25 November 2015

We Shall Never Surrender: Wartime Diaries 1939 - 1945 Edited by Penelope Middleboe, Donald Fry and Christopher Grace

'We are accustomed to our familiar fears; in the same way even in the midst of a bombardment with planes droning overhead and the noise of the barrage I can sleep quite comfortably, but if through this monstrous uproar I hear the still, small voice of a dripping tap, I get out of bed unable to sleep until the sound is stopped.'

- Charles Ritchie (Autumn 1940)

The accounts of daily life in Britain during World War II are shared in this book by nine diarists. I was already familiar with three contributors: Vera Brittain, Harold Nicolson, and Charles Ritchie.  The others had equally fascinating and frightening ordeals to endure with the characteristic so commonly seen in across many communities during the war...the ability to just get on with things.

Some of the early entries centre around the evacuation of children to the countryside, or in Vera Brittain's case sending her children to the United States.  Encouraged to lecture in America, it seemed a logical step to take but Vera felt deceived by the government.  No sooner were her young son and daughter settled across the pond when the government cancelled Vera's visa.  Her pacifist views were considered to be inflammatory so her ability to travel was curtailed.  Another dismal scene is when the Prime Minister asks Harold Nicolson to join Duff Cooper in the Ministry of Information. Nicolson talks to his wife (Vita Sackville-West) about acquiring some form of poison should suicide be more palatable than being tortured by the enemy.

The bravery and unbelievable calm during bombing raids never ceases to amaze.  Perhaps it's partly down to writing about such events after the fact and knowing you've lived to tell the tale.  In any case, being barely into adulthood and collecting body parts or seeing the block of flats across the road heave as though taking a deep breath before collapsing would certainly fray my nerves.

You would think that reading about the endless recipes for mock this-and-that and rationing would paint a fairly complete picture about the dreary nature of food during wartime.  You would be wrong.  There are more cringeworthy culinary explorations to discover; for instance, did you know the fat surrounding tinned American sausages was lauded for its use in cakes and pastry?  And when an impromptu visit by a Brigadier and five officers was made to Sissinghurst, Harold Nicolson and 'mummy' quickly shovelled over two thousand onions, that were being stored in spare bedrooms, into cloth sacks.  Apparently, onion stealing was a well-known trait in certain circles of the army.

Following each diarists 'path of destiny' as they forecast what may lie ahead made this book hard to put down.  Will a spouse chancing a flight across the Chanel arrive safely?  Will a ship carrying evacuated children be torpedoed?  Will the effects of daily bombing raids affect a pregnancy?  One of the most poignant entries in the book is near the end, when Hermione Ranfurly has just been reunited with her husband after three years apart.  They travel to England on a ship and book a room at Claridge's as a special treat.  In the morning, before the sun rises....

'...we climbed out of bed, drew back the curtains and leaned out on the smutty ledge of our smutty windowsill.  Quite soon it seemed as if the whole vault of heaven was vibrating with the roar of aeroplanes.  As it grew light we began to see them - great formations of bombers heading for Europe.  It was a magnificent and moving sight and we watched - fascinated - with thoughts flashing through our heads: how terrible what they must do; pray god they may return safely; can this be the beginning of the end of the war; so Overlord has started, it's not a secret anymore; when the sun comes up every plane will be a target; in a few minutes they'll be over enemy territory.'

As war diaries go, this is an outstanding collection and highly recommended.  And in one of those delightful coincidences, Dame Shirley Williams was a guest on A Good Read last night.  Her choice of a 'good read' was South Riding by Winifred Holtby.  While listening to Dame Williams discuss a wonderful novel by her mother's very special friend, I pictured her as a little girl on a ship crossing the Atlantic while her mother (Vera Brittain) held her breath.

A Balloon Site, Coventry by Dame Laura Knight

20 November 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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

JULIA CHILD  1912 - 2004
SIMONE BECK  1904 - 1991

"She dreamed of becoming a spy when the Second World War broke out, but instead Julia Child went on to publish what was in 1961 regarded as the definitive work on French cuisine for English speakers:  Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The first of three volumes, it was ten years in the making, written and researched with the help of Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  Soon afterwards, the American public began a long television love affair with Julia Child, a 6' 2" domestic goddess with a wobbly voice.  This self-confessed 'natural ham' demystified French cuisine for millions of Americans rather in the way that Fanny Cradock brought haute cuisine to the British during the same period.  In an effort to allay public fear of the fat used in French cooking, she noted:  'You don't see all those big fat people over there that you see lumbering around here at Disneyland'.  She herself never became overweight, and ended every show with the words, 'Bon Appetit!'"

The memory of a good French pâté can haunt you for years.  Fortunately they are easy to make, and you can even develop your own special pâté maison.  Do not expect a top-notch mixture to be inexpensive, however, for it will contain ground pork, pork fat, and usually veal, as well as cognac,  port, or Madeira, spices, strips or cubes of other meats, game, or live, and often truffles.  If the mixture is cooked and served cold in its baking dish it is called either a terrine or a pâté.  If it is molded in a pastry crust, it is a pâté en croûte.  A boned chicken, turkey, or duck filled with the same type of mixture in a galantine.  Pâtés and terrines will keep for about 10 days under refrigeration; they are fine to have on hand for cold impromptu meals, since all you need to serve with them are a salad and French bread.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Julia Child, Simone Beck, Curnonsky, Louisette Bertholle 
February 1953
(photo credit - Paul Child)

17 November 2015

A Folio Find 'The Lady in the Van'

Folio editions are lovely books so I was over the moon to find The Lady in the Van and Three Stories in a second-hand shop last month.
'June 1977.  On this the day of the Jubilee, Miss S. has stuck a paper Union Jack in the cracked back window of the van.  It is the only one in the Crescent.  Yesterday she was wearing a headscarf and pinned across the front of it a blue Spontex sponge fastened at each side with a large safety pin, the sponge meant to form some kind of peak against the (very watery) sun.  It looked like a favour worn by a medieval knight, or a fillet to ward off evil spirits.  Still, it was better than last week's effort, an Afrika Korps cap from Lawrence Corner:  Miss Shepherd - Desert Fox.'

It seems an odd thing to say that I was entertained by the story of an elderly woman living in such dire circumstance but Miss Shepherd's feisty nature under Alan Bennett's benevolent watch made it seem very okay.

13 November 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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

1837 - 1907

'Mrs. Halliday had cut the ham.  The slices were placed in boiling water, and boiled until they were thoroughly cooked.  Then they were put in a frying-pan and browned nicely.  After that, Marion fried some eggs to 'look like pictures.'  She didn't 'turn' them, but carefully dripped gravy over them, until they were done.  These eggs she laid upon the slices of ham, the golden centres shining through the pearly setting, and the ham was so pink where it was not brown, and so brown where it was not pink - truly, Marion's platter was like a bit of painting, and the pretty cook of fourteen was as proud of it as she could be.'

The Cooking Club of Tu-Whit Hollow

The Invalid's Breakfast by Emily Aldridge Crawford

9 November 2015

J. M. W. Turner and Turning Pages...Very Carefully

First premiered at the Tate Britain in 2014, this exhibit of J. M. W. Turner's work, completed during the last fifteen years of his life, has arrived at the AGO.  The art gallery was also hosting The Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair this past weekend.  With the wonderful worlds of art and books colliding in one stellar location there was only one thing for it....go!

I'll confess straight away that I knew next to zero about Turner before watching the brilliant film Mr Turner in 2014.  Twentieth-century art warms my heart and Hogarth's vignettes fascinate; Turner: Painting Set Free was a chance to see some of the art depicted in the film, just an arm's length away.  The muted tones and swirling, atmospheric seas and sky are stunning but so repetitive in style that thankfully the collection was broken up a few times by works of other artists as palette (pardon the pun) cleansers.  My favourite piece from the exhibit is The Angel Standing in the Sun (exhibited 1846).  

Reaching the end of the Turner exhibit we took the elevator up to the third floor to the book fair.  With books ranging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands, I wasn't planning to carry a bagful home - this was strictly to entertain a case of awe.

I've quoted from Hannah Glasse's book for my Friday's Literary Feast post several times...this complete work, a first edition, is on sale for an eye-watering $50,000.

There is quite a glare from the lights but I took a quick photo of this book, published in 1935, for the charming cover art by Vanessa Bell.

A delightful exhibit compiled by the proprietor of Monkey's Paw, a bookshop in Toronto, displays bits of paper in various forms found in second-hand books.

My husband and I enjoyed the memory of Wintario Lottery tickets, handwritten cash receipts, and old-fashioned memo slips. 

Candy wrappers work every bit as well.  Much more pleasing than the very occasional square of toilet roll we find in books returned at the circulation desk at the library....ugh.

There were also several punch cards that mysteriously made computers configure information back when the machines were the size of a medium-sized vault.  Vintage illustrations quickly drew my eye away.

A gentleman from Peter Harrington Books in London occupied a booth and kindly gave me a catalogue full of treasures. Flipping through the pages I wondered about the most expensive book on my shelf - probably a first edition of E, M, Delafield's Love Has No Resurrection that I found for three dollars at an antique sale, and worth much more.  Then I wondered where my books would end up once I'm long gone.  Putting things away once we were back at home I pulled our ticket stubs for the Turner exhibit out of my purse.  I handed one to my husband and we went our separate ways to find a book, any book, on one of the shelves...and we tucked the stubs inside.  

6 November 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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

1787 - 1855

Novelist and dramatist Mary Russell Mitford was the daughter of an extravagant and ultimately impecunious doctor in Alresford, Hampshire, and an early admirer of Jane Austen's novels.  Here she describes her nurse's wedding to a local farmer.

'Such a dinner...Fish from the great pond, Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, Boiled fowls, and a Gammon of bacon, a Green Goose, and a Suckling pig, plumb puddings, apple pies and custards, followed by home brewed beer and home made wines, by syllabub, by wedding cake.  Everybody ate enough for four, and there were four times more than would possibly be eaten.'

Our Village

A Wedding Banquet in Ypot by Albert Fourie

3 November 2015

Mental Health...and Mail

Several years ago the library system I work for implemented Staff Development Day.  It's an opportunity for staff to come together under one roof for seminars and training which will translate into better internal and external customer service.  It's also when the organization recognizes years of service from its employees.  The day starts off with my colleagues, system-wide, trickling in looking like they would rather be in bed and sporting a large cup of some form of caffeine.  By the end of the day the atmosphere is electric...which could have something to do with more caffeine and a fair bit of candy and chocolate left over from Halloween.

This year the focus was on mental health.  Our plenary speaker was Elizabeth Manley who won a silver medal in figure skating at the 1988 Olympics.  What most people didn't realize is that she was in the depths of depression throughout much of her teen years and leading right up to the Olympics.  Her story had many in the room wiping away tears, especially when she played the video of her performance; when we realized everything she had to rise above to perform so well.  She almost dropped out her event before a hockey coach made a passing comment in which he mentioned that he saw her as a champion and wanted his team to be inspired by her.  Elizabeth went from feeling worthless and inadequate to uplifted and empowered by one person's kind words.  Her depression wasn't magically whisked away but in that moment her perception of herself changed.

Yesterday was a sobering, and mentally exhausting, day filled with lectures, training sessions, role-playing, and some really fun moments catching up with staff from other locations.  Last night I was in bed by 8:30.

A new day has dawned and I was so happy to find the latest copy of The Persephone Biannually in the mailbox.  To the staff at Persephone Books...never underestimate how much it means to see that envelope!

It's always interesting see which piece of art will grace the cover...

...and which bookmark will be added to your collection.  Even if I don't own the Persephone title it's always fun to theme bookmarks with a current read.

And the short story by Winifred Holtby gives me an opportunity to share my latest acquisition, a never-been-read copy of The Crowded Street.  I bought it on Saturday during a 'stop the car!' moment when we passed a bookshop fifteen minutes before closing time.

Coincidentally, the book was first published in 1924 but I'm just a tad late for the 1924 Reading Challenge recently hosted by Simon and Karen.  Perhaps next year?