Ode to an Excellent Bookshop

I don’t normally buy new books these days. I tend to use the library and sometimes buy secondhand out of print. The exception is if I’m in an independent bookshop. Some of my favourites are in London and last Thursday and Friday I visited two branches of this shop :  Daunt Books.

On Thursday I popped into the Hampstead Branch at South End Road near the former bookshop in which George Orwell worked now a branch of Le Pain Quotidien (right).

The shop advertises a great idea that I had never heard of before : Daunt Books Walking Book Club! I hope the weather stays fine for them.

On Friday I revisited the shop and its sister branch opposite Belsize Park tube station. I had decided to take up the “challenge” put to me by a member of my local book group to choose a couple of suggestions for future reads for the group. After a search of the tables and shelves I came up with (and bought) my two choices.

Deep Country: five years in the Welsh hills” by Neil Ansell is “Touching. Through Ansell’s charming and thoroughly detailed stories of run-ins with red kites, curlews, sparrowhawks, jays and ravens, we see hime lose himself … in the rhythms and rituals of life in the British wilderness.” (Financial Times)


The hare and the tortoise” by Elizabeth Jenkins – well, if it’s good enough for discussion on Hampstead Heath on Sunday, it’s good enough for us! Jenkins lived very near South End Road on Downshire Hill. Her memoir ‘The View from Downshire Hill‘ tells about her life and home and living in this delightful area of north London.

8 Downshire Hill, Hampstead. The former home of Elizabeth Jenkins.

Another author who lived very near here was the poet John Keats and that very morning I had heard a brief radio snippet in which there is a visit to the Keats Shelley House in Rome where Keats died on 23 February 1821. I visited Rome back in 2008 and it was one of the highlights of the trip to see inside The Keats Shelley Museum by the Spanish Steps. There is a Landmark Property at the top of the building : Piazza di Spagna. How I would love to stay here!

The Salone, Keats-Shelley House

The Salone is dedicated to the posthumous reputations of Keats, Shelley and Byron. The main library collection of the house is here.

Keats House, Hampstead.

I am convinced more and more day by day that fine writing is next to fine doing the top thing in the world.

(John Keats 1795-1821~Letter to J. H. Reynolds, 24 August 1819, in H. E. Rollins (ed.) ‘The Letters of John Keats’ (1958) vol. 2, p. 146.)

Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.

Letter, August 28, 1819, to his sister Fanny Keats. Letters of John Keats, no. 146, ed. Frederick Page (1954).

Have you seen ‘Bright Star’?

Tea and Books and Two London Gems

I was in warm, sunny London on Thursday. The original plan was to meet a friend from my online book group and attend a showing of the 1953 film “Little Boy Lost” organised by the Persephone Book Shop. I always book my cheap train tickets way ahead and when we came to enquire about the film all the places had been taken but I still had my train tickets. In the end it turned happily as the weather was so warm and sunny that it might have been a shame to have been cooped up in the BFI.

Our Plan B was to visit the National Trust property Sutton House instead. I’ll copy and paste Clare’s summary of the history of the house as she summed it up perfectly to our group yesterday :

“It is a Tudor house, with lots of later additions, and a
fascinating history. It was first owned by Ralph Sadleir, an important
official in four reigns starting with Henry VIII. After that it was owned by
other individuals plus passing through the hands of two separate girls’
schools, a boys’ school, a church institute which ran all sorts of
activities for young men, and in the 1980s it was occupied by squatters who
wanted to form an arts community there.”

Today Sutton House is very much a part of the local community and the only staff we came across were volunteers all of whom were friendly, helpful and knowledgable. You can check out the website to see the variety of activities organised at the house – not surprisingly it’s booked up for over a year for school party visits. At one point I spotted a flyer for ‘Sutton House Book Brunchers’ who meet at the Bryck Place Tea Room once a month. Bryck Place is the original name for Sutton House and the tea room is a delight – a book lovers’ and tea drinkers’ paradise! There was a bit of renovation going on in the tea room on the day we visited so it was a matter of help-yourself to drinks and cake or scones and jam and drop a contribution in the box. So we did! The tea rooms are surrounded by shelves mostly stacked with secondhand books but some also with secondhand cups and saucers and jugs and teapots all for sale.

The tour of the house began in the Linenfold Parlour (see the poster pictured above). This would have been an important room in Sadleir ‘s original building in what was at the time (1535) a quiet, rural village. You then can visit the cellars, climb the Painted Staircase to the Gallery, the Little Chamber and the Great Chamber, a bedroom now decked out as a Victorian study and climb up again to an exhibition and history room on the second floor. A further staircase takes you right down to the ground floor again where, on this east side of the house, is a Tudor kitchen with access to an enclosed courtyard and a Georgian Parlour. This last room had a corner devoted to tea and it’s accoutrements and I was happy to note the following little verse :

 “In lands near or far

or wherever you be

friendship is welded by

a good cup of tea”

From Sutton House it’s a short walk to Hackney Central Station where we boarded our London Overground trains in opposite directions. As I sat on my train heading towards Whitechapel the following text came through on my ‘phone : “Afternoon tea now available at 45a!”  Some friends, staying at the Landmark Trust property 45A Cloth Fair this week, were inviting me to join them for (another) cuppa and more cake. I’ve stayed at 45A in the heart of Smithfield between Barbican and St Paul’s tube stations half a dozen times already so it was like arriving home as I climbed the creaking staircase to the first floor sitting room and joined my friends for tea and cake.

“Bear with Bern for Swiss Ski-ing” – Cosmopolitan and Charming

The Cathedral (Münster) is Bern’s most impressive example of Late Gothic architecture. The basilica with its three naves rises above Bern’s Old Town.

(Source: http://www.bern.com/en/city-of-bern/attractions )

I’ve been inspired again to write this post having read another travel article “Bear with Bern for Swiss Ski-ing” by Stephen Wood in the newspaper. This time it was The Independent Traveller section of Saturday’s ‘paper.

Now, I am not a skier and never have been but I have visited Bern very many times in winter, spring, summer and autumn. Stephen Wood, in his article, writes about his childhood love of the book Mostly Mary by Gwynedd Rae.

On the flight from London City Airport to Bern last week, I settled down to read Mostly Mary by Gwynedd Rae, a light classic of children’s literature. I have read it before, but not for half a century. On first reading, this book and the others in a series about a family of bears living in the bear-pit at Bern had considerable impact on my world view. You could keep your Paris, New York and Berlin; the place I most wanted to visit was Bern, for the bear pit.”

Apart from one very brief stopover in Bern when there was not sufficient time to visit the bears it was not until investigating for this article that he eventually makes a proper visit to Bern.

Wood applauds Bern’s small, but international, airport the use of which cuts down considerably on journey times to the Bernese Alps ski region. He, like me in 1966, ended up with a stay in Adelboden but my journey was far from quick travelling from Norwich by coach with a night in Paris and another in Neuchatel before we reached our destination.

Bern is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and I have a very good friend who lives there. We manage to get together at least once every couple of years and this year will be in Amsterdam after Easter but more of that in a future post.

My first ever visit to this gorgeous city – the capital city of Switzerland – was on the same Girl Guides trip mentioned earlier this month. On every visit since then I have been enraptured by this beautiful city. There is so much to see and do in the city itself let alone the surrounding countryside. I have shopped in the covered arcades, sipped a drink at an open air cafe watching the Bernese go by, walked by the green waters of the Aare River at the Tiergarten (zoo), and taken the funicular Gurtenbahn up the local mountain for a panoramic view over the city. But as I wrote in my ‘diary’ of the original visit “Bern is the city of bears. You see them everywhere and at Nydegg Bridge is a real bear pit.” I’ve taken my sons and my mother to visit the bear pits but today there are no longer bears there as Wood tells us :

Bears are an institution in Bern too, the city’s name being derived – at least in legend – from a bear killed by its founder, Duke Berchtold of Zähringen, while out hunting. There are bears all over the place: bear-shaped cakes, carved wooden bears, innumerable bear emblems. In fact, the only place you won’t find one is in the bear pit, despite a tradition of keeping bears there which goes back to 1513 (with an interruption in 1798 when the French army stole the animals). Quite rightly the bears – Björk, Finn, Ursina and Berna – are no longer confined to a pit; they now live in a “bear park”, below the pit on a bank of the river Aare.”

Tappington Hall and The Ingoldsby Legends

“THE JACKDAW sat on the Cardinal’s chair!
Bishop and abbot and prior were there;
        Many a monk, and many a friar,
        Many a knight, and many a squire,
With a great many more of lesser degree,—         5
In sooth, a goodly company;
And they serv’d the Lord Primate on bended knee.”

Did you read The Jackdaw of Rheims at school? We did. And it all came back to me last Monday when I visited my friend Sarah’s family in Kent. Sadly, Sarah died in November 2008. We’d known each other since our first days at university in 1970 and met up several times a year ever since. Sarah’s parents and other family live near Canterbury in Kent and one of my reasons for travelling down there for a birthday treat was to visit them and talk with them about Sarah and our friendship.

It was the snowiest day of the winter but I was not deterred from my journey. Luckily Sarah’s brother was clearing snow at his parents’ home and kindly turned my car round in the drive. After my initial welcome Andrew took me in his steadfast farm Landrover to see the Ginko tree that had been planted in Sarah’s memory and on to the area of woodland on the farm where her ashes had been scattered.

After a few moments’ quiet contemplation Andrew offered to take me to visit his own home and meet his wife Sue. Tappington Hall near Denton is a lovely old house tucked away down a farm track a few miles from his parents’ place. Sue and Andrew offer bed and breakfast on an informal arrangement. They were expecting two Canadians that evening and hoping that they would find it warm enough. I think Canadians are probably used to snowy weather!

Of great interest to me was the fact that Tappington Hall was the former home of The Reverend Richard Harris Barham  (1788-1845) alias Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Everard in Kent. Sue and Andrew have a vast book collection which includes many versions of Barham’s Ingoldsby Legends. Unbeknown to me until I opened one of the books was that The Jackdaw of Rheims poem is one of these Legends.

Barham was ordained in 1813 appointed to the parish of Westwell in Kent and later to the living of Snargate and Warehorn, on Romney Marsh. He and his wife and children later moved to London where he was appointed to a post at St Pauls although he kept his Romney Marsh living as well.

His writing  and journalism took off when he got to London and he was published in several periodicals including Blackwoods and  Bentley’s Miscellany. He seems to have enjoyed mixing in literary circles in London, knew Charles Dickens and Richard Bentley and was a founder member of the Garrick Club (1832). Probably he is best known for

” … his Ingoldsby Legends, which began to appear in 1837 in Bentley’s Miscellany. Under the guise of Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Everard in Kent, Barham ‘discovered’ old documents which provided the basis for his tales. In effect, most of these are reworkings of other narrative sources, from medieval chronicles to Kentish legends and Sir Walter Scott. The mixture of crime and the supernatural, in both verse and prose, is given a comic and grotesque dimension, immediately appealing to Barham’s readers.”

Extracted from : The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The Legends passed through very many editions some with illustrations by such artists as Tenniel, Cruikshank, and Rackham and Sue kindly showed me several of these. Many of the editions were best sellers in their day.

On the Sunday night before my visit to Barham and Tappington I stayed at a B&B between Sittingbourne and Faversham. I was delighted to find a selection of Persephone Books beside my bed at Dadmans – even though I had read them all.

A further selection of Kentish books made up the library at Obriss Farm. There is no shortage of reading materials at Landmarks.

The Snowy Hills of Kent: Toys Hill, Ide Hill and The Octavia Hill Centenary Trail

I was staying in very snowy Kent last week. Temperatures were around or below freezing but that didn’t prevent me and my sister enjoying some decent tramps around the countryside directly from the back door of our Landmark – Obriss Farm.

On the Tuesday, the first day’s walking, we very soon came across The Octavia Hill Centenary Trail (OHCT) signs and it seemed that this trail coincided very closely with the walking route that we had picked out from the mass of public footpaths and bridleways criss-crossing the local fields and woodlands.

We began our walk that day by tramping over snow covered fields behind the farm to Toys Hill hamlet where the Octavia Hill Memorial Well (restored in 1999 in her honour by The National Trust of which she was a founder) marks the start of both the East and the West trails.

The Octavia Hill Memorial Well in Toys Hill hamlet

The path passes through the grounds of Chartwell (but sadly with no view of the house itself at this point) to the church and graveyard at Crockham Hill where Miss Hill is buried in the churchyard and where there is a Memorial to her in the chancel lying next to the altar.

The Royal Oak in Crockham serves decent bar snacks (and full lunches) and our circular walk finished a couple of miles later at the private track leading back to Obriss Farm. Obriss Farm doesn’t feature on the OHCT but it is only about half a mile or so from the start of the Trails at the well in Toys Hill hamlet.

To hear more about this walk click here to listen to Clare Balding on Ramblings on BBC Radio 4 undertaking the walk and which we listened to on our return from the second OHCT walk on the Thursday!

At The Royal Oak we also picked up a copy of the leaflet that outlines the two routes of the Trail which has been inaugurated as a commemoration of the centenary of the death of Octavia Hill in 1912. Our trail on Tuesday had more or less followed Walk 2 – the West Walk.

We’ve been interested in Octavia Hill for some years now via an initial interest in Beatrix Potter and visits to her (BP’s) Lake District home (Hill Top), farm and gallery and an exhibition of her work on display at The Dulwich Art Gallery back in 2006.

In August 2006 we visited Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum in Wisbech and came across the results of her philanthropic efforts in Marylebone on one of those London Walks : Saturday Afternoon’s Old Marylebone Walk

On Thursday we decided to do the East Walk from Toys Hill which included more hills and steep ascents than we had expected to find in Kent!

A choice of footpaths at Obriss Farm

From Toys Hill hamlet we followed the path to the village of Ide Hill via the Octavia Hill stone memorial seat and from thence to Emmetts Gardens, Scords Wood and the (yes, you guessed) Octavia Hill Woodland. We were shocked to notice so many fallen trees just lying around the woods and then we saw a sign that explained what this was all about :

After several uphill climbs the path finally downhill to Toys Wood village and our track back to the farm and the cosy parlour with its open fire in the range.

Peak Time Service – One Hundred Years At The Top Of Europe

There was a full-page article in the Financial Times last weekend about the upcoming 100-year anniversary coming up in August this year of the Jungfrau Railway. The weather outside being rather ‘Jungfrauian’ my thoughts went back to my journey on this wonder of the manmade world and visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch.

The author of the article, Jan Morris, was the guest of the Swiss National Tourist Office and stayed at the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa in Interlaken and travelled on the Jungfrau Railway to ‘The Top of Europe’. I was a guest of my dear friend Susanne and her family in their lovely home near Lucerne and we drove to Lauterbrunnen to join the same Jungfrau Railway.

My first visit to Switzerland coincided with my first ever trip abroad in 1966. A group of Girl Guides and Guiders travelled from Norwich and Norfolk by coach, via a stay in Paris in each direction, to spend 6 nights in a Swiss chalet in the tiny hamlet of Boden within walking distance of the large village of Adelboden and very near the Girl Guides Association’s ‘Our Chalet’.

Since then I have made possibly 20 or more visits to Switzerland including working in hotels for two long summer vacations from university, accompanying my husband on ski-ing trips, taking my mum on holidays and visiting my friends in Berne and near Engelberg (Wolfenschiessen).

I didn’t visit The Jungfrau until April 2010. It’s a very expensive day out and there has always been a huge choice of other things to do. My Bernese friend had also never done the journey and my friend Susanne had only taken her family on the trip in 2009. It was at her suggestion that we decided to bite the bullet and do the trip. I texted Bernese Barbara but unfortunately due to work commitments she was unable to join us.

Unlike Morris we began our journey from the station at Lauterbrunnen.  Our visit fell between seasons so we left the car in the vast, empty multi-storey car park, purchased our tickets and travelled via Wengen on The Jungfrau Railway.

Morris describes much better than I could what it’s like at The Top Of Europe.

The settlement up here was first established in 1912 but it still feels to me almost surreally futurist. For inside the rock of that snowy mountain, or clinging to its surface, a small town thrives. Besides the highest railway station in Europe there is the highest post office and also, this being Switzerland, the highest watch shop. There are three restaurants (including Bollywood serving Indian cuisine) and souvenir shops, of course, and a coffee bar. If we have time to spare, we can wander through the Ice Palace, a long pedestrian tunnel beneath the glacier equipped with ice-figures of penguins, polar bears and such, together with instructive geological features. But dear God, that’s not all. We may well feel queasy now, after our trek through the Ice Palace at 11,000ft-plus, but after another trudge through another tunnel we find awaiting us a space-age elevator. In the blink of an eye this whisks us vertically another 400ft to the tip of a pinnacle called the Sphinx, the very top of the Top of Europe, and here science fiction becomes science fact.” 

For the full article see : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7973ce3a-476c-11e1-b646-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1m6qCETdx

Bernese Bear and Cub in the Ice Palace

Susanne brought sandwiches and fruit for our picnic so apart from a cup of tea we didn’t try out the restaurant facilities.

We made the return journey by train/funicular via Kleine Scheidegg and Grindelwald.

In the past I’d visited the peaks of the Stanserhorn, the Titlis, Pilatus and the  Gornergrat from Zermatt but the Jungfrau trip was truly the icing on the cake and the most memorable experience.

The Matterhorn from the top of The Gornergrat

Mount Pilatus near Lucerne

Where Shall we go today? Back in Manchester with Grayson Perry

Yesterday I was back in Manchester to visit the Art Gallery and the Tapas Bar again. This time the weather was freezing cold but fortunately stayed dry. I’d hoped to get back to visit the Grayson Perry exhibition centred around the gallery’s recent purchases of two of GP’s art works. This exhibition is only on until 12 February so I was very pleased to catch it. In addition it was also a great pleasure to meet up with a friend who moved over to the Wirral nearly 20 years ago. Manchester makes a good midway place to meet especially in winter when we can travel there easily by train.

Before we entered the GP room we were intrigued to see an installation entitled “Where shall we go today?” It consisted of old suitcases and pieces of luggage piled up against the wall and covered with tie-on luggage labels. Some artists had been invited to answer the question and their tags are covered in plastic but then the public and mainly (it seemed to me) school children were let loose with their dreams and ideas and the result is pictured below :

Visual Dialogues was like a mini ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman‘ but with a difference. The Manchester Art Gallery has bought  the vase ‘Jane Austen in E17’ and print ‘Print for a Politician’ with financial help from The Goldstone and Livingstone Family Trusts, in memory of their parents’ friendship, together with funding from the Art Fund and support from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. A group of young people aged 15-18 who call themselves The Creative Consultants have done what Perry did at the British Museum and gone into the archives of MGA and chosen artefacts to display alongside the vase and the print.

“Jane Austen in E17 (2009) is a beautifully executed large ceramic vase inspired in shape by Chinese porcelain, decorated with detailed drawings of elaborately dressed Georgian ladies taking tea and conversing. The genteel figures reflect Perry’s interest in the feminine and his knowledge of historic dress. They refer to the ideal view of British culture portrayed in popular costume dramas of Jane Austen’s novels.

In contrast to these idealised figures, the vase also features layered photographic transfers of contemporary life, including cuttings from celebrity magazines and more sinister references to crime and surveillance, taken from the streets around Perry’s studio in London’s E17.” (Manchester Art Gallery)

Here are some examples of what the young people chose :

“Print for a Politician (2005) is only the second print that Perry treated as a major work; it took over a month to draw. The etching shows groups of people including academics, fundamentalists, northerners, parents and transvestites in a landscape setting, each group given a name, like a place name on an old map. All the groups are armed for battle, with weapons of war from different periods and cultures. Perry’s intention for this work is to show the complexity of human society. He hopes audiences will identify with one or more of the groups and realise it is possible to live together peacefully despite our differences.” (Manchester Art Gallery)

In addition we saw three other Grayson Perry vases on loan from other galleries.

All in all the exhibition was “small but perfectly formed”.