Fabulous news

I have wonderful news to share! This is me looking maniacally excited:

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My Blitz book, plus two others – so three books in total, were the subject of offers from no less than four excellent UK publishers and after a little bidding war, we decided to go with the lovely Ebury Press, which is an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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Interestingly, the name Ebury Press is from the site in London where the headquarters of Penguin Random House sits, at the foot of Vauxhall Bridge Road.

From Hidden London :

“Ebury was one of just a handful of Saxon settlements that lay in the vicinity of what is now Westminster. Arranged around a manor house, the village consisted of 29 households in 1086. In the 16th century Ebury Farm covered 430 acres and its farmhouse lay where Victoria Coach Station now stands.

The estate was regularly leased by the Crown to court favourites until James I sold the freehold in 1623. A Temple barrister, Hugh Audley, purchased the marshy manor and it descended in 1666 to his grand- niece Mary Davies, then one year old.

Eleven years later Mary married Sir Thomas Grosvenor of Eaton in Cheshire. Their union was not a happy one: she went mad and he died young. But the Grosvenor family profitably developed the land and, as Belgravia came into existence and grew, the Ebury name dropped out of widespread usage. It is remembered today primarily in the context of street names.”

There’s a novel in that story alone!!

Gillian at Ebury had been enthusiastic about my book from the moment that she read it, and I was really happy to accept her offer. I met with Gillian and my London agent, Anna, at the very nice Delaunay Restaurant in Aldwych (see below – very swish!) and Gillian was as delightful in person as she had seemed by email.

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So, the Blitz book – Lily’s story – will be out early next year (title to be confirmed). I have two years to write a further two books based on characters from the first novel. All the books relate to the adventures of women Ambulance Officers in London during the 1940/1 Blitz. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to use the research I’ve been doing in the Bodleian Library in Oxford about London during the Blitz, which is such a fascinating period of British history. More importantly, it allows me to tell the stories of two major characters from the first book: Celia and Maisie.

But wait – there’s more!! I also have signed a contract with the National Library of Australia to write a book – “An Illustrated History of Nursing in Australia”. This is to be completed by the end of the year and published in 2017. I’ve been working hard on this  and have found it absolutely fascinating to read about the history of nursing in Australia. I’m very excited about this work, too.

So I’ll be busy over the next few years…

Meanwhile, we are nearing the end of our two marvellous years in England. We fly home on 3 May, but will be back in England for the launch of Lily’s Blitz book – probably in February next year.

In Perth I’m going back to work at the State Solicitor’s Office (but part-time). I am looking forward to seeing all my Perth friends, to experiencing real warmth, and smelling the eucalyptus.

My next post will bring you all up to date with our travels and adventures from mid-November.

We are off to Paris next week on the train… so news and photos of the City of Light will come soon.

And for now I’ll share a couple of photos of beautiful Iffley churchyard in the spring.

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New York, New York (and finishing a novel)

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been out of commission for a while, because we’ve been doing so much travelling, looking after family business (some sad, some delightful) and I’ve been hard at work writing, determined to finish the Blitz book in January 2016. Which I did. Yay! It’s my best yet and I’m happy with it, although I know I’ll be making changes prior to publication. (Editors, bless them, always want changes. As they are invariably correct in what they demand, I never gripe about the editorial process).

My novel is about an ambulance driver in the London Blitz, so here’s a couple of pictures of probably the most famous ambulance driver in England in WW2, Her Majesty, Princess Elizabeth (now our Queen)

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Anyway, back to our adventures. Toby was awarded a short Fellowship by an elite Bibliophiles club in New York’s Upper East Side, and we spent two weeks in New York in Oct/Nov 2015. It was wonderful! I love New York, and I’m especially lucky that my cousin Vicki lives there and is able to show us around whenever we turn up. Now – to prove we were there:

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Flatiron Building

 

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Empire State Building

We rented an AirBnB apartment in East 81st Street and I spent the time writing, shopping and wandering that wonderful city with Vicki. Air BnB is so weird. The girl left all her clothes in the wardrobe and food in the freezer. But it was a sweet studio apartment with a garden in a great area, so no complaints from us. The apartment was around the corner from the most expensive Deli in the world (IMHO), Eli Zabar’s, which has the most amazing food and we spent far too much money!

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I have never seen such cheese!!

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And the bread… But they couldn’t guarantee that the bread on a Sunday was kosher. It might be … or it might not be – eat at your own risk. As a lawyer, I appreciated the delicacy of the exemption clause.

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And the cakes were mmmmmm….

The weather was sublime – warm sunny days – and most mornings I would walk down to the Grolier Club, where Toby was working, to join him for lunch in Central Park, by the Boating Lake.

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We loved to watch the model yachts on the lake

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Central Park in Autumn is gorgeous

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In Central Park

Just as in 2014, we were in New York for Halloween. They take it very seriously in the US, with many houses ghoulishly decorated in our neighbourhood:

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And pumpkins were everywhere:

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pumpkins alone …

Pretty pumpkins

with flowers

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And with a witch’s hat

On Halloween night we went with my cousin Vicki to see the parade. It was a delightful mish mash of people in costumes. And here is a selection of the photos we took:

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Elvis lives!!

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V for Vendetta

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I find clowns particularly creepy…

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Who ya gonna call?

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Tintin meets the Wicked Witch of the West

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Rubic’s cube?

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An interesting pairing.

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That clown just keeps getting creepier.

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Hmmm

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Those muscles aren’t real!!

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She’s a fickle corpse bride

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We were in NY for the New York Marathon on 1 November, which passed by a couple of blocks from us, and we spent an hour watching the runners, cheering any Aussies and enjoying the spectacle. These aren’t my photos, but give an idea of the immensity of the thing:

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These are our photos – the pack had spread out somewhat by the time it reached our neighbourhood:

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The only really rainy day we were there was the day we took the train out to Tarrytown to see Joan Osborne in concert, along with Mavis Staples.

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They performed in a delightful old concert hall built in 1871. It is the oldest theater in Westchester County that is still used as a theater. In 1901 it was one of the first theaters to show the new-fangled form of entertainment called motion pictures.  

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Tarrytown Music Hall

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And inside the lobby it was spookified for Halloween

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Tarrytown hall

There is a beautiful mural over the stage

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Joan Osborne in concert

We’ve been to NY several times before, so there wasn’t much sightseeing. Still we did mange to see the original Batmobile
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And a squashed Spiderman in Wall Street:

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Here we are outside the Museum of New York, with Abe Lincoln dressed as Hawkeye for Halloween:

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My cousin said that my pink coat was too bright for New York and I should have been wearing black…

One day we went down to the Battery and took a ride on the Sea Glass Carousel, which is surprisingly magical:CIMG2747
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A highlight was attending a production of Arthur Millar’s A View from the Bridge at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. The production was transported from the West End in its entirety to New York and has been getting rave reviews. One of the stars is Nicola Walker (from Spooks, etc.) and her mother-in-law is our neighbour here in Iffley. So we got to go backstage after the show and meet her.

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Me and Nicola Walker (who – about 15 minutes before – had been drenched in blood at the climax of “A View from the Bridge”!)

Another highlight was when we visited the best bagel shop in the world, near Tompkins Park. They make the bagels as you watch and you choose anything you want to have with them.

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Then we ate our bagels in Tompkins Park and watched the hand puppet give advice:

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Only in New York

So – that was our New York trip. That brings me to mid-November 2015. I’ll get up to date eventually…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spain and Portugal etc

Dear everyone

Well, people must read this blog, as I’ve had a few emails asking why it has not been updated. The answer is lack of time! I’ve been trying desperately to finish my new novel in between many trips , both overseas and in the UK, and also doing my law work (I’m still working part-time as a long-distance lawyer).

The good news is that the novel is finished!! I sent it to Toby (my husband / proof reader / soft critic / number one fan) yesterday evening for him to look through it.

Now – I had some schtick from a couple of Perth people for the fact that I set the third novel in Melbourne. The reason is that I cannot write ‘to order’. By the time I had finished Taking a Chance I was all ‘written out’ about wartime Perth and wanted a new challenge. When I discovered a very real wartime mystery that was set in Melbourne I was able to use the alchemy of my imagination to write characters and scenes and adventures set around the tragic wartime events.

I loved writing all of my books, and I love writing about Perth, but A Time of Secrets is very special to me as it gave me a new insight into the wonderful city of Melbourne. I was careful to keep Perth connections in the book by having Sandgropers for the two male leads and (as a perspicacious fan wrote to tell me) including as a character Nell’s fiancé from Taking A Chance, and making reference to Tom from Stranger.

The new novel is set in the London Blitz. I have walked the streets of London and I have researched the Blitz extensively in the Bodleian Library here in Oxford. I have bought books about Britain in the war and books written in Britain at that time. I have read diaries, memoirs, novels and histories. I have watched newsreels and movies. I have spoken to those who lived through the war in Britain. It has been wonderfully fulfilling to really enter into that period of British history.

Enough of my writing! What about my travels?

Toby and I went off to Spain and Portugal in October, spending six days in Madrid and six days in Lisbon. I adored them both for different reasons. Madrid is regal and modern and beautiful. Lisbon is friendly and easy and by the ocean, which I love.

I do love Madrid. It helped, though, that we were staying in a lovely nineteenth-century hotel, the Atlantico.

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There was a lot going on and the weather was excellent. One morning we saw a procession of the Royal Guard and a Royal Coach.

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What we particularly liked was the practical Spanish solution to horse dung:

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This little street-sweeping machine followed the procession all the way to the palace, weaving behind the horses to keep the roads clear.

We also spent an afternoon at the Prado, the fabulous Art Gallery that has its own Mona Lisa:

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The following day we wandered through the beautiful Royal Palace.

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Inside, it is sumptuous – but photos of the collection are banned. I did get the ceiling, though, and Toby photographed me on the elaborate stairwell.

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Star Wars fever is even in Madrid

We took tea at the Thyssen art gallery after seeing its exhibits.

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A civilised cup of tea in an art gallery cafe

 

 

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An interesting sign at the Town Hall (formerly the Telephone Exchange) – one you’d not see in Oz.

When Toby gave his talk at the university I discovered that many shops (including the Zara flagship store) are very close to our hotel, which meant I just had to go shopping…

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We spent a lovely sunny day in the Retiro – Madrid’s beautiful park.

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Also in the Retiro

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And of course, we went to a little nightclub to see some Flamenco:

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And we were delighted to meet Toby’s uncle, who has lived in Madrid for fifty years, for a drink at the rooftop bar of our hotel.

From Madrid we flew to Lisbon, which is on the coast and I had the scent of the sea again.

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A highlight of our visit was the Tile Museum. Tiles are everywhere in Lisbon, but the collection in the museum – an old convent – is spectacular:

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I particularly like the way they portrayed cats…

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One day we took the train out to the royal palaces of Sintra. Most rooms of the old Palace in Sintra are decorated with polychromed tiles specially made  in Seville, and as they bear Islamic motifs they lend an Arab feeling to many of the rooms.

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The strange towers are chimneys from the kitchens!

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Up, up the high hill is the estate of Quinta da Regaleira. It is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. The palace and chapel are almost ridiculously romantic. The park around it features lakes, grottoes, benches, fountains. But we saw none of that, as it was a cold, wet, misty day when we were there.

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And then home to Oxford.

On 14 October we went up to London  to see ‘Photograph 51′ – the new play about Rosalind Franklin, who was instrumental in identifying DNA’s double helix.
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After the play we met up with a friend who is actually related to Ms Franklin and through her we met a 91-year-old former physicist now turned art historian who had known Rosalind when he was a post-doctoral student at King’s College London in the early 1950s. He didn’t like the way she was portrayed, but Toby and I enjoyed it the play very much.

And afterwards we went out for a drink with friends at the White Swan Inn in Covent Garden, which is mentioned in Dorothy Sayers’ ‘Murder Must Advertise’. A very nice old pub.

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Toby was thrilled when we saw Squeeze at the New Theatre in Oxford – still making great new pop music after 35 years!

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The amazingly Art Deco New Theatre in Oxford

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Squeeze in full flight

And we had a delightful visit from Toby’s niece, Ellie. We took her on a visit to  to beautiful Bibury in the Cotswolds and to Blenheim Palace, which is in our back yard, so to speak:

 

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This afternoon we are off to Cambridge for a few days, and the following week to Sheffield. But more of that later.

Next time it’s New York and Southampton.

Ireland, Spain and Portugal – part one, Ireland

I’m at 85,000 words in the Blitz novel and the end is in sight. I’ve been writing in airport lounges, on aeroplanes, in hotels and in cafes, as we’ve been travelling and travelling and travelling. It’s a good thing I can write anywhere…

It was lovely to visit Ireland again. We started in Dublin, where Toby had a workshop to attend at Trinity College, Dubin. We stayed in a lovely hotel near the University and while Toby was at work on the Friday I took a walking tour around the city. A very tall PhD student was the guide, and he was very knowledgeable and had memorised quotes and aphorisms galore, and I learned a lot about the history of that beautiful city. He told us that apparently Ireland is now officially out of recession. He seemed sceptical. In the last few years, or so he said, 800,000 people had left Ireland seeking opportunities overseas. That in a population of a little less than 5,000,000! What interested me was that when he gave statistics or referred to Ireland, it was always ‘this island’, in other words, he always included ‘the north of Ireland’. I asked him what he thought the future held, and his view was that as the rampant Ulstermen got old and died off, the north would eventually just be subsumed into the Republic of Ireland. There are another 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland.

We started our tour at Trinity College, which was filled with students for freshers’ week.

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Trinity College Dublin

Across the road to the old Parliament House of Ireland, a really beautiful building that was sold and turned into a bank in 1803.  It was the first purpose-built Parliament House in the world and when it was constructed in the 1730s, Dublin was the second city of the British Empire.  Britain became fearful in the  “Year of the French” in 1798. It was then that the United Irishmen, under Wolfe Tone, tried to convince Ireland to rise up against England with the support of the new French Republic. He failed. When he landed with a French expeditionary force, it was a disaster.

In 1800 the British parliament ‘persuaded’ the Irish parliament  to vote to disband itself  and devolve power to Westminster – our guide likened it to a turkey voting for Christmas. The beautiful former House of Lords, with its coffered ceiling, chandelier, oak panelling and two tapestries which depicted the Battle of the Boyne was kept intact by the bank, as a board room.

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In O’Connell Street we saw the statue to Daniel O’Connell, the Great Emancipator of Ireland in the decades after Wolfe Tone. He was enormously popular and successfully campaigned for Catholic emancipation, and achieved it in 1829. In 1841,  O’Connell became the first Roman Catholic  Lord Mayor of Dublin since the reign of James II in the 1680s (James had been the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Ireland and Scotland.)

He was utterly opposed to violence, having killed a man in a duel  in 1815. So it’s ironic that his splendid monument is riddled with bullet holes from Irish uprisings that occurred in the twentieth century. If you look closely at the statue of the angel you can see a bullet hole under the drapery to the right – a legacy of Ireland’s troubled history.

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Part of the O’Connell memorial in O’Connell Street

 

 

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The Ha’penny Bridge over the Liffey

 

 

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The beautifully decorated Bloom Hotel in Temple Bar

We visited trendy Temple Bar and then went to Dublin Castle, which has been in continuous occupation since it was built in 1204. It was the official seat of British government in Ireland and the symbol of British supremacy for centuries. In 1922, Michael Collins accepted the surrender of the Castle when the Irish Free State was formed.

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Dublin Castle

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Entrance to Dublin Castle

Our guide pointed out the positioning of the statue of Lady Justice, who does not face out towards the people, but looks inward, towards the Castle. Hence the rhyme, which he quoted:

“The Statue of Justice, mark well her station,

her face to the castle and her arse to the nation!”

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Justice – facing into the Castle, with her back to the people of Dublin

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Me and my mate, Phil Lynott

And we visited the City Hall, formerly the Customs House.

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For my lovely Agent, Sheila – a statue of Thomas Drummond, in the City Hall. A relative?

We also saw the beautiful Book of Kells, which (according to my PhD guide) brings in 6,000,000 euros a year to Trinity College through the hordes of visitors.

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Book of Kells Facts: It attracts over 500,000 visitors annually. The manuscript has 340 folios. It is written on calf vellum, with lettering in iron gall ink. The colours were imported from far away lands and are made from plant and animal pigments. It is named after the Abbey of Kells in Co Meath where it lived for centuries. The ms was never finished, but what there is may be viewed on the Library’s Digital Collections portal.

Upstairs is the beautiful Long Room, which dates from the 18th century, and houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books in its oak bookcases.

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We left Dublin on Saturday in a hire car and drove down to the pretty little village of Stradbally in Co Waterford, to stay in a cottage belonging to a friend of ours, who inherited it from his aunt. I’m standing in the doorway of the green cottage in my pink coat – what colour co-ordination, you gasp. The row of cottages date back to the early nineteenth century and our cottage was just perfect. We were met by the delightful neighbour Eileen, who is the holder of the keys, and we waved to the delightful Eileen, the other neighbour who apparently knows everything there is to know about Stradbally.

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Stradbally is on the “Copper Coast” road, and it is a picturesque village of neat thatched and slated cottages. It wasn’t surprising to hear that it has won numerous awards in the National Tidy Towns Competition as the residents keep it immaculately. It is surrounded by trees – these were first planted by the Fitzgeralds in the 18th century, and as the guide book says, they ‘give the area an unusual tamed, sylvan character which contrasts with the wild stretches of windswept coast’.

Two coves are within walking distance of the village. Stradbally Cove has a pretty river flowing into it and a sandy beach. It would be ideal for swimming (if you could bear the freezing water) but, sadly, the signs warn against bathing there because it is polluted by the village’s sewage works.

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A few miles down the road, at the end of a pleasant walk, is rugged Ballyvooney Cove,  spectacularly set under a dramatic headland. It has a pebble beach.

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The Church of Ireland church in the village has in its grounds  a substantial ruin of the largest medieval church in rural Ireland. It contains a fortified presbytery, probably built for protection during the disputes between the Powers and Fitzgeralds, whose boundary lands ran through the area.

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We went for a drive the next day, into the ruggedly beautiful Comeragh Mountains. The twelve mountains which form the group are very popular for mountain climbers and hikers, as we found out when we went to visit the waterfall. The highest point in the Comeraghs is 792 m (2,598 ft).

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And we drove to pretty Dungarvan for lunch by the harbour. The town stands at the mouth of the Colligan River. Sadly, while we were there someone cannoned into our hire car, which was parked on the street, and scraped the side badly. I must say that the Irish are dreadful drivers!!! I really think they may be worse than Perthites, which is astounding. But maybe it’s because there is so little traffic on the roads. It was really lovely to have beautiful scenic roads almost to ourselves – compared with crowded England.

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And from there to Lismore Castle gardens, which were a picture of early autumn beauty. The stately home (which is not open to the public) has belonged to the Dukes of Devonshire since 1753. The present Duke’s son, Lord Burlington, is in residence. In the gardens we found the deliciously creepy Yew Walk, where Spenser thought up some of The Faerie Queene.

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The Yew Walk

IMG_3559Perhaps it was the inspiration for this canto:

Enforst to seeke some covert nigh at hand,
A shadie grove not far away they spide,
That promist ayde the tempest to withstand:
Whose loftie trees yclad with sommers pride
Did spred so broad, that heavens light did hide

Everywhere now there are apple trees laden with fruit, and Lismore was no exception. The trees really are so lovely, with their red jewels of apples peeping out from gnarled branches.

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“What wond’rous life in this I lead! Ripe Apples drop about my head”

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A love seat bought for the wedding of Lord Burlington.

 

 

 

 

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Not Tuscany, but Waterford…

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A statue of the Irish Gardener

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Especially for Carolyn – spot the cat!!

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The photographer at work!

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On Monday we drove into Toby’s mother’s mother’s ancestral home, Waterford – the oldest town in Ireland. Toby’s family were cattle traders in the town. Viking raiders first established a settlement near Waterford in 853, but were driven out by the native Irish in 902. The Vikings returned in 914 and this time they stayed until 1170, when Diarmait MacMurchada, the deposed King of Leinster, took Waterford with the assistance of the Norman Earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow.

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Reginald’s Tower

We visited a museum in what used to be the Bishop of Waterford’s Georgian house, and also saw medieval exhibits in what used to be the cellars of a medieval merchant’s house. This is a Viking stone tower (Reginald’s Tower) on the long and impressive quay.

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Bishop’s House museum

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Biggest exhibition of old Waterford crystal in the world is in the museum

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The next day it was off to Kilkenny, where we visited the castle.

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On our last day in Ireland we visited Curraghmore, the seat of the Marquis of Waterford. The house itself looks forbiddingly gothic. It’s actually a Norman keep encased in a Victorian mansion. A castle was erected on the site in the twelfth century, but the core of the current house is a medieval tower-house, which was extended in 1700 when a house was built around a court and the medieval tower-house was incorporated at the north-eastern side. The De La Poer family have been there since 1167, but they became the Beresfords in the eighteenth century, and it was then that a forecourt with stables was added  and the house was refurbished in the 1780s. Curraghmore House is surrounded by 2,500 acres of formal gardens, woodland and grazing fields, which makes it the largest private demesne in Ireland.

There was a lovely little shell grotto built in the gardens by Catherine, Countess of Tyrone in 1754. The shells are from all over the world and she got them from sailors who docked at Waterford.

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The shell grotto

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The Countess in her grotto.

On the castle keep, looking down on visitors, is a St Hubert’s Stag, a deer’s head with a cross between its antlers:

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The caretaker/guide told us that the stag saved the house from burning in the 1920s. The IRA had straw along the top of the house ready to set the match. But there was a full moon over the lake and it shone onto the cross which shone onto the courtyard. The man who was about to light the bales thought this was a sign from God so didn’t light the bales. And so the house is still standing.

They left Curraghmore and on that same night burnt the Woodstock House in Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny. The guide told us that Woodstock House is now simply a beautiful garden around a ruined house.

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Curraghmore Castle

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It was getting late by the time we left Curraghmore, so we drove hell for leather to the airport . . . to just miss the plane. Not to worry – it was then we discovered that we’d left our passports in the hotel safe in Dublin when we’d departed for Waterford four days before.

A hurried phone call to the hotel ensued. The girl on the desk asked if we could wait until the maid saw to the room the next morning. She was told, no we couldn’t. She said she’d send someone to check the room. We thanked her, and sat at the airport, surrounded by our luggage, wondering if the passports would still be in the safe.

The phone rang and a young man from the hotel told me,  ‘I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve your passports in me hand right now. I’m looking at them.’

At our request, he sent them to the airport by taxi, and when Toby picked them up outside the terminal the taxi driver said, ‘You’d be surprised how often I’ve had to do this.’

We got the 11.00 plane back to Birmingham and were in Oxford by around 1.00am.

Four days later and we flew to Madrid, but that’s another story…

 

 

 

 

Autumn in Oxford

I’m at 65,000 words in my new book and in my mind I’ve just emerged from the nightly shelter of the Underground as the raiders roar overhead.

So I’m ready for a break. So I thought I’d take take the time to  write a new post.

Oxford is lovely at any time, and this video certainly captures some of the magic:

It’s full of surprises, too. We were wandering back from the library the other day down Brewer Street, towards St Aldates so we could walk home along the river, when we discovered the birthplace of one of my favourite authors, Dorothy L Sayers:

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The new university year starts at the end of the month, so Oxford is being ‘Michaelmas cleaned’ in preparation. One of my favourite streets is Holywell Street:

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And here is Holywell Street in Oxford, freshly painted and pretty as a picture.

On 2 September Toby and I were good Iffley parishioners and headed off to the village church for census duty.  St Mary’s is late 12th Century and one of the gems of Oxfordshire. But it needs essential work and the Church Council must be in a position to show how many people visit in order to get funding. So Toby and I volunteered to sit there for 3 1/2 hours  and take down details of the visitors. It was a surprisingly enjoyable afternoon. We had seven visitors and I took the opportunity to point out to them my favourite bits, but there was also a lot of time to really examine the old church and get to know it well. I’ve put up photos before of the outside before, but here are some photos of the gorgeous interior.

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The sparrow is tucked away in a corner and needs to be searched for.

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The tiles behind the altar are a shimmering gold and this photo does little justice to it.

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On 4 September we took the chance to visit Downton Abbey (er,  I mean, Highclere Castle). It was a really lovely stately home, and the Egyptian exhibition in the basement was an added bonus.

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Here I’m imitating Lady Carnarvon

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Toby braved the possibility of hay fever to take a photo of the Castle from its marvellous wildflower meadow.

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On the way back we we saw this memorial window for John Betjeman in Faringdon church.

Last year Toby and I went to the Celebration of British Craftsmanship and Design in the Thirlestane Long Gallery, Cheltenham and Toby bought me a gorgeous wooden jewellery box. So this yearI had a special invitation to attend the opening. We went early and had a look around Cheltenham Spa, including the nineteenth century Pump Room and the town centre. The Pump Room is where people ‘took the cure’ (the pump is still there and, believe me, the water tastes foul).

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In the Pump Room

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The Pump Room – the Prince Regent used to go there to ‘take the cure’

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Cheltenham

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A very posh part of the town

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As you may know, Toby’s EU grant is to consider the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, a 19C bibliophile. Phillipps’ former home, Thirlestane, is now part of Cheltenham College (a rather posh public school that opened in 1841) and it is where the ‘celebration’ was held.

 

 

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I fell in love with a glass pot, decorated with silver leaf, and had to buy it – it’s the second on the left in the picture.

Last week, we set out for a walk along the river and into the fields around the ancient town of Abingden. The route was about 3 1/2 miles, and we fitted it in from about 5.00pm until we emerged at Abingdon for dinner in an old pub.  I particularly loved the walk along the ancient, now disused, road (I love how history sneaks up on you in England). Abingdon became the county town of Berkshire sometime after receiving its Royal Charter in 1556.  Abingdon’s failure to engage fully with the railway revolution, by accepting only a branch line, sidelined the town in favour of Reading which became the County Town in 1869 and in 1974 it lost its connection to Berkshire completely, as it became part of Oxfordshire after the counties were all changed. Now it’s a lovely, unspoiled town to visit – except for the appalling traffic congestion.

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Here I am, imitating a wood sprite  on an ancient road next to the A415.

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From a stone bridge over the River Ock

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This is my latest acquisition – a very big book of reproductions of the bomb maps of London. Plus a magnifying glass with a LED light in it so I can see every street and every bombed building.

The book is reviewed by The Guardian here:

http://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2015/sep/02/hand-coloured-bomb-damage-maps-london-in-pictures

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As I trace my heroine’s journeys through the bombed city it’s as if I’ve fallen into London in the Blitz. I feel like the children in CS Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, who fell headlong into the painting and ended up in Narnia…

Another acquisition is a watercolour of the peace garden in Christchurch. We walked home through there the other day:

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The actual peace garden

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our picture

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Christchurch from the meadow path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also finally visited the Treacle Well in of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, which in reality is the holy well of St Margaret at St Margaret’s Church in Binsey. Alas, the water level was too low, so that even if we lay down and stretched out our hands to the (rather green and algaeish water) we couldn’t reach.

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St Margaret’s Church at one time used to be a part of the Priory of St Fridewide. The story of the well is delightful:

Frideswide was a Saxon princess, the daughter of Didanus and his wife Safrida; she was born around 650AD. Frideswide took holy orders as a nun and made her vows of celibacy. Nonetheless, she was pursued by King Agar of Mercia. Frideswide rejected his unwanted advances and ran away, hiding herself in the woods. Agar did not take kindly to this, and brought an army to Oxford to claim her by means of force. But Agar was struck blind before he was able to catch her.

Frideswide heard about the blindness and took pity on Agar, praying fervently that his sight should be restored. She prayed especially to St Margaret of Antioch, who had lived during the time that the Romans were persecuting the Christians. LIke Frideswide, Margaret chose to flee rather than accept the advances of an unwelcome admirer. He denounced Margaret as a Christian and she was arrested, tried, found guilty and beheaded.

During one of her prayers to St Margaret, Frideswide heard a voice from the heavens telling her to strike the ground nearby with her staff. She followed the instructions and when she did so the earth opened up to reveal a small well. Frideswide took some of the water from the well, and when she bathed Agar’s eyes in the fluid, his sight was miraculously restored. To mark the miracle Frideswide established her priory next to the well and dedicated the chapel to St Margaret of Antioch.

To more secular pleasures: the St Giles Fair was held in Oxford last week. St Giles is a wide road in central Oxford, and it was blocked to traffic for the fair’s two-day duration. This resulted in traffic chaos, such as Toby and I waiting 45 minutes for the Number 3 bus to Iffley.
Since the 19th century, the fair has been held on the Monday and Tuesday following the first Sunday after St Giles’ Day (1 September), but it is of much earlier origins. It relates to St Giles Church, which was finished in 1120, but not consecrated until 1200. As part of the commemoration of the consecration, St Giles’ Fair was established and has continued for the last 815 years, nowadays as a funfair.
Queen Elizabeth I stayed in Oxford between 3–10 September 1567 and watched the fair from the windows of St John’s College on the east side of St Giles.

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It looks as if some weird Dr Who monster is about to attack St Johns College…

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I love Merry-go-Rounds

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Unicorns fly at St Giles Fair

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We try to take advantage of any sunshine to go for a walk. A couple of Saturdays ago it was a glorious sunny dayand we went walking in the countryside south of Oxford.

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This is the ancient lock-up in Wheatley at the start of our walk.

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Afterwards, we had a well-earned drink in the Sun Inn.

And Toby likes to attend any Irish music concerts he can. We drove to Banbury to attend a wonderful concert by Cara Dillon and her husband Sam Lakeman at the Mill Art Centre. Afterwards, Toby had a photo with the pretty singer – no I am not jealous… And he bought every one of her cds – every one!!

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This song was a highlight:

We even got onto the Mill’s Facebook page:

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And in between all of that we flew to Philadelphia! Toby had a workshop to attend and we met up with old friends at the UPenn campus. The Pope is due to visit there soon, and we saw this tasteful exhibition of Papal souvenirs at the airport:

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Philadelphia is where Addams, creator of the Addams Family hailed from – and Addams family-type houses abounded,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, finally, last weekend was the Open Oxford – when many colleges and secret Oxford haunts were open for visitors. We looked over the archaelogical excavations at the site of the now demolished monstrosity that was the Westgate Car Park. In the 14th Century it was owned by the Greyfriars, who had a huge church and Monastery and college that attracted students from all over Europe.

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We also climbed the cupola at the top of the Sheldonian, for wonderful views of the Dreaming Spires. The theatre was built from 1664 to 1669 after a design by Christopher Wren. I graduated there. In a tradition that goes back to the second half of the 12th century, students attending graduation wear full academic dress, including a mortar board and sub fusc. But perhaps the most unusual aspect is that the proceedings are still read entirely in Latin!

 

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We climbed right up to the top and saw…

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And we visited Exeter College (much beloved by TV shows such as Morse and Lewis) to see the Fellows Garden and its views of Radcliffe Square:

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We’ve often seen Lewis and Hathaway discussing a case while standing here.

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The Camera and St Mary’s from Essex Fellows’ Garden

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Another view from the Fellows’ Garden

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The Garden is raised above the level of Brasenose Lane

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But the piece de resistance was visiting All Souls College, especially the Codrington Library and the Hall. From Wiki:

“The library in its current form was endowed byChristopher Codrington (1668–1710), a Fellow of the college who amassed his fortune through plantation slavery. Codrington bequeathed books worth £6,000, in addition to £10,000 in currency (the equivalent of approximately £1.2 million in modern terms). The library, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, was completed in 1751 and has been in continuous use by scholars since then. 

The modern collection comprises some 185,000 items, about a third of which were produced before 1800. The library’s collections are particularly strong in Law, European History, Ecclesiastical History, Military History, and Classics. There is an expanding collection devoted to sociological topics and the History of Science. Unusually for an Oxford college library, access to the Codrington is open to all members of the University (subject to registration). The library contains a significant collection of manuscripts and early printed books, and attracts scholars from around the world.”

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A librarian’s dream

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All Souls’ Codrington Library

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Boo hiss – slave owner buying salvation through endowment.

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In All Sou’s Great Quad. I had a few tutorials at All Souls when I was up in 2000. I had to be escorted by a guard to the Professor’s room.

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All Souls Great Quad

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All Souls Hall

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The Buttery