Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Crimson Rooms by Katherine McMahon

Set in London just after the Great War, Evelyn Gifford is awakened in the middle of the night by a knock at the door.  She finds a beautiful woman holding the hand of a young boy...the spitting image of her brother, James, killed in action.

Meredith tells Evelyn of having met with her father to discuss financial arrangements for the boy but there's been no word, or money, for quite some time.  Before Evelyn knows what is happening both of these strangers are in the family home and tucked up in bed.

This is all going to come as quite a shock to Evelyn's mother who is the type to rely heavily on smelling salts if you get my meaning.  Aunt Prudence finds a fair bit of fault with Meredith's parenting skills, or lack thereof, plenty of disapproving glances ensue.  All of the women in the house wonder what it is exactly Meredith wants from them as there is precious little in the way of money to go around as it is.  Trust is also in short supply.

Not only is Evelyn approaching spinsterhood at just over thirty but has dismayed her mother further by studying Law.  Strong enough to meet the disapproving stares and comments of her fellow male barristers, Evelyn fights for her rights in the courtroom as one of the first females in her field.  There is one man, Nicholas Thorne, who becomes an ally and though she tries to fight her feelings, makes her heart beat a little faster with his dashing appearance.  Together they work on the case of a man charged with murdering his wife while on a picnic.  Her body was found in a shallow grave in the woods, shot through the heart.  The outcome of the trial will mean life or death for Mr Wheeler.

Doesn't this sound like a fantastic storyline?!  Despite being a tad too descriptive at times I was enjoying my time with this book.  Then there was the end bit.  I finished, closed the cover and then proceeded to leave the patio in search of R to have a good moan.  It's not that I wanted my way or the highway for an ending, although I did come up with a very plausible twist which would have satisfied everyone, well  But who am I...just a humble reader.  Will I pick up another Katherine McMahone book?  Sure I will.  But after my disappointment with the way this story ended I really wanted needed a story by someone who I just knew wouldn't let me down.  Head tilted sideways, scanning the titles of my Persephone collection, I found The Priory by Dorothy Whipple.

All is well in my world of reading again.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Not so Easy Peasy

I fell in love with the Peasy cardi the moment I laid eyes on the pattern on Ravelry.  With the utmost confidence in my abilities I cast on the number of stitches required, knit a few rows and then found myself well and truly stumped. 

It was a flurry of activity as I jumped from knitting chair to computer chair.  Clicking from photos of other Peasy projects on Ravelry to YouTube for instructions on how to perform a Cable cast on and wondering why in the heck you would put that there?

Apparently, it sometimes takes a village and a whole lot of technology to knit a cardi!  I bow to those wonderful women who took the time to post video of techniques from the most simple to the complex.  And what did we do before Ravelry I ask you?  Through this forum I was able to ask a woman from San Diego, California a question about sizing as she's working on the same project and made a new knitting friend.

Most of the time I feel as though I was born a couple of hundred years too late, but in moments of crisis with my knitting I thank goodness for technology.  If it were 1810 instead of 2010, this project would have ended up thrust into a tapestry bag and kicked behind the settee!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


R is away on a golfing trip to Ocean City, Maryland and as it's the weekend I've seen The Heiress for brief moments here and there.  Even Deacon has planted himself at his post in the garden to watch for people going on their morning run or stroll.  Poor boy is being seriously scolded and dive-bombed by some grackles who have a nest nearby but he thinks they're playing with him!  As I put a load of wash in and thought about dragging out the vacuum I contemplated what I'd rather do.  And this is what I've come up with...

My 'Weather for London' icon is showing a grey day, perfect for wandering around Highgate Cemetery.  It would be spooky on my own but in a fun way.  I'd try to be brave but would most likely seek out a group and tag along at a respectable distance so they wouldn't realize that I was a scaredy cat.

Afterwards, there's a cafe which would supply a warming cup of tea and surely a slice of cake or a scone would be in order.  Miranda has mentioned Ginger & White in Hampstead and it looks lovely.  When a shop looks this tantalizing, I won't rest until I'm pulling on the door handle and find myself standing inside so definitely a 'must do'.
I'd have the energy now to hop on the Tube and make my way to the National Gallery.  An exhibit  featuring this painting by Paul Delaroche and the sketches leading up to it will be coming to a close next weekend.  I've admired 'The Execution of Lady Jane Grey' since spying it years ago in a book.  It may cost a bit but as long as I have enough money left over to enjoy one of these....

Last May, I came upon The West Cornwall Pasty Shop.  A friendly waiter saw me hesitate and asked if I wanted to come inside.  I've never eaten a pasty before and usually shy away from anything quite so bulky, but I'm dying to know what they taste like and wish that I had tried one so there's only one thing for it.  I'm parking myself at their location in Covent Garden and stuffing my face!  Oh I'll try and be a lady but if they are as yummy as they seem then you may need to look away.

Since Drury Lane Theatre would be quite close by it would be terrific to see Oliver!  And when that poor little fella is still hungry after his porridge and asks for more...I'll be thinking of that pasty!

Snapping back to reality, it's time to have breakfast and get some work done.  Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Extreme Lengths, Bata Shoe Museum Part II

There were many gorgeous examples of silk stockings such as these silk stockings hand-knit in the 17th century on what must have been incredibly thin needles.  Red dye was the most expensive to produce, coupled with the gold thread embroidery these would have been for a child from an extremely wealthy family.
Althea Crome is a most talented knitter, she designed and knit miniatures for the movie, Coraline.  The Bata Shoe Museum has a pair of these socks on display but they were too tiny to photograph well so these images are courtesy of Google.  If you like to be amazed then watch this film clip

Impossibly tiny Chinese slippers.  Three inches was the 'ideal' length and doesn't bear thinking about.

Now these are more like it!  The exaggerated toe was a popular style during the 17th century but also notice the slap-sole, combining the style of a high heel and a mule.  This pair were the property of descendants of Frances Walsingham, whose secret marriage to Robert Devereux (a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I) contributed to his downfall.

Apologies for the photography.  The lighting is quite low in the museum so as not to damage the fabrics.

Monday, May 10, 2010


For Mother's Day, yesterday for those of us in North America, The Heiress and I ventured to Toronto to visit The Bata Shoe Museum.  It's a smallish museum consisting of four floors of a variety of historical footwear and celebrity memorabilia.  The fourth floor housed the most fascinating collection of chopines (pronouced sha-peen), popular during the 15th and 16th century.
Worn by women to protect their delicate shoes from mud and puddles, they became a symbol of wealth.  They elevated women not only from the filth on the road but physically, as to appear 'above' their peers or those of lower status.  They also allowed a woman to show off her wealth by requiring more luxurious fabric to lengthen her gowns accordingly.  This pair is one of the more extreme examples and would require servants to hold up the lady wearing them whilst walking about.

This x-ray gives you an idea of what the construction is like.

 I knew that footwear existed to protect fancy shoes but in all my reading and museum visits this was the first time I've seen such a thing.  They immediately made the footwear seen on the runway or worn by Victoria Beckham seem a tad less bold!  There were some other interesting displays which I'll post about in a couple of days. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

'It's like a sort of roundabout, isn't it?  You get one lot more or less settled and then, before you know where you are, it's all starting again with the next.'

So says matriarch, Mrs Fowler to her one-time rival, Mrs Willoughby.  She makes this comment in the last few pages and it does make parenting sound rather exhausting.  These two women counsel their extended family throughout good times and bad, the former being more relaxed and the latter...well, she employs the steamroller approach.

First off, there's a fair number of characters to get to know with both families having several children.  Bring in the spouses and then their resulting offspring, things get a bit busy at times and a genealogical chart would have come in handy!  Helen, the perfectionist daughter of Mrs Fowler, marries Max from the Willoughby side...they have scads of money.  Helen's sister, Anice, marries Martin who isn't at all GQ with his crooked teeth and simpering bookish ways but he is constant in his affection.  Anice can't stand that they don't have the disposable income of Helen and Max but she tries her best to look like they do.  Peter Fowler is married to Belle who is an absolute drama queen and that's putting it mildly, actually she's quite the something that rhymes with 'witch'.  What is poor Peter to do but fall in love with the sweet nursemaid for their daughter, Gillian.  Oh, this makes Belle mad...very mad! 

Now Judy Fowler is beautiful and Oliver Willoughby really, really likes her but Mrs Willoughby thinks one Fowler in the family is enough and does some steamrolling.  She learns later that her actions have consequences.  Poor Cynthia has her heart broken by her sister, Judy, but not because of, no, no.  Will she remain a spinster for the rest of her life rather than risk her heart?

If you get the feeling that this reads like a script for a television drama you get top marks.  In reading the preface AFTER the book, a quirky thing I like to do, Juliet Ackroyd writes...

'Had she been born later, with her good ear for natural speech and her idiosyncratic visual sense Richmal Crompton could surely have written excellent TV serials.'

I really enjoyed this book, although I do wish that a bit more heart and soul of some of the characters was revealed.  And speaking of serial drama, I couldn't get Peggy Archer's voice out of my head whenever Mrs Fowler spoke!  If you aren't familiar with The Archers...never mind.

Hats off to Verity and Claire on a wonderful second Persephone Reading Week...dare I say annual?

Monday, May 3, 2010

For Book Psmith et al

Stacy, aka Book Psmith, wrote in an email that she would enjoy seeing a Spring photo of Deacon.  So on this fine morning with camera in hand, we set out for a walk in the park.  The grounds are bright yellow with dandelions and even though R curses them in our own back garden, I think they make the park look quite cheery!

To my friends participating in Persephone Reading Week...hooray!