30 May 2015

London Trip Highlights

Oh London, how I love thee!  Each trip seems to top the one before, which probably has something to do with an increasing level of familiarity, but it's true once again.  So what was on my itinerary for this trip?

Unlocking the door to my room at the B&B at 1:00 pm I quickly changed clothes and by 2 pm was in Hampstead for a London Walk.  The sun was shining, it was hot by England's standards, and the fresh air after an overnight flight was exactly what I needed.  The charming cobbled lanes and quaint homes make this area one of my favourites to explore.  Our guide, Peter, had us gather around on a street corner and then told us to turn around and gaze at the horizon.  Far into the distance was the dome of St. Paul's cathedral through an open slice of neighbourhood and the wonder of that view made for a collective gasp.  My fellow walkers were a friendly bunch; two couples from Essex joined me at Polly's for something to eat afterward.  You couldn't ask for a warmer welcome.  After pointing them in the direction of Keats' house I made my way to the tube station and Piccadilly.  Cath Kidston's flag shop is close to Fortnum & Mason and I had my eye on a cross-body bag for hands-free flitting about.

The weather for my first full day was cool...I lie, it was cold...and rainy.  Perfect for a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Eric Ravilious exhibit.  It was such a treat to see so many pieces brought together; I had to go around twice.  Two of my favourites were Hampden Park (1928) and Wiltshire Landscape (1937).  The regular collection is also well worth a visit.  The train ride is just long enough to escape London's hustle and bustle and the walk to the gallery is leafy.

Once back in London my next stop was Persephone Bookshop on Lamb's Conduit Street to pick up a copy of Mollie Panter-Downes' London War Notes.  A relaxing cup of tea at the cafe across the way was desperately needed and just the opportunity to browse the latest Biannually.

 After dropping off a few things at the B&B, my next stop was Leicester Square for a six o'clock showing of.....

 I am hoping that the show coincided with everyone running home to dinner and had nothing to do with cynicism because the cinema seats 2,000 people and there were only twenty of us in attendance.  Luckily for me this meant a seat in the Royal Circle at no extra cost.  This film does take a fair few liberties but it was jolly good fun!

 Making the best of a better forecast the next day it was off to Paddington Station for a train to Bath...or as Eloise says....'Baaawwth'.  Now, my wheat- and dairy-free diet was in a precarious position but I was prepared to give the iconic Bath bun a try but once I saw the size of it.....it didn't happen.  The gorgeous architecture was enough of a stunning treat....

...just imagine walking up to this picturesque front door every day.  Whenever I see homes that have stood for hundreds of years it's impossible not to conjure up images of its former owners, visitors, and my favourite - the downstairs girl.

The fashion museum displays sumptuous dresses and gowns from many eras but it was the unbelievably tiny waists on some that made me stare in awe.  Luncheon could only have been a few crumbs from a daintily held tea sandwich or scone.

After a full day of strolling Bath's beautiful streets and shops...in a dress with bare legs in the increasingly cool weather....it was time to return to London.  But not before drinking in one last stunning view of the Pulteney Bridge.  Photos just do not do any sort of justice for this vista.

My evening was spent at Hatchards lazily browsing titles and then there was a stop to make at Fortnum & Mason to buy tea for a friend.  Dinner plans when I'm travelling alone have nothing to do with romance so my day ended with a take-away of lamb meatballs with rice from the Turkish restaurant next to the B&B.  A scrubbed face, jammies on, while filling myself to contentment before writing about my day in a journal with the BBC on for company is all I need.

Cambridge.  This was my favourite day.  My train partner was a lovely young man from Australia in London on a music scholarship and we chatted the entire journey.  The walk from the train station is very like most High Streets but the closer you get to the colleges the more stunning the architecture becomes.  A bit of light refreshment from Patisserie-Valerie was in order before getting on with things properly.

It was graduation day for many of the students and lovely to see so many proud parents and family members dressed in their finery.  It truly was a special day to be in Cambridge...congratulations to the graduates!

The market was heaving with shoppers and buskers.  One man, Warren Daniel, plays guitar, and if you're ever in the city centre, look for him.  There are videos on youtube if you're curious; he's quite talented.  Harry, the little boy in the photo above, could not have been more thrilled to be a magician's assistant - he absolutely glowed with excitement!  So sweet.

I was happy just to wander and see what popped up around the next curve but did end up at one of my itinerary items, The Fitzwilliam Museum.  Blissfully majestic, this museum is large but has an intimate atmosphere much like the Wallace Collection in Marylebone.  I was specifically interested in seeing the Treasured Possessions exhibit but had the added pleasure of seeing works by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and L. S. Lowry from the regular collection.

The shops are fantastic!  There is one particular shop, Mistral, that would work perfectly as my closet and why, oh why, didn't I buy that gorgeous chartreuse cardigan?  The market is the perfect place for buying inexpensive gifts for friends back home such as really lovely summery scarves for £3!  I love you, Cambridge, and I'll definitely be back.

There doesn't seem to be anything in my notes about plans for the evening but by this point I'm sure there was a good night's sleep, something in keeping with a coma.


Sunday morning was bittersweet.  Before leaving for London I had been reading Ali Smith's How to Be Both for Emily's walking book club in Hampstead.  The time on my watch was off by almost half an hour and I can only assume that it happened while resetting it to London time while bleary-eyed on the plane.  Needless to say, I miised the walk and was thoroughly annoyed with myself.

But Hampstead's residents were enjoying the sunshine while eating breakfast on cafe patios dotting the mews and High street.  Hearing the church bells peel on a Sunday morning in Hampstead is a favourite memory from a previous trip so I was glad to have enjoyed it once again.  And I shared a sandwich with a pitbull named Honey who understood the word 'gentle' far better than my boy, Deacon.  The good news is that I did end up meeting the lovely Emily and a few of her book club members at Daunt Books and definitely hope to join the walk during my next visit.

Saying good-bye to Hampstead I rode the tube to Lambeth North and the Imperial War Museum.  This was my third visit but the first since the renovation.  The whole museum could easily take half a day to explore but my primary purpose was to see the Fashion on the Ration exhibit.  No photos were allowed; the dresses in the photo above are from the regular collection.  It was fascinating to see beautifully tailored dresses made from material featuring large mushrooms or illustrated balls of yarn.  I wonder if there were bolts of it lying about and when needs must....but the tailoring is so wonderful that you forget about the odd motifs!  The hand-knit bathing suit doesn't bear thinking about, a parachute silk bridesmaid dress would have made any little girl feel like a princess, and the foundation garments from a silk map of Italy were delightfully whimsical.  By the end of the exhibit there was a group of us sharing our thoughts on the clothing and I can honestly say I never experience a moment of loneliness while out and about in London.

There are several pieces of World War II art to see at the Imperial War Museum and fans of Persephone Books will instantly recognize The Queue at the Fish Shop by Evelyn  Dunbar (1944).  It was also thrilling to see Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-Ring by Laura Knight (1943).  I had a moment of gratitude when I bought the last postcard in stock of that painting.  Phew!

Monday was Mary day!  That didn't stop me from squeezing in a shopping trip to Marks & Spencer in Covent Garden; they open at eight am.  The half-price ticket booth opens at ten am and if I wanted to see Hay Fever starring the delightful Felicity Kendall this was the only day tickets were available before going back home.  With plans secure for the evening and a ticket in my wallet it was off to the Wallace Collection to meet Mary.  We've been emailing back and forth for yonks and have met before so it was simply picking up where we left off.  I adore Mary and wish we lived closer together.

When I think back to that visit it's this painting, The Strawberry Girl by Joshua Reynolds that stands out; it's incredibly haunting.  The poor thing looks like she's dying but Mary thought she's simply eaten too many sweets or the strawberries filling her apron.

With the skies clearing and the misty rain gone, Mary and I headed for Marylebone High Street.  Mary pointed out the blue plaque showing where Rose Macaulay lived after her previous flat was bombed during the Blitz.

After lunch we walked to Regent's Park.  The roses were only beginning to bloom, they're probably absolutely bursting by now, but there is lots of lovely greenery to enjoy.  See if you can spot the bird enjoying a bob on one of the platforms!  Mary and I had such a nice visit but it ended all too soon...I had a play to see.  Hay Fever was fabulous!!

May 19th was Strand day.  Did you know that the Savoy hotel has a mini-museum?  If you look smart they will let you in for a peek.

It's impossible to pass Twinings without shopping for tea.  I was hoping to find their Winter Edition Mulled Spice Tea but alas, I have to wait until October.  I did choose sixteen sachets of various flavoured teas which were duly placed into a very decadent, and large, shopping bag.  When you enter the Royal Courts of Justice, which is across the street from Twinings, you must be scanned and your bags x-rayed.  Just like at the airport, my bags were placed in a bucket and sent through the machine.  My purse came out but my impressive Twinings bag was pushed out of the bucket and now lodged inside the x-ray machine.  It did end up being pushed out eventually by the next woman's bucket but unfortunately my sachets of tea now dotted the conveyor belt in a most unbecoming fashion.  That didn't seem to put anyone off and they let me in.  It's not widely known to visitors of London but you can watch court proceedings.  Not only is it interesting but when you watch Law and Order UK you can say 'I've been there!'.  I love trumping my husband on London locales.

After a full day of exploring and buying confections to take back home, I met the lovely, and very busy, Rachel for dinner on Charing Cross Road.  If I'm not mistaken it has been five or six years since we've known each other through blogging - how time flies!  After catching up on news about her next exciting career move and some other interesting news, we tackled a few bookshops.  Well, of course....

The Country Set came from Hatchards.  It charmingly highlights wildlife from the English countryside with wonderful illustrations and is quite adorable.  It was love at first sight.  Rachel recommended Murder Underground as my souvenir 'London' read to extend that holiday feeling, They Came Like Swallows is a book Rachel blogged about ages ago and is one of those titles that leaves a mark once you've finished.  It was tagged as a 'staff favourite' at Foyles so I'm twice as curious now.  London War Notes....finally, it's been a long wait.  And Rachel plucked The UnCommon Reader from my hand when it came time to pay at Any Amount of Books and added it to her purchase.  Isn't she lovely?

It's Oxford day!  The Ashmolean currently has two exhibits that interested me but not only that, one of the nicest bloggers you will ever meet lives here and it has been too long since I've seen Simon.  He was working until five pm so more on that later.  Isn't this a nice photo of Radcliffe Camera?  I was just coming out of the nearby cafe.

The two exhibits were Love Bites: Caricatures by James Gillray and Great British Drawings.  If you have the chance to visit you will find plenty to please.  Some of my favourites were Rosetti's Proserpine, Ernest Howard Shepard's A Pre-Raphaelite Cocktail Party and Frederick Sandys' Nepenthe.  The photo above is a Delft tile, part of a grouping, from the regular collection at the museum.

If you are visiting Oxford and desire a cup of tea, or something stronger, I highly recommend visiting The Grand CafĂ©.  Sneak a peak....click here.  And don't leave Oxford without exploring the covered market.  The English robin was not to be seen during my stay but I found a lovely summery scarf with an English robin motif at one of the market shops, Ansari,  Lovely shop!

Simon met me at the Ashmolean after work.  We walked over to The Nosebag, a favourite spot of his, and laughed our way through tea and cake for an hour and a half.  A particular story about a lost crow still makes me laugh over one week later!  Thanks so much for meeting me, Simon, and eating cake before your dinner.

You would think I had the whole of Oxford to myself but there is a small army of students just out of range.  The skies were so gloomy but doesn't it make for a wonderfully atmospheric picture?

My last full day in London and the weather could not have been more stunning.  Such a relief as my plan was to finally take a London Walk I've had my eye on for ages, The Blitz.  It takes place on Thursdays at two pm and being smack in the middle of the day can be a problem but it suited me perfectly at the end of a busy holiday.  We met our guide, Fiona, at the St. Paul's tube stop and from there we walked to various sites and monuments while she talked about events relating to the Blitz and pointed out several monuments.  Such as this one...

...The National Firefighters Memorial to the men and women of the Fire Service who died serving their country.  There is a relief of two women on the other side of the plinth and tragically the list of names runs to the thousands.

Our guide, Fiona, speaking during a stop at Postman's Park.  The plaques are incredibly poignant but if you're interested in reading some of them there is a website.  Click here.

The rest of the time I had left in London was filled with strolling leafy Bloomsbury, watching dogs play in Russell Square, browsing bookshops on Charing Cross one more time, and shopping in Waitrose.  My cocky plans not to bother with a piece of carry-on luggage were a complete failure so I popped into Primark for a pretty satchel for my treasure, gifts, and keepsakes.

So there you have it, some highlights of my travels in London.  I'm already planning the next trip!

29 May 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1771 - 1855

Friday, August 19th

The servant at Brownhill was a coarse-looking wench, barefoot and bare-legged.  I examined the kitchen round about; it was crowded with furniture, drawers, cupboards, dish-covers, pictures, pans, and pots, arranged without order, except that the plates were on shelves, and the dish-covers hung in rows; these were very clean, but floors, passages, staircase, everything else dirty.  There were two beds in recesses in the wall; above one of them I noticed a shelf with some books: - it made me think of Chaucer's Clerke of Oxenforde:--

        'Liever had he at his bed's head
         Twenty books clothes in black and read.'

They were baking oat-bread, which they cut into quarters, and half-baked over the fire, and half-toasted before it.  There was a suspiciousness about Mrs. Otto, almost like ill-nature; she was very jealous of any inquiries that might appear to be made with the faintest idea of a comparison between Leadhills and any other place, except the advantage was evidently on the side of the Leadhills.  We had nice honey to breakfast.

Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland

Painting of Scotland by Patrick Jensen

26 May 2015

London...There and Back

All good things must come to an end but the memories are everlasting.  Although, I am hoping that by the weekend my dreams will no longer consist of passing throngs of people on narrow streets like a salmon struggling upstream or standing in train stations. 

London was full of things to see and do and with this trip being my sixth time over, I was able to tear myself away to enjoy days out in Bath, Cambridge, and Oxford.  A cool, misty morning was perfect for the short train ride to Dulwich to experience the Ravilious exhibit at the beautiful Dulwich Picture Gallery.  I shopped a bit, spent lots of time lazily browsing every bookshop I passed, enjoyed two London Walks, loved the Fashion on the Ration exhibit at the Imperial War Museum, went to see a film at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square and a West End play.  The icing on the cake was spending time with my favourite blog friends on the other side of the pond.  It was baguettes with Mary, burgers with Rachel, and cake with Simon...and apparent from the first sight of a Patisserie-Valerie that my wheat- and dairy-free diet was out the window.  I was so happy to finally meet Emily in the flesh but not for nearly as long as I was hoping due to a silly mistake with my watch, and even surprised an unsuspecting Verity, who used to blog under cardigangirlverity.

The past few days have been spent unpacking, reassuring Deacon (my eccentric Border Collie) I won't be very far away, sharing stories and gifts, fending off jet lag by uncharacteristic napping sessions, laundry, and going back to work.  

Over the next few days I'll share some highlights and photos from my trip to London and look forward to catching up with your blogs.  Hope everyone has been well and enjoying the much-longed for changing of the season! 

Hatchards on Piccadilly

11 May 2015


I know, I know...I'm off to London tomorrow, the mecca for book shopping, but it was an excellent weekend for finds.  My favourite second-hand shops in Toronto is particularly popular with university students wanting to sell their books at term's end so BMV was heaving with required reading.  English professors could very well weep with the knowledge their students were so quick to sell off titles meant to inspire but sometimes the pocketbook speaks even louder, I suppose.

I don't think any of the books we brought home were likely to have appeared on a syllabus but it was fun wading through the stuffed shelves.  My scanning technique usually begins with looking at every single book until the titles begin to blur and then I switch to looking for publishers.  There were loads of nyrb classics!  The blurb by a New York Times reviewer on the back of Corrigan made me laugh out loud...'Domesticity for Miss Blackwood has never been cozy, she listens for the ticking of the time bomb in the teapot.'  My preference is all about 'cosy' but this is an author I need to explore.

So many of you have been busy consuming Trollope, writing about Trollope, entering draws for books by Trollope, and generally celebrating the bicentenary of his birth, but my favourite Victorian author is George Gissing.  You can download his work for free but reading that way is just not for me so I was thrilled to find a copy of In the Year of the Jubilee; it's rare on shelves around here.  Anita Brookner's writing reminds me of another favourite author, Elizabeth Bowen.  My library stocks quite a few of Brookner's works but when I want to start a new book at eight p.m. on a Sunday night...well, it's best to stock a few on my own shelves.  And my love affair with Barbara Comyns' work continues.  Fingers crossed, Charing Cross Road has a gem or two that I don't own stocked in one of its many fabulous bookshops.

My lovely husband bought a copy of A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson for me last Friday.  I think it's a combination of feeling a bit sentimental because I'm going away and thrilled with the prospect of a bit of peace and quiet for days on end!

Luggage allowance and book lovers....well, it's never going to be an easy relationship.  Knowing there are lots of lovely books waiting at home will ease my disappointment about books left behind.  My B & B is a short stroll from Persephone Books and will be one of my first stops to pick up a copy of Mollie Panter-Downes' London War Notes. For a full report on how successful (or unsuccessful) 'Project Restraint' was and details about the walking book club I'm taking part in, watch this space in a couple of weeks!  See you soon...

8 May 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating


There are certain aspects of British cookery that never cease to fascinate me, and one of these is the extraordinary ability we have to gather up the delicate flavours of our countryside and transform them into exquisite dishes.  Sweet-scented violets, primroses, cowslips, lime blossom, elderflowers and roses have been picked by British cooks since time immemorial and converted into fragrant messes.  But while primroses, cowslips and lime blossom have slipped from common usage, the elderflower has remained popular.
  It is one of those subtle flavourings that makes a dish taste quintessentially British.  What Frenchman would dream of adding elderflower to his rhubarb compote?  What American would add a dash of elderflower cordial to his spritzer?  And surely no Italian would churn a gooseberry and elderflower sorbet?  Yet as far as the British are concerned, elderflower, with their sweet scent of Muscat grapes, add an indefinable charm to countless dishes from cooling drinks to creamy custards.'

Simply British

3 May 2015

Murder on the Home Front by Molly Lefebure

Apologies to the poor souls who ended up on the postmortem table after an untimely, and usually quite brutal, death but this book was a riveting read and thoroughly entertaining.  It came to the library as a donation and wasn't going to be added to the collection.  My reading tastes have become so predictable that a colleague knew exactly who would give it a good home and popped it into my Princeton file last month.

Molly Lefebure studied journalism at London University and had taken a secretarial course.  As a junior reporter at the beginning of WWII Molly worked an exhausting fourteen hour day, every day of the week.  The assignments providing the most interest and excitement involved the Coroner's Court and the police department.  An up and coming pathologist with the Home Office, Dr. Simpson, was looking for a secretary to take notes during examinations.  A perfect match was made.

It would be a fair bet to assume Molly's secretarial course never prepared her for taking shorthand while standing next to a pool of blood or tapping away on a typewriter while balanced on a casket.  A more dedicated employee would be hard to find as boyfriends were no match against a call from Dr. Simpson late at night to attend a suicide or murder scene. 
'"Spare time" mostly came at teatime, so, for the next few weeks, CKS arranged for us to take our tea beside the carbolic tank and its gruesome contents.  This, I thought, was a very unattractive idea to put the most insensitive off anchovy toast and tea cakes.  However, it was not my place to complain, so there I sat with my tea tray and memo pad, jotting the notes which CKS dictated to me as he stooped, all concentration, over the body.'
As a Canadian myself, I winced several times when it was a member of our army responsible for a young woman's murder.  And unfortunately it was women who ended up on the postmortem table far more often than men in this book.  The justice system during this era seems to have been carried out more efficiently than our modern times and Molly's accounts are straightforward, without drama, but perhaps, at times, a bit of gallows humour.

'The dead man would then be lifted off the cart by the warders who had wheeled it, and carried to the p.m. table.  He was clad in trousers, singlet, socks; no shoes.  Around his neck was the deep, livid mark of the noose.  Otherwise he always appeared perfectly peaceful and in many instances, I thought, positively relieved to be dead.'

 You can't help but admire Molly's dedication to the job.  As if blood, stench, mud, and maggots, weren't enough to deal with in a work day, this determined woman had to take cover under tables when doodle-bombs would whizz overhead.  Due to the blackout most of the postmortems had to be performed before 4 pm.  A much more idyllic side to Molly's occupation was a working holiday in Kent at Dr. Simpson's cottage typing notes for his next textbook while out in the garden.  She also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to have a good snoop around a murdered prostitute's flat as research for a fictional story she hoped to write one day.

Molly Lefebure felt terrible about being unavailable for war work due to her erratic work schedule but was consoled by the fact she was exposed to much of the war's outfall.  Dealing with the bodies of young soldiers who took cyanide rather than report for duty on the front lines or piecing together bodies from a bomb blast made her extremely relevant.  And if you ask me, a top-notch secretary as this is undoubtedly going above and beyond the job description of a secretary.

I remember watching this dramatized on PBS a couple of years ago.  The television program was enjoyable but the book is so much better.  For those interested in reading more about Molly, please click here.

Molly Lefebure
1919 - 2013

1 May 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1928 - 2014

The summer picnic gave ladies the chance to show off their baking hands.  On the barbecue pit, chickens and spareribs sputtered in their own fat and a sauce whose recipe was guarded in the family like a scandalous affair.  However in the ecumenical light of the summer picnic every true baking artist could reveal her prize to the delight and criticism of the town.  Orange sponge cakes and dark brown mounds dripping Hershey's chocolate stood layer to layer with ice white coconuts and light brown caramels.  Pound cakes sagged with their buttery weight and small children could no more resist licking their icings than their mothers could avoid slapping the sticky fingers.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings