It is wonderful to read a story set in your own small corner of the world, Kate Mosse is a local writer and this is the first book I’ve read that features many of the local landmarks. I loved hearing the names of places I know well, Chichester and Fishbourne which is where Kate grew up. You can read an article about the house that inspired this tale here.
What Kate does well, is to write evocatively about a place – I loved that about Winter Ghosts and I began this book almost straight after finishing Winter Ghosts, but this tale is darker and more macabre.
Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.
Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.
The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.
While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?
Told over one summer, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is the haunting new novel from the bestselling author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel and The Winter Ghosts.
I have to admit the detailed description of the process of taxidermy described early on in the book made me feel slightly squeamish. I can’t say that it endeared me to Connie, I found it took a while to really get into the book. It was like catching glimpses in the mist, the sense of place, the marshes and the ebbing water – play just as big a role in this tale along with the characters.
The tale unfolds gradually, the lives of Gifford and his daughter resonate strongly with the sense of decay. Their art is no longer sought after or appreciated, but, Kate makes it very clear, it may be macabre but it is an Art of its own. It made me look at taxidermy in a different light – the skill is in preserving life, forever -from the smallest bird to the well loved dog.
It is gruesome in parts, especially the murders – but then it is why this tale hangs together, so reminiscent of Victorian Gothic – you get a sense of chilling in your bones, as the tidal waters rise, the crows circling or roosting in packs, even though it is more Edwardian than Victorian, it is a delightfully suspenseful tale.
Kate’s sense of of place is masterly, cosy tap rooms of local Public houses, an austere asylum, chilly carriage rides and living beside the frosty ebbing and flowing estuary mirroring the Giffords’ place in the community. We also have gallantry and just the wisp of romance .. if only the two lovers had a chance.
It’s a good read, one definitely for cold winter nights with a crackling fire – to ward off the chill of the mist and fog, in good gothic style.
If you loved Susan Hill’s The woman in Black, then you’ll enjoy this. (When, dear Susan, will you write another Gothic novel?)
It has been an interesting journey recently – last week I came down with a flu type bug which resulted in spending a lot of time in bed, sleeping resting and delightfully, reading.
It is no coincidence that my illness follows a month or so of stress, worry and a busy workload, but when I woke up on Tuesday morning, with every part of my body aching so much that it hurt to simply walk – I could do nothing else, but rest.
This year has been a joyful one in many ways, when I set out to follow the Romancing the Ordinary, I did not expect it would open out so many areas of my life – call it synchronicity, or serendipity, but I have discovered some wonderful books recently.
You may already know that I have been feeling uneasy about the weight gain I had in the last three years, but I am not really a dieter. My upbringing was so strict and disciplinarian that the adult rebels anything that imposes rules and regulations. What I eat isn’t the greatest challenge, I think it is something to do with why I eat and how I eat that makes me gain weight.
To focus on the outward only – as in reducing calorie intake has always sparked bingeing and the self reproach that goes with it. Dieting and along the exercise programmes feel like punishment – which is not the best way to make life long changes.
Who on earth wants to spend their lives disconnected from all that gives them comfort and joy?
I read Dr Moseley’s 8 week blood sugar diet – and began to follow the diet plan – until one day, I found myself looking longingly at a bunch of bananas. My body wanted a banana more than anything else and the berating bully shouted NO NO in my head. A day later I had a binge of eating not just a banana but spent a sublime 20 minutes messily eating a mango – it was delicious! (Bananas and mangos are forbidden in the diet, as is most carbohydrates). Maybe I need to read a diet plan that forbids salads, fresh fruit and vegetables?
The quote above is in both books I am reading at the moment, The Compassionate Diet and Soul and Spirituality is about bringing the Erotic into the every day…yes, you did read that correctly, erotic and soul in the same sentence! It is all about the senses, with little essays about each sense inviting a connection to the delicate sensual experiences from our body which are mostly overlooked or simply ignored. Sadly, the only time I give my body attention is when it lets me down, when I am in pain or suffering.
For me, who has spent a great deal of my life disconnected below the shoulders, connecting with the body is the first step to really getting to grips with food. I’ve forgotten what real hunger feels like and sometimes I am eating watching TV that I am not aware that I am full.
I have been practising Yoga for a little while now, one day I felt a sudden heat rising through my spine, and it took the exercise onto a whole different level. Yoga invites me to really inhabit my body, every single inch of it – right down to my toes. It is that awareness of this wonderful vessel that serves our soul, the first bitter sip of a latte, the feel of soft grass wet with dew between your toes, the tender warmth of a hand holding mine. This discover offers a tiny strand of hope – that I can discern what is an emotional hunger and what is genuine, belly gurgling hunger. Exploring the sensations of the body, which this week has been painful and sore, has been necessary!
The Self Compassion Diet is not a prescriptive diet plan as such, you won’t find diet recipes here, but you do get a menu of options to approach weight loss from the inside out: Self Compassion, Hypnosis, Mindfulness, Social Support and Continuing education. You can pick one or pick them all. I am beginning with Self Compassion – and it is making a difference already.
Diets usually come with a list of prohibited foods as I have already mentioned, – do’s and don’ts which seems a great approach – I have a clear idea of what I am supposed to do and, for a time, while my motivation is high, I get a sense of achievement. But life isn’t like that, I get bored or there times of stress where I need comfort… which usually takes the form of sweetness for me. Then I have no-where to go, I’ve broken the rules, in the world of good and bad, I am now a bad person because a good person never slips up. You see how it all becomes so negative. And don’t get me started on my inner critic who just loves to join the party and tell me what a failure I am, and how I will just end up getting bigger and bigger….. ENOUGH.
Self compassion isn’t like that, there is no black and white – it is accepting where you are without judgement. Self compassion sees us for what we are; we don’t have to be saint or sinner, we are loved and accepted as we are. We don’t have to walk on a tightrope, we can simply acknowledge that we will fail sometimes – that is part of life, it is how things are, we made a mistake but who doesn’t? Let it go and continue towards the goal… doesn’t that feel more achievable?
To put it another way, if you are training for a marathon which coach would you prefer? One that is like an Army Sergeant – yelling at us, berating us at ever step and challenging us that whatever we do is not good enough? Or think of the kindest person you know, the person who makes you feel good about yourself, but gently encourages and nurtures the small steps we take.
While I might not be able to follow the 8 week blood sugar diet, I can still accommodate the desire to reduce my dependency on sugar. I set my intention to reduce the amount of sugar in my food, and I acknowledge that there is a deep seated part of me that needs something sweet and comforting in times of stress. So, I have been exploring ways to nurture and satisfy that – so when I reach for the biscuit tin it is full of home made biscuits that offer more of a satisfying energy boost.
Like all things when you follow your heart, the universe offers such fabulous opportunities – this weekend I was invited to a food demonstration on how to reduce refined sugar in your diet, from two lovely ladies who are ‘food coaches’, I’ve never heard of a food coach before. In two short hours I came away with fabulous recipes for delicious, sweet and nutritious foods.. I will share with you soon, I promise. Especially the low sugar, non fat chocolate pudding… yum!
Every so often I wonder what I am doing here… as in writing this blog – why I feel the need to write and put my thoughts out there in the world.
I discovered my dog eared, well thumbed copy of The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket the other day. Published in 2007 (how time flies!) I can recall the moment I fell in love with this book, I was kneeling in front of the shelves labelled ‘hobbies’ right in the middle of a large Bookshop, the strange quiet of subdued voices that seems to unique to bookshops and libraries, together the hiss of the steamer from the cafe in the corner. Gentle Arts gave me that prickly sensation you get when something resonates with your soul. A yearning for the joys of domestic pleasures that was so at odds with everyone else around me at the time.
I was surrounded by friends who were perplexed at my desire for stitchery, my longing to hook wool into submission and while they were delighted with home made cake their eyebrows shot up in horror when I told them that the dress they admired was actually home made. (oh really? why would you bother, Primark is so cheap?). Can you believe it was ten years ago?
Within the pages of the book was a woman who also admitted to the yearning to knit, or the joy to be discovered within one’s own four walls and the desire to create harmony and beauty. The book led me to her beautiful blog and the blogger within me was born. Sadly, she no longer blogs as you will see if you click the link, but I clung to her like a lifeboat in those days – there was someone out there who felt like I do. And isn’t that why we feel a desire to write our blogs? I know for me – I feel connected with other like minded women who are just like me.
Thankfully, when I moved to Sussex in 2011, I have since found many like minded women, and creativity has gained a resurgence in popularity – thank goodness.
Blogging has been a bumpy adventure, my first blog on blogger went virtually unread for over a year – it seemed nigh on impossible to get readers because the platform promotes blogs by readers..mine remained in the frozen wasteland of zero readers at the bottom of page 3000 or something. A change to WordPress made it easier, and it is thanks to Bekki and her encouragement and comments in the early days, that gave me hope to continue.
A big bump in the road, is all the promotion and PR you are told to do in the early stages to get readers, that I nearly lost my way a little. Thankfully, I seem to have settled into my blog, by ignoring most of the ‘expert advice’.
Namely: I did not keep my blog on one subject only – because that wasn’t what I was blogging for, I wanted to share and write about my own journey and my many interests.
I also love reading other people’s blogs – I find other people fascinating- and I have come across so many creative people across the world -that the loneliness of that woman kneeling in front of a bookshelf – is just a memory.
It’s taken me a while – to find my voice, to let my blog evolve and to share what makes my heart sing, and it is also a wonderful record of my journey in the last few years! Who knows what the future holds.. technology changes all the time, but right now, I am enjoying writing, and hopefully, dear reader, you are enjoying reading..;-)
What a year it has been… and it is only February! Right now the sun is streaming through the windows, the sky is blue and it is a heavenly day!
As you know I’ve been reading ‘Romancing the Ordinary’ – (it is a year long book, so I might be mentioning it a lot!) Of course when we get to February it is only right that we talk about Passion – but it is not about the romantic Mills and Boon Passion – no, it is about the deep passion that reaches right down to the soul.
Now, if any of you are the soul searching types, one refrain of this ‘self empowerment movement’ is the concept of your soul’s purpose. Now, my soul’s purpose has bothered me for many, many of the years I’ve been reading self improvement books – because I had no idea what on earth I was supposed to do. It actually frustrated me – call me ‘special’ but I was ignoring every single clue!
Well, now, I will let you into the secret of finding your passion, if you want to know where your passion lies, it is in the question nearly every adult asks a child… what do you want to be when you grow up?
Now, if you had asked me what I wanted to be aged 12 – 16, I would tell you that I wanted with every fibre of my being, to be a writer.
This beautiful quote is from Happy Tech – click here.
Well, even though I knew what I wanted to do – I somehow got lost along the way, it was always my dream.. but somewhere between the age of 12 and 50, the whole idea has been shelved, all for good logical reasons.
1 – When my English teacher pleaded, unsuccessfully, for my parents to send me to university because he believed in my talent as a writer. I decided that I needed to go to university to be a writer. I thought I had a great excuse, until a work place offered to send me to university as part of my job – so I could earn and study at the same time.
I’ would like to say, that as soon as I finished my course I started writing… but no – I came up with another excuse.
2- I attended a writer’s conference, where a publishing agent told the assembled crowd of hopeful writers – that it is impossible to get your book published. The world of publishing was in decline, every day, twenty or thirty unsolicited scripts landed on her desk, most of which would not even be read. Poor woman, she was embittered by her industry and she made sure that our dreams were well and truly squashed in the 20 minute talk.
Fifteen years later – we can publish an ebook without having to go through the eye of the needle that was literary agents or publishers. Love her or hate her, Shades of Grey began life as a blog – if she can do it, then anyone can. Just like a poet can put out their poetry you tube or a singer can sing their song, there are no gatekeepers any more.
3 -I don’t have the time.. I used to have a lovely job driving round the New Forest in my open topped sports car visiting people in outlying chocolate box villages.. where I would find myself passing the time as stories and ideas came in every direction. I never wrote a single one of them down.
The frightening thing about not following your passion, and you may have justifiable reasons is that in the end you will have to surrender…
I changed my job, to a busier one, Managing a large team- that took all my energy and had me working 12 hour days… I burnt out, very quickly – ending up unable to stop crying in the Christmas Decorations Isle in Tesco of all places.
3 – so Six years, Yes, Six years ago, I took a less demanding job, one that offers again, time and space for writing. Despite my best efforts to make my job more demanding – it all fell pretty flat- in fact every time I have pushed to expand my role, it has been well and truly crushed, until in the end I have to accept the work for what it was and put my energy into something else.
I’ve had readings, quotes that have dropped into my Pinterest feed, my Facebook feed, my Instagram feed. twitter.. that is a lot of feeding. (I did say I was ‘special’)
So, now we come to what happened to me this week! I had an email on Tuesday from an awesome lady I am delighted to call a friend, inviting me to attend a workshop with her entitled ‘finding your voice’.
Now, the twelve year old writer would have jumped up in delight, but the 50 year old practical woman responded that she had to work that day.
Well, here is the warning in this cautionary tale, dear reader, by 4pm I was feeling exhausted, so much so that I went to bed and slept for two hours. The following morning, every muscle ached, I was in terrible pain throughout my body, tiny darts of pain and throbbing shot through my calves, my hips and my arms. I had to call in sick and go back to bed and sleep. I slept until 2pm and then woke up groggy.
I sat up in bed and drank some tea, and picked up a book from a pile next to the bed, it was all I had the energy for and read the following:
There are so may insidious ways that we betray ourselves Self sacrifice is one of the more popular for women because it is condoned by society. Do we get extra points for suffering? I don’t think so. Did you know that both the Koran and the Talmud teach that we will be called to account for every permissible pleasure life has offered us and that we have refused to enjoy while on Earth. I don’t know about you but I shudder to think about that reckoning.
Is devotion to the needs of others a cover for the hungers and the needs of the self, of which one is ashamed? Anais Nin asks. ‘I was always ashamed to take. So I gave. It was not a virtue. It was a disguise.
Something More, excavating your authentic self, Sarah Ban Breathnach
What words! – it took me about half an hour to wrestle with the guilt I’ve carried since my first child was born, (where all this ‘self sacrifice’ began). I first emailled the course co-ordinator certain that the course would be full. I had an email back saying they had booked me in… (I was only enquiring if they had space.. another excuse blown) Within an hour I was feeling well, the pain subsided and I was well enough to work the next day and book the leave. No-one batted an eyelid, at the late notice – the sky wasn’t about to fall in because I had booked some time for me.
I think God, the universe or what ever you like to call destiny has a sense of humour! The course was run by the ‘Choose to Work’ team run by the local City Council.
The course invitation included these words…
Trying something new often requires courage
Finding the strength to summon up courage is itself a benefit. Once released, your courage grows and swells. How wonderful to open up to a flood of courage and be carried on its waves to unknown, exciting destinations.
Trying something new opens up the possibility for you to enjoy something new
How often are you faced with an opportunity to try something totally new? We want you to come and enjoy an experience that you would not ordinarily have exposed yourself to and who knows, you may discover a love for something you had no idea would capture your imagination.
Trying something new keeps you from becoming bored
We all need to be challenged from time to time – personal growth does not happen by doing the same thing day after day after day.
I wish I could remember the Tutor’s name, she was a successful writer who wrote song lyrics for operas and plays for Radio (a medium that had fuelled my love of writing in the first place).
We started the day, a motley crew of women – not really sure why we were there and what finding your voice really meant – is it assertiveness or something? After the first exercise – forming an acrostic with our names, we were inspired. We all read ours aloud and it was amazing that in a few short words, so much of our story came spilling out. One lady, Sally, moved us all – she spontaneously produced, simply beautiful poetry that moved us all.
The tutor was skilful, we wrote from the heart and then she picked out every gramma rule that we had used, without realising it. Enjambment, alliteration, repetition, structure, plotting – we all did it! Grammar without fear!
By the end of the day, we were all excited and full of fire – exchanging numbers and deciding to meet up regularly to write.
I nearly missed it all.
Thankfully, fate has a way of treading on our toes – and thank goodness it does.
I am sharing this, dear reader, not because I imagine my life is that interesting, but with a hope and desire, that you, too, will untie the apron strings of our own procrastination and choose to live, deeply and passionately.
So, tell me, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Oh! Isn’t waking up on a Sunday morning delightful? No rushing around, no alarm clock or to do list. You can simply slip back into bed with a cup of tea and cosy between the sheets while the soft grey light of February invites hibernation. I’ve been using the wonderful iPad app to catch up with bloggers, it seems to be easier to find and discover new blogs and much nicer to read than the News,- it is well after 11 when I finally emerge, with no raised blood pressure .. and blissful ignorance of politics and economics.
I am wallowing in sensuality this year- mostly guided by Sarah Brethenach’s Romancing the Ordinary – A year of every day indulgences – I can’t recommend it enough. In our busy lives it is so easy to lose sight of the amazing every day experiences -all it requires is a little focus and attention.
Cold, grey, wet, muddy mornings make the shortest month seem the longest. But lingering afternoons and pink sunsets hold out promise. Like matters of the heart, February is full of surprise, contradiction and the spell of the sensuous. Cherish your romantic impulses. Succumb to cabin fever. Indulge in armchair adventures, unusual sleuths, film noir. Become your own courtesan. Light your own fire. Have a clandestine affair with contentment. Play with your own food, hide under the covers. Rediscover, red lips, nails and shoes. Slip on bangles or slip into silk. Trade the treadmill for the Tango. Chocolate becomes you, so show off your curves. Remember flirting is good for the soul. Make peace with your past. Lose your heart to Life.
Doesn’t it make you want to snuggle deep, savour every moment of what February has to offer? The other wonderful delight at this time of year is the chance to see the sunrise at a normal waking hour. There is nothing quite so beautiful as seeing a day unfold while the kettle gently boils, watch it for 10 minutes before returning to a warm bed.
Sunday morning breakfasts are also something to savour, there is no hurry to be out the door, no phone calls that require our attention, no bags to pack or sandwiches to make… just time to relish – conversation over the breakfast table – fluffy omelettes and dark black tea. These soufflé omelettes need a little more time so they are perfect for a Sunday breakfast.
Place a pan on the heat to warm, while you separate three eggs. Whip the egg whites until they will stay in the bowl when you turn it upside down! Then quickly fold in the yolks carefully so as not to knock out all the air.
Shuffle a knob of butter around the pan and then add the egg. Turn on the grill to high. while you grate a small amount of parmesan and sprinkle generously, if you like your eggs cheesy. Then place under the grill to cook the top.
Turn out onto a plate and eat while they are still warm and fluffy. They really do taste delightful and airy -a good start to the day.. or maybe as a brunch…
When we visited Paris – I was delighted with the cakes and pastries mostly because they don’t use as much sugar as we do in the UK.
Like so many others at this time of the year, I am trying to eat less sugar and fat but weaning off sugar is not easy! I find 4 0’clock is when my body craves a sugary snack, so I thought I would come up with a healthy alternative – where I can indulge a little sweetness without nullifying my exercise sessions! While a lot of flapjacks in shops look healthy, they are usually packed with too much sugar or fat.
This is made in layers – for the base and crumble topping you need:
200g or 2 teacups of rolled oats
150g, or 1 1/2 tea cups of wholewheat flour
2 oz or 50g of Apple puree (apple sauce is a good alternative if you don’t make your own)
2 oz or 50g of butter or you can use coconut butter
Fruit sugar or honey – 1 – 2 tbsp depending on taste
The fruit layer
Fruit – cherries, blueberries, blackberries approx 1 lb
Fruit sugar or honey – 1 – 2 tbsp depending on taste
Firstly, mix the flour, oats into a bowl and rub in the butter, then add enough apple puree to bring the ingredients together – aim for crumbly rather than paste. Add a little sugar to taste, (if you bought your applesauce then it might contain enough sugar) Try to keep it to 1 tbsp if you can.
Set aside about 1/4 of this mixture for the topping, and then press the rest into a well greased, (or lined with parchment) swiss roll tin, (8 by 6 inch).
Bake in a medium oven (baking oven on aga, GM 6, 180c) for around 10 minutes. This makes the base nice and crisp.
While the base is baking, put your fruit into a saucepan and enough water to just cover the bottom of the pan and slowly bring to a simmer. You can add sugar or honey to taste, or without if you prefer. Once the fruit is soft take off the heat.
In a small cup, mix a little 1tsp of arrowroot with water to form a milky solution – add it to the fruit mixture and stir rapidly, until the sauce thickens.
Add the fruit topping to the cooked base and sprinkle with the reserved 1/4 topping. Return to the oven until the top is golden brown.
Cut into slices and allow to cool.
This recipe cuts down on the amount of butter by using apple sauce and you can reduce the sugar down to make it less sweet. If you are trying to wean yourself off sugar then this is a great alternative to cakes or the sugar laden flapjacks. These will stay in an airtight tin for a few days ! if you can leave them that long!
It is a hefty stack of books – just pulled from my shelves (most of my stuff is in storage so this is not the entire stack!)
These are all promises… and, because I like to be honest with you, these are broken promises. Most of these have gathered dust on the shelf – after an initial flick through they have been filed under ‘something to do one day…’ the problem, as you may already know is that ‘one day’ is never ‘today’.
This is the time of year when; urged by the media, we sit with that beautiful blank page diary and see opportunity. January offers a tantalizing chance to change which, in my case, reverts to a failure hangover mid January – which is the most depressing time of the year.
Maybe you don’t collect books, maybe you collect fabric, or wool or paper as a promise that one day you will actually use them. Yet, and I am confident that I am not alone on this, craft materials, books all sorts of promises and dreams pile up without ever being used.
Last year, a lovely man got in touch with me, he needed help as his wife, an avid and talented crafter, had passed away. I visited his home to see a huge collection of items that filled their home – and it really brought home to me that time is not infinite.
So.. over the next few days I hope to sit and make one more promise to myself.
I will give myself time – to sift about for what really matters to me and that begins with disconnecting from the ‘collective’ more commonly known as ‘media’
You see, I have noticed of late, that while Pinterest appears to be something creative – it is counterproductive for me. All the time I spend pinning could be time I am actually doing something. And there are times when my creations that I was so proud of a moment ago, hold up very badly against the talented souls on Pinterest. The pins that appear in my feed are from people with extraordinary talent – where are the ordinary folk like me? Oh and while I am on the subject -I have also lost count of the times I have followed a link to a website where the original idea is lost among the advertising… (ok I will stop there before my rant gets any stronger)
While it is also great to fill my feed with spiritually uplifting groups – they are counteracting each other. I have created a vision board and imagined a new wonderful life, but I also realise that another way to happiness is mindfulness..and what is so wrong with my life right now anyway?
I love the concept of minimalism but it contradicts the creative in me – do you really need another drawing? or a painting? a new vintage style dress or a pot holder?
I like the concept of The Secret that we attract what we project… but have an issue with all illness or conflict in our lives is our own creation… how then does a baby create cancer?
So without a bit of a diet from these things it is hard to get out my head what is sparking my inner magpie and what is sparking my soul. Two very different things.
With the Christmas break falling so well this year, I have lots of time available.. so here goes. I am switching off the computer now… promise!
You might imagine Lyme Regis in Dorset on a November day would be rather bleak, but we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather when we visited last November. Lyme was enchanting, there were hardly any other tourists – the beach was empty and it was easy to enjoy a warming latte from one of the cafes on the prom.
We ambled along the front turning up the high street to discover the most extraordinary Sanctuary Book Shop! It was full of oddities and curios including old black and white photographs and a battered sewing machine. Room after room, crammed in on every surface, books old and new jostled among teddybears and antiques. Classical music drifted around the shop, while we explored – in awe of the odd collections and tableau. If you ever get to Lyme do pop in! it is a cross between museum and book shop they even do Bed and Breakfast!
On such a glorious day, I could not resist purchasing Tracey Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures as a way of taking a little bit of Lyme back home with me. Not just a reminder of a perfect day, but the extraordinary bookshop!
Set in Lyme itself, Remarkable Creatures tells the story of Mary Anning – who unearthed many fossils back in the early 19th century and her friendship with Elizabeth Philpot a middle aged spinster.
Had it not been for the fact that the book would be a reminder of a perfect day, I might not have picked this book – because it doesn’t sound all that inspiring, but I had enjoyed Tracey Chevalier’s the last runaway – and what a lovely book it turned out to be!
I had no idea about the lack of opportunities for middle class ladies, but Chevalier presented the plight of the three Philpot sisters very well – it seemed that women had only a very short time to find a husband and when they did not – they became the fringe of society. I love the way Chevalier weaves a rich story around real life characters. Mary Anning lived in Lyme- born into poverty, but able to survive by unearthing and selling her fossils – to men who took all the credit and the praise.
This is light hearted tale raises a deeper question in my mind, women’s contributions to science and natural history, seems to be written out of history I wonder how many unsung women there are? What other female contributions are claimed by their male counterparts? Many of Mary’s discoveries were simply attributed to the men who purchased them, rather than Mary herself. Chevalier also touches lightly on the challenges these creatures created in opposition to religious beliefs at the time. Darwin’s origin of the species is not mentioned, but Elizabeth ponders on how these discoveries fit with ‘God’s plan’.
While the Annings might be poor and the Philpotts rich in comparison, the balance of friendship is one of equality. Elizabeth’s life might not be restricted by poverty, but it is just as confined by circumstances as Mary’s is. Life for all women is not one of equality with men in all levels of society.
It is a light read – the tale is merely 350 pages, but one that I enjoyed and would recommend wholeheartedly, I liked the Philpott’s and would have liked to have spent more time with them in their cosy cottage in Lyme.
I have been interested in the concept of minimalism for some time now. I have been enjoying reading a wide range of bloggers on the subject, made easier by using the iPad app. (it is wonderful, I can’t believe I hadn’t used it before!)
When we moved last year, I was shocked at the huge quantity of craft materials I had accumulated over the years. It is surprising how much I had squirrelled away in nooks and crannies, but when I finally got a large studio space in which to set it all out, the room was soon full to overflowing. It did connect me with a lot of UFOS, one of which was this quilt above. I resolved not to buy any more fabric until some of these things were used or finished. It was quite satisfying, because this quilt took no more than a few hours to complete, it was the same for many other little projects.
We live in a very sought after area, it had taken us 18 months to find a property having had many struggles and blips in the process – but despite taking a lease for 2-3 years, we discovered that the landlord wanted to raise the rent by nearly £500 per month! without much notice… in fact the new agreement was overdue. We decided to look elsewhere and found the most delightful house and organised to pack up and move. I don’t know if any of you rent, but Agents give you days not weeks to move!
So, the moving day arrived, I headed to work as Scott was arranging the removal with a local company – imagine what a shock it was to discover that the new Landlord had taken a dislike to the fact we were self employed and had decided, at the 11th hour, not to let the property at all…..!
All our stuff went into storage… we checked into a nearby hotel and suddenly the concept of minimalism became a big reality. We ended up having to buy underwear and a few items of clothing in order to get through the next few days! We faced a choice, either move back into my flat or go house hunting again … at the time I was due to go to the hospital to investigate the lump in my breast so I decided that it was best to return to the flat and have a bit of stability for a while.
It has been an interesting lesson – shockingly all our stuff required three storage units – and many of the boxes had not even been unpacked in a year! We decided to spend just one afternoon sorting through and bringing ‘essentials’ to the flat.
It was fascinating to see what I missed and what we deemed essential.
Initially furniture to sit on! We had one armchair and a rocking chair, (which was not very comfortable at all!) so it was an absolute pleasure to see the return of my sofa bed. It was bliss to see the washing machine and tumble dryer!
My clothes were a sight for sore eyes! Although only about a third of them came back to the flat with me – the flat is a quarter of the size of the house!
So over the last few months there has been a bit of a mantra.. oh that is in storage!
For example, I thought I would make a shepherd’s pie and was almost finished before I realised I hadn’t a pyrex dish to put it in. Or I decided to do baking one day, but it was impossible without scales! We have been rather lucky to find these things in charity shops, but it has been an interesting few months.
Mostly it is my sewing tools that I find I miss – my cutting grid, or my rotary cutter! We were going to friends for Christmas this year, so I decided to make my own crackers – including felt hats.. which all had to be hand stitched as I did not have my glue gun!
I miss our large tea pot, the Christmas Decorations, my essential oils, the sellotape dispenser!
I did not realise either, just how much I miss my books, in the end I bought another copy of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Romancing the Ordinary, because I could not bear to be without it.
It has been a sifting exercise, a reality check – and it has surprised me at times what I missed and what I didn’t.
What is clear to me, is how blessed I really am and how many things in life might not be essential – but they are small things that make life pleasurable.