I brought some trash outside a few minutes ago and lo and behold … balmy weather! I was wearing only a cardigan sweater, too. I decided to rake out the last of the fall leaves from some shrubbery in a side garden when I spotted this:
See that little bud poking out? Maybe it’s our first daffodil. I can’t wait to see what pops up in our border gardens this spring since this is our first spring in our new house and I have no idea what’s lurking under the mulch. I suspect we’re in for a nice surprise since the summer and fall plantings were so pretty.
Despite my burst of energy that helped me accomplish some yardwork, I feel like this today:
The cure? I thought I would cast on a new knitting project since I quickly finished a pair of red and gray felted mittens for myself this week. I was thinking a Stripe Study Shawl in grass green and chocolate brown. Before I cast on, though, I took a photo of the two yarns together, then processed them in black and white to see if there was enough contrast between the two yarns:
Sigh. Not contrasty enough I fear. So it’s back to the drawing board. BTW, the green yarn is Dream in Color Smooshy in Happy Forest and the brown is from SkeinnyDipping … Journey Fingering in Terracotta. Both beautiful yarns, but destined to live apart.
Don’t forget — today’s the last day to enter the giveaway for Andrew Marr’s The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by leaving a comment on the post from earlier this week. I’m closing the comments’ section on the entry post at 5:00 p.m. and will do the drawing over the weekend. Good luck!
My right hand has been giving me some trouble (too much knitting?), so I’ve been catching up on my reading while giving my poor hands a break.
First up is Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, a book I’ve had on my Goodreads list for a long while. If you’re the type of person who walks into a friend’s home and studies her bookshelf for clues about who she really is, you’ll like this book. Hill, the author of the The Woman in Black (yes, the scary film starring Daniel Radcliffe is based upon it), decided to spend a year reacquainting herself with her personal book collection rather than shopping for new books. Hill is a lovely, evocative writer; my only quibble — keeping in mind that I haven’t yet finished the book — is that it reads more like a book of essays than a flowing narrative, which I’d prefer. On the other hand, since I find myself dipping into the book in the few short minutes I have reading in bed, I can get through a chapter and know that when I pick up the book again, I won’t have to backtrack to pick up. I’ve found myself making mental notes of books I’d like to read or re-read: Great Expectations, Enid Blyton’s children’s books, and yes, The Woman in Black since I don’t like watching ghost stories on film (too scary!).
I’ve written here about my enjoyment of Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity. It’s a book where I like looking the pictures more than reading the text: Brocket has a habit of dropping reference to her advanced degrees that I find a little offputting. I got to the point where I said to the book, “I get it! You’re educated! Give it a break!” She reminds me of a friend who cannot get through a conversation without mention of her Ivy League degree.
But I digress. So if you’re like me and like Brocket’s book sans copy or you hated Brocket’s book, you might like the book I picked up last week called Homemade: 101 Beautiful and Useful Craft Projects You Can Make at Home by Ros Badger and (the late) Elspeth Thompson. The book is set up by seasons, which I love, and most of the projects can be completed with found objects around the house. There are recipes (elderflower cordial, spicy chutney, pumpkin soup), as well as simple knitting projects and even household fix-its, like instructions on how to restore garden furniture, create planters, and build a pebble garden. But what I really love about this book is that none of the projects have that “cutesy” look I detest in so many modern-day craft books. Everything looks stylish, but organic if that makes sense. It’s the kind of book I can flip through to give me inspiration on decorating my home on a tight budget. For example, we have some dreadfully ugly floor registers. My hope was to replace them with some brass registers but they’re prohibitively expensive. While glancing through Homemade, I got the idea to clean them and give them a good coating of spray paint. I was going to do them in an antiqued brass, but decided to paint them glossy black to match the thresholds. I just finished the project this a.m., and while the registers don’t look as pretty as brass ones would, they’re 1000% better looking with a coat of paint.
Last week the publisher of The Real Elizabeth by journalist Andrew Marr sent me a couple review copies. I’ve been itching to read this biography as I’ve heard that the Queen gave many of her staff and intimates permission to talk to Marr as he researched the book. I’ve also read excerpts on the web, which piqued my interest in Elizabeth’s 60-year-reign as Britain’s monarch. Last week marked the beginning of her jubilee year so in celebration, I’m giving my other copy of The Real Elizabeth away to one lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is tell me, in the comments below, what you admire about the Queen … even if it’s just her corgis. I’m sorry but with this giveaway, I can only ship to addresses in the U.S. or Canada. The giveaway closes on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET, and I’ll draw a name at random early next week. Good luck … and thanks for entering!
I used a random number generator to pick a winner for Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor:
Congratulations to Else, who was the first commenter on this post. Else, you should have received an e-mail from me this a.m. requesting your mailing address.
Thanks to all of you for entering. I haven’t, unfortunately, finished the book — too much work these last few weeks! — but I’m at the part where Rose is learning how to handle the most difficult Lady Astor. It’s indeed a fascinating read.
On another note: what do you think of Downton Abbey so far? I’m liking it but wish they’d focus more on the developing relationship between Lady Sybil and Branson. I’m kind of tired of Lady Mary and Matthew … just get married already! And it’s bugging me that the storyline would have us believe that three single rich marrying-age females in that age would stay single from 1912 until 1918/1919!
A couple days ago, the office of the Prince of Wales released lists of gifts given to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (that’s William and Kate/Catherine) and a separate list of gifts given to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (or more familiarly, Charles and Camilla). There was the requisite round of grumbling from the British press, especially when it was revealed via another list that the Countess of Wessex had accepted expensive jewelry from the Crown Prince of Bahrain during an official visit. Bahrain’s human rights policies give Amnesty International plenty to work with, to put it mildly, so accepting such gifts seems a bit of a brow raiser to me. Kate and William also received some expensive gifts during their visits to North America, Australia, and New Zealand in 2011, but none from despots or dictators.
Much like the President of the U.S., British royals must declare gifts and they are not allowed to keep them, although they may use them. The gifts belong to the state, which is, actually, a very nice policy since I assume the cost of insurance and upkeep then falls to the taxpayers. Sweet deal!
If you want to check out the gift list, click here. So they got some nice gifts but they also had to lug home loads of hats, t-shirts, Vegemite, a ball point pen, three pairs of shoes, and a dog toy. It made me think of the crap I’ve lugged home from trade shows. At least they had some diamonds mixed in.
ETA: I’ll be closing the comments section on this post at 5 p.m. ET on January 13
Here stateside many of us are eagerly counting the hours to the premiere of Downton Abbey’s second season on PBS (Sunday at 9 p.m; check your local station to confirm). The word from the UK is that this season is a bit of a dud, but I’ll still be watching simply because I love the cast of characters and am willing to give the anachronisms a pass.
Anyway, earlier this week I was contacted by Penguin Books to see if there was any interest in an autobiography they were reprinting called Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor. Written by Rosina Harrison, Lady Astor’s lady-maid of decades, it details what it was like to work “in service” during a bygone era of British aristocracy.* Since Rose grew up in the village of Ripon, which figures in Downton Abbey, Penguin wondered if I would be interested in reading an advance copy of the book. But of course!
Last night I crawled into bed early with my book, intending to skim a few pages, but I ended up reading a full three chapters. This simply written story starts by detailing Rose’s upbringing in a loving working-class family and how she knew from an early age her career would be working in service for her social superiors.
I was drawn in by the descriptions of Rose’s childhood and the expectations her parents — nay society — had for her. Children worked and worked hard at the turn of the 20th century. Almost as soon as Rose could walk, she was helping her mother with the backbreaking work of washing clothes (her mother, a laundress, took in the neighborhood aristocrats’ laundry). She was also responsible for polishing the stove each week (again, another grueling chore especially when you remember stoves back then ran on wood or coal) and helping her parents take care of their younger children. There’s no hint of complaint in her recollections, although she remarks:
“People have often said to me how lucky I was to be brought up in a village in the beautiful countryside with the freedom of the fields and lanes, the simplicity of life among animals and above all in peace. It sounds lyrical as I write it and perhaps in a way it was, but most people forget and sometimes I do that for the most part life was continual hard work even as a young child.”
She later writes that people often dismiss the struggle and low wages as relics of a different era, but she wrote:
“Things were different. There was no National Insurance, so there was the constant fear of getting ill, of being out of work, of growing old without a family to look after you and being buried in a pauper’s grave. There was no electricity, no sewerage, no running water, no refrigeration; fruit and vegetables came and went with the seasons.”
It’s clear that Rose is a smart girl, which serves her well in service. Her parents scrimp and save so she can be tutored in French and acquire finer sewing skills to become a proper lady’s maid, which will afford her the chance to travel and see the world, something Rose desperately wants to do. As a knitter myself, I giggled at her complaint of having to knit her father’s socks, which seemed to go on forever, round and round, but seemed to get done as she kept him in new socks for years. I got as far as Rose’s first placement, a lady’s maid to two daughters of a wealthy London family. Her experience here gives her insight into her role as a servant to the upper classes. She describes her relationship with one of the daughters:
“We weren’t friends, though if she was asked today she might well deny this. We weren’t even acquaintances. We never exchanged confidences, never discussed people, nothing we said brought us any loser [sic]; my advice might be asked about clothes or bits of shopping, but my opinions were never sought or given on her music or the people we met or on anything that was personal to either of us, nor did I expect it or miss it at that time. That was the accepted way of things.”
I thought that was a fascinating illustration of how times have changed, especially with those words “miss it at that time.” Today, such chilly separation between employer and employee would be unbearable, don’t you think?
Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor was first published in 1975 and is being re-published by Penguin this month. Along with my copy, Penguin has send another copy for me to give away to a lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is comment below, making sure you add your e-mail address to the appropriate field — it will not appear on the site! — so I can contact you should you win the book. I’d also love to hear whether you’ll be tuning into Downton Abbey this Sunday — or, if you’ve already seen it, what you thought of the 2nd season. I’ll be picking a winner a random next Friday (lucky Friday the 13th!) and yes, the contest is open to anyone no matter where you live, although if you’re overseas it may take some time for the book to show up. Just can’t wait? Order the book on Amazon.
I am counting the hours until bedtime so I continue reading this treasure of a book. I’m eager to find out more about the relationship between Rose and her witty, yet often tempestuous, mistress.
* An interesting note. Lady Astor, whose birth name was Nancy Langhorne, was a spirited American lass who moved to England in the early 1900s after a disastrous marriage to a fellow American. In England, she met Waldorf Astor, also born in America but resettled in England, and married him, thus becoming Lady Astor. Later, Lady Astor became the first female member of Parliament. Which just goes to show, with enough money, even an American can stand in Parliament.
Sorry I’ve been MIA for the past couple weeks. I have some health issues that have been taking up precious time, and when I do sit at the computer, I need to play catch-up with my paying work.
A couple weeks ago, the folks at Silva Screen Records contacted me with news about a CD they were releasing — Music for a Royal Wedding — and asked if I’d be interested in a copy. If you’ve got an upcoming wedding, or you’re simply looking to get in the mood for the upcoming royal wedding, this is the CD for you. It includes 16 selections of music, including Pachelbel’s Canon, Princess Diana’s personal favorite, I Vow to Thee My Country, and, of course, God Save the Queen.
I have three copies of this CD to give away to Hail Britannia readers. All you have to do to enter is tell me below a. what was your favorite piece of music played at your wedding or b. if you’re not married, what would be the music you’d pick for your big day? Oh okay and c. if you never plan to marry, what do you think Kate and William should play at their wedding next week? I’ll pick winners with my super-duper random number generator on Friday, April 22, 2011.
As for music at my wedding, my favorite piece was Scotland the Brave, played by a bagpiper who led us down through the estate where we had our reception. Our guests didn’t know where we were until they heard the strains of the bagpipes drifting across the lawns and they spotted us. Quite the entrance we made that day, and my dad was thrilled — he’s of Scottish ancestry, loves bagpipes, and we managed to get a smile out of him. (He’s kind of cranky. Damn Scots!)
At 5:00 p.m. today, I’ll be closing the comment section of the post announcing my Young Victoria DVD giveaway. You can earn three entries to the giveaway by 1. Tweeting about the giveaway, either on your own or retweeting my post that announces the contest 2. Subscribing to Hail Britannia’s feed and 3. Letting me know in the comments section of the giveaway post that you’ve tweeted, subscribed and/or just want to enter the giveaway. Click here to enter.
I watched The Young Victoria this weekend and really enjoyed it. The director took some liberties with history — I won’t spoil it for you, but one of them involves a major plot point near the end of the film — but the liberties didn’t diminish the film at all for me. My favorite part? The costuming. I loved the closeups of the hats, the petticoats, even Prince Albert’s (sexy!) linen shirts. There’s also a neat cameo in the film — Princess Beatrice plays one of Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting. Kind of cool considering that Queen Victoria is her great-great grandmother and she’s named after Victoria’s youngest daughter.
Enter today to win a copy of this beautiful film!
FedEx just pulled up to my house with two brand-spanking-new DVDs of The Young Victoria, compliments of Sony Pictures, one for me to use for a review, the other to give away to Hail Britannia’s readers. I’m chuffed!
I’m so looking forward to watching this movie tonight. I don’t get to the movies as often as I like to, and when I do it’s to see something my husband and I both agree upon … and this is probably a film he’d nix. (Although we did see The Devil Wears Prada, and he thought Emily Blunt was wonderful in that.)
So here’s the deal for the giveaway. Last week I won boxed sets of BBC America’s Survivors from SmittenByBritain and I liked the way Melissa set up her giveaway, so I’m, ahem, borrowing it. You can earn up to three entries in this contest by:
1. Subscribing to Hail Britannia’s blog feed with Bloglines, Google Blog Reader, or your preferred blog reader. Just click on the “subscribe” button in the upper right-hand corner of this page. (ETA: If you’re already a subscriber, you get a point.)
2. Tweeting this blog post. All you have to do is click the green “retweet” button in the upper right-hand side of this post next to the photo of the DVD.
3. Leaving a comment on this post and letting me know that you’ve subscribed to Hail Britannia, retweeted the contest/blog post, and/or that you just want to put your name in the hat for the DVD.
The giveaway is open to anyone living in the U.S. — sorry, but the DVD is formatted for North America viewing. I’ll be randomly choosing a winner on Monday, April 26. Good luck, and stay tuned for my review of The Young Victoria later this week.