Saturday, July 27, 2013

To Britain

To Britain
My first travel tickets to Britain came tucked inside the pages of books.  There, midst black words on white pages, I was whisked away to a land where it was possible, after the merest sprinkling of fairy dust, to think wonderful thoughts and fly right out through one’s bedroom window on starry, moonlit nights.  It seemed that in Britain, parents employed nannies who either floated down through foggy skies holding on to nothing more substantial than parrot-head umbrellas or, for the luckiest children, were responsible Newfoundland dogs.  In Britain, I learned, it was possible to fall headfirst down a rabbit hole in one’s garden and land smack dab in the middle of a brightly colourful world where everyone was, quite pleasingly, mad.

When I got a bit older, books spirited me across the centuries where I met real Kings and Queens, poets and writers, musicians and artists, every one of whom ensnared my imagination with a permanent hold and served to make Britain utterly irresistible to this little girl from the South.  Then the day finally dawned when I realized it was possible to actually travel, in real time, to this land of my dreams.  That journey became my one wish, my pot of gold at the end of a rainbow of stories and tales that stretched back beyond remembrance.

One might be forgiven for expecting this confession to end in disappointment, for how frequently does one’s reality match one’s dreams in seamless perfection?  But fear not, romantics and dreamers alike, for Great Britain is every bit as wonderful as it appeared to be in the pages of Peter Pan.  Visit Lord Leighton’s magical home in Holland Park and you’ll realize Lewis Carroll’s imagination was not unique.  Wander the hills above Lake Windermere and you’ll have no doubt where Wordsworth got his ideas.   Take the ferry over the sea to Skye and you’ll find it easy to see Bonnie Prince Charlie sailing alongside you, despite his clever disguise.  Stand at the edge of the world in the ruins of Tintagel Castle with the sea spray in your hair, and you will know King Arthur must be much more than myth. Through many visits now, the sceptered isle continues to captivate and inspire me and each time I board the plane home I am already scheming a way to return.

My most recent trip proved no exception and I thought I’d share some new finds, just a little bit of my own quirky taste when it comes to Great Britain.  Of course it’s a given that one must see Westminster Abbey and Harrod’s Food Halls, but this short list is a little more off the beaten path, a little more eclectic, and perhaps it will capture your own imagination.  And if it does... well... it’s all just a plane ticket away, you know.
(The photo above, by the way, is Vita Sackville-West’s library at Sissinghurst.  Lots and lots of tickets to exotic places in there, I’m sure.)

1. The Three Chimneys Freehouse
There are so many treats to be found traveling through the British countryside on one’s own, little surprises tucked in along the side roads just waiting to be discovered.  Such was the case for this deliciously atmospheric pub just a stone’s throw from our bedroom at Sissinghurst Farmhouse in Kent.  It was almost dark when we entered, a navy blue sky streaked with painterly strokes of mauve and rose hung over our heads.  We pulled open the heavy old door and found ourselves in a cozy room where, to our delight, dog beds of every shape and size were tucked into corners, under tables and next to the ancient fireplace in which orange and red flames slowly flickered.  There were smiles all round, warm greetings for two strangers who were a bit worn out from the day’s adventures.  The food was amazing, the surroundings unbeatable.  
We loved it so much we ate there the next night.
Read about it HERE.

2. Charleston Farmhouse Gift Shop
As the story goes, dear Virginia Woolf used to love to walk the South Downs near her cottage in Rodmell, East Sussex.  She did so frequently and on one such walk, she happened to look far down below her and spied a charming farmhouse in the middle of an idyllic little valley.  She went home and wrote her sister, artist Vanessa Bell, telling her that she’d found the perfect country home for her.  And so she had.  Fortunate beyond belief, I wandered the rooms of Charleston Farmhouse this past May on a sunny afternoon, The Songwriter and I the only visitors present.  I’m still digesting the experience and will write about it soon, I know.  But in the meantime... the gift shop!  Oh my soul.  Simply the most tempting little room I’ve been inside in years.   The Fabrics! The Wrapping Paper!  The Books!  The Prints!  and The Ceramics!  One could lose one’s mind.  Do not miss it if you are anywhere near.
The fabric above was designed by Duncan Grant for the lounge of the Queen Mary, but never used. 
 Available exclusively from Charleston now. 
See more HERE

3. VV Rouleaux
In an area of London so evocative even the most pedestrian of imaginations finds it easy to suspend any attachment to the modern day, the shop of VV Rouleaux sits serenely on a corner.  You are to be forgiven if you stop stock still on the pavement in front of its windows.  They are that breathtaking.  In Springtime, silk butterflies float in the air, iridescent wings catching the light, their colours more tempting then candy.   You may find spiders in October, fat tarantula legs that beg to be entwined on a green velvet hat.  And Christmas, well, you can just imagine.  I have been visiting VV Rouleaux for years, for a meter or two of ribbon as sublime as any diamond necklace, for a handful of velvet leaves to adorn holiday gifts, for a cluster of flowers the precise colour of Edward’s white fur.  It is a shop known to make the hands of my watch spin; minutes become hours as though bewitched.  You must, simply must, visit.
See more HERE.

4. Middle Temple Hall 
When From the House of Edward was released last year, I was contacted by the lovely London writer/blogger, Jayne Ferst, requesting an interview.  Her questions were so much fun to answer and proved, even though we’d only met once before, she completely had my number.  (You can read that interview HERE.)  Naturally, I wanted to spend some time with her on this latest trip and when I wrote to say I was returning to London she told me she was taking me “someplace special”.... someplace I was sure to like.  So, on a chilly Saturday afternoon, we met at my hotel and made our way to Sloane Square station.  When we popped up along the Embankment near Fleet Street, I had no idea what to expect.  My anticipation peaked when we stopped before a large and ancient door.  A gentleman opened it, we stepped over the high threshold and, just like that, we were in the Elizabethan age.  Tudor buildings lined cobblestoned pathways and looked down on manicured gardens.  This was Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call members to the English Bar.   A guide, perhaps a bit bored by the quiet Saturday afternoon, took us under his wing and gave us a private tour into rooms rarely seen by the public.  Such a treat. Of course the highlight was Middle Temple Hall itself with its glorious paneled walls and stunning windows.  I actually ran my hand along the twenty-nine foot wooden table, a gift to the Hall from Queen Elizabeth I.  Made from a single tree, it was floated down the Thames from Windsor Forest.  Can you imagine? 
 Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night premiered here in 1602! 
 Yes, I was giddy with delight at the whole experience.  
Try to arrange a visit if you can.
See more HERE.

5. Theatre
It is no secret that London theatre is different than American theatre.  Actors enter the stage already immersed in the play and the audience, loathe to break the spell, never roars with appreciation at their appearance.  The theatres themselves, being much older than ours, are therefore often smaller and provide a much more intimate connection with the play.  Such was our experience when we were fortunate enough to sit in the presence of Dame Judi Dench as she performed her role of Alice Hargreaves in the play Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre.  She was a marvel to watch and I’m so happy to have seen her in this new and rather difficult play. 
 It’s always fun to see the “big” shows of course.  The Lion King and Cats will always reap large and enthusiastic audiences.  But quiet plays with great actors?  Now that’s heaven.
(At present, I’m holding tickets in my hot little hands to see Vanessa Redgrave as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.  Needless to say, I’m thrilled.)
You can see what’s coming up on the London stage HERE.

6. Partridges
Often, when I’ve walked miles and miles during a London day, a restaurant meal just doesn’t appeal.  I long to pull on my pajamas and dine in the privacy of my room.  That’s when I stop off at Partridges on my way back to my hotel.  A family run market, Partridges carries only the best of everything.  I gather up the best yogurt, the best cheese, the perfect apple and... for those of you who, like me, crave a custard tart every time you happen to watch the British sitcom As Time Goes By.... the most scrumptious custard tarts known to man.  Lionel would be pleased. Those treats, along with the latest issues of Tattler, Vogue and Country Life, a bottle of sparkling water, and I’m totally set for the night.
See more about Partridges HERE.

7. The Draycott Hotel
Of course, for someone like myself, where I stay is a vital ingredient to the whole London experience.  No sleekly modern hotel for me.  No, I want to visualize Jane Marple knitting serenely in the corner of a sitting room.  I want fresh flowers.  Tea and biscuits in the afternoon.  I want access to a private garden, stairwells that twist and turn and beckon.  I want fluffy beds, soft pillows, and mugs of hot chocolate on a cold, windy night.  In other words, I want The Draycott Hotel.
I don’t exactly remember when I first discovered The Draycott, but it’s been “my” London hotel for years.  Just around the corner from John Sandoe Books (another favourite, must see location), The Draycott sits quietly in the maze of Victorian lanes just off Kings Road near Sloane Square.  I can easily walk to the V and A from here, easily walk to Harrod’s and, while cabs are plentiful just a stone’s throw away, I always feel like I’m heading home whenever I turn down the shady lane to the Draycott.  
I love everything about it.
Read more about it HERE.

I guess I should stop here, knowing full well how tiresome it can often be to hear a traveler prattle on about their latest adventures.  But.... if you’d like to hear more about Britain, leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll add some more in a few days if you’re interested!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Pleasures of a Summer's Day

The Pleasures of a Summer’s Day
The rays of an afternoon sun slip down through the magnolia tree, sliding over velvety leaves to land in bright yellow puddles beside the row of blue hydrangeas.  Like long golden fingers they reach in through the windowpanes to paint waltzing light on the walls of the drowsy rooms.  A wooden dog mannequin sports a newly knitted sweater, wearing a barely perceptible smile on his face.   The bounty of the garden simmers on the stove.  Fresh green beans.  Fresh peas.  Wicker trays sag under the weight of a just-picked harvest of cherry red tomatoes and fuzzy peaches.  A serene angel sports a summer bow round her waist as she guards the entrance to the sleepy sitting room.  A big white dog naps beneath the piano.  A mockingbird sings a song from its perch in a chartreuse fern.  Breezes blow in through an open window.  A crystal vase rests atop a stack of new books, gently holding its treasure of fresh gardenias.  Their fragrance fills the rooms.  
A wind chime shudders, sending fairy music through the air.
Eyes close.  Shoulders relax.
Such are the pleasures of a summer day.
Here at The House of Edward. 

Tell me, what are you enjoying this summer day?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I Wish I Hadn't Looked

I Wish I Hadn’t Looked

Like most women around the world, I recoiled when I saw the now infamous photographs of Nigella Lawson with her husband, Charles Saatchi’s, hands around her throat at a London restaurant.  The look in her eyes made my blood run cold and caused me to mutter under my breath that I would kick the man to the curb without pause.  Who could look at those pictures and not form an opinion of similar intensity?
The media, vociferously outraged on Ms. Lawson’s behalf, proceeded to plaster the pictures over every outlet available to them all the while declaring her to be “a very private person”, an admission that perhaps served to highlight the disingenuousness of their concern.  They trailed the culprit as he sauntered into Charing Cross police station to accept his official caution and one could almost visualize the salivation of editors as they reprinted his far less than contrite explanation of the event.  Later in the week, photographers aimed their lenses at each item removed from the house when Nigella packed up and left, paying almost comical attention to her collection of cookware.  As a perhaps fitting coda to this hideous episode, Saatchi, ever the gentleman, chose to announce his decision to start divorce proceedings from his wife in The Daily Mail.  

I certainly have no great sympathy for Charles Saatchi in this cringe-worthy affair.   Domestic violence is a scourge and it is difficult to see those repugnant photographs and not label them as such.  But in their laughable pretense of concern for Nigella’s well-being, haven’t those who chose to cover the aftermath of this story in such invasive ways grasped this private woman around the throat as well?  And am I not culpable for reading and looking? 

If one happens to glance at what passes for news these days, one cannot help but witness the dark warnings of celebrity, even as one is encouraged to believe in its allure.  A starlet, obviously suffering serious mental health disorders or addiction is followed by cameras night and day in the hopes of catching her stumbling in the shadows, her blue wig askew.  Mug shots are featured, calls to emergency centers are played back ad infinitum.  All the while tut-tutting and shaking their heads, the media wallows in every weakness, every sin, every tragedy. And everyone is diminished.

My heart goes out to Nigella Lawson.  I cannot imagine how dreadful her days are at present.  Perhaps there are those women who found the courage to flee abusive relationships as a result of her pain.  One can certainly hope for such a outcome.  But for the woman herself, I cannot help but think her humiliation in the face of this 
unasked-for and invasive notoriety must be acute.  I remember seeing Diana, Princess of Wales, with her hand up to her face in an ultimately futile effort to protect herself from the ceaseless, unblinking pursuit.  Fame is a monster which, once beckoned, cannot be tamed.
And once again, I wish I hadn’t looked.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Safe and Sound

Safe and Sound

We were almost home when we saw her, walking slowly down the yellow line of the road through the rising steam left behind from yet another violent, yet transient, thunderstorm, the sort that pelts this part of the world in the dusks of July.  A German Shepherd of magnificent countenance, she was obviously tired and obviously lost.  Without a word, The Songwriter immediately pulled our car to the side of the road and I opened my door.  Leery and frightened, the big dog veered away when I spoke and continued to make her way down the busy street, cars swerving to miss her as they passed.
We carefully followed, making her nervous enough to eventually lope into the front garden of one of the houses lining the road.  I got out to follow.  Dressed as I was, all in white with a pink scarf around my throat of Isadora Duncan proportion, I was hardly prepared for a ramble through the muddy gardens of strangers, but looking at the poor creature I couldn’t help but see Edward or Apple, lost and afraid.  Do Unto Others, after all.
Success proved elusive, as she stayed twenty paces ahead of me despite my encouraging pleas for her to approach.  Finally, I decided to stop trying to convince her of my trustworthiness.  Leaning against a mossy pine tree, I turned my back and quietly began to talk to her, about the weather,  about the sweater I was knitting.  I mentioned the approaching night and the rabbits in my back garden.   I told her about Edward.  After three or four minutes, I felt a wet, furry head rub against my white trousers and, still not making eye contact, I reached down to scratch the tired girl behind her ear.  I felt a collar, and then, mercifully, a shiny metal tag on which was imprinted a phone number.  Relaying this to The Songwriter who’d been hiding behind a nearby house, a call was made, a reunion facilitated.  Such a joy to hear her worried owner call her name - “Maggie!” - and see her run to safety.  

When the next angry thunderstorm pounded our roof at midnight, I lay there listening to Edward and Apple breathing softly, safe and sound, and thought of big, tired-out Maggie, happy that she too was safe and sound.
But the white trousers were trashed.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Tale, and a List, of Summer Books

A Tale, and a List, of Summer Books

Chapter One
Pink dusk was falling by the time Maria drove down the winding, rutted drive to Aunt Leila’s. Rolling down the windows to breathe in the dawn of a summer night, she'd felt her shoulders relaxing with each bump and bounce the old Rover endured.  This was the perfect spot for a summer holiday.  It always had been.  A rambling old house nestled into the cove where waves the colour of mermaid’s eyes licked a rocky beach and salted sea breezes blew through the always open windows.  Alice, Amanda and Anne had been arguing in the back seat (they’d been arguing since the car pulled out of the drive) and Maria chuckled a little to herself as she visualized their reaction to Aunt Leila’s lack of modernity.  She was prepared for the wailing when her daughters discovered the old lady had no internet and only spotty phone reception.  In fact, the only television was a twelve inch black and white that her aunt plugged in when a storm was blowing to see if evacuation was recommended, though to be honest, she’d never known Aunt Leila to heed a single one of those warnings.  It had been so late by the time they’d arrived, Maria and her girls had just tumbled straight into bed.
Now it was morning and Maria lay, as cool as a cat in the starched linen sheets, waiting.  It was already past nine, and she’d heard nothing from the girls. No expected declaration of boredom.  No histrionics, no arguments.  Maria sighed, and stretched.  Swinging out of bed, she felt the coolness of the wide wooden floors on her bare feet as she cracked open her bedroom door and gazed both ways down the hallway.  The old stairs creaked as she went down.  She paused for a moment to listen again.  All was quiet.  She walked through the fragrant sitting room where a tall glass vase held an armload of lilacs and into the sunny kitchen where she found Aunt Leila reading the paper at the polished wooden table.  
“Where are the girls?”, Maria asked.
“In the library”, said her aunt with a sly smile....

Perfect Summer Holiday Books to Capture
 Even the Most Distracted Imaginations:

The Great Unexpected 
by Sharon Creech

Splendors and Glooms
By Laura Amy Schlitz

Captain Scurvy’s Most Dastardly Pop-Up Pirate Ship
by Steve Cox and Nick Denchfield

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
By Ken Ludwig

Chapter Two
Peeking through a crack in the library door, Maria was astonished to see all three girls engrossed in their reading, little Alice curled up with Leon, her aunt’s placid old dog.   Shaking her head in disbelief, Maria tiptoed down the hallway to the bath. 
There she found a stack of enticing books, some cool lemon water and a bottle of Aunt Leila’s homemade bubble bath.  Maria could not believe her good fortune.  Which book to choose?

Summer Books to Get Lost Inside:
Independent People
by Halldor Laxness

The Professor of Poetry 
by Grace McCleen

The Golem and the Jinni
by Helene Wecker

Homemade Summer
by Yvette Van Boven

Chapter Three
Downstairs in the kitchen, Leila sat down her tea cup and listened.  All was quiet, blessedly quiet.  She could make her way to the studio now without interruption.  Pulling on her boots, she opened the back door and followed the pathway up through the garden, pushing back lilac blossoms as she went.  Ever vigilant, Leon heard the familiar click in the door that no one else heard and wiggled out from behind Alice to follow Leila.  He was beside her by the time she pushed open the weathered studio door.  She paused a moment before the painting by the window.  Still not quite right, she thought.  Too much teal.  Ah well, she would finish it later.  Right now she wanted to read.  Running her long index finger along the spines of her books, she wondered which one to spend the afternoon with.  Let’s see... maybe this one?

Summer Books to Inspire:

Daily Rituals, How Artists Work
by Mason Currey

E. B. White on Dogs
Edited by Martha White

Tell About Night Flowers
Eudora Welty’s Gardening Letters, 1940-1949
Selected and Edited by Julia Eichelberger

The Charleston Bulletin Supplements
by Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell

Chapter Four
With everyone reading now, Leon breathed a long deep sigh and turned three times in his bed beneath open window.  He could hear the splash and shush of the waves.  He loved that sound.  Somewhere off in the distance, well over the back of the hill, he thought he heard the bleats and baahs of the neighbour’s sheep.  He thought of Pip the border collie and chuckled softly to himself as he thought of him racing back and forth beneath the sun in his eternal chase for those sheep. 
 Ah, thought Leon, much better to be the dog of a reader.
Especially on a summer’s day.

Chapter Five
 through a small round door under the third lilac bush from the sea path, 
far down below the floor of Leila’s studio,
in a house whose rooms are always chilly, always cozy, 
a badger sits reading his own special book by the light of a flickering candle.

Edward and I are happy to report that a brand-new shipment of 
From the House of Edward is almost ready. 
 For those who’ve been waiting a couple of weeks, watch your mailbox...
 it will be there soon.
  And for those who’ve yet to get one of your own, now’s the time!
Find it HERE

The wonderful illustration of the badger is by artist, Kevin Nichols.
You'll read more about him soon!
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