Wednesday, 23 August 2017

What I read in June

I am trying to catch up with my reading series so, here, a little late, is what I read in June. 

Alexander Wilson started writing in the 1920's. He worked for MI6 from 1939 to 1942 and some of his characters are based on his own time in the secret service. He wrote a series of 9 crime and mystery books about his character Sir Leonard Wallace and this one is the 7th. I normally prefer to read a series in order but these also work as stand alone books. I bought this one for a friend who then lent it to me after she had read it as she thought that I would like it too.

In this book Wallace is on the trail of a group of anarchists who are congregating in London and hatching a plot to remove all the royal families in the world. One of his colleagues joins the anarchist group to work undercover. The action goes from London to Vienna with plenty of intrigue, drama and excitement. I don't want to give too much away but you can read more about the book and some of the real events that may have inspired it here.

I did enjoy this book and I would like to read more in the series. It does suffer from some 'Attitudes of their Time', in particular a very unsympathetic stereotypical portrayal of a gay character.

I forgot to take a photo of the next book before I gave it back to the friend that I borrowed it from. That is a shame as it is a very pretty cover! It was Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn which is the first (hooray to read them in order) of her Daisy Dalrymple mysteries. I didn't realise that there are 22 in the series with the 23rd scheduled to be released in 2018. So plenty of reading to go!

The books are set in the 1920's and have a good period feel. Daisy is from a privileged background but is trying to make a career as a photographer and journalist. She goes to a country house party to write an article for Town and Country magazine and becomes involved in a murder mystery when another house guest dies on the ice skating pond. Daisy knows some of the family and becomes a go between for them with the detective from Scotland Yard. There are various secrets and bits of family intrigue that get pieced together and several twists and turns before we find out who the murderer was.

I really enjoyed this, it is an easy read and I found it rather gripping. I liked the period detail and the main character so I will definitely be reading more in the series.

I decided to have a switch to non fiction for my next read and picked this social history book which had been waiting patiently on my to be read bookcase. I hadn't read a book on the experiences of evacuees since I was a teenager, and that one was about evacuation within the UK, so I thought I would find this ever so interesting and I did. The author, Jessica Mann was an evacuee herself, sent to Canada in 1940 at the age of two and then to America. She returned to the UK when she was five. The book sets her experiences within the social and political happenings of the time and tells her story as well as the story of many other children.

The book is split into three parts. The first looks at evacuation within Britain, those who were sent overseas by private means and then the government scheme to evacuate overseas, and the voyages out. The second part deals with arrival abroad, escorts, finding new families, homesickness etc. The third part looks at the return home, settling back in and the after effects of evacuation.

It is a very interesting and very moving book and it covers many people's experiences. It is quite amazing to think that these children were sent away at such a young age, some as babies in the care of an older sibling, to go on a dangerous voyage across the world to stay with complete strangers. The author doesn't shy away from discussing the good and bad experiences that the evacuees had and also talks quite a bit about the lack of help they were given in dealing with such a traumatic event in their lives. I thought it was very well written and it left me with a much better understanding of evacuation.

The final book I read in June was this one which I got from my book group. I probably would not have chosen it as it is a fantasy book which is not my go to genre. However, I loved it! It came recommended from book group so I thought that I would give it a go. I am so pleased that I did as I was just gripped and wanted to just sit and read and read it. I have just seen that a sequel should be coming out next year so that is exciting!

The book is set in 1899 in New York and there is a lot of period detail and I really felt like I could see what the city would have been like then. The two main characters are Ahmad, the djinni and Chava a golem. A golem is a Jewish mythological creature who is made of earth/clay and is bought to life by magic. They belong to their master and must obey them in all things and they are very powerful. Chava's master dies on the voyage to New York leaving her adrift in the city until an elderly rabbi takes her underlies wing.

The djinni is a Middle Eastern mythological being made of flame who can become visible to humans when they wish to. He is released by a tinsmith from a metal flask that he has been imprisoned in for 1000 years and has to learn how to live in the city without drawing attention to himself.

The book follows these two as they learn to navigate the world around them make sense of the place that they have ended up in. There are several important human characters who assist them with this. Eventually they meet and the book follows their adventures and difficulties. I thought it was such a clever idea and it is an interesting and readable story.

What I read in July is coming soon!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Victoria's costumes and my outfit snaps.

I took you on a tour of Harewood House in my previous post. Harewood was used as a set for the ITV series Victoria, which is well worth catching up on if you haven't seen it. It focussed on Victoria as a princess and how her life changed as she first became queen and then married Albert. Some of the costumes from the programme are on display in the house until the 29th October and are worth seeing if you need to find another reason to go for a visit!

Formal day dress of Lady Portman, a lady in waiting
and the daughter of the 2nd Earl of Harewood.
A day dress and a state evening dress for the
Duchess of Sutherland.
Evening dress for the Duchess of Sutherland.
She was Victoria's friend and Mistress of the Robes.
Evening dress for Queen Victoria. Worn in the title
sequence for each episode.
A pre coronation dress for Victoria, used in simple
evening scenes to look young and innocent.

Queen Victoria's coronation gown, based on the design
of the original coronation gown. It is made of gold silk
damask, digitally printed and embroidered with symbols
representing the United Kingdom.
A dress for Queen Victoria, worn when she meets Albert
for the first time.
Queen Victoria's betrothal dress, worn when she
proposed to Albert.
Queen Victoria's evening dress, worn in later episodes
when she was married to Albert.
Some pretty fancy frocks there!

And now for something completely different and far less fancy......what I wore on my day out!

You might be able to tell that I was terrified here. I only managed to stand on the first stepping stone and that was a step too far for me!

Not quite on Victoria's level but cool and comfortable for a hot sunny day of exploring. Look at my sleeves! I intended to wear the top tucked in with a belt but frankly it was too hot. I was determined to wear my newly purchased short shorts before my 40th birthday. I will still be wearing them afterwards of course.

Outfit details.
Gingham top - Marks and Spencer
Denim shorts - Vivien of Holloway
Shoes - Hotter
Bag - vintage from an antiques centre.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Happy day at Harewood House

My birthday fell on a Sunday this year and I knew that I wanted to have a proper day out with my husband on the Saturday, with a family do on my birthday. We decided to pay a visit to Harewood House, situated between Leeds and Harrogate and about an hour's drive from us. Harewood was built in 1759 by Edwin Lascelles and he was determined to surround himself with glorious things. He employed craftspeople such as Thomas Chippendale (furniture), Robert Adam (interior design) and Capability Brown (gardens) to make this happen.

The Terrace, built in the 1840's.
See more here.
In the Himalayan garden.
It is a fabulous spot. You can visit the house, gardens, walled kitchen garden, parkland, lake, small farm and bird garden which has an active conservation programme. There are plenty of places to sit and relax and take in the scenery. If you are lucky you will see red kites flying over the estate as they have had success with the birds there. We watched them wheeling and playing for quite some time. I spent much of my time on the visit considering what it would have been like to live there in the 1800's and reflecting on the huge chasm that there was between the lives of the rich and the lives of the poor.

The lakeside garden.
We were lucky that Yorkshire supplied us with one of it's rare but wonderful sunny days so we made the most of it exploring the whole estate.

We decided to have a look around the house first and tried not to be put off when a hoard of Brownies made it inside just in front of us. Luckily they were less bothered about soaking up the atmosphere and details then we were so they got ahead pretty quickly.

Ready for a tour?
The Old Library which had a display of etchings
done by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

A magnificent bathroom belonging to Princess Mary's dressing room.
Princess Mary was Queen Victoria's great granddaughter.
Bathroom ceiling and light
A section of amazing hand painted wallpaper in the East Bedroom.
You can see more of it here.
The State Bedroom, the bed was made by Chippendale.
Princess Victoria slept here on a visit in 1835.
The Spanish Library. The bookcases hide secret doors for the servants to go through.
The Yellow Drawing Room
The ceiling of the Gallery 
The State Dining Room
The Music Room with the stunning Axminster carpet designed
by Robert Adam.
Such sumptuous interiors! Even the carpets, wallpapers and ceilings are amazing. You can see that money was no object.

After touring the upstairs rooms you can have a look around below stairs. There is a massive kitchen such as you see in Downton Abbey and a room especially for cleaning and sorting the produce that comes in from the gardens.

I always like looking at the bell indicator boards in big old houses. I like seeing what all the rooms were called.

More bell boards.

There are also several exhibitions on within the house. I particularly enjoyed the Plaster Bust Re-imagined by Kathy Dalwood.

Miss Egypt
Miss London Town
The artist casts found objects in plaster and moulds them together to make these reinterpretations of Victorian busts. I found them fascinating, looking at all the individual elements and such a clever idea.

The other exhibition is the subject of my next post. It involves costumes...

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Balenciaga - shaping fashion exhibition

In my last post I talked about my birthday trip to London and all the fun things that we packed in on our visit. One of the main exhibitions that we wanted to visit was the Balenciaga one at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It did not disappoint!

The exhibition looks at both the work and the legacy of Balenciaga. The first part of the exhibition focuses on his work, with plenty of glorious clothes to look at. The second part looks at how he influenced people that he worked with and his lasting influences on contemporary designers.

This is a photo heavy post. I couldn't choose!

These are the first dresses that you see. They show two of the influences on Balenciaga's designs; Spanish traditional costume and flamenco. I loved the embroidered flowers on the middle dress.

Stunning sleeves and such vibrant fabric.

These dresses revolved; great to get a 360 view.

Balenciaga is known for his sculptural shapes and in this exhibition there were several garments that were displayed alongside x-rays of the garment so that the internal structure/skeleton could be seen. This was really interesting.

Fabulous draping on the right hand jacket.

The x-ray shows weights in the garment.

I always enjoy seeing designer's sketches. Wish I could draw!

I would take this one!

This sari inspired dress is one of several that Balenciaga made. Unlike an Indian sari this dress is made of several parts and sits over a boned and structured under garment.

These three garments display the wonderful craftsmanship which goes into embellishing some of these garments. The beading, embroidery, use of sequins etc is just exquisite.

1960's wild silk evening dress with embroidery by Lesage.

I would happily have both of these too! I love the big bow on the second one.

A rather lovely suit with a display of tools needed for tailoring.

Another sculptural piece, a 1960's envelope dress. Look at those shoulders!

Some of Balenciaga's clothes, like other designers, were made on licence by smaller firms.

These are Balenciaga designs by the house Eisa, based in Madrid. I really like the floral dress.


These two outfits are from the second half of the exhibition. They are by Andre Courreges who worked as a cutter for Balenciaga from 1950-1961 when he then opened his own fashion house. Both of these designs are from 1967.

These are 1960's designs by Emmanuel Ungaro who was an apprentice of Balenciaga's from 1958 to 1964. He also worked at Eisa.

These fantastic sculptural outfits by Nicolas Ghesquiere are the result of re imagining iconic Balenciaga shapes after having access to the archives of the fashion house.

The gown on the left is an embellished beauty by Givenchy using coral, lace, glass beading and embroidery.

I adore this mass of embroidery on this jacket by Dries Van Noten.

This fabulous embroidered dress is by Erdem, influenced by Balenciaga. You can see the back the previous jacket too.

Nicolas Ghesquiere was the creative director of Balenciaga from 1997 until 2012. This is a reinterpretation of the balloon sleeve from 2006.

I really like the shape of this 2016 trapeze suit by Simone Rocha who credits the shapes of Balenciaga's work as an influence. This is interesting as it is made from a broiderie anglaise created from embroidered plastic.

It is a fabulous exhibition and is on until the 18th February 2018 if you fancy a visit.