Thursday, 30 December 2010

Race and the Victorians

I've been trying to come up with a list of nineteenth century (UK only, I'm afraid) novels with black or Asian characters, as I'm taking a class on “Race and the Victorians” next term.

Remarkably, the internet has failed to provide – or I haven't searched effectively!

I've been canvassing friends, and so far we've got:
  • The Moonstone
  • The first Mrs Rochester in Jane Eyre
  • Arguably Heathcliff?
  • H Rider Haggard
  • Vanity Fair – I think there was a mixed race child at the school, or am I misremembering?
  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four & The Man with the Twisted Lip
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Ivanhoe
  • Rudyard Kipling's "white man's burden"
  • Tattycoram in Little Dorrit, and Nipper in Dombey and Sons?
  • Conrad's Heart of Darkness
  • Robert Louis Stephenson short stories: Beach of Fales and The Isle of Voices.
If you think of any more, please stick them in the comments!


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

...and God bless us, every one, said Tiny Tim ...

Friday, 24 December 2010

In the bleak midwinter

Originally uploaded by ByBlanca

Because it's Christmas Eve, because it's -2oC outside, and because I have just completed the first draft of my Christina Rossetti essay:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Photo is from ByBlanca's lovely Flickr photostream.


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Ceaselessly beginning

Originally uploaded by verethragma
So, it's been a hectic couple of months and I've been meaning to blog the whys and wherefores. I've resigned my job to do an MA in Victorian Studies, after two years (some of my nearest and dearest would argue longer, I'm sure!) of vacillating and trying to decide if I should stay or I should go.

It's all very exciting and I am looking forward to January very much.

Classes have started and I am currently juggling work and classes and reading which is hard going but it's so much fun and so endlessly rewarding. I gave a seminar talk on Bleak House a few weeks ago, and am in the middle of two essays: one on Tennyson and Christina Rossetti, and the efficacy of the poet's voice in exploring the divine, and one on the moral interpretations of the disordered domestic space in Dickens – and goodness me, I know I've done the right thing!

At work, as I've progressed, I've moved further and further away from the things that motivate me, doing very little creative and lots that requires me to ...well, not really be myself. The gap between 'real' me and 'work' was just getting wider and wider, and that can't be healthy. This is something I've wanted to do for a long, long time: I find academic work so challenging, rewarding, fulfilling, exciting. This is a chance to have a bit of a career sabbatical and think carefully about who I am, what makes me happiest, and what I really want from a career. I'm going to try to keep my hand in, through, by doing part-time/temping/freelance work in digital or publishing (publishing friends: fair warning, I'll be in touch soon, for a little of what they call “leveraging your network”) so I keep my options open. Here's to a portfolio career for the next six months or so.

Who knows what will come next?

As a person who is usually so concerned with the future and doing the “right” thing, I am strangely relaxed about all this ambiguity and uncertainty. Which, I guess, is all part of the process of getting back to where I want to be – wherever that turns out to be!

Hurrah for new starts.

"To be alive is to be ceaselessly beginning." George Eliot – thanks, Jude, for such an apt quote, and from a nineteenth century author too!

(The photo is from my very talented friend Verethragma's Flickr photostream: go and have a look, it's full of beauty)

Friday, 17 December 2010

The kindness of strangers

London bus
Originally uploaded by E01
Yesterday, at the opposite ends of the day, I saw two things that reminded me London is not simply a giant, inhumane metropolis… and shamed me a little too.

In the morning, a youth got on the bus with an invalid pass and a viable explanation that he was waiting for a new one – he also gave the driver plenty of lip and attitude, being all of about 10 years of and “hard as nails,” as we used to say round my way when I was a child. So the driver pulled over and turned off the engine, and refused to move until the boy got off the bus. After five minutes or so, patience wore thin among the passengers and people started shouting at the boy to get off. This made ‘old toughie’ dig in all the more, with a glare of defiance. At this point, in the midst of shouts of “Come on!” and “Get off!”, something happened that really made an impression on me as the right and proper way to go about things – a lady with a strong northern accent began to reason with the boy in a kind and rational way, treating him as an equal and appealing to his better name to “Do us all a favour, we understood, but it wasn’t our fault”. The boy dismounted, with a little more grace. It was so well-handled. She was kind, polite, firm, without being condescending or overbearing. Too often, we look at these tough kids and just see trouble. I guess the kindest thing would have been for the driver to just let him on in the first place, or for someone to stump up the fare, but I was impressed.

In the evening, returning from class on the Central Line, I looked up from my book and at the far end of the carriage, a young woman with a red sequin Stetson was softly weeping to herself. Most people looked away, and I confess, I assumed she was drunk – but some young women near her offered her tissues and a friendly ear. It turned out a song on her iPod had triggered memories of her recently deceased father. I was shamefaced and so impressed with those ladies who saw beyond the sequin Stetson to the fellow human in distress.

I think what I am taking away from this is that I must try to overcome that peculiar London conditioning which says ‘look away for self-preservation’ in favour of seeing human beneath, before I become too hardened by big city life.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Must be nearly Christmas ...

 This weekend’s baking, courtesy of the lovely Kirstie and Phil’s Perfect Christmas show…


6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup shortening, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the dry ingredients together
Mix the wet ingredients, and gradually add dry.
Chill dough for 3 hours.
Roll out and cut with cookie cutters.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350F /175C / gas mark four

Very yummy, although I think I’ll up the ginger content next time to make them super-spicy!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

City of dreaming spires

And one very cool house in Portobello Road. Pretty much anything looks good if you use Scrabble tiles...

Friday, 19 November 2010

A Foggy Day in London Town

 A foggy day,
In London Town,
It had me low,
And it had me down
I viewed the morning,
With much alarm,
The British Museum,
Had lost it's charm
How long I wondered,
Could this thing last,
But the age of miracles
Hadn't past
And suddenly,
I saw you standing there
And in foggy London Town,
The sun was shining everywhere

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Saturday morning in Islington

Cold, crisp and autumnal. Lots of pretty things to see in my way to Make Lounge for knitting class.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Autumn Walk

Out of London, via poor old Waterloo where the beautifully engineered ceiling is overshadowed by the hurlyburly and the nasty 'sixties architecture, into the countryside. Well, not the countryside but some very picturesque Surrey suburbs.

We walked along the canal towpath for about five miles. And the dog swam most of the way.

I felt clearheaded and energised by being in nature, despite the rain. Just like a Romantic poet.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Cosy times

This weekend, quality time with the cat, apple and pear cake, and a trip to the Affordable Vintage Fair. Next, lasagne and Downton Abbey. Yep, we're getting cosy as it's definitely Autumn out there...

Monday, 11 October 2010

Hello Autumn

What a glorious weekend it was. Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness, indeed.  We took a saunter by the river at Hammersmith and had a gorgeous roast at the Old Ship.  Oh, and basked in the hot sunshine too. More of the same for a beautiful Autumn, please!


Saturday, 2 October 2010

Retro Knitting

Having inherited this fabulous book from my mum,

I opened it up for the first time today, and found this collection of handwritten patterns - love the idea of inheriting something that has been tried, tested and annotated, like getting a secondhand book with a stranger's name and notes in, so personal and somehow "connected". Plus, if you look closely, you can see the book is one year older than me! It also contained this very stylish 80s lovely. 

It has some amazing photography: I especially like this motorcycle chick, modelling a sweater!

And this is very glamorous - but a cable knit bikini? Hardly practical!

I think I'll be sticking to hats for the moment ...


Sunday, 26 September 2010

Salamanca is

We've spent a splendid long weekend in Spain for the "boda" of a dear friend.

To me, Salamanca is:

An intensely romantic castle to stay in and celebrate in

Tapas in the Placa Mayor with friends-of-friends, who just became friends

A happy bride dancing to "You're The One That I Want" in red Converse

Churros y chocolate for the morning after the night before

Some serious Gothic architecture

And some rather less serious surprises!

We loved it! Felicidades a B y J - muchas gracias para invitarnos, fue un privilegio.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Attention, please?

I am finding at the moment that I have a really short attention span.

Maybe it's down too much multimedia multitasking, of which I am often guilty, juggling laptop and TV and iPhone. Maybe it's down to tiredness at the end of the taxing day. Maybe it's just that modern malaise of being time-poor with 'Wonder Woman' syndrome, i.e. trying to have it all and ending up doing too much.

Whatever the reason, I have a buzzing brain and a true butterfly mind - flitting from flower to flower and never settling for long - these days. And to think I used to be such a "reflector"...

Time to embrace slow and train myself back into mindfulness and thoughtfulness.

As a countermeasure, I am keeping a journal where I try to think critically and analytically about my reading, recording impressions, thoughts and feelings.

I think it's working. Recent books have included Peter Ackroyd's Dickens biography (hagiographic, overly strained prose), Jenny Uglow's History of British Gardening (interesting on liberation and self-expression of women and working classes via gardening), and Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian (kids' classic, can't believe I never read it, moving and tough, emotionally honest). I certainly feel I am reading more deeply and responsively, and I find I remember the content better and more profoundly.

It hasn't stopped me reading several books at once though - currently Nights at the Circus, The Spirit Level (as Kindle eBook) and A Room with a View (on iPhone) - and the pile of material by the bed hasn't diminished any but it's a start.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A weekend of making

It's been a hectic old summer, especially workwise, but this weekend I finally made some time for making.

I finished The Boy's bobble hat,

knocked up a very stylish (if I say so myself) knitting bag from an old skirt to prevent the cat from running around the house with my half-finished knitting in her mouth,

and baked this fantastic pistachio cake with cream cheese frosting, mmmmm:

Having swapped a creative marketing job for a responsible middle management job about two years ago, I really find these weekend things very satisfying.  I think it helps me bridge the gap between the "work me" and the "real me", which feel pretty separate these days. Now, to find a way to bring those two closer together ...

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Rain, rain, rain

Rain on spiderweb
Originally uploaded by IanEv
A poem for the rainy windy weather:

Like Rain it sounded till it curved
- Emily Dickinson

Like Rain it sounded till it curved
And then I knew 'twas Wind --
It walked as wet as any Wave
But swept as dry as sand --
When it had pushed itself away
To some remotest Plain
A coming as of Hosts was heard
It filled the Wells, it pleased the Pools
It warbled in the Road --
It pulled the spigot from the Hills
And let the Floods abroad --
It loosened acres, lifted seas
The sites of Centres stirred
Then like Elijah rode away
Upon a Wheel of Cloud.


Friday, 20 August 2010

Seaside wedding

Last weekend saw us at Wedding No. 1 of the summer, the wedding of my cousin and his lovely bride.

It was glorious, a touching church ceremony with gorgeous sacred music, and a proper knees up. They looked so happy.

I got to wear The Dress, and my handmade homemade fascinator, constructed from a vintage brooch, ribbon and feathers.

And we got to ride on a carousel!


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