Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Literary Press

I had a fun coincidence waiting for me when I got back from holiday. Just before I went I had the excitement of one of my Abebooks 'wants' alerts coming into my inbox, and one I've been wanting for years: My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes. A click or two and it was on its way...

And you've already seen my Norfolk haul, including The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells - it was only when I returned from holiday and opened the parcel waiting for me that I saw that the two books came in the same series, from The Literary Press. And I'm pretty sure I don't own any others in this series - what a fun coincidence!

Does this series ring a bell with anyone? They might well appear in secondhand bookshops on those shelves filled with Everyman Classics etc. which, all too often, I overlook. Rows and rows of easily-findable (in the UK) books by Priestley, Kipling, Trollope etc. don't make for thrilling browsing, but I have found rare copies of E.H. Young and Elizabeth von Arnim titles on the everything-looks-the-same-shelves, and now this. I'll have to look even more carefully in future...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The books I bought in Norfolk...

I had a lovely week away in this beautiful cottage (it's the far right in a terrace of three, with lovely views of the church):

I did lots of reading, and a fair bit of visiting bookshops (although it would have been more if Colin hadn't intervened...) and bought quite a few books. Many of them came from a wonderful little bookshop in Watton. It wasn't huge, but it was super-filled with books - double-stacked, hidden under bookcases, piled in corners. In no particular order, and certainly not in the order in the photo, here is what I bought...

Time, Gentlemen, Time by Norah Hoult
I loved There Were No Windows, so I picked up this Hoult - and was excited to see that it was signed and a limited edition for her friends and family. What fun!

A Saturday Life by Radclyffe Hall
I've only read one short story by Hall, but I can't resist a lovely VMC.

No Place Like Home by Beverley Nichols
I must hold the record for the person with the most books by Nichols who hasn't actually read any.

On the Side of the Angels by Betty Miller
Oops, I think I already have this one.

Heritage by Vita Sackville-West
Oooo, and this one too... I just remember Thomas/My Porch snatching it out of my hands in a Virginia bookshop, and had forgotten that, since then, I'd been given a lovely Bello edition.

Caravan by Lady Eleanor Smith
Does anybody know anything about this book or this author? I picked it up in a charity shop, because I can't resist a cheap old hardback of a certain age.

Studies of Contemporary Poets by Mary C. Sturgeon
I didn't notice the 'poet' bit of the title until after I'd bought it, but I mostly picked it up for the chapter on Rose Macaulay.

Mrs Bindle by Herbert Jenkins
The Bindles on the Rocks by Herbert Jenkins
I haven't read Mr Bindle yet, but I loved Patricia Brent, Spinster so much that I'm keen to gather up more.

The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells
This was mentioned in some book I was reading, and it sounded intriguing - it's about a man who wakes up to find everyone else is dead (I think...)

Three Lives by Lettice Cooper
A Persephone author in an old hardback is not something I am likely to leave behind, is it?

An Interrupted Life: the Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43
And the same goes for an actual Persephone that I don't already own!

Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy
I thought I already had this, but it appears not - and it might come in handy for Margaret Kennedy Reading Week.

Better Bed Manners by Horton and Balliol
One of the more niche bookish interests I have is in fake etiquette guides. There aren't all that many around, that I know of (Virginia Graham wrote two gems) - this one will hopefully be as fun as the others!

The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley
And over to the less-niche books... after Crome Yellow, and discovering Huxley wasn't all dystopian futures, I thought I'd see what else wasout there.

The Understudy by David Nicholls
Another charity shop purchase - I've been meaning to read more Nicholls since enjoying One Day, like everyone else in the country.

Apple of My Eye by Helen Hanff
I thought I had all Hanff's books, but I hadn't heard of this one - which is about New York.

Stella Benson by Joy Grant
I'm currently reading my third Benson novel, and - having heard a great talk about her at a conference earlier in the year - I'm keen to read more about her life.

Another World Than This - ed. by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
SOMEONE is going to have to get me to like poetry, and it might as well be this poetry-loving pair and their anthology.

Many Furrows by Alpha of the Plough
More essays and thoughts by this writer, whose book I enjoyed last year.

William The Bad - Richmal Crompton
William The Outlaw - Richmal Crompton
William in Trouble - Richmal Crompton
I continue to pick these up when I find them cheaply, as you can't go wrong.

Right! As usual - which have you read, or would you like to read? Tell me all!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Episode Seven (guest blog)

I have just got back from my lovely holiday in Norfolk - I'll fill you in on all the books I bought (and it was MANY) - but, first, Elaine has very kindly written a GBBO recap for me. Thanks so much Elaine! I have yet actually to watch the episode (as the TV in our cottage didn't get BBC) but I don't want to keep you waiting any longer... make her feel welcome!

I foolishly offered to fill in for Simon this week on his recap of the GBBO. I am now regretting my decision and tearing my hair out but here goes.

I like all the contestants who are left. Usually by this time I have developed a real loathing for some unfortunate because they have cross eyes or an annoying laugh or something similar, but those who are still in The Tent are all lovely and I like them all and will be sorry whoever leaves.

OK so off we go.

To start – pasties.  Chetna and Kate are both using Indian flavours and deep frying them. Healthy?  No but who cares.  Luis is also deep frying his pasties which he remembered eating as a child in Spain and is going to try and recreate the recipe.  I am pretty sure he will do so perfectly, I have never met a man more organised in all my life.

Paul sashays up to Nancy and says ‘Can the Male Judge ask what you are making?’  Ooh Nancy you will never be allowed to forget you called him that. He had a gimlet gleam there I tell you. She is doing spicy duck.

Martha is making mini beef Wellingtons and much discussion ensues about the meat being cooked beforehand or put raw into the pastry.  It is a close call to make but Martha, such a sensible child, sears the meet first to start it off.

Richard is doing lamb and mint patties and he has his pencil firmly in place this week. I am sure the reason he did not do well in the last round is because he forgot it.

Leakage is the buzz word here. There simply cannot be any leakage at all. Lots of crimping of pastry going on which all looks very impressive and then Shock Horror Kate realises her deep fat fryer has turned off. ‘It’s on a timer’ says Luis helpfully.  

Kate clutches her hair

Luis’s pasties are underdone, but there is no leakage says Paul so that is a plus.

Nancy – not enough filling but flavour is good

Kate – ‘Interesting’ says Paul when he looks at them.   When told about the deep  fryer problem he is totally unsympathetic ‘you should have watched it’.   Final damning word ‘Undercooked.

Chetna – good colour, great flavour and Paul is staggered at the number of different spices she has used

Martha – a bit of leakage but pastry is golden and flavours great.

OK enough about leakage. Please. It is conjuring up thoughts I do not want.

We now have the obligatory bit of food history in between bakes and this week we learn that Cornish miners went to work in Mexico and took their Cornish Pasty with them. Well, not the actual Cornish Pasty as it took fourteen months to get there and would have been a bit stale on arrival, but the recipe and it seems the Mexicans took to it with great gusto.  Now I have tried Cornish Pasties in several Ye Olde Original Cornish Pasty Shoppes in Cornwall and I have to admit I am not a fan. I find the pastry heavy and too thick and the filling, some of them have turnips (YUK) inedible.  The idea that you had a sweet end and a savoury end is something I prefer not to think about.

Anyway back to the Technical Challenge and this week it is ……hang on I need to go and look up the spelling of this one. It is Kouign-Amann and this is apparently a buttery layered pastry from Breton. None of the bakers have ever heard of it. Neither have I. I am expecting something spectacular.

So off they go and the instructions tell them to leave the dough to prove. But for how long and to what state? It is all guess work at this stage. Close up of Luis looking as if he is doing his maths homework on a piece of paper, lots of numbers.   Richard is bashing his butter between to sheets of greaseproof paper. ‘Relieves the tension a bit don’t you think?’ says he cheerfully.   The pencil has not moved. I really think it is superglued to his ear.

All this layering and folding is very confusing but the pastries are now in their tins and seems they need proving again. Kate decides to put hers in the fridge. NO. NO. Kate don’t do it. Fridge and yeast and prove should never appear in the same sentence. She seems fairly sanguine about it all, probably has reached the Sod it I don’t care stage by now.

All sit round on their stools looking bored. Sue wonders if it is some new form of meditation.

The end result is really disappointing. Working on this for three hours and it seems all Whatever they are Called are pastries with layers and a bit of sugar on top. Apparently the sugar is the vital ingredient and if put in all the layers can melt and cause total meltdown. Only two bakers have guessed correctly and only added it to the final layer.

Seems these whatsits have to have LAMINATION.  Yes, Lamination. I thought that was what kitchen cupboards are made out of so if he wants them to have a nice shiny glow then just say so Paul. Don’t go blinding us with science.   They certainly need something, three hours working with six ingredients to produce these. I spent three hours today painting my kitchen and tiling a wall and was well satisfied with the end result. Not sure three hours producing these pastries would have given me the same sense of satisfaction.

Luis does not have enough layers and are too sweet. Chetna’s are overbaked. Martha’s are underproved.  Kate’s are flat (that is what you get for proving in the fridge), Nancy’s are not all the same size but taste good.   Richard has good layers which sounds like he keeps chickens but we all know what Paul means. He thinks they are so good that they are ‘close to mine’.   Oooooh!

Richard wins the technical with Chetna bottom and the others in the middle, obviously but don’t have all their places correctly noted.

And so on to the Showstopper and this week it is eclairs.   Now for me an éclair is choux pastry stuffed with cream or crème pat and a blob of chocolate on top. Seemple. However, it seems this is not good enough for GBBO and we have a bewildering amount of flavours to contend with.

We have lemon meringue eclairs, chocolate choux eclairs with mango filling, Raspberry ripple, Rhubarb and custard, lavender and blueberry (dangerous, Norm fell foul of the lavender and was ejected from the tent pretty quick) and rhubarb and custard.

Nancy is doing salmon and horseradish.   Pass the sick bag.

Seems Martha wrote a dissertation in her AS level and it was all about choux pastry. Wonder which university she is going to and what she will Read….

I was going to refrain from saying that Chetnas’s  chocolate choux pastry which she is piping look like turds, but then I thought, no they DO look like turds. Pretty sure from the glances from other contestants that they are thinking exactly the same.

Martha’s crème pat is all runny and she is panicking and close to tears.  She can’t work out what is wrong with it and Richard, who has just put all his eclairs on a flight of stairs, yes honestly, he made it, and Chetna rush over to help her and calm her down.   I feel a nice warm glow watching them do this. Nice.

Apparently Kate put Basil in her eclairs. Why would you want to do that?  Mary says she cannot taste it. Paul says he can.    Chetna’s look good and it seems she has made thirteen and not twelve. Luis stars and stripes eclairs look amazing and earn high praise but poor Martha’s look ‘a mess’ and she is on the verge of tears. Goes back to her seat looking distressed and Lovely Luis smiles and gives her a chin up gesture. Nice. Again.

So the power of the pencil has done its work and Richard is star baker and, I think we had all guessed by this time, that Kate is the one to go.   Cold deep fat fryer and then proving in the fridge can only mean that she is off. Shame, I liked her and I loved her mad hair.

Next week is all about enriched doughs which I cannot get too enthused about but we shall see what excitement is in store.

I know this has been a pretty poor substitute for Simon and so glad he will be back with you next week but I have enjoyed it.

Keeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep Dancing

Whoops wrong show.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Off on hols

As mentioned in my previous post, I'm off on holiday - to Norfolk, to be precise, with Colin. So - no blog this week, but hopefully lots of books read while I'm away.

I shan't be recapping GBBO this week, but Elaine (Random Jottings) has very kindly offered to step into my shoes, and I'll post her recap when I'm back.


Friday, 12 September 2014

Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Episode Six

Hey everyone - are you ready for a week where maps of Europe are thrown out the window, Mary delivers her most difficult technical challenge to date, and Nancy steals my coveted spot for Best Moment of the Series?  I hope so...

Intro: Mel and Sue enter our screens, agree that an analogy has gone too far when it has reached only the foothills of their usual mountainous punnery, and the bakers stride across the lawn while the cameraman still lurks in the undergrowth. Plus ça change.

I don't know how much of the introduction will make sense to transatlantic viewers, but it's an absolute delight to people like me who avidly watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Quick run-down: every country around Europe (and several which have little-to-no claim to be part of Europe) send some singer given to costumes and histrionics off to a big tent in the middle of nowhere, where they caterwaul and strobe-light their way through a song consisting half of 'la-la-la' and half of vague encouragements towards world peace. It's glorious. It's my second favourite big-tent-in-the-middle-of-nowhere event of the year.

Equally glorious is the way Mel and Sue re-enact the infuriating time-lag and presenter-waffle of the voting section of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Nancy leans against a fence and brags about all the holidays she's been on; Richard says he's aiming for mediocrity; Martha babbles about nerves. We're good to go. And the first challenge is... yeast cakes. I love bread and I love cake, but I can't help but feel that this combination is a terrible mistake. Still, the rest of Europe apparently live for the things, so let's see what happens. (Incidentally, this show - like almost everyone I know in the UK - uses the word 'Europe' to mean 'all of Europe except us'.)

Blazer-watch? Nothing exceptional here - but Mel and Sue should maybe have discussed shades of yellow before getting dressed this week.

Paul remains resolutely in line-dance mode.

Paul steals a march on History of Cake by telling us when baking powder was invented - in protest, I don't listen  - and uses the appetising sentence 'these cakes have been around an awfully long time, and they're all embedded right the way throughout Europe'. Mary nabs the first "Not too long or too short in the oven" of the episode, while seemingly perched on a bird table.

Luis isn't gilding any olives this week, but does have an amazing tin, which gives fancy ridges and the like. Chetna is making a 'mainly orange-flavoured' (mainly?) savarin which gets a very sweet Mary Berry Reaction Face:


Mel has a field day with pronouncing 'savarin' - rolling the r so much she could be mistaken for a rolling pin - and also with the tin looking like a piles cushion. Never having seen said object, I couldn't say.

I do, however, want this natty food mixer; it would match my toaster and kettle.

A shade that Argos lovingly describe as 'bubblegum blue'.

Nancy - who, in this episode, I think has become my favourite - tells us that she is making "what is called a sponge", which is either astonishingly patronising, or 'sponge' is different from what I think it is.

Richard is making a guglhupf (bless you) with lots of fruit and things, and (he emphasises) rum. He knows what Boozehound Bezza is after. But Paul is disgusted to hear that Richard is going to 'wing' his decoration; he rephrases to 'go with his heart', pointing somewhere in the region of his liver, but saves this when adding that his heart is in his stomach. Quick thinking, Richard. Nice work.

'Renegade baker, Nancy' (as she is introduced) is doing a Diana and entirely ignoring the theme of the challenge. Rather than make something from Europe, she's opted for something Caribbean. Apparently Bez is fine with that, so long as rum is involved.

Sadly those decorations are depicted all too accurately.
I can't bring myself to talk about the proving dilemmas again. Rise once? Rise twice? Who cares. But I do love Martha's reasoning for adding margarine to her recipe 'to make it a bit more cakey' and less like bread. That's definitely what I'd do. She's also in on the soak-it-in-booze tactic (almond liqueur) but with the difference that she can't actually buy it herself legally. (Maybe she gets her alcohol from... Martha's Vineyard. Now, where did I leave that klaxon...)

She also confesses to Kate (who appears to be taking a moment to microwave some popcorn) that she doesn't know what a savarin is.

You and me both, love. This link will tell all.

Kate cheerfully confesses that hers also isn't European - excellent work, guys! - and, moments after I say that Israel (the country that inspired her bake) is in the Eurovision Song Contest, she uses the same defence. (Azerbaijan Roll, anyone?) She also adds that, having lived in Israel, she didn't actually like their cakes. What a triumph this is turning out to be.

Incidentally, I'd have loved to see what Norman would do in this challenge. But at least he could have used the defence that the UK is in Europe, and flung a Viccie sponge on the table.

Chetna, as always, is kneeling on the ground and pressing furiously at a timer.

I'd argue that this could be done equally well standing.

There are lots of shots of people pulling out proving drawers, making sauces, and - inexplicably - gasping at nothing quite a lot. And then we turn to Richard talking us through some white gunk he might (but ultimately does not) put on top. I'm more interested in whatever curious activities are going on in the background. Are they casting some sort of spell on the dough?

In all likelihood, no.
I want to talk about how much I enjoyed Mel and Sue's accents throughout, but have no way of transcribing them. All I will say is that they're back on top form.

Luis continues to treat GBBO like his own baking show (actually giving good advice, while Nancy - presumably - falls off her stool in the background), Mel continues to utter dire voiceover warnings about baking-caused world disaster, and the cameraman continues to have a curious obsession with shots of footwear.

I guess he has to get his kicks somewhere.
Geddit, KICKS. It's funny because the word has two meanings.

Luis' money is on Nancy to win the whole series; "defo" he adds. (Don't forget that my money is on YOU, Luis. Adam's money is on Nancy, fans of my office's sweepstake will be pleased to learn.) Some lovely editing leads us straight to a shot of Nancy's cake looking rather a mess.


"Looks more like a Yorkshire pudding," she says, "It would probably do it a favour if I dropped it on the floor." If she'd said "throw it in the bin," she might have won my moment of the series. Still, she has the Cockney Barrowgirl's sense of perspective, and womanfully carries on - and by 'carries on' I, of course, mean 'douses in alcohol'. And... well, let's wait and see her decorations.

They all look pretty impressive (except for Chetna's, which is rather bland) but - although I can take or leave cooked apple - I have to say that Luis' steals the show, appearance-wise.

"When you chew it there's no chew to it at all" - this paradox from Paul is, apparently, a compliment.

Mary gets quite waspish over Nancy's decorations. Let's have a little look at them. "I don't think they add anything," says Mary.

Would that were true.

"Even as I put them on," says Nancy, "I thought they looked a bit naff." That presumably means that, in the shop, on the morning of the bake, and at every moment before she put them on, she was under the impression that green tinsel and a fake flamingo would spell 'classy' to the casual observer.

Cake: As Time Goes By is just an excuse for Sue to gorge at the Danish Embassy.

"Scandinavia is very popular at the moment," says Mel, "with ABBA and The Killing." As Sue points out, ABBA's heyday is rather behind us - but, more importantly, this sounds like either a tawdry tabloid headline or the title to a lost Enid Blyton mystery.

The technical bake is a Swedish 'princess cake'. It sounds bizarrely, and deliciously, complicated - creme pat, cream, sponge, jam, marzipan, etc. 26 separate ingredients, apparently. Like the alphabet. "I've never heard of it, never seen it, never eaten it," says Martha - the last of these probably didn't need saying, unless she's given to eating anonymous food, blindfolded.

The sample that Mary and Paul have laid out before them doesn't have the DEFINED LAYERS that they so ardently (and arbitrarily) demand, but it does look delish.

Those layers couldn't be less defined if they were a word yet to be added to the dictionary.
Paul giggles like a supervillain.

Nancy, taking inspiration from Norman, becomes the jam expert of the tent, and talks about how she makes 'tons of jam'.

"I make SO MUCH JAM."
How green should marzipan be? That question, and others, covered in a baking montage.

And Chetters - gasp - decides to start again, because her sponge hasn't risen enough. From this moment until the end of the challenge she looks frantic and terrified, several stages behind everyone else.

[Note to self: insert swannee-whistle sound effect]

Martha, in a moment unlikely to still any qualms her parents might have about her maths A level results, is entirely stumped at dividing 5 by 3. She then seems uncertain what shape a circle might be.

Nancy: "I didn't know if I was Arthur or Martha, first thing."

If you thought that was good, wait for what comes next...

"What did the male judge say?"

They play it like she's avoiding Paul's name out of crossness at his critique, but... she clearly had just forgotten it for a bit. I love how unbothered she is by it all. It's so wonderful.

Also wonderful is:

Wonderful but unsanitary.

Everything is looking pretty impressive all round, until they start piping their chocolate - at which point almost everybody seems to lose any sense of style or precision. And... Chetters finished hers! She does this across the tent to Sue, and it's adorable.

Mary is fixated on the dome shape and the distinct layers, neither of which would bother me at all. Paul thinks the piped cream around the cakes looks awful on almost all of them, which I can't see. They're quite critical considering how difficult the challenge was. Kate comes last, and Nancy comes first. Chetna comes second, even with her rushed effort. How do you think she would react?

Artist's impression.

Richard's pencil has SWAPPED EARS. This is NOT a drill. Repeat, this is NOT a drill.

Mel cheerfully enquires whether there is, or is not, a curse for the Star Baker. Paul responds by pointing out that Star Bakers have done quite badly the week after they win - which is obviously what Mel was saying already. Avoiding the question, hmm? Just what a CURSE MASTER might do.

Is it just me, or is the effort to British-theme the table rather cursory?

The showstopper this week is 'a contemporary version of the Hungarian dobos torte' - i.e. a cake with more than one tier and an emphasis on sugarwork. I loves me some caramel, and I'm basically salivating throughout the rest of the programme.

Luis is making a structure based on a local landmark - one, I note, that he carefully avoids naming, presumably so that nobody can question the resemblance.

He's taken the same approach to British-theming, it seems.

Being a graphic designer he has, of course, drawn up plans on paper. Mary Berry Reaction Face says she's pretty impressed.


And, moments later, she's stunned by Richard saying he's going to make 20 layers.

Either that or she's trying to catch one of Chetna's grapes in her mouth.
And who could have thrown it?


I hear the words 'salted caramel' too often, seeing as I don't have any in front of me. No fair. Everything sounds entirely amazing.

Mathematician of the Year Martha announces that 24 is 'a lot'.

Sue feels like nobody has mentioned that Richard is a builder for quite a while, and takes it upon herself. He doesn't help himself by bringing in modelling clay.

Alex/Kate is making a three-tier cake "because I think two-tier cakes look like hats". Oh right, she's mad. (But still great.) As my friend Andrew pointed out, while we were watching it, it looks like Kerplunk.

And, now I look closely, a hat with a cake on top of it.
Mel is her usual helpful self:

Oh good lord, Kate is wearing a sheriff badge. Amazing.

Should those layers be clearly defined? Yes, they should. Who'd have guessed?

Nancy continues her streak of being entirely unflappable by saying that, although her chocolate has gone grainy and wrong, she'll 'scrape it off and start again'. During this pronouncement Chetna has been wandering into shot, and it ends with her giving a wonderfully shocked look in our Nance's direction. She is the Starting Again Queen this week, so it should come as no great surprise.

Also - doesn't Chetna have her own sink?
Sue makes a 'more tiers than an English penalty shoot-out' joke. Topical.

Luis' caramel skillz are crazy good. I don't understand how he's built this and kept everything the same colour - did he make lots of batches of caramel, or build it super quickly, or what? He's even finished before everyone else. While Chetters is still dipping grapes in sugar (sure, why not?) he starts cleaning up the workspace, cleaning spray and all. What a man.

And... time is up! I want to eat all of them. But first, the bakers must stare at their creations while the cameraman pans around them.

Here are my favourite (and it was the pick of an incredible bunch):

  • Nancy gets a good critique in general, and calls Paul 'lovely'.
  • Richard's is 'a bit sad', but he has got a lot of caramel elements.
  • Luis' is praised for appearance, and Mary tries her hand at a pun ("monumental!") and adds, in Miranda's-Mum-mode "It's what I call a showstopper" - but the flavour is lacking.
  • Kate's is criticised for not having enough caramel - which is apparently a worse crime than pretending that Israel borders France.
  • Chetna's grape construction is praised. To my mind it looks a bit mad, but each to their own. Mary says that 'everybody will be copying that at home', showing a sweet. albeit misplaced, optimism.
  • Martha's is disappointingly messy considering it was a great idea. Would it have been so hard to flatten out the surfaces? And - shock! horror! - she used a bought mould for her chess pieces. Where was the modelling clay?
The judges and presenters have their repetitive recap backstage. It comes down to taste vs. challenge-adherence... Richard vs. Kate? Only a superfluous and, frankly, extraordinary clip of mooing cows separates us from the announcement of the Star Baker. It's...

Chetna! Who saw that coming? Nothing in the episode up to this point seemed to be heading this way, but she's a sweetie, so I'm happy.

Who will go home out of Rich and Kate? Mary and Paul waffle on for hours, recapping the whole episode for anybody who tuned in a little early for the next programme (including Paul saying to Alex/Kate "you never did enough caramel" - a life-indictment), and eventually (eventually) tell us that... neither of them are going home! Absolutely nobody is surprised by this point, but it's still lovely to keep them both for another week.

Kate takes it in her stride.


I'm afraid there probably won't be a recap next week, as I'll be away - so I'll see you when I see you!

Hope you've enjoyed European week. Au revoir! (And, Helen... which is the ODO update word?)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Desert Island Discs

I expect you all know about Desert Island Discs - it's a series that has been running on Radio 4 since 1942 (and, astonishingly, has only had four presenters in that time) where a well-known figure picks the eight pieces of music or songs that they would take with them to a desert island. They are also allowed one (chuh! one!) book and one luxury item. These choices are also, of course, a chance for the interviewee (or 'castaway') to give the story of their life.

I've listened to it on and off all my life. It was only recently that archive recordings were made available online, so I listened to a few older ones - but I hadn't realised that they could also be downloaded from iTunes, and thus make their way to my iPod. (The 'download' link on the website doesn't seem to work, so iTunes is the way forward... although the website is a good place to narrow down the possibilities.)

Anyway, this is a roundabout way to saying what a delight it has been, over the past few days, to spend my journeys to and from work listening to Desert Island Discs. There are hundreds of recordings available, from many decades. I assume these are available internationally. So far I have enjoyed listening to...

Jenny Agutter
Joan Plowright
Judi Dench
Mary Berry
Dawn French
Penelope Keith
Gemma Jones
Maureen Lipman

You can tell me interest in theatrical actresses, can't you? I do love to hear or read about the theatre, and another version of Simon would have loved to be on the stage.

But perhaps the best was Sybil Marshall, a novelist whose first novel came out when she was 80. She spoke about what a charmed and lucky life she'd had - and, considering she also spoke about having a stillborn baby and cancer, just goes to show how much is about attitude.

If you've somehow missed these (like me) then - there are many, many hours of enjoyment! As for what I'd take myself... I'm afraid I'd have to eschew music and take audiobooks. I like music, but it doesn't hold a candle to literature in terms of its effect on me.

Monday, 8 September 2014

A Literary Journey Through Wartime Britain - A.C. Ward

Back in April I read A Literary Journey Through Wartime Britain (1943) by A.C. Ward, very kindly given to me by the always wonderful Karen/Kaggsy, but I have only just got around to reading it. I can't remember where this first came up (maybe in person; before her lovely review anyway) but I was extremely happy to be presented with a copy. What a fascinating little book it is, and so perfect for somebody with an interest in the early 20th century.

A.C. Ward has a special place in my heart because of his book The Nineteen-Twenties (published, I think, in 1930 - so a very immediate retrospective). I was reading it at the beginning of my DPhil, just to get a sense of how somebody contemporary might have characterised the period. Lo and behold, he had a chapter on 'The Refuge of Form and Fantasy', where he discussed the vogue for the fantastic in the period. Since I'd already decided to write my thesis on this, it was wonderful confirmation that it had been significant in the 1920s - as well as providing an invaluable quotation from a talk by Sylvia Townsend Warner that doesn't appear to have been quoted anywhere else. Research mad skillz.

Anyway, in A Literary Journey Through Wartime Britain Ward does exactly that, whether figuratively or not - he takes the reader on a journey through Britain, showing the literary sites that have been saved from bombing, or those that have been irrevocably changed by war. I can only imagine how poignant and moving this would have been in 1943; it is certainly moving enough now.

Plenty of his narration takes place in London, unsurprisingly - it was undoubtedly the area of Britain most physically affected by war - and in between commemorating Keats in Hampstead and Dickens in Doughty Street, he turns his attention to pre-war Bloomsbury (in a passage, incidentally, which would have been very useful in my first chapter):
After the last war 'Bloomsbury' became a synonym for intellectualist inbreeding and highbrow snobbery. But it is as difficult to define (or even to find) the pure 'Bloomsbury' type as it is to define or isolate 'Victorianism.' There is an old Punch joke, '"You can always tell a Kensington girl." "Yes; but you can't tell her much."' his, if given an intellectualist twist, might be applied to Bloomsbury in the nineteen-twenties. The authors who wrote and/or published their books in Bloomsbury then were not susceptible to instruction. They instructed. The hallmark of 'Bloomsbury' was a tart intellectual arrogance; and in their literary style Bloomsbury writers affected a dryness which was intended to have the vitrue of dry champagne, yet the product was, often, sandy on the palate. The Mother Superior of 'Bloomsbury' was Virginia Woolf, but, beside her, the rest were mostly novices lacking a vocation. Her one vice was preciosity; her virtues were legion.
I don't think I've ever read a more incisive and concise depiction of the Bloomsbury group.

Along with the text (and I should re-emphasise that he does sweep through other counties, and not just southern ones either) there are two types of illustration - pencil sketches and photographs. The photos are amazing. We see Westminster Abbey with rubble, Milton's statue knocked off a plinth, Canterbury ruins, etc. A trove of poignant (yes, that word again) images which bring to life a period that even the greatest description inevitably keeps at some distance.

Thanks, Karen, for sending this my way! A unique perspective on wartime Britain that I will really treasure.