Wednesday, 29 May 2013

If Walls Could Talk

Last week I talked about Amanda Vickery's book, The Gentleman's Daughter.  Today I want to share a few of the fun bits from Lucy Worsley's book, If Walls Could Talk - An Intimate History of the Home

I just wanted to share some things I learned about words, because you know how much I love words. For example, the origin of the term 'upper crust', from medieval days:

"At the bottom end of the hall an elaborately carved screen was constructed to hide the entrance to the kitchens.  It disguised the doors to the buttery (for storing drinks) and the pantry (where bread was kept).  The pantry was the workplace of the pantler, who handed out bread to the household. ... 'Trenchers' were slices of old bread which acted as throwaway plates.  They were formed from the burned and blackened bottoms of loaves. The more desireable top crust was eaten at once by the master and guests, hence the enduring term 'upper crust' for something posh." 

Ever wonder why desert and dessert were so similar in sound and appearance but nothing to do with one another?  Turns out they are in fact related terms:

"The separating out of sweet from savoury was an important development of the sixteenth century.  One step towards the breakdown of the communal household meal was the new Elizabethan practice of serving the sweets that now followed the main meat course in a different room.
Often a concert or play followed dinner in the great hall, so it was necessary to clear the tables away.  The action of removing the dirty plates from the tables was in French called the desert, the creation of an absence (the same word used for the Sahara).  This act of 'deserting' the table gave its name to the dessert or sweet course served elsewhere while the entertainers were setting up."

I always wondered about sculleries, given that this house and those of our neighbours all had one.  Most of us have modernised and joined the two kitchen-y rooms together, but I always wondered about the term 'scullery' since I associate sculling with some kind of boat.  Turns out sculleries were where the dishes were washed (also cleaning food, plucking birds, etc - the dirty stuff).  Escuelerie is the French word for 'dish room'.  

I've always wondered why Brits call 'cookies' biscuits (or why American's call them cookies). Lucy doesn't explain fully, but she does tell you about the term 'biscuit':

"Early ovens work quite differently from modern ones, where heat is provided continuously throughout the cooking process.  A stone- or brick-lined oven is heated before the food goes in, by the burning inside it of bundles of twigs called faggots.  Then the ashes are raked out, loaves are shovelled in, the door is closed and the bread is left to bake in the slowly cooling oven. 
When I used the bread oven at the Weald and Downland Museum, we stopped the oven's opening with a wooden door previously soaked in water to prevent it from catching fire. We sealed the gaps around the door with a strip of uncooked dough.  When this dough was baked, we knew that the bread inside must be finished too.  After the baking of the bread, the oven still contained just enough heat to bake a second round of cakes or biscuits.  The very word bis-cuit means 'second cooked'.

Cookie, was recognised in American English from 1703.  It comes from the Dutch word koekje,  for 'little cake', a diminutive of koek, for 'cake'.  I can only guess that Brits are more likely to take words from the French language, given the Norman invasion and all, in spite of the fact that their sovreign from 1689, was Dutch.  We could go on to talk about why the colour orange links Ireland, Holland and France, but that would be another post.

Getting back to If Walls Could Talk, it really is a good read, not least because she talks about what people actually did in bed.  You'll have to read her book to find out, but it's probably not what you're thinking.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Harry and Frank

One of the places we drove past on our way home was Camp du Drap d'Or (Field of Cloth of Gold). We didn't stop to look, but we remembered this was the meeting place of King Henry the VIIIth of England and King Francois I of France in June 1520.  Before this last trip to France I could have told you about Henry, but I wouldn't have been able to name Francois.

I think I'll remember the F-name now, having been to Fontainebleau, but of course that F is also for Francois.  

My foreign language experience in grade school was Spanish (taught by a lady on the TV) and so Spanish pronunciation comes more naturally. Trying to speak French is embarrassing, but any effort is well rewarded, so I give it a go.  

I was always in doubt about that last syllable in Fontainebleau and stumbled between blur and blue, but in fact it's blow; fon' ten blow, just in case you need to know.

The Royal Elephant is about wisdom and virtue.

It's hard to show you Fontainebleau (the portion that we saw, anyhow) without a squillion photos because it is such a jaw-dropping place.  

Under a chandelier...


I thought I would first write some of the stories I remember and about research I've done since. Just so I'll have some words to go with the pictures, you understand.   I know I've jumped into the middle, not starting at the front door and all, but we'll probably get there eventually.

Definitely a room with a view.


So anyhow, we're talking about two men who made big decisions.  Henry the VIIIth had the nerve to tell the Pope to push off and to start his own religion.  He had a problem to solve, getting a male heir.  He was prepared to take drastic steps to achieve that, though personally I think his younger daughter, Elizabeth I, was his highest accomplishment.   

Henry and Francois were allies in the Italian Wars against the Holy Roman Empire.  Francois's country was surrounded by territories under the control of his enemy, Charles V, so he formed an allegiance with  the Islamic ruler of the Ottoman Empire, an unusual decision for a Christian king.

Francois is known as having supported the development of a standardized French language . He initiated the French Renaissance, inviting Italian artists to help decorate his Palace at Fontainebleau.  He is also known for his big nose.

These photos are from the gallery named for him. I love history, architecture and decorative arts, but Renaissance paintings do not push my buttons. Instead of the paintings I appreciated the parquet floors, the huge windows, graceful chandeliers and the wood carvings.  Also, I remember reading about the advent of galleries in a book on medieval architecture.  I can highly recommend Castle:  A History of the Buildings that Shaped Medieval Britain, by Marc Morris. These long hall ways were popular in fine houses not just because they provided a space to show off one's art.  The windows let in light in a time before electricity and a gallery can also provide a hallway to link rooms.   This particular gallery goes links the monastery and the royal apartments.

Lately I learned that a gallery was also a popular place for having private conversations.  The long narrow shape allowed one to be more certain than in any other room that there were no eavesdroppers around.  

If I could figure out how to stick a gallery on this house I'd certainly do so, not for art (as if) or to gossip, but for the gorgeous tall windows.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Part XLI - Sport and Slang

This is part of a series discussing Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  The tenth chapter is titled Modern Survivals of Prowess.

Given that Veblen believed the leisure class had tendencies for aggressive behaviour, he was concerned about the possibility of such persons to influence young lives in organisations such as ‘boys brigades’, which he felt were militaristic.  Given what I’ve read about the founding fathers of the Boys Brigade and the Boy Scouts, I wouldn’t say his concerns were unfounded.  They were both started here in Britain by men with military backgrounds. The early controversies about the Boy Scouts is  an interesting read.

Veblen was also concerned about ‘college spirit’ and athletics and the like in institutions for higher learning.  He felt that sports were a form of ‘adventuresome exploit’ and were ‘expression of emulative, partly activities deliberately entered upon with a view to gaining repute for prowess’.  One can hardly argue with this.  He lumped together prize-fights, bullfights, athletics, shooting, angling, yachting and games of skill.  Even if a few of these sports were not terribly physical and destructive they involved moving from a basis of hostile combat to developing skill and on to ‘cunning and chicanery’.  (Hmmm…can I add cycling to this list?). 

He said the boyish ‘addiction to sports’ indicated arrested development of a man’s moral character.  As with other comparisons, he again links members of the hereditary leisure class with the delinquent members of the lower classes in their obsession with sports.  (Given the mayhem created by those earning the title 'football yob' I must admit there is some mileage in his claim.)  

Veblen also thought there was an appreciable amount of ‘make believe’ in sporting, though not to the same extent with all games. 
“It is noticeable, for instance, that even very mild-mannered and matter-of-fact men who go out shooting are apt to carry an excess of arms and accoutrements in order to impress upon their own imagination the seriousness of their undertaking. These huntsmen are also prone to a histrionic, prancing gait and to an elaborate exaggeration of the motions, whether of stealth or of onslaught, involved in their deeds of exploit. Similarly in athletic sports there is almost invariably present a good share of rant and swagger and ostensible mystification — features which mark the histrionic nature of these employments.”

As a woman, I have to chuckle when I read this; it’s one of the things I like best about Veblen.  He also points out that sport (particularly football) is not only predatory, but it is a useless activity.  Of course, as an economist he would be unlikely to view sport – particularly professional sports – in the same light, but when he was writing there was nothing like the financial rewards there are today.

He also claims there is a great deal of slang involved in athletics which is largely drawn from ‘extremely sanguinary locutions borrowed from the terminology of warfare.’   I’ve looked for, but not found examples of this slang.  The commonalities of sports and war are well recognised, however, and I found some of the websites about slang in the military (I chose to link to WW I language; current slang is not as cute) and slang following the two world wars vaguely amusing.  

I really cracked up, though, when Veblen asserted
"Except where it is adopted as a necessary means of secret communication, the use of a special slang in any employment is probably to be accepted as evidence that the occupation in question is substantially make-believe."

Part of the growing cynicism I experienced at work before I retired was my frustration with the increasing use of weird words.  Have you ever played Buzzword Bingo?  Personally, I wish we could go back to mushy fruit and rotten apple throwing.

I have to say that Veblen is spot on with ‘make believe’.  Another thing he nailed is [emphasis mine]
“Sportsmen — hunters and anglers — are more or less in the habit of assigning a love of nature, the need of recreation, and the like, as the incentives to their favorite pastime. These motives are no doubt frequently present and make up a part of the attractiveness of the sportsman’s life; but these cannot be the chief incentives. These ostensible needs could be more readily and fully satisfied without the accompaniment of a systematic effort to take the life of those creatures that make up an essential feature of that “nature” that is beloved by the sportsman.”

My second husband was a keen hunter of deer and I can’t tell you how many times he told me how beautiful, how intelligent, graceful, sensitive, etc., he thought deer were.  Makes me kind of glad our marriage fell apart; in time he might have come after me with a bow and arrow.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Gentleman's Daughter

As I mentioned in a previous post about the books I took to France, I really enjoyed two historical non-fiction books, each written by women who have made BBC television series.

Amanda Vickery's book, The Gentleman's Daughter, draws mainly on the correspondence and ledgers of a woman, Elizabeth Parker Shackleton, who lived in the early 1800s, in Yorkshire.  Vickery seemed mostly interested in determining how much independence women of the gentry had during that time.  Did they run their homes?  Make decisions about spending money?  Go out in public alone?  In spite of the fact that women had no right to own property in that day - their husbands owned all - what did society expect from and given them expectation of?  I'll leave you to read the book to find the answers to all those questions, but there were some details I found fascinating.

Women tended to have household accounts which detailed all expenditures.  A good housekeeper - this referring to the management of the home - also had an inventory of the contents of her home.  Dishes, linens, furniture, you name it, went on the list and most homemakers could and did document the source and cost of all these items.  This was also the practice in Georgian America and served as an aide when Tories loyal to the British cause applied to the crown for a type of disaster relief following the revolutionary war.  Men tended to 'list' land, house and 'sundries'; they needed the women of the house to fill in the details.  

Vickery described how Shackleton bought entire bolts of linen and sewed men's shirts, made table clothes and other household items with her own hands.  If she wanted other than plain white, she sent the fabric to Manchester for professional dyeing.  Even in a well-to-do homes of the gentry, fabrics were used over and over, cut down into smaller pieces as they wore out.  A couple furnished their home when they married and this tended to be their furniture for life, particularly as the well made pieces were of a quality to be handed down over generations.  

I'd always thought that it wasn't until the industrial revolution or even World War I that the servant shortage began, however even in the 1800s there was a very high turnover among servants.  Even then, members of the working class objected to the amount of work expected of them for small wages.  Young women also found it difficult to maintain the subservient demeanor expected of them to demonstrate they 'knew their place'.   The longest serving members of staff in Elizabeth Shackleton's house were two of the men, with eleven and eight years.  Female servants generally left within a few months.  Vickery seems to conclude that Shackleton's difficulties weren't that unusual, based on the exchange of information, between her and many other women of the district, concerning servants.

Given that country households had to be largely self-sufficient, making everything from butter to laundry soap, labour shortages were a big problem.  Shackleton had a variety of arrangements from live-in staff to people she brought in by the day or to do a specific piece of work.  Having servants sounds somewhat luxurious, but managing servants sounds like my kind of hell.  Far from never lifting a finger, the woman of gentry had to have knowledge of a great many processes involved in house work, in order to train staff and to be able to judge the outcome.  

This book is lauded as an important contribution to social history in general and to English feminist history in particular.  It convinced me that keeping house was no simple task, even with an army of servants.

By the way, if you are a Jane Austen fan, you might enjoy Amanda Vickery's exploration of a Regency ball.  This programme shows a recreation of the dance, the clothes, and the food, etc., at Chawton House, the home of Jane's brother Edward.  Enjoy! 

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Marais

Jane and Chris are coming for a (Chris's) family wedding this summer and they plan to stop in Paris for a bit.  They've been all over Europe before, but I understand why she'd like to see it again without small children along.  I'm in awe of people who manage to travel with children.  I find it challenging enough just travelling with Bill.  

Jane mentioned having found some walks they were going to do, so Bill and I borrowed the idea and did one of Le Marais.  This was only supposed to be about 3 km - less than 2 miles, but along with Pere LeChaise and Bill's Kerry Greenwood expedition on the south bank, we walked for 7 hours.  My bruised, swollen feet told me 'comfortable' shoes weren't sufficient for this sort of thing.

Le Marais is an historic district on the right bank of the Seine.  Our tour began at the Hotel de Ville, which is too big to photograph properly, so I'll let Google show it to you

Some of the old timber houses go back to the 17th and 18th centuries.   

Their age seemed to show at the top of the ground level floor, protruding at a rickety angle.  

They reminded me of skinny women, standing on a street corner, their hip bones sticking out.  

There were many grand hotels, including the Hotel de  Sens with it's manicured garden.

We passed this once without realizing what it was.

Parisians have loads of nice places for a picnic lunch.

The Hotel de Sully was also impressive.

Hotel de Sully, built 1625-30.

I must admit after a while the hotels all looked the same to me.  

I can only take in so much at once.

As recommended, we took a break at a park known as the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris.  

Arcade at Place des Vosges

It is surrounded by arcades on all sides and the present structure was built by Henri IV in the early 1600s.  I later read that this was formerly the site of a palace and a tournament in which Henri II was killed while jousting in 1559.  Trust Bill to remember that he got stabbed in the eye.

It was lovely in the sun.  That man across from Bill was falling
asleep.  I kept waiting for him to fall off the bench.

I knew that Victor Hugo once lived in one of the apartments, but it was also the birthplace of Madame de Sevigné.  As we left I saw a sign that suggested there was free Wifi there, or perhaps in Paris as a whole.  What a modern concept!  Why doesn't every city do that?

The Rue de Rosiers (rosebushes) was described as being in the Old Jewish quarter and this area had a bit more personality.   

Bill loved the signs in French and Yiddish.  

I liked the bespoke tailor's window.

We left that quarter on the Rue Pavee, the first street in Paris to be paved.  This took us past a beautiful Art Nouveau synagogue.

I'm conscious that there is nothing new I can show you.  Paris has been discovered and re-discovered for centuries.  Every inch of it has been crawled and photographed.  If you never have been, it might be interesting to see photos, and it might not.

I did grab a couple of pictures of shops that were intriguing but I didn't enter.  One was Sensitive et Fils.  Another was Isobel Marant.  The IM video shows some interesting clothes, but the soundtrack is dire:  someone has the hiccups or something.  If I were to go back to do some shopping, I would focus on the Rue de Sevigne and the Rue Debelleyme.  

We passed an art display consisting of hand written signs in English.  Some of the signs were funny.  I wonder if they are from t-shirts or something?

The best things in life aren't things

I've no idea why I'm out of bed

I wish Morgan Freeman narrated my life

Am I fired yet?

I'm not myself today...maybe I'm you

Bill's Kerry Greenwood expedition took us to the Rue de Chat qui Peche (the cat that fishes), which is really an alley leading to some other interesting streets.  Also to Rue Jacob.  Some very interesting-looking people (rich and something else; edgy, somehow)  came out of L'Echelle de Jacob (Jacob's Ladder), a private bar/club, just after we passed.  I snapped a photo just too soon, because I liked the lettering on their sign.  Whatever happened took place at the back of number 27, but of course we couldn't go back there to see it.  I'll have to read the book to find out what all happened.

If you'd really like to see LeMarais, you could print out the Fodor's tour, read Wikipedia about each of the places and look at photographs on Google images.  It would be much easier on your poor feet, believe me.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Part XL - Duels and the Leisure Class

This is a series about Theory of the Leisure Class, a book written by American economist Thorstein Veblen, the man who gave us the phrase 'conspicuous consumption'.  Chapter Ten is titled Modern Survivals of Prowess.

“Apart from warlike activity proper, the institution of the duel is also an expression of the same superior readiness for combat; and the duel is a leisure-class institution. The duel is in substance a more or less deliberate resort to a fight as a final settlement of a difference of opinion.”

Veblen asserts that duelling is a leisure class custom.  It occurs only where there is an hereditary leisure class and is practised exclusively among members of the leisure class, except for military officers (who are normally from the leisure class anyhow) and among lower-class delinquents who are either by nature or by training of a similar predatory disposition. 

Ordinary men generally hold their tempers, unless alcohol has lowered their inhibitions.  However, well-bred gentleman and low class louts have this habit in common, of settling disputes with fighting.  The latter is asserting his manhood.  The former is acting out some chivalric code and defending his honour, which in this context is about social standing or respectability.  

In reading about the history of duelling, I found the section on ‘culture of law’ vs ‘culture of honour’ interesting, in that it refers to nomadic peoples.  These people had two reasons for not having a culture of law:  a) their wealth is carried around with them and so vulnerable to theft; and b) wandering in the wilds, they have no recourse to lawmen, courts, etc. and so have to undertake matters for themselves. 

The article also refers to nomadic types in ‘the borders’.  This is the area around the border between England and Scotland which was wild and unsettled long after the south of England was more peaceful.  The noble families in the North like the Percy’s tended to be Catholic and thus have little allegiance to the Protestant government of England.  Nomadic people include sheep herders of the North of England and Scotland.  These are the people who supposedly populated the Southern U.S. where the culture of honour is said to still exist.  I found this discussion very interesting.  I’ve always said that Newcastle-upon-Tyne had a lot in common with Oklahoma, but I didn’t know about this!

The history of duelling is interesting as well.  I think of foppish men in tights duelling with swords, but of course all those showdowns in Gunsmoke were enacting the duelling tradition.  Did you know that James Arness was married to a woman named Janet Surtees and that Surtees is a name definitely associated with the Newcastle area?... Me neither, but where were we?  

Every area seems to have its own traditions but a common feature is the agreement on the weapon of choice.  Careful choice of this weapon, eg offering up trichinella-infested sausages, could aid in avoiding a duel.  More likely weapons were swords, sticks (more about which, later) or pistols.  Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln each narrowly avoided being drawn into a duel.  Old West aside, possibly the most famous duel in the US is the one in which Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Secretary of State Alexander Hamilton in 1804; Burr was indicted but not tried for murder. 

William Pitt became the youngest ever Prime Minister of Britain at age 24.  Between his first and second terms as PM, he fought a duel with Whig politician George Tierney in 1798; luckily neither was injured.  Duels were less and less popular after the 18th Century but there is mention that a young Queen Victoria hoped that Lord Cardigan ‘got off easily’.  Being a Lord and tried by a jury of his 'peers', he was unanimously acquitted in spite of being thought to have been ‘unsporting’ in his use of a pistol with concealed rifling and a hair trigger (whatever that means). 

Veblen clearly thinks duels are a childish act, probably the prevalent opinion of his time.  He goes on at length about the period in a boy's life called the 'predaceous interval' and claims that 
"The boy usually knows to nicety, from day to day, how he and his associates grade in respect of relative fighting capacity; and in the community of boys there is ordinarily no secure basis of reputability for any one who, by exception, will not or cannot fight on invitation."

Of course, the average boy outgrows this phase, but 
"...the leisure-class and the delinquent-class character shows a persistence into adult life of traits that are normal to childhood and youth, and that are likewise normal or habitual to the earlier stages of culture."

So Veblen seems to see the aggressive, predatory nature he attributes to the leisure class as being childish.  In the case of duels, I'd have to say he has a good point.  

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

People are Dying to Get In

Death and Taxes
This was the post title I'd originally planned.  Bill and I managed to bring back some sort of French flu and we have languished and coughed for weeks. Bill hasn't run more than around the block for ages. I'm just beginning to feel like a human with a future instead of a near corpse awaiting release.  

I've also been working on my US tax returns (we ex-pats get an extra two months).  Of course the computer rebelled, Microsoft having decided it didn't like the old files with important data.  

Thankfully, Bill is an able computer technician.  I'm probably tempting fate by saying this but the process wasn't nearly as painful this time.  Probably because I'd done a bit of ground work at the start of the year and my files were in better order.  

Touch wood, I won't have just provoked an audit or something.  I know I'm honest and well-intentioned, but I'm also a tightwad and no tax expert, so there is always the chance that I've erred in some way...  But let's talk about something pleasant, like visiting a cemetery.

Pere LaChaise 
The first I ever heard of this place was in reading about Nancy Mitford, who spent her last years in Paris.  Her lover, Charles DeGaulle's chief of staff Colonel Gaston Palewski (who probably didn't much love her), was upset that he couldn't be  buried in Pere LaChaise.  I'm not sure why he couldn't manage it, perhaps the rules were even more strict 30-40 years ago.  

I should have known this 110 acre cemetery was on a big hill; Palewski whinged not just that he couldn't get in, he couldn't get a good location overlooking the city.  People do have funny ideas about death, don't they?  

Given the number of people who have been buried there over 200 years, I almost wonder if it always was a hill.  Of course we did it the hard way.  I've just found we could have gone to a different Metro stop and started at the top instead of at the bottom.  Oh well...


Oscar Wilde's Grave
There is something a bit strange about a cemetery that doubles as a tourist attraction.  We bought a map at the newsagent next to the Metro station (Pere LaChaise).  It located the graves some of the more famous persons interred within.  I didn't know a lot of them, in fact I only recognise about 20 of the more famous names.  The problem of fame and tourists seems to most plague the graves of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.  They have both been fenced off to prevent further desecration and sure enough we found groups of kids around each.

I was disappointed that reflection on the glass enclosure around Wilde's grave meant I couldn't read the inscription that appeared to give a precis of his life. I was electrified when Bill excitedly exclaimed 'Shelley, his bits!  His bits!  They've chopped his willy off!'  How embarrassing.  I've no idea what 'bits' an Assyrian angel on the grave of a gay man should have, but I didn't want to talk about it at that volume amongst strangers, and I certainly wasn't going to peer closely enough to verify the details.  I couldn't make Bill shut-up, he was having so much fun, so I just snarled that I didn't know him and walked off.  Humourless of me, I know; living in Britain hasn't completely changed me yet. As it happens, it turns out Bill was right.

Cemetery / Park / Gallery
I'm probably a bit weird in that I find many cemeteries beautiful and peaceful, particularly old ones.  That said, I really couldn't enjoy the British cemetery at Montecassino, Italy.  The markers give names and ages and, believe me, it is upsetting.  

Most cemeteries, though, have a longer history and a wider age range.  There are sad stories but also long lives to celebrate and large markers indicating some prosperity.  

People also demonstrate a wide range of ideas in their selection of monuments, from exquisite to egotistical, tasteful to trashy, laudable to laughable (I enjoyed that bit of alliteration).  

Visitors in cemeteries seem to walk - even with their dogs - more sedately, speak more quietly and seem generally more reflective than they do elsewhere. I've gone to Preston Cemetery, our 'local', on a couple of runs and found it made me feel more alive than usual, though I was careful to stay away from anyone involved in an actual funeral.  Did anyone ever see and enjoy Harold and Maude?  

At Pere LaChaise, there is wonderful dignity in these tiny little 'houses' with the family names engraved over the door.  Most seem to just have empty shelves inside, a few had chairs.  Some of the chairs were crumbling with age.  I couldn't help but wonder about the stories behind them.  Some of the statues are as much art as memorial.

Some show the person themself or give an idea of their life's work.  Others express the grief felt at their passing or hope at meeting again in heaven.

This photo enabled me to find more information, just in case you wanted to know:

Rest with Jim Morrison, Federic Chopin or Molière has a price:  2329 euros for a thirty year concession.  3441 euros for fifty years.  And again, this is a base rate with a concession of two meters by one meter.  Concessions are traded in perpetuity from 10,911 euros.

Concession 10 years:  € 688
Lease 30 years: € 2329
Concession 50 years: € 3441
Perpetual concession:  €10,911


Jeanne Beaudon, AKA Jane Avril

Where I come from, people get buried and there is plenty of space to do so.  I gather this is less common in Europe and increasingly less common here in Britain where land is at a premium.  Most folks here appear to be cremated and their ashes scattered.  I've not made any decisions about this for myself.  As a kid I always though cremation sounded horrific and being 'scattered' seems very impermanent.  Sounds like I haven't actually got my head around being dead, eh?  

Sarah Bernhardt

However, if those ideas are a little unpalatable, I find the concept of an ossuary entirely chilling.  I first met this idea in John Connolly's excellent book, The Black Angel, which talks about a very famous ossuary in Prague.  Though I've been to Prague several times, I haven't visited and don't plan to.  I have been to one of the old cemeteries there, and it's impressive.

What I didn't realise when we were in Paris - and perhaps it's just as well - is that Pere LaChaise also has an ossuary.  Nancy Mitford apparently knew this.  

She teased and comforted Palewski by telling him that it was just as well he wouldn't be buried there.  She said that was where Chanel went to find old bones to ground up and put into her cosmetics.  So, that gives me other than my original tightwad reason not to splash out on Chanel make-up.

If you want more pictures of the amazing sights of Pere LaChaise, here is a video.  I suggest pushing the 'mute' button.

Monday, 13 May 2013


Thank you, Google Maps!

UK Roads 
The first day of our trip we set off and drove - well, Bill drove - about 200 miles.  In the old motorhome, that's about enough.  

US readers will think that's quite wimpy, perhaps, but British roads are nothing like those in the US, and aren't likely ever to be.  

I think that's meant to be a herb garden.

Small roads that pass farm houses by a few feet have gradually grown into massive main roads.  I often wonder about the air quality it some of those houses and how do the residents sleep with the noise and the worry that some lorry might come crashing through their bedroom one night?  

I just liked how they did the front door...

At one place on the M62 in Yorkshire there is a whole farm in the 'central reservation' of the motorway.  

Terraced cottages with thatched roof covered in chicken wire.

Roundabouts at junctions both facilitate and slow the traffic.  At really large ones with nothing coming, a car can almost zip straight over, but anything like a lorry or camper van has to slow to make the curves.  We were travelling mid-day.  The best that can be said for UK roads is that billboards aren't allowed. 

Another version of the scarecrow?

North and South
In a previous post I mentioned Gaskell's book of this name and Susan Partlan commented on having seen a BBC TV production.  The book is about attitudes in 1855 concerning social class and about manufacturing in particular.  The world has moved on considerably in the past 150 years or so, but there are still significant differences in the North and South of England in work, wealth, weather, health, politics, religion, you name it.  

Romantic window on the Water Close cottages... If it had been 'closet' it would
have been a romantic loo...

I expect the North would love to still have that 'stigma' associated with least they could have jobs.  Hard to believe that such a small place (England is roughly 500 miles NE to SW) could have such differences.  Just remember all roads lead to London.

Bill commented on the tiny stones that made up this wall.
This isn't really a photo of a Norman church.  It's
actually a photo of BLUE SKY!

Houghton Village
We stayed just the one night at Houghton.  Bill was pleased to learn the caravan site managers were thrilled to see our ancient bus; apparently ours is a rare breed.   

And I complain about the maintenance costs on our house...

The caravan site sits behind a National Trust property, Houghton Mill.  We didn't go inside as the outside was sufficiently attractive for us.  

Another sideways front door.

We took a walk as the rain had abated and found people behaving in a village-y fashion, having a BBQ fundraiser for their church.   On the village 'green' under the old clock tower (with a thatched roof).  You can't get much village-y-er than that!

Yes, I still get excited about fonts...

This is one of the main attractions that the Womens Institute holds for me, being about to walk over to the parish hall and do something village-y.  

Ahhh... the smell of sausages!

It would be better if I'd known everyone in the room for 30 years.  That will of course take time; I just hope everyone stays put (as if...).

The Norman (Anglican) church was of particular interest, not just because of the tiny stones that were used in its construction, but because the spire was of two separate periods, the top part obviously (to him) having been added later.

Houghton is in Cambridgeshire, which though not one of the Home Counties of vernacular geography (I learned a new phrase there) is about an hour on the train to London.  On our return stop there Bill commented that most of the residents at 8pm seemed to either be cycling home from work or going for a jog.  That's what affluent folks do down South, apparently.