Showing posts with label Reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reading. Show all posts

Sunday 6 January 2019

January ... bleurgh! - time to grab a book ...

I'm back for my start-of-the-year moan about January. I know I do this every year: so grey, so bleak, so ... predictable.  I've just taken down all the Chrimbo decorations, sent the cards for recycling, clinked all the empties off to the bottle bank and then, to add to the grimness, I've taken the pledge for a dry month - no more vino til' February 😹. I'm about as cheerful as that pitiful pile of denuded conifers waiting on the Common for the council to carry them off for composting.

So, what do you do when it's so grey and uninviting outside? You could do worse than reach for a good book ...

Cold grey London skyline

And if, like me, you're a crafty type you may enjoy the Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair, which sets out to explore the history of fabric, but in effect gives us an needle's eye view of world history. It's a whimsical subject that takes you on a romp through all the ages of clothing from the linens of ancient Egypt to the silken robes of the Chinese emperors to the woollen sails of Viking longboats to the space-age fibre technology of what astronauts wear on moonwalks. It's all there, and it's all compelling.

Friday 15 June 2018

Hagseed and Cacti

My homage to the cactus is born of the fact that it's the only houseplant that I can reliably grow. I'm so not a houseplant person: I totally lack the constancy. I'm here today, gone tomorrow and when I get back a few days after that every plant in the house has given up the ghost and gone off to live in the great green plant heaven of the ever-after. Every plant that is with the exception of my valiant cacti. Cacti and I can be relied upon to get along splendidly together. They generally survive and flourish in the barren desert of my care regime.

Friday 13 April 2018

From indoor rain to Macbeth ...

It's been a funny old time out here on the (not-so) sunny Costa Brava. We've had the very worst weather imaginable.

On Tuesday night it rained cats and dogs. Curled up in bed I was vaguely aware that there was a storm kicking up a hullabaloo outside. But you know that nice, cosy feeling you get when it's miserable outdoors and you have the luxury of not having to go anywhere ... well, I had that in spadefuls. I very happily went back to sleep and thought no more about it.

Fast forward to the following morning when I stepped into ankle deep water in my dining room, and it was another story. A river ran down the staircase from upstairs and the rain was still falling outside ... .

Thursday 30 November 2017

Succumbing to the C-Word ...

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas ... We've even had five flakes of snow in London today!

I know. I know. It's still November. But if I can just hold my nerve for another day we'll be there: December with Christmas (almost) the next stop.

December is a busy month for me. I've got our wedding anniversary, Emi, my son's birthday and my husband's birthday as well as Christmas and trips back to the family in Ireland to fit in. And, of course, I've not done nearly enough preparation for any of it. Crazy days.

To distract me from the madness that is almost upon me I've worked up a new pattern for a mid-sized project bag. I've got one made up, and a few more cut out and ready to sew.

Friday 24 November 2017

Black Friday

It's Black Friday, which sounds more like an apocalypse than a retail event to me. Are you busy shopping? Or are you safely tucked up at home whilst all the hurly-burly takes place somewhere else? I'm not an enthusiastic shopper at the best of times, so I'm afraid it would take rather a lot to get me to venture forth on a day like today.

We didn't used to do Black Friday here in England. It's a very recent thing, and I have to say I don't understand it. Why do shops discount their goods in the run up to Christmas when they ought to be selling more stuff anyway? I understand that the term Black Friday is so called because it was the point in the year, just after Thanksgiving, when American retailers finally broke even: from here to year-end they were in the black. But cutting costs, and therefore margins, as you move into your busiest five weeks of trading sounds like the turkeys voting for Christmas: it simply can't be in the retailers' interests to do so. What am I missing?

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Networking ...

Forced networking is something that I loathe with a passion. I've got lots of unhappy memories of feeling uncomfortable at corporate events, where I was supposed to be working the room and building a contact book to galvanise my career. Don't get me wrong: I'm no shrinking violet, but I guess you either take to that sort of forced bonhomie, or, like me, you recoil from the insincerity of it all. Suffice it to say that networking is not a theme that I would normally have chosen to dwell on in my leisure time. 

However, personal prejudices to one side, I've just read a really fun book: The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson, which is all about the role that networks have played throughout history, and where we stand with network behemoths such as Facebook and Google today. 

Friday 17 November 2017

All the purples ...

This week I've had a lot of fun using logwood chips to create a dye-bath that's given me a lush spectrum running from inky purples to airy lavenders as it has gradually lost its strength. I've been playing with it for several days now, allowing each hank of wool time to absorb its fill of the dye before mordanting another hank, and dropping it into the bath.
Costa Brava Botanicals: Logwood Dye
Logwood Dye

Monday 6 November 2017

Reflecting on a seasonal change ...

Last week I was pootling around in the sunshine, feeling as though summer hadn't really gone anywhere, and could safely be relied upon to hang around for the indefinite future.

Sunday 16 July 2017

Hay-on Wye ... a Welsh Timbuktu ... sort of ...

I love Hay-on-Wye. It's totally my kind of town. Mr B and I are in the habit of going there on a fairly regular basis to shop, shop, shop. We love it.

Friends will be puzzled by this shop, shop, shop business because neither of us is the type to hang around aimlessly in shopping malls, or to partake of retail therapy with any kind of glee or gladness, but Hay-on-Wye is different. It's the Timbuktu of Mid Wales: a town that's totally devoted to books!

  Hay-on-Wye Castle
Hay-on-Wye Castle

Friday 14 July 2017

School's out ... and it's officially summer ...

It's been a long time coming, but, finally, Emi's got his summer hols. Not having to get up at the crack of dawn this morning was blissful. And today is quite possibly the best day of the year: this first day of the summer holidays, when we can wind down from all the day-to-day stuff that usually has us rushing around trying to keep up, and savour the several weeks that lie ahead of not having to do very much at all. Call me lazy, but from where I'm sitting right now, that's a sweet, sweet prospect.

My black hollyhock -  summer on a stem ...

Friday 7 July 2017

Ode to June ... and TGI Friday ...

Crumbs it's way too hot down here in the Big Smoke. It's been like this for ages, and for some reason all this hot, hot weather has inspired me to sew. Perhaps it's because I've felt the need of some relaxed summer dresses - the kind that fit loosely, and help keep you cool when the mercury's way up. This is what I've been up to this week:

I rustled up these summer dresses over the course of the last few days. They're all pretty easy, and made from wonderful summer cottons that I bought on the Goldhawk Road. The red one was cobbled together when I discovered that I didn't have enough of either the red or the green flowery cottons to make the entire dress, and I have to say, necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I'm really glad that my erratic fabric buying forced my hand. I'm rather pleased with the not-so-matchy contrast.

My purple dress just involved following a pattern. And, whilst it's perfect for hot, dusty summer days in Spain, it doesn't enthuse me as much as my improvised dress does.

It's sewn from a fabulous Liberty Cotton that I bought on my favourite shopping street last year. And it's an absolute delight to wear: really light and floaty. I know I'll wear it to death from here on in.

As I've sewn, and ripped, and pressed out seams and tacked up hems I've listened to the wonderful alternative version of world history that I mentioned last week. It's an epic read (or listen in my case) that runs from the days of the mighty Persian Empire to the fall of Saddam Hussein. Maybe I got so much sewing done because I was totally engrossed in the narrative.

It's been a busy old week all things told, and I didn't get around to much restrospection on what I got up to during June. I've been trying to take a review of the month just gone as each new month of the year kicks off. It went really well for January through March, but then my wagon came off the tracks as other demands on my time left little energy for retrospection of any kind.

But June deserves to be treated differently. June was a big month for me. You see Mr B, my husband, had surgery to replace the ligament of his left knee in June. It wasn't a huge deal: it was never going to kill him. But it could have turned out badly. He could have been left with a long, painful recovery, or a permanent limp. As things went he's made a splendid recovery, and I'm feeling really blessed that he will be restored to full health and will be able to do all the things that he used to do. We're tennis buddies for one thing. We both play a really rotten game of tennis: he's a bit portly and I'm as blind as a fruit bat. But that doesn't matter because we play as badly as one another, which means that we're perfectly matched. We have epic battles on court. Any decent player would destroy either or both of us in the flash of an eye, but pitted against one another we're stiff competition for each other, and every victory is hard won.

Together we ski, cycle, hike and swim. None of it is done to any great athletic level, but it's fun and it's life-affirming. It would have been sad to have lost all of this from our lives. So I'm feeling very grateful.

And I'm also feeling grateful for long summer days with nothing very pressing to do. For lazy walks in the park, the locomotive panting of the WonderDog who invariably finds the coolest, darkest corner of every room we enter, the semi-meditative delights of cross stitching, the soft berries ripening in my garden and the long stemmed beauty of my hollyhocks - I can't tell you how much I love my hollyhocks. Summer totally rocks!

All the best for a fabulous weekend,

Bonny x

Thursday 31 March 2016

The joy of reading ... when you're 10

We're having some very strange weather here in (usually) sunny Sant Feliu de GuĂ­xols. Our early mornings are foggy with strange, dense mists blowing in from the sea. They burn off as the day goes on, but every morning when I open my shutters I find myself staring out into a real pea souper. It appeals to my inner sense of drama, and makes me wonder what mysteries might be concealed behind that wall of white ...

And during those foggy mornings, when he can't go out exploring with his faithful hound, young Emi has been spending his time reading this wonderful book, One dog and his boy, by Eva Ibbotson. It's a great tale of derring do, about one boy's battle with his over-bearing parents to keep a little dog called Fleck.

Monday 16 March 2015

Free ebooks from Bookbub ...

The other day a friend told me about Bookbub.

Have you heard of it? It's an internet site that directs you to book promotions. The publishing houses discount books from time to time to promote new or even well-established authors, and increasingly they're pushing lost leaders with up to 100% discounting. That means, in normal parlance, my friends that in many instances they're giving away ebooks for nothing.

As an insomniac who's always looking for something to read in the dead of night on her iPad the site works quite well for me. Every so often someone, somewhere, seems to be pushing a book that I do rather fancy reading. Admittedly I don't find something compelling on every visit, but you can set up an e-mail alert notifying them of your preferences as to genre and author.  Then, when there's something they think you might be interested in, they send you an email to let you know about it, and you're able to download the ebook from Amazon, Kobe or whoever is offering the deal.

If you're interested in giving them a whirl their website is here: Bookbub. It doesn't cost anything to join. And they've even got some children's titles on offer.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 24 October 2014

Dracula ... the perfect Halloween read ...

With Halloween just around the corner I've got the perfect late night spooky read for you:

It's one of my favourite Gothic horror stories. I recognise that it has many flaws, but the magnetic pull of the Vampire Count and Stoker's masterful handling of suspense are more than enough to make up for its shortcomings.

It's a novel that I think would be heavily edited if it were brought to the market through a commercial publisher today. They'd surely do something with Van Helsing's awful clunky speech. Stoker was (I think) trying to convey something of his Dutch-ness, but the words he put in his mouth often detract, making him sound much less dynamic and compelling than he ought to. These days I'd also like to think that Stoker would be told to draw his women with a bit more edge. Both Lucy and Mina, the principal female characters, are a bit too conventionally Victorian and two-dimensional for my taste.

Having said all of that it's still a great read. It was first published way back in 1897, and is now well out of copyright. If you'd like to read it you can download a free copy by clicking on the link: Kindle edition of Dracula.

Many people have wondered what could have inspired a nice middle-class Anglican from Dublin to write the greatest Vampire story of them all. A number of sources suggest Stoker was influenced by Highgate Cemetery, and, although I understand there is no firm evidence that he actually visited, it seems very probable that he would have done given how most of fashionable London were bending their footsteps in that direction at the time.

It has been suggested that his notion of a Vampire, surviving death, and, in particular, the listless Lucy Westenra, who grew more beautiful in death than she had been in life may have been inspired by the story of Elizabeth Siddal.

Elizabeth had been the muse of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. She'd caught pneumonia, posing in a cold bath for Sir John Everett Millais, when he painted her as the dead Ophelia. Luckily she survived, but her angry father insisted on sending all the doctor's bills to Everett Millais, whom he held responsible.

Elizabeth as Everett Millais' Ophelia

 In time she caught the eye of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who fell hopelessly and completely in love with her. He grew possessive of her, and would not allow her to pose for any of the other painters. They married in 1860 and, for a time, were blissfully happy together, but then Rossetti started to dally with other women, which caused her huge amounts of grief. Her health went downhill, and she started taking Laudanum. Soon she was addicted.

Rossetti's wedding portrait of Elizabeth
She overdosed on the drug in 1862, and was found by her husband in an unconscious stupor. He called the doctor and when the doctor said there was nothing that could be done for her, the desperate Rossetti called another three doctors to see if they could do any better. They pumped her stomach and tried to revive her, but all in vain. The beautiful lady passed away. There was some talk of a suicide note, but they were careful to suppress that lest she be denied a Christian burial in consecrated ground.

At her funeral Rossetti was prostrate with grief. In her coffin he placed a copy of the Bible and a little volume of his unpublished poetry, which was said to contain the only copies of a number of the poems within. Accounts tell of how he laid the little book gently on her pillow so that it was partly hidden by the tresses of her magnificent auburn hair. And so she was laid to rest in the West Cemetery at Highgate.

But her repose was not to be of the eternal variety. Some seven and a half years later in 1869 a struggling Rossetti was in need of funds. His career as an artist had hit the buffers as a result of his failing eyesight, and his addictions to drugs and alcohol. He was convinced that he was going blind. He had written some further poems, but obsessed about the old ones that lay buried and forgotten with his wife. His agent, Charles Augustus Howell, petitioned the Home Secretary for leave to exhume Elizabeths' body and retrieve the volume of poetry.

Remarkably permission was granted, and in the black of a cold winter night, they lit a bonfire by the graveside and dug the coffin up. Rossetti, who felt squeamish about the project, had stayed away, doubtless drowning his sorrows in strong liquor. But Howell was present, and, by the firelight, he caught sight of the dead woman as they prised open the lid of her coffin. Her magnificent copper hair filled the casket, and it appeared as though her body had not decayed. He reported back to Rossetti that her delicate beauty was still intact, and she looked as though she were merely sleeping.

Rossetti's portrait of Elizabeth painted a year after her death

Rumours of what had taken place began to circulate, and the Victorian popular imagination, which was macabre at the best of times, was excited by news of a body that did not decay. No doubt, a man like Stoker, who was at the centre of the city's cultural life would have known about the affair. And who knows, maybe a little bit of Elizabeth Siddal went into his fashioning of Lucy Westenra.

Happy reading and all the best,

Bonny x

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe

I may have mentioned before that I'm an enthusiastic fan of a good detective story. Like millions of people the world over I enjoy crime fiction. And I have a lot of time for Edgar Allan Poe, the man who created the genre.

Last night, as I struggled to get to sleep, I picked up his Masque of the Red Death, a short story written way back in 1848.

I was hooked from the beginning. It tells the story of Prince Prospero, who lives in a palatial abbey, whilst a terrible pestilence rages across the land.

Blood was its Avatar and its seal - the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

Of course I immediately started to think about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Prospero, we are told, was happy and dauntless and sagacious. He weathered the storm until his dominions were half depopulated, and then he decided to take action. He summoned one thousand hale and light-hearted knights and dames from his court, and, with them, he retired to the seclusion of his castellated home.

There they shut the doors and lived out their days, neither worrying nor caring about the suffering that was taking place in the world beyond.

After five or six months Prospero decided that he would throw a masked ball for his guests. He arranged the rooms of the apartment within the castle in which the ball was to take place in a succession of colours. The first room was blue, with vivid blue light coming through the stained glass windows, the second was purple and so on until they came to the last room, which was black within, decorated with black velvet and with a blood red light coming through the stained glass windows. Not many people came into this last room, perhaps because the severity of the black and the red made them think uncomfortable thoughts of the Red Death.

At every hour a clock in this chamber would sound the time, and all the festivities would stop whilst everyone listened to its chimes. At the stroke of midnight a stranger entered the apartment dressed as though he were a victim of the Red Death. His face was like the face of a corpse. His skin was stained with blood, and he was wrapped in a garment that looked like a shroud.

Prospero was furious that anyone should have ignored his injunction to party and forget about what was happening outside. Seizing his dagger he commanded his guests to catch the intruder and hang him by the neck until he was dead as punishment for his impertinence.

They pursued the ghostly figure, who fled through the succession of rooms until he was cornered in the last room. As the people laid their hands upon him they discovered, to their horror, that there was no substance, nothing at all, behind the outer garments and the terrible mask. The intruder was the Red Death itself. As soon as they touched the nothingness of its contagious core, they were immediately infected with the disease.

Within half an hour Prospero, and all his guests, lay dead, victims of the contagion.

I don't know how Poe conjured up the notion of the Red Death. The critics have never agreed as to whether he had an actual epidemic in mind. Some thought he may have been thinking about tuberculosis, from which his wife suffered. Others thought that typhoid might have been the inspiration. Or cholera. Or the Bubonic Plague. Had he written it today I think everyone would have been certain that it was the dreaded Ebola virus that he had in mind.

Whatever the way of it, it seems to me that there's lesson to be learnt from Prospero's fate, and that we really ought to be doing everything in our power to stamp out this horrible disease and to make the medicines that exist available to people in Africa as well as the western aid workers who get infected in their midst.

If you'd like to read the story, it's well out of copyright - and then some, you can download it for free as a kindle ebook here: The Masque of the Red Death.

All the best,

Bonny x

Saturday 13 September 2014

The River's Tale, (Prehistoric) by Rudyard Kipling

Emi's working hard on a history assignment for school. He's got to write down some interesting facts about pre-historic Britain. Then he has to illustrate his findings; his pictures must be carefully drawn with nice, neat colouring in. 

I'm wondering if he copied out Kipling's poem and drew a few of those bat-winged lizard birds and mammoth herds, with nice, neat colouring in, whether that might tick the box.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 27 June 2014

Death and the Victorians ...

This week I've been researching a character that I'm trying to create. For now her name is Phillice Anne Swift, but she's known to all and sundry as Philly Swift. Her mother had hoped that folk would use her full name; she reckoned Phillice sounded like a right proper lady's name. However, as is so often the case in life, things didn't quite work out according to plan. By the common consensus of their neighbours, none of whom could be bothered to add that precious extra syllable, Phillice was forever destined to be plain Philly Swift.

Now the point in time at which I am making Philly's acquaintance is in the late summer of 1888. She's a girl of sixteen, living in Chiswick, a middling sized village to the west of London, where her father works as a grave digger in Saint Nicholas' Churchyard on the banks of the Thames.

Philly's given up on school and spends her days helping her mother, who takes in laundry and earns a crust laying out the dead for them that are too grand or too clueless to see to their own when they pass. From time to time they travel into the less salubrious parts of the metropolis to work as street hawkers, selling a foul-smelling unguent of Mrs Swift's own invention, which she swears will cure the clap.

Now all of this has set the scene for a look at how people treated death way back in 1888. For them it was very much a part of life, and was far from being the taboo subject that it is today. The average life expectancy of a city labourer was only 38, and that of a well-heeled member of the middle class in a more convivial, rural setting was still only a relatively youthful 52. Infant mortality in the first year of life ran at 153 deaths per thousand live births. So, whilst Philly has done well to have survived to the age of 16, her chances of living into her 40s are not that great.

Back in Philly's day  one of the many worries that haunted humble folk was the prospect that they might suffer the indignity of a pauper's funeral.

Rattle his bones over the stones;
He’s only a pauper, whom nobody owns

So burial clubs were set up to enable the poor to pay a few pennies each month to defray the cost of their funerals when they passed. Charles Booth, the famous philanthropist, recounted the story of a girl who was a member of one such burial club in east London:

Her friends in the club, who were told that there was no hope of her recovery, joined together before her death to buy a wreath for her coffin; they were exceedingly anxious that she should live long enough to see it ... and by permission of the doctor, they went with it in a body to her room. She was immensely pleased and touched.

Can you imagine turning up at the bedside of an ill friend with a funeral wreath today? My guess is that you'd come out wearing it if their nearest and dearest caught up with you.

Then they worried that the Resurrectionists might seize their remains and take them off for the doctors to practice dissection on. So elaborate precautions were taken to protect the graves of the dead from the body snatchers. Heavy slabs of marble were wedged into place. Railings with pointed ends, on which a grave robber might impale himself, were erected like the outer curtain walls around a medieval castle under siege. 

And, as with everything, there was endemic corruption with the grieving relatives falling prey to unscrupulous undertakers. Dickens in From the Raven in the Happy Family satirises the way in which the concern to keep up appearances led to bereaved families being duped into shelling out way more than they could afford. 

Hearse and four, Sir? says he. 

No, a pair will be sufficient.

I beg your pardon, Sir, but when we buried Mr Grundy at number twenty, there was four on 'em, Sir; I think it right to mention it.

Well, perhaps there had better be four.

Thank you, Sir. Two coaches and Four, Sir shall we say?

No, coaches and pair.

You'll excuse me mentioning it, Sir, but pairs to the coaches, and four to the hearse, would have a singular appearance to the neighbours ... 

The whole business grew so out of hand that sections on funerals and bereavement were added to household encyclopaedias, which were fast growing in popularity.  Cassell's Household Guide (published in 1869) had an extensive section offering advice on the going rate for plots in the new metropolitan cemeteries and for all the funeral accoutrements as well as guidance as to what would be appropriate for each level of person. 

You can access an on-line version of Cassell's work here Cassell's Household Guide. It provides a fascinating window into so many aspects of domestic life in the second half of the nineteenth century. It offers advice on everything from first aid to legal matters, from accepted practice on bereavement to dressmaking, and from child birth (or confinement as they liked to call it) to recipes for the kitchen. 

 Cassell goes into an impressively detailed account on the likely price of everything and the degree to which the various mourning customs ought properly to be observed. The curtains were to be drawn in the deceased's house and only raised again once the coffin had been taken out to the funeral. It was advisable for the remains to be carried out feet first in case the spirit of the deceased might attempt to reach back for consolation from the living. There was a general fear that, left to their own devices, the dead might linger on with a view to persuading the living to join them. The mirrors were to be turned to face the walls, and all the clocks in the house were to be stopped at the exact time of death.

It was all part of an elaborate social ritual in which many of the people involved seemed to have relished the pomp and spectacle of a good send off.  Maybe, at the moment of crisis, it was therapeutic to observe each small detail of established mourning practice, and in being encouraged to display grief publicly.

Whatever the way of it I'm finding Philly's world in 1888 both compelling and just a little bit overwhelming at times.

All the best,

Bonny x

Thursday 5 June 2014

Benjamin Franklin: my hero and his autobiography

Now I have a confession to make straight out of the blocks: I am a huge fan of Benjamin Franklin. He was, in my opinion, a true giant among men, not simply in terms of his physique (which I understand to have been large) but in terms of his intellect, his wisdom, his moral character, his good humour and his compassion for his fellow men. For me he epitomises all that was good about the Enlightenment. Let's just take a quick roll call of his many occupations: Founding Father of the USA, inventor, politician, philosopher, civil rights activist, scientist, newspaperman, linguist, traveller, diplomat, writer and no doubt a few more that I've overlooked along the way. In my view he was a true polymath, who, when he passed away, left the world significantly better off for his having lived in it.

His autobiography, which is written in an accessible, discursive voice is now well out of copyright - and some! If you'd like to read the great man's personal account of his own life you can download it free from Amazon kindle:Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

I've just finished reading it, and I have to say that I've enjoyed it enormously. It evidences how he remained down-to-earth and proud of his humble beginnings for all of his long life. There's nothing flowery or melodramatic in there. It's the account of a matter-of-fact character who was very comfortable in his own skin.

He had a very twenty first century enthusiasm for self-improvement, which I found rather endearing. If you download his autobiography on page 71 (Loc 1187 of 2513) you'll find his list of the 13 virtues that he tried to cultivate throughout his life. He tells us that he started on this little list at the age of 20 and kept going, never having totally perfected them to his own satisfaction. They were as follows:

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what your resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths or habitation.
11. TRANQUILITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He explained that he tried to work on these individually in the sequence outlined, hoping that when he had mastered one it might help him master its successors. He openly acknowledged that he fell short of the standards set on numerous occasions, but concluded that the attempt to live by them made him a better and a happier man. He devotes numerous pages to these 13 virtues in the hope that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.

His tone is that of the fellow sinner. There's nothing hectoring, pompous or arrogant about the way in which he imparts his wisdom. He not only quotes Pope: Men should be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos'd as things forgot; but he also puts that principle into practice in writing his autobiography.

And, if you consider his 13 virtues, I think you'll have to agree that they're not a bad set of rules by which to try and live your life. We have so many self improvement books on the market today. And most of them, when you actually get down to it, are ninety five percent flimflam and five percent useful information. As a genre I loathe them. I hate the way they beat about the bush quoting anecdote after pointless, self-serving anecdote, before they get anywhere close to getting down to business.What those authors could learn from the great Dr F ... .

Anyway, that's what I've been reading this week, and a jolly good read it's been.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Monday 10 March 2014

Top 5 dog walks in West London: # 1 Chiswick House Gardens

Now that the sun is shining, the sap is rising and the skies are blue I thought I'd make a list of my top 5 dog walks here in sunny West London.

Yesterday, in the glorious spring sunshine, we managed a quick jaunt over to Chiswick House, which is one of my favourite places to go for a walk. Let me be clear on this one: I totally, absolutely, love the gardens there. I love the contrived formality of their statuary, I love the pretty lake with the woodland walk and the modern cafe, where they make great cappuccinos and leave out bowls of water for the dogs. I love that everyone else is there with their dog, and I love that they make it really clear where the dogs are allowed to go and when they're supposed to be on a short lead, a long lead or are free to go rollicking around at their whim. It's brilliant!

Chiswick House

The villa, finished in 1729, was built by Lord Burlington to show off his art collection and act as a venue for some stonkingly good soirĂ©es.  As originally conceived it had no bedrooms. Its sole raison d'ĂȘtre was to function as a party palace. His Lordship had been on the Grand Tour, fallen in love with the work of Andrea Palladio, and then decided to build Chiswick House as a homage to the Master.

He set to work with William Kent, and they created the villa with its beautiful gardens, out of which the English Landscape movement was born.

Serpentine Lake, Chiswick House Gardens, London

Lord Burlington was also a great admirer of the seventeenth century architect, Inigo Jones. In 1738 he acquired this gateway that had been designed by Jones for Beaufort House in Chelsea. It was re-assembled here at Chiswick and now leads grandly out to the Italian Garden.

Gateway designed by Inigo Jones, Chiswick House Gardens

Did you see the Duchess starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes? Maybe you've read Amanda Foreman's brilliant book about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, on which the movie was based.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Well, this is where Georgiana held her very best parties. Back then they built wings with sleeping accommodation so that they could stay overnight, but these were knocked down in the 1950's to bring the building back to its original form.

Georgiana described Chiswick House as 'my earthly paradise'.

Chiswick House

Walking around yesterday in the sunshine I saw exactly what she meant. There were loads of other people and their dogs gambolling around enjoying the opportunity to swap their overcoats and scarves for flip flops and T-shirts. The lovely weather was infectious and everyone seemed to be in a good mood.

We ambled around the lake, crossing Georgiana's classic bridge, built by her husband, the fifth Duke.

Classic Bridge, Chiswick House

Did you notice the little coots building their nest in front of the bridge?

Coots nesting in Chiswick House Gardens

Georgiana's son, who became known as the Bachelor Duke when he failed to take a wife, built the magnificent conservatory and the Italian garden when he inherited the estate from his father.

The grand conservatory, Chiswick House

The Bachelor Duke was an avid camellia collector, and if you visit during the month of March you can go and visit his historic collection of camellias while they are in bloom. I have written more about the Camellia Festival here: Camellia Festival.

I always enjoy the contrast between the formality of the statue lawn bounded by the Exedra hedge, and the informality of the landscaped parkland dreamt up as a more perfect version of the natural world than Mother Nature ever conceived.

I admire the beautiful ladies from Venus on her pedestal, struggling to cover her modesty in the Rosary Garden ...

Venus in the Rosary Garden, Chiswick House Gardens

... to the Sphinxes on the gateposts ...

... to the sculpted Terms in the inner courtyard.

The face of a sculpted Term, Chiswick House Gardens

And then in the quiet moments, when my family race on ahead without me, I enjoy letting my imagination run free to conjure up some of the splendid parties that happened here all those years ago. The Prince of Wales (later George IV), the Shah of Iran, two Tsars of Russia (Alexander I and Nicholas I), Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Kings of Prussia and Saxony and an assortment of Whig party big-wigs have all wandered idly here in the sunshine of long-forgotten summer afternoons, smelling the flowers and admiring the views. Musicians have played for their entertainment, the most exquisite delicacies have been laid on for their consumption, garlands of flowers have been woven through the branches of the trees and exotic animals have been imported for them to marvel at. And sometimes, when you're here late on a summer evening and there's a hint of dusk dropping down on the quiet air, you can almost catch the echo of their laughter: a ripple through time from a lavish soirée all those years' ago.

Anyway, enough whimsy: if you'd like to go for a ramble around my favourite stomping ground you can download a site-plan here: Site map for visitors

The closest underground stations are Chiswick Park and Turnham Green.

If you come by car there's a convenient car-park just off the A4. It's pay-and-display and, from experience, the traffic attendants are pretty quick to give you a ticket should your time run out. They also get a bit twitchy and ticket-tastic if you don't park in one of the outlined squares. Parking on the grass or the cobbles is a no-no unless you're in the business of collecting parking fines. Here's the info sign so that you can come with the right coins to pay the meter.

  Happy hound-walking,

Bonny x