Thursday, 31 March 2011

Cars Loved & Left - to Present

The final part (for now) of a four part series.

I lived my first four-and-a-half years here in England without a car.  I bought my house because it was near a Metro and happily hopped on buses where the Metros didn't go.  However, I had an evil boss and was keen to escape to a job in Morpeth.  I took driving lessons and two driving tests and bought a P-reg Peugeot 106.   Here in the UK, ordinary car license plates, ie not 'vanity tags', tell you the age of the car and the place of manufacture.  You can read all about that here if you like.   

My red (1996) Peugeot was a challenging drive, heavy as anything and without power steering.  In spite of a standard transmission that I pushed hard, I felt sure the other drivers would run me over every time I got on the A19.


I paid cash for this and subsequent cars in the UK.  Banks would give me a personal, unsecured loan if I lied and said I was buying appliances and music equipment, for example.  However, if they knew I was buying a car, the bank would require me to take out a car loan and there were penalties attached to paying it off early.  I think that is despicable and I'm too stubborn to give them that much authority, so over here I've always bought two-or-three year old cars and paid cash.

I did manage to get up to Morpeth, and enjoyed a lovely drive into the countryside against the prevailing traffic and a peaceful, if frantically busy time, at work.  I enjoyed the drive even more in my S-reg VW Polo.  The Peugeot 106 was just too bulky and I felt endangered in it.

I can't remember if it was and 3- or 5-door (I think it's strange to count the hatchback as a door, but there you are) but it was this strange blue-violet colour and I referred to it as the Purple Polo. It had plenty of pep, but mechanical problems led me to trade it for another.


As you can see, a lot of cars over here are pretty much of a muchness:  small boxes of only slightly varying shape.  One can buy larger cars, but they hog the road and make people think ugly thoughts about the drivers, so it's not recommended.  Park the wrong car in the wrong place and it may even be 'keyed'.  That doesn't mean unlocked, it means a long ugly scratch down the side, made with a key or similar sharp object.  I've never bought anything but ordinary little boxes as a car has come to mean only one thing to me:  (mostly) convenient transport.  I say mostly because parking restrictions in some places can make having a car an outright liability.

However, it was the arrival of March/April  and my need to renew insurance, safety inspection (called MOT - ministry of transport) and road tax that caused me to sell my last car just a couple of weeks ago.   I don't know if you'll have heard about this in the US, but the European Union has ruled that basing insurance premium based on gender is discrimination and so women's car insurance costs are set to skyrocket.  I thought the costs were already scandalous given my no claims record.  You cannot buy only liability car insurance here, or at least the premium is no different to full cover, so I couldn't get under £250 and of course they inched up every year anyhow.  


It was another Peugeot - this time a '52' reg (they changed their system when they got to the end of the alphabet) 206.  It happened to be an automatic with only 15,000 miles on it when I bought it seven years ago.  The fact that it only had 21,000 miles is another reason not to own a car:  I simply don't drive it often enough.  I did shy away from getting rid of my 'independence', though I knew Bill's car would normally be available to me.  He doesn't drive his much more than I did mine these days, actually.


I put off selling it and made Bill come with me for moral support.  We didn't discuss the price I would ask and he thought I could have got more, but I just wanted the transaction behind me, a sharp amputation.  Once done, however, there hasn't been much phantom pain, I must admit.  I've only given it perhaps a second and third thought and nothing more.  It truly was surplus to requirement.  I wouldn't say I'll never own another car, but it looks unlikely in the foreseeable future.  The way I look at it I've got several hundred pounds - not to mention the price of the car - extra cash to play with.  I can get a lot of bus/metro trips out of that...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A Walk in the Park

It just occurred to me that I have more photos of Northumberland Park from the weekend before Bill's birthday.  

 
Simon came for a visit, bless him, and stayed Saturday night.  On Sunday we visited the flea market, where I bagged the only remaining Dick Francis book I didn't already own (with the exception of the biography he wrote of Lester Piggott; I don't feel I need to know about the man, but I've linked to this in case you do).  I much prefer Francis' fictional writing and I have my fingers crossed that his son Felix might find a way to continue in his father's footsteps. Oops...looks like there is a new one out, Crossfire.  'Scuse me a minute, whilst I visit my Amazon wish list. 

Right, where were we?  Oh yes, the park.  It was just a lovely day, sunny and about 60 degrees.  I'd been promising myself I'd show you the first daffodils I came across.  These are certainly the first I've seen with camera in hand.


What I couldn't believe is that we've lived here for coming up on 15 years and we've never taken any of Bill's kids to Northumberland Park.  

 

Guess that's a grandparent thing to do or something.  And Bill's kids were in their teens when I came along, so maybe it's not so surprising.  Anyhow, it's a lovely place, one of Bill's favourite running routes.  He's far more dedicated than I am, doing hill work.  Also, it's only about 17 acres, so he ends up doing loops, which I would find boring.


Speaking of grandfatherly things, there is a lovely old bowling green and club house at the park.  

 

I was ribbing Bill about taking up bowls now that he's retired.  He didn't seem very interested.  Maybe I'll catch a game in progress sometime and show that to you.  I think you're supposed to wear white clothes or something. 


Bill noticed all the nice uniform stones scattered around, made into various walls and benches.  He reckons that is what happened to the old St. Leonard's hospital.  You see it all around the Roman and other ruins - lovely little stone cottages built out of what used to be the wall or the castle!
 

I'm sure I've shown you this pond before. 


For some reason the shape of that culvert and its reflection in the water below always get to me and I take a photo - I probably have a dozen at least.  

 

We were admiring the ducks that people enjoy feeding when Bill noticed a large rat dragging a piece of floating bread back to its nest in the island of rocks in the middle of the pond.  Just the other day we noticed a fat pigeon balancing precariously on a hanging bird feeder in some one's front garden, having lunch.  I don't think people always realise which animals they are encouraging.  I believe I'll leave cleaning out that pond to some other more dedicated volunteer.


We were wondering what disease this tree has; Bill thought maybe a fungus.  Simon, the guitar maker, informed us it made for very interesting wood to work with.  



When I first saw the park, it was quite overgrown and more like a forest than a park.  

 

A lot of volunteers have worked to restore some of the gardens and clear the weeds and the council have taken out quite a few dead trees so it looks more like a park.  

 

I worry that they will keep at it, though, and along side the archaeological dig continue to restore the place to the formal Victorian garden it was when it opened in 1885.  

 

Personally I'd rather have a forest than a garden, but then I don't own the land, so it's not down to me to tell them what to do with it.  I'm sure it will still be a pleasant place whatever they decide.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

More about Princess Alice

You may or may not recall when I got so excited about finding Bill's word.  If not, go read about it - or not; please yourself.  Nope, I'm not in a good mood today, but never mind.

Now, it wasn’t very long between when I read Brideshead Revisited and when I read the book by Princess Alice (Memories of Ninety Years), so I was quite surprised when I read the name Boughton.  According to David Cliffe's Companion to Brideshead Revisited:

27 Boughton
This is the fictional name of the Ryder family seat. The hints given by Mr Ryder and Jasper seem to suggest that the Ryders were in origin a fairly well-off landed family with an easy, moneyed, honoured lifestyle. Charles is not therefore a poor lad taken up by a rich friend.

Of course the Ryder family connection to Boughton may be fictional, but there really is a place called Boughton and Princess Alice used to live there.  She wrote
“We loved Boughton but because it was English we could never admit it.”

Stair Case Hall

Boughton is in Northampton. Originally a monastery, it  passed to the Montagu family during Elizabethan times. A Montagu heiress brought Boughton House when she married into the family.  

Low Pavilion Anteroom

On a side note I can tell you that the present Duke of Northumberland's mother is the daughter of the 10th Duke of Queensberry whilst Princess Alice was the daughter of the 9th Duke of Q, so they are somehow related.  (Bill says, "Yes, dear, they are all related to one another in some way.") 

Morning room

Why do I keep referring to the Northumberlands?  Because they are practically our next door neighbours, well, if you count land ownership around these parts anyhow.  That and I'm a big fan of Harry Potter.  But where were we?  Ah - Boughton.

Drawing room

Her family were always there in time for Easter.  Wealthy families never live in just one house, remember.  Boughton reminded her of cuckoos and of rooks cawing, of warm peaceful days and wearing cotton frocks, (she says woolen cardigans did not exist back then, which is hard to imagine.) and of bluebells and fritillaries in profusion. (I need me some fritillaria).  Cars were rare.  Even bicycling was still a new means of transport.  The children would often cycle to Corby, at the time only just a hamlet with a single row of houses and one shop where they would buy sweets before cycling home again.  That would have been about 14-15 miles, round trip.  She wrote that Corby had since gained a steelworks (and I can tell you they've lost it since) and many Scotsmen were imported to work there.  Wikipedia says it's now called 'Little Scotland'.

When the wet weather kept them inside they played hide and seek in the attics of the top floor of the house.  The house had for an extended period - about 150 years - not been inhabited and rarely visited and in the attics they discovered and played upon an old billiard table.  At the time of her writing it was revered as one of the oldest billiard tables in England.  According to this site, it may have dated back to the late 1600's.

She said there was a story of a mad Duchess of Montagu who according to family legend had been locked up in one of the attics at Boughton as soon as her new husband got his hands on her money.  Turns out this was in fact the extraordinarily wealthy widow, the Duchess of Albemarle, who decided she wouldn't marry anyone but the Emperor of China.  The enterprising Duke of Montague, about whom his family's website says he was 'not overburdened with scruples', got himself up in the appropriate silk robes to propose and was accepted.  Whether he then actually locked her up, Wikipedia doesn't say.  They had no children together, though through her Montagu obtained a title (another one) he was able to pass to his son, John, from his first wife (doesn't seem right, that, but women didn't count for anything back then).  At least she outlived him by 25 years, hopefully in some comfort.


State Room Four (there are five)
The under burdened Ralph's son died leaving two daughters who married and lived elsewhere, leaving Boughton unused for 150 years.

Fish court
As a consequence, bats, rats and mice were a great feature of of the house during Princess Alice's time.  About 300 bats were removed from behind the paneled walls in her father’s sitting room. Charming. 

Most of the rooms were hung with tapestries.  There are pictures on their website of these; I'm not a big fan of tapestries myself, oddly enough.  The oak paneled library was full of leather-bound books.  Sadly their website doesn't show us the library - always near the top of my list for favourite rooms in grand houses.

Walled Garden

Boughton is about 300 miles from us, Google says about a four hour drive and even kindly estimates £40.67 petrol costs.   The admission price is only £4.50, but if I can't stroll through the house itself I don't see us making a special trip just to see the gardens; if we do find ourselves in the neighbourhood sometime, however, I'll be sure to let you know.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Art and Shopping

A little while back Jg at Fatscribe (I do think he's rather unkind to himself) posted about his favourite museums.  I was astonished to realise I've not visited any of them.  I agree about museums being wonderful places.  Bill and I have spent many happy hours wandering around gawking at things.  But I have a guilty secret to confess:  I'm really a sucker for the little shops in those places.  They have such wonderful, odd things that I never see anywhere else.  Garden centres are another great place to find gifts (except that I tend to make most of mine).

So, I decided to go shopping for you - to some of Jg's favourites and to some of mine.  Since I've long ago let my PayPal account die and my credit cards are downstairs, I feel relatively safe...

Jg's:

The Metropolitan in New York  (admission $20)   

The shop.  Where you can find flash drives with personality.  (A note about the design:  I would choose one that allowed me to hang on to the flash drive, not just the cap.  My preference is for all-in-one with a retractable feature).  


Los Angeles County Museum of Art (admission $15).   

The LACMA shop.  Hmmm.  Personally, I think they need to work on their shop a bit.  I did come up with an umbrella, though.  Who can't use an umbrella?  OK, maybe not if you live in the dessert.


The Guggenheim in Manhattan  (admission $15).  

I'm not much into modern stuff, but given the extraordinary building that houses this museum I might make an exception.  You may or may not remember back in June when we were in Venice I said:

We did not visit the Peggy Guggenheim museum, neither of us being major fans of Modern Art.  




That said, Bill laughed when I 'interpreted' this piece to be
"... one definition of an Italian man's happiness:  a chair and a packet of fags..."


Never mind, what is in the Guggenheim shop?   Well, I did find this Kandinsky tie, the design from 1926.  



Something about this photo concerning the history of the museum 


(dated 1937) and the - you'll laugh - the font style of the name Guggenheim intrigues me.  If we ever make it to New York I may have to add this to the list of what to do.

OK.  Now my turn:

The Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.  (admission: FREE). OK, not anywhere near the same scale, but it's my local.  

Their shop, which doesn't list even half of the lovely things there; I swear there are at least a dozen different kinds of notebook, never mind the different covers on each style.  However, I did dig around (and their website's not broken, you just have to scroll all the way down to the bottom) and found this leather lap top carrier in lime.   Not a colour I would purchase, but it coordinates with the blog decor.


Next stop, Alnwick Garden, Alnwick England (That's pronounced AN-ik - no 'l', no 'w', don't ask me why; one is not supposed to drop one's aitches, but double-Us disappear all the time around here).  
(Admission to garden £11; to castle £13; to garden and castle £22).  

This garden development was the brain wave of Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland.  I've been once or twice, but never when the garden was in full bloom (we've always had great timing that way).  We should go there sometime this summer, shouldn't we? (How do they always have the sun shining in those photos?  V. suspicious, that.)  Sadly, they don't seem to have an online shop.  It must be 'too common' or something.  However, I can tell you they specialise in very posh garden accessories.  



So, where next?  Oh, I know...
Victoria & Albert Museum, London.  (admission FREE).  

The V&A is a museum of decorative art, meaning they collect the beautiful things we all live with in our homes or wear (as if).  I could happily spend the rest of my life in the V&A, particularly in the museum of fashion or of textiles.  One of my wishes for my next life would be to live in London - I think it would have to be Pimlico, as I really don't think I could otherwise cope with the population density - and to work at the V&A.   Being associated with the V&A is about the only reason I would subject myself to living in London.

Now they understand shopping.  I decided not to hang about and tempt myself, but grabbed this Diaghilev Ballet Russes tote for only £9 to show you and got out of there!  Whew!


Well, I hope you enjoyed our little shopping excursion.  We may have to get together and to it again sometime!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Oscar's Clothes

The Academy Award winner for Best Picture in 1930 was Broadway Melody.  Never mind that it was made in 1929 (and again in 1936, 1938 and 1940).   

Spring Fever 1927
The costumes were designed by David Cox, but due to the boringly common use of both his name and the film title, I can't come up with any costume pictures that are reliably from that film, at least not ones that interest me.   Truth be known I want to see women's every day street clothing more than I want to see glamour and sequins, though they are nice, too.  Not that the everyday clothes in movies reflects real life, I realise.  The last thing I'm interested in is a bunch of stage costumes for a dance routine.  Been there, done that, still have one of my hats and my tap shoes.

It's a Great Life 1929

So, I shall settle for others of his design, but they are remarkably difficult to find!



His Glorious Night 1929

I've added this book to my wishlist.  Without it I wouldn't have had a prayer of finding any photos to show you.  They don't seem to be very impressed with David Cox, actually, and except for the first picture I can't say I am either.  

Love that hat, though!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Community Archeology

A week or so ago we got a leaflet through our door inviting us to a lecture/public meeting.  It had to do with the findings of archeological interest in  nearby Northumberland Park.  I'm not well versed on the political scene, but as I vaguely understand it, the present government wants to save money by having a 'Big Society', meaning stop paying all those public sector employees and have volunteers run the libraries, museums, etc.  This archeology lark strikes me as being in a similar vein.


They got a great turnout and I may show up in the local paper for a third time in a month (with the ladies at the sewing group in support of charity Age UK - we all being aged, you know; next doing zumba at the WI; finally preparing to do a dig).  Actually, I don't know about the last two being in the papers, only that there were journalists and cameras around.  And I have no intention of digging around in the mud, wet and cold.  The other options were desktop research, interviewing people, doing leaflet drops, planting a medieval herb garden and I'm not sure what else.  Some folks here love to dress up and do re-enactments of historical battles at the various castles along the coastline, Tynemouth Castle being one.  It does my head in when they re-enact the American Civil War - I ask you!


Anyhow, the lecture was pretty interesting.  We ran into a former work colleague, Elspeth (I just love her name) and sat with her.  She knew loads of other people from her volunteer work at Seaton Delaval Hall.  We must get up there sometime.  It's now a National Trust property, but I linked to the other site because it had more photos.  Where was I?  Oh yes, the lecture.

Algernon George Percy, the 6th Duke of Northumberland

The land was given to the town by the 6th Duke of Northumberland and the formal garden park was opened in 1855 (correction, 1885).  At that time they had discovered remains of a medieval hospital, called St.Leonard's, but had just buried the remains and got on with the present work.  Nothing else has been done except to display some stone coffins and an etching which I believe the speaker said once was plated with copper.  The etching is thought to be of a noble couple, probably patrons of the hospital.


The word hospital meant something different in medieval (middle age, being between the fall of the Roman empire in the late 400s and the Renaissance of classical learning in the 1500s) times.   I can't verify the words the lecturer gave us (Latin hospitum; French hospiter), and as I promised not to do anymore etymological posts for a while, I'll just say that the word 'hospital' is related to 'hospitality' and that in medieval times a hospital was not just for the sick but also the poor, as in a workhouse; it also served as an inn for travellers.  

He also told us about the seven comfortable acts, or acts of giving comfort, charitable acts.  It took me a while to find them on Google, as they weren't in Matthew 24 as he said, however, they are also called the Corporal Works of Mercy, from Matthew 25 and the Book of Tobit:
  1. To feed the hungry
  2. To give drink to the thirsty.
  3. To clothe the naked.
  4. To visit prisoners.
  5. To shelter the homeless.
  6. To visit the sick.
  7. To bury the dead.
Wealthy, noble families needed to earn their salvation and so patronage of a hospital was in their best interests, so to speak.

There is some question about whether St. Leonard's hospital was or was not a leper's hospital.  The speaker indicated that leprosy was at its height in the middle ages, but the incidence decreased thereafter for reasons unknown.    Though there is some documentation of the St. Leonard's hospital, affiliated with Tynemouth Priory, I gather archeologists often look to the location of a hospital to make a best guess about its status.  Regular hospitals were within the town; lepers' hospitals were on the outskirts of town, though generally along main roads in order to encourage alms.  Of course, Northumberland Park is now completely surrounded by suburbia and from the maps he showed us of other cities and their medieval hospitals, it's not as obvious to me about the locations being out of town as it was to him, but I'll bow to his expertise.


He also talked for a while about the fate of lepers during the Middle Ages.  They had to wear special clothing, including a hat and a veil, and to carry a bell to warn others of their proximity.  When they entered into the hospital they were considered as dead, with no rights, completely separated from society; I expect there were slightly different rules if one was wealthy, but we're talking about poor folks here.  He also talked about the running of the hospitals, quoting some authority has having said 'Without order there is no religion.'  Rules were strict:  segregation of the sexes, structured mealtimes, proscribed behaviour, a schedule of work if you were able.  The word of the hospital head was law.   Leprosy was viewed as a punishment from God and society feared that you were contagious; as if having the disease wouldn't be bad enough in itself.


The hospital area included a consecrated burial ground and some human remains may or may not be found.  The speaker suggested that £200 or more costs for dating the remains was outside of the budget and there wasn't going to be a lot done with any skeletons found.  There are records of burials undertaken during time of war when access to the Priory cemetery was limited, with the last taking place in 1713 or 14.  The location of the priory on the cliff top overlooking the mouth of the Tyne is also the location of Tynemouth Castle and  a Coastguard station, now closed.  But you've seen all that before.



So, everyone got a break for a spot of tea and a chat, then there was a short question and answer period during which it was revealed that the digging didn't start until June.  Then we all went home.  Elspeth asked if I'd signed up for anything and I said no.  I'm thinking there needs to be something that Bill goes out and does without me so he can come home and tell me about it.  Don't you think?

Kidnapped by Colour

I'm beginning to realise just how much I appreciate colour. I should have known this from my daft selection of a colour of the month to the time I spend drooling over colour names. This obsession should have been obvious to me for much longer: for years I never went anywhere without a cross-stitch project. I wasn’t that fussed about the finished product, but I loved working with the silky, beautifully coloured threads. Perhaps it’s genetic, given my mom was a photographic artist and spent her days – and often nights – working with oil paints.

I’ve loved Kinsey Millhone stories ever since I was introduced to them. Vivien recently loaned me the last three of the published alphabet series, with takes us to U is for Undertow. It’s good to know we can look forward to five more, but then it’s over, which is very sad.

What have these two paragraphs got in common? Just that S is for Silence was even more unputdown-able than most, which is saying something. I decided it was because the story not only bounced between 1987 and 1953, but involved characters named Violet and Daisy Sullivan. Daisy, the daughter, hired Kinsey to find her mother, Violet, who had disappeared in 1953 when Daisy was only seven years old. 

Violet had orange-red hair, clear green eyes, and a snappy personality to match. She was beautiful, voluptuous and only wore purple, lilac, lavender and mauve to coordinate with her name. She even drove a 1953 Chevy BelAir in a colour called violet slate:  the embodiment of a ‘colourful character’ if I ever met one. I won’t tell you any more so you can go enjoy the story for yourself.

Did you ever get swept away with the pictures a book painted in your head?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Uptown Downstairs Abbey

I've mentioned several times that charity is big business in Britain.  Also that Brits have rather a strange sense of humour; give them an excuse to do something goofy and they'll leap on it.  Put those two ideas together and you get Red Nose Day (which raised £74 million?), which was last Friday.  My guess is that productivity across the country dropped to it's usual annual low, but then it does on Jeans for Genes Day as well, not to mention the McMillan Coffee Morning.  I used to wish I could work from home more often, but that's just me being my usual mean and grumpy self.

However, Bill found this video advertising the Comic Relief programme that will air tonight and knowing what a fan you are of the whole Downton Abbey / Upstairs Downstairs thing, I thought I should at least try to share it with you.  Victoria Wood, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders - it doesn't get better than that! Oh, and Kim Cattrall as the American wife...



And you might try this link to some hilarious behind-the-scenes interviews.

No doubt the show tonight will be a riot, but we won't be watching.  Today is Bill's birthday and I'm taking him out to dinner.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Faithful Servant


Apparently Belmont (known to the rest of the world as Jim, but to his family as Belmont) reached his goal, to sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" to Mona on their wedding anniversary.  He died at home on Thursday, the 17th of March.  The above poster appears on the Facebook page of the Oklahoma County Sheriff's office.  In reading that and Belmont's obituary, and other stories on the internet, although I already knew much of it, I have the say the numbers still impress me:

3 children
4 great-great grandchildren
7 grandchildren
18 great grandchildren
30 years service as deputy sheriff
60 years service at the annual Oklahoma State Fair
74 years as music director for the Downtown Baptist Church
75 years marriage (plus 5 years waiting to marry Mona!)
94 years of age at his passing.

Faithful and perseverant must be amongst the best words to embody Belmont's life, but beyond that he was a really nice man.  I only really mourn his passing because I was looking forward to our next visit and because his absence must be such an incomparable loss to his family.  More than anything I have to admire him for a life so well lived.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Serendipity

I was at the pub after a run one evening, waiting for others to arrive, sipping my water and cranberry juice.  I mean to bring some sort of craft work for such times, but don't always remember.  So, I browsed the shelves of books available for trade and found a Reader's Digest condensed book that had a soppy story set in the French Revolution.  It passed the time and I found myself picking it up in subsequent weeks.  Finally, I remembered to take a book to trade and brought it home, only to find I wasn't really that interested in the story!  I enjoyed much more re-reading the shortened Decider, one of my favourite Dick Francis books, then a Rambo-like book, Point of Impact.  It was good enough I would read Stephen Hunter again, but it's not really my genre so I wouldn't track him down (a v. weak pun, there). 

What really excited me enough to tell you about was the last of the books, Blitzcat by Robert Westall.  His name was vaguely familiar, but I didn't think much of it until I got to the end where they tell  you about the author.  Turns out he's from my neck of the woods. 

Born in Tynemouth in 1929, Robert Westall experienced the Blitz as a boy on Tyneside.  He studied fine art at university in Durham and London, and during the 1950s he did his National Service in the Royal Corps of Signals. After twenty-eight years as a teacher and a stint as an antiques dealer, Westall became a full-time writer. He very soon established a reputation as a first-class children's author, many of whose books were enjoyed by adults.  Blitzcat, which won the Smarties Prize in 1989, is one of these.  Although Robert Westall had lived with at least three cats in his home for more than thirty years, and wanted to make a cat the hero of a novel, he was not at all sure if he would be able to do so.  But then he wrote a short story about a cat and an RAF night bomber, and that gave him the little bit of courage he needed to make a start on Blitzcat.  A key feature of the book as that cats have the power of 'psi-trailing' people over vast distances.  Robert Westall believed in this ability, and was glad to have it confirmed by Professor J.B. Rhine of Duke University, North Carolina, who had studied over three hundred cases of alleged psi-trailing and authenticated more than fifty.  Robert Westall died in 1993.  Blitzcat remains an enduring memorial.  It speaks eloquently of Britain's tenacity and endurance during the Second World War.  'Britain was a different nation,' wrote Robert Westall.  'Given the chance of it again, I would leave my television and videotape, the double glazing and central heating, exotic restaurants and foreign holidays, and go back to it like a shot.' 

I must admit that I'm not a fervent believer in para-normal psychology relating to either humans or animals.  I so enjoy Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project that I hope to dip more into children's literature - beyond Harry Potter - to see if it brings me as much pleasure as it does her.  Given some of the stories about adults in Blitzcat I wouldn't have classed it as a children's story and given what I know they left out of Decider I'd make a guess that the full book was even less child-oriented, but I will definitely be looking out for more of Westall's books, hopefully avoiding the science fiction selections. 

The world of pre-war Britain that Westall speaks about is what I'm hoping to find in his books and is of course the era which has fascinated me during the past few years.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Blog and Bone

There is a load of stuff going on over here, but the main features are 

grumpiness

and 

viruses

which is why I've not been blogging to my usual schedule.  I sometimes wonder if I'm ill or just lazy, but either way I spent yesterday being miserable and today Bill is in bed.  During the day.  This is highly abnormal behaviour for him. Bill managed yesterday to nag me into making an appointment with the GP, but I expect the doctor will just tell me I'm getting old and slowing down.

I've taken advantage of Bill being unconscious to spend some time catching up with blog reading, but didn't have any coherent thoughts about writing until I found a particular post and thought I'd give this a go.

A few weeks ago, when I was younger and more energetic, I was looking for a way to do aerobic exercise without going out into the cold and wet.  I pulled out my step, purchased many years ago before I found the running club, but exercise tapes/DVDs get dated and boring pretty quick.  One day I might look at what they have at the library, but I don't really need a DVD.  Instead, being the aerobics queen long before I did any races, I just looked for music to move to.  If you've attended step classes - do they exist anymore? - after a few weeks you know all the steps.  It doesn't matter if the choreography is stellar, you just have to keep moving and keep your heart rate up.  

Do I need to insert a caution here about See Your Doctor before Starting Any Exercise Programme, and all that (I expect s/he would give you a big hug and kiss for volunteering to get off the couch, but I could be wrong).  Anyhow, if you aren't already marathon fit, don't try this at home.  Just read it like my mom used to sit and smoke while she watched Jack LaLanne on TV.  I know I watched my first Jane "Feel the Burn" Fonda video in my house robe, sat cross-legged in front of the TV with some coffee.  Didn't you?

Anyhow, it's been ages since I did any stepping and I've no idea where are the tapes I made for my little player with headphones, or the player for that matter.  Instead, I took advantage of the fact that Bill's laptop was set up in the dining room (no more, sadly) and looked up 'beats per minute' and 'step aerobics'.  I gathered that something between 120 and 126 was recommended.  Then I found a great music site for 1980's music and another which just focussed on BPM; a little more research will find loads of websites with music lists for those DJs interested in mixing music, you know.  Next 'step', so to speak, is to find the best YouTube video's for your purpose.  I tended to look for the longest play length, but I don't care about the video part as I'm not watching (for a change).

I kept the list (as I do for new blogs to add to my bloglist) in a draft email that I leave unsent, so I can update it easily without opening another programme or saving my junk on Bill's computer.  No doubt someone with more computer savvy would know how to download all this on an iPod, but I've never figured that stuff out and I expect the list to change frequently anyhow.  My favourite sound since living with a hyperactive stepson many years ago is SILENCE, so I don't listen to music very often.  Anyhow, I just open each YouTube video on a different tab and take a second or two to hit play for each in turn.  I've only used this list a couple of times and maybe you don't like this particular music, but here is my playlist at the moment:

120 BPM
Prince - 1999  
Madonna - Borderline   
Ace of Base - Dancer in a Daydream  
Ace of Base - Young and Proud  

122 BPM
Bangles - Manic Monday  
Prince - Raspberry Beret  
Ace of Base - My Mind 

124 BPM
ZZ Top - Legs  
Bon Jovi - You Give Love a Bad Name   

126 BPM
Aerosmith - Dude Looks Like a Lady  
Natalie Cole - Pink Cadillac  
Bryan Adams - Run to You 
Steve Miller  - Abracadabra  
Ace of Base - Waiting for Magic  

127 BPM
Ace of Base - Hear Me Calling   
I get a pretty good 45-50 minute work out from this, taking the occasional short break to cool down slightly and take a sip of water.  When this music gets boring and no longer inspires me to work, I'm sure there are a million other tunes that will pep me up - if I ever get that well again.  I see on the internet that there are folks attempting 'super step' to much faster music, but that's just silly, I think.   Anyhow, what inspired me to post this particular idea given my rear is dragging when it gets up at all?  This post where they used music in a clever way - not pop, but classical - and gave up modern technology to improve their lives!  

Why is this post called Blog and Bone?  It's a long story and best left to another day...

Saturday, 12 March 2011

French Impressions

I wrote earlier that I don't normally enter giveaways, and on the whole that is true - I often don't even read a post if the subject mentions a giveaway.  However, I did succumb to temptation on Tish's blog some time back when she was offering a book on interior design by her friend, Betty Lou Phillips.  Tish borrowed some of the book's text about French manners that was quite interesting and I thought I might pick up some more ideas.


I didn't even realise I'd won until Tish got in touch - the one post of hers that I miss and it has good news for me!  Then I didn't hear anything and decided I must not have played the game right; I'm clueless about how a lot of things work in the blog world.  Anyhow, my book came by parcel post last week, completely out of the blue!   A huge book all the way from Dallas!  What fun!

Now, you and I know that unless I win the lottery (slightly unlikely as I've never bought a ticket), I'm not likely to employ a decorator.  That said, I read loads of decorating blogs for inspiration; as in inspiration to do housework as much as do decorate.  However, it has occurred to me that given that we live in a slightly older pile of bricks, there is always the odd crack here or there that needs addressed.  For this reason (and Bill's retired anyhow, right?) re-decorating opportunities come around a bit more often than if we lived in a modern house. 


Whilst a good number of the ideas in French Impressions work best with ultra high ceilings, wood panelled walls, huge French windows and stone spiral staircases, there was a room I really loved.  The colour scheme was largely cream and brown neutrals, but with bright red accents:  a high backed chair, a book, a lampshade, some flowers.  The red drew the eye around the room looking for more red.  It was lovely.   Later, it dawned on me that I'd used these colours in our kitchen!   My favourite room appears on Tish's website as well, so I'm guessing she liked it, too. 


Lovely pictures aside, Betty Lou also highlights some specific ideas in the link above, in case you are like me and don't always see what you are looking at.  Sometimes I need ideas spelled out for me in words as well.

Bill had a look through the book and also admired the architecture.  One thing that struck him, though, was how shiny and new everything looked, which he thought gave it away as being aimed at the American market.  Europeans don't appreciate shiny newness in the same way.   Betty Lou's tips at the lower end of the cost scale include

Be very selective when purchasing the new.

and

Seat the humble across from the haughty, the ordinary across from the extraordinary; good taste is not about personal wealth or visual extravagance.

The
Daily Connoisseur describes it as rejection of new materialism.  British interior designer, Nicky Haslam, describes this idea using the words 'patina' and 'pleasant decay'.  



One of my favourite books, Watching the English, describes the different ways in which the English classes decorate their homes:  

...the way in which we arrange, furnish and decorate our homes is largely determined by social class.  This has little or nothing to do with wealth.  Upper-class and upper-middle-class homes tend to be shabby, frayed and unkempt in a way no middle-middle or lower-middle would tolearate, and the homes of the wealthiest working-class nouveaux-riches are full of extremely expensive items that the uppers and upper-middles regard as the height of vulgarity. 

I don't claim to be upper anything, but I do prefer my old, eclectic furniture to anything too new and grand.  So, next time you look around and think everything looks a bit 'used', just tell yourself it's very 'European'!