A review of Alan Garner’s latest novel.

This book confused me, I admit, but I loved it. The more I try to explain it to people the better I understand it, the greater the depth of my thoughts, and the more it inspires me. I think all books are like that, your appreciation improving through interpretation and sharing, but for some this is essential in order to unlock their secrets (Ulysses anyone?) Boneland isn’t an easy book to read. Parallel narratives are explored with little indication as to why, questions are left unanswered, and the lines between reality, fantasy, madness and theory are only faintly drawn, but it is definitely worth it.

Colin, a psychologically troubled but brilliant astrophysicist, is searching for his lost twin sister amongst the Pleides (a distant constellation). No, seriously. Juxtaposed with this is the story of The Watcher, a prehistoric shaman trying to stop the world from dying. He dances a lot. Colin’s narrative is punctuated with episodes of mental breakdown, but in being interspersed with the poetic ‘madness’ of The Watcher, you begin to doubt whether such outbreaks can be labelled so easily; he may be more closely linked to The Watcher than we realise (time, of course, not really being linear. Obviously). It’s frustrating not knowing exactly what is going on, but also strangely liberating – how often these days do you come across literature that is, like poetry, open to interpretation?

I’m interested in prehistoric archaeology (particularly the Neolithic period, as it has all the fun stuff like barrows and stone circles), so this was right up my street. Colin provides fascinating academic insights into this, through conversations he has with his unconventional therapist, but we are also able to explore an idea of the prehistoric mindset through The Watcher. The way these scientifically explained wonders could impact upon the beliefs of prehistoric man is considered, but we are also invited to contemplate the reverse; that science has mistakenly simplified things. Someone pompously told me once that science is the latest religion. More than being merely a metaphor for people’s blind faith in science though, this idea forces us to question the ‘truth’ and motives of science – something we often take for granted through over-confidence in our own supremacy.

It’s an interesting combination, archaeology and astrophysics, and raises more questions than the narrative alone can answer. Thank goodness! I’m getting quite sick of being told that everything has to make sense in novels, so three cheers for Alan Garner. This could never be a debut novel, of course, for that very reason, but it reminded me that it’s okay for literature to make us think.

Does anyone else enjoy ‘challenging’ fiction, or do you catch a whiff of pretension and elitism when you encounter it?

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The Panopticon   grianan aileach 2   P1080202

Tags: book, review, Boneland, Alan Garner, archaeology, literature


Having Art for Breakfast: Private View at the Royal Academy of Arts

I was invited to a private breakfast viewing of the Royal Academy of Arts summer show this morning. Tom’s uncle Barry is an artist, and visits the exhibitions in London whenever he can, as well as getting invitations to fancy arts events. On this occasion he needed a guest, and I was very pleased to be thought of. Being a good guest is an artform in itself. It usually involves dressing nicely, bringing gifts, and making interesting conversation (or telling ribald stories, depending on the circumstances), though on this occasion I was required only to enjoy myself – which made a pleasant change! It was early (I don’t usually do early) but I made an exception for Barry, and I’m very glad I did.

I was pretty excited about the breakfast part to be honest, and  I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Skewers of crisp watermelon, sweet mango and heavenly strawberries, bite-sized breakfast muffins full of seeds and goodness, and a plethora of pastries were scattered on stands around the exhibition. Most of the guests were inhaling fresh coffee, but Barry and I snaffled up freshly-squeezed orange juice, hands full of edible goodies to keep us going. It’s rare that galleries will allow food and drink anywhere near them, so it feels thrillingly naughty to be part of such a civilised (and licensed) rebellion.

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition is now in its 245th year, and still hasn’t waned in popularity if the celebrity turnout is anything to go by. It’s the world’s largest open-submission contemporary art show, providing a platform for both emerging and established artists to showcase their work to an international audience. The majority of the works are also for sale, which makes it a lot more exciting than a standard exhibition. Everything affordable has already been sold of course, small orange dots indicating which pieces are now available for viewing only, but the eclectic range of mediums and subjects will certainly give you something to think about. I’ve described a few of my favourite pieces below, as well as including a couple of sneaky pictures I managed to take.

The first piece I was drawn to is titled The Owl Run, by Hughie O’Donoghue (no. 663 in the catalogue: £33,600). It’s a large oil painting on linen, with different strata of charcoal greys and fiery reds. An abstract depiction of the movement of an owl’s wings as it steeps and soars through the landscape, the colour scheme and sharpness of movement lends it a sense of urgency. It could be a volcanic eruption, a primal battle between land and sea, or a nightmare, and you sense that the owl of the title is both the subject and a fleeting observer.

I also loved the photo titled Teens in Waiting Room, Heads Down by David Stewart (965: £3420), and the one below it titled Ursula with Virgins by Liane Lang (964: £3,200). I was fascinated by the anonymity of both subjects, yet how intimate they feel. The unusual perspectives chosen for group portraits denies the viewer what we expect, amplifying our curiosity. The above photo is a sneaky (and poor) shot I took of these, but it will give you a better idea of what I’m referring to.


I couldn’t write about this exhibition, however, without mentioning the six Grayson Perry tapestries (example above, 1265: not for sale). These huge pieces depict the modern forms of the British class system; the symbols, stories and preoccupations of the different classes our society has evolved into. It is perturbing for a comforting medium like the tapestry to be used to depict violent, graphic scenes, though this does soften their impact whilst simultaneously making them more ‘viewable’ and compelling. Constructing these scenes as tapestries also lends them a sense of grandeur and validity, accessing an ingrained appreciation of the medium’s history and significance.  The different class depictions could easily be perceived as offensive parodies though, and I do wonder what makes them acceptable? Their honesty perhaps?

Has anyone else visited the RAA’s summer show yet? 

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P1080159   Landmark - The Fields of Photography main

Dangerous Liaisons – A Review of Recent Reading

Reading is a dangerous pastime. For me, anyway. I have to be very careful…

Most people are able to read for pleasure. To pick up a book, enjoy it in their spare time, then put it down when work or their social life is more important. I’m not capable of this. If I’m still reading at midnight, I’ll carry on reading until 4, 5, 6am… sleep becomes less important. I remember when I was about 14, and I stayed up all night reading The Goblet of Fire, and my wonderful mother let me have the next day off school as I’d read myself into exhaustion (I probably learnt more asleep than at that particular school anyway). After completing an English Literature MA, I left university and learnt that work is (ostensibly) more important, so I stopped reading.

I stopped reading. I really did.

Running your own business and being self-employed requires a lot more work than being employed by someone else; but running a business with your fiance makes it your number one priority. Everything you do – or fail to do – affects them. If you miss a deadline, or lose a client, it feels like you’ve smacked a kitten in the face (Tom isn’t like a kitten though, just so we’re clear, it’s just a simile.) When I stopped reading, however, a bit of my soul died, and I’m slowly starting to get it back as the business matures and is better able to care for itself. I thought I’d share with you what I thought of the novels I’ve read over the last week.

The Chemistry of Tears – Peter Carey

The Chemistry of Tears

A conservator of antique clocks suffers the traumatic loss of a secret lover she cannot openly mourn, and is given an eccentric project to distract her. As she tries to keep depression from overwhelming her, the increasingly manic behaviour of her assistant and her frustration at the hopelessness of her project’s original commissioner, whose story is conveyed through a series of crumbling notebooks, contributes to her growing dislocation from reality.

I never really connected to this novel. I used to work for the National Trust as a Conservation Assistant (‘Tour-Guide to the Past and Cleaner of Antiquities’ was my preferred title, but whatever), so I assumed I’d bond with the narrator over the grime of time and too many biscuits; but no. Her symptoms of misery are conveyed without a sense of the sentiment behind them, and a parent’s fear for their child’s health – the parallel story revealed by the notebooks – is not something this particular book helped me to comprehend.

The Conjuror’s Bird by Martin Davies utilised the ‘parallel mystery from the past that is discovered and misinterpreted in the present’ trope more effectively, and I found his characters to be more engaging. Not that I mean to critique The Chemistry of Tears. It is an intelligent book, and the narrative is well paced, but I didn’t enjoy reading it. The only aspect of the plot that caught my attention was the suggestion that the notebooks’ narrator may have been falsifying his own story, inventing multiple characters from the spliced traits of one individual, but this was not explored sufficiently to really grip me.

The Poison Tree – Erin Kelly

The Poison Tree. 2jpg

A bohemian summer of freedom ends in two murders. Straight-A graduate Karen meets Biba, a beautiful but eccentric actress, and is quickly drawn into her world. We experience the summer alongside Karen, the narrative interspersed with her handling the consequences years later, until a final death allows the past to finally be laid to rest. In concrete.

I was hoping for another Secret History, albeit – inevitably – a lesser shade. When I reached the final page I discovered that someone has helpfully listed books that share common themes with The Poison Tree, and included The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Sorry, but no. Not a good idea. They may share common themes, but encouraging comparison with these classics only makes The Poison Tree pall further. Biba’s house, the focus of much of the narrative and site of various pleasures and indiscretions, comes across as being more like grimy student digs rather than the temple of eccentricity and youthful awakening it is intended to be. The characters are well observed, hipster drug-dealer Guy in particular, but the intimacy and obsession requisite to the final chapter having sufficient impact to leave the reader shell-shocked is… missing.

A lot of novels claim to be of the same ilk as The Secret History and Brideshead Revisited, but I haven’t discovered one yet that actually is. So, dear publishers, please stop letting us down like this. Allow new novels to stand on their own, or they will forever disappoint. The Poison Tree is diverting, but not captivating.

I’ve not had much luck so far have I, but it’s about to get a lot better.

The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

The PanopticonFifteen year old Anais is sitting in the back of a police car (again), this time covered in blood that isn’t her own. As we explore the traumas of her childhood, frequently warped by her intake of narcotics, her fate draws ever closer.

I admit, my attention was captured by the front cover. The old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is bollocks, frankly, as that’s what book covers are designed for. As visual summary and enticement. The narrative of The Panopticon is told though wonderfully foul-mouthed Anais’s eyes, often refracted by a prism of hallucinogens. You never feel quite able to trust what she actually sees, whilst simultaneously putting your faith in her instincts and interpretation of events. Bad things happen to Anais, and to be honest she’s no angel herself, but at times she’s so normal that the horrors of her life are exacerbated until you feel desperate to help her. To reach into the pages, grab her hand and drag her out of her own story.

I found her consistent intake of drugs a little puzzling, as this so often denied her any control over her life and, well, ruined everything, without her acknowledging this or wishing to regain control. I’m not a drug addict though, so perhaps this is normal. Fagan’s ability to juxtapose horrific events with genuinely hilarious setups (the lake outing was perfectly realised, and had me giggling to myself long after it was over) seems effortless, and is highly accomplished. I’d definitely recommend The Panopticon, though perhaps not to everyone I know…

The Perfume Collector Kathleen Tessaro

The Perfume CollectorTwo narratives, of 1920s Paris and 1950s London, are linked by a mysterious will. Grace is summoned to Paris by an unknown benefactor, Eva D’Orsay, and takes the plunge into a story that slowly develops into her own.

Both protagonists are captivating, intelligent and talented, but damaged. Living in different eras they are nevertheless both subjugated, albeit one by cruelty and one benevolent misogyny. Without tarring it with the brush of feminism, this is definitely a book for the girls, and will leave you thoughtful but elated.

I didn’t see enough of 1920s Paris, to be honest, or New York, or even 1950s London, which was a disappointment. Instead the focus is on characters, and those met by Eva D’Orsay are particularly wonderful. I’d recommend this novel wholeheartedly. When I turned the last page, I stared into empty space for a long moment, before looking around for another book to devour. A sensation only the finest novels can provoke.

Has anyone else read any of these novels? What were your thoughts?

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P1080203   book cover

‘The Affordable Art Fair’… Bye Bye Savings.

I don’t usually post at the weekend, but I didn’t want you to miss out on the Affordable Art Fair, so I’ve thrown my usual vow-of-weekend-silence out of the window.

Calm Before the Storm – Pam Glew (bleaching technique and dye on vintate union jack)

The AAF was set up in 1996, and has since become a global phenomenon. It aims to “bridge the increasing interest in contemporary art and the London gallery scene”, so you can view a huge variety of art in one place at prices you can actually afford, by concentrating on relatively unknown artists not carrying a premium for reputation. AMAZING! I hear you scream. It’s currently exhibiting in a big white tent on Hampstead Heath, in walking distance from mine and Tom’s flat, so we trotted on down on Friday.

Utterly free from pretension, you can wander around the huge, light-filled space at will. The art work all costs between £40 and £4,000, though I must say I didn’t see anything for less than £150. Helpful curators will fill in the blanks if you show a particular interest in an artist or a specific painting, but most visitors seem happy to treat it like a contemporary art gallery (rather than a shop). I like shopping though. I really do. To Tom’s horror…

Unfortunately mine and Tom’s taste in art is radically different. He likes abstract paintings, I prefer clarity and detail. He likes wild, rugged landscapes, I like pretty images with dark undertones. This is a good thing though, as it means we didn’t spend more. Photos below of my favourite pieces, and of the piece that we did manage to agree on and purchase. Larger paintings and photographs are not done justice at all by my photography, so you really must go and see them for yourself. My only advice would be to buy what you like, not what you think will be worth something in ten years time. Bringing art into your home is like creating a new member of the family. You’ll also have to stare at it every day remember, so if you don’t love it then you shouldn’t have it in your house.

Jellyfish – Katharine Morling (porcelain and black stain)

Seated Nude Couple – Pierre Williams (blue and white ceramic)

Harpy – Aidan Harte (bronze)

Dawn Over Bagan – James Sparshatt (archival print on German etch paper)

Todos Mis Vecinos Quieren ir al Cielo – Ernesto Fernandez Zalacain (photo sculpture)

Succulent, Java, Fungi, Durian, Agave, Jade – Heather Knight (ceramic, porcelain, hand-built unglazed)

Il Postino, Red Rose and Emily-Rose – Paul Charlton (acrylic on panel)

The Path – Veda Hallowes (bronze)

Gazer – Veda Hallowes (bronze)

The Conversation – Clair Partington (earthenware, glaze, enamel, lustre and mixed media)

various – Katharine Morling

Awake – Katharine Morling (porcelain and black stain)

The Queen’s Armada – Kirsty Mitchell (archival pigment print on 360gsm Hahnemuhle Pearl)

Gammelyn’s Daughter a Waking Dream – Kirsty Mitchell (archival pigment print on 360gsm Hahnemuhle Pearl)

Calamity – Ray Caesar (Pigment Print on Epson Ultrasmooth)

Like a Feather – Antonio Lopez Reche (bronze)

Blue Bond (top left) – Amy Judd (oil on canvas)

(skirt from Dubarry, top from Reiss, bag from Zara, shoes from M&S, bracelet from V&A shop, in case anyone is interested)

I would happily have bought any and all of the above pieces, but we decided to be sensible and limit ourselves to one purchase (don’t look so incredulous, Tom’s influence on our – joint – finances is sufficiently significant to enforce this!) At first he was incredulous that I thought spending over £100 on a piece of art was a good idea. After a couple of glasses of veuve clicquot, however, he came round, and we purchased the most beautiful piece by Alexander Korzer-Robinson.

My ‘I’ve got my purse out now, so there’s no going back’ face.

Brockhaus 6, 1904 (cut encyclopedia, 25cm x 17cm x 6cm)

A vintage encyclopedia, images from which have been carefully selected for inclusion in a three-dimensional montage, formed through incision and excision. It’s like being able to see the world inside of a book, without plot or narrative to explicate the extraordinary jumble of images that exist before we turn them into a story by progressing through the text in a linear fashion. I’d never thought about books like this before – it’s similar to the realisation that time was perceived as being cyclical in the medieval period rather than linear. By using older books, Korzer-Robinson’s work aims to be simultaneously an exploration and a deconstruction of nostalgia, and I find this spotlighting of the effects and distortions of memory and perspective fascinating. What do you think?

The Affordable Art Fair is on 13th-16th June 2013, near Hampstead Heath station. £12 on the door, £10 for tickets purchased in advance. If you’re in London this weekend you shouldn’t miss it!

Has anyone else taken that first step into art collecting?

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IMG-20130324-00038   Landmark - The Fields of Photography main   2

The Best Things Come in Threes – Blogging Award

I was nominated for two blogging awards a while ago, and have finally put aside the time to respond properly (as a proper response is definitely required. I haven’t been awarded anything since I got an ‘attainment certificate’ for A Level Drama). Then along came a third this morning, so this post is definitely overdue. I don’t get an actual prize (feel free to send me money to make up for this. Anyone?) but it’s an excuse for bloggers to say WELL DONE to each-other, share things they wouldn’t usually share, and point you in the direction of other blogs they like. Read on for tales of crabs and volcanoes.

Firstly thank you to Frances, who nominated me for the Sunshine Award, and to Akeem, who nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award, and to Joseph, who nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. You’re the best.

The Sunshine Award requires the following:sunshine-blog-award

  1. Post this logo ….. (it’s over there – to the right)
  2. create a link to your nominator (easily done: Stories By Frances)
  3. answer ten questions
  4. nominate ten others
  5. inform your nominees

… and the One Lovely Blog Award asks that you:One Lovely Blog Award

  1. Add the “One Lovely Blog Award” image to your post.
  2. Share seven things about you.
  3. Pass the award on to seven nominees.
  4. Thank the person who nominated you.
  5. Inform the nominees by posting on their blogs.

Whilst the Very Inspiring Blogger Award requires you to:


  1. Post the logo
  2. Add a link to your nominator
  3. Explain why they’re great
  4. Pass the award on to 15 nominees



As you can see, there’s an overlap going on here, so I thought I’d kill three birds with one stone (that metaphor doesn’t work, I know, but ‘answer three sets of blogging-award questions in one go’ is worse). Here goes…

Answer Ten Questions:

1. Favourite colour: Green. And red. Red and Green together ideally (Christmas runs through my veins).

2. Favourite animal: Cats, if I have to choose, but I’m also a fan of horses, sheep, owls, ferrets, pigeons, crabs, snails, frogs… and other weird things. I used to have a pet land-crab on Nauru. I’d feed him pieces of coconut… then his hole-under-a-tree flooded and he abandoned it/me. Life is cruel.

3. Favourite number: 7! My Australian grandad was born on 7th January, my dad was born on 7th September, and I was born on 7th January. My other grandad is one of seven brothers, and has seven sisters. All the 7s belongs to us.

4. Favourite non-alcoholic drink: Cider! Oh, wait… non-alcoholic… er, gin? I’m not very good at this.

5. Favourite alcoholic drink: Depends on the season. Champagne or cider in spring/summer, port or scotch in autumn/winter.

6. Facebook or Twitter: Facebook – I don’t have the energy/patience for twitter.

7. My passions: writing, art and the theatre, the countryside, and my fiance Tom (vomit, I know. He is my most time-consuming hobby though).

8. Giving or receiving gifts: Definitely giving. It’s an excuse to go shopping without feeling guilty.

9. Favourite city: London, of course, though Florence does have a special place in my heart.

10. Favourite TV shows: Anything on BBC4 except for foetid programmes about musicals. The Murder Channel (ITV3) is also my comfort channel, as I need something else to occupy my mind whilst I’m working (I’ll often have the tv on mute with subtitles, classic fm on the radio, and a book or my laptop on my lap. I’m female – I can’t just do one thing at once or I’d get bored!) Also, if you need a murder solving, I’m your girl.

Anyone would think that was quite enough sharing, but the One Lovely Blog Award also asks me to ‘share seven things about you’, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint, so…

Share seven things about you:

  1. I didn’t go to school until I was 8. I was homeschooled instead, as the school (yes, school singular) on Nauru taught efl for the first year, and my parents didn’t want me to be a year behind, you know, the world.
  2. My parents have flown inside a volcano, when my dad was flying single-engine planes in Papua New Guinea (I wasn’t there, but I’m appropriating their lives as they’re more interesting than mine). Wouldn’t that be a great date?!
  3. When I was little, like 5-7 years old, I genuinely thought I must have been a cat in a past life, as cats and I got on so well.
  4. I used to work at Denis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, with the most wonderfully eccentric people. The best times were when the rooms were empty of visitors, and I could skip back in time for a while.
  5. I had three giant African land-snails called Porthos, Thundershell and Cat until recently (Tom’s friend Charles procured them from some Nigerian men he met in a ‘market’, ostensibly for food) but they all died of a mysterious disease in January. I am still sad about this.
  6. I wrote my MA thesis about vagrants in early modern drama.  I cannot remember why.
  7. I collect wedgwood jewellery, antique tophats, and I’d like to start collecting Prada handbags. Donations welcome.

Explain Why Your Nominators are Great:

Stories By Frances writes short stories that I can’t stop reading.

The Bloggers Soliloquy takes the time to actually see things, and write about them eloquently.

A Glimpse into My Work has an eye for detail that always  grabs my attention.

My Nominees (I’ve gone for 9, rather than 7, 10 or 15, seeing as I seem to have changed the rules along the way):

Following other blogs is a bit like talking to friends that you like, but you don’t really know. You can share whole conversations, or they can just flash the cover of a book or a sexy pair of shoes at you and smile. Some of the blogs I’ve listed below are conversations, others are flashers (so to speak) but  I enjoy all of them, and many more.

Rowena Dunn writes about books, art and theatre. It’s nice to see what she’s been up to, as it’s often what I should be up to as well – she always inspires me to make the most of London’s art scene.

Bloody Hell Brennan says the things I think, but rarely dare to say. Not many writers make me laugh out loud (really, it’s embarrassing. People think you’re mental if you laugh at books/ your phone/ computer screens in public. They’re the losers though. Yeah.)

Acheebee is someone else I check up on whenever I can, as her writing is both honest and naturally funny.

Imponderabilia gives me regular updates on modern archaeology. Which I love. Like a  cool Time Team.

The Attic Birds do vintage, antiquing, and cracking advice on both.

My Midsummer Garden offers pretty, whimsical pictures, music and thoughts. Fashion, vintage, romance and art – Parisian and floral daydreams galore.

Beautiful Fashion Styles is a flasher – great ‘mood-boards’ of clothes and accessories, that always send me running for my debit card.

Minutiae writes about stars, toads and pottery. And other things, but these are the things that I like.

dartwalker’s Blog reminds me what life (the countryside) is all about. Flowers, toadstools and walking on Dartmoor –  one of many ‘this is what your life could be like!’ blogs that I follow.

A Summer’s Afternoon Vintiquing in Rye

My parents live in the middle of the countryside, on the border of East Sussex and Kent. It’s a beautiful spot; a mixture of farm-land and nature reserves. They’re about twenty minutes drive from the nearest town, but this does happen to be the medieval town of Rye, so we visit whenever we can (we’re invited regularly as one of the cats has to be sedated to have her claws clipped by anyone except me). Tom and I got the train down last weekend and headed to Rye the first chance we had, to rummage through the antique shops and get some writing done in The Apothecary.

The Mint

Mermaid Street

The High Street

Country Ways

The Strand Quay

Cobbled streets, worn brickwork and eccentric, crooked buildings are what you first notice about Rye. Originally located on a huge embayment of the English Channel called the Rye Camber, it’s now two miles inshore due to the channel silting up, but still has a small fishing fleet that bring in a daily catch. The whole town remains largely un-tarnished by modernity. Tweed, leather and antiques are for sale in every other shop, but there are also a few New Age jewellery and crystal shops, an old-school sweet shop, a second-hand records store, and the usual smattering of charity shops. It really is a wonderful place. There are vintage, second-hand and antique shops everywhere, hidden down alleyways and camouflaged as tea rooms, but I’ve highlighted a few of my favourites below:

  • Needles Antiques is primarily a clutter of glassware and costume jewellery, but you can also find an eclectic range of ornaments and vintage fashion accessories dotted around. I purchased the carved wooden table here that I mentioned in a previous post, as well as various vases and a strip of handmade lace.

  • One cabinet is stocked with Chinese snuff bottles and other oriental delights, and Tom also unearthed the following horror a while ago:

  • Pale & Interesting isn’t an antique shop, but does fit with the quirky, vintage theme. As well as floral cushions, storm lanterns and other decorative odds and ends, I’m always intrigued by the collection of medicine jars, poison bottles and bell jars displaying animal skulls, collections of speckled quail-eggs and sea-urchin skeletons.

Pale and Interesting 1

  • Cinque Port Antiques is another of my favourites, as you’re guaranteed to find something intriguing there. The couple who run it have led very interesting lives, and are always willing to chat. They run the shop more as a hobby than a business, so you also feel more relaxed poking around and discussing the provenance of their wares than in other shops.

I was quite taken by these silver cockerels…

… and Tom was rather pleased with this hat. Even if it didn’t fit.

I was also keen on these his-&-hers picture frames, but Tom dragged me away.

I previously bought the most wonderful lamp here, pictured below. A white ceramic coy-carp base, with a huge lotus-flower shade, crafted from pale-pink tulle and stretched over a frame. When I first saw it I dragged my mother over to exclaim at how dreadful it was, but then I realised that I was IN LOVE WITH IT, and promptly bought it. It took a long time to win Tom over, but he’s just about accepted it now.

  • Strand Quay Antiques sell a variety of furniture and decorative items, a large proportion of which are sourced from dealers in France. A number of different dealers share the space, so there’s a variety of objects available. I bought a 1920s top hat from Harrods here once, and we’ve unearthed some beautiful paintings in ornate gilt frames over the years.

I had my eye on the blue vase above, but got distracted dragging Tom away from the rusty farm tools below, and forgot to buy it.

  • The Quay Antiques & Collectibles is located virtually opposite Strand Quay Antiques, and always has a fine collections of weapons that Tom makes a beeline for whenever we’re in Rye:

I also found an excellent collection of vintage, cobalt-glass bottles there this time, perfect for pink tea-roses or sprays of yellow wattle.

The Apothecary

After a lazy wander around the shops we were ready for some tea and crepes, and habit led us to one place only.  The Apothecary is one of my favourite cafes, of any I’ve encountered. Sunlight floods through the curving, 18th century bow windows, and small, round wooden tables are complemented by dark leather chairs. Leather-bound books in antiquated jewel tones of scarlet, amber, azure and ochre line the oxblood walls, and the odd skull or medicine bottle reminds you of the cafe’s origins. They have the most wonderful cakes displayed under bell jars, and a good selection of teas like nettle and sweet fennel. It’s the perfect spot to sit and watch passers-by in winter, when the glass panes steam up around the edges, and patrons tumble through the door shedding scarves and coats: but is equally relaxing at any time of the year. You’ll find a lot of mothers and daughters having tea and cake together, and distinguished elderly gentlemen reading the newspaper. And us.

fabulous cakes and crepes

wonderful tea

… and me, sitting in the perfect spot for watching people wandering up and down the highstreet.

We finished off the day at The George, where we shared a plate of huge oysters, each shell the size of my hand, scallops, and a whole lobster. The perfect end to a perfect day.

A quiet lounge just off the bar, overlooking the high-street, where we had a couple of drinks before dinner

The restaurant at The George

There’s a lot more to Rye, and looking online it seems to be a blogger’s paradise, so I’ve added links to a few others below:

Junk Shop Bride

Decorators Notebook 

Love and Lilac 

 Pretty Much Penniless

Patchwork Harmony

Does anyone else love Rye as much as I do?! Let me know.

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Tadpole DISASTER (almost)

I was lulled into a false sense of security. The water was clear, the water-weed rampant and visibly bubbling out little streams of oxygen; spare daphnia darted about uneaten, and cannibalism seemed far from my tadpoles’ minds.

I admit, I left them to it for a week. When I next went over to say hello and pour in some Evian, disaster had struck. No longer did they playfully wriggle through their crystal pool like tiny, happy dolphins, bred-in-captivity so knowing nothing better than the joys of mirrors and hand-fed dead fish. They had sunk, listless, to the bottom. Some were unable to swim properly, and instead wriggled along upside down, dejected and confused. My heart in my mouth, I went out for a drink with a friend.

Not just any friend though, oh no. I mentioned my lovely friend Hannah a while ago, when I went riding with her, and she picked me up in her sexy ex-postal van (aaaah, now you remember her). Well Hannah is about to become an actual real vet. After seven years of pushing her hand up animals’ arses, she is very close to being fully qualified. I met her at the Holly Bush in Hampstead, where she had a fancy glass of wine, and I worked my way through a pint of cider. Over a beautiful shared cheese-board, we talked about boys, handbags, the potential terrors of mothers-in-law taking against you, and… my tadpoles. My conundrum puzzled her for all of two minutes, whilst I explained about the Evian, the healthy pond-weed, the daphnia and the lack of direct sunlight. Then I mentioned that Tom had thought the garden compost I had buried beneath flattened beach pebbles for the weed to grow in may have introduced bacteria, and her face assumed the solemn neutrality of someone who has realised they’re addressing a complete idiot. She’s going to be a great vet.

I returned home, and stared at my poor darlings for a while, morose. Then sent Tom (who was out with his manly man-friends) a text asking him to bring me back two 2 litre bottles of Evian so I could “save the tadpoles”. The tadpoles were evacuated into a spare bowl, one at a  time, the dratted compost poured down the loo and the bowl thoroughly cleaned. There were a couple of corpses left (well, remnants of – tadpoles seem to take the adage ‘waste not want not’ to heart), but I managed to rescue 15 of what I had originally counted as about 20. Most of them have now recovered their buoyancy and seem less inclined to hide under rocks (if anyone can explain the logic of the cramming themselves under rocks thing I’d be grateful).

I fed them a couple of defrosted peas, which a few have munched their way through. They get a torch flashed at them regularly, to check for death and/or progress, but I think now I’ll have to just see what happens. Any advice is welcome! I obviously haven’t taken any photos of my tadpoles in their current state, because that would be sick, so I thought I’d share a photo of this monster with you. The bullfrog tadpole.

Bullfrog TadpoleSource

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Cliff-Top Ruins, and Icecream by the Sea in Ireland

It’s a particularly British pastime, discussing the weather, and we’ve done an awful lot of it over the last week. Not out of Britishness, but because it has been so miraculously sunny. This doesn’t happen to Tom and I usually. If we go on holiday, anywhere, it rains. Always. Ireland, however, has been lucky for us, so we’ve made the most of it.

We started the day yesterday peering at a grey sky whose threat of rain never materialised, and instead turned into blinding sunshine by lunchtime. Ken (the writer, broadcaster and lecturer we’ve been visiting) took us to see Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne, the 18th Century ‘holiday home’ of the Earl Bishop Fredrick Augustus Hervey. Born into a distinguished Suffolk family in 1730, Frederick Augustus was many things; scientist, agitator, art collector and Royal Chaplain to George III, who referred to him as “that wicked prelate”. He was also a notorious womaniser, and Ken’s play explores the bishop’s life through his various romantic liaisons and infatuations.

One of these infatuations, with his young cousin, led to his building Mussenden Temple in honour of her beauty. Perched precariously on a cliff edge, the National Trust now care for it and the nearby ruins of Downhill Demesne, Frederick’s former manor house.

Mussenden Temple 1Source

Mussenden Temple 2Source

I fell in love with the temple, to be honest with you, though I’m sure the cousin was indeed very pretty. It used to hold Frederick’s library, and a fire was kept constantly burning beneath it to keep the books dry. A nice metaphor for his burning passions! The books have gone now, but you can still see the alcoves where towering bookcases would have stood, and concave hollows above them where marble busts would have rested.

The view from each window is stunning. to the left you can observe the railway that has tunneled directly underneath the temple (apparently quite a crowd gathered the day they blasted through the cliff to build it, hoping to see the temple crash into the sea), and the coastline stretching away into the distance. To the right the view is primarily of the landscape, rolling turf and the precipitous cliff edge. Directly in front of you though, is the sea itself. Staring out at it, I thought to myself that I would sit here all day if it was mine. Waves lap against the shore below, and crash against the cliff face at high tide. Shifting shades of turquoise and ultramarine glitter beneath bubbling white foam, and flurries of sand billow towards the surface, as if sea monsters are stirring the depths.

I could easily imagine stretching out on a velvet covered window seat, wrapped in a shawl with a heavy leather book in my lap, the sea whispering to me and the wind rattling the window panes. Surrounded by books and paintings, a beautiful Persian rug stretched across the stone floor, and two Irish wolfhounds asleep on it at my feet… Yes alright, I may have got a little carried away. Tom only rolling his eyes when I said he could build me a temple if he wanted.

The interior of Downhill Demesne feels too modern to be a ruin, which lends it an air of tragedy. Frederick was responsible for making the Giant’s Causeway famous, both scientifically and as a tourist destination, and he built the house nearby (ish) to reduce his travelling time. Piles of rubble are padlocked behind rusting metal gates, as the Trust are slowly excavating, exploring, and rescuing antiquities that have been buried by the house’s demise. We also walked down to the House’s principal entrance, through a bluebell strewn woodland. Ferns and wildflowers stretched to either side, and we came across an elegant bog garden full of moss, and exotic seeming plants in flamboyant hues. Tom commented on how much more beautiful a garden that had been crafted to look a bit wild and unmanaged was, compared to more classically sculpted gardens, and I quite agree.

After lunch we continued driving along the coast, and ended up at a lovely little cove with a cave, boats, and a small cafe selling ice cream. I really didn’t need any more, and we sat on the sea-wall in the sunshine, watching the battle between waves and shore, and enjoying the sea air.

It was a perfect break for us, and I wasn’t exactly happy to have to leave (I sulked. A lot). We’re both recovering from bad colds, so Ireland was just what we needed – medicine for the soul.

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