Sunday, 27 January 2013

True Confessions. . .

It is somewhat dreary today.  Cold, but at least it's above zero degrees for a change.  And it is raining which means that the thaw has hopefully arrived.

So what better way to spend a rainy, grey, drab afternoon than to spice things up with a little bit of true confessions?

Mind you it wasn't my fault - originally.  It was that Portuguese temptress who got me hooked...,_Queen_of_England.jpg

It was Catherine of Braganza who (it is said) introduced the drinking of tea into England and which led to my addiction because I confess that not only am I an avid tea drinker but am also a collector of teapots...

Would you like to see some of them?

(I thought you would never ask!)

I collect all sorts but today I thought I would share three of my silver teapots - well, when I say 'silver' I actually mean one sterling silver one, and two silver plated sisters:

These three are among my favourites.

This first one is a solid silver teapot from the year 1816:

AGA bought it for me when I had passed my first university exam.  It was made in London and has a fruit wood handle.  Originally it had a clumsy-looking silver finial but I replaced it with this wooden one of the period, which is more in keeping with the objet.  I love this teapot.  The gadroons are super and the curl on the handle is most satisfying.  It is such a pleasure pouring tea from this beautiful pot.

Next up is this beautiful 1850s, gourd-shaped one, only recently purchased:
Silver plated.  This is a luxurious, fat, pear-shaped beauty with a jaunty bohemian air.  The finial is solid silver but I am not certain that it is original.  It was made by Sturges in the late 1850s.
Its owner were not great ones for polishing and as a result it has retained most of its silver-plating.   I have a feeling that it spent a lot of its life packed away somewhere. 
The interior is unfortunately too dirty and stained to allow me to use it for tea-making.  Thus far it has resisted my efforts to clean it out but I shall persist.  Any suggestions on the best method?

Number three is another interesting one:
This teapot is also silver plated and dates back to at least 1878.  It is a handsome, sleek pot with an incised willow-pattern design.  There is something rather dignified about this teapot.  It would sit primly on any respectable tea table and interestingly, it has never been used.
And here is the reason:
Mr. Thomas Watson won this teapot at the 1878 Edinburgh Christmas Club Show.  He won second prize in the 'Shorthorn or Cross-bred Dairy Cow' category. 
Clearly Mr Watson was very proud of this teapot.  It was polished with vigour on a regular basis and has lost some of its silver plating in places.  I presume that it spent its days sitting quietly in a cabinet or on the dresser.  I haven't had the heart to use it either because although I am now the custodian of this lovely work, Mr. Watson might not approve.

So there they are, three of my teapot collection:
Three stately galleons, safely conveying their precious cargo for our consumption, and fit to hold sway over any tea table.

All that is needed now is to have a cup of tea!

Thank you Catherine of Braganza, Queen of England, I salute you for introducing tea drinking into my life.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Good Book Hunting

It is very cold outside, and has been all week with snow on and off - and more expected.

So what better way to spend a cold Saturday morning than with a nice cup of tea, the occasional peppermint cream and/or white chocolate and raspberry biscuit, and a big pile of 'loot' bought back from our holidays.

By loot I mean books:

The first step was to put them in to piles:

And then came the infinite pleasure that is browsing. . .

First up:
'The Art of Dining' by Sara Paston Williams
'Italian Cooking' by Nella Whitfield
'100 Cocktails' by 'Bernard'
Nella has a recipe on how to cook 'Chicken as served in Rome' and I make a mental note that I could try making this myself later on.
'Bernard' intrigues me.  Who is he?  Or she?  I see that Bernard knows how to make a Florida Cocktail which might interest Mark Ruffner over at All Things Ruffnerian . . .  There is a Champagne Cobbler (I always wondered what was in those).  No 'Blue Witch' though (I had this at a hotel AGA and I were staying in while holidaying at Wernigerode some years back and really liked it) perhaps it hadn't been invented back in 1958 when this book was written. . . 

Suddenly I remember that I must get the parmesan and rosemary biscuits out of the oven. 

I only bought one 'old' gardening book this time.
'A Book About Roses' by Dean Hole.
Dean Hole was the Rev. Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean of Rochester.  An avid gardener, he wrote many books.  An expert on roses, he was also incurably romantic and he tends to veer off into flights of fancy when describing flowers.  Sellars and Yeatman in their book 'Garden Rubbish' make fun of both him and Beverley Nichols.
I am pleased to have finally found this book to add to my collection.  Here he is writing about why the rose should be in every garden:
Erika over at Parvum Opus would love this book because the pages were hand cut and some were missed out so that when I cut them myself (using a paper knife) I am the first person to touch the page since it was published back in 1903.

I also picked up some works of fiction:
'The Father Brown Stories' by G. K. Chesterton
'The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow' by Jerome K. Jerome
'Uncle Fred in Springtime' by P. G. Wodehouse
'Unnatural Death' by Dorothy L. Sayers
'Stories from Froissart' by Henry Newbolt
'With Moore at Corunna' by G. A. Henty

I enjoy reading the Father Brown stories: short, very clever, and with results that are not always guessable.  Wodehouse and Jerome always make me laugh and these two books are missing from the collections I inherited from my father.
Lord Peter Wimsey is a hero of mine.  Dorothy L Sayers was such a skillful writer of crime fiction.  I think that I now have the 'set'.
Henry Newbolt (of 'The Highwayman' fame), later Sir Henry Newbolt, is someone I could read a lot of and never get tired.  I think I shall enjoy his book too.
And as for G A Henty - when I start reading his books it is difficult to put them down: filled with historical facts, plenty of daring-do, lots of scrapes and mishaps but always a happy ending for the hero.  What more could I want?

'Seeing that he was alone, several men armed with clubs and picks came out.
"I am an English officer," he said, "and I desire". . .'

I have to close this book otherwise I shall sit reading it and not finish the work at hand.

Look at this frontispiece for Henry Newbolt's book:

Isn't it wonderful?

AGA likes buying books on interior design.  I do too.  We found a goodly number among which are these:

This one looks very interesting:
It is the sort of book to lay on the settee with, and browse though when one should be doing something else.  The picture in the bottom right shows the beginning of the chapter on wallpaper in America.

Now, these two books are quite a find as far as I am concerned.  They form part of a series called 'The Picture Guides' published by the Medici Society back in the early 1930s.  These two are 'Florence' by Pierre Gauthiez and 'The Country Round Paris' by Edmond Pilon
Poetic in their description, these books are enchanting to read.  I already have two others (including The Land of St. Francis Assisi) and I see that there are still nine more for me to get.

I was very pleased to get these books too:

'The Celtic Border Land' is of course the Welsh Marches where we spent our holidays.  It made a nice souvenir to take away with us - especially considering the fact that after having purchased it, I saw a copy for sale is another shop, but at an higher price.

'The Story of Venice' is part of a series entitled 'Medieval Towns'.  Part history and part tour guide I think that this edition on Venice would get Jane and Lance Hattatt's immediate attention. I intend to take it with me next time AGA and I go to Venice:

'The modern visitor arriving by train is like one who should enter a stately mansion by the stables.  Once however, in his gondola, the 'black Triton' of the lagoons, gliding along the waterways to the strangers' quarter by lines of house and palaces, whose walls timeworn or neglected, sometimes degraded, will be mellowed under the dim light of the infrequent lamps, he will be caught by the spell which Venice casts over those who come to her.'

This book caught my eye:
Written by the brother of the artist, Rex Whistler, it is a book that explores the history and origins of English festivals.  The picture of your right shows Christmas decorations in England prior to the introduction of the Christmas Tree.  That might be something to experiment with next year!

Now the book on your left is on a subject dear to my heart: The Early Georgian Period.  I have already browsed through this and I can tell you that it is a very good read.  On your top right is a series of books on English Cathedrals.  The books, often written by the Cathedral Deans or the Bishops themselves, provide a fairly in-depth history of the buildings as well as explaining the layout, design etc.  Look at the detail on the cover of the volume on Exeter Cathedral.  I really like this sort of thing.  These will join the others that I have in the same series, back in Melbourne:

Last but not least are these two books about Melbourne.  If you care to take the time, Melbourne is an absolutely fascinating city to study.  I love it!  AGAs ancestors were among the first settlers of Melbourne back in the late 1830s so I have a vicarious link to the place.  Whenever I am book hunting I keep an eye out for anything on Melbourne that might interest me.  These two did.  Printed in the 1950s they are pictorial essays on the city.  These are the sorts of books I can imagine my blogging friend Faisal having in his book collection.  One in particular I consider quite a find: Tasmanian born Jack Cato was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, an historian and a world renowned photographer.  His black and white portraits of the city of Melbourne are excellent and to think it was located in the depth of the Welsh countryside.

Sometimes you get into such a book hunting frenzy that when you get home you find you bought something you already have!

I shall send the second one to my nephew, William!  He loves reading and I am hoping to encourage within him a love of old books, just as my father did in us.

Many of the books shown in this post came from the Great Book Hunting Expedition that we undertook here:

Others were tracked down at various locations throughout the Welsh Marches.

So, I don't care that when I look out of the sittingroom window I see this:

I am more than happy to sit comfortably, ensconced in a corner with my books!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Wet Welsh Christmas (Part Two)

One important item to go with us on our holiday was the Christmas Cake.  I didn't ice it beforehand as I didn't want it to get damaged en route and so once we had arrived I sallied forth, purchased icing sugar and set to work.  What I hadn't realized was that while I thought I had bought icing sugar made from cane sugar, I had in fact bought icing sugar made from sugarbeets.  In our family sugarbeet sugar was generally frowned upon but I didn't notice the error until the evening of Christmas Eve - when all the shops were closed - and so I had to make do with what I had.  
Putting my ingrained anti sugarbeet sugar prejudices to one side I set to.  The results looked okay!  It tasted a little different but I couldn't help that and justified things by saying to myself that we could always 'not' eat the icing when we cut the cake.  
I decorated the end result with holly picked from a bush outside (and laid in boiling water for short while to kill any unwelcome friends).  
It all looked rather festive:

The cake has lasted from then until now, with pieces being eaten every day.  In point of fact I am sitting eating the last piece as I type these words!

* * * * *
The weather during our stay in north Wales was decidely fierce on occasions and the River Dee (which runs through the centre of Llangollen) was quite a torrent:

I really liked this blue 'gothic' doorway at the side of the local police station:

We went on some delightful drives among the numerous valleys.  This is not far from where we were staying:

I took this photograph while we were having lunch on the side of a narrow lane.  The countryside was criss-crossed with these hedgerows.  We aim to return in the summer for a short holiday too.  I expect they will all look spectacular then:

But north Wales is not just about valleys (no matter how green they are).  It is also about sunlit uplands:

And stark, rugged mountain scenery and remote lakes:

Behind this cloud (in the photograph below) is Yr Wyddfa (Mount Snowdon).  I have never seen it myself because whenever I get near, it is covered in clouds: be it summer or winter!
On the left is Y Lliwedd and on the right is Crib Goch.  Yr Wyddfa is in the centre, completely obscured.  It stands some 1,085 metres:

I can tell you that when I took that photograph it was absolutely freezing.  The wind was like a knife and seemed to blow right through your bones!  Thank goodness AGA and I could return to the car and have tea (for me) and coffee (for him) from our respective thermos flasks.

Even in Winter Wales is a magical land:

But at the end of the day it is nice to return to the valleys again:

I hope you enjoyed looking at these photographs.  If you ever get the chance to visit North Wales - do not hesitate - grab your bags and go!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Wet Welsh Christmas (Part One)

AGA and I decided to spend Christmas far away from it all, on the Welsh borders.

It rained.

A lot.

There were long, long periods of dull grey weather as well.

But on the plus side we really appreciated the few periods of sunshine and blue skies!

* * * * *
This is how are journey started:

We drove from home to Calais and stayed there overnight.
Early on the following morning, I somewhat nervously drove the car onto the Chunnel train, bound for England.
It was my first time taking a left hand drive vehicle from Europe to England.  My nervousness was not helped by going on the Chunnel train as I do not like going under the ground (let alone under the sea as well!)  However I was pleasantly surprised.
No disasters took place.  The train didn't stop half way, or catch fire, or break down.  The Chunnel didn't collapse either; and we arrived safe and sound at Folkestone roughly half an hour after setting out.
We then motored upwards and westwards (through driving rain) until we reached the English Welsh border; made for Llangollen and arrived at our destination just a short drive outside the village of Llydiart y parc, by which time it had stopped raining:

Our cottage (roughly where the light is on in this photograph) was originally one of the out buildings of this farm but has been renovated into a very nice, modern (but not too modern) place where one can retire to be far away from the madding crowd.  The 'big house' is also rented out and at the time was catering for a family of nine people spending Christmas together.
The owners live on site, are courteous and genial without being over the top - in fact the perfect hosts.  We had stayed at this place before and once again, not only was our welcome warm but the accommodation was, as usual, excellent:

And so we spent a pleasant Christmas surrounded by beautiful countryside:

Various pheasants:
The odd llama:
And not much else:

* * * * * 

This area of Wales is associated with Owain Glyn Dŵr (known in England as Owen Glendower).  Just down the road from where we were staying is the site of his manor at Glyndyfrdwy:

It was here that Owain proclaimed, or had himself proclaimed, Prince of Wales in about 1400, and then led a very successful revolt against English rule before mysteriously vanishing:

The cause of Owain's revolt was a land dispute with his neighbour Reginald de Grey, who resided at nearby Ruthin:

Modern day Ruthin has some very nice buildings.  AGA and I decided that we could quite happily take over the Castle Hotel and reside there:

Reginald lived within the sturdy fortress that was Ruthin Castle.  When Owain Glyn Dŵr and his men came and attacked the town they destroyed it although they could not overcome the castle:

Now alas the castle is little more than a ruin within which was built the present day Victorian 'castle' (now a hotel):

Back at Glyndyfrdwy we went to the top of the mound where Owain had himself resided.  AGA took my photograph leaning against one of the old oak trees that now grace the summit:

I hope that Owain didn't mind that the descendent of the man who burnt his manor to the ground (for Reginald de Grey is my ancestor) was now strolling nonchalantly about the place, having his photograph taken!