"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, November 30, 2007


We're back in the land of freezing temperatures, way too many Presidential aspirants, and free wi-fi.

On collecting the girls at the kennel, we heard the usual excellent report of their behaviour. The kennel keeper observed that Ruth is "the perfect dog"--something our vet has also noted. We're inclined to agree yet strive to keep her grounded. Can't let all these compliments go to her head.

The girls are overjoyed at our return. As I sit on the sofa, reading my way through the boxes (yes, boxes!) of accumulated mail (mostly Xmas catalogs), Jewel slumbers on my chest and Ruth snoozes on her cushion and Lola sprawls upon her downstairs bed.

I concluded my London activities with more shopping. For myself, the usual thrilling items--black tights! bar soap! For family Christmas, things far more splendid.

Given the current rate of currency exchange, in the Thanksgiving season we were espcially thankful for our ability to conduct all financial transactions in pounds sterling. Because during his many years of working in the UK, the Chap earned--and banked--British pounds, which sit there patiently waiting for us to come over and spend them. Which we did, on hotels, meals, socks and tights, small luxuries, lavish presents, tickets to palaces, train fares, Oyster cards...you name it.

Thus, when I queue in Hatchards to buy a book that costs twelve pounds, it really does cost twelve pounds, cash money--rather than 24+ dollars on my credit card.

Speaking of books, on the plane I read the most awesome Carpool Confidential by my friend Jessica. Love love love it. Added it to my sidebar. I've been awaiting this book for what seems like--actually was--years. It far exceeded my expectations, which were astronomically high.

At the aforementioned Hatchards I acquired a nifty nonfic book, The Sickly Stuarts, a medical exposé of how lousy-to-nonexistent the health (and fertility) of the royal family was, resulting in an influx of Hanoverians, who in time morphed into Saxe-Coburgs who later morphed into Windsor-Mountbattens. It was useful for research purposes, but also entertaining. And revealing.

Often when we're Over There, scandals arise or governments fall. Margaret Thatcher. John Major. We never quite managed to see off Tony Blair--though several times it was a near-run thing. Ditto for Gordon Brown, whose his troubles mounted astronomically as the days of our London stay increased. Perhaps it's only Tory governments that we do in?

The phone at the Lodge is constantly shrieking, a sign that the NH Primary approacheth--along with the start of the next legislative session. I'm now shamelessly screening calls. Pollsters, lobbyists, campaign workers--leave a message!

I've already scored what I assume must be a coveted invitation to the Oprah-Obama (yes, in that order) Event.

Today I'm learning to play Silent Night on my mandolin. And doing laundry. And baking cookies for the church's St. Nicholas Fair.

Damn, it's cold outside!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How the Works Work

I'm offering up more of Hampton Court, to shield my current activities.

I will tell you, though, that my lunch with my friend at Tom's Kitchen was beyond satisfactory. I've read plenty of reviews recently, as it's a fairly new addition to the South Ken and Chelsea dining scene, and wondered whether it would live up to the hype. The food was very nice, the choice of wines excellent, and the company superb! A couple of authors dishing about publishing--and writing--can talk at length, and in no sense did I get the impression that the staff were in a hurry to see us off the premises.

Hampton Court has a series of lovely decorative entrance gates--Cardinal Wolsey, the palace's builder, was determined to assert his power through architecture. Before he lost his power, surrendered Hampton Court to the King, and died in disgrace while bound for the Tower of London.

On arrival, we were disconcerted to see that the middle gate was wrapped in plastic, imprinted with Henry VIII's proud image.

No, this is not a new decoration scheme. There's work being done.

I chose to regard my passage between Henry's vast legs as a moment of religious significance. It's fair to say that the burning in his loins was directly (albeit only partly) responsible for the birth of the Anglican Church.

On Henry's other side, from the inner court, one turns to see the great clock, which nomally looks like this:

(photo taken in May, 2006)

Now, dismantled and moved from its perch and arranged on one side of the courtyard, it looks like this:

I had the Chap photograph me with the lunar calendar/zodiac portion to give a sense of scale. Mind you, I'm not right up against it, but fairly close.

I adore photographing Hampton Court (in case you haven't noticed). I spent the rest of the day shooting pictures that didn't show the plastic-wrapped clock tower.

A view of Tudor chimneys, taken from the gardens.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What a Rat Hole

Here's where Ratty lives.

And here are some of his avian neighbours...

The magpie who likes sitting on the bench

The robin

And the swan

Off to do more Christmas shopping, with an interval for lunching with a friend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hampton Court Palace

Yes, I returned...my second visit in 18 months. I hadn't even considered going. My travel companion suggested it, and as we knew the weather would be pleasant, and there was someone I wanted to see again, the prospect was thrilling.

Here I am, delighted to be back.

I hadn't been there very long when I thought I spied the ghost of Queen Mary II wandering the loggia.

We did a guided tour of King William III's state apartments, led by a lively young woman in costume. For the remainder of his rooms, it was a self-tour. In one of them hangs my duchess, only she wasn't a duchess when she was painted.

I would swear that the uniformed gentleman watching over that room--whose role is to ward off photographers--left the room at exactly the right moment. I'm sure he could tell what I wanted. He was an enabler.

There was an exhibit on the history of the gardens--how perfect!--

in conjunction with the new design of the orangery garden, where Queen Mary placed her potted orange trees.

We brought a picnic lunch and ate it on a garden bench, in view of William's banqueting house by the river.

No sooner had I finished my prawn mayonnaise sandwich than a rat emerged from the hedge of tall shaved yews.

After wandering the gardens, we went back inside the palace, which appeared to be rodent-free. And virtually tourist-free!

We went all over the building. Yet again, we didn't stay for choral evensong.

Nonetheless, I was extremely pleased with our visit. I paused by this heraldic dog for a parting photo.

I took nearly 300 pictures, some of them very artsy. More to come....

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Scholar

Yesterday was gorgeously sunny but a bit blustery. I had a chance to enjoy the nice weather until noontime, when I entered the British Library for a date with some original 17th century tomes. It was dark when I emerged.

Had dinner at Depa Tandoori last night, only a step away from our digs. The usual: Makhni Chicken, Lamb Tikka Masala, Bindi Bahji....

This morning dawned grey (but no rain!) and windy, chillier than it has been. I returned to the BL for another date with 17th century tomes. This time I emerged before dock...in time for an early tea, in fact.

The Duke about whom I'm writing was quite the fine dancer, apparently. He impressed people at a ball with his performance of a the rigadoon.

I'm so excited about tomorrow. There was a Plan...which got superseded by an even better Plan.

Tonight we'll dine at the pub I've wanted to dine at for a solid year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Night on the Town

Conveniently, down the corridor from our hotel room is a framed reproduction print showing St. James's Square in an earlier incarnation. I've marked the two houses I photographed earlier today.

We had a lovely meal at our favourite restaurant...ordered the usual dishes, being creatures of habit. We finished off with flan (the Chap) and fried banana with ice cream (me).

Well, to be honest, we really finished off with a glass of port.

Walking Piccadilly, on our way back to the hotel, just before we turned the corner of our street, I shot the Ritz Hotel in all its evening glory.

The Chap stopped at the bar to get some ice. I came up in the elevator by myself.

Not sure whether there'll be any blogging tomorrow. I'm going to be in research mode for most of the day.


I am extremely thankful for so many things. And I wish all Stateside blog visitors a most Happy Thanksgiving!

How appropriate that today I made a Pilgrim-age. Only it had nothing to do with American settlers and everything to do with an English duchess.

Actually, I made numerous small-p pilgrimages to the shops of London. I started from our digs and worked my way northwards to Oxford Street. I won't give a boring enumeration of every department store or boutique I visited. Though I tried on numerous items and left no sales table unexamined, by the time I entered the Bond Street Underground Station to head south again, I'd only bought two pairs of socks. From John Lewis.

I know. One of the world's great shopping cities.

But--I also bought some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. For a quid.

Arriving back at Piccadilly, I made my way to St. James's Square. There I photographed the Duchess's birthplace.

It didn't look like that in her time, but it was the the corner house, then as now.

A short time after she was born, her father built (if I correctly recall) and moved into another house in the same square. It was on the site of this one:

In the 17th century, the square didn't have a green and grassy garden in the middle, but now it does, and it's one of my favourite spots to sit and have a lunchtime snack.

In the middle of the square is this equestrian statue of William III. (Whose Queen was fond of the Duchess.)

Part of the snack I enjoyed was my roasted chestnuts.

They should properly be purchased on a bitterly cold day, preferably after dark (i.e. 4:00 p.m.) but I'd rather have today's mild 50 degrees with sunny intervals.

Wended my way to Jermyn Street, where at Floris I made up for my Oxford Street thriftiness, and on to Piccadilly where I improved the bottom line at Hatchards book shop and Fortnum and Mason in rapid succession.

Back home in time for tea.

We're having a Spanish feast for our Thanksgiving meal. Must dash, and dress for dinner.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sunshine and Blue Skies

We visited Kensington Palace today.

Where the roses are still in bloom.

I was interested in the rooms created by William and Mary, although many rooms appeared as they did in George I's, time, or Victoria's. On the lower level was a massive display honouring Princess Diana--there's only so much "Dianaworld" I can take. I was in London for her funeral, I lived the nightmare, don't need to be reminded.

I saw something new this time. The apartment in which Princess Margaret lived was open to view--she had a nice set of rooms, and her wing overlooked a garden. I don't know to what use the space will be converted, but it was interested seeing a bit of the palace that used to be off limits.

A view of the orangery, looking down the avenue of "tubular" yews.

We had a nice stroll through Kensington Gardens, where many, many Londoners were walking their dogs, taking advantage of the splendid day.

On the way to the Victoria & Albert Museum, I passed the Museum of Natural History, beautifully lit by the sun, with a nice backdrop of blue sky.

Just beyond the courtyard, where a Christmas Market was ongoing, I came to the ice rink--in the process of being created.

My first stop at the V&A was the special couture exhibition. Many of the clothes on display were what was known as the New Look--Paris and London Couture of the 1950s. It was wonderful. I've never seen so many women so utterly entranced by clothing. Our present-day attire simply couldn't compare with the amazing creations of Coco Chanel, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Dior, Lanvin, Hartnell, Fath, and so many more. In addition to the dresses, there were many newsreels of fashion shows in the fashion houses or in London.

It was crowded in the exhibition hall but not enough to hamper enjoyment. There were plenty of young people, fashion and design students, making notes and sketches. The older attendees were taking a nice trip down memory lane--there were plenty of "oohs" of recognition, and "Wasn't it lovely wearing such cocktail dresses/ballgowns/suits?" The case of undergarments elicited some groans, and less happy "Do you remember?" remarks.

I am now so ready for a New Look revival!

I toured some favourite exhibition areas--did the British Galleries, but only the 17th century portion.

Wandered through the Musical Instruments, looking for a mandolin. Almost everything on display was a cittern or a lute, but I did find one--Italian, and very ornate.

The real reason I stopped in at the V&A was to examine this silver object, a flask. You can see how ingenious it is--there's the parts unscrew to release a separate drinking cup at the bottom.

It belonged to my duchess's husband. The duke. His coat of arms is engraved upon it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From There to Here

Thinking over the past 24 hours, I realise how the world, which sometimes seems so large, can contract.

Yesterday I was driving along a remote country road with the Chap and my three dogs. We saw a few dozen wild turkeys roaming in a stubble field. And a jogger.

Today I find myself in a vast metropolis, where I've passed through a massive international airport, zipped about in underground trains, and walked along busy, busy streets filled with "city people".

I didn't draw this map, but I do recognise its accuracy.

We're in the red part. The reddest part of the red part. A long, long way from fields and forests and turkeys.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Flowering Cactus

Two or three years ago, at one of our church's "New to You" and Crafts fairs, I purchased a small Christmas cactus. The mother plant belonged to a very dear fellow parishioner, and had belonged to her mother--meaning it orginated in Canada.

I'd never had this sort of cactus, though I've admired them. I was eager to see it bloom, but realised it needed to mature. I cherished it, making sure it received enough sunlight and not too much water.

The plant is still small but several weeks ago it formed its very first buds. Oh, the excitement!

The flowers began to open a little more than a week ago, just before my father's birthday.

I shall refer to mine as a Thanksgiving Cactus.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Go Ahead--Shoot Me!

I got shot three times yesterday.

It was one of those truly busy days. Stopped in at the Post Office to collect offical mail. Had my fourth mandolin lesson. Progress report: I'm now playing Beethoven! My first complete and recogniseable piece of music is Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. I picked up sandwiches and baklava at a favourite bakery in the city, bore them to Diocesan House and treated one of the Bishop's canons to lunch. He then walked me to the State House where I had a special "Insiders Tour" of the building. Not only did we see all the cool secret staircases and safes (where they used to keep the money), we learned lots of lore.

And, best of all, we climbed all the way to the top--walked on the roof.

Here's a rooftop view of the Legislative Office Building (grey stone, pointy roof), where I spend lots of time.

Our guide (a constituent of mine) took us up inside the Dome! Where nobody can go!

And that's where I was shot the first time. See.

Plainly I am very excited to be there! I had left my camera in the car, so luckily our guide brought hers. (She took the photos).

The 360-degree view of the city and surrounding hills was terrific.

After the tour, I drove through pouring rain to my doctor's office. Got some prescriptions filled. That's where I was shot the other two times. Two icky jabs--a tetanus shot and a flu shot. I'd never had a flu shot before, because I've only once had the flu and I'm not in a high-risk category. But the good doctor persuaded me I should do it. I hate hate hate shots but I was very brave. "Don't you want to sit down?" asked the nice nurse. "No, I'll stand," I said bravely. I didn't faint or anything and it was over so quickly. (It wasn't till later that my arm started hurting and I began to fell yucky.)

This morning I phoned my mother and played my Beethoven piece. She was very amazed and proud.

I saw snow flurries fairly often today, off and on, though it was about 38 degrees. After two shocking days of 60 degree temperatures, the air suddenly got cold.

Today is the Feast of Saint Margaret.

This not so saintly Margaret will be celebrating tonight.

Off to a dinner party....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lost and Found

I don't often lose things. I might not be able to locate them immediately, but I've got really good "place memory". Most of the time. Sometimes the remembering takes a while....

About a month ago, I realised that I had "lost" some gold jewellery. Two pair of earrings and a vintage gold cross on a chain I inherited from a grandmother, who bought it in Florence. Couldn't find them anywhere. I searched the Lodge, the cottage, the cars, and the carry-alls and handbags and washbags that accompany me from place to place. No luck.

Heartbroken but resigned, I started shopping round to replace the essential earrings. (The cross and chain were irreplaceable.) At the jewellery retailers and department stores, I couldn't found anything I liked as well as the pair I'd lost, and what I did find wasn't nearly as well made.

Two days ago, prompted by a vague recollection, I put my hand in a certain drawer, deep down--and tucked way out of sight was my "lost" property.

Then there's the case of the "lost" research notes. I'd typed pages of information on my Alphasmart laptop, labelled the file (in a very imprecise fashion, it turns out), uploaded said file to my desktop--and failed to transfer it to the appropriate novel folder. And there sat the information, undetectable. For months and months I've wondered what had happened to my notes covering the 1680's. I was sure I had transcribed the information from an Interlibrary Loan book. But I found no proof of it. Anywhere.

Coincidentally, the very same day I found the earrings and cross, I was moving some files from folder to folder. I found "luttrell1.doc"--sounded promising, though I didn't recognise exactly what it was. Opened it up. Hey, presto--mystery solved!

Timing is everything. I'll be working from those notes today. I didn't much need them until today.

I can be a sadly disorganised organsied person. Just as I am most definitely an undisciplined disciplined person.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Adventures in Babysitting

I haven't much experience in babysitting. Almost none. That didn't stop me when I could help out friends with two young daughters, whom I've got to know quite well. The parents wanted to attend a concert in Portland to celebrate a birthday.

Whenever my priest friend and I met last week, he told me how wildly excited the girls were about having me over. I wasn't sure I could live up to these expectations.

On arrival, we talked about the girls' schedule and I was given a written list of suggestions for children and dog.

After the parents left, the girls showed me some feats of strength in their living room. Then I got a tour of their bedrooms, met their toys, saw their art projects, and so on.

Before dinnertime, I rang up the Chap--who was bringing us pizza--to make the arrangements. The girls have different opinions on toppings (like everything else!) so we had 1/2 Meatlovers and 1/2 Plain Cheese.

Some of us (I won't say who) Played with our Food.

The Leaning Tower of Pizza.

After eating we took the Chap upstairs to admire the cool lava lamp in the younger girl's room, and the artwork in the elder's room, I had the girls put their jammies on. I put on my new-ish sock monkey flannel jim-jams while the Chap popped popcorn for us in the microwave.

After he left, we settled down to watch Ratatouille on DVD. Along with the popcorn we ate chocolate pop tarts.

When the movie was over I read a chapter of a book to each child in succession and turned out their lights.

The rest of the night was my alone time. With the Dog.

He's a ginormous golden doodle. A gentle giant.

I always wanted a pet sheep, except they aren't cuddly. This beast is the size of a couple of sheep, extremely companionable, with a soft, curly coat. When I stretched out on the sofa, he laid on the floor beside me.

It was late. I was sleepy. But this was on...

So I watched it, drowsily. Five years ago when we were at my parents' house on Thansgiving (instead of in the UK) my brother (and I) arrived at a radical theory about Glinda the Good Witch. I won't share it. It would blow your mind and you'll never watch that movie the same way again. I certainly don't.

I had informed the Chap--and the girls' parents when they arrived home, that instead of changing back into real clothes, I would be driving back to the Lodge in my sock monkey pj's. It wasn't far to go, nor did I think there was much danger of getting pulled over on the way.

Well, as luck would have it, while I drove through the night (well after midnight) a police SUV came up behind me, blue flashers going. I wasn't speeding. And I didn't feel my choice of driving attire was criminal.

I had visions of the headline:

State Representative Caught Wearing Sock Monkey Pajamas while Operating a Vehicle in the Middle of the Night.

Obediently I pulled over on the side of the road and thought, "This guy is in for a real surprise."

The cop sped past me, off to capture a real perp or assist in some emergency.

On the road that leads to our road, I met a deer grazing along the verge. There was no traffic at that hour (duh) so I stopped. She didn't seem much fussed about the car. She walked in front of me, to the other side of the road, I followed, rolled my window down, and got this shot:

The Chap was tucked up in bed when I arrived home. The young dogs woke up and greeted me--attacking me with their noses. They were suspicious about my staying out until the wee hours, obviously consorting with Some Other Dog.

Thanks to the holiday, we're all at home today. Together. French toast for late breakfast. Chicken molé for early supper. Nice.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Another Election Result.

Today I had to break away from monitoring the interesting comments prompted by my guest blog to attend our annual diocesan convention.

I had agreed some weeks ago to be a floor nominee for one of the elections in which we had to vote for 8 lay people: 4 deputies (delegates), 4 alternates. There were 12 candidates in all, I think. Maybe 10. I don't remember precisely, only that lots and lots of nominations came from the floor and there were so many wonderfully gifted people willing to serve.

In the balloting I came in third. Meaning I was elected as a deputy. This was completely and utterly unexpected. Yes, I know, I always say that. But this was truer today than in the State House election a year ago.

As a result of today's action, I'll be attending a much bigger convention of our entire denomination during the summer of 2009.

For me, diocesan convention is a big family reunion, my chance to see people from all over the state whom I know from other committees and activities. It involved the usual wrap-around Eucharist, with the business portion of convention--voting the budget and levels of clergy compensation and various resolutions--in the middle. That was all done by holding up our coloured cards--green for yes, red for no.

For the various offices being voted, we had a regular ballot and the dreaded hare ballot. Ballot counting for the hare ballot took so very long that the Eucharist finished before results were announced. Convention couldn't be adjourned till we had the vote results. So we postponed the dismissal and recessional and had an impromptu "hymn sing", with the extraordinarily gifted organist taking requests. Despite weariness (I was up at 5:20 a.m., arrived at the church at 7 a.m., it was nearly 4 p.m.) I could've kept on singing forever. It was beautiful! I'm sure the ballot counters were absolutely exhausted, it took hours.

So here I sit, in shock and awe. Feeling oh, so humbled by the responsibility.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Where Am I?

Count on the press to sensationalise things out of all proportion!

Today I'm guest blogging over here, all about the connection between my travels and my writing. And vice versa.

Come on over!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Difference a Year Makes

Exactly a year ago I was elected to the State Legislature. that's not the subject of this blog, except to say that even now, after a year in office and one session of our biennium behind me, I can't quite believe it's true!

November 7, 2006, unlike today, was grey and blustery. As I raced to the Lodge from one polling place to feed the dogs their dinner before heading to another polling place, I photographed wild turkeys on the march, and, very near our Lodge, the horses in this hilltop pasture.

The man who owned the horses divided his portion of the pasture into two house lots, which he then sold off to developers.

Now, that beautiful green meadow where the horses used to graze and the bobolinks bobbed looks like this:

It breaks my heart. Every time I go somewhere, I pass this hideous mess. Which could've been avoided.

Unfortunately, due to a grievous mistake on the part of the Planning Board, certain development restrictions they imposed on the lots didn't make it into the meeting minutes. Meaning the developers can do whatever they damn please on both building sites. (The other hasn't yet sold.) However, if the excessively steep driveway causes run-off that damages the town road (which it no doubt will) the developers or homeowners will be held responsible for mitigation.

I wish I could say the effects of my refrigerator-door-opening-accident are no longer apparent. At times my right wrist (and the attached fingers) are twinge-y and ache-y. But I can comb my hair and brush my teeth and play the mandolin and drive and wave at friends and tickle my dogs behind their ears and type like a demon. So I'm not worried.