Monthly Archives: August 2013

Visit to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Ann Hathaway's Cottage

Ann Hathaway’s Cottage

My boyfriend and I took a detour past Anne Hathaway’s Cottage on the way home from a family event today. Run by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, it’s the childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife and young William would have gone there when he went a wooing.

If you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth a visit. Your ticket allows you entry to the house and gardens for the year, and if you lived locally then it would be worth going back frequently for the gardens alone, we arrived in the middle of the Sweet Pea Festival, which was beautiful but they have seasonal events throughout the year. There’s currently an exhibition of the language of flowers which talks about how Shakespeare used the hidden meaning of flowers in the play, though this seemed to be very much aimed at a school age audience (eg. when they talked about Ophelia handing out flowers to King Claudius’ court they didn’t mention that the rue Ophelia keeps for herself may be as an abortifacient as she is pregnant with Hamlet’s child).

I was especially excited to see the bed which may or may not be the second best bed that Shakespeare left to his wife in his will (as re-imagined in one of my favourite poems by Carol Ann Duffy) though apparently the teasel heads are used to discourage visitors from sitting on the bed rather than for any symbolic meaning, as related in this amusing video.

Shakespeare's Second Best Bed?

Shakespeare’s Second Best Bed?

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Penny ground with first half of sonnet 116...

Penny ground with first half of sonnet 116…

... and the second half of sonnet 116

… and the second half of sonnet 116


Magical Books Exhibition at Bodleian Library Oxford

My exhibition leaflet

My exhibition leaflet

Yesterday afternoon I took a detour while shopping in Oxford to drop into The Bodleian Library’s exhibition of Magical Books. As with any Bodleian library exhibition, this did not disappoint. It was so exciting to see hand written manuscripts, art work and artefacts that some of my favourite writers created or were inspired by.

Along with the usual suspects like C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkein and Philip Pullman who you would expect to see at an Oxford based exhibition of fantasy literature, there were some real gems that I hadn’t expected to see like medieval manuscripts on divination, the Rawlinson necromantic manuscript and, my personal favourite, the plates which inspired Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.

We read The Owl Service when I started secondary school and I can remember how I used to get told off for reading ahead in lessons when we were meant to be reading along with the class. It’s the first time I’d really appreciated that a story was updating and twisting an ancient myth into something new and modern (even though the book was at least 30 years old by the time I read it). I think that this is where my love of fairy tale and myth inspired novels has come from so it was really nice to be able to trace out the flower owls like Alison did in the story.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to share any pictures from the exhibition here, but the lovely people at the Bodleian have made the entire exhibition available online for anyone who wasn’t able to make it to Oxford to see it.

Quote me on that… a half-finished book

A half-read book is a half-finished love affair

Image based on an original by Jain Basil Aliyas under the terms of Creative Commons license.

I loved Frobischer’s character in David Mitchell’s The Cloud Atlas. Everything about his characterization was perfect but I loved the “A half-read book is a half-finished love affair” line. I think it’s something every reader can relate to. Unless the book was by James Joyce, in which case it was almost certainly a dead-end relationship and you’re better off without it….

I will try reading Joyce’s books again one day. But I will need the world’s biggest cup of tea and a huge plate of biscuits to hand.

It was Shakespeare. Are you Kydding?

Shakespeare fans and Renaissance Drama geeks (yes, such things do exist) may be interested to learn that it has been confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that Shakespeare is even more prolific than we’d suspected having contributed 325 lines to Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy.

You can read the full text of Donald Bruster’s article here (not open access, boo!). Will this see increased interest in performances of The Spanish Tragedy? I hope so. I love me a bit of revenge and I’ve never actually seen it performed.



Scones with Apricot and Mango Jam

Scone with Apricot and Mango Jam and Clotted Cream

Scone with Apricot and Mango Jam and Clotted Cream

I had a very productive weekend in the kitchen and the result was these tiny scones (I don’t think I can class them as petits four so I might coin the term microcakes) which I am currently serving up with apricot and mango jam. The only bit that I didn’t make was the clotted cream. Watch out dairy cows of Oxford.

Both were astoundingly simple (I’ve yet to see why people make jam sound difficult) and were easy to knock up in an afternoon.


Apricot and Mango JAM

Apricot and Mango Jam

I’m not sure whether this should be called a jam or a conserve, since no one seems to be able to give a definitive version of what constitutes what, so I will keep calling it jam. I got the recipe from Simone’s Kitchen, who described it as sunshine in a jar. That it is. Simone’s looks much prettier than mine, but mine tastes great. Weirdly the recipe seems to have vanished from Simone’s blog since the weekend, but I used her recipe and will give it as follows.

  • 320g of apricots, skin on, stones removed (I cut mine into quarters but you could go smaller)
  • 200g peeled mango
  • 350g conserving sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Stir the apricot and mango together in a pan with the sugar to coat evenly, then begin to sweat over a low heat with the lemon juice. Once the juices start flowing, turn up to a simmering boil for 15 mins (you need to get it hot enough to gel) and then test the consistency on the back of a cold plate. You can use a sugar thermometer, but I don’t have one and the cold plate method has always worked fine.


Easier than pie.

  •  225g self-raising flour
  • 50g salted butter chopped into cubes
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 125 ml butter milk
  • 4 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 200C (non-fan ovens need to be a little hotter). Rub the flour and butter together until there are no lumps of butter left and the mixture looks like crumbs, stir in the sugar then combine the dry mixture with a roughly whisked mixture of the liquids to make a sticky-ish soft dough. Roll out on a floured work top (it will stick otherwise) and use a frilly edged cutter to cut out the scones. I used a really small cutter and it produced really cute mini scones. Pop on a baking tray and cook for 10-15 mins until slightly golden.