23 June 2012

Bits and Bobs

Reading T. Tembarom

Mapp and Lucia on Facebook
Until this week I didn't realize there was a Mapp and Lucia group on Facebook. And the folks there are so friendly. With about 600 members it is a cozy little subculture chatting about all things Benson. I certainly haven't read all of Benson's work but my recent return to Rye has re-kindled my interest and now I have a hankering to start the Lucia series from the beginning.

Frances Hodgson Burnett flirts with Wilkie Collins
I bought Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel T. Tembarom without knowing a thing about it. I wasn't sure what to make of the title but I love FHB in general so I thought it was a good gamble. Turns out it was a pretty good gamble. Orphaned at an early age, T. Tembarom is slowly making his way in the world, working his way from a newsie to a beat reporter in Harlem. That is until he finds out that he is the only surviving heir of a great estate in Lancashire. Next thing you know it he is on a boat headed to England and his future--and not knowing a thing about either. But then the fantastic rags to riches story turns into a bit of a Wilkie Collins type mystery. You can kind of see it coming for miles but that doesn't mean its not interesting. I definitely think FHB could have used a more judicious editor. There were some passages that could have used some cutting and the novel would not have suffered one bit. Still, for FHB fans, this one is worth a read. And the good news is, it is available on Project Gutenburg so this probably out of print 1913 bestseller need not elude you.

Janet Frame may not get a second chance
There are two things I know about Janet Frame, the 1990 bio-pic Angel at My Table and the first 40 pages of her novel Daughter Buffalo. And I must say I don't really like either of them. I haven't seen the film since it first came out, but all I remember is a very depressed person and electric shock therapy. Until now, I had never read any of her novels. I don't know if Daughter Buffalo is representative of her work, but it was a rather depressing treatise on death. That, in itself, would not necessarily make dislike a book, but when the main character, a medical student, practices operating on his pet dog--something that is eventually fatal to the dog--I drew the line and tossed the book aside. And unless someone can recommend a Frame novel that doesn't require mood altering chemicals, I don't think I am going to try anymore of her work.

The Ladies of Lyndon is unputdownable
Although I regularly enjoy most of what I read, it is always nice to come across a book that makes one want to forget about everything else and just read. T. Tembarom did that, but I was really entranced by Margaret Kennedy's The Ladies of Lyndon. Ostensibly about the various wives, sisters, mothers who kind of orbit around an Edwardian estate (Lyndon), I think the real breakout star is the protagonist's brother-in-law James a wannabe artist who is portrayed as developmentally disabled. In reality he turns out to be a real artist whose main problem is that he speaks his mind regardless of consequences. Such an enjoyable book.

Gratuitous Photos
After all of those photos of English gardens, I thought I would share some of John's garden. And couldn't resist throwing in a few of Lucy.

13 June 2012

UKDay8: Zadok the Scone

[For a little music while you read, scroll to the bottom of this post and play the video.]

As we awoke to rainy looking skies on day 8, it seemed appropriate to leave behind our sheep-filled rural idyll for the teeming metropolis of Oxford. By chance, our chosen driving route passed right by Blenheim Palace. I had been there once before on a lovely summer day in 1992, but John had never been. While I knew the grounds were beautiful, I also knew that the gardens were a bit on the formal side to be terribly ingteresting to John. But then I remembered the long library in the palace. Not only is it a magnificent library full of books and comfy furniture, but it also has a pipe organ. Like a dream for me. So, we turned in and had a look.
Books and a pipe organ. Sigh.

Despite its enormous size, this is actually a very cozy library.
I hadn't realized that John had had a childhood fascination for Winston Churchill so the visit turned out to be quite interesting for him. And the library, although it contains lots of very fancy looking volumes had a few modern books here and there that gave one the impression that people actually use this library--that it isn't just an historic artifact to look at. A comforting feeling for bibliophiles.

We arrived in Oxford just after 1:00 pm. After a fairly annoying parking situation which put my OCD into overdrive (would the car have a clamp on it the next morning when we needed to get to the airport?!), we walked around dodging tourists and townies for about an hour before I went back to the hotel to meet up with the inimitable Simon. Thankfully one of the concierges on duty was able to put my mind at ease about the car before I went into The Drawing Room at the Randolph Hotel for tea.

Before I say anything about meeting up with Simon, let me just say a word about the tea itself. The Drawing Room was a pleasant space with comfy chairs that weren't too close together so we never felt jostled by people at other tables. This might have been the best thing about the tea because (in my humble opinion) the scones sure weren't up to snuff. Although I had a piece of Victoria Sponge earlier that day at Blenheim, which might have put a damper on my hunger, I had also consumed seven scones at four different places in the preceding seven days, so I had good scone data for comparison for making a comparison, and the Randolph did not fare very well. If you want a comfy, elegant setting for tea while you are in Oxford, go to the Randolph. It you want a good scone, go somewhere else.

He will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is the way Simon assembles his scones. No, wait, I take that back
I think he does one side jam first and one side clotted cream first. I, on the other had tend to do
clotted cream first and then jam. Although I didn't do much of either at the Randolph.
But in the end I didn't mind the dry scone because that was secondary to the engaging conversation with Simon. We had met once before in 2010 at a much better tea at the British Museum in London, but on that occasion the scones were good, but being in a large group I didn't have much opportunity to talk much with Simon.

Originally, this meet up in Oxford was to include voracious reader, librarian, swimmer, and soon-to-be Olympic torch bearer Verity. Unfortunately, she had a relative who was not well and made the right choice to spend time with her family. She was there in absentia in the form of a lovely gift that she and Simon gave to me. This wonderful book about the Bodleian Library. I am not sure how they knew I would love it.

And what to say about Simon? I could say a lot, but chatting with people in real life, unless expressly on the record, is an off the record kind of thing. As Simon has noted in his account of the afternoon, we didn't talk all that much about books. Which is true. Although if we were typical of the population at large, it probably would have been enough book talk for a year. In some ways not talking about books was much more fun because we discussed things that wouldn't necessarily come up on either of our blogs, and also because it proves that our shared love of books is not the only thing there is to talk about. I might have put my foot in it once or twice. It is always hard for me to tell in the UK. If I did, Simon must have forgiven me by now. For those who haven't met him, Simon is as funny and charming (and quirky) as his blog.

We certainly could have talked longer than the mere 2.5 hours we were together. But I had to take off to meet John so we could go to Evensong at New College Chapel. Since I hate feeling like a tourist, and I love going to a good choral Evensong, I thought it would be a good opportunity to experience one of Oxford's colleges without just being a gawker. I also knew that they were doing Zadok the Priest that day, no doubt in honor of the impending Jubilee. Zadok was written by Handel and has been performed at every British coronation since it was written.  For those of you who know it, I don't have to say much, but for those who don't have a gander at the YouTube clip. It is a very different setting than New College (the wedding of a Danish prince in 2004) but it is a pretty darn good performance of the piece. Plus, it is with full orchestra which makes the opening so much more dramatic--starting out quite softly and building to a lovely great crescendo as the choir makes its entrance. The organ-only version that they did at New College lacked subtly in the organ intro, but the opening line of the choir left with a smile on my face and watery eyes.

And so ends our UK trip.  We had a rainy drive to Heathrow on day 9 and were very happy to get home to our darling pup Lucy.

Rather than quench our thirst for British travel, it has only re-whetted our appetite. No doubt there will be many future trips.

12 June 2012

UKDay7: Walking to Winchcombe

After our morning jaunt to the Slaughters we headed back to our B&B so we could take advantage of our final day in the Cotswolds by walking into Winchcombe via the Cotswold Way. It wasn't so much to see Winchcombe, which, while pretty, is not one of the idyllic villages that made the Cotswolds famous. The main idea was to just soak in the countryside one last time, and what better way to do it then to go for a ramble through the countryside?

When all was said and done, it took about an hour and twenty minutes each way. While we were in Winchcombe we visited Sudley Castle, but, not being run by the National Trust, it was such a lame, lowest common denominator kind of place that I wouldn't recommend it.

Everything reminds us of Lucy.

About 15 minutes walk from the B&B is Hailes Abbey

I'd love to know the construction chronology of this arch. It looks like an older rounded arch was supplanted by
one or two more gothic ones over the centuries, but how in the world did that one piece of the rounded arch
end up in that position?

These cows decided to stand on the only bridge over the water.

Like a group of street toughs on a deserted street at night, these cattle were a little daunting.

Cattle panic subsided long enough to snap this photo.

He wasn't smiling so much as calling for his mom, who eventually came over to claim him.

The sky varied greatly during the walk, but no rain fell.


10 June 2012

Bits and Bobs (The Giveaway Edition)

I'm realizing you all may need a break from the travel photos. (Although for you who aren't bored, I did add some great pictures of the Cotswolds today.) I promise there is only maybe about two more days to go. So I thought I would have a little Bits and Bobs interlude.

The Books
My reading has been very slow so far this year. Here we are only about 20 days from the halfway point and I am only at 25 books. No doubt I will make up some time, but all the company we have had this spring has really kept me from reading. And even on our recent trip, I didn't get much reading done. Normally garden visits means that John goes around taking pictures while I sit in a pretty spot on a bench reading a book. But this time the gardens were all so beautiful and interesting, that I found myself almost as interested as John.

I did, however, recently finish The Flame Trees of Thika, Elspeth Huxley's novel/memoir of her childhood in Kenya before the outbreak of WWI. It really was a fantastic book and I think there were lots of sensitive, insightful observations about Kenya especially given the British colonial context in which Huxley lived.

I also finished A Game of Hide and Seek, my first Elizbeth Taylor novel. There was one patch where I didn't think too much of it, but overall I really enjoyed it. I think I may even want to read it a second time.

The Giveaway
On our recent trip to the UK we were witness to Jubliee mania (we returned to the US the day of the flotilla) and all of the wonderful Jubilee memorabilia. There certainly was some tat, but I was surprised overall at the quality of the souvenirs. I think marketers have finally realized that good design can accompany jingoistic fervor. I could have really gone crazy buying stuff, but there was so much of it I think I felt a little overwhelmed by the choices and so kind of stayed away from most of it.

However, I do have two of these tea towels to giveaway by random drawing. Drawing is only open to those living OUTSIDE the UK. You people have had enough.  Just leave me a comment and let me know you want one.

Food Consumed in 8 Days in the UK

This list is not inclusive of everyting I ate, merely a recap of the my quest to eat some UK favorites, or in some cases try things for the first time.

Fruit scones with jam and clotted cream: 8

Slices of Victoria Sponge: 6
It was really two slices and then an entire cake I purshased from M&S.

Full English Breakfasts: 4

Slices of Melrose and Morgan Jubilee Battenberg: 2
Thanks Miranda and Donna

Fish pies: 2

Mini pork pies: 1

Cornish pasties: 1

Black pudding: 1

Appletiser: 1
Mmmm. Didn't Eddy make fun of Saffy for drinking Appletiser instead of alcohol

Scotch eggs: 0
I can't believe I missed out this time. I always seemed to be full when I saw them.

Something I shouldn't have to miss
I saw this picture of Emma Thompson as the Queen in an advert before we left England. Some dramatization of the night in the 1980s that Michael Fagan made his way into the Queen's bedroom. I think it aired last week. I wonder if it will make it across the pond?

UKDays6&7: Cotswolds Fantasy Camp

When I was in junior high school, I used to check out all kinds of travel books on England from the library. I would pour over all the amazing photos of grand houses and little country villages, thinking that surely such beautiful places couldn't really exist. (I think the U.S. has lots of natural beauty, but our additions to the landscape in most places have made it uglier not prettier.) The pictures that most captured my attention were of the Cotswolds. Chipping this and Chipping that, and of course, the Slaughters.  Since those early days fantasizing over the unbelievably picturesque Cotswolds I have been to the UK many times. But until this last trip, I had never truly gotten out into the countryside (just country towns with train stations). And, though I had been to the nearby cathedral towns of Gloucester and Worcester I had never gotten to the Cotswolds.

It is a little hard to describe what makes the setting so damned pretty. Certainly it is the color of the warm honey stone most of the buildings are made of. And the scale of the buildings and their juxtaposition with the idyllic landscape. They all just seem cozy. The reality of the situation is that there are cars and tour buses in the Cotswolds. And the towns seem to be playgrounds for the rich, which takes away some of the Miss Buncle quality. But overall these little Cotswolds towns are absolutely charming and did not disappoint in the slightest.

We didn't get to as many towns as I thought we would have, but the slower pace was better for enjoying them anyway, so no loss there. And we didn't take as many pictures as we would have liked. It was misting from time to time and we didn't want to get the camera wet. But I think the pictures below of the Slaughters and a few of Chipping Campden will give you a feel for the magic of the Cotswolds.

The traffic sign may take away from this picture of Upper Slaughter, but its warning that the road ahead
has a ford and is not suitable for cars helps explain one of the photos below.

Upper Slaughter

Upper Slaughter

Upper Slaughter

Upper Slaughter

I mean, really. Are you serious? Can one place really be this pretty? And do people actually get to live here?
Notice the river branching off in the foreground. That is the aforementioned ford where the road goes right through the river.
Upper Slaughter

Upper Slaughter

A slightly better picture of the ford in Upper Slaughter.


On the trail from Upper to Lower Slaughter

Checking my flank for rogue sheep.

Someone posted a picture of this commemorative stile, or one very much like it, a while back on their blog.
Was it Rachel?

Entering Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter

On our way back to Upper Slaughter

Back in Upper Slaughter

Chipping Campden

Almshouses in Chipping Campden

This is the kind of cozy view, everything all close together and pretty, that I remember from my youth.
Chipping Campden