Sunday, 29 June 2008

What do your bookshelves say about YOU?

I had a film to use up recently, and so took a variety of pictures of books.

So: Should anyone doubt my logic in refusing to buy any books in the next two months, just see how many I bought between coming back from holiday and instigating the ban ...

And then, because I still needed to take more pictures, I took a few of my bookshelves:
As you can probably see, they're not very tidy. And yes, there are four Barbies waving in the first one ... I used to have over 20, and I keep these so my nieces have something to play with. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! Something else noticeable is the fact they are starting to get double stacked ... I am fast running out of space. Perhaps now is the time to leave home and build a library?

Anyway, that's my world of books - what does your world tell the universe?

Buy a friend a book week

I'm so glad that I've joined in time to celebrate this best of customs ... it's great to share the love!

Consequently, if you would like to enter the Buy a Friend a Book draw, please comment down below before Friday.

I am hoping to get hold of one of the Virago Modern Classic birthday editions (although they seem to have disappeared without a trace ...), but if anyone has a burning desire for something, then please include it in the comments. My limit is £15.

Because I'm feeling generous, there will be a second prize too ... ooh!

In other news I had a dream last night where Daphne du Maurier was sitting on my sofa. I made a reference to Oriel Malet, at which Daphne gave me a piercing look and I blushingly confessed I'd been reading 'Letters from Menabilly'. Then I woke up. Anyone like to tell me what my subconscious is trying to tell me?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Big Read

"The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed."
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated. (I can't remember how to do this, so mine are just left as normal)
5) Reprint this list in your own LJ so we can try and track down these people who've read 6 and force books upon them ;-)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (Obviously read some of it, but do want to read it all)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare I've read most of them to think it counts
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres - Oh my god, how dull
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding - This gave most of my class nightmares
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac - I hate this interminable book!
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce - I will never read this, it's against my religion
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Poem of the week

I have an ulterior motive for the poem this week. I'm intending on writing about my novel (feels so pretentious to call it that) later on today, and feel that it's important to read this first, so that people get a feel for what I might be writing.

Here it is:

"My Last Duchess"

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart---how shall I say?---too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace---all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,---good! but thanked
Somehow---I know not how---as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech---(which I have not)---to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark"---and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
---E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
By Robert Browning

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Sailing over the Ocean blue...

... Well, actually it was grey for most of the time. A cold steely grey that reflected the overcast skies up above. But that's the middle of the Atlantic for you, I suppose.

Yes - here I am writing up the second part of my holiday. Don't all go and have a heart attack at the shock, will you? I know it's been a while, but my excuse is that my head was jammed full of cotton wool for most of the week.

This is going to be harder, because I didn't write it up whilst it was going on. It didn't seem worth it, because it was so much more relaxed than the frenzied madness of the New York section. Also, some of my better pictures are trapped on my non digital camera ... I've just taken a load of pictures of my books so that I can take the film into Boots tomorrow.

So, ok - where were we?

Well actually, I'm going to rewind a bit from the post on New York, because I can't just jump straight into sailing for six days without giving a little background.

Ok. So we got to the ship. It was huge. (3,000 passengers and 2,500 crew and always room to breathe). Stuck in front was a big shelter, through which we walked to register ourselves (our luggage having been taken away with the warning 'yeh may not see it for couple hours, ok?') So long as we saw it at some point, I didn't care!
So, no pictures of huge boat at dock from the land side. Sorry about that. But here are a couple I've filched off the net:

Actually, the second one is probably what we looked like as we sailed out ... There weren't that many boats, but we were probably worth a pretty penny to the helicopter tourists.

Anyway - to continue with the story, we went to our room to check it out, and have a nose and this is what we found:
As you may have noticed, I didn't take the pictures of the room when we got there, which might have been a good idea. Still, not much changed, so they're better than nothing. I love the picture of the corridor - it looks like it goes on forever, or has been done with mirrors ...
Sorry, I'm wittering on.

So, we'd seen the room, and we went back up on deck to watch as we slipped out of harbour. I have a feeling that standing at the stern wasn't such a good thing, because it didn't feel like we were moving at all, but it was good to watch the empire state slipping into the mist and the statue of liberty shortly doing the same.
You know those last two photos are rather odd ... Goodness only knows what has caused me to sneer like that, and obviously the champagne from the glass that you can just see has gone to my head, to judge from my stupid expression. Thank goodness for the rail I was leaning on! You can also see the corner of one of the six swimming pools there were onboard. I only went in the Spa ... who wants to go and swim outside when in mid Atlantic?

So, yes - off we sailed, having been delayed by two people who had had a race across the country on a train ride for 18 hours (that's including the 3 hours it was delayed) and then a mad dash from the station in a taxi that had no idea where it was going. This probably gave Alison Weir a chance to slip off the ship without anyone realising - but more on that later!

After relaxing on a deck lounger and watching the last small points of land slip past, I retired to our cabin (having lost my mother to the hairdresser) to dress for dinner. Informal this evening, but still mindful of making an effort. Dinner on a ship like this is a rather grad affair, no matter what you're wearing. Mum had made sure we were placed on a table with others rather than by ourselves, and we found ourselves with two couples who were rather season travellers. The Americans were ok - if a little too interested in the difference between New York and London prices.
If I thought that American portions were enormous, I really wasn't prepared for four courses, of superb food, and even better wine. I quickly decided after that first meal that lunch would have to be forgone if I was ever going to make it through! (Unfortunately I forgot about afternoon tea .... I don't think there's a time when you can't eat when onboard!).

We didn't stay up too late that night, although since we put our watches forward an hour each day, not too late doesn't mean a thing.

Don't worry, I'm not going to go on and on in minute detail over every thing that happened. The layout of our days can be described as going something rather like this.

- Breakfast (yummy pancakes and French toast)
- Then onto lectures. This is where Alison Weir comes in, or, rather, doesn't. I was very excited about the idea she would be talking. I don't particularly like the way she writes - far too crammed with facts to be able to concentrate - but I thought it would be interesting to hear her speak. But it seemed she got off the ship, just before we sailed. Later in the voyage we met some people who said they had run into her mother in the bookshop. What on earth does one make of that then?
But still, we had a speaker by the name of John Maxtone Grahame who gave some very enlightening talks on ocean crossing, and one on a first class stewardess on the Titanic whose memoirs he edited. I'll write about them once I've read them.
- From lunch until dinner there were a variety of things I could do. I could read, have massages, watch a film, have high tea, and take brisk walks around the deck hoping to blazes my skirt wouldn't fly above my head.
- And then the evening. Black and white balls, elegant evenings and ascot dances. Here's an assortment of pictures.

Look! Justine's book is on the QM2! And quite bizarrely the first bit of land I saw was Cornwall.

Anyway, if there's anything else you would like to know, then ask questions. This has taken two days to write. Oh dear!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Living under a rock

Is it just me who didn't realise that Tim Henman has retired from Tennis (or at least I assume he has, since he's doing commentary on the BBC)

When did this happen?

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Emotions in the 1940s

Today has been an odd day, in the sense that I seem to have spent most of it in the cinema.

Oxford has the usual range of big corporation style cinemas - Odeon dominating the centre of town, whilst Vue offers cheaper tickets if you can be bothered with the drive. There is, however, a little cinema in Jericho called The Phoenix which specialises in art house, foreign language and smaller budget films that might not make it on to general release. I remember seeing 'Mrs Brown' there, before the world caught on and recognised it for the gem it is.

At the moment the cinema is having a David Lean phase, and on Sundays is showing double bills of his films. Today I watched Celia Johnson admirably repress her emotions in 'This Happy Breed' and 'Brief Encounter'. Sigh - I do love her so, she expresses more in a single move of her head than almost anybody else of that era. It's such a joy to be able to watch these old films in the place they were meant for. I often feel I was born in the wrong decade, as all my favourite films were made in the 30s - 60s - although I suppose I wouldn't have appreciated them as I do now (although I swear if a grandchild of mine starts raving about Keira Knightly the way I do about Katharine Hepburn or Judi Dench, I will disown them so fast, it'll make their heads spin!)

Which leads me nicely on to the other film I watched today (at the same cinema) which was 'Edge of Love', a biopic of a portion of Dylan Thomas' life, and his relationships with Sienna Miller and Keira Knightly.
Let me make something quite clear about Ms Knightly. I greatly dislike the woman. This, I will freely admit, is partly to do with jealousy (she's my age, she's world famous, she's beautiful - if you think tall, gangly, rather thin women beautiful), but it also has a lot to do with the fact that I think she's a terrible actress. She does this thing with her lips (which I've noticed Renee Zelwegger do too) whenever she's trying to be particularly sexy, that makes her look like she's pouting whilst dealing with a rather heavy cold. When in doubt over an emotion, pout - this seems to be her motto. (I won't go into the travesty of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice ... that's a rant for another post).

Having said all this, I watched 'Atonement' and loved it. This might have something to do with the fact that it wasn't her film, she didn't have to carry it. But the 1940s seems to reflect the best of her. It suits that slightly repressed, Celia Johnson quality her voice has, and the fashion suits her boyish frame too (because like Grace Kelly before her, no matter what the film is, Keira will always be a good person to show clothes off on. And 'The Edge of Love' is set in the 40s, and to help matters she has to produce a Welsh accent - which she does rather well, and somehow manages to detract from the pout (which I saw rarely, although she still manages to move her lips without moving her teeth a millimeter).

'The Edge of Love' is an interesting film - directed by a man (John Maybury) who would love, should he ever get the chance, to direct silent films. This shows. The best parts are the parts between the language, when it's looks that say more. And he uses cracked glass to shoot through, so we see a distorted and messy image that so well reflect the emotions in the film.

This is a world away from the lives that Celia Johnson portrayed in those films designed to bring a touch of happiness to the lives of people in the grip of war. Well worth watching should you find yourself with a couple of hours free!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Ban on books and holidays

I decided earlier on today that I am going to ban myself from buying any books for two months (aside from a brief respite at Dartington because the oportunity will be too great to pass up). Initally it was going to be one month, but I've just spent £275 on a trip to Paris at the end of August, so I can't afford any books until I get to Shakespeare and Co on the left bank.

To add a bit more of an incentive to me not buying books, I would like to say that the first person to catch me out by any means they choose will get a book of their choice (upper limit £15) sent direct to them!

Friday, 20 June 2008


I'm being hopelessly lax in my posting, because my cold has taken my brain hostage, and any proper post I make would be nonsensical and riddled with errors.

In the next week I intend to write about the following.

- Queen Mary 2
- A couple of book reviews
- A post dedicated to the works of Justine Picardie (now I've read them all, think it would be interesting ....)
- The novel I'm working on. (Angela Young asked about this - I've been meaning to talk about it, seeing as writing it is proving impossible)

There are other things that are bound to crop up too, but really this is just an apology for posting poems about colds, instead of writing interesting things to get your thoughts whirring away!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Poem of the week

Something silly this week, because I have the sneezles!

Christopher Robin

Had wheezles
And sneezles,
They bundled him
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head.
They wondered
If wheezles
Could turn
Into measles,
If sneezles
Would turn
Into mumps;
They examined his chest
For a rash,
And the rest
Of his body for swellings and lumps.
They sent for some doctors
In sneezles
And wheezles
To tell them what ought
To be done.
All sorts and conditions
Of famous physicians
Came hurrying round
At a run.
They all made a note
Of the state of his throat,
They asked if he suffered from thirst;
They asked if the sneezles
Came after the wheezles,
Or if the first sneezle
Came first.
They said, "If you teazle
A sneezle
Or wheezle,
A measle
May easily grow.
But humour or pleazle
The wheezle
Or sneezle,
The measle
Will certainly go."
They expounded the reazles
For sneezles
And wheezles,
The manner of measles
When new.
They said "If he freezles
In draughts and in breezles,
May even ensue."

Christopher Robin
Got up in the morning,
The sneezles had vanished away.
And the look in his eye
Seemed to say to the sky,
"Now, how to amuse them to-day?"

By A.A. Milne

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

New York, New York

I finally have an evening to write up some of my travels, so here - with pictures - is my New York extravaganza!! (I wrote it as we were sailing out of New York) *Note - pictures seem to have stopped working, so will add the rest later! (Have done so now!)

June 8th - Sunday
Enthroned on a green deck lounger, sailing down the river and out into open ocean, having watched the statue of liberty glide by, I am now at leisure to write up the last few days.

Thursday 5th June
To the airport we go! Giving ourselves plenty of time Mum and I got the airport coach from Oxford to Heathrow and find ourselves deposited at terminal five. Fear not all those who know the terrible trials of the opening of T5, we weren't flying from there, but we peaked in and it's huge!
Arriving three hours early we checked in our bags and went window shopping, and then sat in the business lounge (Mum having whipped out the suitable card - even though we weren't flying business class).
The 6.5 hour flight went by in a flash, I read for most of it as they insisted showing 'The Other Boleyn Girl' and 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'! The taxi from Newark to Manhattan was a bit of a nightmare. Not only had we hit the rush hour but the driver seemed to enjoy pressing his horn at nothing in particular.
Our hotel was on Lexington Ave just across from the Waldorf Astoria, and we got free cookies - isn't that just a very American thing! We couldn't let the jet lag get us so we went out for dinner, stopping off at the blue whisky bar, and relaxing in the luxury of the Waldorf. Here we are:

We didn't stay too long at the Waldorf, as we were too tired to really enjoy it, and off we went to bed at around midnight.

Friday 6th June

Oh what a beaaaaautiful morning! - Well, we were up with the larks, that's if we could have heard them and had breakfast in the hotel, and then started our day of manic activity. Having worked out the cheapest way to use the metro we went to the Frick Collection, adored the portrait of Emma Hamilton (at least, I did!) and then rushed up six blocks to the Metropolitan. Here's some pictures.

Lunch was booked at Sardi's so we made our way to 42nd street and had wonderful food (I've stored my appetizer recipe in my mind) amongst the caricatures of celebrities and after stuffing ourselves, we went and stood in a queue for about an hour so we could get tickets for Gypsy. After that we went back to the Met, because the place is HUGE and we'd barely seen everything we wanted to see. We did stop off for a cocktail to help our weary bones though, and went up the Rockerfeller centre tower, just for the hell of it.

So, a quick second whip round the Met, then back to Broadway to watch Patti LuPone sing her heart out as Rose in the wonderful 'Gypsy'. (It won three Tonys whilst we were sailing across the Atlantic) Being masters of the Metro by then, we caught the train back to the hotel and fell into bed.

Saturday 7th June

HEATWAVE! Temperatures, we were told, had reached the 90s, and my goodness you knew it as soon as you stepped out of any building. What did we do during this heat? Raced about like lunatics of course!
On our way to walk over the Brooklyn bridge we stopped off in Soho and had breakfast in a chic french restaurant called Balthazar and then continued on to the bridge, which had wonderful views of everything in the heat haze. I'd decided I wanted to see ground zero, so off we went, but with only barriers and a couple of cranes to see, it wasn't the sacred place I'd thought it would be. It did have a bit of a strange feeling to it though.

We went back to the hotel, as we were meeting my mother's cousin, and I dashed off a few postcards whilst waiting. John took us to the Pig 'n' whistle - apparently the best Irish bar in Manhattan.
After saying goodbye to John, mum demanded we go to Bloomingdales to look for hats (for the Ascot evening on the boat) - only they didn't have any. Not a single hat. Not even a fascinator. Just a lot of very overpriced clothes, so we moved onto Tiffanys, where - for the briefest moment in time - I tried on $38,000 worth of diamonds on my wrist. That didn't fit either - so I didn't feel to bad about having to give it back!
Continuing our posh phase, we went for a drink at the Plaza and then went to a fantastic restaurant called the Tavern on the Green, which sits on one side of Central Park. We were seated outside, and therefore had a good view of a wedding that was going on in the conservatory (I thought I saw that the bride was wearing black, but it turned out I was mistaken, and had probably seen a grey clad bridesmaid - of which there were twelve).

We had hoped to take a horse and buggy ride around the park, but the only one outside looked as if it were decked out for the wedding, so we got a cycle rickshaw. Seems that the carriage was for hire, and it was the cycle man's first day. He had no idea where he was going, and at one point cycled right out of the park, over fifth avenue and round the block. Thought we were going die!
Having nearly been killed we went in search of the Alice in Wonderland statue by foot, then went back to the hotel by metro and relaxed in the bar until bed.

Sunday 8th June

Heatwave continues! High 90s today and we have much to do and less time to do it in.
Off we trotted to the J.P. Morgan library, which was exquisite and then up the Empire State Building. I'd been up before, but this time we went to the 102nd floor. I had an old fashioned movie star type moment and chatted to the old elevator man about 'An Affair to Remember'. Once there, we stared out the windows and as we looked over to Brooklyn bridge we espied a rather large boat. The Queen Mary 2 was waiting for us ....
Having forgone the metro, we walked back to the hotel (only about 20 blocks), pausing in Grand Central Station to marvel, although failing to take decent pictures! Back at the hotel we packed the last of our things, got into a private car (no mad taxi man for us this time) and drove over the Brooklyn bridge to the port and stood in a remarkably quick line (considering 3,000 passengers were travelling that day) to register and board.

At 5.15 the ship slipped its moorings and glided out of the Hudson, past the Statue of Liberty to six days of nothing but sea .....

And that's enough for one night. I'll put the rest of the pictures up tomorrow!