31 December 2017

Best of 2017

This is my favourite time of year in the blogsphere.  I love discovering the hits and misses with other readers and how they've measured up against their bookish goals.

Over the years I've discovered that I'm completely useless when it comes to any sort of restrictions on book buying.  A previous pledge to join a guilt-ridden group of people promising to read from their own shelves for one year lasted a mere four days.  My envy of readers who manage to complete a novel every three days...well, it's defeatist, isn't it.  And I've learned to quell my excitement for group read-alongs as they often begin just as I'm thoroughly engrossed in something else.  But at the heart of it all is our shared love of books and the joy of reading, regardless of output or goals. 

So without further ado, the following are my top five reads of 2017 (in no particular order).  Can I cheat and count the whole Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard as outstanding?  Also, a special mention goes to Pure Juliet by Stella Gibbons.

Happy New Year to everyone visiting here!  It was - 24C in my part of Ontario this morning so there will be no celebrating in a little black dress but a bit of port should do quite nicely.

Edit - The Persephone title isn't legible, my apologies....it's Long Live Great Bardfield: the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood.

11 December 2017

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard

And so life with the Cazalets continues at Home Place and in various boroughs of London in this second book of the Cazalet Chronicles.  The list of characters has expanded to include a few more extended family members, mercifully introduced in slow drips making it easy to keep everyone connected to the correct family tree.  Marking Time begins during the phoney war, when the build up to the declaration of war seemingly amounts to nothing at all, making citizens question the need for gas masks, evacuation, and sandbagging.  Infrequent sightings of planes flying high over the countryside barely register a thought and so the Cazalets go about their business as usual.

The title perfectly describes the sentiment expressed by some of the characters as common sense dictates that no large scale plans should be made, travel is limited, spending should be kept to a minimum, and making-do is simply matter-of-fact.  Although, as the young girls are sprouting into adolescence they'll require a few new articles of clothing from London.  As the days and weeks roll into months, the boys wonder (and worry) about the possibility of being called upon to enlist.  When bombing raids begin in earnest, the Cazalet men sign up for assignments while Hugh, disabled in the last war, struggles to run the family's lumber business.

My affection for Miss Milliment continues to grow as she plants the seed of higher education with the younger girls.

'I had been meaning to suggest this little plan to Clary's father and your parents but circumstances have made that difficult or impossible in dear Clary's case.  But a university education could do so much to widen the possibilities of a useful and interesting career'.  She peered at Polly through her tiny, thick steel-rimmed spectacles.  'I do not sense very much enthusiasm,' she said, 'but I should so much like you to think about it'.

Having lived a fairly meagre existence, it would be easy for Miss Milliment to view the young girls' privilege with resentment.  But her subtle suggestions regarding further education show the depth of caring she has for her charges.  I absolutely adore her and, in my mind, she's become a bit like Nurse Phyllis Crane from Call the Midwife with her words of comfort and advice.   Although, frustration may lie ahead for Miss Milliment as at least one parent is not at all interested in having a Bluestocking for a daughter.

Without giving away too much, one of the characters is diagnosed with a serious illness.  Elizabeth Jane Howard's skill at writing dialogue for inquisitive children as they question what they observe, but don't understand, is touching and very well done.  Whether intentional or not, I was struck by just how much the children spoke about the mysteries of life, while the adults remained silent and secretive about certain situations. 

Being very much a novel of time and place, my education surrounding life in 1940s England has delightfully increased.  The mention of such things as senna pods sent me straight to google (for regularity) as did Marie biscuits (very like a Rich Tea biscuit) and Volpar Gel (a spermicide).  Tangee lipstick in cyclamen was extremely popular, and you were very lucky if your jumper survived more than a few years due to moths in the cupboard.  It's details such as these, dotted throughout, that make such novels so much more than kitchen dramas; this is social history at its most entertaining.

Under the category of First World Problems I've wondered about turning to Christmas reading for the rest of December, but I just can't tear myself away from the Cazalets.  So it's on to book three....

Woman Knitting by Mavis Blackburn (1923 - 2005)

30 November 2017

A Book List for Cambridge (with a dash of envy)

The provisional list of books for the Women Writers Summer Course next July at Homerton College, Cambridge.

With a staircase and flooring project underway there's little no chance I'll be signing on, but it's definitely something I plan to do at some point!  If you're at loose ends for something to do on your summer vacation, feel free to make me green with envy. 


Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847)
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927)
Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922)
Elizabeth Bowen, A World of Love (1955) [title to be confirmed]

27 November 2017

A Christmas Carol at the Cinema

A fun time was had by all yesterday at The Man Who Invented Christmas, a delightful film to begin this festive season.  Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens earnestly trying to overcome recent flops and writer's block while the bills at home continue to mount.  Watching Dickens take inspiration from scenes of poverty and curmudgeonly service staff, while scribbling notes for his unrivalled Christmas classic, is an absolute delight.  It's not all puddings and mulled wine though, for the blacking factory and memories of debtors' prison will never be distant enough in Dickens' past.

I was thrilled to see Miriam Margolyes and Simon Callow in the cast, but it was Miles Jupp's performance as William Makepeace Thackeray that came perilously close to scene-stealing whenever he appeared.

The photo above shows Dickens and company peering through the window of Hatchards at a pre-order sign for a worringly unfinished book.  Surely I wasn't the only one in the room whose thoughts were of just how far their Christmas window displays have come!

21 November 2017

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I've lost count of the times fellow bloggers have mentioned The Cazalet Chronicles whenever the topic of fiction set during WWII comes up.  There are five books in this series - my library was missing titles and it was wishful thinking that a complete set would pop up in a second-hand shop, so I placed an order.  Having just finished the first book I completely agree with those who find the story of the Cazalets, an upper-middle class family bridging the Victorian era and the twentieth century, to be unputdownable.

The Light Years begins with the early rising of the Cazalet household staff.  Flannels are dipped into washbowls, caps are pulled over curls and nightdresses are removed to make way for shifts and aprons.  As another day dawns on Home Place, the Cazalet's summer residence in Sussex, the draperies are thrown open, tea is made and the cover is removed from the budgerigar's cage.  Scenery filled with cotton and linens then turns to one of silks as the Cazalet women slip from warm beds into recently drawn hot baths.  If images from Downton Abbey are forming before your eyes, join the club!

The year is 1937.  Readers are aware that another war lies ahead but the Great War is still fresh in the minds of the Cazalets, especially for Hugh, who lost a hand while fighting in France.  Another tragic event has touched the family....Rupert's first wife died after giving birth to their second child.  Seemingly unscathed after his war duty,  Edward is debonair enough to be a matinee idol.  A shortfall of Edward's is his need for the attention of women despite having a perfectly lovely family to focus on. Rachel Cazalet, the senior Cazalet's only daughter, is steadfastly committed to her parents.  At thirty-eight years of age, her closest companion is a woman called 'Sid', a shortening of Margot's last name.  Her parents, affectionately known as 'the Brig' and 'Duchy', are supportive of Rachel's philanthropic work and not overly concerned that marriage and motherhood may pass her by.  There is a definite air, outwardly at least, that everyone knows their manners and place.

Villy, Sybil and Zoe have married into the Cazalet family, with Zoe breaking the mould in that she has no immediate plans for children.  In fact, she secretly employs a Dutch cap to keep any chance of  pregnancy to a minimum.  The most charming scenes come from the various children, ranging from infants to early teen years.  I laughed out loud at an experiment in making 'Wonder Cream' that involved raw eggs which, as you would expect, soon end up 'on the turn'.  The absolute cherry on top of this heaving household is the superbly drawn governess, Miss Milliment.  But credit where credit is due, the delight comes from Howard's sublime ability to characterize....

She clothed herself by covering her body with whatever came to hand cheapest and most easily; she bathed once a week (the landlady charged extra for baths) and she had taken over her father's steel-rimmed spectacle frames that served her very well.  Laundry was either difficult or expensive so her clothes were not very clean.  In the evenings she read philosophy and poetry and books about the history of art, and at weekends she looked at pictures.  Looked!  She stared, stayed, and revisited a picture until it was absorbed into those parts of her bulky being that made memory, which then digested into spiritual nourishment.

Having now cemented the members of the family and which children belong to whom, I'm jumping straight into the next book Marking Time.  Everyone, except Polly's cat, has been fitted for a gas mask and is taking up garden shovels to dig trenches near the tennis court.

A quick last minute note....I've just read an article stating that producer Sally Woodward Gentle, formerly the creative director of Downton Abbey, will be involved in a new project to dramatize the story of the Cazalets.  Very exciting!

The Yellow Balloon by Dorothea Sharp (1937)

15 November 2017

On This Day in 1857

From A London Year:  365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters...

15 November 

I went a little way into St Katharine's Dock, and found it crowded with great ships, then, returning, I strolled along the range of shops that front towards this side of the Tower.  They have all something to do with ships, sailors, and commerce; being for the sale of ships' stores, nautical instruments, arms, clothing, together with a tavern and grog-shop at every other door; bookstalls, too, covered with cheap novels and songbooks, cigar-shops in great numbers, and everywhere were sailors, and here and there a soldier, and children at the doorsteps, and women showing themselves at the doors or windows of their domiciles.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, English Notebooks, 1857

St Katharine Dock as it looked c. 1830s.  Published in Cassell's New and Old London Illustrated, 1880.

Events long in the past for the Cazalets, but World War II is looming and London's landscape will be changed yet again.  I have almost finished the first book of the Cazalet Chronicles and wish I didn't have to go to work today.  

2 November 2017

Eight Ghosts edited by Rowan Routh

I finished this book yesterday in the not-so-spooky atmosphere of a dealership's garage;  picture bright lights, a Kuerig machine churning out flavoured coffee, and a looping news feed on the television.  Mind you, paying for a set of new snow tires can bring about a mild case of the vapours....I digress.

Eight Ghosts is a compilation of stories written by well-known authors featuring English Heritage sites.  I've certainly visited a fair few during trips to London but have yet to encounter anything unexplainable.  Still, you can't help but conjure up an image of one of the original inhabitants treading along the floorboards, and you know someone in long silks or breeches has gazed out of a present picture window.

For me, four stories stood out from the rest.  Offerings by Andrew Michael Hurley, Kamila Shamsie, Jeanette Winterson, and Max Porter won't soon be forgotten and will be reread next year.  Hurley's story is vintage ghost story material full of eighteenth-century detail; a monkey in a cage adds an extra layer of darkness tinged with sympathy.  Shamsie blends the horror of two countries, and hooray for Winterson's ghost story featuring a gay couple and their nuptials.  Porter's story set at Eltham Palace made me smile because it brought me back to the gravel drive I walked on just last July...before things got strange and spooky.

Foreboding by Shamsie tells the story of Khalid, a night security guard at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire.  Being new to England, Khalid contemplates castles, why a Keep is called just that, and dismisses the idea of ghosts.  Coming from a war-torn country, his task of keeping trespassers away from the castle seems an easy and relaxing one.  During his shift,  Khalid's thoughts drift back and forth between life in his home country and the new opportunities ahead.  The differences being like night and day.  Looking around...'Nothing told him this like these ruins formed by time, not bombs'.  Then Khalid feels a chill in his bones, but it's quickly dismissed as he concentrates on the large sixteenth-century windows....next, a woman's voice plays in his head.....

Did they love the light or was there something in the darkness they were trying to keep at bay?

Waking up the next day in an attic room above a pub, Khalid feels a bit under the weather.  Back at work, in the staff kitchen at the gatehouse, an aroma fills the room.  It's slightly familiar, with a note of something rotting.  And that's where I'm going to leave you hanging because what happened next stirred a case of the heebie jeebies; anything more would spoil things for you. 

Proceeds from the sale of this book go towards the conservation of English Heritage sites across the country.  A worthy purchase and a very good cause.

26 October 2017

Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

Furthering my quest for an appropriately dark read for October, I remembered the discussion surrounding Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins when Persephone Books republished it in 2012.  Having ordered a copy after thoroughly enjoying The Tortoise and the Hare, the time to delve into this fiction based account of a appalling crime from the Victorian era has arrived.

First of all, the serendipity of this novel being set during the same period as my last read, Affinity by Sarah Waters, was irresistible.  Continuing in the vein of life in Victorian London felt right; seamless images of silk dresses, carriages, and bread being toasted over a roaring fire.  And then it all turns quite sinister with the introduction of a scheming man - waxed mustache and all.

Thinly disguising the characters, Jenkins has changed Harriet's maiden name from Richardson to Woodhouse.  When the novel begins, Harriet is thirty-two and lives at home with her mother, Mrs. Ogilvy, and her step-father.  Modern thinking suggests that Harriet may have experienced a lack of oxygen at birth leading her be what Victorians referred to as 'a natural'.  In any case,  Harriet had learning disabilities and exhibited moments of 'horrid uncouthness' and was 'not easily put out of the way'.  She had a fondness for fine clothes and pretty things, all things her mother relished bestowing on her daughter.

Periodically, Mrs. Ogilvy would send Harriet to the homes of relatives for a bit of respite.  One relation, Mrs. Hoppner, relied on the money earned housing Harriet to dress her beautiful daughter Alice, and subsidize the income of her other daughter, Elizabeth.  Willing to forego any pleasure for herself, Elizabeth would consistently do without to allow her artist husband, Patrick, to continue his artwork despite very little return.  Patrick's brother Lewis rather fancies himself and is in love with Elizabeth's sister, Alice.  So we have a very intimate quadrangle of relatives who all aspire to have a bit more. 

Despite shuddering at Harriet's attention (and ten years her junior), Lewis sets out to discover the exact amount of money the young woman is worth.  Realizing she is quite well off, he wastes no time in his flirtations and a swift proposal.  Alice is crestfallen but Lewis reassures her with stolen kisses.  The word 'cad' comes to mind.

Approaching Mrs. Ogilvy with news of his intentions, Harriet's mother gives Lewis an earful.  She quickly realizes the reason for his haste, but the young man has the flagrant audacity to reply...

   'You talk as if the good luck would be all on my side.  I may state that there are several people who'd be glad enough to marry me -- in fact, I'm causing disappointments, a thing I don't like to do: and there'll be a good deal of surprise at my marring your daughter, quite as much as at her marrying me.'
   Mrs.Ogilvy attempted to awe him by calling up all her dislike and contempt into her face, but Lewis sat unmoved under her gaze.
   'Might I enquire why?' she said, with laborious interest, but before his impervious attitude, tinged with a sneer, her tones fell flat.  Lewis did not hurry in his reply; he recrossed his legs and rested one hand on his knee.
   'I am considered handsome by the ladies.; he said.
   It was too much for Mrs. Ogilvy; with a blast of disdain, unmeditated as lighting, bold as thunder, she exclaimed:
   'Handsome!  Yes, you are the sort that housemaids call handsome!'

The most delicious piece of dialogue since Elizabeth Bennet stood up for herself in the company of Lady Catherine de Bourge.

Mrs. Ogilvy sees through Lewis.  A motion to head off the nuptials by way of a document stating Harriet is not of sound mind is refused by the family doctor.  So the wedding takes place, Harriet is away in her wedding finery, and Lewis begins the process of distancing himself from his bride while transferring her wealth.

After the birth of a son, Lewis sends Harriet to the home of his brother Patrick in Kent.  Lewis then buys a house only a mile away and moves Alice in with him, living as husband and wife.  Thus begins the horrifying withdrawal of Harriet's base needs, as well as the needs of the baby.

Elizabeth Jenkins' treatment of this story is remarkably fair and unbiased.  Each character is described in their moments of fear, repulsion, ignorance, greed, and compliance.  I found myself wondering why certain people didn't report what was going on, but compliance is a slippery slope to normalcy.  My heart broke for Mrs. Ogilvy, whose attempts to see her daughter were met with notes telling her stay away and she was physically threatened.  Within the powers she had, she was a dogged advocate but sadly, the outcome was shocking and sad.

Rachel Cooke's afterword is not be missed.  The full nature of the details surrounding the people involved, the trial, and the eventual fate of those involved was far from diminished after reading the story in a fictional account.  A gripping page-turner and highly recommended!

Harriet Richardson at the time of her engagement to Louis Staunton

25 October 2017

Tales and Sales

Last Friday I worked until 6 pm, dashed home, ate a few pieces of sushi (no time to fiddle with chopsticks) before hurrying out for a book talk at the art centre.  My husband enjoys Linwood Barclay's books and I was happy to tag along.  Roddy Doyle was also listed as a speaker but a family emergency kept him away.  Anyone familiar with Linwood's previous life as a columnist knows he has a keen sense of humour but I was going in blind, so to speak.  The only thing I knew about him was that we used the same car dealership.  Linwood's comedic timing and way with a story made the night so much fun that I didn't mind missing out on a chance to meet a Man Booker Prize winning author.  Sorry, Mr Doyle.

On Saturday we drove through the most glorious sunshine and winding roads sandwiched between golden trees, to see what we would find at a large book sale.  Susan, interested in my mudlarking pursuits while in London, contacted me about a detail or two so she could try her hand while on her recent trip.  Trading tips, she told me about the annual Friends of the Library book sale in Guelph, a nearby university town.  Well, it's a city, but so tranquil it feels like a town.

Inside the large building were tables and tables full of books, and quickly filling with customers.  My husband looked at me and said 'I'll find you somewhere' before heading our separate ways.  There are plenty of books on my tbr pile at home so, for me, it was more about the gems than simply loading up - which plenty of people were very successful at.  I came away quite happy with Volume Two 1912 - 1922 of Virginia Woolf's letters, Anita Brookner's A Start in Life, and The Oxford Book of English Short Stories all for seven dollars.  Proceeds from the sale go towards supporting library initiatives, and I was so impressed by the enthusiasm of the many volunteers dedicating their time.  We'll definitely be visiting this sale again!

Mary (Mrs Miniver's Daughter) recently told me about a new English Heritage book called Eight Ghosts.  Quickly placed on my wishlist I was fine with the waiting game.  Then, just over a week ago, while listening to a podcast in the middle of the night, a review of this book was featured.  The starting point for the book was that authors were allowed to spend after hours time at a particular English Heritage site, absorbing details for a story suitably spooky for this time of year.  One story, by Max Porter, is set at Eltham Palace, a beautiful location I visited just over three months ago.  Being able to navigate the setting so clearly suddenly made this book a must-have.  Other submissions by Sarah Perry, Kamila Shamsie, Jeanette Winterson, Mark Haddon, Andrew Michael Hurley, Stuart Evers and Kate Clanchy will be enjoyed over the next few days, as well.

And speaking of atmospheric reading for October...I finished Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins, yesterday afternoon.  It is absolutely gripping, but more on that in my next post.

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....