorian home, or perhaps even a pin that held a young girl's hat in place.

In less than an hour on the shore of the Thames I found a handful of bits and pieces lying among the pebbles.  As each wave rolled in and out, making an almost chiming sound as bits of rock went back and forth, my eye was drawn to something new.

Over the past few weeks I've spent some time trying to find out more about my bits of treasure.  What I initially thought was the broken lip of a bowl (lower right side) turned out to be a horse's tooth!  The bit of shoe leather I thought might be no age at all, is possibly over one hundred years old.  There's a saying that clay pipe stems littering the foreshore are the cigarette butts of the seventeenth century - so true.  But it's fascinating to hold a piece of clay that once soothed someone in a moment of leisure.

The button has a brass pin shank and I'm still trying to figure out if it's Bakelite, celluloid or lucite.  I don't think it's casein because that doesn't hold up well in water.  In any case, it's quite likely my button was holding a garment closed at some point between 1930 - 1950.

The piece of brown pottery at the bottom is quite pitted and only glazed on one side (not showing).  Initially thinking this was a bit of roof tile, a bit of digging around on the internet has shown it to possibly be a bit of medieval pottery.  You can't help but think of the person who formed it, carted it about, and what it was used for.

The threaded piece at the top looks like a bit of piping.  When it dried and I took a closer look, it's more like tooled leather.  I have no idea what it could have been used for...as decoration on a trunk?  And the very ugly green bit of glass to the right of that....when it's wet you can see through it, but what was it from?  Perhaps it wasn't anything - a piece of melting glass cast off as waste.  Anyway, it looks like an old slug.

My husband and I have a glass container for the lake glass we find while playing with the dogs over the years.  The difference between the shores of Lake Ontario and the Thames are a world apart - literally.

1 August 2017

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

While browsing the display tables and shelves of London's bookshops, I was hoping to find another story like The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  Not a replica of the characters, setting or plot, but something matching its tone of fresh mixed with nostalgia.  Something well-written and atmospheric.  When Rachel (Book Snob) mentioned she was reading Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves, I asked her if it was good.  Little did I know just how perfectly it would fit the bill.

The prologue reveals two characters, the first is a woman scanning the landscape through a cottage window.  The second is a woman on the verge of freedom outside the gates of Holloway prison.

The story begins during the summer of 1940 in rural England, on the edge of the Downs.  The family farm is being solely run by Elsie, the last member of her family willing or able to do so.  Being something of a gentle soul, the calmness of empty lanes and rolling hills provide the perfect setting for Elsie.  The extra help supplied by Land Girls is necessary but the idea of sharing the space and view is far from relished.  The next recruit, Rene Hargreaves, is about to arrive.

Miss Hargreaves background is more complex than Elsie's.  Breaking free from a marriage to a man with a gambling addiction meant housing her children with relatives.  To walk away from a marriage is one thing, but to walk away from small children is akin to one of the harshest crimes committed by a woman.  With her past kept as a closely guarded secret, Rene begins a new phase of her life as an independent woman and Elsie's partner.  A relationship soon flourishes between the two and they become inseparable.

A promise to return the favour of help when it's needed most brings the past flooding back to Rene with dire consequences.

In one of those fabulously lucky circumstances, part of this story is set in Winchester.  As descriptions of the city centre are mentioned I'm reminded of my time spent there only three weeks ago.  My day in Winchester was sunny and bright but Malik paints a picture of dreary and relentless rain.

'Ventilation was poor and the damp atmosphere held on to every smell: there was a heady whiff of breakfast fry and strong, sweet tea. fresh tobacco and late-night booze along with the tang of curious chemical compounds:  mothballs and Coty, Camay and hair oil'.

It would have been easy to sensationalize the story of Elsie Boston and Rene Hargreaves, but there is none of that here.  It's a beautiful story with a bite; a slow simmer that turns into something of a boil.  And to learn that it's based in reality adds to the fascination - Rene Hargreaves is the author's grandmother.  Blending fact with fiction, Rachel Malik has produced a wonderful debut novel that ticked all sorts of boxes and I certainly hope she's going to keep writing.

Thanks for recommending this book, Rachel (Book Snob)...I loved it!


   Train Landscape by Eric Ravilious, 1939

22 July 2017

London: The Books



The days before luggage with wheels must have been a nightmare for the book-mad anglophile visiting London.  Still, thoughts of wheeling my luggage through Russell Square on my way to the tube station forced a lid on my enthusiasm.  It didn't stop me from making a bee line into every bookshop along the way though because, as we booklovers know...it's a compulsion.  The second-hand shops on Charing Cross Road, the creaking steps of Hatchards, the freshness of Foyles, and the vast selection at Waterstones is just as I left them two years ago, but it was so nice to be back.

Back with me from London is....

The Fox Book by Jane Russ - A perfect combination of beautiful photos, illustrations, and poems combined with research about the beautiful fox.  A section focusing on the fox in art and literature looks particularly good and sealed the deal for me.  Ever since reading Lady into Fox by David Garnett last year I've been gripped by a fascination for this creature.

The Sea Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard - Bought at the Oxfam shop in Highgate Village and one of the new editions reissued by Picador.  A like-new book for a mere £3.  An exploration of four characters in the setting of three countries...sounds epic and perfect for reading on the patio.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard - It really can't put it off any longer, I'm jumping into the world of the Cazalet family.  There has been many incredulous looks and comments from people when they find out I haven't read this series yet....that does it, I'm in!

A Dangerous Innocence by Artemis Cooper - There's a theme here, isn't there.  It's a bit like discovering the writings of Elizabeth Taylor - you can't stop once you've started.  Elizabeth Jane Howard keeps coming up in articles having to do with twentieth century fiction and authors.  Her name even came up at the book talk I attended at Waterstones in connection with an affair, of which I suspect there was a few....this is going to be a book to keep me up at night.

The Greedy Queen:  Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray - I've been looking forward to this book since hearing Gray discuss it on a podcast last winter.  You can almost feel gluttonous and full just imagining the daily requirements of such a robust monarch.  Also, the social aspects of food during the Victorian era are fascinating.  I suspect there will be loads of information about puddings, but I'm not looking forward to anything having to do with aspic...blech.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik - While gathered around a table at the London Review Bookshop, I asked Rachel (Book Snob) what she was reading.  She mentioned this title with enthusiasm so I whipped out a pen and made note of it right away.  When Mary, Simon, Rachel and I made our way to the Oxfam shop nearby, a proof copy was on the shelves.  Technically, these are not for resale but when it comes to a donation for Oxfam surely that must be alright.  It's an excellent read so far!

Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf - Couples strolling through the garden during a hot afternoon in July as described by one of the best.  A well-timed gift as I had been to Monk's House only the day before I received this beautiful edition.  Thank you, Mary!

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - There's a passage from this story in my copy of Everyman's Stories from the Kitchen that made me want to read more.  Knowing I would be visiting Monk's House, I put off buying or borrowing a copy so it could be a souvenir of my visit.

Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay - 'Bitingly funny, elegantly written comedy of manners....'.  I had already bought a book by Macaulay from the Oxfam bookshop in Bloomsbury but Simon (Stuck In A Book) said that this was his favourite by the author, and now I can see why.  So this is a gift from Simon....thank you!

Messalina of the Suburbs by E. M. Delafield - Rachel (Book Snob) presented me with this book, but the title isn't one I was familiar with.  I've since learned it's based on a real-life case in which a woman was hanged in 1923 for being an accomplice to her husband's murder.  Most definitely not at all like the Provincial Lady series, but I'm very intrigued!  Thank you, Rachel!

The Other Day by Dorothy Whipple - Another generous offering from Rachel, who knows that an autobiography by Dorothy Whipple must be housed with just the right person, and that person would be me.  This is not an easy book to come by so I'm very grateful for the opportunity to own a copy without searching the earth.

Keeping up Appearances by Rose Macaulay - Someone must have stopped into the Oxfam shop in Bloomsbury with their collection by this author.  There were at least five editions sitting together on the top of a shelf, just waiting to be spotted.  I was drawn to this title because I adore the antics of Hyacinth Bucket but then I read a line that described a character buying cami-knickers on Oxford Street.  That's all I needed to know....sold!

16 July 2017

London: A Trip Report


 Despite being back at home, my dreams are still full of faces rushing past as I walk along streets.  The busyness of London makes my home city feel like a calm village at the moment, but normalcy should resume any day now.  So what did I see and do while visiting London....make a cup of tea and settle in for an epic trip report.

Unpack and then head out into the sunshine is my best advice to avoid slipping into a nap after an overseas flight.  I joined a London Walks tour, with Claire as our guide, to learn more about Piccadilly.  The arcades, the shops, the Queen's chocolatier - Charbonnel et Walker.  And yes, we were gifted with samples!  We also stopped by Floris for a peek at the micro-museum at the back of the shop.  We passed around scent worn by Winston Churchill, Marilyn Munroe and Queen Victoria.


 On my first full day in London I took the tube to Highgate Village and then on to Hampstead, high on my list of favourite places.  I bought a copy of Elizabeth Jane Howard's Sea Change and a very breezy blouse because the weather was much hotter (and very muggy) than I had packed for.


 Strolling along the side streets of Hampstead will fill you with all sorts of ideas for things to spruce up the front walk to your house.  Back at home, I'm wondering how I can fit in a gargoyle without frightening the dog.


 I was beyond thrilled to learn that Professor John Mullan would be chairing a talk on Jane Austen at the British Library.  In less than one minute I was booking a ticket.  Also on the panel were authors Paula Bryne, Kamila Shamsie and Helena Kelly.  Each made a five minute speech about their favourite Austen novel, then there was a jovial debate before taking questions from the audience.  John Mullan's favourite is Emma, if you're wondering....


 I passed by this charming facade and thought I would pop in to say hello to fellow library staff members....only to find out it's a Gentlemen's Club.  They wouldn't have a thing to say about due dates, circulation stats, storytime, or reference items.  Or would they?


 On a very, very hot Wednesday I joined another walking tour, this time in Chelsea.  My umbrella was left behind but on my way to the tube stop I realized it would have been excellent for shade.  Thank goodness for Primark.  A mere £5 bought a very pretty floral brolly that made enough shade to share with a few of the ladies in my group.  We saw houses belonging to the rich and famous and some wonderful architecture.  The detail on this gate of a house near the Embankment was obviously well thought out.

My evening was spent at the Waterstones on Gower.  There was a book talk featuring Georgia de Chamberet discussing her latest book Far to Go and Many to Love, edited pieces by Lesley Blanch.  I knew absolutely nothing about any of the people involved but it was an interesting evening and an opportunity to learn something new.

                                                  

 Eltham Palace is unique in that it was the childhood home of King Henry VIII but was decorated to Art Deco period design by the Courtaulds in the 1930s.  A short train ride from Charing Cross station to Mottingham and then a ten minute walk has you on the grounds.  A short film is shown at the beginning of your tour around the house.  A clip of the Courtauld's pet lemur, Mah-Jong, playing with the dog made me laugh.


 Eltham Palace has been used as a set for various films and television such as I Capture the Castle, Home Front, Brideshead Revisited, and Bright Young Things.  


Virginia Courtauld's bedroom.


A very romantic-looking photo of her bathroom sink.  The tiles above her bathtub were in shimmering gold.


Stephen Courtauld's bathroom sink.  While not as extravagant, it's certainly very cheery!  A beautiful place to visit with its unusual combination of historic features, both old and new.  Don't hesitate to place this small palace on your itinerary.


 Once my visit to Eltham Palace was finished I walked to the bus stop near Eltham Church to make my way to Greenwich.  My first stop was the Queen's House which has recently undergone a renovation.   Inigo Jones's Tulip Stairs made me gasp - this aspect of spiralling staircases is always entrancing.  And so is the art on display here.


 One of the volunteers working at the Queen's House pointed me in the direction of a room and asked if I could point out his favourite painting.  It took me less than ten seconds to hone in on this sassy depiction of Herbert John Everett by William Orpen, whose artwork I keep stumbling across and always enjoy.

 After a full afternoon at Eltham Palace and Greenwich, it was time to head back into central London by way of the Thames Clipper.  A fabulous way to catch the breeze on another very hot day.  During this journey, a young teen sitting beside me had her first glimpse of Tower Bridge.  Her face lit up like a search light and her smile was almost the width of her face.  The very definition of a look of wonder.


 I am nearly a master of making the most of my time.  Well, while in London anyway.  I disembarked at Embankment so I could take in the Perfume exhibit at Somerset House.  Scent was everywhere in the rooms, which was very welcome and uplifting with the heat of the day.  Part of the exhibit was an interactive display meant to trick your senses but it didn't fool me....I won't give any more away.


 After a freshening up it was off to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket for Queen Anne, starring Romola Garai and Emma Cuniffe.  Excellent, riveting, educational, wonderful....see it if you can!


 A day I had been looking forward to for quite some time.  Visiting Virginia Woolf's home in Rodmell, Lewes.  The train from Victoria takes about an hour and you can catch a bus just outside the train station to Rodmell.  Walking down the lane, without another person in sight, is a memory that will last forever.


 Above, the doorway of the conservatory at the back of the house which leads into Monk's House.  Only small groups are allowed into the house at one time, but I was early so there was no waiting.  There was a coachload of people from Spain arriving at 2 pm.


Monk's House is as tranquil as people describe and made me wish I could move right in.  It's beautiful in a way that goes beyond bricks and mortar, lovely art, and colourful gardens.  Spiritual?  I would say so.


Pale colours on the walls, soothing views....


...but if the walls could talk.  Virginia's favourite chair near the fireplace in a room where she entertained Elizabeth Bowen.  Oh to be a fly on the wall.


Table designed by Duncan Grant


THAT painting of Virginia by her sister, Vanessa.  It had just come back from exhibit at the Dulwich Picture Gallery so I was pleased, and relieved, that I was able to see the original.  The postcard of this painting is going on my locker door at work tomorrow.



Virginia's bedroom, much roomier than I was expecting, with a view of the stars from a large window.


Although Monk's House is cosy in its dimensions, I could happily pass away a whole day in this room.


Virginia's writing table in the shed past the back garden.


After drinking in Monk's House and gardens, with a visit to the gift shop to buy a copy of To the Lighthouse (decorated inside with a Monk's House stamp, no less), I explored Lewes.


This doorway leads into the Fifteenth Century Bookshop.  I'm not very big but I had to duck and turn sideways a little to get through the door.  Books are piled everywhere, a bit to the detriment of finding anything.  But when I asked the woman working there if she had a copy of Chatterton Square by E. H. Young she knew exactly where to look, but came up empty.


Turning left out of the bookshop I walked down this steep hill towards the train station.  My Canadian sensibilities wandered to the idea of navigating down here on an icy day.  Does it ever get icy in East Sussex....I suppose it must.


Saturday was the day to get together with my favourite bloggers Mary (Mrs Miniver's Daughter), Simon (Stuck In A Book), and Rachel (Book Snob).  We met at the London Review Bookshop for tea and cake and it ended up feeling a bit like Christmas with everyone exchanging gifts.  One mention that the Oxfam shop nearby had some books by Rose Macaulay on offer and we were off.  Loaded down with gifts and books we then made our way to the Dickens Museum on Doughty Street.  Mary relaxed with a drink and book in the lovely garden café while Rachel, Simon and I had a look around the museum.  A very realistic-looking hedgehog placed near the stove in the kitchen made Rachel jump, and us laugh!  After a long lunch and chat in the shade of the café we said our goodbyes until next time.

In the evening I went mudlarking near the Millenium Bridge.  Watch the tide tables if you try this and keep an eye on your escape route!  After only forty-five minutes of eyeing the surface I found clay pipe stems, pieces of blue and white tile (one shows a small apple, while another a small pagoda), pieces of green and brown ceramic (most likely from tiles), and bits of coloured glass.  This is definitely an addictive activity!


Sunday was my day to travel to Winchester from Waterloo Station.  A friend's sister-in-law lives nearby so we arranged to meet.  Maggie met me at the station and we had a fabulous time touring the city.  Above is the Round Table in the Great Hall, first described in 1155.


You don't see hardware like this every day.


Jane Austen's grave in Winchester Cathedral, the inspiration for this day trip from London.  A beautiful spot, especially on a Sunday with the bells ringing.


With this July being the bicentenary of Jane Austen's death, I imagined throngs of people visiting the Cathedral but that wasn't the case at all.  Perhaps it was a lazy day for a lot of people, in any case...I was thankful.


Wouldn't everyone like to see a sunflower from their bedroom window?


Maggie and I had a poke around the Deanery Bookstall located near the Cathedral but neither of us bought anything.  There was a moment of disappointment, and then relief that we didn't have to carry anything.  Looks like fun though, doesn't it.


We couldn't resist marching right up to this house....and then a man opened the front door on his way out!  He was lovely about having two women gawk at his home and told us it was over five hundred years old.  The house came with his job as Headmaster at the boys' school.  Lucky him!


And then we passed the house in which Jane Austen lived towards the end of her life, and died.  As poignant a scene as it was, there was nothing left to do but head to a café.  This a day I'll never forget.


My time in London was coming swiftly to a close but when better to take a ride in a canal boat then on a hot July morning?  Alighting at Paddington station I walked the path towards Maida Vale and climbed aboard the first canal boat I found that was taking customers.  The fifty minutes it takes to ride this stretch of the canal was an excellent time to take in the vista without exhausting myself.


Ending up at Camden Market was a jarring experience from the leafy squares of Bloomsbury.  I was also feeling a bit hungry so once on the tube I made my way to one of my favourite spots in London...the Wallace Collection.  This painting by Joshua Reynolds (The Strawberry Girl) is also a favourite, sort of in the way we like to be scared during a movie or on a roller coaster.  Is she ill or frightened?  An eerie portrait that has stayed with me since I first saw it a couple of years ago.  Yes, Mary, she's as bilious as ever.

After a browse of the collection I had an excellent lunch in the sun-filled café...Mushroom and Gruyere quiche with a slice of elderflower cake for dessert, and the best cup of tea I've ever had.  The brand is Chash, try it if you get the chance.



 I've heard about cabbie shelters so I was thrilled to discover that this iconic (and historic) structure to buy a cup of tea and light fare has landed right outside Russell Square.


 My last full day in London was the day to visit the Geffrye Museum of the Home in Shoreditch.  Set in an eighteenth century almshouse, the museum features room settings from the 1600s to modern day and some lovely paintings of domestic scenes.  While interesting, the part of this visit I liked best was the garden at the back of the museum.


Oh for a cosy chair, a picnic lunch and a good book.  You could easily sit here for a couple of hours.


The Museum of London has added a new gallery since my last visit here. Alighting at the Barbican tube stop I looked forward to a wander around the People's City gallery (1850s - 1940s). Full of intriguing items from a fascinating era I took a ridiculous amount of pleasure from this mock shop front of a Lyons Tea Room.  I especially loved the waitress cap.  Items from the suffragette movement are another excellent draw for anyone visiting this gallery.

Finishing off my holiday in London was a third book talk, and second at the British Library.  Female Friendships and Creativity with Kate Mosse centred around a new book by Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa called A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf.  An intimate gathering chaired by author Amanda Craig, it was just the sort of evening I read about from home and wish I could magically time travel across the miles.  A perfect evening, despite the rain, to cap off every desire during yet another fabulous trip across the pond.

A bookish photo will follow in a few days....