23 July 2013

The Queen's Book of the Red Cross

 With the temperatures last week in the low 40C region once the humidex was factored in a bunch of us here could have used first-aid to help with our lethargy.  But this Red Cross book isn't a manual - it features writings by a list of authors, some of which appear in your Persephone catalogue.  I found it in a lovely second-hand shop during a visit to the sleepy town of Fergus last weekend.

It was Dorothy Whipple's name in the list of authors that made me sit up and take notice.  As my finger trailed down the page along the list of authors my excitement grew.  Knowing that the Queen Mum counted Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary as one of her favourite stories I had a feeling a chapter would be included, at the very least, and so it was.

This illustration by Dame Laura Knight called 'Hop Pickers' was the cherry on top.  The National Portrait Gallery in London is exhibiting some of her work until mid-October for those lucky enough to be close by.  As I've been completely absorbed this past week in The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel (which is fantastic!) this compilation in aid of the war effort during World War II is making me very happy indeed.                                  

11 July 2013

London Holiday 0 - Books 4

Here we go with the non-fiction!  It hasn't been a conscious thing but just lately the books coming into the house have been of the packed-with-information sort.  I was so excited to find Juliet Gardiner's The Thirties: An Intimate History at a great price last weekend but bowed to reality once I scanned a few pages.  No doubt the devil that sits on my shoulder sometimes will talk me into it but just not at the moment.  Another lame excuse for my purchases is that if I can't be in London then it will simply come to me, in one form or another.

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel - I first spied this on Fleur's blog and knew immediately it was the perfect book for me.  Documenting the experiences of a handful of sublime twentieth-century authors during World War II is to combine two areas of great interest for me.  'When the first bombs fell on London in August 1940, the city was transformed overnight into a battlefront.  For most Londoners, the sirens, guns, planes, and bombs heralded grueling nights of sleeplessness, fear, and loss.  But for Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, and some of their contemporaries, this was a bizarrely euphoric time when London became the setting for passionate love affairs and surreal beauty.  As the sky whistled and the ground shook, nerves were tested, loyalties were examined, and infidelities begun'.  They had me at Elizabeth Bowen.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson - Does anyone else have to think twice about who has written what when it comes to Juliet Gardiner, Juliet Nicolson and Virginia Nicholson?  Well I do!  They have all written fabulous non-fiction but do rattle my memory at times.  Anyway, this book has been around for ages but when it showed up on a clearance table for $2 it was apparent that it was a last kick at the can before disappearing.  My husband picked it up proving it's the thought that counts and not the cost as I was thrilled to have it.  'A new King was on the throne and the aristocracy were at play.  Yet as temperatures soared, cracks appeared under the surface with strikes, class divisions and the seeds of war to come.  Through the eyes of a series of exceptional individuals - among them a debutante, a choirboy, a politician, a trade unionist, a butler and the Queen - Juliet Nicolson illuminates a turning point in history'

The Spirit of London by Paul Cohen-Portheim - My husband and I were in Stratford last Sunday for his fiftieth birthday but I came home with the loot bag.  The Book Vault is such a fantastic shop with its combination of new books and inexpensive remainders.  It was the stunning artwork by Brian Cook that first caught my eye but just like The Love-charm of Bombs it is one of those quintessential books for an anglophile such as myself.  ' A fascinating glimpse at pre-war London, the book was written by an Austrian, who lived in London, 'to convey the atmosphere and spirit of London; it is a book about what London stands for and what it means.'  The author ranges from London street life, its parks, its traditions to the city's night life, restaurants and Londoners themselves.'  Apparently there can never be too many books on the history of London on my bookshelf and I stole peeks at this one for most of the car ride home.

Women in England 1760 - 1914: A Social History by Susie Steinbach - Opening up to the Contents page the sections were broken down in sections titled - Working-Class Women, Middle-Class Women, Elite Women, Sexuality, Religion, Education.  I knew it was coming home with me before turning to the next page to discover Imperialism, Domestic Politics and Suffrage.  'In 1760 few women could read.  By 1914 almost all could, most were educated and a few even attended university.  Votes for women were not achieved until after the First World War but the hard work was done before, and from the 1850s the advent of organized feminism had begun to improve women's lives.  Susie Steinbach examines the way things changed - and the ways they did not - in this history of the lives of women in England.'   For some reason it is always the moments when I am heaving the vacuum around, up and down the stairs, that I am reminded of how things have not changed!

There has been lots going on at our house - summer has a way of doing that - and by the end of the day I am lucky to manage three or four pages before the book falls on my face.  I've chosen a light read to plod through due to all of the distraction but once things calm down I will be digging into The Love-charm of Bombs!  Have you read it?

9 July 2013

All Aboard the Train to Ottawa

My husband and I boarded a VIA train last week for a four hour excursion to our nation's capital.  For those who know me well a trip across the pond to another nation's capital would have been my first choice but if you squint a teensy bit...

After a relaxing journey through more forests and fields than one could think possible we arrived at our lovely hotel, The Lord Elgin, smack dab in the middle of downtown Ottawa.  After unpacking the few things that we brought we made our way through the bustling pedestrian walkway to scout out a few shops and restaurants before making our way to Byward Market.  It's all about the food!  

There was something familiar about a bakery called Le Moulin De Provence and we clued in pretty quickly - it was the bakery that President Obama visited while in Ottawa in 2009.  He chose a few 'Canada' cookies for his daughters and hopefully a little something for the First Lady, Michelle.  Despite not being the slightest bit hungry after a late lunch I couldn't resist tucking a blueberry and fig scone into my bag for later on.

A highlight for both of us was exploring the Canadian War Museum and speaking with a ninety year-old veteran for at least half an hour.  The museum is every bit as fascinating as the Imperial War Museum in London and I instantly fell in love with this portrait of Sergeant M. E. Boreham who joined the RCAF in 1941.  She served in Canada before joining the RCAF office in London, England from 1942 until 1945.  Her grandson wrote a touching article about her for Maclean's magazine which you can read here.

Laurier House is another place to visit that comes highly recommended.  Previously home to two of Canada's Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfred Laurier and William Lyon MacKenzie King, its proportions are just short of grand so it feels cosy and oh, the library!  One of the young ladies working as a guide showed us the elevator hidden behind a wood panel.  During a visit by Winston Churchill the guest raced up the stairs while King took the elevator to see whose route was quickest but I can't remember who won.  If you visit the house ask for someone to install a paper roll of music into Lady Laurier's player piano.  It's ever so slightly eerie to see the keys move unaided but fun just the same.

On our third day and with an approaching departure time looming my husband and I parted ways - he to the Royal Canadian Mint and I walked to the National Gallery to have a peek at an exhibit featuring Canadian bookplates.  A guide asked me if there was anything she could help me find and as I whizzed past her on my way to the second floor I said 'Thank you but no, and one of these days I WILL be able to visit a gallery without watching the time!'.  Heading straight for the European wing I drank in the beauty of works by Renoir, Monet and Constable to name a few and if pressed to choose a favourite it would be Tissot's 'The Letter'.  The scene apparently depicts Lady Holland vigorously tearing up a letter from her adopted daughter, Maria Liechtenstein.  Having been up close and personal I can safely say that she doesn't look best pleased.

Close-up of a window at Notre-Dame Cathedral

A thoroughly enjoyable time was had and we look forward to making the journey during autumn at some point with the trees in full colour.  

My favourite bookplate from the exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada