Friday, April 29, 2011

Receptions Near and Far

Hasn't it been an exhilarating and exhausting day!?  The excitement really began to build yesterday with The Heiress and I blowing up balloon bouquets in red, white and blue, and stringing up handmade bunting.  Deciding we needed to have scones on hand we quickly whipped up a batch before getting off to bed.

Waking up at 3:15 am, I tried to get back to sleep but the draw of fancy hats and strange hats, the likes of which we rarely see here, proved irresistible.  Dashing downstairs to plug in the kettle, pop down some toast and dig out the marmalade, I settled down to watch the fashion parade and the ceremony.  The Heiress made her appearance at a respectable 4:30 am.  It was everything we hoped it would be and very romantic, Prince William and Catherine looked so in love and unbelievably relaxed.  The two of them driving along the Mall in Prince Charles's vintage Aston Martin was lovely to see, the royal factor dissipated during that moment.

The kisses on the balcony over, it was time to dash off to the library where my lovely colleagues were hosting a Royal tea.  Fancy sandwiches, scones, lots of tea and decorations made the staff room party central while we dished about every detail of the wedding while wearing our tiaras, like you do.  It was a day to remember and I just love it when a happy event brings family, friends, countries and communities together to celebrate.

As stories about the wedding were reported around the world and more photos emerged I spied this one of Fiona Cairns with the gorgeous wedding cake she created.  Of everything else that went on today I think getting THAT cake delivered in the state it was intended must have been one of the most nerve-wracking tasks of all.

Well done, everyone.  It was a wonderful day and here's to an early night.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holiday Arrivals and Departures

This is going to be a busy weekend.  The Heiress has finally completed her Sociology BA (Hons), with a minor in English Lit no less.  R and I are about to leave the house to make our third trip in as many weekends to pick up the last of her things in Waterloo and bring her home.  It won't be for long though as she plans on pursuing a Criminology MA in England this autumn.  We could not be more proud and will somehow come to terms with living in poverty in order to pay the international student fees!  She has had two offers and is waiting to hear back from two other universities so her school of choice has yet to be decided.  And don't be surprised if she asks for input from my wonderful blog friends across the pond in a post of her own.

Whilst The Heiress is unpacking, R will be packing for a golf trip he is taking and fingers crossed everyone keeps track of whose luggage is whose.  Arriving in Florida with a suitcase full of girl's things and a straightening iron would be a nightmare for him and fodder for a week of ribbing from his friends.

Sunday will hopefully bring a day of peace and calm around the house.  Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nourishment by Gerard Woodward

While busily catching up on the writings of twentieth century authors I have been neglecting new books popping up at the library.  When this quirky tale appeared on the list of new books in the catalogue I was intrigued.  Set during the Blitz it began ticking boxes but then things got weird.  Challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone of feminine middlebrow novels I plowed ahead.

Tory Pace has sent her three children to the Cotswolds to escape the bombs and lives with her mother, Emily Head, at 17 Peter Street in London.  While Tory works at a gelatine factory, Mrs Head gets on with keeping the house and cooking the meals.

The first part of the book is darkly humorous.  Dandos, the butcher shop, is bombed and in fabulous detail the author paints a picture of rashers of bacon strewn everywhere.  Mrs Head spies a joint of meat in the rubble and slips it into her mesh bag to roast for the evening meal.  The trouble is, nobody has found the body of the butcher!  Eating dinner could prove to be an act of cannibalism and I was riveted by each poke of the knife.

Tory's husband, Donald, has been captured by the Nazis and is now a POW.  He is allowed to write heavily-censored letters home and has the oddest request...he asks Tory to write erotic letters, the racier the better.  Quite beside herself with repugnance and embarrassment she skirts the issue by writing back using gardening as a metaphor for sex.

'Darling, imagine me as a sagging crimson rose that wants watering.  Imagine yourself as the gardener, walking up the path to my dry rose bed, with a watering-can, full to the lip with water...'

Donald is not impressed and responds...'I did not ask you for an essay on the art of managing my allotment.'

George Farraway owns the gelatine factory and takes an interest in Tory and an affair is soon in full bloom.  Finding herself pregnant she decides to pass the baby off as one she discovered in the dusty rubble of a bombed home in Leicester.  It's one thing to convince the neighbours but quite another when Donald is liberated and the children are brought home from the Cotswolds.  And what's more they have come home with West Country accents.  They have some pretty tough questions and her son, Tom, even goes so far as to suggest his mother has been kidnapped and replaced by an impostor!

Up until this point the book is witty, hilarious, entertaining, whimsical and darkly comedic...I loved it.  Unfortunately, after that it lost its spark for me.  Donald is understandably changed but nasty beyond caring about and a tragedy brought my mood down even further. 

The title suggests the different types of nourishment people need in order to thrive and the result when it is absent.  Woodward had an entertaining story going but he lost me along the way.  And just in case you're wondering, there really isn't anything too suggestive in the book so don't let that put you off.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens

'That's all very well for you, Louise thought.  You've never had to take things from people, except as your right, as a daughter or a wife.  Wait till you're a widow and Ellen offers to buy you a dress, and you want to say yes, but would love to be able to say no.'

Louise Bickford is a widow and judging by the way she was treated by her husband, Dudley, I would say she is better off.  But sadly, with very little to live on she is shuttled like a piece of furniture between her three daughters.  Miriam and her husband pretend all is well in their magazine-style English existance with their three school-age children.  Eva is an actress whose big break is just one play away and then there is Anne, a slattern if ever there was one, living on a small farm with her husband, Frank.  There is something very reminiscent of Hyacinth, Daisy and Violet about these three women.

While everyone bustles about in their lives, Louise endures her loneliness as best she can.  Stopping into a Lyon's tea room one day, she strikes up a conversation with another man sitting on his own.  Gordon Disher works at a department store but for extra money he writes crime novels under the pen name, Lester Drage.  There is an immediate affinity between these two lonely people and Louise finds herself offering to read his latest murder mystery and offer an opinion.

This new relationship is scoffed at by her daughters.  After all, why would a woman of a certain age need male companionship and if you did, he should at least travel in well-heeled circles, not sell beds in a department store or write trashy novels. 

Ellen Chadwick, Miriam's eldest daughter, melted my heart.  She doesn't quite fit in at home and is treated harshly by her father thus living in a world where she feels things deeply.  Being with her grandmother and Mr Disher fills her heart with delight and thank goodness for that at least.  A trip to the markets stalls on Portobello Road where she finds a painting to hang by her bed is written so wonderfully that I am sure I will never forget it.

There were times when I wanted Louise to stop being so polite, to stop placating her spoiled daughters but she desperately needs their support.  If the times meant that this was how things were, with no social assistance for women like Louise then I wanted Mr Disher to be her knight in shining armour.  He could well have done with the company and a feminine touch in his meagre flat.  But you'll have to read the book yourself to find out what happens.

The Winds of Heaven was an enjoyable read, I only wish it went on a bit longer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

'The man from the train was there, as she had supposed he would be.  He was leaning over the bar questioning the barman about the town, the district.  It seemed to Camilla puzzling that his sentimental journey should have ended in a place to which he was so much a stranger.'
While waiting on the platform for her train, Camilla witnesses a tragic event.  Upset, she finds distraction in the company of a young man with movie star good looks named, Richard. 

Arriving at her destination she is met by her childhood friend, Liz, and together they set off for the flint cottage belonging to their once governess, Frances.  Almost immediately there is friction between the young women as Liz is now married with a baby and things will never be carefree between the friends again.

While Liz is busy fretting over every cry the baby makes, Camilla finds her thoughts drifting towards Richard and soon has the perfect excuse to visit the hotel where he is staying.  Frances is a painter and has an admirer of her work in the rotund bachelor, Morland Beddoes.  Being non-judgmental, a keen observer and great listener he has many visitors to his flat to drink his brandy and unload tales of woe.  He writes to Frances that he must finally meet the woman who painted the portrait which hangs in his room and gives him hours of enjoyment.  Mr Beddoes has been so kind to Frances but the spinster is apprehensive to share her safe haven and sends Camilla to meet him at the train station.

Place these characters in a cottage together and add a handsome insane man who is staying nearby and Taylor's writing has an outlet to soar.  This novel is described as her darkest and I can well see why.  Quite often there is an element of wanting to reach out and stop someone the way you do when a child is about to cross a road and a car suddenly comes around the corner.  There was one passage which showed a glimpse of the author's humour though when she names a wretched housekeeper with an unalterable time-table, Mrs Taylor.  Nearing the conclusion I found myself trying to slow down the pace but it was both riveting and terrifying.  High drama on a big screen couldn't have had me holding my breath any better.

It had been my intention to read Taylor's entire oeuvre before ordering a copy of Nicola Beauman's, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, but this novel left me anxious to know more about the woman behind the pen and now!  Her descriptions of loneliness, wanting to break free from the restrictions placed on women by society, the power of men over women were obviously written by a woman who felt a great deal and who possessed exceptional insight.  I now find myself faced with the horrible knowledge that Taylor's collection is finite and each unread story I pull from my shelf from now on will be both something to look forward to and something to dread.