Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anyone for Tea?

I am so excited to be visiting London once again!  The days are zooming by and preparations are in full swing.  Items to be packed are starting to accumulate on the bed in our spare room and The Heiress has her visa.

The Heiress will be so busy familiarizing herself with her new surrounding in Kent that she will barely notice my absence.  But I will really be missing her.  It would be more than wonderful for me if anyone would be interested in getting together for a cup of tea!

Since you all have busy lives I'm hoping you're free on September 18, which is a Sunday.  R thinks I could give Barbara Walters a run for her money as I'm always so full of questions and conversation so please don't be shy!  I promise you we will have lots of fun and the more the merrier!  Once I have an idea who is available then together we can plan somewhere central and with a daughter costing us a King's ransom, inexpensive.

Consult your calendar and please leave a comment or send me an email.  If I don't hear from you then don't be surprised to hear from me!  Hope you can make it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

"Some in Bethnal Green were eager for the report, sure it would reveal something to help them make sense of the senseless. Others only felt suspicion. The inquiry, they believed, was merely a distraction, something authorities did in order to avoid accountability. How could someone not present that night tell them what happened?"

A tragedy took place on the evening of March 3, 1943.  It was during wartime in London and killed 173 people but had nothing to do with an air raid.  The tube station at Bethnal Green had been fitted with bunk beds and cots to keep the community safe and comfortable during the endless nights of enemy attack.  Women would struggle to navigate the stairs going down into the shelter while carrying large bundles of supplies, sometimes along with a baby or toddler in tow.

On the night of March 3, the usual crowds were arriving but reports varied on whether or not there were sounds of enemy aircraft coming from the sky.  The amount of light in the entrance of the shelter was also in question.  One thing was certain, by 8:30 pm eighty-four women, sixty-two children and twenty-seven men were dead and sixty-one others were left injured after being crushed on the stairs.  As if the incident wasn't tragic enough there were government officials anxious to keep the details secret.

Kane writes about this tragedy in a style I've heard referred to as "faction".  The facts are dovetailed with fiction and she pulls it off quite well.  Paul Barber is a documentary filmmaker with ties to Bethnal Green who in the seventies seeks out Laurence Dunne, the magistrate assigned to conduct an inquiry.  With generations between them they meet at Dunne's home which Barber thinks resembles something of a time-capsule from another era.  Upon hearing his interviewer's last name, Dunne ponders a tie to a family involved in the tragedy and starts counting back the years and inquires about Paul's age.  Could there be a connection?

The weight of responsibility Dunne faces is monumental.  He is dealing with a grief-stricken community, prejudices regarding the influx of Jewish refugees, guilt by wardens on duty at the shelter and shame over behaviours by war weary citizens.  His patient manner and refusal to finger-point make him an excellent candidate for the job.  Wading through dozens of conflicting bits of evidence must have been trying but the evidence given by a little girl, Tilly, is the most shocking.

A fascinating and compelling read that has spurred me on to learn more about this wartime disaster.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Love by Elizabeth von Arnim

"Mrs Colquhoun was surprised.  Virginia was almost arguing with her.  Besides, it was an unexpected view to take.  Beginnings were not suitable, she felt, after a certain age, especially not for women.  Mothers of the married, such as herself and Mrs Cumfrit, should be concerned rather with ending than beginnings."

Elizabeth von Arnim had a lot to get off her chest regarding the topic of older women coupling with younger men and the double standard when the situation is reversed.  She was speaking from experience as I found out while reading the riveting introduction by Terence de Vere White.  And while there is much less discrimation today surrounding all sorts of relationships, vanity and the search for the fountain of youth is still a booming trade.

Being aware of each other's presence at multiple viewings of a play, Christopher sets about his relentless quest to woo Catherine.  Things get icky quite rapidly when he hails a cab after a show so Catherine can avoid getting wet during a bit of rain.  With his hanky he dabs at the droplets of rain on her clothing...and then her shoes, even the soles.  That sort of thing would have had me out the door at the next red light.

To be fair, Catherine does her best to put off her admirer but slowly over time she returns his affections.  Her euphoria at feeling loved and adored brings a youthful glow to her complexion but soon this fails to be enough.  Her realized terror is very like the magic mirror telling the wicked stepmother that she's no longer the fairest in the land scenario.  Secretive, not to mention expensive, treatments are begun with a doctor who barely speaks English assisted by a deceitful nurse.  The less than impressive results are reminiscent of another fairy tale The Emporer's New Clothes.  Counteractive to all of her efforts is the extreme worry about what people will say should this relationship become public knowledge in society and amongst family.

The double standard is that Catherine's teenage daughter, Virginia, is married to Stephen, her senior by twenty-nine years.  And he's a vicar.  So while he rails against what he deems to be a disgusting relationship between Catherine and Christopher, his wife sits on his knee and he refers to her as his 'blessed child'.  There were a few times when I came close to flinging this book across the room in frustration.  The constant insecurities about looks were annoying but that Catherine suffers her very existence in accordance with the terms set by her deceased husband and defers to her son-in-law's view of morality...Eek!  In many ways I was born too late but in this regard my feminist views would surely have had me locked up in an asylum as a hysteric.  Sentences such as the following had me writing "WHAT?" in my notebook more than a few times.

"Was she strong enough to defy Stephen and go on seeing Christopher just as before, without marrying him?"

Thank goodness for the comic relief provided by the housekeeper, Mrs Mitcham.  Spying some new nightgowns belonging to the newlywed, Catherine, she thinks to herself....

"There were six nightgowns that you could pull through a wedding-ring, they went so into nothing.  Chiffon nightgowns.  Different colours.  Pink, lemon-colour, and so on: and all of them you could see through as plain as daylight.  It was a mercy, thought Mrs Mitcham, that it was dark at night."

Arguably, this book could have been called Looks instead of Love for all the worry and extreme efforts to conceal an aging visage.  But von Arnim doesn't exclude the young completely, even the lovely Miss Wickford with the most beautiful eyes in London is a spinster for being unmarried at just twenty-eight.  Society is so quick to label isn't it?  But thankfully that was then and this is now.  Vanity is alive and well and there is still more prejudice in this world than there should be but an older woman with a younger man is far from frowned upon.  But would I want to be married to a man twenty years younger than myself?  Not on your life!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Congratulations Verity and Ken!

In honour of Verity and Ken's wedding day...

What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined together to strengthen each other in all labor, to minister to each other in all sorrow, to share with each other in all gladness, to be one with each other in the silent unspoken memories?

- George Eliot

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sunday on a Patio...and Books!

Yesterday a case of golfer's guilt prompted my husband to offer up a drive to Toronto for some book browsing with lunch on a patio.  It's also Caribana weekend so he planned alternate routes in case the traffic wreaked havoc.  I was fine with a lazy afternoon around the house but after a millisecond of hesitation it was on with the lippy and out the door we went.

BMV Books has no catalogue system whatsoever so there's no quick and easy way to find out if something is in stock.  There's nothing for it but to load up the parking meter and browse until your time is up.  The literature section flips over quickly with stacks of green book bins full of fresh stock to fill gaps once a space is made so each visit is like scanning the shelves for the first time. 

My heart leapt at finding the orange Penguin edition of Little Boy Lost on a bottom shelf looking out of place amongst more recent publications.  I loved the Persephone Classic version but have coveted this edition for ages. The Lehmann short stories are described as 'set against the background of Britain at war: the world of women and children, the minutiae of daily life in rural England...'  Perfect.  The Wilkie Collins was just because and my inner 'downstairs girl' simply could not resist another book on English domesticity.  Reading snippets about the etiquette of entertaining guests for dinner, dealing with infant teething (they lanced their gums!), how maids should mend linens on their day off and the most humane way to slaughter a pig made the drive home seem a lot quicker.  The seemingly endless paragraphs of rigid rules and guidelines had R saying he would rather have been the type to hang out at the docks wheeling and dealing for a living.

I probably should have spent my time reading the book on my nightstand instead of buying more but it was a fun afternoon out.  You can't go back to work after a long weekend saying you hung around the house now can you?  We've also seen the last installment in the Harry Potter series with our group of friends.  Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, I love you.  And this weekend was the annual Steak-Off BBQ.  R won it last year but this year barely managed to stay out of the basement.  He went with an untested recipe which was a bit banal for his liking once he tried it at the event.  So what's a fellow to do at that point?  He starts rooting through the host's spice cupboard, finds a jar of steak spice and begins shaking it over the steaks like a madman with a set of maracas in a mariachi band.  It actually wasn't bad at all but the competition was quite exemplary this year so better luck, and practice, next time.

So today I am a golf widow and perfectly happy with plans to use my day off to get some housework and laundry done.  Mrs Beeton would be so pleased.