Between Christmas and the New Year…

EdwardianladySo happy to be back blogging. Now live from my daughter’s. I’m still in the process of clearing the house in Dorset for sale, but with the loss of my dear uncle to cancer, it is a sad, lonely and depressing place to be and am so very grateful to be in new surroundings where I feel welcome and useful again.

I have lots of plans for excursions and fun times in 2014 to celebrate the move to Surrey and the proximity to London, but right now it’s my favourite time of year to be at home: propped up with plenty of Miranda’s colourful St Jude’s cushions on the couch enjoying some classic films or reading away wrapped up in a cosy blanket. Lovely too to be ensconced in the kitchen, cup of coffee to hand and, preferably (!), watching her prepare dinner. Lucky me: my lot has fallen in very pleasant places indeed. Miranda is a much more adventurous cook than I am with a real interest in recreating old favourites and trying out new dishes. I could get used to being this spoilt. In term time, she’s too busy to do much experimenting in the week so we tend to rely on my repertoire of trusted, quickly prepared oldies, but she has rather gone to town during the holidays, and I’ve found the job of chief chopper and washer upper to be right up my alley.

Some childhood/old books have reappeared from the Dorset boxes as well so between Kindle and attic treasures I seem to have several books on the go. Perfect for this time of year has been a book of Edwardian recollections. Susan Tweedsmuir (wife of John Buchan, sister-in-law of O Douglas) isn’t mentioned much nowadays, but I’m very fond of her trio of occasional reminiscences The Lilac and the Rose, A Winter Bouquet and The Edwardian Lady. I’ve had The Edwardian Lady by my bedside table over the weekend and am fascinated by the people she knew and the stories she tells:

Virginia Woolf once said to me that she pitied the children of today who lived in flats, and who had never lived in houses with dark corners or with long ill-lighted passages to shudder at. She also said that they had none of the delicious sense of enjoyment which we had when we inserted ourselves through the green baize door, which sealed the rest of the house from the kitchen quarters, where a vivid and individual life went on.

As to films, I love the old classics like I Remember Mama and The Bishop’s Wife, but am of the opinion that at least one night this time of year is well spent armchair travelling to heady, vivid, nineteenth century Provence with a glass of well chilled Beaumes de Venise, a box of calissons or marrons glaces to hand and the DVD of the 1995 Le Hussard sur le Toit – not perhaps a great film but such a fun one: stunning cinematography and historical costumes, dramatic sweeping epic tale, great performances by Juliette Binoche and the gorgeous Oliver Martinez – what’s not to love?

18863096.jpg-r_760_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx hussardtoit


Ripe for the Kindle

EWEN366Ian McCulloch as Ewen Cameron in 1960s tv version of The Flight of the Heron

Is it only me who regrets not being able to find D. K. Broster’s wonderful Jacobite Trilogy on Kindle? That and her Almond, Wild Almond are such fun and memorable reads. Broster had a very private, but interesting life according to this excellent article, and I confess to be puzzled as to why she has fallen into relative obscurity. The Flight of the Heron, The Gleam in the North and The Dark Mile are all historical tales of daring do and excellent, vivid characters, especially the Scottish Ewen and the English Keith Windham. Almond, Wild Almond is a lighter Romance, but set in the same period and with walk on parts by characters from the Jacobite books. Here the heroine, Bride Stewart, has an important and spirited role to play. The history was very carefully researched by Broster and apparently, on her death in 1950, the public was amazed she was neither male nor Scottish so convincing is the tale she wove.

Almond, Wild Almond

Furlongs in Art

furlongsI have just returned from a lovely two-days-and-a-night break with Miranda and Rachel seeing Lewes, Charleston and Rodmell for the first time. East Sussex is a place I’d long wanted to visit, but had some how never got there. I didn’t have time to research much before we left having just suffered the loss of my much loved Uncle who passed away peacefully the weekend before Easter, but it didn’t matter, we had no real agenda other than to enjoy ourselves and see Charleston and Rodmell. Indeed, sad and careworn as I was feeling, Miranda’s empathy (she adored her Great-Uncle), the good cheerful company of two oldfashionedgirls and the bracing (it was freezing!) and restorative East Sussex air was the best medicine. I did, however, remember how to find Furlongs, Peggy Angus‘ home and inspiration for so much beautiful art by Christopher Brown, Edwin Smith and Eric Ravilious. We only saw the outside of course, but it still looked exactly “right” as if it had stepped out of the paintings and photos we have of it from the last century and materialized gracefully but solidly in this. You could appreciate how beautiful the house and setting were in every season, but the greys, browns and muted greens of such a cold Spring seemed particularly appropriate. I wonder if that beautiful wallpaper is still there?




New on my Kindle: Gladys and Hilda


Mamzelle: A Story of the War of 1812

Some wonderful YA fiction is new to mine. In my day, we might have been short of books on vampires, but everything I know about History I gleaned from Young Adult Historical Romances, and it is amazing how much these stories by Gladys Malvern have stuck with me.


Dear Wife: A Story of the American Revolution

Gladys Malvern is perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but I rate her very highly indeed. The huge advantage with Kindle is you can try out the first chapter or so for free too, so do give her a try. Her romances are well-researched and cover periods of American History I certainly didn’t study at school. They also fall into the “lovely reads” category. I’m hoping her ballet stories and more of the historicals will appear if these prove popular. And of course there’s her biblical retellings too.


The Foreigner: A Story of Ruth

Then I also spotted Hilda Lewis‘ children’s historical The Gentle Falcon. I must have been about nine years old when I first read this one from the library and am very happy now to be able to read it again.


The Gentle Falcon

Oh, to be in England – Mollie Panter-Downes


Spring with An English Poet – 1938 by Mollie Panter-Downes

from The New Yorker – April 30th, 1938

(inspired to share by StuckinaBook’s blog on London War Notes 1939-1945)

Oh, to be in England

Now that April’s there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the elm-tree bole is blocked from view

By a notice telling him what to do

When vapours steal through the primrose wood

And the gas-proof room turns out no good,

While the chaffinch chokes on the orchard bough

In England – now!


The Chaffinch from A Second Book of British Birds (1954) by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald and illustrated by Allen W Seaby. Poster available to purchase here

New England Style


Many a long, long year ago,
Nantucket skippers had a plan
Of finding out, though “lying low,”
How near New York their schooners ran.

They greased the lead before it fell,
And then, by sounding through the night,
Knowing the soil that stuck, so well,
They always guessed their reckoning right.

A skipper gray, whose eyes were dim,
Could tell, by tasting, just the spot,
And so below he’d “dowse the glim”–
After, of course, his “something hot.”

Snug in his berth, at eight o’clock,
This ancient skipper might be found;
No matter how his craft would rock,
He slept–for skippers’ naps are sound!

The watch on deck would now and then
Run down and wake him, with the lead;
He’d up, and taste, and tell the men
How many miles they went ahead.

One night, ’twas Jonathan Marden’s watch,
A curious wag–the peddler’s son–
And so he mused (the wanton wretch),
“To-night I’ll have a grain of fun.

“We’re all a set of stupid fools
To think the skipper knows by tasting
What ground he’s on–Nantucket schools
Don’t teach such stuff, with all their basting!”

And so he took the well-greased lead
And rubbed it o’er a box of earth
That stood on deck–a parsnip-bed–
And then he sought the skipper’s berth.

“Where are we now, sir? Please to taste.”
The skipper yawned, put out his tongue,
Then ope’d his eyes in wondrous haste,
And then upon the floor he sprung!

The skipper stormed and tore his hair,
Thrust on his boots, and roared to Marden,
“Nantucket’s sunk, and here we are
Right over old Marm Hackett’s garden!”

 The Alarmed Skipper by James Thomas Fields


Photographs of New England from Joel Meyerowitz’s beautiful book A Summer’s Day (1985)


What to read when you’re not reading Louisa May Alcott

little-women-threadsLittle Women, Good Wives, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Little Men, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom are all huge favourites of mine, along with pretty nearly every other book Louisa May Alcott wrote for girls. I read Little Women and sequels first at about eight years old and then at least once a year every year thereafter and am still not sure what the appeal is exactly – certainly the large family of girls, the troublesome boys, their tribulations and efforts to be good, their love affairs (count me as a fan of Fritz, I was never in love with Laurie) and the struggles with making their way independently in the larger world. Of Alcott’s heroines, I have always loved Polly, Rose, Meg and Beth the best (in that order as well) – not I know the most popular of choices, but I did so want To Be Good and could emphathise all too well with Meg’s domestic struggles (that jam that wouldn’t set!), and they’re still my favourites even though I recognise now that Jo, Laurie and Amy were perhaps really where the author’s interests fell. I also love the fervently held Christian beliefs and the really good cry Alcott nearly always gives us – it isn’t that I’m a bible thumping evangelist, but these books make me want to try to be a kinder, nicer person. Hmmm I’d better keep reading as have a very long way to go to Beth-like saintliness!

RoseinbloomStill one can’t read Alcott all the time, so here are my suggestions for when you’re looking for something similar, but different.

Rainbow-ValleyLet’s see – looking for a good cry? Don’t forget L M Montgomery – Rainbow Valley gets me going. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single one of her books that doesn’t bring a tear to my eye. But, there’s nothing as harrowing (and satisfying for my money) as The Proper Place by O Douglas. Douglas’ stories are mainly set between the two wars and have wonderful characters and settings (skim through any tiresome Scottish dialect – understanding every word isn’t necessary, and you soon get in the swing of it), and Penny Plain, Priorsford and The Proper Place should come with several daintily embroidered hankies attached.

PennyplainThen there’s one of my favourite English Victorian novels written for young women, The Daisy Chain by Charlotte Yonge. Or, there’s the Australian Victorian classic, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. I have known people so upset by the death in this book they couldn’t finish it. Not me. Mind you, be warned: I remember telling poor Miranda at about 4 years old how much she’d love the film of Ring of Bright Water (I’d completely forgotten just how traumatic that story is, and I had a lot of comforting to do after we’d sat down to watch it, not helped by the fact that I suddenly remembered it was based on a true story though of course I kept mum about that bit at least) – not sure if she’s quite forgiven me Even To This Day – so better add not to read if you’re especially likely to confuse fiction with fact (all the nicest people do it to some degree) or are in an especially fragile state.

SevenLittleAustraliansOn a jollier note, do you love the domestic aspects of Alcott? Then girls’ stories with plenty of keeping house, recovering invalids, making gifts on a shoestring and jam-making details are for you. Plus we’re bosom buddies! This is a category I’m something of a enthusiast about (so much nicer to be reading about successful home cleaning/renovation and housekeeping all accomplished with nothing more than a few pennies and plenty of elbow grease than actually attempting to do them oneself!) Start with Katharine at Feather Ghyll by Anne Bradley and Sally’s Family and The Girls of Friars Rise by Gwendoline Courtney if you haven’t read them already. I have The Sugar and Spice Girls by Mollie Chappell waiting for me at Miranda’s and apparently it’s very much of the same ilk so should be just my cup of tea.

Sugar and Spice GirlsImage and great reviews of other Mollie Chappell books (and books generally) from here

Finally for a very light-hearted American time travel return to Little Women don’t miss The Time Garden by Edward Eager. It’s funny and engaging and really very clever indeed! Also a book that never fails to make me smile and hence the perfect antidote to any of the too sad ones mentioned earlier.

The-Time-Garden-2Image from here

Favourite illustrators: Paul Galdone

Apricot Sky

I recommended this light-hearted Romance by the author of Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, also set in Scotland, to Rachel yesterday – though my copy is in storage I remember how much I enjoyed it and loved the dustwrapper. In fact, I’ve been picking up any super cheap copies of the the Hungarian born, American illustrator Paul Galdone’s folktales whenever I see them in charity shops for the last few months. His versions are always sunny and witty, but are definitely in the “classic” tradition, and I’m hoping they’ll be useful for Miranda starting out teaching and building her own “primary library.” There are a few adult books that he has illustrated that I treasure as well. Not so easy to find reasonably priced attractive copies now I’m afraid, but well worth the search if you can find them on a charity shop shelf. Here’s a brief biography:

Paul Galdone was born circa 1907 in  Budapest, Austria- Hungary and immigrated to the  United States in 1921. Galdone studied art at the  Art Student’s League and  New York School for Industrial Design. He served in World War II in the U.S. Army, Engineers. The author and illustrator of children’s books also was employed as a bus boy, electrician’s helper, and fur dryer, in addition to four years in the art department at  Doubleday (NY). His work was awarded runner up for the Caldecott Medal (  Eve Titus,  Anatole, 1957 and  Anatole and the Cat, 1958) and selection by the  American Library Association for notable books (  The Little Red Hen,  Winter Danger, and  Flaming Arrows). He died of a heart attack on 7 November 1986, in  Nyack, NY.

Galdone Henny Penny LoveInaColdClimate The Road through the Wall Joyinthemorning

Favourite Homesteading Books

Cornelius Krieghoff (Dutch-born Canadian painter, 1815-1872)  Settler's HouseCornelius Krieghoff’s Settler’s House image via here

We’re just at the point between winter and spring here in Dorset. There’s daffodils, crocuses and polyanthus flowers brightening up the garden and plenty of blackbirds hopping about for berries still, but it’s rather drear too with grey skies and chilly mornings. Nothing nicer then to curl up with my favourite homesteading titles to re-read and a pot of coffee, my favourite mug and a cuddly afghan blanket. Hope some of these will be similarly comforting to you.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

angle-repose-wallace-stegner-paperback-cover-artimage from here 

Angle of Repose is a 1971 novel by Wallace Stegner about a wheelchair-using historian, Lyman Ward, who has lost connection with his son and living family and decides to write about his frontier-era grandparents. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972. The novel is directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote, later published as A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West.

By the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

OnTheBanksOfPlumCreekimage from here

Having left their little house on the Kansas prairie, the Ingalls family travels by covered wagon to Minnesota and settles in a dugout on the banks of Plum Creek. Pa trades his horses Pet and Patty to the property owner (a man named Hanson, who wants to go west) for the land and crops. He later gets two new horses as Christmas presents for the family, which Laura and her sister Mary name “Sam” and “David”. Pa soon builds a new, above-ground, wooden house for the family, trusting that their first crop of wheat will pay for the lumber and materials.

Caddie Woodlawn and Magical Melons by Carol Ryrie Brink

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Set in the 1860s, Caddie Woodlawn is about a lively eleven-year-old tomboy named Caroline Augusta Woodlawn, nicknamed “Caddie”, living in the area of Dunnville, Wisconsin, and her experiences with her nearby native american cousins.She is troublesome and the despair of her ladylike mother and sister. The sequel to the book, Magical Melons (1939), continues the story of Caddie and her family. I find it hard to believe Carol Ryrie Brink’s children’s books are not better known: she is one of my favourite children’s authors. Homesteading and the children she writes about spring alive in these books.

Grandfather Symons’ Homestead Book by R D Symons

Grandfather Symons

Through drawings and stories from his own extended family,  Symons tells his grandchildren in this wonderful picture book what life was like throughout each month of the year for homesteaders on the Canadian prairies. Sadly out of print, it’s well worth looking for a second hand copy for the prints alone.

Clover and In the High Valley by Susan Coolidge (the fourth and final books in the What Katy Did series – free on Kindle!)

n176253Image from here

Clover and Phil go to Colorado so that he might recuperate in the mountain air. Their cousin Clarence lives nearby on his ranch and with him his partner Englishman Geoff Templestowe. In the High Valley continues the story, adding a brother and sister from England as the brother, Lionel Young, is set to join Geoff and Phil as a rancher. His sister, Imogen Young, has to be one of the hardest-to-like heroines in Young Adult fiction, but Coolidge soon has you caring about Imogen and willing her to adapt to her new life and find happiness in the Colorado wilds.

Nothing To Do But Stay and Prairie Cooks by Carrie Young


Nothing to Do but Stay is a daughter’s tribute to her pioneer mother. Carrine Gafkjen was a real heroine who traveled by herself to North Dakota in 1904, to stake a lonely claim and start a farm on 160 empty acres before she married and began her family. In Prairie Cooks, Young recalls recipes and stories of her mother’s (and other Norwegian American cooks’). Both books are warmly recommended for their warmth and humour.