Monday, 6 December 2010

And All Shall Be Well

Where have I been? It has been over a month since I last wrote a post on poor, neglected Bloomsbury Bell. I have been having a small dose of respite from all sorts of things and now I am ready to emerge from my shell and crack it from me as I stretch my limbs forward through their slow creak of waking.

Winter Blues is a funny term I always think - the winter has never been blue exactly. It is sparkling, glittering even and the winter sun is gold and pink as it dips down past the Equator and slips out of sight. I enjoyed reading this article about the wonder of winter. Winter is indeed a wonderland at the moment - through the window I can see a white world as a permanent frost seems to have set in.

In two weeks time the world will turn again for me as I'm moving to a cottage just outside Oxford. The trees pictured above will be my neighbours. It is a fairly big adventure for two citydwellers but it is exciting as I have never lived anywhere so rural before. I have had to order my first pair of adult sized wellies (having long ago outgrown my pink pair) and we have even bought a torch to light our way back from the local pub!

I packed my books last night (leaving out a few to keep me going) and really wished that I had stuck to my resolve to only borrow from the library. My arm muscles are wincing in anticipation.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Saving Lambert Barnard

Tudor Paintings in Chichester Cathedral

Ever since I was a tiny child I have loved Chichester Cathedral. Not only is it a beacon for home but it is a beautiful building containing a Chagall window an uncovered Roman mosaic floor and a myriad of other delights. The Cathedral has long been an advocate for the arts and alongside medieval stone carvings there are many contemporary pieces, mostly commissioned by Dean Walter Hussey who was a great patron to musicians and artists. The Arundel Tomb inspired Philip Larkin to write the famous poem of the same name and the composer Leonard Bernstein (who wrote West Side Story) composed the Chichester Psalms. It is a cliche to use the term 'treasure trove' but the Cathedral really is just that, especially to a child on the lookout for the carved mice on the wooden furniture or the monkey in the Tudor painting.

Lambert Barnard (what a name) was an English Renaissance painter during the early 16th century and was Court Painter to Bishop Sherburne for twenty years. During this time, Barnard painted a series of works on wooden panels which are displayed in Chichester Cathedral and which are currently in desperate need of repair and conservation work. Last night's Culture Show on BBC2 features the paintings and has some lovely shots of the Cathedral, you can watch it here. There is much more information about the campaign to save the paintings and about their relevance to English history, on this website here. The image below of Henry VIII is believed to be the only secular image of the King remaining in the Country thereby giving an indication of the way that he was seen by ordinary people.

I was so pleased to see these paintings being shown on the Culture Show as they are not in a gallery so do not always get the notice that they deserve. They hang on cold grey walls during christenings, marriages, funerals and watch over the general bustle of Cathedral life. The painting pictured at the top hangs in the South Transept which is where Coffee is served after a service. I like to look at it and think of all the eyes before mine which have done the same. The paintings are a constant presence, silently soaking in history as transient human activity takes place below. If only they could tell us all that they have seen.

Monday, 18 October 2010

A new blogging adventure!

To my dear Bloomsbury Bell readers, some of you may already know that I have landed a new blogging gig for The Lady magazine's website. I am hoping that it will give me a more structured approach to my writing as I now have a copy deadline once a fortnight! Essentially, it will be more about my move to Oxford and the challenge and adventure that living here is turning out to be after being in London for eight years. You can read it here and all feedback is welcome so let me know what you think!

But, Bloomsbury Bell will very much remain alive and will retain its focus on books and general literary bits and bobs. The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind - I went home to Chichester at the weekend for my mother's mouthwatering roast dinner (and to see friends and family of course!) which was lovely. It's funny that even though I haven't lived there for a decade I still feel a sense of homecoming when we arrive in the city. I know every tree, every road, every building and the familiarity is so strong that it induces a sense of ownership. I see it as mine somehow and I feel comforted every time I return. It's a similar feeling to revisiting a book that had a massive impact upon you when you read it for the first time. In my head I connect the feeling with reading Howards End. Perhaps because the feeling that Mrs Wilcox has for the house is exactly my feeling towards Chichester. Are there any places or books that inspire these feelings within you?

As the nights are drawing in I have been stockpiling books and I bought a new hotwater bottle as I am planning to stay in and spend the winter reading. I have fallen behind my reading target for this year as moving and all sorts of things have got in the way. But, wintry evenings are the perfect motivation for cosying up and hiding away from the world with a good book.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Thou hast thy music too

The Thames at Iffley Lock

Yesterday I walked along the Thames towards Iffley Lock. The golden autumn light lit the trees and church tower and rowers gently slid past as I trundled along. I felt a world away from my life of a few months ago and then I suddenly realised that I live as close to the Thames now as I did in London. So, I haven't moved away I have merely moved upriver!

Autumn always feels like a good time of year for being busy. Winter is still curled up, waiting to unfurl and swathe its darkness over the land. So, there is time to quickly busy ourselves and get things done before the long months of waiting for spring. As I write this, I can see a squirrel dashing about in our garden, no doubt planning where to hide his food before hibernation starts. In the last of the sun people come out and bask as they stroll along - the river yesterday was a hive of activity as families were making the most of the weakening rays. I stopped for a drink in the Isis Farmhouse and sat in their orchard watching the people around me. Families chattered, students were alight with finding out all the summer activities of their peers and apples plopped from the over-laden boughs. Autumn is full of smells and sounds - it has its music too.

The day brought the following poem by Keats into my mind. I love autumn and I also love Keats so the two combined is a perfect marriage.

To Autumn

John Keats (1820)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

On A Slope of Orchard

Another holiday snap - food stalls in Bologna

The food shops in Bologna are incredible. We gorged ourselves on bread, olives, pecorino cheese and the sausage Mortadella which is a speciality of the area. We were spoilt for choice as we went from one deli to the next, our eyes increasing to three times the size of our stomachs, and we bought bag fulls of food to eat on the train to the coast. I have never had such a feast on public transport before - as we looked out of the train windows we saw endless olive groves and vineyards speeding by so even though we were not quite on the slope of an orchard we had a picnic that I am sure Francis would have been proud of!

On A Slope Of Orchard

There on a slope of orchard, Francis laid
A damask napkin wrought with horse and hound,
brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,
And cut down, a pasty costly made,
Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret, lay
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
Imbedded and in jellied.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Italian Riviera


To say that I have come crashing back to earth with a bump is an understatement. Mr Bell and I spent just under a week in Italy. First stop was Bologna where we indulged in pistachio ice cream from what is apparently Umberto Eco's favourite ice cream shop. And it was heavenly.
We then caught a train, armed with enough food to feed the Roman Army, for a 4 hour journey to the Cinque Terre or five towns. We spent days walking the coastal path and having our breath taken away by the views.

We swam in the sea, found ancient churches up in the hills and spent our evenings watching the incredible sunsets.

We stayed in Riomaggiore and as you can see in the photo, bunting has been strung between buildings in the harbour. I am a huge fan of bunting so was thrilled to turn a corner and see it festooned over the boats.

We stumbled upon an old monastery above Monterosso that has a statue of St Francis at the entrance, to protect the bay. The evening light was incredible, as you can see from the photo, and we wandered around the cemetery accompanied by the sound of the waves far below us. An idyllic resting place.
We met this cat on a path up in the hills, in the middle of nowhere. I was very tempted to put him in my rucksack and bring him home. But, he scurried off into some nearby olive groves. After all, who would want to leave such a haven?

We spent hours watching the light play on the sea.
The view of Vernazza from the coastal path.
Bologna was lit by golden evening light which I always think of when I think of Italy.

On our last day in Italy I made Mr Bell accompany me on a 3 hour train journey to Florence as I just had to pop into my favourite paper shop for bookbinding supplies. I spent a vast sum of money on many sheets of hand marbled paper which I had to transport back on a rather packed Ryan Air flight. I managed to get them home without any creases and they are now waiting for me to turn them into notebooks.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

In search of wine, olives and the Cinque Terre

In a few short hours I will be leaving for Bologna and the Cinque Terre where I will be partaking in much wine, cheese, pizza, pasta and olive consumption! I have not yet packed, but when I do I will be prioritising books over thick jumpers (which may come in handy for the chilly evenings) as we are only taking one small rucksack each. I am going to take The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim and either the biography of Nancy Mitford by Harold Acton or The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ilyrian Spring by Ann Bridge

Occasionally I finish one book and drift over to my bookshelves to contemplate which book to read next - and the next read turns out to be the most perfect book to suit my current mood. This does not happen often enough, but when it does, oh! The delight! I love being gripped from page one and being unable to think of anything else for days. The sheer joy of slipping in between the book covers and burrowing down into the plot so that the characters are a whisper's breath away is incomparable to anything else.

Illyrian Spring is one of those reads that pulls you in so that you are the characters. Their experiences are as vivid as your own and they become so real that to finish the book is a wrench. The protagonist is Lady Kilmichael who is also the famous painter Grace Stanway. Grace decides to escape her family and leave her life behind to go on an unplanned trip drifting and painting her way through Italy, Croatia and the eastern coast of the Adriatic sea which used to be known as Dalmatia.

Whilst in Venice, Grace meets the young Nicholas Humphries who is around the same age as her twin sons. He is an aspiring painter whose parents have convinced him to pursue the sensible route of architecture and give up painting. Just as Grace is looking for freedom from the pressures of domestic life and the associated responsibility, so Nicholas is looking for freedom from his parents rule.

Grace and Nicholas go on a journey together. They paint and explore the landscape and their lives become further and further entwined as each embarks upon an intense journey of self-discovery.

What is so interesting about Ann Bridge's writing is the insightful portrayal of characters who are in a state of flux and running away from their lives. There is no melodrama, only the deep intensity of two souls searching for answers and finding each other to aid them in their understanding.

The search for freedom on Grace's part leads her to make some startling discoveries about herself. The freedom that she craves is not gained from running away from her life but from looking inside herself and examining the truth of her problems with her family. In this way, Bridge writes with psychological astuteness and her novel is timeless as a result. After all, how many of us avoid a difficult situation by leaving it?

This book is a simply lovely and wonderful read, made more wonderful by the description of the beautiful landscapes that Nicholas and Grace explore. It made me yearn to go travelling along the Adriatic coast with only a rucksack and a pair of tennis shoes. I would swap the paint and canvas for a notebook and pen though.

Illyrian Spring seems to be a difficult book to get your hands on, I was fortunate enough to be given it by my lovely friend Rachel. She loved it and raved about it and I know exactly why - it is an honest portrayal of a realistic adventure. In other words, the reader feels as if the experiences of Grace are obtainable, if we just left a note and hopped on a train. In that way, it is made even more magical as it delves into a part of us that we all keep hidden. The part that wants to run away. The novel makes it perfectly clear though, that at some point we have to make a decision about going back and Ann Bridge leads us gently by the hand to the right decision.

If you can find this book, buy it. Beg, borrow or steal it. Reading it is like slipping into a new skin and embarking upon a trip during which life presents some answers to a few troubling questions. All this in the midst of a delicate romance in a breathtaking location where the sea sparkles and time is an irrelevance. I think I may have to dive back in.

Bloomsbury Books go Gleeful

Ok - this is just a quick post for those of you who haven't seen it. This video here by members of staff at Bloomsbury Publishing is possibly the best thing I have seen in years - how is it possible that I can spend five minutes cringing and grinning all at the same time? A work of genius. Enjoy!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Woodstock Literary Festival

Blenheim Palace

A day spent at a world heritage site in the company of great writers is the perfect way to spend a cold and grey Sunday. This morning my alarm went off at 07.30 and as I rolled over to slam my hand down on the snooze button I remembered that I had to get the bus to Woodstock.

This was a new experience for me as I actually had to arrive at the bus stop for a specific time - after years of living in London I am used to just pitching up and hopping on one of the many buses that would all go to my destination. The Oxfordshire service is a totally different story. I caught the one bus that went that hour and as we chugged along country lanes I did start to wonder if the bus driver was frightened of the accelerator.

I arrived at Blenheim Palace when it was still sleepy and calm. I walked along the endless drive and was awed by the sprawling grounds and stunning palace. It is an incredible sight when you round on the palace but somehow it is too glorious. I found it hard to imagine it as a place of residence, rather than a visitor attraction. I wonder what it must have been like fifty or one hundred years ago when it was bustling with serving staff and groundsmen and was an entire economy in itself.

The first talk I went to was Adam Sisman talking about Hugh Trevor-Roper and it was absolutely fascinating. Trevor-Roper was a historian and academic at Oxford who had a thirty year feud with Evelyn Waugh. They never met but were arch-enemies due to fundamental differences in opinion about Catholicism. Waugh referred to Trevor-Roper as the "Demon Don" after he criticised the behaviour of the Catholic Church during the Second World War. In turn, Trevor-Roper thought that Brideshead Revisited was a fake portrayal of life at Oxford and that it over-romanticised Catholicism.

Waugh and Trevor-Roper's feud was very public as both would write letters to various publications in which they criticised each other. I couldn't help thinking that they both sounded as though they enjoyed goading each other to make the next move; like a pair of ego-maniacal schoolboys.

I also saw Lady Antonia Fraser talking about the book she has written about her thirty-three year relationship with Harold Pinter. I was inspired by her admission that she has kept a diary for over forty years as, in her words, "One good reason for keeping a diary is that you remember the facts but you forget the details" - so diary-keeping is how she can remember a lifetime of detail. Her relationship with Pinter sounds like a true love affair and he was incredibly romantic, writing her love poems and bestowing her with bundles of flowers. The thing that she said which really struck me was that Pinter would say to her "Happiness is not dramatic" - a true statement, articulated perfectly.

And lastly, I saw Colin Dexter talk about his life. He is incredibly witty and had the audience in stitches for most of his talk. It was such a great opportunity to see the author of the Morse novels which I love. He didn't talk too much about Morse but regaled us with tales from his schooldays and his inspirational English teacher who introduced him to Thomas Hardy. By the time he left school he had read all of Hardy's novels. He admitted that he will be appearing in all the Lewis episodes (he appeared in most Morse episodes) but he has to do about six takes even if he is just walking down the street as he isn't a very good actor!

If the Oxfordshire local bus service can take me to such an amazing location to hear fantastic speakers - I can't really complain about the infrequency or lack of speed!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Acquisitions for the weekend

Chichester Cathedral

I am going home to Chichester for the weekend to stay at my mother's house. As soon as I walk in the door I will be met with the warm fug of cooking smells and my mum will greet me in her apron. The familiarity of my childhood home is something that I cherish and I love curling up on my mum's sofa with the family cat, Oscar, a cup of tea in hand and a huge slice of homemade cake with a good book.

In preparation for a weekend of reading, and due to the fact that I was escaping a rain shower, I bought three books in the Oxfam bookshop on St Giles; William Golding's The Spire, Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native and a rather amazing looking Virago which I am particularly excited about.

Before I start these however, I must finish Ann Bridge's Ilyrian Spring which is one of my favourtie reads of 2010 so far. Simply perfect. A review will follow!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy

Edward Burne-Jones, Music, 1877, copyright The Ashmolean
Last night we went to the private view for The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy at the Ashmolean. The exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see lesser known works by well known Pre-Raphaelites; Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Hunt and Ruskin are all on show. What was particularly interesting is that a lot of landscapes of Italy are on display which was great as I haven't seen many Pre-Raphaelite landscapes before. Looking at all the paintings of beautiful Italian landscapes was a perfect way to whet my appetite as I only have a week and a half before I will be in Italy basking in the autumnal sun and scoffing as many olives as I can find!

I love Burne-Jones and one of the real treats of this exhibition is that Andrew Lloyd-Webber has lent The Fall of Lucifer from his private collection. The painting is haunting and at 2.5 metres high is quite over-powering. The gilded edge contrasts beautifully with the gloomy, lowly colours of the painting as Lucifer and his reprobate angels fall from heaven.

Cycling home through the quiet streets of Oxford is such a delight at this time of year. Our way home was lit by the stars and we were accompanied by the peal of bells as bell-ringers were practising for Sunday. September is one of my favourite months as the smell of woodsmoke starts to creep in and the gentle chill reminds me that cosy evenings are on their way.

I am going to plan the books that I will take with me to Italy. Thank you for all your Italy inspired reading suggestions. I now have to narrow it down so that I leave some room for my toothbrush.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A holiday to cure my 'consumption'

This is just a quick post to explain the unintentional blogging break. The last two weeks have simply flown by into nowhere it seems and I haven't been very well so have been holed up in my bed feeling very sorry for myself and watching rubbish telly and reading easy crime novels. I am still peaky and currently have no voice at all, well I have a croaky, squeaky sound that is just ridiculous.

Anyway, that is the reason I haven't been writing (or reading much). The end is in sight though and I am cheering myself up with the fact that I have booked a week in Italy at the end of September; for a much needed rest. We are going to Bologna and the Cinque Terre (see above) and I cannot wait. Apart from A Room With A View what other books are set in Italy and constitute a 'must read'?

In the meantime - normal blogging will resume.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

But at my back I always hear Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near

The view from my study window

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell is one of my favourite poems as I understand that sense of urgency about life. Obviously, his goal is quite different from mine! But, I am finding myself more and more with a feeling that there are just not enough hours in the day. Had I but world enough indeed as I make endless plans to get things done and find that the week has flown by once more. So, I am turning more and more to the beautiful sky that I have found over Oxford - it is amazing how little sky I saw in London. Why wasn't I looking? Now I just can't seem to escape the overwhelming beauty of it as it catches my eye everyday.

But, as Marvell's poem encourages, I just need to crack on and wade through my Nile-length to do list - it has been almost a week since I went along to a book group in Oxford that Simon (Stuck in Book) was kind enough to take me to, as he is a regular at two book groups. I had a lovely time and the book was Frankenstein which Simon posted about here. I had great fun disagreeing with Simon and some other members of the group about who we should sympathise with, Frankenstein or his creation. I am a member of 'Team Creation' myself as I find Dr Frankenstein a completely unlikeable character not least because he never takes responsibility for his actions. I could go on at length here as I did last Wednesday but I will spare you my rant. I think I actually started to foam at the mouth at one point so perhaps they won't let me go back!

The next book on the list is Villette, I sometimes wonder if I am in the Truman Show as someone somewhere must have rigged it so that the books for the next couple of months are nineteenth century. Still, I have vowed to read more nineteenth century so I shall give it a go. Although, I am making poor headway with Jane Eyre. Which is another thing that I must finish.

Recently, I have been reading novels set in Oxford, The Lessons by Naomi Alderman was really interesting but I will do a post on that soon. I am now reading a crime novel by Veronica Stallwood, Death and the Oxford Box - to be honest it isn't blowing me away but then nothing compares to a Colin Dexter or Dorothy L. Sayers. Which, reminds me I had planned to read Gaudy Night again which I love. Harriet Vane, with her backbone of steel, is such a great character. More on that anon.

So, lots of reading plans. And now I have booked to go to the Iris Murdoch conference in September which I am really looking forward to but I need to swot up before I go! I nipped into the Oxfam Bookshop on St Giles today and found a copy of Bruno's Dream which I snapped up. Perhaps I should stop looking at the sky so much - and that way, I might yet make the sun run!

Monday, 23 August 2010

A trip to Hay on Wye

Booth Books

As soon as we bought our very own car I was determined to go to Hay on Wye to indulge myself with abandon in book browsing and book buying. So, at the weekend we packed our bags and drove to Hay via Hereford where we gazed at the Mappa Mundi. It rained the entire time that we were in Hay but that merely added to the cosiness of the trip and meant that I didn't feel at all guilty for not marching up the Brecon Beacons (something which does not appeal to me in the slightest but Mr Bell was quite keen to break in his new walking boots - I have never been more grateful for the rain).

There are approximately thirty secondhand bookshops in Hay and I traipsed around most of them. I have to say that the majority are blatantly over-pricing books; ripping off unsuspecting tourists. For example, one shop was selling secondhand Colin Dexter books for £2.50 - these are ten a penny in any secondhand bookshop and I wouldn't pay more than 50p for an indulgent Inspector Morse session. In another bookshop I saw a very battered copy of The Group by Mary McCarthy for £4.50 - absolutely ridiculous.

So be warned - Hay on Wye is every booklovers' fantasy BUT shop around. I then went into another shop and saw The Group for £1.95 - much more reasonable. But, I still didn't buy it as I am desperately trying to use the library and keep book acquisition to a minimum. I bought five books in Booth Books which I recommend to anyone planning to go to Hay. Not only is it a total emporium but books are reasonably priced and they have delightful reading areas. I stumbled upon this very happy cat, fast asleep on the sofa.

I feel that I was really boring in my purchases as I stuck to what I know, here is the list:
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (Virago)
The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehmann (Virago)
Rumour of Heaven by Beatrix Lehmann (Virago)
No More Than Human by Maura Laverty (Virago)
To The North by Elizabeth Bowen (Penguin)

I just can't help myself when it comes to early twentieth century literature written by women.

We left Hay in brilliant sunshine and stopped off in Tewkesbury for a look around the Abbey which not only boasts the largest Norman tower in Europe but also a rather delicious Mulberry tree in its grounds.

As we were on the road to Oxford I saw the sign to Swinbrook so I immediately made Mr Bell do a handbrake turn into the single track road which leads to the churchyard where Nancy Mitford is buried. She has been an idol of mine for years so I was so pleased to have the chance to visit her grave. Her sisters Diana, Unity and Pamela are also buried in the churchyard. Unfortunately, Unity and Nancy's graves are covered in lichen which, whilst being very pretty, means that it is really difficult to read them. Unity has a longer epitaph and I have googled to find out that it says "Say not the struggle naught availeth" - which, when you think about it, is both touching and defensive. When it comes to sisterhood I am a teeny bit soppy so I was pleased to see their graves in a row - yes, they bickered and didn't always understand each other but the bonds held fast. Having said that, I doubt my sister would forgive me if I shopped her to MI5 thereby causing her imprisonment!

Monday, 16 August 2010

...that bearing boughs may live

And so autumn is slowly ripening the fruit of summer's labour. I found this bounteous tree in the grounds of The National Trust's Chastleton House. A moment in between drenching rain showers took me off into the wilds of Oxfordshire with my oldest friend. We have known each other since we were seven years old and have been aspiring, in our tastes, to be middle aged ever since we met. We are long used to being the youngest people wherever we go. So, on Saturday we went for a hearty pub lunch and gentle stroll at Great Tew and then on to Chastleton House for an idyllic afternoon spent wandering the grounds and eating the mulberries.
Chastleton House

A chocolate box cottage in Great Tew

If only wild music did 'burthen every bough' as Shakespeare declared in Sonnet 102. For if it did then the fruit trees at Chastleton House would be truly raucous. Mulberries, plums, apples, quinces and even peaches are scattered throughout the grounds making me wonder why we import fruit at all. I look forward to late summer every year for so many different reasons but to hear my mother (as I did today) say she is going out for damsons is absolutely one of them; as I know that on a cold winter's night I will go home to a jar of her damson jam. Spreading it thickly on toast, I will think of the late summer sun and my mother's jam making magic combining to produce the best comfort food that you could wish for when the boughs are bare and the bounty of summer seems a lifetime away.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

For the rain it raineth every day

Well, this is the view from my (newly finished) study window this morning which immediately brought dear old Feste to mind. Summer seems to have scurried off and left us between seasons. While I wait for the burnished bronze of autumn to sweep in and save us from limbo I am reading three books, fuelled by copious amounts of warming tea and rather too much cake. The trouble is that I need to focus on one as I keep flitting between them.

I have started and am really enjoying The Lessons by Naomi Alderman, not least because it is set in Oxford so it is helping me get my bearings in this new city. I am still reading Jane Eyre, which is perfect to read on a grey day as it is steeped in grey. Grey people, grey places, grey plot, grey, grey, grey. And finally I am reading An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, which is also set in Oxford and is great bed time reading.

I am off in search of a hearty pub lunch and, hopefully, a fire to sit beside!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Bimbling about

I am pretty sure that bimbling is not a word. But it is what I spend quite a lot of time doing. This week has been a 'bimbling' week. I have drifted about doing bits and bobs and not very much all at the same time. I was a bridesmaid for a very beautiful bride up on the moors in the far north. I still have the lovely flowers (above) in a jar on our mantelpiece. On our way back down the spine of the country we veered westwards and found tea and cake in Stroud.

I gorged myself on treacle tart and looked on in horror as Mr Bell devoured a coffee and walnut cake; I detest coffee and walnut. Actually, that was probably a cunning tactic on his part so that I wouldn't want to steal any of his.
We found a view to look at before returning back to Oxfordshire.
It is easy to make friends in the country - here is one that we found in a pub in Bampton
As I sat eating a bag of chips in this churchyard last Friday night,
I caught the smallest whiff of autumn. I wonder if summer knows that the next season is impatiently waiting its turn? There is time yet though before the apples fully ripen, so I am going to go and sun my toes in the grass.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Weather in the Streets - Book Review

What better way to spend a sunny afternoon than by sitting in the garden, picking at a fresh bowl of strawberries and reading Rosamund Lehmann's The Weather in the Streets. I promise I am attempting to read Jane Eyre (still the saga continues) but I needed a quick fix of early twentieth century literature before fully embarking upon the epic tome. Anyway, I digress.

The Weather in the Streets is a continuation of the story of Olivia Curtis who is the protagonist in Lehmann's Invitation to the Waltz. Here, Olivia has grown up, separated from her husband and is at a crossroads when a chance encounter with an old acquaintance leads to a heady love affair.

Olivia is a nervous and vulnerable person. She never feels that she can match her sensible sister Kate who has married, produced children and is living the textbook life of domestic serenity. Feeling a failure in every sense Olivia goes home to see her sick father. It is on the train journey home that she meets Rollo Spencer, the brother of her old friend Marigold. Olivia always had a soft spot for Rollo and the reader is quickly made aware of a sense of missed opportunity as each reveals that they are not happy.

Rollo is married to Nicola, and it quickly transpires that she is not physically forthcoming. Olivia has always admired Rollo and they start having an affair. What struck me was how passively Olivia accepts Rollo as a dangerous liaison. She loves him but she is aware of the inevitability of her getting hurt as she lets him rule the relationship. Olivia has no delusion that he will leave his wife but she struggles with the constant and overwhelming presence of Nicola in all that they do. Nicola controls Rollo and, ultimately, she is his priority. Filtering down from this, Olivia is beholden to Nicola's whims. If Nicola wants to go away, then Rollo will take her. If she stays, Rollo will look after her. Olivia has to snatch her time and be grateful for it.

Nicola is a silent presence, she is given no voice in the narrative. But, arguably, hers is the strongest. The protagonists are circling around her at all times and the reader is caught between sympathy for this unknown character and the desire that she would release Rollo from her grip. Interestingly, Olivia discovers that she is pregnant just as Rollo goes away with Nicola for a long holiday. Throughout the ordeal of Olivia concealing her morning sickness from her family and her booking a termination the reader is left on a precipice of hope. Surely, Rollo will come back for her? Surely, it will be alright? But Olivia calmly goes through with it as she knows that she is only second in Rollo's affections and that he will never leave his wife.

Painfully, Olivia tells Rollo when he returns and although he is distressed through shock, he barely manages to comfort her. Rather she comforts him. Nicola, of course, becomes pregnant and Olivia realises how fickle Rollo really is. Relations restored with his wife, his attentions towards Olivia become slack.

Lehmann's characterisation is so piercing that the reader feels dragged into the mind of each character as they become entangled in a web of messy relationships and journeys of self-discovery. Olivia is both perceptive and resigned. She is striving on the one hand for understanding, love and reassurance but on the other she knows the truth of the situation and she makes huge personal sacrifices as a result.

I wondered as I was reading, whether Olivia embarked upon the relationship out of a combination of both nostalgia and safety. Nostalgia because Rollo was her first girlhood crush, her friends glamorous older brother. And safety because, having left her husband, she wasn't really looking for one hundred percent commitment. I gained a sense that this bright girl was struggling with the realisation that she has not achieved all that she thought she might with the consequence that she drifted into a relationship to consume all her attentions rather than pursue her writing, her dreams and ultimately, rather than find herself.

Moments of strength would quickly fade as Rollo charmed Olivia back into the cycle of being his mistress. If this isn't a man who wants his bread buttered on both sides, I don't know what he is! I was exasperated as Olivia just couldn't make that final break. And my mind would stray to Nicola. We know she doesn't love Rollo but does that make it alright?

I was left with a mixed feeling of bewilderment as Lehmann leaves the reader reeling from Olivia's passive acceptance that she and Rollo will remain lovers. Is Lehmann pointing out that some women sacrifice too much for men? Obviously, I am not reading this book through the eyes of a young woman in 1936, rather I have the legacy of feminism sitting on my shoulder. Am I being too hard on Rollo and Olivia?

Reading books like this in the 21st century is fascinating as I sometimes realise that we haven't necessarily 'come that far'. There are plenty of books being published now in which a female 'heroine' compromises herself to keep 'her man'. But reading this article a few months ago I started to wonder if something was brewing. But I thought nothing more of it as life drifted on. Yesterday, I treated myself to a magazine - I bought ELLE, an old favourite. This month there is a feature on passivity within relationships and it cites Laura Munson (see article) as an example. Something is indeed brewing here. Is it new - or is it a resurrection of the age old hatred of the shrewish woman?

Either way, a thread is being spun in the women's lifestyle pages at the moment. Remaining passive in the face of relationship difficulties will apparently steer the relationship back on course. Erm, I am no expert but I have found that an equal amount of work from both parties will carry a relationship through the rocky times. And once through the rocky times, you are both reassured that the other is investing themselves fully in making the relationship work. A great sense of fulfilment, respect and love is borne through this knowledge. The women behind the two articles I have found on this topic seem to imply that the majority of women react hysterically to the prospect of a relationship breaking down. Do we? If so, yes, a certain amount of calm might be worth investing in. But passivity?

I think I would always wonder if the relationship was still breathing merely through his apathy bred as a result of the lack of response he had got from me. It is, after all, easier to stay in a rut than jump out. Do we really want to stay with men who announce that they don't want to be with us? And then stay, because we continued to feed them, clean for them and not make any demands of them?

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the word passive as being synonymous with submissiveness. An interesting thought for modern times. Lehmann, in 1936, made it clear that Olivia's passivity made her both unhappy and submissive. She didn't strive for a solid relationship instead she tiptoed around Rollo and ended up aborting their baby so as not to cause him the anguish of having an illegitimate child. I think Lehmann was trying to tell women something and, it appears, her message is as relevant today as it was seventy years ago.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Struggling through Jane Eyre

The Oxfordshire Sky

I promise I am trying but I am struggling. Don't get me wrong, it is a great plot and I like the grey/gothic undertone but good lord the syntax. Round and round we go swooping up and down and under and over. I will persevere but in the meantime I'll talk about what I have been up to this week. Whilst avoiding nineteenth century literature.

This week we bought our very first car so that we can do a myriad of not very exciting things like go to the supermarket (no I haven't given up on the market but I like to bulk buy cleaning products) or the local recycling centre. We like to find excuses to celebrate so last night we took ourselves off for a celebratory 'we have a car' meal at the Trout Inn at Wolvercote. A totally picturesque pub outside Oxford with the river running by and this lovely bridge connecting one side of the garden to the other. The pub also boasts its very own pet Peacock which struts around looking for attention.

On our way home we caught a glimpse of Godstow Nunnery through the hedge.

Godstow Nunnery

I immediately made Mr Bell stop the car and I leapt out and climbed over the fence to go and have a poke about, leaving him bemused to wait whilst I basked in a ruin glowing with evening light. Godstow Nunnery was finished and dedicated in 1139 and was made famous through the fact that it was the final resting place of Rosamund Clifford or 'Fair Rosamund'. Rosamund was the mistress of Henry II (who accidentally ordered the murder of Thomas Becket) and is the focus of several legends including the legend that Henry II's queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had Rosamund poisoned out of revenge.

'Fair Rosamund' was immortalised in John William Waterhouse's painting of her which he painted in 1917.

As I walked around the site I wondered about the lives of these women. Were they all dedicated to a holy life or were some of them there against their will? Sold to the church to ease their family's financial burden. I had only cows for company as I wandered around a silent site which would once have been bustling with activity. The Nunnery was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 and passed through various different hands until it was eventually acquired by the University of Oxford. Apparently, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) took Alice Liddell (aka Alice in Wonderland) to the site for picnics.

Jane Eyre is calling. I fear this is turning into an epic journey of realisation that my veins flow with the juices of modernism - and there is nothing that consumptive nineteenth century types can do about it. But we shall see.

Monday, 26 July 2010

A quintessential weekend

Leaving London for Oxford is proving to be a huge learning curve. On Saturday morning I decided to cycle into town to do our food shopping at the Covered Market. I left the house on my bike and peddled into town as fast as my weak, feeble London legs could peddle. 'How delightful' I mused to myself, and I was halfway to feeling as though I had landed in the middle of a Miss Marple when I was met with a plague of tourists. Not so idyllic. The town was absolutely buzzing with tourists. Everywhere. Now, coming from London I am, of course, used to irritating tourists. But they are easily avoided in London - there is less space in Oxford so we are confined to walk the same streets as the grockles. And I have discovered something, my inner-Londoner has not withered away, she bursts forth as I huff and mutter and barge people out of my way.

Once I had fought my way into the Covered Market I felt that things could only get better. All the fresh fruit and veg, the amazing cheese counter, butchers and delicious cookie shop enticed me in to the relative calm. But I ran into a bit of difficulty. You see, as much as it pains me to admit this - I had absolutely no idea where to start. How much is 100 grams? How do these women around me know what to do? I felt like a complete fraud as I walked around pathetically wondering how much of everything to ask for. And then I realised, I have grown up lacking the skills that were second nature to my grandmother and mother. I am used to going to a supermarket where everything is ready weighed and packaged with a nice price tag stamped onto it. Market shopping is a whole new world.

I rallied myself and dived in. I started with cheese. I bought a wonderful local cheese called Oxford Isis which is absolutely heavenly and very smelly indeed. So far so good - I then bought some strawberries and some delicious figs. It was when I went to the fish counter that all went pear-shaped. I have a weakness for Scallops - which are very expensive but the label had an alright price for 100g so I thought I would treat Mr Bell and myself to a yummy starter. I boldly asked for 100g and was horrified when two scallops were placed in a sorry little bag and handed to me. Mortified, I handed over my cash and fled the scene. TWO SCALLOPS?! I could have snorted them up - so I have learnt that 100g is not very much at all. And I have also learnt that I am not one of the fortunate few who can afford to buy Scallops.

I then gave the butchers a go but feeling as if the word 'novice' was stamped across my forehead I went for the easiest thing to order - four sausages. And then I scuttled away with my hard-won goodies to find my bike amidst a sea of tourists.

Aside from my disastrous first attempt at ordering food by the weight; pootling about the side streets around the college buildings was idyllic in the summer sunshine. I made time to stop for yet another scone at the Vaults & Garden cafe which is my favourite cafe in Oxford. And which is where a couple of Saturday's ago I had the most delicious breakfast of tea and toast (picture above, forgive the poor quality - I took it with my phone). Is there any breakfast more satisfying than simple homemade bread, toasted and slathered with butter and homemade strawberry jam? And for 60p? Heaven. I am going to become a very regular sight in the Vaults cafe as they serve fab tea and I can burrow in and read my book underneath the 13th century vaulted ceiling.

Yesterday I went home to Sussex for our annual family get together at Horn Fair in Ebernoe. I wrote about it in a bit more detail last year here. Four generations of our family were present as it was my six month old niece's first fair - I have been going since I was a baby and I still don't know the rules for Cricket! Perhaps my niece will grasp them more quickly than me! It all seems very slow and is interspersed with a tea break, a lunch break and another tea break. Meanwhile spectators are languishing around with their own thermos flasks and picnics - not really my thing I must say. Don't get me wrong I love a picnic - but not when balls are flying about. But it is somehow wry and a bit subversive of my family to repeatedly sit through this every single year - as only one of my mother's cousin's is into cricket (in a big way) the rest of us couldn't give two figs. But we always clap heartedly when it is required.

Anyway, I am off to battle with Jane Eyre. All your comments from my last post have made me even more determined to conquer the nineteenth century. Wish me luck - I am going in armed with a cup of tea and, oddly, some strawberry jelly.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

I have a confession to make...

The effect of nineteenth century literature upon Kate Winslet?

I am a wolf in sheep's clothing; a traitor in the midst - I claim to be well read and I claim to love literature however, there is something I have to confess. I loathe nineteenth century literature. I despise the rambling and, seemingly, endless descriptive passages of not very much happening. I am a modernist through and through - give me someone's interior monologue any day. Stream of Consciousness and I'm there, gripped. Modernist literature explores the very core of the human condition - it strips away the faff and exposes the raw, bloody nerve endings that are relationships, humanity, society etc etc (I could go on with my rant about the merits of modernism but will cease).

Anyway, I am conscious of the fact that I can't write off a whole movement within the literary canon. I have tried to get on with the Victorians, believe me I have but I failed every time I opened anything containing a corset. Now, this is where it really gets to confession time - I am an English graduate who has never read an Austen. I got part way through Pride and Prejudice and decided that, frankly, life is way too short so I put it down; that lame experience put me off her other books. This is odd considering I like the TV and film adaptations but perhaps that is because they are mental chewing gum and I like to effortlessly watch the condensed versions of the novels where an end is in sight (cue massive backlash from all ye nineteenth century lovers).

There is one exception to my issue with the nineteenth century and it comes in the glorious form of Hardy. I adore Thomas Hardy BUT he is a modernist born before his time so that gets around that issue. Jude the Obscure is a work of sheer, unparalleled genius. Tess of the D'Urbervilles is one of the greatest feminist works that English literature has ever seen - Hardy is truly a modern man. I have read and re-read Tess, my copy is falling apart and I still weep when she tells Angel the truth. Angel betrays her everytime through his boyish ignorance and if you look in the dictionary for the word 'hypocrite' his name is EMBLAZONED there. Well, in my copy anyway.

And I enjoy the gothic, so devoured Frankenstein, Dracula, Wuthering Heights (gothic-ish) with relish. So, I can dance around the edges of nineteenth century literature but I can't seem to plunge in. I tried Eliot, but dear lord does she prattle on. I made it through about seven pages of Adam Bede (dire) and I got a bit further through Middlemarch but it was doomed from the start as my mind slowly started to grasp at the twentieth century and I succumbed to a Rosamund Lehmann.

I am now going to embark upon another attempt to crack the nut that is Austen and the wider nineteenth century offering. So, I have got Jane Eyre in my bag ready and waiting to be opened. I will then (provided I can drag my way through it) tackle Austen. I refuse to let this beat me, I will read Emma all the way through. Even if I have to go and overdose on some Forster or Fitzgerald immediately after. I admit, I am dubious as to this whole enterprise but I am willing to read it from cover to cover and then we shall see if I have been converted.

Monday, 19 July 2010

To Bed With Grand Music - Book Review

It has taken me five cups of tea to ponder this book and reach any sort of conclusion as to what I think of it. I was left totally bemused and one of my first thoughts was 'this isn't the wartime that my granny remembers so fondly'. You know the sort of thing, dashing young officers asking girls to dance whilst only expecting a peck on the cheek goodbye at the end of the night. This novel suggests very different wartime behaviour.

The novel opens with Deborah Robertson in bed with her husband, Graham; a portent of what is to come. Deborah promises Graham that she will remain faithful to him as he is being posted to Cairo. Graham, however is a little more hesitant as he knows he cannot do without sex for three or four years. Instead, he promises not to fall in love with anyone else. Deborah is horrified that he cannot commit to her and eventually gets him to concede to be faithful.

As soon as Graham has left, Deborah tries to turn her attention to their baby son, Timmy. However, it soon transpires that Deborah is not interested in being a housewife and even less interested in being a mother. The weeks go on and Deborah leaves Timmy more and more in the care of her housekeeper, Mrs Chalmers. When Deborah's mother arrives for a visit, she can see that Deborah is bored and upsetting Timmy as a result. She suggests that Deborah try to find a job. In fact, Deborah's mother is well aware that her daughter is not suited to the roles of wife and mother so she actively encourages Deborah to go to London in search of something to occupy her time whilst Graham is away.

When Deborah visits her friend, Madeleine, in London she is swept away by the freedom and glamour of Madeleine's life. Instead of search for a job Deborah goes for dinner with Madeleine and two male friends, and she ends up in bed with one of the men. Deborah's fall into infidelity is swift and seemingly without a thought for Graham or Timmy. Until the morning after when she skulks home and promises herself that she will stay in the country and look after Timmy until Graham's return.

As you can probably predict, Deborah does not stay in the country and await her husbands' return. Instead she moves in with Madeleine and embarks upon a wartime career of working her way around the male members of the armed forces in return for gifts, expensive nights out and, ultimately, excitement.

There are moments during which Deborah has doubts and wonders about her behaviour, but these are swiftly cast aside with self-justification and a total failure to realise the fact that she has become, in essence, a prostitute. Her male friends pass her around each other; she obviously gains a reputation as being available. She acquires jewels, stockings, make up, expensive dinners at fancy restaurants, perfume and a myriad of other gifts which are her payment.

Deborah is a character that I totally despised. It wasn't so much her behaviour as her refusal to think realistically about her actions and their consequences. She is a weak personality, easily led astray by Madeleine and seemingly incapable of refusing temptation. Towards the end of her novel her relationship with her son is redundant as he clings on to Mrs Chalmers for love and attention. And instead of thinking proactively about Graham's impending return she just turns away and pursues her current course, which in the light of peace takes her into the arms of businessmen as the armed forces are all returning home.

I disliked Deborah immensely - the very fact that at the end of the novel she showed no remorse, just resentment that her life would inevitably return to its pre-war state, only made me dislike her even more. Deborah's desire for Madeleine's life is farcical as we clearly realise that Madeleine is envious of Deborah's husband and baby. Instead of realising this and appreciating her life, Deborah pursues a life of glamour and hedonism with an underlying streak of bitterness about her marriage and child.

To Bed With Grand Music is a great read as it strips all sense of nostalgia from your thoughts of the second world war. Instead you realise that human nature was, of course, the same and people took advantage of the unique circumstances to please themselves.

In direct contrast to the portrayal of war by Marghanita Laski, I watched a documentary on Channel 4 called Time Warp Wives. Now, this was a piece of trash tv that I slumped in front of last week but it was quite an interesting programme as some modern women are retreating into the past to escape modern life. The majority of women featured in this programme had decided to live in the 1940s and 1950s; before women's liberation one might add. Anyway, they are under the impression that manners were impeccable, there were no social problems and every woman was faithful and dutiful to her husband. Perhaps they should all read To Bed With Grand Music to cure their ailment of acute nostalgia.

These women are totally delusional but it is interesting that they all revert to fantasy to avoid the pressures of modern life. What they don't seem to realise though is that throughout history 'modern life' has always been stressful, uncertain and, crucially, perceived to be worse than any period that has gone before. Deborah escaped her life into a fantasy that cannot be sustained - as have the women on the tv programme. I think I would rather face up to the grit of everyday life - even if that means I have to forget about sepia wartime dances leading to a mere peck on the cheek.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Too many books

I write this not quite sitting in the kitchen sink but nearly, as I have had to find a bit of space to settle amidst all the boxes, strewn furniture and general chaos. We have, at long last, moved to Oxford. The bell will now chime from a different tower and hopefully more frequently than it has been of late!

All my fantasies about sitting by the river in the warm summer sun are so far coming true as the weather has been wonderful. We have spent evenings strolling along the canal and looking for tucked away pubs in search for a quiet drink.

Moving has highlighted to me how bad my book obsession has become as my arms are now extremely sore from all the lifting and struggling with box after box of precious cargo. In light of the pain, nay agony, that I am now in I have made a dramatic decision. I am not buying any more books in 2010 and from now on I am giving books away after I have read them - unless they are absolutely vital, of course. Hopefully this will solve some of my current storage problems as well!

Over the past few weeks my whole life has been about moving so I am looking forward to having more time to myself to explore Oxford and get some reading done. I don't really theme my reading but I thought that over the next couple of weeks I might read novels with an Oxford connection - so, I asked some literary types and they suggested some great books. I have already read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy which I loved so I think that I will re-read them to refresh my memory (provided that I can find the box that they are in!). I loved Joanna Cannan's Princes in the Land (which I wrote about here) and Verity recommended one of her other novels, High Table, which I will borrow from the library. I adore Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night which is also set in Oxford so that might be another re-read possibility. I would be grateful for any recommendations for good Oxfordian novels.

Of course, the grand-daddy of Oxford novels has to be Brideshead Revisited. I adore Evelyn Waugh and I adore him even more for his great friendship with Nancy Mitford; an idol of mine and not just because she kept a white chicken in her Paris apartment, well almost.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The big move

Poor old Bloomsbury Bell has been unintentionally neglected over the past few weeks due to the impending 'big move'. I mentioned in my last post that things are afoot; I am pleased to say that they are still afoot and Mr Bell and I are packing up our books to go and live in Oxford.

I have lived in London for the past eight years and it is proving to be a wrench to leave, despite the fact that I have been longing for pastures new for a while. We are leaving all of our lovely friends and plunging into a totally new and different life. Both of us have new jobs doing completely different things and we are very much looking forward to getting started. Before we go however, we have a few 'last hurrah's' planned in London with various friends so I am looking forward to making the most of my last fortnight in the big city.

Whilst I have been planning and organising our new life I haven't been able to read anything too meaty. As soon as I found out we were going I cracked open my 50p copy of The Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter to get me in the Oxford mood. I am now having to curb my perception that Oxford is all dreaming spires and multiple murders.

I have only been to Oxford for the odd day trip so I am excited about discovering what the city has to offer. I have been doing as much online research as possible and have found some interesting places to go for Burgers, Moroccan and Ice Cream. I just need to find a non-touristy tea room with real homemade cake. To this day I have not found a tea room to beat St Martin's Tea Rooms in my home town; Chichester. I wonder if Oxford can provide a rival?

One major source of excitement is that my old dutch bike, which I bought in 2007 for dirtbag cheap (and hardly used), has been tarted up and I even paid extra for a wicker basket to be put on the front. I am now having visions of pootling on my bike to the Covered Market for provisions and a paper before cycling along the river to a shady spot to while away the hours a la Brideshead.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Charleston Literary Festival - calm in the chaos

The Orchard at Charleston

Last weekend I escaped home to Sussex for some much needed peace and to see Carol Ann Duffy at The Charleston Festival. Duffy has been one of my favourite poets for a long time - alongside Alice Oswald - and I have heard her read her poems before but seeing her at Charleston was truly delightful. We all bundled into the marquee thankful that it wasn't the usual howling wind and rain accompanying the event. Just as Duffy started to read a poem, the cows in the neighbouring field decided to pipe up. I am not sure that such things happen at the slick Hay Festival but these messy, honest occurrences are what keep Charleston charming.

Going to Charleston is an annual event for me and my ritual is to have a slice of lemon drizzle cake with my tea before the event.
Lemon Drizzle at Charleston

The tea tent was bedecked in bunting this year and the cow parsley even more abundant than my memory of it from last year. Sitting in the orchard sipping on tea and scoffing cake is one of my favourite things and I look forward to it every year. May in Sussex is a perfect month as everything is fresh and abundant ahead of the withering power of the summer sun. The burnt tinge of August is a future concern and the countryside sparkles with shades of green.

I love the way that the trestle tables and chairs are scattered as if they naturally appear in the orchard.

Carol Ann Duffy read for nearly an hour and, along with the cows, held the audience spellbound as she read both old and new poems. Her dry humour and subtle delivery had us in paroxysms of mirth, particularly 'from Mrs Tiresias' which recounts the myth of Tiresias from the point of view of his wife - the poem is from the collection The World's Wife which I will talk more about in another post as I could write reams about the collection.

During the past week my life has turned completely topsy-turvy (self-inflicted I hasten to add) - I have set many exciting changes in motion which I will elaborate upon as time goes on and things become more certain. So, going to Charleston was a moment of peace before the (hopefully organised) chaos that the next couple of months will be. After my tea and cake I found something pink and fizzy with which to celebrate in the sunshine; heavenly.