Saturday 31 August 2013

Read in 2013 - 32: Tea by the Nursery Fire

This little book (218 pages) by Noel Streatfeild (no typo, that really is the spelling) is subtitled "A Children's Nanny at the Turn of the Century". It is non-fiction, but reads as easily and cosily as fiction.

Noel Streatfeild describes the life and times of Emily Huckwell, a Sussex girl born in the 1870s who went to work as a nursery maid when she was not yet twelve years old. Eventually, she was made head nanny to a wealthy family and looked after two generations of their children. One of those children became the father of Noel Streatfeild.
All "her" children loved her very much - which is hardly surprising, seeing how well she treated them and how much time she spent with them, in stark contrast to their own parents, who would see them for one hour between tea and bed time when they were little, and ship them off to boarding schools when they were older - and so Noel was of course introduced to her father's old nanny when she was a little girl.

In those days, people did not question that girls from poor families went into service until they married, and boys worked as farm hands. It was also not questioned that servants were available at all hours and every day; having a week off was all they had in a whole year, and sometimes they did not even take that, if they felt they could not be spared.

The work Emily does, the children and their parents and the other staff at the house are all well described, as are the big houses where she works.
The rhythm of daily life is occasionally interrupted by visits to or from other families, and punctuated by family prayers, meals, lessons and walks.

I was reminded of The Lady's Maid, a book I read almost two years ago, but there are differences: "The Lady's Maid" is an autobiography, written by a woman who did not have much formal education, which shows in her writing style. But it also goes much deeper where her feelings and thoughts are concerned, while "Tea by the Nursery Fire" necessarily has to remain on the outside of its main subject for most of the time, and the author was a professional writer.

Speaking of the author, my first surprise was to learn that Noel Streatfeild was a woman. Up until then, I thought that Noel was a male first name, Noelle being the female version. My second surprise was to read (on Wikipedia, where else!) that her books are well known and very popular; I had never heard of her before.

I bought this paperback for myself on my last day in Ripon, knowing that after I've read it (and maybe my Mum, if she wants to), I'll include it in my Christmas parcel to Mary. It really was a good read, giving a close-up portrait of "Victorian and Edwardian life above and below stairs", as the short summary on the back says. Children from around 10 years could, I guess, find this just as interesting as an adult reader.

Friday 30 August 2013

Read in 2013 - 31: The Treasure of the Incas

The author of this book, George Alfred Henty, lived from 1832 until 1902, but apparently, "The Treasure of the Incas" was published after his death, in 1903.
Over 120 books are attributed to Mr. Henty, most of them containing historical adventures, and most of them aimed at boys. Having visited many of the places he wrote about himself (he was a special correspondent in the Crimean and other wars, witnessed the opening of the Suez canal and travelled a lot), he was able to give the settings of his stories real atmosphere.

Wikipedia says that he developed his story-telling skill when, widowed after only six years of marriage, he started telling his children stories after dinner. That makes him sound like a good father and good man, but he has also raised some controversy over racist comments he has made, and in his books, indigenous characters mostly come off a lot worse than the British heroes. Well, that was by no means unusual way of thinking during those days, and it has only been for the past 30 years or so that people in the public eye have been criticized for making remarks that are deemed politically incorrect.

"The Treasure of the Incas" is set in Peru and tells the story of two brothers from England who set out on a voyage to get rich. Of cousre, them being English, they have only the noblest of motives: the older brother is very much in love with a young woman he wishes to marry, but her father won't accept anyone who is not rich enough to keep his daughter in the standard of living she has been used to all her life. The condition is that, if he should make a fortune within two years, he will give the union his blessing.

An old friend of the brothers advises him to try his luck in Peru, where mines and ancient treasures are beckoning the adventurers. Coupled with an unstable political climate and conditions very different from what they are used to in England, the brothers are in for a trip far from boring.

A trusted muleteer of Indian descent, his wife and a young relative are their faithful companions on this trip, and a close friendship is formed between the small group.

Places and events are described in much detail - sometimes a bit too much detail for my taste. For example, in describing the method the older brother wants to apply to get to a specific hidden treasure, first he tells this to his younger brother, and then he outlines the entire method once again to the muleteer. Throughout the book, such doubled descriptions prevail, and I must admit I sometimes gave the pages a quick eye-scan to move on to the more interesting bits again.

I did enjoy the adventures, and it was not always clear how things were going to turn out, but I doubt I shall be reading more of Henty's work. (It was, you guessed it, a free ebook on Amazon.) I did learn some things about the situation in Peru in those days and the different ways of life for people in towns and in the country, and found that really interesting.

Take, for example, this meal the brothers are served at the muleteer's house when they first meet him:
It consisted of puchero, a stew consisting of a piece of beef, cabbage, sweet-potatoes, salt pork, sausage-meat, pigs' feet, yuccas, bananas, quinces, peas, rice, salt, and an abundance of Chili peppers. This had been cooked for six hours and was now warmed up. Two bottles of excellent native wine, a flask of spirits, and some water were also put on the table.
Also, to read about how travelling was organised back then, what people took with them, what they ate etc., made me appreciate once more all the comfort we have today.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Read in 2013 - 30: The White People

What wikipedia says about this enchantingly poetic little book sounds very dry: "The White People was a novella written in World War I by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which details her beliefs on what happens after death."
Well, yes, that's true. But there is so much more to "The White People" than that.

It is a short book that won't take you more than a few hours to read, and read it you should; it is so beautiful.
Of course, it was yet another free ebook I found at Amazon's kindle store, and came without illustrations. But when I was doing my usual bit of research to write this review, I came across the above picture of a book cover containing two novellas, and the illustration is from "The White People".

Young Ysobel grows up the chieftainness of an ancient clan in the Highlands, at the ancestral home, a castle on the moor. She is a lonely child, an orphan, not very pretty, and not very interesting to her relatives, who hardly come visiting because she lives so far away from all the comforts they like to surround themselves with in London.
Her faithful companions are the castle's librarian and her nursemaid. They make sure Ysobel has plenty to read and gets out on the moor every day, rain or shine. 
It is there that Ysobel one day meets Wee Brown Elspeth, a girl roughly her age, who becomes her playmate for years.
As Ysobel herself (she tells the story "in her own words") says, "Anything might happen on the moor - anything."

For shyness and lacking of superficial topics for conversation, the girl usually keeps quiet when in company, and rather sticks to observing people than talking to them. It is through her careful observation that she first notices the kind of people she calls the White People. They have very fair hair and skin of an almost translucent quality. In almost every larger group of people, she sees at least one of them, but being her usual private self, she never talks to one of them.

While travelling down south to visit some relatives (she is, after all, a heiress, and her relatives feel obliged to see her every now and then), a grieving lady with her little daughter share the compartment on the train with her. The daughter is one of the White People, and smiles at Ysobel before getting off the train with her mother.
A gentleman who has been sitting opposite Ysobel and seemed to look on in a friendly manner turns out to be a famous author whose books the girl has loved from when she was able to read. They meet again at her relatives' place, and strike up a friendship closer than any what the girl had experienced so far.

The gentleman's invitation shows what kind of person he is, when he says:
"Will you come to tea under the big apple-tree some afternoon when the late shadows are like velvet on the grass?"

Ysobel does indeed go to tea under the big apple-tree with the author and his mother. They are the first ones she ever talks to about the White People, and for a very special reason.

As I said, this is a wonderfully poetic novella; I like the characters, the language, the scenery and the story.
It is not my first and won't be my last read by Frances Hodgson Burnett; this is the fourth of her books that I have read since starting to post reviews on here, and so far, I was disappointed only once. You can find the other reviews by typing "Burnett" into the search bar at the top left corner of this page.

Monday 26 August 2013

Back From GamesCom

My last proper post about the GamesCom was this one from 2011, in spite of me having been to work there again in 2012, but I did not take pictures then and was convinced it was going to be my last fair. Well, never say never - this year, I was back, after I had been persuaded by my friends at EA that it would be really interesting for me again.
And they were right!
Ever since the first "The Sims" game came out and my husband bought it for me, I have been playing the game(s). In fact, I had never been interested in computer games before, and still don't play any others besides all the Sims games and the Harry Potter games. You don't know what "The Sims" is all about? Wikipedia gives you some info here in a nutshell, and of course, there are the official websites for each of the games.

Not long after I began playing The Sims, I discovered the forum for the players on the official German website. I learned a lot about the game there, and enjoyed communicating with other players. I was soon able to help new players, giving them advice if they were "stuck" with their games or having technical problems with the game running on their computers. Someone noticed that, and one fine day, I received an email from EA, asking if I'd like to become part of the team of moderators on the website. I talked about it with my husband, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Although I stopped moderating more than a year ago for various reasons, I am still in touch with my former "colleagues", and over the years, I have made good friends among the German and UK branch of EA. They keep inviting me to come back to the GamesCom every year, where I work at EA's Sims booth to promote my favourite computer game, talk to the fans, meet the producers, and generally have a lot of fun.

This year, we showed the latest incarnation of the Sims series to the public for the first time: The Sims 4!
While at first I was sceptical about "yet another" Sims game, what I was able to see of it so far (it is still pre-alpha, so, very early days yet) makes me believe that this could very well become my new favourite game and shift The Sims 2 from the top of my list. 
There are some screenshots, a welcome-letter from the Executive Producer, a gameplay trailer and more information about the new game here.
(By the way, I am not getting paid for telling you about this - it is just to make you understand what I have been doing all of last week and what my favourite game is all about!)
My work-place for a week. People were to watch a presentation in the left part of the booth before moving on to the right part, where 24 PCs were ready for them to have a first hands-on look at the new game.
The first Sims I created in Sims4.
Titanfall is another new EA title. This "Titan" was one of the most photographed parts of the entire EA booth; an average person reaches less than knee-high.
It was, as always at the show, a busy week. Almost twelve hours at the booth every day, including Sunday, is hard work, but I would not do it if I did not enjoy it. During GamesCom week, I stay at a hotel EA books for me; this year, someone messed things up a bit, and two weeks before the show, I still did not have a room - and it is next to impossible to get hotel rooms in Cologne when 350.000 visitors are in town for the show. Well, someone worked their magic, and I had a good standard room from Tuesday to Friday, only three tram stops from the fair. 
Friday night, I had to check into a different hotel - and imagine my surprise when I found that I had been booked into a suite there! It was rather luxurious, almost the size of my flat at home (just without kitchen), consisting of a large bedroom, sitting room, and bath room. Breakfast was excellent, and I enjoyed those final two days very much, although of course I did not spend much time at the hotel except for sleeping.
Last night, I returned home in the pouring rain; I have today off in order to get everything sorted, my washing done and my feet and brain rested before I begin work again tomorrow.
Summer is over, in more than one way. Every year, the GamesCom for me marks the end of summer; it is one of those events you don't want to end, while at the same time you long for home, peace and quiet, and can't help wondering every now and then why you keep doing this!

I'll be at my parents' for lunch today, which reminds me that I have not yet posted about my Mum's birthday. Plus there are two more book reviews waiting to be written - being away for a week creates a bit of a backlog. Also, I'll have plenty of catching up to do with your blogs, something I am going to start in a minute.

Monday 19 August 2013

Read in 2013 - 29: The Portion of Labor

Another free classic I found at the Kindle shop a year or so ago, "The Portion of Labor" by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman was first published in 1901 and deals with the life of factory workers in a small industrial New England town and their struggle for decent living conditions and fair wages.

Up until now, I had not known anything about the author, but while reading this book, more than once I thought that some of her ideas about women's stand in society must have come across as revolutionary in those days.
Her own life, as Wikipedia tells me, was strongly restricted by her very religious parents when she was young, but she received a college education (by no means the average thing to do for an average girl back then), worked as a secretary and married comparatively late, at the age of 50.

Not having lead the "typical" life of a woman of her times herself, it is hardly surprising that Freeman's story features quite a few untypical ladies; women who, through hard work, hard thinking and hard decisions make the best they can of their lives and for those they love and care about.

When Ellen Brewster is eight years old, she runs away from home, frightened by an argument between her parents and her aunt. It is cold and dark outside, and when the exceptionally pretty girl is found by a rich, childless lady, said lady takes her into her house with the intention of keeping her. A few days later, the child, wanting her mother more than anything, now that the novelty of the adventure has worn off, escapes and returns home.
All her life, Ellen never tells anyone where she has been, showing a stubborness and firmness of character that will cause her both trouble and joy as she gets older.
Growing up, the girl proves to be a bright student, and her parents, humble people who have managed to build up a modest life for themselves with the hard-earned money from one of the shoe factories, desperately wish for her to get further education and not end up working at the factory.
At first, it looks as if their plans might come about against all odds, with help from an unexpected source. But soon, things take a turn for the worse, when the Brewster family is hitting hard times with Ellen's father out of work, her aunt needing medical attention and no improvement of conditions in sight. 
So, Ellen does indeed end up working at the factory - but she is different from the other girls there, in that she actually enjoys the feeling of satisfaction work gives her.

Of course, there is also a love story - actually, more than one - in the book; politics play a role in that there is an ongoing conflict between the workers, the union and the factory owner, and Ellen herself plays a crucial role in it. Several people lose their lives and things look very dire before an unusually harsh winter ends and spring does not only bring renewal for nature, but also hope for the hearts and minds of the story's heroes.

I much enjoyed this book, although I must admit it has its lengths. But the language is beautiful, and the characters and places described well. Ellen's way of thinking is credible to me; even when she is a child, I can relate to the way she thinks, because it is how children do think.

The conditions of life for factory workers were far from easy back then, although much better than what they probably were some decades earlier: work started at 7.00, there was an hour's lunch break from 12.00 to 1.00 pm, and the whistle blew for work ending at 6.00 pm. Wages differed according to the task one had, and the number of pieces completed. Being out of work meant automatically being out of money; no such thing as unemployment money or any insurance to fall back on. It pretty much sounds like what is reality for millions of people all over the world - think factory workers in China, or those who work in textile factories in India and Bangladesh, where the hours are probably longer than in 1901 in New England, and conditions worse.

The book gave me a lot to think about, and an insight into a world that, while it is firmly put in the past for many of us, is still present reality for way too many people.

Sunday 18 August 2013

Earl Grey Cupcakes

When I went to see my family in Yorkshire back in July, my niece Beth* made these, and they made for the most delicious dessert on the night of my arrival. I had never tasted anything so delicately delicious before, and knew I had to try and make them myself one day. When it was my Mum's birthday on Monday, it seemed like the perfect occasion, and Beth was so kind to email me the recipe:

Most of you will have all the necessary ingredients at home, I guess, unlike myself who keeps a very low stock of things and never buys milk unless specifically requested, and eggs rarely.

For the sponge, you need

6 Earl Grey teabags
6 tbsp just-boiled water
80 g softened butter
280 g sugar
240 g flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
200 ml milk (whole milk, not skimmed; the batter will be all the more creamy for it)
2 eggs (room temperature, not straight from the fridge)

For the frosting:
50 ml milk
500 g icing sugar
160 g softened butter

Start by boiling water. Place teabags in a bowl and add the just-boiled water; leave to brew while preparing the dough.

Preheat oven to 190 Celsius / gas 5, and line muffin tin with muffin cases.

The recipe now says to mix butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt on low power until it has the texture of fine breadcrumbs; pour milk into a jub, add eggs and whisk by hand; add brewed tea, squeezing every last drop from teabags into milk mixture (set teabags aside, you will need them for the frosting). Pour 3/4 of milk mixture into dry ingredients, mix on low speed to combine. Mix on medium speed until smooth and thick. Scrape sides of bowl, add remaining milk mixture, beat until all ingredients have come together and the batter is smooth.
Well, that's what the recipe says, and it does sound rather elaborate! What I did was this:

I put all the ingredients in one big bowl and mixed them with my electric whisk - it did not take long at all before it was very smooth and looked like this:

Divide batter between paper cases, filling each 2/3 full (this made 22 cupcakes for me - I had to make them in two batches since my muffin tin only holds 12). 

Bake in oven for 18-20 minutes or until risen, golden-brown on the surface and springy to the touch. Leave to cool a little bit in the tin before removing them from the tin to a cooling rack (or board, in my case).

Now it is time to use the teabags once more. Place them in a small bowl and add the milk for the frosting. Leave to infuse; the recipe says for 30 minutes, but even after just a short time, the milk will take on a caramel-brown hue from the remainder of the tea in the bags. Remove the teabags, squeezing them well to extract maximum flavour.

Whisk icing sugar and butter first, then add the tea-infused milk; slowly at first, then increase speed to high and whisk until the mixture is soft, smooth and fluffy.

Apply frosting to cupcakes; I used a teaspoon, Beth used a piping bag (I don't have one).

It is a LOT of frosting - I went round and round again with my teaspoon, and maybe will reduce the amount of frosting next time I'll make these; some of my Mum's birthday guests weren't keen on that much buttery-sugary cream. But I liked them very much, and am already thinking about trying the same recipe with different kinds of tea, such as peppermint. Beth says she'll make them with an orange fruit tea, which sounds nice, too.

For Mum's birthday buffet, we put them on a three-tiered cake stand, the same one you can see here. That birthday is worth its own post, so you'll see more of that soon.

Thank you, Beth, for having made these when I was staying with you last month, and for giving me the recipe!

*I do have Beth's permission to mention her name, don't worry.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Read in 2013 - 28: Head Over Heels

Another one from the pile of books Mary had prepared for me to take home when I went visiting her in Yorkshire last month, "Head Over Heels" by Jill Mansell would not have been my personal choice, had I seen it in a shop or at the library.

A sex-crazed village, that's what Upper Sisley is! At first glance, your typical Cotswolds village, complete with Big House, village green with duck pond and bench, cottage-lined high street, Old Vicarage and pub. Your typical cast of village characters: nosy and self-righteous Eleanor, mysterious "spinster" next door keeping to herself, pub barmaid who does more for the men than just pull pints, single mother who still hankers after the love of her life 20 years on, three young vets sharing a house and unkempt garden, perfect couple who leave their little daughter in the care of a childminder so that they can pursue their careers, said childminder whose husband works in Dubai and has not been home in weeks, and the newcomers who have just moved in at the Big House: a famous actor, his too-good-to-be-true wife and two teenage children.

As the stage is set and the curtain rises, a merry-go-round of affairs starts; all in all, three marriages come to an end, at least two new ones are in store, and when the characters are not having sex, they are talking or thinking about it. Secrets are spilled, fatherhoods revealed, anonymous letters are written, and while it is all quite entertaining, the main plot is a bit too predictable.

Can you tell this was not quite my kind of book? Yes, entertaining, as I said, but not gripping; again, I did not find myself caring much about any of the characters. I found my suspicions confirmed too many times, and did not find the "witty" bits witty; in fact, I do get rather annoyed when an author seems to think the (female) characters have to be drinking all the time in order to have some "fun", and then wake up the next morning, trying to remember what was going on and whether they still want to see the bloke in question.

Read it, if you like this kind of story; maybe I am unfairly judging this book because I wasn't in the right mood for "a jaunty summer read" and "frothy fun" (acclaim for Jill Mansell's novels, taken from the back of the cover). It certainly did not make me "come away feeling strong, powerful - and all woman", as another acclaim reads.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Guest Post: Musical Destinations

Marcela has written a guest post for my blog before, and since I seem to be having a little less time for blogging at the moment, I gladly accepted her offer of another one. She gave me the choice between several topics, and thinking of my blogland friend Kay (whose blog you can find here), I went for this one:

Musical Destinations You Must Visit
What cities should be on a musician or music aficionado’s bucket list?
New York and Los Angeles are renowned music meccas. NYC offers Broadway musicals, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Tin Pan Alley and the Apollo Theater; Los Angeles is home to the Viper Room on the famed Sunset Strip, Hollywood Bowl and the recently built Walt Disney Concert Hall. These two cities have long been travel destinations for fans of all types of music.
However, there are plenty of other cities around the world that should make that list of must-see cities for music lovers. These are some of the best places to visit if you adore music history and musicians:
New Orleans, Louisiana
Famous for crawfish, bead necklaces and jazz music, New Orleans has been making a solid comeback in the tourist industry since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. A jazz lover will enjoy the rich musical history the city has to offer throughout the year, especially during the New Orleans Jazz Festival in the spring.

Other notable events and locations include tributes to Louis Armstrong at Armstrong Park, The Steam Calliope on the Steamboat Natchez in the French quarter and Frenchmen street, which is littered with clubs where you can see and hear live music. 
Nashville, Tennessee
Considered the new business hub for the music industry, Nashville is a family-friendly vacation spot, hosting an array of events and venues for country music fans. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the CMA Music Festival in June are just a couple of the major draws of Nashville. Live music spots and clubs are plentiful on “Music Row,” an area in downtown Nashville. Check out concert calendars and local musicians before your trip to get the most out of your experience.

Another bonus for Nashville is its proximity to other major music sites. For Dolly Parton fans, Dollywood is only a three-hour drive from Nashville. There’s also...

Memphis, Tennessee
Put on your blue suede shoes and head over to Memphis to see Graceland (amongst other historical music sites). A must-visit for any Elvis fan, Graceland features a tour of the mansion and boasts two museums, as well as his private jet and car collection.

Take a tour of Sun Studio, the one that launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Legendary guitar manufacturer Gibson (which produces guitars played by Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend and, of course, Elvis) offers a tour of their factory as well. Want more rock-and-roll history? Visit the Memphis Rock’n’Roll Soul Museum, curated by the Smithsonian.

Austin, Texas
If you’re more into current musical acts and artists, or prefer to be ahead of the curve of popular acts, Austin is your travel destination. Known as the live music capital of the world, and for hosting the popular music festival SXSW, Austin features over 200 live music attractions.

The music scene is less country and more modern rock and alternative rock. If you are looking for a little bit of history in between all the amazing live shows, you can take the Austin Gibson Guitar Tour, where you’ll have the opportunity to visit four different locations throughout the city to see to artists’ 10-foot renditions of Gibson guitars, or you can stroll through the Texas Music Museum.

Seattle, Washington
The birthplace of grunge (and Starbucks Coffee), Seattle's music scene is probably best known for bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. With the resurgence of ‘90’s nostalgia, now is a good time to travel to Seattle to relive the heyday of flannel and Doc Martens.

Every Memorial Day, the Northwest Folklife Festival offers 17 stages of musicians and performing artists over four days. Also worth a visit: the Experience Music Project, which is an interactive music museum.

Milan, Italy
Opera lovers should make a stop in Milan to visit the famed opera house La Scala, which has been offering shows for over 200 years, and is still one of the best places in the world to see an opera performance. Opera season usually starts in December.

London, England
The city that launched the careers of The Beatles (even if they hailed from Liverpool), The Who, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, David Bowie and the Spice Girls. No musician or aficionados bucket list of musical cities would be complete without London.

Visit the favorite haunts of infamous bands, or go to live shows at the numerous venues in the city. With free concerts in the summer at Hyde Park and performances by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, classical music lovers need not feel left out.

Vienna, Austria
Famous for composers like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, history and classical music lovers should visit Vienna’s “Music Mile” (classical music’s “Walk of Fame”). Mozart’s apartment, now a museum, was where he wrote many of his famous pieces.
These musical cities offer performances and history that will wow the biggest fan. Whether you love classical, opera, musicals or rock-and-roll, you will be able to find something to add to your list of travel must-sees.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer, music enthusiast and traveler who loves visiting different locations around the world to experience new music, culture and food with her family. Music is a great part of her life, and you’ll often find her listening to music 24/7. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook today!

- - - End of guest post - - -

Thank you, Marcela! I found this quite interesting. Of course, thinking of the Beatles, their career actually started at the "Star Club" in Hamburg, Germany :-) And as for Vienna - Mozart-lovers would probably rather go to Salzburg, but if one is on a trip with not that much time to spare in one country, Vienna is certainly the better choice.
Apart from London, I have not been to any of the places mentioned here in person, and doubt very much that I ever will; so, reading about them is the next best thing.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Read in 2013 - 27: A Desirable Residence

It has been more than a year since my last Kinsella (you can read the review here), and I don't think I have missed out on anything there. It was Mary, my mother-in-law, who gave me "A Desirable Residence" by Sophie Kinsella. She had prepared a small pile of books for me to take home when I went visiting her during my Yorkshire holiday. Speaking of which - I have added something to my previous post, "My Yorkshire Holiday: Bits and Bobs". Of course I am interested in your comments to my addendum, so it would be very kind of you to click on "Older Post" at the bottom of this page and have a look. Thank you!

Back to topic: "A Desirable Residence" was entertaining enough, but not grippingly so, and there were no laughing-out-loud moments in it for me. I found it hard to tell which of the characters was intended to be the central one; maybe the author did it on purpose not to focus on a central figure.

There are Liz and her husband Jonathan, along with teenage daughter Alice, who - rather head-over-heels, it seems, and not very well tought through - buy a run-down tutorial college they intend to turn into an efficient business. They get money from the bank for the purchase of the college under the condition that they sell their old house. Simple? Not. The old house, in the hands of an estate agency, does not sell, and the tutorial college does not take off as well as expected. In the meantime, the family of three have to live in the less-than-glamorous rooms above the college.

For Liz and Jonathan, the threatening of their financial mis-management leading into total ruin puts a strain on their marriage, while 14-year-old Alice mainly suffers from the indignity of having to live above her parents' work place and not at the old house anymore, which she loved.

The estate agent suggests they rent the old place out while they are waiting to sell it, and since it seems to be the only feasible solution, Liz and Jonathan agree. The agent soon finds them a couple of tenants: Ginny and Piers, both young and dashing, with Piers almost a celebrity through his former role in a TV soap, and Ginny working with estate agencies to help promote the properties they manage.

Alice gets to know them and ends up spending a lot of time back at "her" old house, becoming more and more distant from her parents. Liz - who really is quite a daft character I have not much sympathy for - embarks on an affair with Marcus, the estate agent. We get to know a lot about Marcus' family, too; I guess his son Daniel (who is put under enormous pressure by his mother to be an over-achiever at school and win a much-coveted scholarship) is the character I cared most about in the story, closely followed by Jonathan, Liz' husband, who really works hard to make the college and his marriage a success against all odds.

The story seems to be mostly about Liz and Alice, but Marcus, Ginny and Pierce get almost as much attention from the author, so it was more a case of "group cast" than of focal point. The real focal point was the house, I guess, and even that is left rather two-dimensional and not described in much detail.

It was light entertainment for the evenings when I came home from work with my head full, but nothing I'd strongly recommend or spend money on, I'm afraid. Or maybe I just wasn't in the right mood.

Friday 2 August 2013

My Yorkshire Holiday - Bits and Bobs

Some thoughts and pictures that would not really fit in with any of the other posts, but which I hope will nicely wrap up my "Yorkshire Holiday" series of posts:

These are for John, who has been writing about letter boxes several times on his blog. Even if you are not a letter box aficionado like him, I strongly recommend a visit to  "Rambles from my Chair" - I promise you will always find something interesting, entertaining, hilarious, thought-provoking or fascinating there (sometimes all in one post!), and he always has great pictures. Especially the ones of Ivy! Go and find out what (or, rather, who) I am talking about.

John, I would have liked to take even more pictures of letter boxes for you, but sometimes there were too many people about, and I know how sensitive people are to having their picture taken by a stranger - even if that stranger is not even remotely interested in them, but in the letter box. Still, I wanted to show you that I thought of you during my Yorkshire Holiday.

This was my main course (goats cheese lasagne) and dessert (brownie with vanilla ice and chocolate sauce) at "The Terrace", a restaurant in Ripon where my sister-in-law had booked a table for the four of us on Thursday night.
It was as delicious as it looks, and because the staff was so very friendly, we kindly did not hold their inefficiency against them (does it really take two people at the same time - getting in each other's way - to put cutlery on a table for four? And then remember that you actually forgot some of it, and have to go back for the forgotten items, and come back again to the table?).

While I was on the train, I wondered about the announcement that is made shortly before each stop. Not only are passengers told what the next stop is (which is very useful) and what trains they can change to (which is, again, very useful), but they are also politely reminded to take all their belongings with them.
Now, why is this a standard part of all such announcements? Nobody deliberately leaves their stuff behind when they get off the train, to they? And those who are a little forgetful/chaotic/confused - will the announcement really make a difference? Honestly, I don't think so. And those who are inconsiderate and rudely leave all their rubbish behind (empty crisp bags, newspapers, plastic bottles and the like) certainly won't suddenly, with a downcast, guilty look on their face, collect their rubbish from their seat after they hear the announcement.

Trains are good for thinking, at least for me (not quite as good as walking, but close). Something else I was thinking and wondering about: Why do people, when they book seats on a train, make sure they get a window seat - and then do nothing but read, write emails, send texts on their mobiles or play games on their portable game consoles?
A logical explanation could be that they don't like being exposed to possibly being touched by other passengers who move up and down the aisle and brush against them, either because of the train's own movement or because they are not paying attention. Still, when I am on the train and I have a window seat (booked or not), I enjoy looking at the scenery out there, especially when it is somewhere as beautiful as in the Pennines.

I've already been back for almost two weeks, and it has taken me this long to tell you about my Yorkshire Holiday of one week. See - by blogging, you turn one week of holiday into three :-)

ADDENDUM: There are two more points I meant to mention but forgot when I first wrote this post.

When we were in Pateley Bridge at the Nidderdale museum, I was especially touched by something I saw in one of the rooms. That room was the Victorian schoolroom; you can see it if you click on the word "Nidderdale museum" here in this post and then on "gallery". The schoolrom is the 2nd picture in the top row. Have a look at what is written on the blackboard: "Good children make glad parents". Ever since I saw this, it has remained with me, and I can't even explain what effect precisely it had on me, let alone why. Does it happen to you, too? That sometimes you come across a line in a song, a book, on a poster, in conversation with someone, and those words somehow touch you on an unexpected level, quite by surprise, and you can't really explain why and how?

One hugely contributing factor to the great week I had was, of course, the weather. See what BBC's "Look North" weather correspondent Paul Hudson has to say about it on his blog. Interestingly, he mentions the summers of 1975 and 1976 as having been very hot, too. Those years were in the middle of childhood for my generation, and the summer of 2013 is naturally in the middle of childhood for another generation. It is this kind of summer that will stick forever in the memories of those who are young now; they will always associate "summer" with a seemingly endless succession of glorious long, hot, sunny days, and when they get older, they will tell their children about how summer used to be so much nicer when they were young, just like they will be convinced that winters were always spent in snow-covered wonderlands. 
If you look at long term weather statistics, you will see that there hardly is such a thing as a "typical" summer or winter, and yet it is what we do in our minds; we like to keep things "sorted", it seems. Human memory is not very reliable in the first place (ask any Police officer who has to deal with witnesses of road accidents!), and we all have a tendency to modify our own memories as we go along. That is not a bad thing, because it mostly is there for our own mental wellbeing. But every now and then, it can be useful to remind oneself of what it really was like. For me, sometimes revisiting my own old blog posts serves that purpose, although they don't go back that many years.

Thursday 1 August 2013

My Yorkshire Holiday - Part VII

Strictly speaking, this post is not about Yorkshire, because we spent the Saturday in Bakewell, which is in Derbyshire. But since it was still part of my holiday, I stick to the title.

My other sister-in-law (who lives in Derbyshire) had arranged a family reunion for my sake on the Saturday. To make travelling a bit easier for some of the relatives, she had decided on Bakewell, a place I'd never been to before, and I was really looking forward to the day.

It took us about two hours to drive there, but good part of the drive was through beautiful countryside. A room was booked for the fourteen of us (not everyone could make it this year) at The Peacock, and we had good food in the nicest company you can imagine. It was great to see everyone again and catch up with them.

After the meal, we split up; some of us were more for staying at the pub for teas and coffees, while some others wanted to walk around and explore Bakewell before heading back home. Guess which group I was in ;-)

The town is picturesque, and I did enjoy walking around, but it was very, very busy. Full of tourists - to which the fourteen of us of course added - and I found it difficult to get a proper "feel" for the town's atmosphere, to imagine what living there would be like. It was impossible to take pictures without people on them.

Still, it was good to visit a place I'd not been to before, and the most important thing about the whole day was meeting the family anyway.

Driving back took another two hours on the motorway, and we were all content in the evening to just have a sandwich and relax in front of the telly. I did my online check-in for the plane on the next day and found it hard to believe that my Yorkshire holiday had already come to an end.