Blog of the week

Well, sort of. This is actually Tweets of the week, as Helen posts @LBFlyawayhome on the Ladybird Books.


The illustrations range from the pretty,


to the of-their-time (I was tickled at how much Charles II and his courtier have faced exactly out of a mid-century illustration of sober lawyers), to the unintentionally amusing


and the completely barmy and opinionated:




The Geffrye Museum, one of the first places I discovered for myself in my gap year and now a frequent sight in the morning. The courtyard allows the light to fall in it, whatever time of year, but is especially beautiful when so lushly green in early summer.


May 2017.

Apricots on the Nile


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



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.


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.


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.

Portrait of a city


Playing this tomorrow, I’ve loved getting to know it. Vaughan Williams wrote in several different styles through his life (folksy, bombastic, nostalgic, mystical, jazzy, harshly modern and high Edwardian). His symphonies are especially diverse, and his second – A London Symphony – opens with a shifting, misty scene for strings and low wind and brass that conjures the river Thames and is completely different from the flourishing optimism of “behold the sea!” that opens his first symphony.

It’s not till over 3 minutes in (the length of most pop songs) that you get any bustle, and almost the same again before VW’s sketch of the Cockney cheer and noise of bus horns breaks in. This excellent recording also has a literal portrait of the city accompanying it, with pictures from the late 19th / early 20th century.

Written in 1912 and 1913, premiered in 1914 and  dedicated to a friend who would die two years later at the Somme, where Vaughan Williams was himself a stretcher bearer, going out to collect the wounded and dead and where the shelling was to damage his hearing permanently, this is the last days of an Imperial city  that is already shifting and crumbling. Poignantly the score was sent to Germany for its second premiere and disappeared during the war, leaving Vaughan Williams to reconstruct it from memory in 1918.


Not many people talk now about the villages requistioned and abandoned in the Second World War, but Tyneham is one of them and Ben Pentreath visits it here.


There’s something so poignant about the photos of these families, and it was a burning issue in the 50s of course. One of my favourite childrens’ authors, Geoffrey Trease, even set one of his Cumbrian novels round it.