Monday, November 29, 2010

'Quick, fetch my smelling salts!'

This past Saturday, R handed me the Weekend section of our local paper.  The headline read 'British Stove fit for a prince' and get a load of this!

'Susan Gitajn was scared.  Her new house had a weird half-ton of curvaceously boxy cast iron in the kitchen.'

My eyes widened when the article went on to say that this poor woman (who lacks British domestic knowledge, obviously) asked the former owners 'if they wouldn't rather take their odd stove with them.'   I come over all queasy every time I recite that line.

The story does have a happy ending as Susan has learned to live with her 'odd stove'.  I would have been willing to take it off her hands.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Blitz in a Book

There is a sense of guilt in being tucked up safely in your bed each night while reading an account of the Blitz.  With each page I am ever more enthralled with Vere Hodgson and her ability to record the bombings, sometimes as planes roar overhead, in Few Eggs and No Oranges.  I don't know that I would have coped anywhere near so well if my windows were rattling and the foundations were shaking due to enemy attack.  At this point, it has become commonplace for Vere to venture out in her dressing gown to check for damage in the middle of the night.  Should you meet up with some neighbours then why not have a cup of tea?  The exhaustion, not to mention the terror, must surely have done some citizens in but Vere endures it all and then writes happily about her luck in finding some cheese or tomatoes in the shop.  The slogan 'Keep Calm and Carry On' has never been so apparent.

This morning I thought I would try to find some images that would link the bombings and found the photo above.  It is St Thomas Hospital the night after a raid.  Vere's entry for Thursday, September 12, 1940...

'Felt very second-rate.  Arrived at office at 10:15 as I overslept.  What a night!  It seems that now we have mobile guns on Lorries going about the town, and we can also hear guns from destroyers in the Thames.  According to Mr Churchill Invasion is Imminent.  Hitler has it all ready from Norway to Boulogne, and we must be on our toes for the next two weeks!  Felt better as the day proceeded.  Warning in the afternoon.  Began to hear details of the damage.  Very upsetting.  Bow Church seems badly hit; St Thomas' Hospital; Gt Ormond St Hospital; Holburn - but not Staple Inn.

To find an image of the destruction Vere wrote about was thrilling and I will continue trying to match up photos with her entries.  At the midway point of this 600 page fascinating history lesson I couldn't wait to share a little of it with anyone who has been wondering how this reads.  More to follow once I have finished.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

It was around two and a half years ago that I first held this book in my hand but I didn't buy it.  Flipping through the pages of Virago's beautiful cloth-covered anniversary edition I thought the story sounded charming enough but who was this Taylor woman?  Tucking a copy of Diary of a Provincial Lady under my arm instead, so began a reading venture which left me besotted with a certain group of women authors.  Feeling in a small way as though I've come full circle, Elizabeth Taylor is now one of them.

A Game of Hide and Seek is not so simply, a love story.  Harriet and Vesey discover love's first blush as teenagers.  Taylor is superb at showing us every glance, sigh and furrowed brow as we feel all the twinges of emotion between these two.  There were so many instances of delightful phrasing or poignant moments that I scribbled a page and a half of notes!  Showing a keen wit, Taylor had me laughing out loud one day on a train station platform when some shop girls decide to try hot wax to rid themselves of some facial hair:

     'On the upper lip first, dear,' Miss Brimpton advised Harriet.  'Slightly downy, if I might say so,' Miss Lazenby said dreamily.  'I call mine a bloody moustache.'
     'Well, that's up to you, dear, what you call it.  No one else implied anything.  It really does smart at first, doesn't it.  I hope the juniors don't come up.'
     Harriet obediently spread the melting wax round her mouth.
     'I'm doing my beard as well,' Miss Lazenby said recklessly.
'Has that soup caught, Lovelace?  Something smells funny.'
     'Now rip it off,' Miss Brimpton commanded.
     'You do it first, Harriet.'
     'I can't.  I'm afraid.'

Vesey was destined to be an actor with his dramatic airs and over the top gestures as a young man. 

     He would smoke with his head out of the bedroom window.  In his mother's room one day he put on her jewellery, sniffed at her scent, varnished his nails, read a book on birth control, took six aspirins, then lay down like Chatterton on the window seat, his hand drooping to the floor.
     When the housekeeper returned, he had half-opened his eyes.  'I am doing away with myself,' he had said.  'I have supped my full of horrors.'

Adorable as this behaviour is on a boy, Vesey is a bit of a Peter Pan in that he seems reluctant to grow up.  Parting ways, Harriet gets on with her life, marrying a reliable older man, having a child and running a household.  Events will bring Harriet and Vesey together every now and then over the years and with a simple 'hello', any other characters fall to the wayside.  I was that riveted by the bond between Harriet and Vesey.

Some of my favourite scenes in this book were funny ones but this is not a humourous story.  There is turmoil, responsibility, failure, expectation, denial and desire.  A roller coaster of emotion written by an author so talented that I was laughing on one page and deeply moved by something on the next.

The ending was subtle and yet rich, with just enough theatrics that I imagined heavy red velvet curtains swishing across the last page.  Without a doubt, there is more to be gleaned from this story upon a second reading.  A wonderful story, a brilliant author.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dueling Pastimes

 My latest knitting project is the Tangled Yoke Cardigan by Eunny Jang.  Below is a photo of the finished article and I must admit to being somewhat, okay...a lot, apprehensive about the 'tangled yoke' bit around the shoulders.  The graph is nothing short of mind bending genius in its planning but is widely known in knitting circles as '18 rows of hell'.  I can do this, I can do this, I can...

With Christmas just a flip of the calendar away, I've also started a pair of socks for The Heiress.  As I watched the final episode of Downton Abbey last night it occurred to me that I should be knitting while I was just sitting there but I was riveted!  Equally enamoured with the storyline going on upstairs and downstairs, it's going to be an excruciating wait for next season to find out how situations conclude for the Earl of Grantham's family and staff.  They could drag this out for ages and I would be in heaven!

Pacing myself for Cornflower's online book group, A Game of Hide and Seek on November 20, hasn't been easy.  This is such a wonderful story and has kept me up late a few nights.  While not a humourous story, there were some laugh out loud scenes in the first quarter of the book.  All I will say is who knew hot wax was used for hair removal in the early fifties?  For some reason that I can only chalk up to judging this author by my first reading experience of her in, In a Summer Season, I pictured Taylor as reserved.  Reading Nicola Beauman's biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor at some point is a must to find out more about this author who can make me laugh on one page and be lyrical the next.

So that's what I've been up to lately when I have some spare time.  Thank goodness for big bags of peanuts and some busy squirrels on the patio to keep Deacon entertained! 

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Antiquarian Affair, Part II

 This post is short on personal anecdotes but I did want to share a few more photos of the treasures at the book fair.  You can click to enlarge this shot of The Strand Magazine from 1936, costing a bit more than on print day.

 A mouth-watering selection of books from Hogarth Press.  I took a shot of Vita Sackville West's signature in a copy of Seducers in Ecuador but it was quite blurry, darn it!
 Little Dorrit and The Mystery of Edwin Drood had wonderfully illustrated soft covers in this powder blue.  They were published in magazine form and in the case of Little Dorrit, monthly between December 1855 to June 1857.  That is a long time to wait for an ending!  Little Dorrit in its entirety was on offer for 3,000 GBP.

And finally, a picture of some of the more aged material (apologies once again for the lack of details as my pen and notebook were checked in).  There were several customers interested in typeface, binding practices and other such things related to antiquarian book construction and I had a fascinating glimpse into all of it.  Being a huge fan of history, books and textile construction, this show appealed on so many levels and I will definitely seek out other book fairs as they come around. 

The printed word has grown by leaps and bounds.  I can't help but wonder what medieval monks, who created sublime works of illumination, would think of 'print on demand'.