"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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Stroll: London

Around midday we headed for Manchester Square and the Wallace Collection. Though the closure (for renovation) of some of our faovurite rooms was disappointing, the highly entertaiing Osbert Lancaster exhibition nearly made up for it!

Oh, my a crocodile in Duke Street!

The theme of Selfridges's holiday windows is Father Christmas, he's featured in a succession of them. We especially enjoyed the one with all the knickers!

Selfridges happens to be my favourite London department store, but going there today was absolute madness! Shoppers were out in droves all along Oxford Street. Inside the store crowds were thick and noisy and it was nearly impossible to get near a till (I got lucky in the Christmas Shop.)

I can never resist the Food Hall.

Leaving Selfridges, we crossed over Oxford Street. The roast chestnut seller was there, in his usual place. Lunch!

Heading down Brook Street, we admired the decorations at Claridge's Hotel.

The passage leading to Handel's House was nicely decorated, too.

We toured Handel's house, in which he composed most of his operas and oratorios. It has the squeakiest wooden floors I've ever come across. It also has the distinction of being Jimmy Hendrix's London residence.

There was a dressing-up area in an upstairs exhibition room (part of the former Hendrix flat). Probably intended for folk younger than me, but that didn't stop me having fun as an 18th century lady.

The South Molton Street pedestrian area was beautifully lit.

On the way back to our digs we strolled through the nearest Waitrose and bought tomorrow's breakfast and some beverages.

Like all good strolls, mine ended with a drink. For me, vintage perry:

To stroll along with other strollers, go here!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Live Blogging from the BL

I'm live-blogging from Seat 335 in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room of the British Library, simply because I can! Earlier this year they instigated free wi-fi for readers.

I've got here a heap of leather-bound tomes, some more than 300 years old. A combination of items connected with low life and high life:

A Description of the Duke's Bagnio, 1683

Letter to a Gentlewoman Concerning Government, 1697

Love for Money, or the Boarding School, 1691

Life of the Late Celebrated Mrs. Elizabeth Wisebourn vulgarly call'd Mother Whybourn (a notorious madam!)

London in 1710, 1934 edition

Court & Society from Elizabeth to Anne, 1865

When I've done with these, more are waiting!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Yesterday & Today

The weather took a damp turn yesterday but remained quite mild, and the rainfall, when it fell, wasn't lasting. I did the shops from Regent Street--well, Liberty only--north to Oxford Street, east to Charing Cross Road, south (stopping in music shops and book shops).

Peeked in the print shop at Cecil Court that I frequented. My real-life version of Helene Hanff's bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road. Almost soon as I stepped inside, the proprietess mentioned that it was the 8th anniversary of her father's death and asked if I remembered him.

"Very well," I replied, and expressed belated condolences. I don't recall when I last visited the shop--some time ago tho' not as long as 8 years. I stayed a good long while, bought a bundle of antique prints. The prices haven't changed in the 20 or so years I've been going there! I'm thinking of giving away a few as prizes here on the blog. Had much interesting conversation with the owner, very devoted to her shop and her father's legacy. Her nephew, she thinks, might be the one to take it on in the next generation.

On to the National Portrait Gallery. Didn't do the whole thing, just the Elizabethan and Stuart galleries (characters from my book clog the latter one), and the Annie Liebovitz photography exhibition.

Headed westward along Pall Mall (not nearly as crowded with pedestrians or traffic as Piccadilly) and stopped in St James's Square for my usual gaze at:

this corner house, the birthplace of my duchess, and

across the Square, her childhood home.

Both are greatly altered since the late 17th century.

I bought a book in Hatchards and made for Fortnum & Mason's. The revolving front window displays are magical!

In the course of my shopping day, in addition to books and prints I purchased a spiffy skirt, two pair of earrings, a necklace, a sweet little purse.

And these Christmas tree ornaments, King Charles II and an unidentified 17th century lady who greatly resembles Queen Mary II. Both feature in my novel, so I'm chuffed about finding them!

Last night we made our way to Chelsea for our Thanksgiving dinner. It was just ducky--meaning we had duck, in addition to other delights like oysters and leek casserole and apple pie for pudding and a sort of pumpking Swiss roll. All delicious, and the conversation and company were delightful. We stayed late, just managed to catch one of the last trains on the Piccadilly line!

Today--more shopping. Found another Christmas presssie for the Chap in St James's, stocked up on supplies for myself at Floris, popped into Hatchard's again but this time bought nothing, and trotted over to Fortnum's (lately, my go-to place for just about everything) where I did buy. Oh, and I visited the Post Office in Albemarle Street to post a large parcel.

This afternoon we changed locations, our new one being another place where we always spend time because it's such an easy walk to the British Library--where I'll be spending much time.

The afternoon was so cold and drizzly that I decided to start library work immediately. Headed to the Metropolitan Archive (a repository of documents and info on London's history, and various collections of family papers) to try and find my duchess's last will and testament. I accessed it in May 2006, and wanted another look, in case I missed anything crucial in my transcription. Stupidly, in my excitement at an entirely unexpected find, I forgot to mark down which box of documents it was in, and which bundle of papers. So it was a "needle in a haystack" search, and a hasty one, because it was an early closing day.

Much to my relief, it turned up in the third box requested, and I had about 20 minutes to review the will. I both admire and dread the ornate, flourishing penmanship of Her Grace's lawyer's clerk! But my eyes were fresh and I deciphered it without much difficulty. Mission accomplished!

Tonight we dined at a favourite Italian place a short walk from our digs.

I did not take a single photograph all day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day at Windsor

I'm in the habit of visiting royal palaces--the ones my characters occupied or frequented, that is. Each year I alternate. Let's review: last year Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, two years ago Windsor Castle, three years ago Hampton Court. Making this a Windsor Castle year.

The approach to Windsor/Eton station on the riverside.

First we strolled into the old town. I never can help shooting the Crooked House by Market Cross.

Which, in fact, looks crooked-er from the back.

Stopped in St. John the Baptist Church, rebuilt in 1822, so it does not resemble what my characters would have seen. Here it is as they knew it:

We encountered another unexpected event, the Changing of the Windsor Castle guard.

For your enjoyment, a little film of the passing parade. Complete with music!

Inevitably I come to this spot.

The Royal Mews complex occupies the site of the house belonging to the duke and duchess in my novel.

After touring all the requisite MEP sights, we entered the Castle grounds.

The Round Tower.

St. George's Chapel.

We visited the State Apartments, of course. The ones I like best are arranged as they were in the time of Charles II. I had a good long look at the Wissing portrait of Mary II--painted in Holland before she became Queen. There's a brief portrait-sitting scene in my book.

Fragrant daphne blooming along the wall near the Round Tower.

At the end of her very long life, my duchess was laid to rest here.

As on my last visit, one of the Chapel wardens was kind enough to let me pass through the velvet rope and ascent to the Choir to view the stall plate of my duke. (who became a Knight of the Garter in 1718.)

There's a reason for my guilty expression.

When I 'fessed up to the Chap that I'd taken a highly illicit photograph of the duchess's burial place, he replied, "You would!" Sometimes when I'm naughty like that, he's my accomplice. But not today.

I do feel bad, especially as Her Maj smiled at me so sweetly yesterday. But really--why must she keep genealogical-minded visitors out of the Rutland Chapel? It's just not fair!

On leaving the Castle, we wandered about the town.

Queen Victoria surveys the High Street.

Thanksgiving tomorrow. I'm having a day off from research--clothes shopping, visiting a music store to gaze at European-made mandolins, and perhaps a museum or gallery. Plus we've been invited to eat a traditional turkey dinner at home by a very kind and hospitable American author and her family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Seeing the Queen--and Being Seen!

The Tower was a research goldmine. I hadn't been since I was a teenager. Doubtless I'll blog about it later.

It was a gorgeous day. After going over every inch of the Tower precincts, the Chap had the brilliant idea to stroll across Tower Bridge and visit the George Inn in Southwark, a favourite haunt of his that, surprisingly, I've never experienced.

When we arrived at this odd pod, we noticed a press scrum standing outside.

Then I spotted the posh motorcar. The one with the Royal Standard waving atop.

And the ornament decorating the bonnet...which only adorns the vehicle in which the Monarch happens to be riding.

Now, I'm not the sort to spend time hunting down the royals. Not that there's any need to do so, they tend to pop up now and again. I've once seen the Queen--and the Duke of Edinburgh--being driven to the State Opening of Parliament, in a coach. (Her crown of state travels in its own horse-drawn carriage.) But the Chap hasn't seen her.

By chatting up a security officer he discovered that Her Maj and Phil the Greek were inside the pod, attending a ceremony related to England and New Zealand rugby. She wasn't expected to stay inside terribly long.

So we stood about waiting. It was quite interesting, watching the security detail, and the various officials faffing about. And the schoolgirl with the bouquet, being properly positioned for her moment of glory.

And then, as our fingers and toes were growing numb, the Queen appeared!

In the left of the frame, half a step behind, the Duke of Edinburgh.

She's looking right at me!

She climbed into her motor and off she went. I was impressed that the colour of her hat matched her ride.

You can tell how close I was to her entourage.

After the excitement of an unexpected encounter with royalty, we continued on towards Borough High Street and the ever-so-historic George.

The Queen wasn't our only celebrity today. On our way to the London Bridge underground, we spotted the most famous man in the UK in a shop window.

Newsy Bits

I've decided that the spirit of Nell Gwyn stole my black gloves. When she lived she was an obsessive purchaser of gloves--for herself and for her sons (laced, perfumed, leather, silk). Partly why she left massive debts when she died. I strongly suspect her of distracting me during the final moments I was in her house so she could claim my gloves for herself. Therefore, she'll be wearing them at some point in my novel. I have the perfect scene for it!

Before our weekend in Nottingham, a Bristolian friend mentioned its claim to fame (in addition to its Goose Fair and Robin of Sherwood Forest.) An 18th century writer had made a similar point about the city. Unfortunately it in no way lived up to its reputation--and in fact, the very opposite appeared to be true. Sorry to be obscure, I dare not clarify. It would be a poor repayment of the warm hospitality we received from the residents. Besides, they still must be reeling from their football club loss to Weasel's team.

I need a house in this London street...

...where I'd drink this beverage:

Soon as I'd topped up my Oyster card (underground pass) for the length of my stay here, I hastened to the Victoria & Albert Museum. I needed to see the newly reopened Jewellery galleries. Very nicely done, well organised, beautifully lighted. And yet I can't help wondering why it took so long (years!) to do the renovation. Did the workers take too many tea breaks?

I also breezed through the silver galleries for a glimpse of my duke's spirits flask, engraved with his coat of arms. It, too, will likely turn up in my novel.

(I'm still waiting for a V&A drone to respond to my email from over a year ago, prior to my last visit, asking in advance whether the above object is on display in the permanent collection. As of this writing, no reply. Although around Christmastime last year--several weeks after I'd personally viewed the flask with my own eyes--an email arrived saying someone would be in touch soon.)

In the museum shop I bought a hedgehog Christmas tree ornament.

It was bright when I set out for the museum. While I was inside, a sudden strong burst of rain fell upon London. The sky had cleared by the time I emerged.

The skating rink beside the Natural History Museum was busy. At that moment the sky was exactly the same combination of colours as the stone tiles of the building. (Picture doesn't do it justice.)

Arrived back at our digs...just a few steps from Green Park Tube. And the Ritz and the Wolseley. He'd already booked our table at an important place of pilgrimage whenever we're here.

I fear I've misbehaved. So this morning I'm being taken to the Tower of London.

Send help!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Stroll, Part 2: The One on Sunday

The snow melted, the sun came out, and we departed the city for our primary reason for coming here. A big country house, now a hotel and formerly the possession of a ducal family...the one about which I'm writing.

In the late 17th century, it looked nothing like the above image. It was built and re-built and re-built, most recently in Victorian times.

It was a gift from this King...

...to this actress.

According to legend, after teasing her for lying abed late in the mornings, he offered to give her whatever amount of land she could ride round before breakfast. So she set out on horseback, reportedly dropping a handkerchief at intervals to mark her property line. And so she got her country place, at the time a hunting lodge.

Remnants of snow in the planter at the front door.

We went for lunch, and it was the traditional Sunday carvery being enjoyed by the traditional sort of folk who turn up in great numbers with family birthday parties--balloons and pressies included.

What I had for lunch.

The hotel bar.

Above the ground floor, the gallery.

Although I didn't clean my plate, I needed to walk off so large a meal. First, we explored the immediate vicinity, and discovered how very huge the place is! (The curtained windows are the dining room.)

Next we set out into the Park, which is vast (Nell Gwyn must have armed herself with numerous handkerchiefs!) and has many intersecting trails through a most beautiful wood.

We met other walkers. This is the first of the dogs (dozens of them!) we met along the way. And yes, I do miss my own, terribly.

White berries.

Here be horses.

Here, too!

I pause to admire a bank of wild holly. Historical Note: The last known sighting of my black leather, fleece-lined gloves.

A fine stand of trees.

When we passed beneath the Alexandra Lodge, where the Park Ranger lives, we turned back.

The afternoon sun lights the greenish tree trunks.

Calling the car company to send us a driver.

On the way back to the house/hotel, we pass these ivy-clad trees.

Alas, I left my gloves behind in the ladies' lavatory, or else in the car. I realised it after the driver dropped us at the Victoria Shopping Centre, so I was well-placed to replace them. We looked for a suitable pair at John Lewis, House of Fraser, and lastly, Marks & Spencer.

My companion thought I spent too much. But they were Per Una, stylish, with a lining, and warm...enough.

"Not for a New Hampshire winter," opined the one who paid for them.

We'll see about that.

Coming out of the shops we met the Salvation Army Band, which drew a crowd. It was lovely.

So ends Sunday's Sunday Stroll. Back to London tomorrow.