Books I’ve enjoyed 001

The Aerialists by Katie Munnik is a fictionalised account of a true event which happened in Cardiff at the Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime exhibition in 1896. I was unaware of this exhibition despite it being on a scale to rival England’s 1851 Great Exhibition, held at Crystal Palace. It’s such an interesting story, but I do not want to give any spoilers. At it’s heart this is a story about Laura, we find out about the journey that brought her to the streets of Paris and her life with the Gauldrons. Her story, as you’ve probably guessed, involves flying!

I have to be honest and say that I felt there were some weaknesses in the writing and depiction of the behaviours and dialogue of the characters, particularly as it is set during Victorian times, but overall the story is a good one.

When you’ve read it look up the BBC article published on 24/07/21, 125 years after the festival. (Not before, because it will ruin the book for you.)

French Braid by Anne Tyler follows one family from the 1950s up to the pandemic present day.

The Garrett family take their first and last family holiday in the summer of 1959. They hardly leave their home city Baltimore, but despite this are not a close family.

I love Mercy, the mother of the family. She is definitely a free spirit!

As an Anne Tyler fan I read everything that she publishes, this was definitely a five star read, one of my favourites, alongside Breathing Lessons.

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is the fictionalised account of the real life and work of Eliza Acton, while she wrote her famous cookery book in England in 1837. The story also focuses upon Ann Kirby although no facts about her are known, beyond that she worked for Eliza and her mother. But her story helps to round out the book and is a good device to compare and contrast the differing lives and opportunities of the two women.

The Language of Food explores women’s freedoms (or lack of) and limited opportunities to work creatively under their own name. I felt the author successfully conveys the frustration and difficulties which must have been felt by so many.

And finally of course; the food! Luscious descriptions and well written passages illuminate Eliza’s process of developing and testing recipes. (Perhaps luscious is the wrong word for the recipe for brawn featured at the end?!)

Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley is written by a new-to-me author, but I will certainly look out for more of her books.

Set in Minneapolis in the 1970s, it tells the story of two women who meet in a cafe. Marge is a bus driver and Peg is training to be a psychotherapist. You find out about their relationship, the challenges and surprises they face over the next twenty years. Then one day things drastically change. It’s a story about family, love and loss.

I really enjoyed it; the style of writing and low-key tone reminded me of an Anne Tyler novel.

If you read this and don’t fancy making meatloaf (veggies excepted) by the end I’ll be really surprised!

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe. Have you read any of Nina’s books? If not, then do! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Love Nina. And seen the TV adaptation. That’s one of my comfort reads / watches.

I also really liked Paradise Lodge, that’s great fun, with laugh out loud moments. I recommend the Audible version with Helen Baxendale narrating. She really cracked the Leicestershire accent, that isn’t easy.

Anyway, back to One Day I Shall Astonish the World; it focuses on the friendship between Susan and Norma. They are thrown together in a haberdashery shop in Leicestershire in the 1990s. Thirty years later Susan begins to wonder about the choices she has made in her life.

I’m sure all of us can agree that female friendships are weird, brilliant and challenging, when they’re good they can be one of the best things, but strange and stressful when they go awry. I think Nina Stibbe has captured this complex mix extremely well.

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin. I have a confession to make; this was my first book by Rankin, although I’ve heard him interviewed about every new John Rebus crime novel for years.

It was a bit mad to start with this one, because it is his latest. Number 23 in the series! I haven’t stayed up reading and chanting ‘just one more chapter’ for a long time, but found myself still reading this at 1 AM a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t put it down. I will look out for others in the series now.

Rebus is now retired, but definitely not planning on avoiding looking into other people’s secrets and crimes, he has kept hold of a large pile of folders of unsolved cases…

Before he evens finishes unpacking from downsizing his home, his daughter calls to say that her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst and knows that his daughter will be prime suspect. He has to decide if he’s going to go to her as a father, or a detective.

The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page I read last week. It’s such a goody! I felt a little bereft at the end.

Janice is a cleaner and notices people always tell her their stories. (I’ve always experienced that too, so I was drawn to Janice.) Her rule is that she can save one story from each person, but she is very clear: she is the Keeper of Stories and doesn’t have a story to tell about herself. But when she meets Mrs B (who is no fool) things begin to change. Set in Cambridge this is a really lovely story about supporting other people, while finding yourself and realising what you do and do not want. There’s much empathy and masses of everything practical, including DIY. If Janice’s skills don’t leave you feeling a tad inadequate, then I’ll be surprised. There is lots of humour, I laughed out loud often. Look out for the dog. (Warning for the faint-hearted…he swears. A lot.)

Let me know if you decide to read any of the books I’ve recommended. Or maybe you’ve already read some of them? I’d love to know your take.

Time to make a G&T (it’s not Dry Lent anymore woohoo!) and quickly sort out what I want to watch. Someone is fishing with a friend this evening, so I shall make the most of the P&Q. New Grace & Frankie eps are now on Neflix, or do I rewatch The Split’s third series and cry all over again? Or…?

Christmas at Upton House

Another Sunday, another day out to see a National Trust property decorated for Christmas: Upton House and Gardens, Warwickshire

‘If you’re looking for something a little different this Christmas, Upton House has the answer with a festive calendar of events and the chance to see first hand how the new owners in the 1920s created a Christmas family home perfectly in keeping with the arrival of the jazz era.

It’s 90 years since Lord and Lady Bearsted purchased Upton House near Banbury and set about turning it into a comfortable and desirable country home. This Christmas, you can follow the renovations they made and witness the before and after transformation as they set about creating a ‘made to measure’ Christmas.

Visitors to the house will be able to draw inspiration from 1920s house and garden experts with hints and tips cards placed in four of the main rooms. The partitions in the long gallery have also been removed to show how it would have looked once Lord and Lady Bearsted had settled in.’

From the NT website

I wrote about when I went to see a special war-time exhibition in 2016 if you’d like to see how the house looks from the outside and see a few photos taken during Summertime.

Upton house is looking particularly lovely with the 1920s and 30s style decorations. There’s always such a nice atmosphere there. It’s a house you can imagine living in; unlike some of the more palatial NT properties which can often be filled with too much ostentatious bling. Because of their vast size too, they often seem to have strange ghostly vibes in the echoing corridors and back staircases. Upton doesn’t feel like that at all. It exudes a cosy vibe, not a ghostly one, and still feels very much like a family home.

All along the paths were little clippings where people had been foraging for greenery to make this and other wreaths and decorations for the house. This one on Butler’s Cottage, which is adjacent to the main house, would have been awarded my prize for Best in Show, Christmas 2018. I really like the dried orange slices and bundles of cinnamon sticks with the gold ribbon and miniature baubles.

Those holly leaves look as if it they’ve been polished.

A couple came walking along the path when I was singing ‘The Holly and the Ivy’. She started laughing, which of course made me sing it a little more loudly. Join in! We’ll start a choir!

The Mirror Pool from right to left, with a final photo to illustrate why it has been given its name. See the clouds reflected? The terraces above will be full of kitchen garden plants, both fruits and vegetables, and it also has long beds of flowers come the  warmer weather. Upton holds the National Collection of Asters, it’s well worth a visit in early autumn to see these late flowering beauties.

I love winters like this, where it’s sunny and bright but with a really crisp feel to the air. Because Upton is on a hill when the wind blows, oh! You definitely find yourself wrapping your coat more tightly around you. In the midst of a cold winter, you would need a constantly refilled pot of tea and a stack of good books.

The wreath on the door to the cafe had such a variety of items that I photographed it in sections. Should I ever learn how to make my own, I thought I could return to these pictures for inspiration. (Now I’m dithering over the page up button as perhaps the Butler’s Cottage wreath isn’t my favourite? Could I award both joint First Place?)

Apparently the gingerbread men smelt gorgeously spicy. I feel the Entrance Hall tree was probably lucky to be left intact, but that was only because “They were all tied on!”

The golden tree at the end of the Long Gallery. This is very much a rich man’s country home, filled with an extensive private art collection, bought with some of the fortune made from Shell Oil. If you concentrated on looking at each painting you would need several days to spend on those alone. We spotted paintings by Hogarth, Gainsborough and Canaletto to name a few. If you are interested, you can read about the art here.There was lot more besides: more trees, more decorated rooms both upstairs and downstairs, but I make a conscious effort not to take hundreds of photos There has to be a balance between wandering and enjoying the atmosphere and not seeing it all through a screen. I’ve captured the look of the house and gardens, which hopefully gives you a flavour of the property.

Last night I bought my first Christmas fiction of the season. It’s lovely. I’m already half a dozen chapters in, the Kindle version is only 99p if you also want a cosy warming read. (No affiliate links here, just a nice book recommendation.) Of course it’s also worth checking out your local library catalogue, that way you can read it for free!

Have you visited anywhere that made you feel all Christmassy, cosy and warm, without lots of commercial hype and those ubiquitous Bratwurst Stalls? Upton House just won that award too.

What larks!

Argh! A game of yarn chicken and I lost! I think I’ve still got about 7 ‘teeth’ to knit so Mum’s Christmas Hitchhiker is the same size as mine (fewer than 42 as per the pattern, but just right.) But actually I should, of course, have done the sensible thing and ordered more yarn than I thought I needed in the first place, to ‘make the most of the postage’ as someone from my knit group sensibly pointed out to me at the time. But this year I’ve been trying to not buy any more yarn, instead aiming to use up what I already have at home. This has been successful to a degree (ie: not very.) It’s pretty tricky when you’re making a stash bushing blanket, which turns into a gift for a brand new little one. So, naturally I ended up having to stock up on some colours. (Winnie is very sweet and after staring at me intently for a while on Thursday, decided I was very boring and popped off to sleep for the rest of the visit. She’s only nine weeks old though, it’s what they do eh? She definitely loved her Wave Blanket though, I know that.) So, with only days left of postal delivery before we all get snowed under drifts of Twiglets and iced gingerbread, I ordered TWO more balls of wool. Oh dear. I’m only going need about a tenth of one so I haven’t helped the stash situation much. Then it’s inevitable that you start a new project and run out and have to buy more, but with extra again to ‘make the most of the postage’ and so on and so on! I have a feeling that my yarn pile will start as a hill and end as a mountain.

Anyway, I took my new ball of yarn to the Knit Group’s Christmas meet on Tuesday night. This was at one of their houses and I endeavoured to knit another tooth in between delicious courses. The house turned out to be a large black and white timbered Tudor style from the eighteenth century (perhaps before) with floors of huge smooth flagstones, an industrial sized fireplace complete with log burner, beams and creaky staircases. Essentially I felt as if I had stepped into Christmas past. As a history lover with a vivid imagination it was hard to concentrate on the talk swirling around me and not drift into revelries about roast goose, pennies in stockings and merry gatherings. I’m currently reading Charles Dickens Great Expectations which only added fuel to the fire! If you’re casting around for something different to read, hopefully you’ll find it’s also a free classic on Kindle wherever you are too. It’s extremely readable and surprisingly funny, especially considering it was first published in 1861.

We all received a little Christmas emergency first aid tin from J (the Lego mitt knitter.) The row counter is gong to be so useful and the key ring hooks will be good for picking up dropped stitches. Someone has already said the little scissors would make excellent snips when fishing. NO THEY WOULDN’T!

If you’re like me you’ll be curious to know what we ate, won’t you? We started with nibbles and drinks, followed by squash soup (home-grown squash and onions) with a selection of breads, then a baked chicken, chorizo and rice dish, roasted vegetables with chickpeas, sun-dried tomato and olive pasta, then a really light and delicious homemade sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. I took a tin of Rocky Road that unsurprisingly everyone was far too full to touch, so I wrapped pieces up and gave it out for people to take home.

It was a lovely evening and I managed to knit another tooth too….hurray!

What are you making and reading at the moment? Are you still eating proper meals or grazing on all the Christmas naughties?

If this makes no sense at all and is full of mistakes; I have to say that I wrote the first half while sitting in the car this morning while waiting to collects omeone. The other half at four o’clock the following morning (now) as annoyingly I’m wide awake while the rest of the house/street/universe is asleep!

Probable game of yarn chicken ahead

I’ll crochet some more border for a proper edging, as much as I can before the grey runs out, and I’m done. This is a warm and cosy lap blanket as the double crochet makes a thick fabric. Someone, somewhere will hopefully appreciate this quality. I joined the blocks with a combination join. This is WS together, 1 dc, ch 2, miss 2 st and 1dc into both loops of the stitches. If you dislike the raised line you can hold the RS together, so it’s on the back.

This week I’m reading Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay by William Boyd. It’s a fictional biography of a woman who lived through the great events of the 20th century. I’m rather perturbed by the blurb which describes the book as ‘his greatest achievement to date.’ Having loved Any Human Heart (and enjoyed lots of Boyd’s other books) I’m not yet convinced of this, but am enjoying the read.

I’m joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along, as usual.

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Yarn Along

  The light is fading fast this afternoon, so I’ve lit the candles and made mugs of hot chocolate. I spent the morning cooking and cleaning as we have guests for dinner tonight, it’s very nice to sit down and relax now. I shall crochet a little more of my blanket. See last week’s Yarn Along post if you’re curious about why I’m only showing you the ends for now.

Last night I read ‘Lost Hearts’ in this M.R James ghost stories collection before sleep. As usual I felt quite spooked out. I’m going to read another tonight and anticipate feeling pretty scared, the sweetener is that at least it’s while snuggled down warm in bed. I’ve learnt it’s best to go to the loo before reading, so I don’t have to run there afterwards dodging shadows! 

If you fancy reading some very old ghost stories (late 1800s, early 1900s)  M.R James anthologies are free on Kindle. At least they are here in England. 

I’m joining in with Ginny‘s Yarn Along again.