Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford

It was during a trip to London last February that my husband very kindly chose a copy of Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding for me from Hatchards.  There has been enough mention of that last name in our house over the past few years for him to know it was probably a safe bet.  It was tucked away on my shelves to enjoy during the next holiday season and what with decorations being pulled out and carols being played in the midst of November, I decided to get stuck in.

It turns out that Christmas Pudding really isn't all that Christmass-y and would be perfectly well-suited to read during any time of year.  The story centres around Amabelle Fortescu's short-term rental, Mulberrie Farm in the Cotswolds, and an extended group friends who drop by for one reason or another.  One couple, Sally and Walter, have recently become parents to a baby girl and in stereotypical upper-crust fashion, reserve the right to not become too attached lest it all go pear-shaped.  In contemplating the cost of engraving a sterling silver cup with the baby's name...
'I say, I do hope she lives all right, Sally.'
'So do I, you know.  After all the trouble I've had, one way and another, it would be extraordinarily souring if she didn't.  However, nanny and the charlady between them are battling for her life, as they say in the papers, like mad, so I expect she will.  The charlady knows all about it, too, she has lost six herself.'

Paul Fotheringay desperately wants to be recognized as a serious author but his latest book Crazy Caper has the masses in fits of laughter, not at all the response he was hoping for considering its tragic tone.  After some advice to try his hand at a biography he decides to research volumes of work by the Victorian poetess, Lady Maria Bobbin.  How convenient that the volumes now reside at Compton Bobbin, a country estate close to Mulberrie Farm, occupied by the formidable Lady Bobbin and her two young adult children, Roderick 'Bobby' and Philidelphia.

If you have never had any exposure to what life was like for the Mitford girls whilst growing up in their own country pile you might find the characters in this book completely mad.  But if you've read The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters there are many instances when you can easily imagine certain incidents may very well have happened....
"'...Where's Mabel, then?'
'She's just looking for still-borns in The Times,' said Christopher Robin.  'I'll fetch her - oh, here she comes through.'" 

Funny stuff indeed but I realized something part way through the book.  While I adore a farcical play or television show for the two hours it takes to feature on stage or screen I can't take it for days on end during the time it takes me to get through a book.  It's probably why I just could not get on with Benson's Mapp & Lucia either.  The baby talk in that book was simply too irksome and there was a form of secret language in Christmas Pudding that made me groan when it would pop up.  All the over the top twittering, hand-wringing and arm-flapping belied the cool or smoldering glances I have come to expect in my aristocratic reading adventures.  I wanted to smack the simpering Philadelphia for her waffling back and forth about which man to marry every other minute.  Why does a woman barely past the training bra stage have to marry anyone?! 

Christmas Pudding was Mitford's second book and written when she was only 28.  Supposedly she would laugh herself silly while writing it, masking real-life events and friends in her fictional tales.  I, on the other hand, felt like someone on the outside looking in and didn't quite feel in on the joke.  Given just the right mood combined with the time to read such a book in one or two sittings all would be fine but otherwise I'm afraid not.  But all is not lost because The Pursuit of Love written years later was definitely worth waiting for.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Almost End of Year Book Meme

Oh I do find these entertaining...

I began the day by A Very Great Profession

before breakfasting on Christmas Pudding

and admiring A View of the Harbour.

On my way to work I saw War Damage

and walked by Three Men in a Boat

to avoid The Shooting Party

but I made sure to stop at New Grub Street.

In the office, my boss said, Call the Midwife

and sent me to research The Hireling.

At lunch with My American

I noticed The Wedding Group

in The Heat of the Day

greatly enjoying Brightness.

Then on the journey home, I contemplated If Walls Could Talk

because I have Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

and am drawn to The British Character.

Settling down for the evening in A Far Cry from Kensington

I studied Between the Acts

by Manservant and Maidservant

before saying good-night to Millions Like Us.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunday at Springridge Farm

After a very busy Spring, Summer and Fall, Springridge Farm closes for the Winter season as of Christmas Eve.  I wish it didn't though as it's the perfect destination if you need a change of scenery but don't have a whole day for frivolity as it's only a ten minute car journey away.  Once the groceries were all put away, The Heiress, my husband and I piled into the car and drove along one of the country roads out to the farm.  Lazy snowflakes fell in the morning but for the most part it was simply a plain old crisp day with grey skies.  Pulling into the driveway though was like entering a Winter wonderland with evergreen boughs decorating the rail fence and an open fire filled the air with woodsmoke.  Stepping into the warm shop we were welcomed with the delicious aromas of Christmas spice and baking.
The gift shop is one of the nicest places to do some Christmas shopping.  Forget circling mall parking lots looking for a spot you hope nobody else will beat you to and grouchy customers lumbering under the weight of winter coats and too many bags.  There are all sorts of gorgeous things to buy for the home, a best friend, to surprise your hostess with or best of all, to eat.  We chose some homemade fruitcake baked by a local resident, granola and I can't wait to try a bottle of the Mulled Winter Punch from Belvoir that we spied.  To add wine or not...hmmm, some experimentation is called for I think.

Poor Morris.  His head has been mounted at the farm for as long as I can remember.  When The Heiress was small she, along with the rest of the children from near and far, begged to be grasped under her arms and raised high enough to pat the once fuzzy muzzle.  It's rather smooth now thanks to all the stroking.

After a delicious soup and sandwich lunch, and a bag of three cinnamon swirls for later, we weaved our way past the displays and groups of children admiring some toys.  Just as we reached the door we noticed Santa was visiting and we tried our best to stifle belly laughs as a poor little boy sidestepped away from the man in red.  The look of terror and bewilderment on his face...well, you have to be a grown-up to see the humour don't you.  Anyway, it was a lovely outing and if we're lucky we can squeeze it all in again once more before Springridge closes for the season.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

War Damage by Elizabeth Wilson

Ah yes, the book souvenir from London.  Scanning the shelves, tables and displays at Hatchards for something to tempt me a very nice woman pointed me in the direction of just the sort of books I adore.  The trouble was that most of them already sat on my bookshelves at home.  A light bulb turned on and she led me towards a crime display and with a very happy, satisfied look on her face she told me that all sorts of people had popped in asking for a copy of War Damage over the past year or so.  Considering this book was first published in 2009 that indicates a 'word of mouth' read, just the sort to tempt me despite the fact I don't go in for crime novels.  Flipping through the pages the words 'Downshire Hill' caught my eye and remembering that I had wandered the very street just a day or two before my mind was made up.

Set just after World War II, Regine Milner hosts Sunday get-togethers at the charming home she shares with her husband, Neville.  With alabaster skin and red hair she attracts the attention of every man who crosses her path, gay or straight.  Her circle of friends consist of people from the arts, politics and the war office so confidentiality and loyalty go without saying.  When a dear friend, Freddie, is found dead on the Heath after one of the Milner's gatherings the police centre their investigation on those in attendance.  If a gay man is murdered in Soho the case is just another assignment but not when it happens in Hampstead.

There were small but clever details that I really appreciated by a contemporary author such as one of the detectives noting that a great deal of money had been found in the victim's wallet.  It was £5 which is lunch money by today's standards but not for the era written about and could so easily have been ignored in the writing.  The inception of the NHS also gets a mention when a friend of Regine's becomes pregnant during an affair with a married man and when a housekeeper is ill with flu.  Also in keeping with the times, Neville prefers his wife to be the 'salon hostess' sort while Regine hopes to become more than a French history translation clerk for the publishing company she works for.  The sentiments felt quite genuine so I'll forgive the odd moment when the description of clothing went slightly too far.  I know what the cut of a dress from that era looked like.

Here is a gratuitous quote but it was foggy as anything at my house a couple of days ago (at 5 am, before setting out to walk Deacon, thank you very much) just as I happened to read...

'As they walked along the pavement the slabs gradually disappeared.  The suffocating fog crept closer still.  She could see barely a foot ahead.  A white wall rolled towards them.  They were alone in this suffocating, silent world.  Sound, too, was deadened; no traffic, no footsteps.  She stretched her free arm sideways groping for a wall or something solid to hold on to, and when she found it edged her way along it.  Roxborough lit a match, but the feeble glow did nothing to disperse the miasma.'  ...Eeek!

Crime is a genre I just don't dabble in so there were times when a character was about to reveal something really, really crucial...and then they would pull back.  Aaarrrghhh...I wanted to scream 'Just spit it out, for goodness sake!' and let's face it, that's how it works and I was hooked so what was I to do but hang in there.  And too right...this story was entertaining and quite the good read so way to go Elizabeth Wilson, I will definitely be looking out for more of your work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

'Mrs Palfrey first came to the Claremont Hotel on a Sunday afternoon in January.  Rain had closed in over London, and her taxi sloshed along the almost deserted Cromwell Road, past one cavernous porch after another, the driver going slowly and poking his head out into the wet, for the hotel was not known to him.'

From the beginning of the story we can surmise that Mrs Palfrey and her only daughter do not have a close relationship.  She chooses The Claremont as a place to relocate while staying with Elizabeth in Scotland.  It also quickly becomes apparent that this is the sort of hotel that begrudgingly caters to seniors before their final destination of the dreaded nursing home.  After her bags have been taken to her room by the porter, and by only page three, my heart was already breaking...
'The outlook - especially on this darkening afternoon - was daunting; but the backs of hotels, which are kept for indigent ladies, can't be expected to provide a view, she knew.  The best is kept for honeymooners, though God alone knew why they should require it.'
And right there, in a couple of sentences, is why I adore Elizabeth Taylor's exquisite gift for storytelling.  She has acutely and succinctly laid out how it feels to be an inconvenience and despite paying her way, Mrs Palfrey is to be thankful for any hospitality she receives as a guest of the hotel.  Yes, in part, this is a sad novel but not so much so that your first instinct is to shy away from it.  As the reader is introduced to the other elderly guests taking advantage of the low winter rates the story becomes a bit of a sitcom - in a good way.  I gradually warmed up to the irritating Mr Osmond with his inappropriate jokes and adversity to hand washing, Mrs Post does the library run but gets Elizabeth Bowen muddled up with Majorie Bowen.  Poor incontinent Mrs Arbuthnot is also terribly arthritic, Mrs Burton has mauve hair and spends far too much on whisky.  Wanting to find some sort of common ground with the ladies, Mrs Palfrey buys a bit of wool and a set of needles to join in with the after-dinner knitting circle. 

The number of invites received by a guest to attend an outing with family or friends is carefully examined and commented on by the other residents.  When Mrs Palfrey's daughter or grandson show no sign of turning up, her pride takes over and a tale formulates after an unfortunate turn of events.  Ludo is a handsome young writer, poor and barely scraping by, who comes to Mrs Palfrey's rescue in more ways than one and their resulting friendship...well, it's the stuff dreams are made of but by no means perfect.  It is also another example of wonderful characterization on the part of Taylor, so convincingly does she write both sides.

There is no way that I could ever choose just one Elizabeth Taylor to call my absolute favourite but this one did make me laugh...and cry.  A combination which rates quite highly when it comes to labelling something a really good read and this one surely is that.  I also really enjoyed the parallel experience of reading this story while staying in my own little hotel room in London, albeit in different circumstance.  Being the new face in the breakfast room but quickly settling in was certainly recognizable.  Although, thinking back to what the experience would have been like over forty years ago when Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont was written did make me thankful that luggage now have wheels!

Thanks to Verity for writing the post that made me pull this book from my bookcase at the last minute before my trip to London, it was perfect.  And once again, thanks to Laura for being the one to go to for information about this year's read-along of Elizabeth Taylor's novels.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ham House in Surrey

The B&B we had been staying at was not able to accommodate us for our last night in London so The Heiress and I had to pack up and relocate elsewhere in Bloomsbury.  Too early to claim our room we had to leave our belongings in the hallway of reception and put all notion of them being anything other than safe, aside.  We were off to Surrey on our last full day in England and it wasn't long before the traffic and crowds of central London were all but forgotten.  Arriving at the Richmond station we then had to board a bus for a short ride through town, passing charming neighbourhoods and homes along the way.  My fantasy of buying a home in England with my imagined lottery winnings just got a tad more difficult, it's so lovely here!

The house has a completion date of 1610 inscribed on the front door (there has since been many renovations) and the entrance hall still has its original marble floor.  The photo above was taken from the second story railing.  The hall chairs were supplied at a cost of £1 in 1730, decorated with the coat of arms of the 4th Earl of Dysart.  Just imagine the people who have trod back and forth it over the decades...

The coronet and cipher in the Queen's Closet.  I was excited to find this detail on the floor after Lucy Worsley pointed it out in her documentary If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home.

Other, more domestic details, were every bit as interesting, such as buckets on hooks lining a discreet hallway.  Some of them, if not all, would be filled with sand so as to be at the ready in case of fire.  The dog in the portrait looks as though he does a very good job of keeping an eye on things, don't you think?

The Duchess would bathe in the lower level of the house.  A tub this size would have required a good many trips back and forth from the fireplace with loads and loads of buckets of hot water.  The wages for a housemaid in 1668 were £4 per annum.  I was a bit disappointed that the stunning collection of copper pots and pans in the kitchen have been removed to be more in keeping with the seventeenth-century period detail. 

After several hours spent exploring this handsome house, wandering the grounds, stuffing ourselves with Coronation Chicken sandwiches and lemonade in the cafe while Halloween-costumed children enjoyed romping about, it was time to move on.  Oh, if every day could be like this, I half expected to see Hyacinth Bucket stroll in with Richard.  As we waved good-bye and set off on the path back through the village I couldn't resist taking a picture of the above young lady, cooling down her horse after a good ride.  But they weren't my primary focus, it was the hilarious sight of the little dog absolutely covered in mud from the belly down.  No doubt trying to keep up through an afternoon of muck and mire on the trails.

I can't wait to come back for another visit to Richmond and Ham House!  For more information on the house, click here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Grand Day Out In Greenwich

Despite the forecast calling for rain The Heiress and I forged ahead with our plan to make this our day to discover Greenwich.  London was sleepy after a busy Saturday night, paper trails of hen-night banners dotted Embankment as we made our way to the pier.  The Thames Clipper pulled up at 9:30 am and we settled in to a window seat but the views took me from port to starboard several times along the journey which was just over half an hour.  I have no idea who the ladies are in the photo above but they kindly agreed to let me take a photo of their very well-behaved pups as we sailed along.  And venturing by boat to a place nestled so closely to the Thames is an absolute must, you can always go home by Docklands Light Railway.   

For some silly reason it has taken me five trips to London to make Greenwich part of my itinerary plans.  With its centuries-old nautical reputation and maritime history it wasn't quite for me, or so I thought.  The architecture is breathtaking and I gasped in awe once the doors opened at the stunningly beautiful, Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, another of Wren's masterpieces.  What I've read is true, particularly on this grey day, there is a hint of Hogwarts about the room with glowing candelabras decorating the tables. 

After basking in the glory of majestic structures and artwork The Heiress and I moved on to the Maritime Museum.  It was there that I caught sight of Horatio Nelson's portrait and wouldn't you agree there something about the glint in his eyes...he's handsome, no?

On a previous trip I had seen Nelson's crypt at St Paul's Cathedral but knew next to nothing about the man so the gaps were being filled in.  And what a fascinating story to unravel... 

At the museum you can see the uniform he was wearing when fatally wounded in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).  The epaulet on his left shoulder blown apart showing the bullet's site of entry.  Nelson's body 'was immersed in a cask of brandy ,  with camphor and myrrh, and lashed to Victory's mainmast' for the return to Gilbraltar before finally heading to London for burial.  More reading about Greenwich and Horatio Nelson will have to be done!
The Queen's House, decorated outside with carved jack o'lanterns, was closed for an event to entertain children dressed in their Halloween costumes.  We spied some of the most adorable witches and vampires you could ever chance upon, wandering the grounds.  But we did take the opportunity to cheer on some participants of a marathon to raise money for breast cancer research while techno music blared from massive speakers.

The area around the High Street was filled with couples, friends and families enjoying the day and only a few sprinkles of rain fell at all.  The market stalls were full of gorgeous crafts, the Starbucks had a ship's wheel dangling above the doorway.  My favourite shop was Lush Designs and this pillow with its whimsical print Cottages & Castles stopped me dead in my tracks, actually everything in the shop is really nice.  There is no room in my luggage for it so I had to enjoy it and then walk away until another time.

After a fortifying lunch at the Coach & Horses pub, cosy courtesy of its roaring fire, The Heiress and I trekked up the steep hill to the Royal Observatory.  The view over Greenwich is more than worth a little bit of huffing and puffing so don't leave it out!  After milling about for a little while we headed back to the station that would take us home, so glad that we didn't let a weather forecast scare us away from one of the best days of our trip.

Back in Central London we couldn't wait to sit ourselves down at the Byron Burger, Haymarket, for a sumptuous feast minus utensils and then The Heiress went one way to meet up with friends in Earl's Court while I played tourist in Piccadilly Circus.  There was a certain Kate and Wills wedding day teacup I needed to add to my commemorative collection.  Go on, laugh...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

18 Stafford Terrace

Saturday began as a sunny day with a nip in the air.  It was also the first time that I cursed London's tube system.  With the Circle line closed, disruptions on the District line and the lift out of order at Gloucester Road, it was a good thing I heeded the advice given on the Transport for London website to allow forty minutes to get to my destination.  Rachel, Mary and I had a date to meet at Linley Sambourne's house just off of Kensington High Street for a tour at 11:15 am.  Having grabbed a cup of tea from a cafe around the corner I spied Mary making her way towards the house.  With smiles and a hug we fell straight into a chat about the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the V&A that we had each been to the evening before.  After a bit of a wait we were ushered as part of a group into a room for a short film about Sambourne and his family, Rachel snuck in just as things were getting started - tube disruption delays had claimed another customer.

I love visiting houses and this one, says the website, ' recognized as one of the best surviving examples of a late Victorian middle-class home in the UK.'  This rich and cosy house, absolutely dripping with decoration over almost every square inch looks to be the quintessential Victorian abode of my imagination and so lived in that its owners may have simply stepped out to take the air.  Chairs and footstools surround occasional tables, plates line rails near the wallpapered ceiling and one room even had four clocks.  Pen and ink drawings, many by Sambourne himself, lined the walls end to end and three rows high - the group laughed when told that the expensive William Morris wallpaper wasn't wasted behind any of the prints.  My favourite feature was the gorgeous stained glass windows that adorn the south windows, catching the sun.  While Sambourne was busy spending the money he earned as an artist and illustrator for Punch magazine, his wife Marion was busy keeping exact accounts of the household budget and reigning in expenditures.  I can only imagine that husband and wife would have been shocked speechless to learn that their £2,000 investment from 1875 is now worth over £6,000,000.

After the tour it was time for refreshments so Mary suggested The Muffin Man.  Warm and cosy, Mary and I filled up on teacakes and cake while Rachel sensibly had a hearty bowl of yummy-looking carrot soup.  How many cups of tea did we go through, I wonder?  This was my second get-together with Mary and Rachel so we talked about everyday things as though we got together all the time.  Don't I wish!  The lovely and very busy Rachel had a train to catch (only the Eurostar) bound for Paris with her friend, Naomi.  So it was up to Mary and me to close out the afternoon.  We strolled our way through Kensington Gardens and Portobello Road, stopping to look at any bookshops we passed by, even the famous Notting Hill Bookshop from the movie with Hugh Grant.  Chatting as we spied the wares on offer at what must have been a hundred stalls a moment of dread rose within me.  All that tea meant a loo break was needed and soon!  Mary pointed me in the direction of a nearby cafe and so dire was the need I neither realized, or cared, that I had whipped into the gents by mistake...oh well.  So my tiara slips every now and then, whatever.

Thanks so much for a wonderful afternoon, Rachel and're lovely!

   Mosaic tiling in front of a townhouse on Gower Street, Bloomsbury

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Highgate, Hampstead and Hollywood Costumes

After a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs, mushrooms, tomato, toast and tea The Heiress and I set out for Highgate Cemetery, the East side.  Smaller than the west side you don't need to book a tour, just plunk down your three GBP with a staff member in the little hut by the gate, get your map and explore.  The skies were grey and we needed our umbrellas off and on but you couldn't ask for better cemetery weather (if that doesn't sound too morbid).  The photo above shows George Eliot's (1819 - 1880) grave, not far from the most unbelievably large bust of Karl Marx you could ever imagine.  I am sorry but it is hideous and scared me half to death. 

Once we had explored all of the pathways throughout the cemetery we walked down Swain's Lane so I could show The Heiress Holly Village.  Debating whether or not to knock on the door of a lovely elderly man who invited me for coffee last year when we met in Waterlow Park, a voice called out from a window near the arched entry.  When I asked about the man in the far left cottage I was told he was dying, oh dear.  If only that poor man knew how many times someone halfway around the world had thought of him over the past year.  The man from the window saw the look of sadness that spread across my face and said 'It happens to all of us' in a straightforward manner that felt far too blasé and there was nothing left to do but walk away.  Poor man.

Catching a bus to Hampstead so that The Heiress could experience Keats House I was keeping watch for 8 Downshire Hill along the way, the former home of writer Elizabeth Jenkins.  The trees were thick along the front wall of this house that Jenkins' father bought for her in 1939 but I did my best to capture a shot of something, anything.  The house numbers don't always make sense the window panes do seem to match the photo on the cover of her memoir.  The View from Downshire Hill seems to be as scarce as hen's teeth but one of these days I hope to stumble across a copy or perhaps give our inter-library loan service a try.

Now if you're ever in Hampstead and feeling a bit peckish you MUST stop at a little cafe around the corner from Keats' Grove called Polly's.  It's where I had a yummy Croque Monsieur last year and this year the most delicious bowl of spinach and chick pea soup ever!  Just the thing after a long morning of walking outside in the crisp air.  The gentleman at the counter was as friendly as before, in fact, everyone was very nice.  Next visit I must leave room for a slice of the Victoria Sponge...

The Heiress and I parted ways after we ate - she off to Camden Market and I to John Sandoe Books.  The stacks of books everywhere in that shop are legendary but it was waaay too much for me.  A woman had somehow managed to get her large dog in to the shop, the poor thing looked about as uncomfortable to turn around as I did so I left to do some damage at Cath Kidston across the road instead.  Charing Cross Road was my next stop and then on to Persephone Books before they closed for the evening.  Weighed down by books but with a smile on my face I burst through the hotel door, flopped for a few moments, and then we were off again to the V&A for their late night.  What a party that is!

Envisioning hallways dotted with the odd person seeking entertainment rather than sit in on a Friday evening I could not have been more wrong.  Techno music blared from speakers while people drank wine, danced and ran about from friend to friend in their Halloween costumes.  It was fabulous!  At the last minute we decided to buy tickets to see the Hollywood Costume exhibit and we were so glad that we did.  The exhibit rooms were darkened and soft lights shone on the clothes and costumes from such iconic films as Cleopatra, Gone With the Wind, The Seven Year Itch, Ben Hur, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett's version AND Bette Davis's), Star Wars, Out of Africa, The Black Swan, The Blues Brothers, Dracula, Harry Potter, Saturday Night Fever and Mildred Pierce - the Joan Crawford picture and much, much more.  Right at the end was a glass case with Dorothy's ruby red slippers inside, full of little red sequins - not a ruby in sight - but still!  If this exhibit ever comes to a gallery near you - run to buy a ticket, you won't be sorry!

Tomorrow is Linley Sambourne's house with a couple of my favourite blog friends...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Suffragettes and the Strand

Waking up in Canterbury to the rattle of linen carts being unloaded directly beneath our window was as good as any alarm clock.  With practiced precision The Heiress and I moved quickly from bed to breakfast and were soon on board the hi-speed train taking us to St Pancras, London.  The fields were still lying below a haze of fog and mist so there wasn't much of a horizon to watch quite along the way.  Coincidentally, one of The Heiress's friends and her beau were travelling on the same train, really helping my daughter feel a bit less sad about leaving Canterbury behind.

Arriving at last in Bloomsbury, we quickly unpacked and made way for the Museum of London.  A fascinating treasure trove full of artifacts from the time of the Romans, Londinium and present day.  I am determined to come back here yet again as it was my second visit and my travels partners never seem to want to stay as long as I do.  The Heiress was anxious to visit The Women's Library and see their exhibit 'The Long March to Equality'.  It was the section featuring the suffragette movement that we were riveted to and has certainly spurned me on to learn more about Millicent Garret Fawcett, Katie Sliddon, Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison.  Seeing their letters in person about the abuse and harassment they endured in an unrelenting pursuit for equality has touched me more than any documentary or chapter in a book.  See this exhibit if you possibly can.

Moving on next to the Strand The Heiress wanted to visit the Twinnings tea shop.  It's quite a narrow shop and was absolutely bustling with customers.  After choosing a few teas to sample back at home we made our way to the back of the shop where they house a small museum.

You really get a sense of just how precious tea was when it first arrived in England by the small tins it was kept in - or the very ornate canisters to display its importance or the owner's wealth.  We drank many cups of take-out tea to stay warm during our long days spent walking outdoors and were thankful the price has come down drastically! 

After sampling some tea poured by a lovely young sales lady we decided it was time for something to fortify ourselves before moving on to The Courtauld Institute of Art.  Ye Olde Cock Tavern has been on this site since 1887 and was a favourite drinking spot of Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and Dr Johnson...who could resist?  We had the most delicious steak and ale pie, mashed potatoes smothered in rich gravy and three kinds of fresh veg all glistening in butter.  Just the thing after being outside and on the move since early in the morning.

The sight of Somerset House lit up for the evening made The Heiress gasp.  It is quite a spectacular view when you don't have anything like it at home.  They are preparing the skating rink for the winter season and a lovelier evening spent outside in the cold, fresh air I can't imagine.  The Courtauld Gallery's late night meant we could squeeze in one more event before calling it a day and it was everything we could have hoped for.  If we had appeared dressed as a Roundhead or Cavalier for the Lely talk we could have got in for free but sadly there was no puffy shirt tucked away in my suitcase.

What I don't know about art could fill a massive library but I do enjoy stumbling upon works of art I have seen in books or highlighted in documentaries and I do so love to learn.  Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is one such piece that made my eyes light up when I first spied it.  So did Vincent Van Gogh's Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, not as pretty as the Manet but definitely an iconic piece.  The Courtauld Gallery very much reminded me of The Wallace Collection in that they are manageable and intimate while being world-class in content.  Take a look at their website for a short clip featuring some of the collection, it's breathtaking and I will definitely be visiting again during my next trip. 

Tomorrow is Highgate and Hampstead...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dover Castle

As far as medieval castles go Dover Castle is one the best examples there is.  The keep was designed by King Henry II's architect 'Maurice the Engineer' and sits high atop the iconic White Cliffs of Dover.  With walls 21 feet thick it's no wonder that the castle has stood the tests of war and time to be carefully restored to 1184.  Actually, we learned that a train of thought is that Hitler had his eye on the castle for his own use so enemy bombers were warned off.  Step inside...

There were elementary school-age children running around the entire castle, the little cherubs, and keeping their minders on their toes but I was able to get this shot of the kitchen while they were busy in another area.  Notice the thick walls.  The castle itself is beyond rustic, as you can imagine, without much in the way of adornment and halls leading in every direction like a rabbit warren.  The floors were quite bumpy, the stairs quite steep and we could only imagine how cold it would be have been without a fire raging in every room.

The underground tunnels were what initially attracted me to the castle.  These tunnels have been in use since the Napoleonic Wars and expanded during World War II.  Entering from the road we walked down what felt like a 45 degree slope until we were deep underground and I can't imagine spending more than a few hours in this environment, much less days, weeks or months.  In the photo above we were passing through the kitchen area, the corrugated steel is original to the Second World War and you can see writing by servicemen and women in some places.  During our almost hour long tour film clips were played along the walls featuring film clips from the war and speeches from various political figures of the day.  And just in case the atmosphere wasn't spooky enough - supposedly there's a ghost that wanders around the place.

There are rooms leading off of the long tunnels filled with communications equipment.  We learned about repeating stations that were needed to send messages on to distant locations as the signals weren't strong enough to go from A to B without being repeated at intervals across England.  We also passed through a tunnel lined on both sides by bunk beds without any of the comforts of home and nowhere to store belongings, giving the impression it was simply for the exhausted to grab some shut-eye.  Another set of tunnels take you to an underground hospital where we heard a tape being played of some gruesome surgery while a bombing raid affects the power system.  If you're looking for a romantic version of wartime this isn't the place.

I wanted to see the cliffs from the beach area and not just from on top so The Heiress and I walked down the steep pathway towards the town.  My 14x zoom came in handy but if you click on the photo you can better see the tunnels coming out on to the cliff face.  Oh, and you've never seen larger seagulls than the ones patrolling the area around here and they're bossy!

After a fascinating, not to mention full, day of exploring the castle, the grounds, both tunnel systems and the town, we caught the train back to Canterbury.  Arriving back five minutes before the last boat tour of the River Stour The Heiress and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to be entertained by one of their warm and friendly guides.  We sailed past historic buildings and ducked under bridges that were hundreds of years old and I could well understand why so many people have mentioned how beautiful Canterbury is.  Its residents should also be very proud of how incredibly clean the river is - no litter floating by or on the banks.  Perhaps the ducking stool hanging like a beacon in plain view from the High Street serves as a warning as to what happens to those who break the rules.  The Heiress chose one of the loveliest places to spend a year of study and I felt sorry for her having to leave.

After dinner it was time to pack up, we had to catch the 10:25 am train from Canterbury West station out to London.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Canterbury Chronicles

A heavy mist hung in the air all over Canterbury the day I arrived.  Dense fog in London had delayed planes the day before.  A good book by a roaring fire would have been the perfect thing to do but since The Heiress and I would be moving on to London in less than forty-eight hours we made our way to the Cathedral.  Stunning doesn't begin to describe the architecture and atmosphere and if you have a healthy respect for history the fact that saints and soldiers have trod these floors doesn't escape you.  The candle marks the location where the shrine to St. Thomas of Canterbury stood from 1220 - 1538 AD when it was destroyed by orders from King Henry VIII.
The tomb and effigy of Edward, the Black Prince of Wales (1330 - 1376).  A lion wearing a crown is his pillow and a dog rests at his feet.
Cultural criminology is a term created by one of the professors The Heiress worked closely with during her MA program.  Since learning more about the subject, street art has become a topic of great interest to her.  Engravings on the walls of cathedrals and castles display the same need to mark territory or express thoughts that are created on buildings and bridges today.  We saw loads of etchings dating from the 1700s while visiting Dover Castle the next day - initials, hearts and celtic knots were in abundance, dotted along walls where steps provided a comfortable place to sit for awhile.  Wasn't there wood to stack or rabbits to skin?
Strolling the grounds of the cathedral I saw trees that would take at least eight people joining hands to embrace.  And I was thrilled to finally see not one but two tiny English robins in the flesh, ours here in Canada are huge.  Despite this being my fifth trip to England I still find myself walking around in a state of wonder about so many things. 

In a thick fog, surrounded by blackest night, The Heiress took me on a bus ride to visit a lovely friend who let her stay in her flat once she had taken leave of her dorm room.  "We have to walk in the dark for a little bit but we'll be okay" she said.  So dark was it that I couldn't see the path under my feet, we were surrounded by bushes and goodness knows what else lurking in the mist.  It felt as though Halloween had come early and I didn't like it one bit!  "I don't care if we've paid for return tickets, I am NOT going back the way we just came" I said.  "Dad is going hear about this, isn't he?" said The Heiress.  The past thirteen months of absence had already melted away and it was mother and daughter business as usual.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fodder for Daydreams

Yesterday I woke up from a dream about walking on cobbles surrounded by churches.  It was 3:40 am and there was no going back to sleep for me.  But it was awfully nice to just lie there and mull over my trip to England instead of hopping out of bed to shower and change in time to make breakfast at the B & Bs we stayed at.

After an overnight flight, a one hour tube ride to St Pancras and a one hour train ride out to Canterbury, I emerged on to the station platform expecting a melodramatic reunion with my daughter.  She was coming down the stairs as I made my way through the tunnel so we missed each other but in no time at all we were all sorted and had a cuddle for the first time in thirteen months.  What followed was nine days of adventure as The Heiress gave me a guided tour of Canterbury, we visited Dover Castle and its underground tunnels from World War II, and then moved on to the hustle and bustle of London.  Over the next few posts I'll be sharing a handful of photos (which I haven't even looked at properly myself yet) and stories of the things we did and to hopefully inspire someone out there to add a place or two to their holiday or weekend plans.

Most of my nearest and dearest who stop by here love nothing more than a bit of book porn.  Considering the nature of my trip was to help The Heiress cart back her belongings I had to keep the British Airways luggage allowance in mind while browsing.  It was torture as the bookshops are packed with so many irresistible books - really large books, perfect for drooling over on rainy days.  THE find was a first edition copy of Late and Soon by E. M. Delafield which I found in the 'G' section of the basement at Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road.  It pays to carefully look at every single book since people are notorious for shoving things back in any space that's handy.  The other lovely finds were from second-hand bookshops, Oxfam, Waterstones and in the case of The Book of Christmas from the V&A gift shop.  Alighting from the Russell Square tube stop one day I realized that a determined stride would have me squeezing through the door at Persephone Books before closing time at six.  Danielle from A Work in Progress kindly sent me her spare copy of A Little Dinner Before the Play by Agnes Jekyll and it was waiting for me when I got home.  Surely I will never be a fan of aspic but reading about historical menus is something I never get tired of.  In the chapter 'For the Too Fat' Agnes recommends...
'If that insidious enemy, soup, be held indispensable at dinner, at least avoid the vegetable purees and bisque's made with cream, butter, root vegetables and rich fish, also the savoury potage in which milk and flour figure, and try clear Consomme a l'Estragon, with its delicate and clean flavour.

My husband doesn't particularly like soup and that really annoys me but thinking of it as an 'insidious enemy' is hilarious.  Calories are not something to concern myself with considering all of the walking I have done recently and as the photo attests, there is jam to enjoy!  Be back soon with more trip details....