Bridget Payne Watson

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Really enjoyed both this interview with Bridget, and Rachel Harrell’s illustrations for Bridget’s book The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up.

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It covers everything from reasonable expectations to how to open champagne to going to bed on time (yes, it works).

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Everyone would have their own list of life wisdom, but I liked Bridget’s calm tone and witty illustrations.

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Blog of the week & Mexico City

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I’m still completely absorbed by Sybille Bedford’s A Visit to Don Otavio, and these passages (dinner; setting up a hotel) show why. If it fuels your fever, you really must see Ben Pentreath’s blogs here and here. Normally I dial in to Ben’s pastoral idylls on Mon mornings, but these posts from his travels carry some heat.

Cake instead of pudding

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We had lunch at half past twelve, and the food was rather different from what we usually had – we had fish instead of meat,  and cake instead of pudding. I don’t quite know what the point was, but it helped me to feel excited and rather sick. Then our luggage was carried down. I had an immense trunk with a rounded top and straps, and Marguerite had a brown tin box tied up with cords.

Travelling today, sadly without fish and cake first, so thought this passage from “Christmas with the Savages” fitted. It was written by Antonia Fraser’s aunt, so a nice piece of serendipity to read it just after AF’s own account of her father and aunts’ upbringing.

Painting by Henri Fantin-Latour

Apricots on the Nile

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1930s and 1940s Cairo, Alexandria and Paris mingle with elegance and sadness. I was reminded of it partly by Amy’s photos and partly by my latest book, Antonia Fraser’s memoir of wartime and post-war Oxford.

Heavens to Betsy

 

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Reminded by Beth Bonini’s cheerful Instagram feed of these delightful books (I’ve posted about their companion volumes here and here before), I think I’m getting ready for a re-read.

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Lots of commentators compare these books to Meet Me in St Louis, and as well as the period details (the hairstyles! the dresses! the slang! the excitement over a telephone!), what I love most is the inherent optimism – progress is always good, and friends and family remain stable whilst welcoming new developments – but also the complete acceptance that a job, writing, singing, making your own mind up, are all important to a girl and in no way conflicted with the rest of her being.

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I find it depressing that a modern book wouldn’t show this, or would have to make a big point about it. Written in the 50s about the 1900-1910s, Betsy, Emily and Carney are in fact far more progressive than any characters today.

Amy Sweet

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“I climbed three rickety flights to her flat to share her gulls’ eggs, and as soon as I reached the door, I knew that Amy’s home was not as other homes. Instead of a bell push or door-knocker, a Persian scimitar was attached precariously to the door, and you had to announce yourself with that…Amy herself let me in, wearing an exotic deshabille consisting of flimsy Turkish trousers, a short embroidered velvet jacket and masses of jangling gold bracelets. Her hair was hidden under an enormous Russian fur hat, with blonde curls escaping here and there… I squeezed into the narrow hall, nearly smashing a blue Victorian lustre with my right shoulder…Having negotiated this hazard, my left elbow banged into a china  jardiniere holding a castor-oil plant which sprouted to the ceiling. My head just grazed a small chandelier which hung from a hook, and the feather on my hat tickled a row of china jugs hanging on a shelf on the wall… “Wait a few minutes,” said Amy, “and I’ll bring in the lunch.”

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Lesley Blanch (photos above),sketched by her colleague Anne Scott-James in her memoir In the Mink. Cunningly, Lesley’s pseudonym recalls Amy in Little Women, and Lesley’s own adventuring was certainly wrapped in similar levels of fantasy, coquetry and almost overpowering femininity as Amy March. Later on Anne remarks that she always liked to appear in public swathed in masses of veiling, but she also accurately recalls how within a few days of “Any” leaving for Tunis or Helsinki, her friends were writing to her begging her to come back. Whilst I don’t think I could have stood her in person, Blanch’s own writing is irresistible and her fluttering exterior hid a great deal of determined toughness.

The heroic Margery

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Margery Gill was the illustrator of so many of my favourite books as a child (Apple Bough, A Little Princess), so I find her choppy, modern style very familiar and comforting. I like this website too, which praises the heroic age of illustration, an age that went hand in hand with a deliberately liberal social and moral view, the benevolent didacticism of the BBC and Penguin/Puffin books, and some cracking good stories.

Coffee for the mind

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Absolutely a fan of the idea behind Morning Short, a series of short stories that come to you when you join their mailing list.

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An encounter with Kate Chopin‘s writing the year before GCSEs bit me with the short story bug, and I’m still convinced they enforce the best kind of writing.

I also like these illustrations by Miles Hyman very much; they exactly capture how I feel when I’m reading.

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At seemingly random points across the composition (but not at all random in reality) the page is studded with tiny squares of gold leaf. These are the stars in the constellation depicted. The text, which runs to several pages, explains that the stars rotate ceaselessly between the celestial poles, and that these are guarded by the bears of Crete, who had protected Jupiter as a baby from his cannibalistic father, Saturn, in return for which they had been set in the sky to mark the poles. They are known as Helice of the seven stars and Cynosura, who has never deceived Phoenician sailors guided by her. Between them…runs a giant snake, like a river, with stars along its body…These are the constellations which we still know as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, with the Plough.

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Tantalising writing by Christopher de Hamel about the Leiden Aratea, here. Image from Medieval Fragments.