Episodes in my Life

The thought struck me recently that I live in a house with a number of objects which are nowadays more or less redundant, like paraffin lamps, warming pans – and door stops.

I grew up in a large country house where almost every room had its own cast iron door stop. There was a large handsome painted one of Mr Punch by the front door, for example; and the one pictured below in the morning room. Elsewhere, there was a horse door stop, one of a sheep, and another of an early locomotive, possibly The Rocket, (I come from a railway family), as well as plainer ones.

Two Figures at a Well door stop

Why, did we need so many? I can see that the front door might need to be held open on occasions, if luggage, say, was coming in or going out. But otherwise?

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I am, amongst other things, the UK Children’s/YA book Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society Review. This means that I can keep in touch with what’s going on in the children’s historical novel world. Children, after all, are the adult readers of the future.

The February issue of the HNS Review has just come out and I’ve been sending reviews off to various publishers and asking them for suitable new books for the May HNS Review. I’ve also emailed those publishers who have not had books reviewed to see if they have anything suitable for the HNS May Review.

Historical Novel Society Review: February 2017

As usual, there is quite a variety on offer; excitement, tragedy, thought-provoking, laughter, love and friendship, it’s all there. And, of course, the history.

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For some reason, I often get wonderful views of sunrises and sunsets at this time of year from either my study – looking east, or from my bedroom window – looking west. I have only a few moments to catch the dawn before it fades, so I’ve taken to having my camera to hand when I get up, just in case. It probably helps that I live on top of a hill so, on a clear day, I can see for miles.

Sunrise, January 2017

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Somewhere around the end of October I switch to my winter lunch – soup, preferably homemade, with a chunk of interesting bread. And carrot and coriander soup with lime and ginger is one of my favourites.

There’s something very soothing about the process of soup-making, and I recommend it if you’re feeling frazzled.

ngredients plus left-handed scissors and peeler  

Here is my recipe. Ingredients:

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Today, I’m taking a walk along the Regent’s Canal from the Angel, Islington, to the Kingsland Basin, en route to the London Docks.

Backs of Noel Road houses seen from the opposite side of the canal

Looking down on the canal from the bridge above Islington Tunnel, I can see the backs of the houses in Noel Road. In the 1960s the whole area was run down, derelict and renting was cheap. One of the area’s claims to fame – or notoriety – was the playwright, Joe Orton, who lived at 25 Noel Road, was murdered here by his lover, Keith Halliwell in 1965.

Islington Tunnel, opened 1820

I come down onto the towpath by Islington Tunnel and the view instantly opens out onto the City Road Lock. You can see the lockkeeper’s cottage hiding behind a willow. The temperature is barely above freezing but it’s already starting to green up.

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To wear a hat or not to wear a hat? That is the question.

I have something of a love-hate relationship with hats. After my horrible boarding-school hat – which I jumped on when I left school for the last time – I avoided wearing hats as much as possible. Though I see from my About Elizabeth website page that I had a white straw hat when I was about seventeen in Paris being finished – but the straw began to unravel and I was pleased to have an excuse to ditch it. It smacked too much of ‘young lady’ and I was desperate to re-invent myself.

Later, when working in Fringe Theatre, I sported a rather nice white lacy wool beret. Alas, I washed it in a too hot white wash and it shrunk.

The hat I never wear

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This post is about two Arts and Crafts oak chairs with Walter Crane tiles, bought for ten shillings (50p),  with an intriguing story to tell. My mother, who loved auctions, got them from Mr Little’s Salerooms in Barnard Castle, an attractive upper Teesdale market town.

Chair a

The first History chair

They were, she explained, hall chairs, you weren’t meant to sit on them. In fact, they are excruciatingly uncomfortable, not to mention unsafe. I wouldn’t trust the front right leg of one of them (see photo above) and the other creaks ominously. But I like them, and I’m a fan of Walter Crane (1845-1915), an eminent artist who collaborated with William Morris. The tiles say a lot about late Victorian England and what people thought was important about English history. (And it’s definitely English history, as opposed to British.)

Caesar b

Julius Caesar tile by Walter Crane

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Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals was a favourite teenage book, and it introduced me to the rose beetle. Soon after he arrived in Corfu in 1935, Gerry met the rose beetle man, an itinerant pedlar wearing a floppy hat covered in feathers, and a patched, pocketed coat, bulging with knick-knacks for sale. Bamboo cages holding a variety of birds bounced on his back, and he held ‘a number of lengths of cotton, to each of which was tied an almond-size rose-beetle, glistening golden green in the sun, all of them flying round his hat.’

 Durrell

My much loved copy of ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell

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When my children were living at home, I had a hotch-potch of mugs, and, sooner or later, they broke, as mugs do. Looking at my current row of mugs, I see, with some alarm, that I may have turned into a mug fanatic.

Avebury right

Avebury – front

Nowadays, my mugs have to fulfil certain criteria: first, they must be interesting (i.e. historical). Second, they must be equally patterned on both sides. I’m left-handed and I’m fed up with picking up a mug with my left hand and realizing that the actual picture is on the other side. No more right-handed mugs, then.

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On Friday, my friend Eleanor and I went to Cambridge for the day. We try to do this every year and it’s always a pleasure. It’s a brilliant city for a day out: it’s not too large, there’s plenty to see and do, good places to eat in and a street market with interesting stalls. If the weather’s good, what more can one ask? We caught the fast train from King’s Cross station and forty-five minutes later we were in Cambridge.

1 Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum

We headed down Trumpington Road to the Fitzwilliam Museum: not, dear Reader, for Culture (at least not initially) but because the lure of coffee was overwhelming. And the Museum has an excellent café.

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