Saturday, May 26, 2012

Books 15, 16, 17 and 18

You see, I have been reading, just not blogging, so I'm going to shove all of the four books I have read recently into one catch up post. I'm still a little behind on my 52 books in 52 weeks, but not disastrously so.

Book 15: N is for Not Fade Away: the Life and Music of Buddy Holly (John Gribbin)

A Kindle offer which I picked up because I'm a long time fan of Buddy Holly's music but didn't know anything about him beyond the version of his story shown in the stage show. I like John Gribbin too, who usually writes very readable books about science and the history of science. Buddy Holly comes across in the book as a genuinely nice, likeable young man of enormous talent. Such a tragedy that he died so young.

Book 16: Bucks, Beds and Bricks (Jean Blane Flannery)

This one was a local history Kindle find. The title refers to the counties of Buckinghamshire (Bucks), Bedfordshire (Beds) and the brick making industry which has been a feature in this area from a very early date (villages named Brickhill were mentioned in Domesday Book in the 11th century). I was hoping to find out more about the brick industry but that turned out to be essentially incidental to a straightforward childhood memoir - the author's father worked for the London Brick Company during her 1940s and 50s childhood. The book was still an interesting read as many of the places she mentions are familiar to me and it brought back many childhood memories. Life was easier by the 1960s but there was also much that hadn't changed, at least in the homes of older relatives if not our own.

Book 17: O is for Our Man in Orlando (Hugh Hunter) 

I found this searching Amazon's Kindle store rather randomly for a book with O in the title! I think I was looking under a "travel" heading and this one turned up. Hugh Hunter spent a number of years as the British Consul in Florida, dealing with the various crises suffered by Britons abroad, ranging from lost passports to imprisonment on death row for murder - apparently more British subjects get arrested in Florida than anywhere else in the world outside the UK. It was generally and interesting and entertaining read, though the author's style grated at times and I wasn't at all impressed with his casual treatment of his girlfriend!

Book 18: Cockney Girl (Gilda Moss Haber)

Like Bucks, Beds and Bricks this book turned out not to be what I expected. I downloaded it because I am interested in the Jewish East End where Tevye lived as a child and thought this biography of a Jewish Girl growing up in Bethnal Green in the 1930s and 40s would give me an insight into Jewish life at that time. In fact, for most of her childhood the author had little contact with the Jewish community, except through her religiously observant but distant maternal grandparents. Her parents were Jewish but non-practicing, and her family was acutely disfunctional with a mother whose own parents had shown her no affection and who was herself unable to show any affection for her child. Gilda was frequently sent away from home and at one time was abandoned in an orphanage for months with nothing more than occasional letters from her mother. She spent the entire war as a refugee in East Anglia, again with little contact with her family, until she finally found a measure of love and acceptance in a home for displaced Jewish children (all the others were refugees from Hitler's Europe). Overall it was a rather sad book. I read to the end but was left with a sense of unfinished business as there was no real explanation of why the relationships within her family were so cold, or whether they were ever resolved.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Wrest Park

We are having a cold, wet and miserable spring here, but it finally stopped raining at the weekend and Tevye, Rose and myself went on a trip to Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. I had been learning quite a bit about the Wrest Park archives at work which whetted my appetite for a visit. The last time I went there - maybe 15 years ago? - was to an open air classical music concert. Since then English Heritage have done a lot of work restoring the gardens. Now it is a relatively undiscovered gem - one of the most important examples of an early 18th century landscape in the UK. Photos are from my phone, and something has gone peculiar with the sky and clouds between phone, iPad and blogging app. I intended to sort this out, but as I have already been sitting on this post since the beginning of the week I am giving up and posting the pictures as they are.

The house - only a few rooms are open to the public. It has not been lived in as a stately home for several decades. During the war it was the headquarters of a life assurance company, then until quite recently it was used as an agricultural college.

The view from the pavilion to the house - the photo doesn't do it justice. After the long lake there is a huge lawn, part of which was taken up with croquet pitches. We guessed from the layout that they must hold some sort of championships there.

The pavilion. Somehow I didn't take any pictures inside. Narrow doors lead to narrow, steep spiral stairs leading up to two tiny bedrooms and down to a "two seater" bathroom below.

Woodland garden. Grassy lanes lead to statues, follies and summer houses. There is also a cemetery for the family's dogs tucked into one corner.

Chinese bridge. Complete with nesting swan and her mate.

Rose had a lot of fun doing a children's activity trail. Lots of things to draw and to look for.

The orangery.

Rose playing a "help the housekeeper get dinner on the table" version of snakes and ladders. The house has an information area which includes some nice hands on activities for kids.

A view from the edge of the gardens across the Bedfordshire countryside.