I am doing my monthly summing up tonight while I have time and this month I have had a good mix of reading.
Twelve assorted books including my usual fix of detective novels so, once again, two Dorothy L Sayers and I am rapidly coming to the end of them which is a shame as I have quite fallen in love with Lord Peter Winsey; then the latest Reginald Hill The Death of Dalziel. A provocative title - would he really kill him off? It is nip and tuck all the way after Dalziel and Pascoe are caught in a terrorist explosion. Pacily written, as always, with a final twist literally on the last page that took me completely by surprise. Well up to standard. A couple of Agatha Christies to finish off. William Boyd Restless, which I found vaguely disappoining.
Two light chick litty books: Secrets and Shadows by Mary Nickson, totally unmemorable and I can hardly remember anything about it but it passed the time with a cup of tea and a biccy; The True Darcy Spirit by Elizabeth Ashton, very sillly book indeed (but I should not stick my nose up in the air as I have succumbed to Mr Darcy's Diary) and then a re-read of The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett which I shall not go on about again as I am sure everyone is fed up with my rabbiting on about how much I love this book.
A Richmal Crompton, written back in the 1950s which I loved, as I do all her books as they are such good stories, Blind Man's Buff and I am now half way through a book by Joanne Harris, Gentlemen and Players. I have tried reading Joanne Harris in the past, particularly of course her first big hit, Chocolat and some of her others but have not been able to get on with them at all. I just happened to pick this one up in Waterstones and flicked through it, thought it looked interesting and would try it, and now I am hooked. I will blog about it on my return from the US.
But my book of the month and, so far, of the year, is Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster which I have posted about at length. One of her best books for some considerable time and I simply loved it. So, I feel I have had a good reading month.
The bookshops of Chicago now await my attention......
In case anybody still doesn't know (is there anyone?) I am off to Chicago on Saturday morning. I know full well that I shall have a sleepless night on Friday, I am OK once I get going on my journey, but the day before is always horrid. Not just work trips, but even if I am flying off to lie on a beach on the Costa del Cheapo, I always think I am going to miss my plane or something will happen and I will not get there.
There is a basis for this panic as on at least two occasions when driving to an airport, I have come across an accident or road up or something and find I am delayed. When I went to Italy last year was sailing along nicely to Gatwick when suddenly we were all diverted off the M25 (why?) and sent up a slip road. The bright yellow diversion sign then stopped just as you came across a roundabout with five exits and no indication where we were to go. I spent the next hour trying to get back onto the M25. It was like Alice in Wonderland when Alice was trying to get through the door of the garden, in the end she went in the opposite direction where she wanted to go and found the way out easily. I more or less did the same thing and arrived a shattered wreck. So, this time it is train and taxi and Heathrow Express and let somebody else take me there - at least they will know where they are going.
So, once I have packed and put the essential toothbrush and knickers in, I then have to think of important things. What books to take with me? It has to be soothing reading, amusing reading, non-challenging reading as I usually get back to my room in a state of total exhaustion after a day of client meetings etc etc and spend the evening in a supine position on my bed with the TV remote in one hand and the room service menu in the other.
First up, is Mr Darcy's Diary. After I wrote about follow up Jane Austen books I came across this one. Well, more or less had it thrust on me by Amazon Recommendations so I succumbed and it is going to the US in my suitcase. Then another book which is the free one in the 3 for 2 at Waterstones, The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella about which I know zilch, but it looks fun and undemanding. My daughter Kathryn has raved about The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld so that is going in as well.
I think these three might be enough because when I get through security at Heathrow and am duly stripped of nail clippers and lip balm, I shall check out the Airport Specials at Books etc and I nearly always buy one or two. Once the conference is finished I am meeting up with Ex Libris and Bluestalking Reader and so feel that a book buying session just might be on the schedule in between eating, drinking and talking.
Restrictions on what you can take on the plane are still ludicrous and silly. I think it is all a rip off so we have to spend more money in the airport shops as once through and into the departure lounge, every woman there heads for the duty free shop to buy cream and make up for the journey.
I am flying Virgin Atlantic and checked their website to find out exactly what I could take onto the plane and was very dismayed to find that I could not take my billiard cue on board, neither was my catapult acceptable which rather upset me.
Today's crock is a lovely set of cups and saucers given to me by an aunt of mine who knows I love old china. They are Winton and lovely and delicate and because of their colour, I serve strawberries and raspberries in them as well as using them as tea cups. Individual tiramisu or trifle looks good in them too.
I have just downloaded a whole file of bumpf on next year's season at the Royal Opera House and there are lots of goodies in store. Thanks to Christmas and birthday presents from generous and lovely people I have a whole wodge of Covent Garden vouchers to be spent and I intend to splurge.
I am going to have to be very strict with myself and see if I can save some for next year as there is a new production of Don Carlos in June 2008. The last time I saw Don Carlos at the opera house was when I was a mere teenager and it was the legendary performance conducted by Carlo Maria Guilini with Tito Gobbi, Jon Vickers and Boris Christoff amongst the starry cast. I have blogged about this before so will not make you suffer again. I also saw this opera at the Coliseum back in the 80s when Elizabeth was sung, superbly I might add, by Rita Hunter, a stunning Brunhilde in their ring cycle. Not even Rita's biggest and most devoted fans could say that she had a graceful stage presence as she was simply HUGE and appearing as Elizabeth de Valois in cloth of gleaming gold was not a good idea. One simply closed one's eyes and listened to the voice, and what a voice she had too.
Don Carlos is being sung by Rolando Villazon who would seem to me to be ideal for the part and Posa, who is one of those marvelously warm Verdi baritone roles, is being sung by Simon Keenlyside, a British baritone. (And I know this picture here of him is hardly Verdian but could not resist it. He looks rather fetching don't you think?)
This new production will be directed by Nicholas Hytner, whose directorial work ranges from the film The Madness of King George and The History boys, to Xerxes and the Magic Flute for English National Opera. I saw this Magic Flute last year and was totally enchanted by it. Quite magical as well as being very very funny. In Papageno's aria in the first act when he plays his bells to call the birds, a pure white dove flew from the wings at each call. The audience was full of children when I saw it that Saturday evening and the oohs and aaahs at the sight of these pure white elegant and graceful birds added to the feeling of delight that pervaded the house.
So on these grounds, this is a MUST for me.
The Ballet season looks equally promising with a terrific double bill for Christmas of Les Patineurs/Tales of Beatrix Potter which I shall definitely be booking for. I have the DVD of the Beatrix Potter ballet and well remember my two daughters watching our old video of this so often it ended up looking like a lace doily and had to be thrown out. Jeremy Fisher was our firm favourite with his great leaps and bounds across the lilies on the pond, closely followed by the Tale of the Two Bad Mice.
Then my favourite ballet of all - Romeo and Juliet. I have seen this Kenneth Macmillan production so many times I have lost count. It must have been in the repertoire now for nearly forty years as I remember seeing it back in the 60s with Margot Fontey and Rudolf Nureyev (never to be forgotten) and it is still going strong. I also saw Nureyev dance in this with Lesley Collier, and later in the 1970s I saw a performance which, in my opinion, eclipsed even Margot and Rudi.
The two lead roles were taken by Anthony Dowell and Natalia Makarova (who had defected from the then Soviet Union and fled to the West from the Kirov ballet) and it was quite simply the most breathtakingly stunning performance I have ever attended of any ballet. The sheer beauty of the pas de deux, the Balcony Scene, at the end of Act One just hurt to watch and was so beautiful I found it difficult to speak when the curtain came down. I was with a party of ten that night and we all staggered speechless to the bar for a drink totally unable to articulate our feelings about what we had just seen. I have to say that when the curtains closed there was a stunned silence throughout the entire house and the applause started in a very subdued manner, so it had affected everyone.
I have seen various partnerings since, all of whom have been wonderful, it is a ballet which seems to bring out the best in dancers because of the deep emotions they are called upon to portray. This season Carlos Acosta is Romeo and as I have never seen him do it before, this is the one I am going to go for. He is partnered with Tamara Rojo who is exquisite (I saw them both in Manon last year) so this augurs well. I feel my vouchers stirring in the corner of my jewelry box where they are being stored. One entrechat and they will soon be centre stage and pirouetting all the way to the Opera House box office.
After my post on Relaxing Reading and after having popped over to Harriet Devine's blog and read about Adele Geras' book.Apricots at Midnight which I have now ordered, it set me thinking about how much reading I do of what used to be called in my library days 'junior books'. Now they seem to be Young Adult, or teenage or whatever.
I have already mentioned Eva Ibbotson's adult books, which I adore, but have also read and loved some of her books for children, Journey to the River Sea, Island of the Aunts etc all of them delightful, but I also have on my shelves and often return to them, books by Barbara Leonie Picard, Rosemary Sutcliff, Johanna Spyri, Michelle Magorian, L M Montgomery (all the 'Anne' and 'Emily' books as well as the adult stories), E Nesbit, L M Alcott and Pamela Brown (The Swish of the Curtain was one of the books I read over and over again as a teenager). Of course, Francis Hodgson Burnett features largely and I have lost count of the number of times I have read The Secret Garden, A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy. One of her other junior books, The Lost Prince, is not so well known as these others and it deserves to be as it is great fun about the Lost Prince of Samavia.
One book that I return to over and over again is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. By all accounts Kenneth Grahame led a miserable life, an unhappy marriage and a son who was blind in one eye and who, plagued with health problems all his life, committed suicide while at Oxford. He managed, however, to create one of the most loved children's books ever written despite all this unhappiness, a book filled with joy and laughter. Surely Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr Toad are four of the most delightful characters ever created. Mole's emergence into the sunshine after he decides 'Hang spring cleaning' (oh I know how he feels) and comes across The River and his awe and delight are so heartwarming. 'There is simply nothing so wonderful as messing, simply messing about in boats' says Ratty and after this meeting Mole's life is never the same again.
We meet the bombastic Mr Toad who we cannot help but love, even though he is vain, boastful, idle and always, but always, lets his friends down. Badger is the wise old Patriarch who tries to make Toad see the error of his ways and fails but who helps and supports him in the end when the Siege of Toad Hall provides the exciting ending to the book.
I have several copies of Wind in the Willows, by different illustrators. The original drawings were done by Shepard, who is famous for his illustrations for Winnie the Pooh, but I also have a copy with wonderful drawings by another of my favorites, whom I have blogged about, Arthur Rackham.
This is a book to read on a rainy day as it will make you feel the sun is shining, on a day when you are feeling a bit miserable and fed up as it will make you feel so much better and, best of all, on a day when you have been spring cleaning and feel guilty for abandoning it. You then echo Mole's 'Hang Spring Cleaning' and pick up Wind in the Willows and immediately know that you have made the right decision.
You will note that the category for this post is Crime and Detection and yet I have called my entry Relaxing Reading. It seems odd to describe a murder story this way, but the ones I am reading at the moment do have that cosy British feel about them, they are not horrific (though as I have just read one in which the victim is stabbed through the heart with a stiletto, they should be) and somehow they are totally reassuring. I am aware that this sentence is totally contradictory.
At the moment I am under the cosh at work with only two weeks to go before the conference in Chicago and suddenly deadlines for getting things done are hurtling towards me at the speed of light and mild panic is setting in. I was at work late most of last week and cannot see anything changing from now until the time I go to catch my flight at Heathrow. I have also been shopping for my daughter's wedding dress as you will have seen from my previous blog which, though wonderful and exciting, was a highly emotional experience and quite exhausting.
So, Atonement by Ian McEwan has been put to one side which was my next reading, Edith Wharton has once more been consigned to await my presence in the convalescent home post-Chicago, and out comes the detective novel. I have just finished reading a collection of Lord Peter Wimsey short stories, Lord Peter Views the Body, and have another lined up, Striding Folly. I have an awful feeling I am coming to the end of the Lord P books which is horrid, so I need to find another series pretty damn quick and I think Margery Allingham may be due for a whirl. I spent Friday night propped up in bed reading Agatha Christie, Partners in Crime, a Tommy and Tuppence collection of stories set in the 1920s and am now half way through After the Funeral, also by Dame Agatha.
Over Easter one of the tv channels had a Christie Weekend with lots of Marple and Poirot and I just sat and wallowed. As some of my little old ladies used to say to me when I worked in Highgate Library many moons ago "There's nothing to beat a nice murder".....
Well I feel like the crock today after my exhausting, both physically and emotionally, foray into wedding dress shops on Saturday. London was hot and I had forgotten just how horrid and crowded and mucky and dirty Oxford Street had become. Anyway here are the crocks chosen for today.
The one on the left is the Silver Jubilee of George V and Queen Mary. I thought these two royal commemorative mugs were very apposite after the wall to wall Wills and Kate break up saga today and particularly as some companies already had production lines of tea towels, jugs etc etc ready to go. They have now been left with egg on their faces and serve them right.
The makers of the mug on the right also had the same problem - this mug is to celebrate the coronation of Edward VIII and, as we all know, that didn't happen either.
I have just returned from a very emotional trip to London with my two daughters. Yesterday was the day we went searching for THE dress for the wedding in December. Helen was very organised and had arranged appointments at various wedding shops and had planned the route. First call was a top of the range bridal design shop, which we knew was going to be ludicrously expensive, but it was a wonderful opportunity just to try on real couture and see and feel what it was like.
From the moment Helen tried on her first dress, I was simply overcome with emotion. I know everyone thinks their daughter is the most beautiful child in the world, but when I saw Helen standing there in this simply glorious gown I dissolved into tears. My other daughter, Kathryn, was similarly affected.
We spent most of the day trying on and looking at all the gorgeous gowns available and then at 5.30 pm at the last call of the day we found The One. It was totally unlike the dress we thought we were looking for, in design and fabric and yet as soon as Helen put it on, that was it. No contest. So I flashed my plastic and it is now on order and fittings will take place later on in the year. A big holiday I was going to have this year has now vanished off the radar but I have never spent happier money than on this dress. And, let's face it the Grand Canyon isn't going anywhere....
James, my future son in law, joined us in the evening and we had a lovely meal on a glorious warm evening in Covent Garden. All in all a wonderful day.
Our office reception area has posh flower arrangements which are chucked out every Friday so staff usually grab them and take them home. I brought home some simply gorgeous flowers last week so thought I would just post a picture of two of them.