Books I've read

Sandra's book montage

The Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Romeo and Juliet
Lord of the Flies
Little Women
A Tale of Two Cities
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Lovely Bones
The Secret Life of Bees
Under the Tuscan Sun
The Da Vinci Code
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The Hobbit
The Golden Compass
Pride and Prejudice
The Time Traveler's Wife
Jane Eyre
The Notebook

Sandra's favorite books »

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Last year I went to Disney World in December & it was beautifully decorated.  I'll share some pictures next week.

Thanks for reading ...

Little English baking*

*With apologies to the BBC

I've been having a bit of a baking craze recently.  It started with a bread and butter pudding -not quite sure why (possibly because we made them at school when I was about 12 and so I thought I could do this again) and followed by Victoria Sandwich Cake, fairy cakes (although I overcooked those) and this week Nigella's Butterscotch Layer Cake.  T helped me make the caramel as that was a first but, boy, is that delicious - we've kept some to have with ice-cream.  It's pretty yummy, if incredibly bad for you.  Anyway whilst a long way from a domestic goddess it has given T options for Christmas presents other than the usual books (not that I would be complaining this Christmas).

Can you believe it's Week Ten of this semester at King's.  Next week we break up for Christmas.  I can't believe how quickly the semester has gone & we will get our first essays back next week (which I'm not looking forward to).  Last week we read Untouchable an amazing story about an untouchable boy during the Empire.  I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book but I found it very affecting - his life was just so hard and unfair.  Anand, the author, wrote and published it in in London and for an anti-Imperialist book it has some interesting quirks - the British characters are generally sympathetic whilst the Indians are not.  I wonder if that is because the Indians are more realistic because Anand doesn't see the British as real but just ghosts (as Bhaka is to the higher castes)?  Anyway, a very good book, well worth the read.

This week we are off to the Museum of London and reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, another book I wouldn't have picked up of my own accord.  It's about the immigrant experience in the meat-packing districts of early twentieth-century Chicago.

I'll finish this here as this should have been posted several weeks ago.  I'll try and update more regularly again!

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Books, Boilers and Broken Locks

So reading week is over and we're back to normal timetable.  I managed to hand in my first essay yesterday - we had to write a critical commentary of two passages of someone's work and boy was I critical.  I did feel yesterday that the author should have the opportunity of taking apart two paragraphs of something I have written - I'm sure he would have a lot of fun.  Of course I reached that point where I didn't want to submit the essay at all - it looked so nice: pretty front cover; nice double-spacing and lovely footnotes as opposed to the in-text referencing that the OU wanted.  It's just a shame that anyone has to look at the content!  Anyway four weeks 'til we get them back so three and a half weeks of bliss and then a few sleepless nights.  How mean are King's that this counts?

Course-wise we are looking at The Secret Agent and The Ladies' Paradise this week. 

Although I enjoyed Apocalypse Now I really didn't like Heart of Darkness so I wasn't looking forward to this at all.  I actually found The Secret Agent much better.  I thought the story was more engaging and I was interested in the characters.  The theme for this week is 'Terror at the Heart of Empire' which, without giving away what the story is about, is the theme of the book.  Of course this has a contemporary resonance for us as I'm sure I wouldn't have to look too far to find something about domestic terrorism in a tabloid newspaper.  Perhaps that made the story more appealing?  My only concern with Conrad is I feel a certain sense of distance in his writing - he seems to stand back from his characters - but that could be because he is writing in his third language which is a pretty amazing feat!  I would recommend this book as a good introduction to Conrad, certainly much more worthwhile than Heart of Darkness in my opinion (although if you are looking for a critique of empire then HoD is obviously your book!)

I don't know if you can see this properly but this is the cover of Zola's The Ladies' Paradise.  I really like Zola.  He wrote what he described as 'naturalistc' books, that is to say he felt you should just put characters into a situation and see how they got on with it.  I'm not sure I can agree with his view that the novel is an experiment and the novelist doesn't have much to do with it.  After all he is creating the characters, the environment into which to put them and what happens to them.  Zola wrote a series of 18 novels, describing two families and their adventures.  I've read Germinal which is ostensibly about a mining strike in northern France but is actually about how people live and love.  It's excellent.  The Ladies' Paradise is superficially about a much more gentile subject, the rise of the department store in Hausmann's Paris but is again about people's lives and loves and decisions.  I really enjoyed this also and would definitely look for more of Zola's work.  Both books are fully recommended to you.

On a less pleasant matter I'm still having issues in the non-Uni world.  Yesterday I managed to lose my keys and, as T is away at the moment, I locked myself out.  Luckily the locksmith came quickly and fitted a nice new lock for me.  I must have looked very suspicious, just standing outside a door as it got darker and colder but at least it wasn't too cold and it was dry and I was back inside within an hour of calling the locksmith.  About two hours later I realised my boiler wasn't working so no heating or hot water.  Because of my schedule the first time I can get British Gas out is Friday morning.  I can cope without the hot water (lots of kettles) and I've persuaded myself that it isn't that cold so I don't need the heating (and indeed this morning seems to be as bad as it will get) but please keep your fingers crossed for me it's only a little part that's needed and not a new boiler!

Thank you for reading & hopefully the next entry will be more cheerful.  I'm hoping to finish Vile Bodies and the new Stephen King so will try and update on those.  Thanks again ...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reading Week

It's 'Reading Week' this week. I thought that this would be a staple of all universities but as I have found out it doesn't happen everywhere let me explain that this is a week when you do exactly as it says on the tin; catch up on your reading.  It's a real luxury and enabled me to write the first draft of my first essay yesterday.  I'm suffering a bit from a cold at the moment so I'm anticipating that I wrote a load of old rubbish but I'll find out when I start to edit tomorrow.  The thing that is worrying me most is King's reference differently from the Open University so I will have to pore over my MHRA stylebook tomorrow and see if I can make sense.  I always think the worst thing about an essay is that blank piece of paper staring at you so at least I have plenty to edit (or so the theory goes).

My other goals are to do some reading about T.S. Eliot to help me think about my MA dissertation and enable me to start talking to someone about a PhD proposal (how scary is that - we're only 6 weeks into the MA!)  I've identified who I think could be a supervisor if King's will have me and will need to approach him next week but I want to be able to say something sensible to him.  In addition I need to sort out my thoughts about one of my module essays particulalry what texts I will use & what approaches.  I feel a bit muddled at the moment so hopefully that will all be sorted by next Tuesday (yeah, right!)

But I have taken the opportunity to read some books which aren't on the course - yay!

Meritocracy was written by Jeffrey Lewis who used to be one of the writers on Hill Street Blues.  It's part of a quartet but this is the only one I have read and I think it stands alone well.  It's summer 1966 and a group of Yale graduates meet at one of their family summer homes in Maine.  The family gravitates around a golden couple: Harry, the son of a California senator, and his new wife Sacha.  Our narrator Louie is not old money and, perhaps, a little in love with both Harry & Sacha.  Harry has volunteered for Vietnam although no-one is sure if it is because he thinks it his duty or he will need it to look like he did his duty when he enters politics later in life.  Louie is looking back on this trip and constantly compares Harry to George W. Bush who they knew at Yale.  It's a decent enough read, I don't think you're going to be shocked by what happens but I think if you are looking for something to while away a couple of hours it's good enough. 

As you may know I'm really interested in the Kennedys and have read a lot about them.  T saw this in our local library and thought I would be interested.  If you are interested in the Kennedys too you might want to read it but I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading it without a healthy dose of cynacism.  Heymann claims that Jackie and Bobby had an affair after JFK's assasination - perhaps they did, certainly from everything I have read they were very close.  This is a seedy enough assertion in itself but then he backs it up using interviews with family members and close friends.  I find this difficult to believe.  This is a family that protects itself (and has the money and contacts to do so) as fiercely as any mother with her cub.  Would they really be willing to spill the beans on something which would ruin the reputations of both Jackie and, probably more importantly to them, Bobby?  Heyman aims to show Bobby in as bad a light as possible and so even leaves out some of his dying words (I have read in a number of accounts that he asked if everyone was alright) to make him less likeable.  Now, I'm a biased reader and you may want to take that into account when reading this review but I don't like an author who seems to veer off at any given moment to add another few lines of, irrelevant, malicious gossip.

I love Pride and Prejudice.  It would be one of my desert island books and I have read some sequels most of which aren't up to it and one which was verging on soft porn, Mr. Darcy takes a wife if you must know, although I gave that up after a few chapters (honestly.)  I haven't read any P.D. James, as I'm not particularly a fan of murder mystery unless I'm interested in the setting or the period, but T is a fan of hers and wanted this for completeness.  I have to say that I think I enjoyed it.  I think James captures the world of Pemberley in a way that I can buy into easily.  She has changed some of the characters and I'm not sure I liked that but, it is her book.  She focuses more on Darcy and less on Elizabeth which is interesting.  She also introduces some new characters and does that well.  Mrs. Bennett is absent from Pemberley so if you are a fan you might be disappointed.  James does use characters from Persuasion and Emma briefly in one character's backstory and I found that slightly jarring but not enough to put me off.  I felt the mystery was almost incidental, just a device to get everyone together but that was OK - I liked being with them, for whatever reason.  I think a fan of Pride and Prejudice would find this more enjoyable than a P.D. James murder mystery fan but not if they hate someone making any alterations at all to Austen's characters or world.  I think it's a great Christmas present.

Anyway I must get back to T.S. Eliot so thank you for reading.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Let's All Go Down The Strand*

* Today's title is from a Music Hall song and the picture above shows where The Strand and Fleet Street met, just opposite The Royal Courts of Justice.

I was without the internet for 5 days last week and felt like I had lost a limb.  I had a major panic on Monday when I discovered that my router had given up the ghost because I needed to download the reading for my seminars.  Thank goodness Surrey Libraries give you the opportunity to book an hour session on the internet for free.  I was able to download all of the reading and then print off and study at home.  This was the third technological incident we had in a couple of weeks (Sky box stopped working & my laptop is refusing to work properly were the others) so I hope it is the last for now.

It was very busy at King's last week.  Extremely interesting lecture on 'The Trials of Oscar Wilde' and the West End on Tuesday afternoon. Then on Wednesday we had our first workshop to help with writing our dissertations.  The MA dissertation for English should be approx. 15,000 words and we have from April to September to write it which at the moment seems ages (ask me again in mid-July!).  I've written a MSc (master of science) dissertation before so was feeling relatively relaxed about this but that was more of an investigation/project (the benefits of mentoring).  By the time we finished our two hour session I was feeling a lot more nervous about writing this one but, I hope, in a good way.  After that I spent an hour in the cafe checking e-mails (I was able to use my i-Pad and the King's wifi) and then my Oscar Wilde seminar; very interesting.

On Thursday I started with my Modernity & the City seminar.  Our tutor is amazing, he ranges so widely across subjects.  This week we were talking about the poor in 19th C London and how the writers of reports and stories tried to persuade their readers that something needed to be done!  One of the things that amuses me is we were reading Charles Booth's report about the London poor and there is a lot about families living in abject poverty in one room in buildings around Covent Garden.  Anyone familiar with the London property market will know that flats round there now cost hundreds of thousands of pounds - a huge difference in 160 years.  I wonder what would happen if those people could see the streets they used to live in now?

Back to the City then for lunch with a friend, who is looking absolutely beautiful in her pregnancy!  Then dash back to King's for presenations about applying for a PhD and applying for funding.  I really want to do a PhD and I could do it without funding BUT I think it would look much better to say that a funding body thought my research was worth supporting.  The chances are tough - I think there is about a 1 in 4 chance of being accepted to a PhD at King's but the chance of a funded PhD drops to1 in 30.   We got good advice however, including not starting an application to King's by saying 'I have always wanted to study at Oxford'!

I also met my personal tutor for the first time on Thursday afternoon & she was great.  She gave me some ideas about books to read for my MA dissertation and was encouraging about the PhD subject.  I was exhausted when I left her and set off down The Strand for Charing Cross station.

This week we are moving on to World War I and tanks (yes, it is an English Lit course) and Our Mutual Friend which is probably my favourite Charles Dickens novel ever.  Oh yes, and my first essay is looming on the horizon.  I love it tho'!!

Thanks for reading & I'll hopefully update more quickly next time.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tired but happy in Paris & St Petersburg*

* with apologies to George Orwell and, of course, I'm only there in the pages of books!

I am now two weeks into the MA. I had this fantasy that I would spend four days a week on my two modules and then be able to take Fridays to read things that I just found interesting. My weekends would be spent on whatever I fancied.  Hmmm - how naive was I?  I've just spent the best part of today, Sunday, reading articles for one module and Friday was spent the same way. The amount of reading is huge and whilst part of me says this is at it should be - it is an MA in English, the other part feels a bit nervous that I'm not taking enough in as I'm having to read everything so quickly.

But I have to tell you that I absolutely love it. I have vast numbers of e-mails, everyday, inviting me to  research seminars being held by all the arts & humanities departments as well as the School of Advanced Study, to participate in King's medical research (not brave enough to do any of that yet) or to join in various college activities. The English department alone seems to have weekly events run by either the staff or research students & everyone is so nice that you really want to go and support them. It's only been two weeks since I started properly but last Wednesday as I was walking past the (illuminated and beautiful) chapel I realised I felt like I had been here forever!

Last week we looked at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Marx on the value of labour and Guy Debord on spectacle and commodification. Really, really interesting stuff. Basically you have all these theories about the Crystal Palace itself - it was the first pre-fabricated building in London and had the first public toilets (thank you Prince Albert).  There were huge concerns about the building - would people boil to death inside when it got sunny (not in London methinks!) and how would the lower orders behave.  There had been revolutions across Europe in 1848 and Britain had only just emerged from the trauma of the 'Hungry Forties' when people where actually starving so you can almost understand their concerns but, I am pleased to report, the working classes (who could afford to attend) did behave themselves and no foreign revolutionaries instigated any attempts to overthrow the government!! 

In 'Modernity And The City' we studied St Petersburg.  The photograph to the left is of St. Isaac's Cathedral and at the top The Admiralty Spire.  I think St.  Petersburg is absolutely beautiful.  I was lucky enough to have to go on a work trip three years ago in early July.  As you can see the weather was fantastic & it was during the period of the 'White Nights' when it hardly gets dark at all.  I had just over a day to look around on my own and was able to visit the Hermitage, the Church on Spilled Blood, stroll down Nevsky Prospect and see the beautiful rooms inside the Strogonov Palace.  I stayed just opposite St Isaac's in the Hotel Astoria - a great place to stay if you can visit.

Of course in the seminar we were looking at a far less enjoyable side of Petersburg life.  We read Dosoevsky's Notes from the Underground and Gogol's Petersburg Tales.  I really enjoyed both, but particularly 'The Overcoat' by Gogol.  The authors are writing about St Petersburg in the 1840s and 50s so its a massively rigid society in which clerks don't matter but the gentry and military do.  There is a strong need for recognition in all the stories and I think the character in 'The Overcoat' is the one who manages to achieve it- in a fairly novel way.  We talked a lot about facades and prospects, St Petersburg was built to impress, all of which you can still see even if the city isn't quite in its imperial pomp today.

This week we're looking at Charles Baudelaire and the Flaneurs (apologies for the lack of accent there).  We're looking particularly at his poems Les Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil which apparently deal with some subjects that were a little sensitive in the 1860s.  I've read some of his prose poems and have found them quite touching.  The Encyclopaedia Larousse defines a flaneur as a loiterer or fritterer away of time (isn't that lovely).  They used to stroll around Paris, sometimes with a turtle, in the passages and arcades.  But there is a real sense of melancholy and disaffection in Baudelaire's work - it wasn't all fun being a flaneur because you might have had to keep changing your lodgings and you probably needed a job to support yourself.  Our tutor is lovely and seems  to know everything so I'm really looking forward to the seminar (if I can get all the reading done).

I'm also reading Our Mutual Friend at the moment for our seminar in a few weeks time.  It's 800 pages so I'm supposed to be reading 40 pages a night but I did read a bit extra today.  Normally I don't particularly like Dickens.  It's all of the cliffhangers he had to incorporate as the novels were serialised but are for me intensely annoying in a novel.  I normally get irritated with the silly names too (needed to make them memorable) but I like the name of the Veneerings (what was that about facades and false impressions) so maybe the course is starting to have an impression on me?                                                                     

Thanks for reading.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Monday, 3 October 2011

Only Connect

A few years ago I started to research my family tree.  I am very lucky as my mother's mother had an unusual maiden name and her family have tended to be in the right place at the right time (for censuses) and are easy to find in the records.  I was amazed at how many of my ancestors seemed to have some kind of connection to my life or interests (granted I was wanting to make those connections).   My Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather (I think) for example lived in the street where my sister and I worked two centuries later.  He ran a circulating library (the earliest forms of library) which is absolutely appropriate for a descendant studying for an MA in English.  Imagine the fun I could have discussing the latest of Jane Austen's publications with him.  I wonder if she was popular with his readers?  Those of you who know me know my love for Boston - imagine my amazement to find out my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather died there!  He was a merchant seaman (not surprising for a Liverpool family) but I think there is something rather poignant about the fact that I love visiting the city for holidays and he ended his days there.

My grandfather's (my Mum's Dad) side seemed to be much tougher to research as his surname is more common and, whilst the maternal line was very settled in Liverpool, his father's family came from the Lake District and were there as recently as the mid-19th century.  As the family made their way down, however, they do seem to have become involved in the industrial revolution - we have an engraver at a calico printers in the family and this involvement in the Lancashire Cotton Industry makes me feel proud.  My ancestors were there as the modern age was being born and having spent the afternoon looking at modernity as part of my background reading it really creates an interesting link for me.

Yesterday I found out something really exciting.  It seems (I'm 90% sure but need to do a little more research) that through my Great-Grandmother, on my Grandfather's side, we are descended from the family that tenanted the amazing building pictured on the left during the 18th Century.  This is Speke Hall which is a fantastic National Trust property just outside Liverpool.  Now I don't think it looked quite this good when my ancestors were there, in fact the next family to own the Hall considered that the tenant farmer families had ruined it!  I just feel amazed that I could be connected to history like this.  Other people have done work on this family and they seem to be relatively easy to trace as they are all christened or associated with a church in South Liverpool which has done a great job of preserving its records.  The really exciting thing is that people have traced this family back to the 1540s - how brilliant is that!!  I started my family history research after my Grandparents had died (in their 90s) and how I wish I had started when they were still alive.  My Grandad particularly would have been thrilled with this information, he was a really proud Scouser!   I think I wanted to feel rooted,or connected, but I never expected to find out just how rooted to that part of the country my family is.

The title of this entry is Only Connect, which is the epigram from Howards End by E.M. Forster.  It's a great book about three families, the poorer Blasts, the bohemian Schlegels and the capitalist Wilcoxes.  Forster looks at the interactions between the families in the context of places and culture.  This afternoon I was reading about the difference between place and space.  I won't bore you with the details but it was very interesting and the book that I read suggested that Forster isn't quite so against the city as first reading may suggest.  Perhaps he just found London at that period difficult to capture as it was changing so constantly?

I finally start the MA tomorrow - huge, huge hurrah!  A lecture and then seminars on Wednesday and Thursday. I'm sure I'll be nervous when I actually have to advance some ideas but perhaps the idea of how much change all of those ancestors saw can help me cope with a new beginning!

Thanks for reading ...

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Here we go, here we go, here we go

Last week I registered at King's.  I was actually surprised at how well organised it was, wait in a room next to the registration room until the queue lessened and then join the green line to hand over passport and documents to prove you really had passed a bachelor's degree.  Unfortunately my degree certificate didn't arrive until Friday but I had something from the OU which stated that I wasn't arriving at King's under false pretenses.  All in all it must have taken about 20 minutes and then it was pick up the ID card which doubles as library card, be presented with a couple of letters stating I am a full time student (hopefully useful for convincing the tax office I don't work anymore) and I'm officially a student.  Well, I haven't paid yet but there doesn't seem to be much of a rush for that - what funding crisis?

Off I went to the library again (that's a picture of the entrance above, copyright King's) with the added excitement of being able to take some books out.  I'm currently reading Pierre or The Ambiguities by Herman Melville and not particularly enjoying it so I concentrated on books that would help with this.  I had walked to King's from Victoria Station, as it was a nice day, but my route took me past The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and so was full of tourists (hopefully spending lots of money).  It took me quite a while to get there so I decided that a bus was the solution back and whilst that took nearly as long it was much more comfortable.

Tomorrow is 'Induction' - three hours of it and then two hours of drinks.  I feel a bit nervous, not quite sure what it will bring and what will be expected of us. My great fear is someone asks me to stand up and explain what I have learnt from the background reading on Freud (not much really).  We also have a library induction on Friday - I'm sure I won't be brave enough to admit to already having used it - who's the old swot in the corner?  I'm really looking forward to starting the course - it's been nine months since I was accepted and nearly four months since I left work so a bit more structure in my life will be greatly appreciated.

I had a quick trip to see my parents at the weekend.  Dad & I went to see Liverpool play Wolves on Saturday afternoon.  Last week I saw something someone had written about watching football not being entertainment, it's far too stressful for that (although I guess if your team is Barcelona and they're playing their brand of football-porn you might not agree).  This was one of those afternoons.  The first stress was parking the car.  Anfield is situated in the middle of rows of terrace houses so no nice big official car parks.  When I first was allowed to go (in about 1980) you could park in the streets nearby and kids would offer to watch your car for whatever the going amount of money was (Dad used to look after people's bikes for a few old pence in the late 1930s).  Now those streets are all on resident's parking permits and anything possible is turned into a carpark (garage, school playgrounds,churches and even some people offering to rent their drive to you).  The charge is now £10 and there's no competition - the cost of going to a match certainly adds up.  We parked in a local junior school playground that meant I was able to combine football with some genealogy - we passed the house some of Dad's family lived in when the 1911 census was taken. 

I love the feeling of going to the ground - when we leave home we may see a couple of other cars with people wearing replica shirts or scarves.  As we get closer we start to see people walking to the ground, initially in maybe twos or threes and then, when we get to Stanley Park, people start to converge and as we come out of the passageway into Anfield Road suddenly there are hundreds of people all dressed in red - the main artery as opposed to minor veins.  Anfield is old, undoubtedly and perhaps if/when a new stadium is built there will be more tickets available and more ladies' toilets (please!) but it is magical.  It's a combination of residual emotions from European nights, tears spilt over tragedy and the souls of many of the faithful (although now the pitch management is so scientific I wonder if you can still spread ashes there?)  We were right in the corner of the Main Stand, parallel with the Kop and with a slightly restricted view, which no-one told me about when I bought the tickets, but nothing I know matches being part of more than 35,000 people singing You'll Never Walk Alone as the team comes out - no wonder so many old players hang around.  If it's addictive in the stands, how much more so is it on the pitch?  I won't go into the detail of the game - the team is still a work in progress (and watching was extremely stressful at times) but they won so we've got a 100% record in the games we've seen this season!

Thanks for reading ...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Nearly there ...

(For anyone who hasn't read before, after 22 and a half years in the full-time world of work and the part-time world of studying I am about to begin a full-time MA in English 1850 - Present at King's College, London)

Well, it's all getting very exciting!  I am getting daily e-mails via my college e-mail address inviting me to join the orchestra or choir (no-one has told them about my complete lack of musicality), attend various lectures (not relating to English) and asking if I would like to register for the Associate of Kings College qualification (AKC).  The AKC is very interesting.  It's open to all students across the college and covers ethics, theology, history etc.  It's a bit of a hark back to the earliest days of King's.  You attend lectures over three years and then sit one exam at the end and, if you succeed, you are entitled to use the letters AKC after your name.  If I was an undergraduate I would definitely sign up.  My MA is only for one year, however, and although I have now seen that you can study for the qualification 1 year in situ and 2 via distance learning, I'm just not sure.  The programme of lectures looks really interesting but should I just concentrate on doing as well as I can with the MA?  Decisions, decisions!

We had our modules confirmed on Friday (hurrah) and I was relieved and very pleased to get all of my first choices.  Our core course is called Texts, Culture and Theory and we all have to take that.  In addition my modules are: 'Modernity and the City' in Semester 1 (not really sure what the difference is between a Semester and a Term, another thing that has come after my time); followed by 'Poetry, Perception and Place' and 'Turn of the Century Representations of Sexuality' in Semester 2.  Then it's on with the dissertation and I have to decide exactly what I'm going to do for that.  At the moment I'm torn between something to do with classical influences on TS's Eliot's poetry, was there really a fin de siecle or something about women authors and hysteria.  I'll need to decide & firm up my ideas pretty quickly!

We complete college registration on Thursday (and pick up NUS cards and college ID/library cards) and then next week it is the English MA Induction.  I really can't wait to meet tutors and fellow students and just to get going.  I've enjoyed my summer of reading and preparing but I just want to make a start on everything now!

Thanks for reading ...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Today's the day the teddy bears pick new owners

Yesterday I went to a Teddy Bear Fair. Let me describe it for those of you who have never attended one.  Hugglets organise two fairs a year in Kensington Town Hall (February and September).  There are four rooms full of stalls selling manufactured bears (such as Steiff), artist bears (such as the lion above), vintage bears and materials/kits to make your own bears.  When I first started collecting bears there were three UK monthly magazines and lots of shows.  If you weren't in line for the Kensington fairs way before they opened you might not get the bears you wanted (most of the artist bears are one of a kind).  Unfortunately, as with all things the economy has impacted on people's ability to spend a not inconsiderable amount of money on teddy bears and so, I learnt yesterday, there is only one bear magazine left in Britain (Teddy Bear Times) and now it only comes out every other month. 

I had always promised myself that once I earned a reasonable amount of money I would collect Steiff bears but did nothing about it until one day when T and I took a short cut in Guildford and came across The Bear Garden.  This was a shop full of nothing but bears and after a long chat with the lady in charge I bought my first collector's bear.  (Collectible teddy bears tend to be made of mohair or alpaca although I have a bear made out of silk and they are normally fully jointed.  They are usually not recommended for children at all).   That was the start of my collection or 'hug' as it is officially called.  The normal path for a collector is to start with Steiff, Deans, Merrythought and the other respected manufacturers (I was lucky that a lady called Robin Rive was making beautiful bears in New Zealand and I have some of hers).  They all have (or had) collectors clubs so you start to attend club events and then if you are anything like me you go to a bear fair and suddenly you are confronted with hundreds or thousands of the most appealing little faces and artists you haven't seen in any magazine.  Artist bears can be traditional or a bit more wacky, perhaps a long neck or particularly long feet or a face that doesn't look like a bear at all.  I am always amazed by what people will pick up and buy but my tastes tend to be very traditional.  There are a lot of exceptionally good designers out there and I will just name a few that I particularly like.  Whittle-le-Woods bears make the most beautifully dressed bears and they were amongst the first artist bears I bought.  I have a school-boy, a Victorian bathing beauty and a Chelsea pensioner amongst others.  The attention to detail on the bears is amazing.  In the  
picture to the left you can see Amelie.  She was made for me by the bear artist trading as Humble Crumble Bears.  She is the most beautiful bear and, as Vicky Allum (Humble Crumble) makes bears that resemble old Steiffs, she is rather saggy so she tends to be, very appealingly, slouching.  I have a number of Humble Crumble bears as well.  If you join Vicky's mailing list she will tell you when she has new bears available.  Don't even bother looking an hour after that list has gone out, all of the bears will have been adopted.  (Whenever she is at a fair I'm attending I make sure I get to her stall first otherwise there will be no bears left!).  My final recommendation is for a very different type of bear maker - Bear Bits make realistic looking brown bears, polar bears and pandas among others.  They are of the highest standard and beautifully created.  Yesterday I saw another stall selling a couple of very realistic bears.   I will try and check out who they were because those bears were also magnificent.

 I had checked out the Hugglets site to see who would be attending yesterday and fell in love with the rabbits created by The Rabbit Maker.  Strangely enough this is an artist who only makes rabbits both as almost sculptured models and as 'traditional' rabbits. I decided to look at her stall but was sure common sense would prevail.  Well, here is Fifi and isn't she gorgeous.  She reminded me a little of someone just starting school and so seemed absolutely right for my situation (just over two weeks now to the MA induction).  There is a saying that a bear chooses you and in this case I think the rabbit chose me because, whilst all of the rabbits on the stall were simply beautiful, I only had eyes for Fifi.  That was officially it for me; budget was blown and I hadn't come looking for lots of bears to take home so I didn't buy anything else did I?

With a stone heart I walked past tens of other stalls, smiling at the beautiful bears and complimenting artists on bears that had already been sold. (Much safer, I find, if you praise a bear that is still up for adoption they may suggest you hold it and that way only purchasing lies!)  I walked through the two main halls without so much as an itching to pick any bear up and then I climbed up to the upper floor.  There was a stall with some lovely bears on and I was tempted to buy just one small one as they had such wonderful expressions but I turned around and saw Hahira (who you can see at the top of the page).  I hadn't seen a lion at the fair before and this one had the most adorable expression - he looks so sad.  I started talking to his maker and she explained he was created from recycled raccoon fur and invited me to feel how soft he was.  I ummed and aahhed because I shouldn't really buy him but, he was beautiful and I already have so many bears, a lion would be a first.  He's an Anglo-American lion, made in the Mid-West by a British artist so it seemed appropriate I should see him yesterday.  I left the hall shortly after buying him.  I had been there for quite a time and, more importantly, I couldn't trust myself not to fall in love with anything else.

So now you know the story of my trip to the bear fair and my complete lack of will-power.  Did you know people who collect bears are called 'arctophiles' and I was glad that, even in such tough times, so many were out yesterday.  I must try not to attend the fair in February tho' as it's very bad for my bank balance.

Hope you've been OK on this windy Monday (in the UK) and thanks for reading.  

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Not Long Now

I was very kindly allowed to visit the Maughan Library at King's yesterday afternoon (I'm not fully enrolled yet so missing the card which would automatically let me in).  The library is in the old Public Records Office, just around the corner from the Royal Courts of Justice and opposite the Law Society.  I hope you can see from the picture (left) how beautiful it is on the outside.  Inside it is very large and light (everything seems to be painted white).  The reading room is absolutely gorgeous and featured in the film of the Da Vinci Code, although I'm not sure how proud the college is of that.

Although term doesn't start for about 10 days I was surprised how many people were there.  I got a bit lost at first and it was eerie to wander through a few empty rooms where lights came on just as I went into the room and then seemed to go off as soon as I left (very efficient motion sensors).  When I got to the English/Literature section though there were about 5 other people working.  I was worried that I might distract them as I took out my pen and opened my notepad but then I noticed there was a constant noise - the tip-tap of computer keyboards being struck.  Hmmm - spot the 'old' student.  I think I'll have to get used to using either my iPad or laptop for note-taking or look like a bit of a dinosaur.  I'm just worried that I'm too slow a typist! I suppose practice will make perfect and as I spent time today typing up my handwritten notes from yesterday I guess it will be more efficient just to type in the first place.

I really want to get organised now.  My prepatory reading is going well (i.e. I'm reading the background books.  If you tested me on Freud not sure how well I'd do) but I want to know when our induction will be and make a start on things.  I really need to learn some patience but it's just because I'm excited.

Thanks for reading ...  

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A walk through London's history

Tower Bridge and the Thames

Last Thursday afternoon was absolutely beautiful weather so I met a friend for lunch and then walked to the Museum of London, on London Wall.  The museum is about 15 minutes walk from my old office but I had never been there before.  I'm ashamed to admit how much of London I haven't seen in the nearly 20 years that I've been living nearby.

A lot of the MA is focused upon cities and London itself so it made sense to visit now.  The museum is free to enter and was nicely busy (as in people in all the exhibits but plenty of room to look around) and, the Government would be pleased to know, there were lots of children in there discussing the exhibits with their parents.

Although I could have started in the mid-19th century galleries I did the right thing and began at the beginning.  After walking quickly through 'London before London' I did slow down for the Roman galleries.  Very enjoyable they were too.  On my left is a mock up of a prosperous Roman home.  I actually thought that I would be happy to move in. There is also a mock up of a Roman kitchen and various shops and finds.  It's very light and the exhibits are well labelled so it's a great area to look around and then there are the exhibits that knock you sideways: the finds from the Temple of Mithras and the real mosaic floor from Milk Street and you have to remember that this place you walk around not really paying attention to has been inhabited and worked in since Roman times!  Very exciting!!
Mosaic from Milk Street
The Medieval galleries were also extremely interesting.  This is a, 100 years old, model of St. Paul's Cathedral.  It had the tallest spire in England at that time and was, to my mind, more beautiful than St Paul's looks now with the dome.  I suppose it looked like other cathedrals such as Lincoln or Salisbury whilst 'our' St Paul's looks very different to other cathedrals in Britain.  What do you think?  In addition there were royal items and exhibits of glassware and other household objects - absolutely amazing that these things survive the centuries, especially when they are just household objects and wouldn't have been treated with any care at all. 

The Great Cross in Cheap (now Cheapside, a very busy street in the City)
The Black Death made its first appearance at this point.  I have to confess that I was such a coward I didn't go and listen to the accounts.  I've seen programmes on the plague in London (although mainly talking about the 17th rather than the 14th century outbreak).  The city was built of small houses, incredibly close together and it was no wonder that the plague would spread so quickly if you were not able to get away.  By the way T tells me now that there is a question mark over whether it was rats who spread the disease or if humans caught it from one another.  Living in such close quarters it would be no surprise if infection alone was to blame (and in which case we owe rats quite the apology!).

I took fewer pictures from now on but the exhibits continued to be extremely good.   The (poor) picture on the left is of a model of the Rose Theatre which stood (due to law) just outside the city boundaries and where Shakespeare would have performed with the King's Men.  In the Tudor galleries there are interesting and beautiful ecclesiastical pieces, victims of the Reformation and the dissolution of monasteries and churches.  Then you go forward to the Civil War (or War of the Three Kingdoms as T tells me it is now referred to) and the Plague/Great Fire of London.  You can listen to Samuel Pepys tell you all about it in one gallery and see some evocative and terrifying oil paintings.

Finally, I was in the part of the museum that I had come to see although I must confess that I enjoyed the earlier galleries more.  There is a very interesting exhibit about pleasure gardens that I wanted to see because they were still going (for example at Vauxhall) in the period when the MA starts.  It's actually a very creative exhibition - lots of dummies wearing the most beautiful clothes in a small room that looks like a very small part of the garden.  There was a film to watch but I had a bit of  a Doctor Who moment and decided I wouldn't stay in there alone in case the dummies came to life.

The final galleries included the Lord Mayor's Coach which is incredibly beautiful.  There was only one other person in the room with me so I was able to get a great look.  It is worth coming to the museum simply to see this:

With very sore feet I now decided it was time to bring my meanderings through time to an end.  There are two lovely cafes in the museum and a wine bar/restaurant just outside.  There is also a very good shop with loads of variety from cuddly Corgis (wearing crowns) to serious archaelogical guides to their latest findings.  Three tube stations are close to the Museum: Moorgate, St Paul's and Barbican but I walked back to London Bridge in about twenty minutes (and that was fairly leisurely).

All in all I look forward to another visit to London's history (and they have a Dickens exhibition from December so I'm sure it will be fairly soon).

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Books update

I've been doing a lot of the preparatory reading for the MA so not as many novels as I would like but here is a quick update on what I have been reading:

I have to confess that Charlotte Bronte is my least favourite of the sisters.  Whilst I appreciate that she wrote this book under extremely trying circumstances: Shirley had not been a success and more importantly she had recently watched Anne, Emily & Branwell die, I found Villette to be depressing and boring in the main.  I thought the characters were OK but I never really warmed to any of them.  Lucy Snowe is admirable for making her own living and being willing to find her fortune in another country but I didn't ever warm to her or care enough about whether she & M. Paul lived happily ever after or not.  One of the things I really dislike in Jane Eyre is the co-incidences and here they also play a part.  They are just not believable!!  On the whole the book is OK but I would definitely steer someone towards Anne or Emily if they want to read something of the Brontes.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I knew it was about decadence & possibly evil but wasn't sure if it would be comic or horror.  It wasn't, infact, either of those things.  I would have said that it was a moral tale because of the ending but the introduction states that Wilde didn't want it to be read that way.  I'm sure you know the basis of the story.  A man sells his soul so that a portrait of him grows old whilst he retains his beauty.  You can argue that this is a tract that supports the aesthetic movement in which Wilde was a big player ('Art for Art's Sake/Money for God's sake' as the 10CC lyric goes - I think) but I have huge problems with the idea that anything is produced purely for art's sake when it's then published to make money for the author.  Anyway, I found the book interesting - it's certainly amoral and I hope, like me, you want to give Dorian a good shake by the end of it but it's worth a read.

I also read a much lighter book: The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld but I will be writing a review of that for (they did give me the book to review).  It should be there in the next few days if you want to take a look - & yes, I enjoyed the novel.

I have just started reading The Ladies' Paradise by Zola.  I read Germinal as part of the Nineteenth Century Novel module I studied with the OU.  I was absolutely dreading reading it as it's about mining, and a miners' strike, in Northern France but it was actually one of my favourite novels on the course.  I think Zola writes incredibly realistic characters and interesting story lines.  The Ladies' Paradise is about a department store in Paris and one of the shop assistants' attempts to evade seduction by the owner.  As I'm reading about the Great Exhibition of 1851 on and off with my general prep books it fits nicely into the ideas of conspicuous consumption in the second half of the 19th Century.

In the original listing for the core MA course Mary Poppins was one of the texts and as, like many of you I'm sure, I'd only ever seen the film I was looking forward to reading the book.  It's almost a selection of short stories and whilst Mary is very similar to the Julie Andrews version in that she is vain and very strong-willed there is a level of surrealism that is definitely missing from from Disney (there's a surprise).  A couple of things come immediately to mind: a night at the zoo in which the animals are the visitors and humans in cages are the exhibits for feeding time and a 'lady' who runs a sweet shop who tends to chew on her own peppermint flavoured fingers occassionally. The back of the book suggests this is suitable for 8+ and, the above withstanding, I think it is.  I enjoyed it and was sorry it has been taken off the reading list.  Did you know this is just the first in a series of Mary Poppins books?  I'd like to read more but need to persuade T that it isn't quite as weird as I had suggested to him.  If you have 8 year olds, you have the perfect excuse! 

Next time I update I'll try to have some newer books to talk about.

Right back to T.S. Eliot now, I have 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' open at the moment.  'Every street lamp that I pass/Beats like a fatalistic drum' - ring any bells?  Who says that Eliot is elitist?

Thanks for reading. 

Monday, 22 August 2011

A Cultural Afternoon

I had the most lovely afternoon on Friday.  I went up to London (how enjoyable that sounds particularly compared to what was a daily grind of commuting!) to have a delicious fish & chip lunch with a friend and then set off for cultural edification.

If you have read any of my earlier entries you might have seen that on the T S Eliot Summer School we visited St Magnus Martyr, one of the two churches mentioned in 'The Wasteland'.  The other is St Mary Woolnoth which stands just around the corner from Cornhill, where Eliot worked for Lloyds Bank, in Lombard Street.  As the first part of the afternoon plan entailed walking to St Paul's via Cornhill it seemed silly not to take this opportunity to take a look.  Apparently this is Nicholas Hawksmoor's only church in the City.  I think it looks a bit odd really but it's lucky to have a handsome plot - the umbrella you can see on the front left of the picture is a coffee stand.  I had a quick peek inside, it's much plainer than St Magnus Martyr but rather nice in its simplicity.  On the wall there is a plaque to Edward Lloyd, proprietor of a coffee shop and founder of Lloyds of London.  There is also an odd piece of sculpture at the front of the church which recounts the lines from 'The Wasteland':

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

Doesn't it just celebrate working in an office!!!

I enjoyed my walk down to St Paul's.  The weather was sunny but not too hot or humid and the crowds pretty OK until I got to the cathedral where there were lots and lot of people visiting and taking pictures (hurrah for the British economy!).  I would have gone in but I'm trying to be strict with my budget and St Pauls & Westminster Abbey are, I feel, ridiculously expensive.  I contented myself with taking lots of pictures from outside and then going down into the shop.  I was able to buy a couple of postcards and a bar of chocolate for T (one of those big ones with St Paul's on the outside) so I did do a little bit for the maintenance.  It looked as if they had a nice restaurant/cafe in the crypt and the shop was very good so perhaps we can save our pennies and visit properly.  By the way if you want to go and pray you can, of course, enter for free.

Then across Paternoster Square, which I thought was quite nice & provided lots of cafes for visitors and into the tube.

I had planned to visit The Museum of London as I've never been there but I have been able to access more materials for the core course of the MA and a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum was required before Week 2 and studying commodities and culture.  The V & A has brilliant British Galleries and on the 4th floor one of the rooms celebrates the Great Exhibition of 1851 (the photograph to the left shows an illustration of the Greek/Turkish stand within the Crystal Palace).  I had a list of questions to consider in respect of the manufacture of some of the exhibits which are now in the V&A and so I would have a good look and then sit and write the answers on my i-pad.  I felt like I was on a school trip and I'm sure the few people who were also wandering through the galleries were wondering what I was doing (particularly one little girl who tried very hard to see what I was writing).  By the way I asked one of the staff members about taking photographs and he seemed very relaxed about it!  Although it's only one room it's very interesting, from the items that were entered for medals to the souvenirs such as the Great Exhibition wallpaper and the picallili (?) lids.  The V&A, and other South Kensington museums, were founded on the profits of the Great Exhibition so it's very appropriate to have an exhibition there and of course, this year is the 160th anniversary.  (There is also an exhibition about the 1951 Festival of Britain down at the South Bank that is worth seeing).  I was able to answer my questions, have a look in the shop and take time for a drink and rather nice scone in the V&A cafe and still be home for 7p.m.  A really good afternoon.

I shall leave it there as I need to listen to a radio programme about Emily Dickinson.  I'll update on reading very shortly.  Thank you, as always, for reading.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Come On You Reds!

(Please be assured this entry is about cute, furry things as well as football).

Liver Bird above office door in Dale Street, Liverpool

I've had a great week.  First of all I found out that I had passed my final module for my degree in Literature and now had a first class BA (Hons) in Literature - very exciting!  Also Kings sent me the information to select my modules for the MA and have confirmed my place there so I must step up my reading for the course!

I went to spend a few days with my parents.  The picture and title of the entry should provide some clues as to their general location. 

I arrived on Thursday, courtesy of first class on the train (not quite up to BA standards but still lovely and quiet and on time!!)

On Friday we went into Liverpool to see the new museum that had only opened a couple of weeks before.  Not all of the floors were open yet but there was still absolutely loads to see.  It was really busy (great for the museum) and so would be good to go back later in the year.  There is a lot on links between Liverpool & China, the music and writers from the city and also the social history of the city.  There is a little on football, the Beatles and slavery but each of those topics is covered elsewhere.  I really enjoyed looking around but it got very hot and so after having a look through the amazing windows (which you can see in this picture and views from in the pictures below) we went down to the cafe for something to eat.  I have to say my goats cheese and tomato quiche was very tasty and, for a museum, an absolute bargain and it was lovely to sit with the sun coming in through full length windows.  So pretty much full marks to the museum & I look forward to going again.

View of the Liver building & ferry terminal from the museum

View towards the Albert Dock from the museum

After that we headed to the shopping at Liverpool One which still seems to be holding up well despite all the economic problems.  I did some shopping and some looking around, including in the Liverpool FC store which was full of scarves and mugs for the friendly match the next day (more to follow). 

On Saturday morning we went to Formby to see the red squirrels.  Although it is very rare to see red squirrels now in England there used to be 350 here but, tragically, two years ago squirrel pox (spread by grey squirrels) devastated their numbers and now there are only 120.  I had received an e-mail from the Red Squirrel Survival Trust on my way up to say that the pox was in Ainsdale (which is just up the coast) so I really hope they can develop a vaccine in time to save the squirrels!  Please try and help if you can - if you have only ever seen greys, the reds are our native squirrel and about a million times cuter. 

I really wanted to take a picture of one of the Formby squirrels for you but even though last time we were there they were running about everywhere and taking food from people's hands, this time we saw perhaps one or two in the distance and they were far too well camouflaged for photographs.  At least we saw one and heard noises in the trees to suggest they were there.  I suppose with fewer squirrels and the same amount of trees (they love the pine cones in Formby) there is less need to perform for the humans to get something to eat.  Never mind, I hope next time I go there will be higher numbers (please, please create the vaccine) and so we can see some more of these beautiful animals.

In the afternoon Dad & I went to one of my favourite places on earth, Anfield, to watch Liverpool play Valencia in a friendly (although I'm not sure Valencia had realised that this wasn't the Champions League).  After ensuring I was on the computer, ready to buy a ticket at 7.45 a.m. on the day they went on sale we had pretty good seats.  Just behind the 'posh' padded seats of the directors' box and nearly on the half-way line.  Some of the injured players were sitting just to the right and one row ahead of us and we had a great view of the pitch.  I like friendlies and testimonials, no stress at all, and so it was great to sit in the warmth with  a nice wall to rest my arms upon (the back of the directors box).  Liverpool won 2-0 which was good preparation for the start of the season so well worth the trouble to get the tickets (there was a good crowd, particularly for holiday season but the early bird gets the best seats).  We had hoped to see my brother as we were all in the Main Stand but the directors' box blocked access between our seats and his.

Sunday saw us off to Chester to use the vouchers I gave my mother for Christmas five years ago!!!  We had a delicious lunch in the Brasserie inside the Grosvenor Hotel which is lovely and posh.  I really enjoyed my lunch and we had time for a very quick look in the shops.  I had read that Chester was suffering because of the recession but it looked fine from what we saw and the main streets looked to be full of shoppers. I'm delighted to say Mum has one voucher left so hopefully we can put that towards afternoon tea sometime in the future!

We had covered a lot of miles by this point so I'm sure Mum & Dad were glad I went back to London on Monday so they could get back to their own lives.  I had a great few days and we were really lucky with the weather.  Although the forecast was for heavy rain for the weekend, it was kind enough to only intrude when we were in the car and as you can see from the photos we actually had blue skies.  There is loads to see in this part of the country and its far better value than London so if you're thinking of a weekend break give it a whirl (that's my bit for North West tourism!).

I'm sure this is enough for now so thanks for reading and see you soon!


Sunday, 31 July 2011

Heavenly Things

On Thursday I went to the British Museum to see a friend tell some more stories.  One of their major
exhibitions is called Treasures from Heaven and so she was telling stories of saints, pilgrims and miracles.  The room she had to use was awful - a through way with lots of noise but she still did a brilliant job.  The kids got to sit on a kind of 'magic carpet' at the front and it was wonderful to see their faces as she spun her tales of dragons, St. George, gold and other stories.  She will be there every Thursday during the summer holidays so if you have a young child that likes that sort of story it would be a great place to go.  There were other activities going on in the Great Court to do with the exhibition such as making pilgrim badges so it could be a good escape for a couple of hours and, of course, there are always the mummies.

I must admit the British Museum is probably my least favourite of the 'big' London museums - don't really know why.  I saw a brilliant Cartier exhibition there once and they do have some amazing things but it's just not somewhere I think 'Oh yes, I'd like to go there'.  But as T rightly pointed out to me, I had just done a course on the Greeks and Romans so I wandered through those galleries.  They were very busy with tourists (great for the museum) but I did see some things I thought might be interesting so I'll try and go back on a drab November morning when it should be a lot easier to look around.  I wanted to look in the Reading Room  but they have been using it for the Treasures of Heaven exhibition so I
just in fact climbed the stairs went around it and came back down the other side.  In this picture you can see the reading room on the right, the staircase and the roof of the Great Court.  Thursday was hot and humid in London and, of course, the Great Court acts as a big greenhouse so not very pleasant to be tramping around in there.

After that I went back over to the City to meet some friends and attend a leaving 'do'.  It was really hard to realise that I left work seven weeks ago.  Talking to people you realise how little things really change, people come and go but organisations don't change much other than in real upheavals such as mergers.  It was so lovely to see them and hear their news (some very exciting indeed!) and also to chat to people whilst waiting in reception.  Did it feel strange to be back in the building - not really.  I'm not sure if I felt that it was part of my life at all so that's got to be a good thing, right?  Anyway we went to this restaurant off Borough High Street whose main features was a 'Frank Sinatra' character - whilst I don't think our 'Frank' will be playing Las Vegas any time soon it was just lovely to be with them all again!

It's killing me waiting for my results for my Myth course.  I have to get at least 40% in my End of Module Assessment (or big essay) and if I can achieve that the degree is passed and I'm off to King's.  I have started to try and think of options in case I don't achieve this - I suppose I could try and do the OU MA (which I really am not that keen on) with my existing degree but it would take 2 years and throw everything out.  We should get results this week so please keep your fingers crossed for me.

I'll do a book update in a few days time.  I have finished the Evelyn Waugh biography and am currently reading Forty Rules of Love so I'll let you know how they both go.

Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Privileged and The Damned

I wanted to share another book review with you.

As with Palladio I really enjoyed this book.
Cynthia and Adam are a young couple who get married and we follow that marriage until their children, April and Jonas, are of college age.  At that time Adam and Cynthia are fabulously wealthy; Adam runs a hedge fund and they have a foundation that does good work.  Jonas is studying Art History at college (art seems to be a bit of a theme with Dee) and April is 'enjoying'the lifestyle of a New York trustafarian.
I liked Adam and Cynthia, to the extent that I stopped reading the book for a time as I thought something awful was going to happen to Adam, but I don't really believe that you should.  Adam does some illegal things and both have little idea of loyalty to anyone beyond themselves and their children (and Cynthia's father).  I think it is the love for each other that redeems them.  The back of the novel calls it an 'epic love'.  I'm not sure I was persuaded of that but they clearly love each other greatly and are redeemed by their desire to put their money to good use
It's enjoyable to have a peek into the world of the super-rich but as with Palladio I feel slightly bemused why I liked the book so much.  I will probably read more Jonathan Dee so perhaps I'll understand better in the future.  

At the moment I'm reading a book about Evelyn Waugh and the Lygon family of Madresfield who were the models for the Flytes in Brideshead Revisited.  It's really interesting and I have been amazed by how much of Brideshead he took from his/their lives including Charles's reaction to the chapel at Brideshead Castle.  When I've finished it I'll let you know more about it.

Are you interested in the Salem Witch Trials?  I am but in a very cowardly way i.e. when I've visited Salem (in Massachusetts) I've never been to any of the witch related sites and you'll be delighted to know that means I don't have any witchy pictures.  I'll use a Hallowe'en picture from Salem instead (to cheer up the blog - I know, any excuse!)  Anyway the point of this was that last night, on National Geographic Channel,
there was a programme about the trials, or 'crisis' as they were describing it.  The 'host' of the programme was someone called Katherine Howe.  I've had her novel, The Lost Book of Salem, on my bookshelves for a while now - long enough for it to have been re-issued.  I'm planning to read in the next few weeks/months and will share my thoughts with you but the programme was very interesting and suggested a new theory for the cause of the 'crisis'.  I won't say what in-case you want to see the programme (it's being repeated in the UK and I think will be on in the US in the autumn).  Howe was inspired to research/write about the trials because of a personal connection to the tragedy and also because she was living in Marblehead.  If you page back through the blog you'll see some of my pictures of historic houses there and I think you can understand how she got so attracted to the past. 

The picture above is from outside a B&B from October 2006.  Salem goes all out for 'Haunted Happenings' right through October  but there are also interesting maritime and literature associations that
make it worth visiting.  This is the House of Seven Gables and inspired the book by Nathaniel Hawthorne (who added the 'w' to his name to try and disassociate himself from one of the witch trial judges).  It's an interesting place to visit but would be very spooky at night I think.  Salem is accessible from Boston by Amtrak or ferry and if you had a car you could combine with a trip to Marblehead.  There is a trolley service which takes you round the main sites (including the Peabody Essex Museum which is well worth a visit).  By the way, the witch trials themselves took place in Salem Village which is now the town of Danvers.  As I'm too chicken to go in any of the witch museums in Salem you won't be surprised to know I haven't made it there yet.

Well, that's more than enough of my waffle so, thanks for reading.