Bucket list item finally ticked off

I have very few items on a bucket list when I make one. The things on there are also, usually, really easily attainable. Things like ‘walk in the park more’ or ‘take up running’. Things that I can just do any old time…. but don’t. This will always be one of my great mysteries. When they write books about me in the future, they will all say, “She could have done it, but didn’t. It’s something more puzzling than laziness. It’s purposeful not-doing-ness.” And they will name this condition of inertia after me.

So anyway, one of the things on my bucket lists is always ‘Go to a book club.’ I hear of book clubs around and I think, “O, I’ll go to that.” And then I stay at home instead. I’ve been doing this for absolutely ages. I can remember first considering going to one 11 years ago!

But then along came Hampton Court Palace and all its wonderfulness and they have a book club and I suddenly thought “I MUST DO THIS!” And I emailed to join and I got the required book and goddamn you, I read it!

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Finished it this morning actually. I was quite amused by it. I thought it was a brave book, in terms of him not being afraid of dealing with potentially controversial matters. I didn’t love it but it was an interesting idea to think about what the Queen’s thinking when she sitting for hours at long boring events etc.

So I had my thoughts ready to share. Wandered to the bus stop in more than enough time. Was listening to an audiobook called The Husband’s Secret which, by the way, I’m loving. Stood at the bus stop. Got on the bus.

….and then the bus was going the wrong way!

I’d got on the wrong bus cause I was concentrating on the book instead of the bus. I jumped off and had to hotfoot it the last ten stops to Hampton Court Palace which, by the way, takes faaaar longer than you think it will. So I was ten minutes late. Dammit.

First ever book club and I was late because I let a book distract me.

Anyway, there I am, sweaty, panting and over eager. I didn’t offer that many opinions but then, somehow, we got to discussing which royal we’d most like to spend an evening with. The majority voted for Camilla but I was loud and clear in my vote for the Queen.

“Really?”

“Yes, well I’d need to get tips, wouldn’t I?”

“Tips?”

“Yeh. For becoming Queen.” Obviously. 

It was at this point that I chose to reveal to the group The Queen Plan. They received this information well and were supportive, reassuring me that 29 was definitely not too old to be adopted.
So it went well overall and I’m looking forward to next month’s book club. It took me 11 years to get there but it was very enjoyable and it was here!

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Hey everyone! Look what happened!

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No, I didn’t have a child. But I do have a spectacular new nephew! His name’s Finlay and he is brilliant.

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He’s so little and wonderful.

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He likes sleeping…

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….and sleeping some more….

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….and again, the sleeping. He loves it.

But sometimes he is awake and this is what he looks like then.

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He’s so regal….

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….and sporty…

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….and happy.

Sometimes he eats a rack of ribs.

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*strong arms*

And sometimes he thinks about his Aunty Laura.

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It was inevitable that the baby pics would creep into my blogging world, being that he’s so wonderful and all!

ANOTHER medieval palace!

You can never get too many medieval palaces in your life, that’s what I say. So after visiting the Tower of London, I felt it was time for another day out so off I went, to the little known Eltham Palace and Gardens.

The estate at Eltham was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 and the building was originally a manor house with a moat which Edward II bought in 1305, from which point it was used by royalty up until the 17th century. It was then a farm (I know, right?!) for 200 years until a super rich family bought it and added a distinct funky 1930’s Art Deco flavour to it. It was then an education centre for a while until English Heritage took it over in 1995.

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You approach the entrance over a moat, built in the 14th century during Richard II’s time….

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…and enter with the original medieval Great Hall in front of you and the 1930s addition to your left.

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Through the arches on the left, you enter the main entrance hall, with its highly fashionable decor.

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The marquetry panels on the wall opposite show a Roman centurion on the left and a Viking on the right. It is estimated that this is the first example of Swedish interior design in England.

There are staircases leading off either side of these panels to quite extensive rooms, such as this one, known as Ginie’s boudoir.

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Ginie Courtauld married into the Courtauld family, who made their fortune from rayon (a semi-synthetic material then known as art silk), hence they lived in a medieval palace! And had bathrooms tiled in gold!

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Speaking of medieval, let’s hurry around the rest of the house to the Great Hall.

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I have so far neglected to mention that, amongst other kings, Henry VIII spent much of his childhood here. This great hall, able to hold 2000 people, was the scene of many great feasts. The poet, Geoffrey Chaucer also spent time here when he was the clerk of works to Richard II.

The hammerbeam roof you can see is the third largest in the country, after Westminster Abbey and Hampton Court Palace.

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The gallery area at the back was built in the 1930s and suffered some damage when a bomb was dropped on the roof during WWII. The scorch marks are still visible on the handrail and floor of the gallery.

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After this, I headed outside to look around the huge gardens.

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Everywhere, there are hints at former medieval buildings no longer standing.

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There are also interesting little passageways that made me wonder what they had originally led to.

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I loved the gardens. Had I not been dying to get home because I was knackered from walking around for hours, I would’ve sat in some quiet corner of the garden and read my book until closing time. Actually, I say ‘some quiet corner’ as though it were teaming with visitors. It was a surprisingly uncrowded place. For the rich royal history and the fantastic example of Art Deco interior design, I had expected to be fighting crowds the whole way round.

I think that’s part of the magic of the place. You go down ordinary roads with houses on either side to get to it. You walk over the moat with no-one else around and you ‘discover’ this centuries old palace.

It’s like a voyage of discovery that you know tons of people have already done but you can pretend you’re the first one.

I rounded off the day by buying an Eltham Palace teatowel then falling asleep on the train home.

A day at the Tower

Do you ever wake up and think, “I’m going to the Tower of London today”? Well, yesterday that is what happened. I woke up and I went to the Tower of London.

And it was awesome.

Have you all heard about the Tower of London Remembers project? It’s an art installation in the Tower moat of 888,246 hand made ceramic poppies, one for each British military fatality during WW1. The installation is a long way from being complete but this is what it looks like at the moment.

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After crossing the dry moat and going through the gate in the wall, I found myself floating along with the crowds, to the part known as the Medieval Palace, where I wandered around the recreated rooms of Henry III (1216-72) and his son, Edward I.

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In the rooms after this one, I spotted this rock crystal chess peice from the 11th century.

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Yes, you did hear me correctly. 11TH CENTURY! It makes Ham House seem relatively modern at only 400 years old.
After this – and noting how long it was taking me to get round with the huge crowds – I made my way to the main attraction, the White Tower.

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If you have not gasped in wonder and awe, maybe you are unfamiliar with the White Tower? The White Tower has been used for many things but the most interesting use it has had is as a prison. Since 1100, prisoners have been held here. Among them were two of Henry VIII’s wives, who were then beheaded on the green in front of the tower; the tragic 9-day-queen, 16 year old Jane Grey; Elizabeth I and the love of her life, Robert Dudley; and, much later, Josef Jacobs, a German spy who was executed by firing squad in 1941.

Inside the White Tower is the longest running exhibition in the world, called the Line of Kings, which has been open to paying public since the 1500s.

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As it sounds, it is a line of carved horses and men dressed in armour that was often the actual armour used by the king at that time.

After leaving this room, I headed for the Crown Jewels which, as I found out from my guidebooks, is the most expensive set of jewels in the whole world!

(Every so often I’m struck by the silliness of this little teeny tiny island on the edge of Europe with not very many people, comparatively, having the longest running exhibition and the most expensive set of jewels in the entire world. It just seems too big to really understand.)

Anyway, I waited in the queue and we all filed around to a room with the most sparkly stuff ever! HUGE gold plates and anointing spoons (didn’t know they existed til then) and goblet things. There were also the swords that had been used by about ten kings or queens hanging up.

Then finally, the Crown Jewels were there. We all got on this little conveyor belt thing and were conveyed along slowly past the crowns of the past 350 years, beginning with Charles II’s new coronation regalia made in 1661, to replace the jewels lost when the Republicans won the Civil War and destroyed all of Charles I’s royal garb. The last one you pass is the one worn by Queen Elizabeth II in her coronation in 1953.

Of all the things to wonder about when I saw these, I remember thinking, ‘Imagine if you came along one day to look but that was the day she got coronated (that’s a word) so it wasn’t there. You’d be gutted.’ Or ‘I wonder if she needs them in an emergency one day and they’ve gotta try and get them out with everyone around. That’d be a right faff.”

Unfortunately there are strictly no photos in the Jewel House so I can’t show you them. Just google it if you’re that interested, alright?

I can, however, show you the animals around the Tower of London.

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There was one a menagerie at the Tower so these animals are a reminder of that time. It’s a bit crazy when you read about it. Lions, bears, elephants. All living in the Tower of London.

My feet were worn out by that point and my brain had stopped functioning properly from the sheer amount of stuff I had learned and was trying to remember. So I left, bought some chips and got the train home.

The places I go every day – part 2

In the morning, when I very first wake up, I go to Buckingham Palace and hang out with the Queen. I love waking up with the Queen. She writes me letters about the Head Boy (David Cameron) and what it’s like to meet people who get all starstruck.

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It’s a slightly pressured situation, spending time with the Queen, as there’s only a week until book club and I must be prepared. I will miss the Queen when I no longer spend my mornings with her but I know there will be someone new to spend time with.

After a cup of tea and getting dressed, I set off for work and, on my way, I quickly nip to Australia.

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Tess, Cecilia and Rachel are at a crucial point in their lives and I love this quick visit to a small town in Northern Sydney. I go to St. Angela’s with Tess and Liam and meet Tess’s ex-boyfriend, Connor, and wonder what will happen. I still can’t believe Will and Felicity’s behaviour. Actually, it’s John-Paul’s behaviour I can’t believe.

After half an hour fully engrossed in the gang in Australia, I get to work and I’m pottering about in my little shop.

If, as I did today, I end up having dinner elsewhere, I’m often on a train or a bus or in a car for a little while after leaving work. It is at this point that I go on a whistle stop tour of the architectural world.

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Earlier this evening, I spent ten minutes in the Roman world before going off to Istanbul to learn about early Christian and Byzantine buildings.

I then spent a lovely few hours with this lovely little lady…

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….before heading home and off to India with Karl Pilkington.

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At the moment, Karl is taking me to a wedding in India, so I can see how they do it. He’s handing out peanuts and making sure all tables have salt and pepper and he’s wondering what it’s all for. I’m enjoying seeing the proceedings but probably agreeing with him.

And then I come back to England, finish my cup of tea and go to bed, feeling well-travelled and looking forward to my morning with the Queen.

(If I’m not too tired, I’ll often make a brief stop in Italy with this rogue, right before I fall asleep.)
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Why I don’t love Henry

Henry, oo, Henry, he’s so brilliant, I love Henry! That’s what people say.

But I don’t love Henry. In fact, sometimes Henry gets on my bloody nerves.

And yes, I am talking about the hoover. Henry Hoover. He drives me up the wall.

I don’t understand why people rave about him. Just cause he wheels along behind you, doesn’t mean this is a positive attribute. I mean, honestly, show Henry a slight bump in the ground or a corner and Henry is stumped! He will refuse to move. Re! Fuse! He’s not going anywhere. The only thing he will do is fall on his side and roll about a bit while you growl at him under your breath.

And god forbid you need to change the bag! There’s a poof of heavy dust as you take it off, which is annoying but manageable. Then you put the new one on. All fairly standard.

But can you clip Henry back together?! Of course not. He just doesn’t click! He makes a great show of being one piece again and so you confidently wheel him out to do some hoovering and there’s a small stone in front of his wheel so of course he can’t cope. He stays in the same spot and you, confused, pull a bit harder to get him to follow you and he just falls onto his side and his top, which you had thought was firmly reunited with his bottom, falls off and you have a new dust cloud poofing out and Henry’s two halves are just bobbing about on the floor and you want to kick him.

Yes, you can drag him about behind you while you hoover but is the desire to become violent really worth the minor highlight of having him follow you. I mean, is it really so awful to have to hold an entire hoover the whole time?

And that, my friends, is why I don’t love Henry.

(Who would’ve guessed that hoovers would be the direction I would take after all that Poverty In Sicily chat? You see? You just never know what’s coming.)

Poverty In Sicily – Part 5

“My little girl of five kept wanting to go somewhere.  ‘I couldn’t cry when Baby died, Mama – I had such a pain I thought I was going to die, too,’ she whimpered. ‘It hurts me – my tummy started to hurt me after I’d drunk some of his medicine -‘ As soon as she said that, my eldest son smashed the glass into which I’d poured a drop of the syrup into pieces, and I snatched up my little girl and ran to another chemist who had a shop near the fishmarket. ‘Please – she took some cough syrup and it’s made her ill – do something for her quick,’ I panted, and he looked at her and led me into a room at the back. I was sure she was dying. He examined her and felt her tummy and gave her some medicine. ‘Are you the mother of the little boy who was poisoned?’ he asked. ‘Poisoned?’ I said. I didn’t understand. It seemed that the man who’d made up the syrup for Baby was a beginner who didn’t know his job – he’d mixed into it some stuff that came out of a bottle of poison.

The chemist gave me a purge for my little girl to clear everything out of her tummy. ‘I’ll take it, Mama,’ she said to me, ‘then I’ll get better, won’t I? ‘Yes, darling,’ I said. I wouldn’t let her have anything to eat for the next few days, I kept her on milk.

At the end of the week, a man came to see my husband. ‘Friend, Peppino,’ he said, ‘I won’t waste words – I’ll only say that this is a dreadful business. But keep quiet about it: if you start speechifying – well, you’re poor and they’re rich, so what can you do? What could you gain, friend, by making a fuss? If you have your little one’s body dug up, you’ll have to pay for it – all the expense’ll fall on you. Don’t think you can show them up – they’re rich, I tell you, they’ll get the best of it. Take Mr advice, leave things alone….”

And there ends Nonna Nedda’s mind boggling interview. There’s so much in it, it’s hard to know where to start.

The beatings?
The stone licking?
The mother’s death?
The baby’s poisoning?
The fact that this all only happened 60 years ago? And in Europe?

Mind boggling.

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