Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bloomsbury Bell has Moved

Bloomsbury Bell has moved to - please join me over there for more of the same and a little bit of different.

BB x

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Royal Manuscripts

The Shrewsbury Book, 15th Century
I have always loved manuscripts, particularly those with more gold on them than is sensible. The Royal Manuscript exhibition at the British Library was, therefore, top of my list of things to do this winter. As I walked in I was immediately struck by how many people were in the exhibition space. Rather than being thrilled by the thought that I am evidently not alone in my geeky love for manuscripts, I had a moment of considering each elbow and how much trouble I would get into if I was to knock people to the floor to get to the display cases.

Choosing to avoid using common assault I wheedled my way to the front of the crowd and was completely overwhelmed by the sight of glinting gilded pages and bright colours. The manuscripts really are breathtaking and you could easily spend hours over each one.

The image above shows a painting from The Shrewsbury Book which was crafted in Rouen between 1444-45. It was a gift from John Talbot the first Earl of Shrewsbury to Margaret of Anjou, who was Henry VI's wife. I have always been interested in Margaret of Anjou as she was Queen Consort of both England and France and due to Henry VI's mental health problems, she would often rule in his place.  Just considering this text in isolation, it is remarkable how the manuscripts have survived over the centuries, have been passed down through the generations and have been handled by hugely important people in British history. 

Miniature of Henry VI / Dauphin Louis with St Louis before the Virgin & Child, from the Psalter of Henry VI, Paris, c. 1405-10  
The above page is absolutely breathtaking, the ivy leaves around the border are gilt, and the light in the display case is focused on the page in a way that makes the manuscript shine out. All the manuscripts in the exhibition are displayed perfectly. The psalter, from which this page is taken, may have been owned by Henry VI as a small boy. It has been written for both English and French royalty and reminds us how closely these two countries have been allied in the past (at times!). I fell in love with the detail, from the animals and ivy in the border to the design of the young King's cape. I've always loved the use of natural imagery in medieval manuscripts and the combination of images with words. 

Texts such as these were incredibly expensive to produce and obviously took months of hard work. You can almost see the respect and value placed upon them; even by looking at each word on the page you can see how much care went into the formulation and design of every element on the page. They were intended to generate awe and 600 years later they are still just as enthralling and inspirational. I love the page below taken from the same Psalter. I wonder what the monks are gossiping about?

This page below was one of my favourites in the exhibition. You cannot quite see it here but the background design behind the figures is a wonderful pattern in gold leaf on a musky pink pigment. It is beautiful and I stood entranced before it for ages. 

Miniature of Prince Henry presenting the book to John Mowbray, 2nd duke of Norfolk, who kneels before him, Arundel 38, f. 37.

There are 150 manuscripts in the exhibition, ranging from religious texts to guides for the monarchy and instructive texts for princes who would one day become kings. There are also maps which provide some very interesting routes to the Holy Lands! Apparently, if you turn right at some point you might get to Jerusalem. I think they must have been the medieval satnav. The exhibition closes on 13 March but the British Library have this fantastic blog that is worth exploring. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Ringing in the Changes

Gently, faintly, I hear the bells chiming again and Bloomsbury Bell is awoken.

I have been spending my time in Oxford coffee shops, pubs and libraries reading and writing and when I have not been doing that I have been in the garden attempting to get to grips with a large, overgrown and rambling cottage garden. In between I have been going back to London for a dose of home.

They say that change is as good as a rest, but maybe sometimes rest is as good as a change. Having had several changes over the last couple of years I have taken time to be restful, be slow and be observant. This hasn't been without its challenges, I struggled to feel content with being slow in a world which encourages speed and change. I struggled to keep myself from a natural fast pace and to believe that it was really fine to take time out of things for a while. Being busy was something I couldn't do without so I found a balance of being busy with 'quiet' things such as gardening, walking, reading and exploring Oxford.

It's time now to walk from the bank and slide back into the stream.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Life in Cold Comfort Farm

The road into our village in winter.

One of my favourite books is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and having recently moved to the countryside I can certainly see where her inspiration came from! There is a tumbledown farmyard along our lane and as I pass it every morning I sometimes expect Adam Lambsbreath to come around the corner with Feckless or Aimless in tow.

Our village is owned by Oxford University which acquired it in the 1940s after the death of the landowner who lived in the 'big house'. This means that there has been no building or housing development for around 100 years - I think the village hall was one of the last buildings that was built in the 1920s. As I walk to the shop (little more than a front room in a cottage) or to the pub, I feel as though I am being transported back in time. It is completely feudal as we all pay rent to the university as none of the houses are ever sold.

There are only around 50 households in the village but, despite the small population, there is a thriving community and lots of village parties and events. Moving to a village after living in London for almost a decade was a daunting prospect but we have struck lucky in that we are only 3 miles from Oxford and the village community is made up of a strong and friendly bunch of people.

When I read articles about the decline of rural communities, I look around at ours and think how lucky we are that we didn't move somewhere that is home to commuters and second homeowners. Having said that, I can see how easily things would change for us if the shop ever disappeared as it really is the hub - all information is gathered via the shop. And believe me when I say that nothing is sacred. Everyone really does know everything!

There are some things that I am still struggling to get used to but life in the country is actually never quiet! If it isn't the wildlife, it's people knocking on your door for a chat. And the other day I opened our front door to find an array of fresh vegetables and salad leaves that a neighbour had grown in their garden. It's moments like that when I wonder if I have landed in the middle of a Miss Marple novel!

And yes, there are definitely moments when I have been in the midst of Cold Comfort Farm - a whole different breed of eccentricity resides in the country. So imagine my delight when I discovered that Vintage Classics are publishing a batch of novels by Stella Gibbons. I am really looking forward to getting my hands on Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm and also Conference at Cold Comfort Farm. The others that look really interesting are Starlight and Westwood - I 'may as well' bung those into the order as well. Oh dear, well at least I have that free veg to eat!

Friday, 29 April 2011

A Right Royal Knees Up!

Well, the day of the Royal Wedding is upon us. Will she be wearing 'cream' or 'ivory'? Satin, lace or silk? Without meaning to sound too 'bah humbug' about the whole thing I have been bored to tears by the media incessantly reporting pointless gossip regarding the 'fairytale romance'. Isn't that what they said about Charles and Diana? If that's a fairytale then Disney has a whole load of script edits to make. Of course I wish them well, but it would be wonderful if the media could actually report on more pressing issues such as the major referendum that is about to take place.

Despite my miserable old git attitude I still appreciate a bit of pomp so I will be watching the ceremony and in the true style of a seasoned hypocrite I will probably be gossiping with my friends about the various outfits of the guests. Our village is having a party at the Village Hall and we all have to take a dish to contribute to the supper. I'm ready-armed with my shop bought quiche - well, you can take the girl out of London....