A New Year’s Resolution…

I used to pride myself in reviewing every single book I read. When I struggled to find the time to put pen to paper, because I was desperately and incessantly applying for new work, revising for exams, or otherwise indisposed, I diligently stacked all my previous reads aside, awaiting review, as it were.

It took me a long time to shake this habit and to recognise that it is okay to read a book and then put it away, that not everything needs reviewing. While I’m pleased I made this realisation, I can also recognise that recently I’ve gone entirely the other way, and have fallen horribly out of touch with my literary self.

Last year was a particularly bad year for my reading list – though a pretty good year in all other respects. Full time work, marriage, and new, not altogether bad, habits, have somewhat monopolised my diary. And while I still do make time for reading in the hour or so I spend in the bath of an evening – old habits die hard – I don’t ever take the time to share my thoughts anymore. 

In 2020, I’d like to make more of an effort to put my thoughts to paper. I’m not one for making grand resolutions that are impossible to stick to – one blog a week is never going to happen so I won’t even think of it. If I can manage one post a month, I’ll have done myself proud. I’ve also recognised the fact that my previous reviews were really long (seriously), so going forward, I am going to try to keep my thoughts to a minimum – concise, to the point, and hopefully worth the read. 

I’ll kick things off this month with an amazing book I found, and subsequently inhaled, over the Christmas period – The Familiars by Stacey Hall. 

Tbc…

Beerwolf Books, Falmouth

I’ve just returned from a brief visit with friends down in Cornwall and am feeling wonderfully refreshed and recouped. There’s nothing quite like a stay in the country to help clear your mind and recharge your batteries.

During our stay we spent a couple of days in Falmouth checking out the many vintage boutiques and used-book shops, while stopping for an occasional ‘snifter’ in one of the local watering-holes. One such stop found us in a cosy little public house nestled down an alley behind the bustling main street. Now, each of the pubs we visited in Falmouth had its own special charm but this one was by far my favourite.

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Beerwolf Books is not like any old boozer – it is a bookshop and public house combined, and consequently one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. Every pub should be like this one. I know a lot of pubs these days have bookshelves in them, but I’m not talking about a Wetherspoons with a dusty collection of random texts that no one has ever so much as glanced at – Beerwolf Books is just as much a bookshop with beer as it is a pub with books.

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Upon entering the building, a steep central staircase brings you to a small room with shelves crammed full of books, which are available to buy from the bar, or simply to read during your stay. While there is a definite nautical/Cornish theme to a lot of the books there are also contemporary texts, classic literature and a great selection of children’s books and graphic novels. Spend a little time perusing the shelves and you are bound to find something to tickle your fancy.

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Outside of the book shop, the cosy bar provides the perfect atmosphere to unwind with your choice of tipple and literature. If you are feeling less than boozy you can curl up with a cup of tea, but the bookshop/coffee-shop combo has been done many a time before, and it seems a shame not to take advantage of the array of ales and ciders on tap.

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Obviously I couldn’t walk away empty handed. I’m not sure how I could I possibly justify NOT buying a book from a place like this. I was drawn, as is often the case, towards the children’s section and spent a while leafing through the local gems that were on offer before settling on this stunning hardback.

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I’m having another … Wordless Wednesday

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“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C. S. Lewis

Spring has sprung – Byron’s pool

The last week or so has felt like a new beginning after a very long and dreary winter. The other morning I was overjoyed to wake up with the sun on my face and more or less leapt out of bed. A sunny day off is not to be wasted. So my beloved and I headed down to one of my favourite local walking spots – Byron’s pool.

Byron’s Pool is a small nature reserve on the outskirts of Cambridge in the village of Grantchester, named after the poet Lord Byron, who it is said, would swim at the weir pool on warm summer’s days. It’s a picturesque location, and perfect for a leisurely walk along the River Cam.

If you have never been to Grantchester you could do worse than to plan a day trip, the village is a truly beautiful location.

Banks_of_the_Cam_at_Grantchester If you need more convincing, this should do the trick:

…………………. would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, Or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low:…
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester ….

Rupert Brooke, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, 1912

Byron’s pool itself is just outside of Grantchester. A public footpath through the reserve takes you in a loop alongside the River Cam, and around a small patch of quiet woodland. The river is calm and quiet, brimming with water lilies, with small shallow streams of crystal clear water and darting sticklebacks running through the woodland. The woods, though just beginning to bud in the early spring, comes to life in the summer with hundreds of sweet smelling wildflowers, daisies, willowherb, hogweed, ragwort, dovesfoot, meadowsweet, elder, ivy and cows parsley to name but a few.

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I think the main thing which draws me towards Byron’s Pool is the knowledge that Byron spent time there, and, if you listen to Brookes, perhaps still does:

Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.

I like to think that the playful spirit of Byron still roams the area.


George_Gordon_Byron,_6th_Baron_Byron_by_Richard_Westall_(2)Fun Byron fact – Lord Byron was a great lover of animals, and while he was a student at Trinity College installed a tame bear in his quarters. He was compelled to do so after becoming upset that the university forbade the keeping of dogs – they neglected to mention that bears were also forbidden. The college authorities had no had no legal basis to complain, although it is said that they tried to tell him that domesticated animals were not allowed, to which he replied: ‘I assure you that the bear is wild.’


I love the idea of wandering around with the spirits of poets past, and always feel compelled to slip beneath the water as to become even closer to the celestial body of Byron – Alas!IMG_0039

As always I had to settle for a quiet walk, pausing every now and then to try and capture the scene through the lens of my camera.

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Walking with the boy on this warm spring day we spoke casually about the location and came upon a bit of difference of opinion. Sebastian thinks the location is ruined by its close proximity to the M11, and while I will concede that this doesn’t add to the experience it does not ruin it for me. I would be lying if I said I can’t hear the road, it is there, in the background, but the sounds of the river, the birds, and the breeze through the trees disguise this for me. Focus on the road and you will hear it, lose yourself in the location and it can pass you by.

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Some of my favourite fictional ladies, created by ladies

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” ― Joseph Conrad

Over the weekend #womeninfiction emerged on Twitter, so in running with the theme I’m here to share with you a few of my favourite fictional ladies.

Renée Michel

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of the HedgehogRenée Michel is possibly my favourite literary lady of all time. She is a concierge, and self-confessed member of the lower class. Despite how she outwardly appears, she is in fact fantastically intelligent, but she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Madame Michel prefers to lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of the apartment complex where she works.

In Renée, Barbery has created a fantastic female heroine for lovers of literature. I challenge anyone to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and not feel themselves brimming over with admiration for the soft soul nestled within the prickly exterior of Madame Michel.

Petronella Brandt née Oortman

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

18498569Petronella is an 18-year-old Dutch girl whose family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She is married off to a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt, but has a difficult time fitting into her new life. Petronella, who prefers to go by the name of Nella, attempts to be a good wife to her new husband, but is forever at the mercy of her stern sister-in-law Marin Brandt. Nella begins as a child, before all too quickly becoming a woman, when the crushing weight of her new family’s secrets is placed on her shoulders.

What is there to not love about Nella? In each stage of her growth she is simply delightful: innocent and charming, determined and strong, and finally, reliable and level-headed.

Jerusha Abbot

Daddy long legs – Jean Webster

9780141331119Jerusha Abbott, or Judy as she likes to be called, was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. At the age of 17, she find herself at a loose end, she has finished her education, and is no longer young enough to live in the orphanage without paying her way. Imagine her surprise when one of the John Grier Home’s trustees offers to pay for her to go to university. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance; in exchange Judy must write him a monthly letter. Judy is told she will never know his true identity and must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy warms quickly to the trustee, gifting him the persona ‘Daddy Long Legs’, and writing warm, detailed letters each month. Judy dotes on her Daddy Long Legs, and, it appears, he on her.

Judy is an amazing character, gifted with the unique opportunity to turn her rags to riches. Read Daddy Long Legs and I’m sure you will find, too, that you fall in love with the little orphan girl and her extraordinary tale.

Geogianna Lennox

Dead and Buryd – Chele Cooke

dfw-cc-dab-cover-mid (2)Georgianna Lennox is a local medic on a foreign planet ruled by alien invaders, the Adveni. The native people, the Veniche, to whom Georgianna belongs, have become slaves in their own home. Georgianna is somewhat unique among the Veniche as her work allows her to tread within the realms of the Adveni forces, treating the sick and injured within the walls of the infamous Lyndbury prison. For Georgianna this is a way of treating her lost people, but it is not enough. When Georgianna’s friendship with a group of rebels risks putting her own freedom at stake, she is faced with a difficult decision – what will she choose to put first, her family or the freedom of her people?

Georgianna is a strong, determined character, but one I felt extremely comfortable getting to know. Cooke has created a character that is admirable, but also wonderfully human. I found her to be amazingly likeable and funny, despite her hard exterior.

Edwina

Now the Day is Over – Marion Husband

9781908381811-frontcover (2)Are you sick of me talking about Edwina yet? If you are, shame on you, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read the book.

Edwina is the spirit of a young woman trapped between the  early 20th Century, and modern day Britain. Since her death she has lurked the shadows of her former home, critically analysing those who take residence within the walls. In Now the Day is Over she takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the adulterous couple who reside within her domain, comparing their existence to the life that was once hers.

I love Edwina because she is so all encompassing. She is deliciously genuine, admirable, maddening, terrifying and somewhat detestable all rolled into one.

Intrigued by any of my lady loves? You know what to do.

Tales of terror – Ghosts of Cambridge

Cambridge is renowned for its rich history, and as a historic seat of learning; it seems only natural then that the city would also be teeming with myths, legends and tales of ghostly sightings of long dead professors who still stalk the college halls.

Christ’s College

Christ’s college was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort in 1505, and is renowned for educating some of Cambridge’s most famous figures, including Charles Darwin and John Milton. With such a rich history it is hardly surprising that the college has its fair share of ghosts. One such spectre haunts a mulberry tree which stands in the college gardens. Mr Round, as he is affectionately known, is said to visit the college on nights of the full moon. He appears as a tall, elderly gentleman wearing a beaver hat. It is rumoured that in life Mr Round murdered the only doctor with the skills to save his dying girlfriend. Now his ghost stalks the area around the mulberry tree in deep regret.

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Corpus Christi College

Historically Corpus Christi College is notable as the only college in Cambridge founded by Cambridge townspeople; nowadays it is, unfortunately, perhaps best known for the Corpus Clock. The clock is an odd device, which could be considered both hypnotic, and deeply disturbing – I am more inclined to lean towards the latter.

The college is also said to be the lurking place of the ghost of Dr Butts, who was found hanging by his garters in his room on Easter Sunday 1632. The image of Dr Butts is described as being dressed in white, and having a distinctive dark mark on his throat – evidence of his suicide.

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Peterhouse

Peterhouse is the oldest of the Cambridge Colleges, founded in 1284 by Hugo de Balsham, Bishop of Ely. The college is said to be the stalking place of the ghost of Francis Dawes, a former bursar of the college who hanged himself in the 18th century after an election scandal. Dawes took his life near the Combination Room, and is now said to prowl the area. It is said that a series of knocks can be heard before his spirit appears.

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St John’s College

St John’s College was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. The college is said to be the home of one of the more unusual of the college ghosts. On several occasions in the 1990s the spectre of a large, black cat was spotted, lurking the in the college grounds. Sightings of the creature were reported by both a college caretaker and the groundsman.

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Gog Magog Downs

The Gog Magog Downs are a series of low chalky hills running along the south-eastern side of Cambridgeshire. The downs are now considered to be a place of great natural beauty, with many people coming from the surrounding areas to walk through the woods and meadows. It was rumoured in the distant past that these hills were home to a phantom monkey, which could be seen darting through the undergrowth. I myself am a great fan of the Gog Magog Downs; I love to go on afternoon walks there. But I find the idea of a ghost monkey to be somewhat terrifying, inadvertently shuddering with horror each time I read over the legend.Gog magog (2)

The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum is the art and antiquities museum of the University of Cambridge, located on Trumpington Street in the heart of the city centre. It is an outstanding building to look at, made up of spectacular columns, mosaic floors and intricate decorated ceilings, and guarded by four majestic stone lions. It is said that should you be on Trumpington Street at the stroke of midnight you could bear witness to the great stone lions rising up from their guard posts at either side of the museums grand entrance, and making their way into the street, where they can be seen to briefly stop to drink from the guttering at the side of the road, before turning and proceeding back to their posts.

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Newmarket Road

Newmarket Road is an unremarkable part of Cambridge, which is none the less said to be haunted by one of the city’s most remarkable ghosts. The image of a furry, waddling penguin has often been spotted in this area. In recent years, a local paranormal group have suggested that the ghost may be that of a doctor in a cloak, wearing a beak-like plague mask – but that’s hardly very exciting is it?book_about_plague_doctor_by_mizusasori-d3exvda

Arbury road

Arbury road is located on the northern side of Cambridge city centre. Legend has it that this residential street is home to an unlucky shuck – a giant, spectral dog. It is said that any person unfortunate enough to gaze upon its prowling form will be cursed with a spell of bad luck.

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Special thanks for this post go to our resident office ghost Johannes.