Friday, December 31, 2010

Festive This-n-That

For those of you interested in our musical Christmas crackers, here they are.  Along with the obligatory paper hat, joke and prize there is a horn with a number on its base.  Two pages of song sheets with a sequence of numbers will allow you and eleven of your friends to form your own musical group.  Or perhaps decrypt Enigma code.  Since six of the crackers are still intact we either have to pop the rest or wait until next year.  The Heiress has her eye on the heart-shaped pocket mirror as yet undiscovered so something tells me that tonight there will be some tooting going to speak.

R was quite excited to find a copy of Blitz Spirit compiled by Jacqueline Mitchell for me.  Love the cover art but am wondering about Winston's 'whiskers'.  The Heiress gave me a copy of Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor which I am in the process of devouring.  A gift to myself, The Queen's Doll's House by Lucinda Lambton arrived in our mailbox today, I can't wait to sit down with a cup of tea and pour over every little thing...literally!  The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph were also courtesy of R, although he wrote on the gift tag that they were from Norris from The Kabin on Coronation Street.  It's a funny game we like to play at Christmas, tying in our gifts to characters from just about everything.  Too bad I couldn't jet over to England to collect my free Waitrose luxury biscuits though!

And this massive bowl of trifle is what R and I got up to this afternoon.  Making it, not eating it!  Quite ridiculous for the three of us, we may have to recruit friends to share it with.  We laughed after realizing that R had been feeding some of the leftover cake to Deacon that had been drizzled with sherry.  Not to worry, no harm done.  And really, a sleepy Border Collie wouldn't be all bad.

R and I have also had the pleasure of taking in two movies over the past few days.  The King's Speech was absolutely charming, the ultimate cosy film.  Colin Firth, Helena Bonham-Carter and Geoffrey Rush were a delightful acting trinity.  The Black Swan was both unsettling and outstanding.  You either sink back in fear or edge forward with anticipation during this one.  An Oscar nod will undoubtedly go to Portman, she was stunning.

In the last few hours of 2010, have a wonderful time celebrating in your favourite way.  We're going to indulge in a few thousand more calories before coming to our senses tomorrow.  Aren't the holidays fun!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson

April 1941

Thursday, 17th - Well, last night was a fiendish raid, and no mistake.  All night long they thrummed over our heads and what we heard coming down is more than can be put into words.  It was like one of the worst nights of last Autumn, and even then I don't remember hearing the sky so full, incessantly, hour after hour, of bombers zooming overhead.

Many of the images we see of the Blitz are in black and white.  Reading Vere's account of daily life as the bombs fell transformed those images into vivid colour for me.

Imagine the sounds of gunfire and fighter planes roaring overhead almost nightly as you fell into bed in a state of exhaustion.  The task of keeping your ear to the ground for word of a shipment of precious fruit and vegetables day after day was a necessity.  The quest for reasonably priced linens to replace threadbare sheets was more often than not a fruitless one.  The communal cat wasn't spared and had his meagre milk ration watered down when supplies were scarce.  He didn't seem to go too hungry though as Vere gave him a talking to about the number of mice spotted scurrying about the place.

Vere's numerous acts of kindness humbled me again and again when several times she was presented with an extra ration of cheese or meat and immediately shared with friends.  During many air raids, there were elderly women to drag under desks or make quick cups of tea for.  A stirrup-pump was always close at hand for putting out incendiary fires and on one occasion, a chimney fire that had nothing to do with the war.  Pulling on a pair of wellies and pitching in wherever help was needed empowered Vere.

During the month of April 1940, there was a bus strike and I laughed at the description of soldiers replacing the drivers.  Passengers were directing them through the streets of London as best they could but occasionally wrong turns were made and they would end up lost.  With bricks and debris lying in piles everywhere it must have taken ages to get anywhere.

Not only does this fascinating diary offer a glimpse of the home front, it offers a lesson in the politics of the day in a very readable manner.  Vere was an ardent fan of Churchill, had harsh words for Hitler and Mussolini and was heartbroken by news of lost fleets during action.  Her reports of invasion, treatment of POW's in Japanese war camps and the horror of the holocaust as they were reported in the papers are riveting.

Reaching the end of the war and the diary, I couldn't help feeling emotional as the black-outs were ripped from their place over windows and doors.  Vere felt it was too good to be true and there was a slight nervousness to embrace a sunlit room.  When victory is announced crowds stream toward Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and Whitehall. 

'Precisely at 3 pm Big Ben's chimes told us the moment was about to begin.  All traffic stopped.  The mounted policeman wiped the sweat from his brow.  All was still.  How wonderful to be standing in Whitehall, in the shadow of the House of Commons, listening to That Voice which had steered us from our darkest hours to the daylight of deliverance.' 

Out came the steamed puddings saved for such a day and cups of whatever people wanted.  And with any luck the eggs and oranges weren't far behind.

(photo credit - John Hinde)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Anniversary Tea

Monday was our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  Back then our Friday evening nuptials in a candlelit chapel was a modest event with the radiators pinging away during the service as they warmed up.  But as we left the church, the bells began to ring and a gentle snowfall brightened up the dark sky.

Celebrating your anniversary during the festive season does present some problems.  The thought of a lovely dinner at a restaurant can lose some of its appeal when you are already one Quality Street chocolate away from your stretchy pants.  A Nutcracker Tea at The King Edward Hotel in Toronto proved to be the perfect solution.

The tearoom was lovely with its high ceilings and decorative plaster and I could easily pretend that we were thousands of miles away in London (sorry, I can't help it).  Two bubbly glasses of champagne promptly arrived courtesy of the hotel.  R was being a good sport about the whole tea event, much preferring a pint or cup of coffee.  He opted for The Ploughman's Tea with its more substantial offerings and raved about the tourtiere and Scotch egg.  My three-tiers of finger sandwiches and pastries were absolutely delicious...and surprisingly filling!  This could well become a tradition.

On the drive home I asked him 'if you could do it all over again...' meaning our marriage, not the tea.  We had a good laugh and thought that we would.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Paper Garden and Molly Peacock

The Burlington Public Library had the most entertaining author visit last night.  Molly Peacock came in from Toronto and as I cupped my cold hands around my hot paper cup of tea, I revelled in her storytelling.
Mary Delany (1700-1788), was married at seventeen to a rather disgusting slob of a man who was many years her senior.  He had money and Mary was given in marriage by her family as was often the practice.  Thankfully, she was a widow by the age of twenty-five.  Her next marriage was a love match and lasted many years but she outlived Dr Delany and grieved him deeply.  But eventually, at the age of 72 she began to create masterpieces.

Sprinkled throughout are fantastic stories of friendships with Handel, Jonathon Swift and even Hogarth who taught her a few things about painting.  Delicious tidbits such as the purchase of a hat for 50 pounds when she had only 300 a year show a certain joie de vivre.  Mary had a keen eye for detail and was not one to sit around.  One day she spied some paper that was the exact shade of pink as a nearby flower petal and clutching a pair of scissors she cut out a matching petal...and then another....and then another.  The image above is not a painting but many, many strips of paper carefully glued to a background with flour and water.

The results are breathtaking and Mary was prolific.  She had a goal of creating 1000 paper flower collages but failing eyesight meant she completed a total of 985.  Carefully stored away between sheets of paper, these works of art retained their vibrant colours and can be seen at The British Museum.  A visit most definitely being added to the itinerary of my next trip across the pond!

After the talk, Molly, was returning to Toronto by train.  Most likely anonymous to any of the other passengers but oh, what a treat to anyone who should happen to strike up a conversation with her.

My very good friend and colleague, Roberta, spied the author visit in our library's events guide and thought it sounded like something I would like.  She was so right.  Settling in for the holidays with the most beautiful book I've seen in a long time (signed by the author!) will be sheer bliss.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wait for Me! by Deborah Devonshire

'Blank.  There is no entry in my mother's engagement book for 31 March 1920, the day I was born.  The next few days are also blank.  The first entry in April, in large letters, is 'KITCHEN CHIMNEY SWEPT'.

The opening lines of Deborah Devonshire's enchanting memoir had me sinking deeper into the sofa, cup of tea in hand, with a smile curling on my face. 

A more perfect blend of childhood antics, aristocratic couplings, door-slamming rants, tragedy, hilarity and celebrity name dropping would be hard to find.  The writing flows from one event to the next as seamlessly as a conversation with a favourite Aunt or Grandmother over tea and cake.  And just enough juicy bits to be revealing without being salacious.

Of a particular governess...'Miss Dell, encouraged us in the difficult art of shoplifting - stealing really.  My mother found out (the shopkeepers did not, thank goodness) and Miss Dell disappeared.'  And when the Dowager Duchess wrote about the wonder of the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher's hair...'What made her visit unforgettable was the Force 9 gale that was blowing.  I soon looked like the Wild Woman of the West, hair all over the place, as did the other women in the party.  But not a hair on the PM's head moved.  I was so interested in this phenomenon I could not pay attention to anything else.'  You can just picture the look on her face and the image had me in stitches.

I was fascinated by the way this family of six girls and one boy wove their relationships together through youth, marriages, divorce, political affiliations, successes and loss.  It seems to me that despite very strong words of caution or other protestations, this was a family whose members followed their hearts from quite a young age.  Unity's idolizing of Hitler, Diana's divorce from Bryan Guinness to take up with Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, would have provided many a heated discussion.  At nineteen, Jessica put her family through despair with her disappearance leading to an elopement with Esmond Romilly, both were adherents of Communism.  Her brother, Tom, a fascist, refused to fight against Germany but volunteered to fight Imperial Japan and was killed in Burma.

The chapter on childbirth and deaths is incredibly moving.  There are three healthy children but in between was a miscarriage and the deaths of three babies shortly after birth which must have caused immense heartbreak.  Despite her grief Deborah unselfishly writes that her loss was nothing in comparison to the sufferings caused by the war and daily deaths of young servicemen.

Hilarity rises yet again when Debo visits Lady Bird Johnson in Texas and is excited by an invitation to join cowboys on a cattle round-up.  Thrilled to see men dressed just like in the Westerns on film with their leather chaps, Stetson hats and cowboy boots she is ready for adventure.  To her amazement these cowboys escort her out to a waiting helicopter.  Such is modern farming...'I enjoyed this new experience, but wondered why the cowboy pilot had bothered to put on his spurs.'

Elegant banquets, Chatsworth, her love of animals and the countryside provide wonderful stories full of breathtaking images.  A snippet or two about her rambunctious Border Collie simply named, Collie, had me laughing in acknowledgement as I too own one.  Despite loving this breed, Deborah admits it simply wouldn't do to have dogs nipping at the heels of paying customers strolling the grounds of their ancestral home.  Indeed.

Nearing the end of the book and knowing that the Duke's death was imminent, tears were sliding down my cheeks.  Again with unselfishness the Dowager Duchess writes...'Seeing him so deeply depressed and unhappy about the various indignities of his physical condition, no one could have wished him to go on living.'  He died on May 3, 2004.

Moving into the Old Vicarage in Edensor where she had lived with Andrew sixty years earlier, this remarkable woman continues to lead a productive life at the age of ninety.  And long may she do so.  On my last trip to London in May 2009, I missed Deborah Devonshire at Hatchard's on Piccadilly by one hour.  The young sales girl there said to try again on my next trip as she pops in several times a year.  The thrill would be all mine and a dream I hold on to.

Wait for Me! is both a touching memoir and a riveting page-turner if you enjoy glimpses into English aristocracy or social history.  Don't hesitate to add it to your Christmas wish list!

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'.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Antiquarian Affair, Part I

 With my copy of A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor tucked into my bag for reading on the train, I caught the 9:20 to Toronto for the Antiquarian Book Fair held at the Convention Centre.  Arriving fifteen minutes early, I waited for the doors to open with a dozen other gentleman.  I desperately wished that I had worn something tweedy and there was definitely the aroma of tobacco in the air.
 Never having been to this sort of thing before I wasn't sure of the etiquette.  Just how much fondling of the material was allowed?  Others put me at ease with their respectful flipping of the pages but it did take me some time to feel comfortable pulling treasures from their place on the shelf.  We were asked to check our coats and bags and I realized that my pen was left behind so unfortunately I can't remember all of the prices.  For me it was all about the wonder but there was a fair bit of dealing and handshaking taking place.  I heard one gentleman tell another that he had maxed out his line of credit *gulp*.

 It was fantastic to see Persephone titles as they would have appeared originally.  This copy of Domestic Cookery by a Lady was inscribed by a man to his wife and dated 1845, the price was $175.  I hope his good lady was as thrilled with her copy as I am with my grey-covered one!

 This series of four AA Milne books are first editions and signed by the author, the price tag is over 29,000 GBP.  They were behind glass so no fondling here but oh, they were charming.

There was a fair bit of Virgina Woolf to be had.  I had visions of Virginia writing away and then collaborating with Vanessa over drawings for the cover art whilst cups of tea and biscuits were passed around.  I wish that I could recollect what this book was going for but the lowest price I can remember for a Woolf book was $250 for The Writer's Diary.

I have yet to read a full-length novel by PG Wodehouse but was drawn to the comedic titles and illustrations for the cover art.  These tended to be priced in the $600 - $800 range so I admired then and then carefully returned them to their display case.  Obviously, for me the day wasn't about a shopping expedition, we have a post-secondary education to pay for.  It was about seeing certain books in their original form, the way they looked before I discovered them all crisp and sterile at our local chain bookshop.  On the train ride home I dug out my copy of A Game of Hide and Seek and wondered what it looked like hot off the press in 1951.  Trade paperback is affordable and convenient but not nearly as nice.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spooky Fun

My earliest recollection of being scared and enjoying it was reading Little Red Riding Hood.  Just what was she doing in the woods when there was a girl-eating wolf on the loose?  It kick started a love affair with the Grimm's Brothers that lasted for years.  Children being fattened up to make them all the tastier is pretty nightmare-worthy but I soaked it all up!

I will never forget a particular night when I was eight years old.  Lying in bed, I stared for what seemed like hours at a shadowy figure on my door putting on and taking off his hat!  Considering that we lived on the eighth floor of an apartment building at the time it wasn't a shadow from the window.  Or was it?  My room was at the end of a hallway and if I peeked out of my door, the television was in clear view.  If I heard the opening tune of  The Twilight Zone I was out of bed in a shot and creeping my way to the doorway so I could watch all kinds of spooky things in black and white.  That could explain a lot.

My mother thought I was going to turn out to be really weird because at the age of ten, I read Dracula and Frankenstein over and over.  Babysitting as a teen was all about the scary movies.  Okay, chips and dip had quite a pull as well if I'm honest.  I could never sit on a sofa if my back was to an opening though.  Someone could sneak up and slit your throat or strangle you before you knew it!  Scared witless and pale with fright, do you think I would turn the channel...not on your life.  We girls would talk about calling up other friends when we knew they were babysitting just to give them a fright.  Call display put an end to that sort of fun.  I laugh at the memory of one friend, Karen, telling me that she heard glass break while looking after some children.  She went to investigate, taking a with her.  A black glove came through a small window in the kitchen door.  She raised the knife and the intruder ran off!  I'm wondering now if that was a load of codswallop but what does it matter...we were lapping it up with our eyes as huge as saucers! 

When I was twenty, a girlfriend and I went to see Terror in the Aisles.  It was a movie about scary movies, there was one slashing after another.  We watched most of it through our hands but oh how we laughed when we looked at each other.

Fast forward to adulthood and choosing the scariest London Walks to go on while abroad was huge fun.  There is nothing like standing in the middle of Hyde Park and being told that on some nights, ghostly images have risen from the ground causing people to faint or run like mad!  And it's not just females left weak at the knees, R felt a bit spooked when our Ripper tour guide announced the tour was over and we had to make our way to a tube the dark...all by ourselves.  Did it put us off?  Not a chance, we were back for more ghostly tales the next evening.

Have I ever experiences a ghostly form?  There was one night when I was doing some machine-knitting in the basement.  The Heiress was just a baby and I heard crying.  Climbing the stairs I stopped to listen...nothing.  So back downstairs I went but after a few minutes I heard crying again.  Thinking I must have woken her up I trudged back up the stairs...again nothing.  This all was repeated a third time with the same result so I went all the way up two floors and there she was, sleeping peacefully.  No sign of any tears.  That did it for me, I never spent any time down in the basement if R wasn't home.

I like being scared witless when it's convenient for me!  What about you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Not Just Any Old Book Fair

An Antiquarian Book Fair is coming to Toronto this weekend and I'm hoping to stop by.  R said 'Be sure to bring something home for yourself!'  Then I started browsing some of the books on offer.  This first edition, Virginia Woolf, and in fact, the first publication of Hogarth Press is on offer for an eye-watering $86,150 CDN.

If I won the lottery, I would pick this AA Milne up for Simon (do I really need to explain which Simon?).  Also a first edition, The House at Pooh Corner is a very good deal at only $1,000 CDN.

And these three volumes of Emma *squeals with delight* by Jane Austen, are going for $27,000 CDN.  It was sheer bliss to click on the galleries and go through the titles.  Go ahead and daydream.

I will try my best to bring home a book but more than likely it will come from Nicholas Hoare, just down the road, and cost less than $20 *sigh*. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge

Dalmatia, set along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea makes for a most welcome setting in Illyrian Spring.  Ann Bridge writes descriptively of the warm sun, lapping waves and leisurely lunches taken al fresco which sounded quite nice as our days here are turning colder practically by the hour.

Lady Kilmichael escapes there, leaving her family behind in England.  Her husband, Walter, has had his head turned by yet another woman and her daughter, Linnet, takes her mother for granted.  Twin boys well on their way to adulthood are getting on with things and are not central characters.

A well-known artist (but under a different name), Lady Kilmichael spends her time sketching and while doing so meets a young man, Nicholas.  He dreams of studying art but it seems his parents think architecture a more fitting career.  A chance meeting where he criticizes her sketch of a rock is the beginning of a relationship between older woman, younger man and coming to terms with those feelings.  After all, this is at a time before even Mrs Robinson!

The author set these characters up perfectly, I really cared about each one and was beside myself wondering if anything was going to happen between them.  The glances, the brush of a hand across a shoulder, the inner turmoil, the things left was all sheer brilliance!

Eventually, we're introduced to Dr Halther, who resides in the village.  Nicholas is staying at his home through devious means but enough about that.  The Professor, as he is called, watches these two and recognizes all the signs of love between them.  He puts difficult questions to Lady Kilmicheal and she ends up finally being able to vocalize how she feels about her husband, the state of her marriage, her role as a mother and Nicholas.  I really, really liked the Professor and thought perhaps Lady Kilmichael could be quite happy with him as they interacted so well.
I know you're all riveted...wondering just what happens!  I know I was and flipped pages quicker than anything, desperate to find out.  The ending was fabulous and once again, Ann Bridge wrote beautifully about each character's resolution.  It has not been easy to close the book on the lives of these people and I miss them already.

Thank you Rachel, for sending me this book!  I really enjoyed turning the aged pages of this 1949 edition orange Penguin and wondering who else has done so before me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Frost in May by Antonia White

When Verity sent me a copy of Frost in May, I thought it would be a lighthearted story about girls in a convent.  How wrong I was.

Nanda Grey is nine years old when she enters the Convent of the Five Wounds at Lippington.  She settles in and makes friends but under the ever watchful eye of nuns whose disapproving glare is all too present. 

This book took me out of my comfort zone in as much as it was most definitely not a cosy read, it made me angry and broke my heart.

'You are very fond of your own way, aren't you, Nanda?'
'Yes, I suppose so, Mother.'
'And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely?  Broken and re-set in God's own way.  I don't think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?'

The daily censorship of mail, rejection of bonds of friendship, humiliation, deprivation and fear in this authoritarian environment had me wondering why anyone would send their child to this place!  On a couple of occasions, Nanda, hopes with all her heart to be stricken with an illness as a way of escaping what amounts to daily mental and emotional abuse.  Or as Mother Percival would see it, the breaking of one's will.

'A good Catholic should live constantly in the spiritual presence of death.  Now, my dear little sisters, I want each one of you to imagine that you are lying on your death-bed....'

Like a dog that is abused by its master and yet still licks the hand that beats it, Nanda begs for a second chance when faced with expulsion.  I would offer to pack her bags and tell her to run.

For a story that started out feeling like a fairly innocuous 'school story' it turned out to be quite disturbing.  But it is definitely one that I will never forget.  For years I have been reading for pure pleasure and even though this was not an enjoyable read, I do feel that I gained from the experience.  Thank you, Verity.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Scarves and Tissues

Cold season has kicked off at our house with R succumbing first and then sharing with me.  While feeling less than energetic and miserable is not fun, slowing down your pace can be quite lovely.

A few days ago, a package arrived in the mail from Kristina.  Cheerful birthday wishes and this too-adorable-for-words booklet were inside.  Starting off...

'When the Duchess invites you for a fortnight in August...and you realise, at one and the same time, that HE will be there and you can't afford any new clothes...'

I wrote to Kristina that it reads like a bedtime story for women!  The illustrations were familiar and on closer inspection I see this is the work of none other than Joyce Dennys.  Off I went in search of my copy of Henrietta's War to admire once again.  While the tissues pile up around my pillows and blankets these little gems have been a bright spot.

A side note...At 3:20 am that annoying tickle began as my cold pill wore off so I got up to make a cup of tea.  In a semi-dark kitchen I plugged in the kettle and heard a buzzing sound.  Then horror of horrors saw orange glowing behind the switch plate!  Yanking out the plug I could see a blackened area around the switch so I resorted to boiling water on the stove for my tea.  Needless to say, getting back to sleep wasn't easy and first thing this morning I put in a work order with R for a repair. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Featuring a Fall Fair

Balls Falls Conservation Area is the perfect location for a Fall Fair.  The colours, the wide stream running through it, the oranges and golds...and the aroma of chip fat...yum!

There are a few very small historical buildings located here such as this home which would have housed a family but is the size of most people's front room!

Artisans and collectors of all sorts were pedaling their wares.  I absolutely love old portraits such as this and for some reason find this curmudgeonly looking fellow quite charming!

The blacksmith shop is usually a place we look forward to visiting so that we can warm up but it was downright warm on this day.

But not so warm that I left my Hawthorne shawl at home!  I was so happy with this one that I'm eight rows into another one in blue.  In front of me is the actual falls for which the conservation area is named and believe's quite the drop to the bottom! 

This morning we awoke to our first frost of the season.  Summer has well and truly been put to bed.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

This, That and Two Birthdays

This is my favourite weekend of the year, the Thanksgiving long weekend.  It's also known in our house as Darlene-a-palooza as my birthday falls around the same time.

Fall fairs, pumpkin pie, gorgeous colours, people making merry and somehow, like magic, the weather usually cooperates making for the best country drives.

My blog is two years old today and I am another year older as well.  Later this afternoon, R and I will be joining a group of friends to tour a couple of wineries in the Niagara region.  We're really looking forward to sampling a variety of wines while nibbling on cheese and crackers and having a laugh.  And of course there will be cake!

My Hawthorne scarf is finished, just in time to wear to the Balls Falls Fall Fair tomorrow.  In J Peterman catalogue-speak, the crisp autumnal air entwined with the reddish and golden hues of fall foliage will create the perfect atmosphere for this accessory.  This project was so much fun and I was so pleased with the result that I've started another one in blue!
The Heiress has come home for the weekend full of excitement and anxiety that there are so many plans to be made for next year in regards to her MA.

And last but not least, I've finally managed to finish The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  This wasn't the most stellar of reading experiences for me, I much preferred No Name.  There was one line though that for some reason I found utterly captivating by Mrs Catherick 'The dress of Virtue, in our parts, was cotton print.  I had silk.'  How dramatic and yet it says so much doesn't it.  This book was definitely a roller coaster ride in that when it was good it was great but then it would get tedious in description or tangents and I would glaze over.  This book, for me, would rank as one of those which I expected to love and was disappointed by but I am most definitely not put off by Collins!

Time to put on some lipstick, grab my purse and set off for wine country.  Enjoy your day wherever you are!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blog Friends

Last week, I had the delightful pleasure of receiving a parcel from Book Psmith, as was.  Stacy will always be Book Psmith to me even though she has called time on her blog.  When she left the blogsphere I wrote that I would keep in touch and we have sent an email or two back and forth.  To let her know she is still thought of, I sent off a postcard and was so surprised when she sent me back one of the Yarn Harlot's books and a gorgeous flower pin!

A few weeks ago, in response to my post about British treats, Cornflower generously sent me some Tunnock's teacakes and wafers.  My belt is fitting a tad tighter this week and I have only myself to blame...I ate them ALL myself.  Shocking isn't it!?  Offers were made to share, I just want to be clear that I wasn't scarfing down chocolate treats in the closet or anything. 

Over the past two years I've referred to those of you who drop in here as blog friends.  Whether you realize it or not, you have all been mentioned at our dinner table.  Be it a trip you've taken or a new book which you've bought that sounds really tantalizing, the adoption or passing of a beloved pet.  When Verity got engaged it was announced in our house!  In Rachel's case, we've been following her hopes of moving to this side of the pond for months...and now she's done it!  At first I referred to you by your blog names but I've come to realize that many of you are now referred to by your first name.

When I mention the kind gesture of a book sent through the mail or a bookmark won in a contest, I am frequently asked who sent it.  When I say it was a blog friend, I sometimes wonder if my friends or colleagues think I'm a tad doolally to consider people from blogs as friends?  We didn't grow up on Facebook so perhaps it's a generational issue.

There are some really lovely people out there who just so happen to like some of the same things that I do and I'm more than pleased to have 'met' them.  And in Kristina's case, I actually have met her!  We lunched in London...a totally gratuitous statement, I just like saying it. 

I'm really interested so please, do tell.  How do you refer to the people you communicate with through your blogs when talking to colleagues, friends or family and how receptive are they about it all?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Tale of Orange

To set the scene:  Darlene knows exactly what she wants at the wool shop and will only be a few minutes. 

I really want a plum shade but there are three different shades of purple.  No matter, one is too dark and the other is too light anyway.  But wait a minute...that green looks ever so sophisticated and isn't that burnt orange soooo autumnal!  Grabbing one of each I browse, and squeeze just about everything else in the shop as a diversion tactic whilst I wait for a colour epiphany to happen.  It doesn't.

Hating to sound like the indecisive twit that I've been reduced to, I resort to displaying three skeins in different shades before the shop owner and ask her to pick one.  She chooses the orange.

'But I don't really wear orange' I said.  'I think I've only chosen it because it's autumnal outside.'

The shop owner replies 'With your colouring it won't matter WHAT else you wear with it, it will be gorgeous!'

'Well...which one would be your second choice?'  Why she didn't kick me out at this point I have no idea.  This time she chooses the plum....'Excellent!' I say.  Gathering up the rejects and collecting two more skeins of plum I begin to feel a bit sick.  The orange would be so much fun to knit with...especially at this time of year and suddenly, the finality of putting back the orange only makes me want it more!  The shop owner is a saint and sees my torment.

'Why are you fighting it?' the shop owner asks.  'That pattern and your colouring are screaming for the know you want it.'  Pimping wool to a knitter is like offering candy to small children, it was all over in an instant.  It was the colour epiphany I was waiting for.

Quickly shoving the skeins of plum back into their cubby, I pay for the orange before I can change my mind.  With one eye on the road and one eye on the orange wool sticking out of the bag, I make for home.

Here's hoping I look ever so fashionable...just like the model wearing the shawl on the pattern.  And do you know what colour hers is (not on my print-out)?  Plum.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Glass of Time by Micheal Cox

Now this presents a challenge.  How do you write about a follow up novel without giving away what happens in the first novel?  I suppose the answer has to be...very carefully.

Picking up twenty years after The Meaning of Night leaves off, the 26th Baroness Tansor is interviewing for a new lady's maid.  Esperanza Gorst applies for the position as instructed by the woman who has raised her since she was very young, Madame de L'Orme.  She is told to watch every movement in the house, beware of the Baroness and to keep a Book of Secrets in shorthand.  A series of letters will arrive which reveal ever more detail about Lady Tansor's past and Esperanza's parentage. 

Evenwood, the ancestral home of the Tansor dynasty, sets the stage with secret staircases, a heavily panelled library, windows overlooking vast lawn and paintings which seem to watch your every move.  The Baroness frequently has visits there by Armitage Vyse, a sinister lawyer from Lincoln's Inn, London.  Esperanza comes to realize that these visits are not completely welcome and that Vyse has a secret he holds over her Lady.

Despite being warned by her guardian never to trust the Baroness, Esperanza finds herself being drawn in.  Attention from the heir, Perseus and his brother, Randolph lends an air of romance and rivalry to the story.

As more information is revealed, Esperanza's confidence rises.  Gaining strength from secrets, she watches as the Baroness becomes skittish and begins to wither from the weight of them.  The last quarter of this book will keep you riveted!

The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time are over 1,100 pages of sheer adventure and characters that come to life.  Should you be in the mood for swishing coats, London mist, secret excursions down hallways by candlelight and the sound of carriage wheels on gravel drives then you MUST read these books!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Deacon!

This was our first glimpse of 'Eddie', that was his litter name.  He was eight weeks old and living on the farm where he was born.  Don't ask me how or why but nobody had shown an interest in taking him home.  I can only imagine he was waiting for us. 

He's three years old today and despite driving us crazy with acts of random silliness and boisterous behaviour, we love him to bits.

A la Country Living, Readers' Pets, here is a little expose.

Loves - Balls, any kind but if they squeak all the better.

Hates - The vet's office, having a bath and being brushed.

Naughtiest Habits - Being rude to small dogs, stealing teatowels and flatulent in the company of others.

Favourite Food - Cheese!

Dreams of - Drives in the car to Lowville Park for a swim and seeing Shannon, his Labrador lady friend. 

This is one boy who won't be sleeping in on his special day!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Required Reading

For those of you who may be interested, I'm including the required reading for The Heiress' fourth year English class, Narratives of an Empire in first term.  There were a couple which I had never heard of but they all sound intriguing.

Oroonoko - Aphra Behn
She:  A History of Adventure - Henry Rider Haggard
Kim - Rudyard Kipling
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah - Elizabeth Hamilton

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back to School

The Heiress is pretty much packed up and ready to head back to university.  I can tell she's pretty excited about it because she did her own laundry a couple of days ago.  You know, like when you're going on a trip and you're so anxious to do just about anything that will make it feel as though you'll be on your way a bit sooner.  A suitcase, a granny cart, two bags of foodstuff and a box of bath and body supplies are waiting to be hauled downstairs for the trip out.  Handing over my bank card and the keys to the van so she could go shopping for a few bits and bobs were one of my last maternal duties of the summer.  I guess I'm feeling a bit sad that she's leaving because the amount I told her she could spend went up a few times before she raced out to pick up her friend.

This is the fourth year of her Hons. BA in Sociology with a minor in English Lit., then she hopes to pursue a MA in Criminology.  I'll wait with anticipation for the anecdotes of how 'time outs' on the bottom stair and other disciplines could easily have turned her into a serial killer.

I plan on using the tactic I've used for the past three years to avoid any tears or upset when we drop her off at school.  I casually mention that now her father and I can go back to playing Batman and Catwoman with the house to ourselves.  Works like a charm every time.  Yeah, I'm prepared to hear how that scarred her for life as well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

RIP V Challenge

There is something inherent about shorter days, the turning of leaves and a whiff of woodsmoke that endears my heart to a ghost story.  Halloween may be two months away but such an atmospheric 'season' if you will, is simply too much fun to limit to one day of trick or treats.

Popping by A Work in Progress,  I was excited to discover that the RIP V challenge is in full swing again this year until October 31.  Not usually one for reading challenges I find this one and Persephone Week just too pleasurable to pass up.
Peril the Third is the level I've chosen which requires reading one novel but I do have a few unread short stories befitting this genre and a collection of spooky goings-on from sites around London.
The Woman in White - Just how many people have yet to read this book?  Surely I am one of but a few.  Since I've been immersed in the Victorian era as of late it's the perfect time to slot in this classic sensation novel mixing 'Gothic horror with psychological realism'.  And who can resist more Wilkie Collins...not me.
Haunted London - This has been on my bookshelf since 2007, when R and I visited London and couldn't get enough of the spooky tales we heard on those fabulous London Walks.  Filled with tales of ghosts and horror in locations from The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane to Newgate Prison this should be good for raising some gooseflesh.
Ghost Stories - This Everyman's Pocket Classic lists spooky (and odd) short stories from stellar authors such as Edith Wharton, PG Wodehouse, Henry James, Saki and Elizabeth Bowen.  I have my eye on 'The Quincunx' by Walter de la Mare for this season.
If you're interested in finding out more about this reading challenge, please click here

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rock buns

The other day Simon posted about doing a bit of Bank holiday baking, specifically Rock buns.

Rising to the challenge of making this delicious companion to a cup of tea, I whipped out my mixing bowl.  Deciding to use Tana Ramsay's recipe proved foolhardy as I had to zest an orange...I always take a nick out of the knuckle on my thumb using the grater.  Note to self: buy a proper zester!

These were super easy to make as demonstrated in Tana's photo which displays her making them with her children.  Well, at least I think they're hers.  My only pitfall was that in the recipe, Tana says not to overcook them as they continue to cook after being removed from the oven.  Finding them a bit anemic looking, I put them back in for another two minutes.  They still look anemic.  Popping back over to Simon's post he says that they should be brown on the top as they're better overdone than undercooked.  I should have followed Simon's advice from the start.  Despite their paleness, these were so delicious I gobbled up two with a cup of tea while they were still warm and I will definitely be baking another batch soon. 

Thanks for issuing the challenge to get baking, Simon!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

When you find the perfect book to suit your mood it's amazing how much time you can find to steal a page here and there.  On several occasions I found myself leaning on the kitchen counter to read just one more page before grabbing my keys to drive off to work. 

'After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.'

So begins this Victorian pastiche deliciously filled with foggy nights so wet you can feel the mist and hear the cobbles play a tune under horse hooves and carriage wheels.  The story is a confession of revenge and murder by Edward to his friend, Le Grice over drinks and we're all in for quite the tale of intrigue.

Edward Glapthorn is raised by his mother who writes novels long into the night to provide as best she can for her son.  There also exists a rosewood box containing 200 guineas left to him by a mysterious benefactor which makes his attending Eton a possibility.  Once there he has the misfortune of befriending Phoebus Daunt, whose petty jealousy of Edward's attention to others drives him to an act with serious consequences.

Eventually, through his work in the office of Tredgold, Tredgold & Orr, Edward begins to unravel the shocking and previously unknown details of his birth.  Some may find this chain of information and events somewhat coincidental but in no way did it lessen the thrill of the ride for me.  We also learn that Lord Tansor, an incredibly wealthy aristocrat and married to his second wife has yet to father an heir.  Desperate that he should have someone to leave his vast estate to, he visits Gray's Inn to have documents drawn up making the precocious son of the village rector his heir.  One Phoebus Daunt.

That the man who was the cause of Edward being removed from Eton, thereby ruining any chance of a successful career, should inherit such wealth so easily twists the knife.  Whilst mulling certain events and tidbits of information over in his mind, Edward consoles himself in the arms of an exotic lady of the night, Isabella Gallini.  Though she gives her body to others her heart belongs only to Edward.  On occasion, the irresistable pull of an opium den provides further distraction for our tortured man.

The vivid description of chop-houses, alleyways, shops and tolling bells had me desperately wanting to book a trip back to visit historic parts of London.  An outing by Edward and the breathtaking Emily Carteret to St Paul's, to climb the numerous steps to the Whispering Gallery and beyond had me picturing how one would manage it in yards of fabric, full petticoats and bustle!

For the duration in which Edward seeks ever more clarification regarding his birth, he is aware that someone constantly follows him.  In crowded streets there's a tap on the shoulder here or footsteps behind him in the dark there making for many an anxious outing.  I wondered how I would sleep at night knowing a villain was just waiting for me to leave the latch unlocked. 

Showing no economy with description, Cox takes his time arriving at the climax but it was well worth the wait.  The last few pages had me riveted, hand on my chest, holding my breath and at one point shouting 'oh no!' out loud. 

This story very much reminded me of Wilkie Collins, No Name, in which a character goes to any length to recover what is rightfully theirs.  I loved that book and I loved this one every bit as much.  Thankfully, in a state of sadness that I wasn't jetting off to anywhere exciting during a holiday last summer, I purchased both The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time, its sequel.  Despite the first instalment being 600 pages I'm not the slightest bit hesitant to continue this story in the next fact, I can't wait!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eating for England by Nigel Slater

Since last night I've been mulling over just what it is exactly about a British sweet shop or food in general that is so appealing.  The thought of a Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar has any thought of eating healthy fly straight out of my head.  A package of Reds and Blacks from M&S removes any caution about cavities.

Eating for England by Nigel Slater has provided all the thrill of iconic British foodstuffs without any of the guilt.  He fills 280 pages with his memories and thoughts on everything from barley water to Sarson's Vinegar, the Jammie Dodger to Victorian sandwiches.  Being the perfect 'dip in and out of' book, it has been on my nightstand for the past couple of weeks.  I've had to stifle some belly laughs when reading it at 6 am so as not to rouse Deacon or R from their slumber.  Slater's description of Werther's Orginals as 'silly old bugger's sweets' and the 'Victor Meldrew of confectionery' was one such moment.

Before my last trip across the pond I asked a couple of delightful ex-pats who visit the library if there was anything I could bring back for them.  They swooned over the thought of enjoying a M&S Rich Tea biscuit with their cuppa once again.  When I got back and handed them their bag of biscuits with some chocolate thrown in I beamed with the thought of them racing home, plugging in the kettle and enjoying a delicate dunk.  A couple of weeks later I discovered a British sweet shop in town selling the very article!  Alice and Bettina were thrilled not to have to wait until someone else ventured overseas for their biscuit fantasy to come true.  According to a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, the sale of Rich Tea biscuits is on the decline as 'posh' treats become more popular.  Slater writes that his favourite, the Abbey Crunch, has long been extinct, being replaced by the less than impressive Hob Nob so the worst can happen.

There were things revealed in this book which were better left unread.  I was made ill by reading what it was that flavoured the meat at a St David's Day celebration with some Welsh friends.  Faggots and peas were on the menu and now I know why nobody was forthcoming in the details about just what that was.  To gag over something one has eaten over ten years ago takes some doing.

R and I are starting to sound like a couple of old codger's when we bemoan the pathetic comic strips that pass for a prize in boxes of caramel popcorn and that chocolate bars are shrinking.  Our PC world has banned the marketing of candy cigarettes but pretending to blow smoke on a cold day after taking a drag on my candy hasn't turned me into a smoker.  I digress.

The heartwarming, crave-inducing writing style of Slater had me flinging back the covers last weekend to pop down some toast and grab the jar of Robertson's Golden Shred from the fridge.  I didn't even wait for the tea to steep before I started munching away.  Perhaps it's a good thing that many of the sweet subjects in this book are not within easy reach for me.  I have no idea what a Tunnock's Teacake, Jaffa Cake, Floral Gums or Midget Gems are but Slater makes me want to find out.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inn on the Twenty

  Lime Blossom Cheesecake with Charlie Bee Honey pavlova and Jordan Valley stone fruit compote.  Doesn't that sound delicious!?  I was so enamoured with my lunch that it wasn't until the dessert that I remembered my camera.

Inn on the Twenty in Jordan is in the middle of wine country and historic Twenty Valley.  This was our first time visiting the restaurant and we were so impressed.  For our starter we shared a Caesar Salad made with baby romaine, crisp Pingue prosciutto and charred tomato.  R and I chose the same entree which was Handmade Linguini with pancetta, Parmesan, fava beans and cream sauce.  We sprang for the Tiger shrimp too...why not, we were on holiday.

There was no question who was going to be in the seat with a view.  Better luck next time, R!
(and there will be a next time)

And how perfect!  A wool/quilting shop called Stitch was nearby.  The shop owner was kind enough to allow some snaps for my blog.  Since I've promised myself I will not hoard wool I didn't buy anything but I really, really wanted to!

Sipping wine and enjoying some fine dining was a perfect way to cap off our holiday together.  We weren't hungry again until almost nine o'clock in the evening so I whipped out a frying pan and made us some eggs and peameal bacon.  Our feet were firmly planted back on earth but it was nice while it lasted.