What happens when Ada Harris, an interfering cockney char lady with a heart of gold, finds out that her employer is hopelessly in love with a Russian girl he has been parted from? An adventure of course! When the old lady heads to Moscow on a package tour with her trusty friend Mrs Butterfield there are run ins with the KGB, meetings with ambassadors from both nations and a cameo appearance from Prince Philip. But can Mrs Harris save the day and make sure that love conquers all?
I really enjoyed this short-but-sweet, old-fashioned romp of a novel from Paul Gallico, acclaimed author of The Snow Goose. I hadn’t realised that I’d heard of his Mrs Harris series (of which this is the fourth and final book) before buying this book which I picked up as pot luck because I loved the cover of the re-editioned Bloomsbury copy. It was only upon reading the book I realised that I had actually seen a ballet adaptation of the first novel, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, on television years and years ago. Weird, huh?
If you’re going on holiday to Moscow, and want a holiday read set in Russia but can’t face the length of any of the Russian classics, I think this would make a great light read.
I was lucky to have a long weekend in Portugal for my friends’ wedding recently. Reading on holidays is simple- slather on a high factor suncream (and if you have a free tissue flap on your foot, whack on a sock to prevent scars burning…), some sunglasses and a hat. Find a suitable spot and a cold drink and proceed with reading. If you fancy making blog readers jealous, take photos of your scenic location.
“What do you say to a ramble through London?” The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Well Sherlock, after the day I’ve had, I’m afraid I’ll have to give that one a miss. I can handle the tube fine, I can manage to find my way to all of the tourist traps because they are sign posted. But when it comes to finding a hidden office down a series of side streets then I have to admit I struggle.
Sherlock Holmes however, did not. He is meant to have known the city like the back of his hand, to the extent that he would practise finding the quickest route between any two given points in London.
I like to think that this was made easier by the city being much smaller then. And these things are easier when you’re a fictional character.
On Saturday, after I’d visited the festival bookshop of The Oxford Literary Festival in Christchurch Meadows, I stopped by Alice’s Shop which sells memorabilia associated with the Alice in Wonderland/Alice Through the Looking Glass books by Lewis Carroll.
This picture is a bit wonky- like Wonderland itself
As you can see it seems to be very popular with tourists and was even busier inside that it was out. I bought some post cards (as part of my campaign to resurrect the art of letter writing- they are letter writing-lite) and Mad Hatter Tea for my father, as well as a Mad Hatter quote card. We’re big Alice fans in my family.
Something that really excited me was learning that the shop itself actually features in Alice Through The Looking Glass. It used to be a grocery shop that the real life Alice used to visit to buy her sweets, and was run by a lady with a bleating voice. This ended up as the mean sheep who sells Alice the egg that becomes Humpty Dumpty. I remembered the passage well because Alice is told that two eggs are cheaper than one, but if she buys the two she must eat them both. It always struck me as the type of thing you would say to a greedy child whose eyes were bigger than their belly, though I could imagine an eccentric shop keeper having such a policy.
‘I should like to buy an egg, please,’ she said timidly.
‘How do you sell them?’
‘Fivepence farthing for one— Twopence for two,’ the Sheep replied.
‘Then two are cheaper than one?’ Alice said in a surprised tone, taking out her purse.
‘Only you must eat them both, if you buy two,’ said the Sheep.
‘Then I’ll have one, please,’ said Alice, as she put the money down on the counter. For she thought to herself, ‘They mightn’t be at all nice, you know.’
The Sheep took the money, and put it away in a box: then she said ‘I never put things into people’s hands— that would never do— you must get it for yourself.’ And so saying, she went off to the other end of the shop, and set the egg upright on a shelf.
‘I wonder why it wouldn’t do?’ thought Alice, as she groped her way among the tables and chairs, for the shop was very dark towards the end. ‘The egg seems to get further away the more I walk towards it. Let me see, is this a chair? Why, it’s got branches, I declare! How very odd to find trees growing here! And actually here’s a little brook! Well, this is the very queerest shop I ever saw!’
I’ll be going back when I get my house buying sorted out to buy myself their amazing character key holders. I think I’ll get myself one of each and use them to hang my necklaces from!
A bit of famous book place tourism for you here, this is the Texas School Book Depository, now known as The Sixth Floor Museum where Lee Harvey Oswald hid to take part in/ undertake the assassination of JFK in 1963. I visited here on my first day in Dallas, apart from the TV show (which I’ve never watched) the assassination of JFK is the first thought that sprang to mind when I was told I would get to visit the city for work.
Displays at the museum show how text books were stacked to create a partition, seat and gun rest for the gunman, making them an active part of history rather than documents of the fact.
You can’t take pictures from inside the museum, but to contextualize the historical period, they had examples of popular culture at the time of the assassination which included posters from films which were released around the time, such as Breakfast at Tiffany and first editions of books such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. It was really interesting for me to see those books on display as part of the exhibit, because in my mind they are a part of what I would have considered the mid-20th century, whereas the assassination of JFK I thought of as later in the 20th century. It was interesting to see that historically they are much closer together than I thought, and it reminded me that this really was a time of historic turbulence and the Kennedy regime had so much potential as a turning point in this. Growing up in the UK it’s not something I’d ever studied.
It was really interesting to visit the museum and see that the curators had chosen to display these books. Seeing this done with modern history really brought home the ways in which books can contain the spirit of the times, and stand as a testimony to this.
I won’t be very active on the blog for a few days because I’m in the USA for work- my first time here and I’m loving it. I had plenty of time to read on the flight out, especially as I didn’t manage to sleep and arrived on the verge of a migraine and ready to have a real temper tantrum!
I was sat in between two people on the flight out, a very friendly guy and a woman who avoided eye contact for ten hours and ten minutes. This seemed a little unfair at first, but after I started reading may have been justified. I picked up a copy of Sarah Winman’s When God Was a Rabbit and spent the early part of the book laughing, and the latter part- you’ve guessed it- sobbing and rubbing my face into my sleeve. Oh and occasionally doing both at the same time.
I will post my review when arrive home, then you can read the book and let me know whether my emotional outbursts were perfectly understandable or the work of a mad woman!
When pupils used to ask me why people bother reading poetry, why they don’t just read prose, I always used to tell them about the way poetry was described to me when I was in school. That prose chooses the best words, but poetry sets down the best words in their best order.
Travelling back from work in London today (and still stinging, both literally and metaphorically) from the indignity of tripping and falling flat on my face in front of an exhibition hall full of people, I spotted a poem on the wall of the tube train carriage which I thought was the perfect example of this. It’s a translation of a poem by a medieval monk called Colmeille the Scribe and I think it’s translated in Seamus Heaney’s latest collection of poems The Human Chain.
Anyway, the lines that struck me were a description of his work, writing on the vellum manuscript:
My hand is cramped from pen work. My quill has a tapered point. Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.
I thought that the “blue-dark beetle-sparkle of ink” was so evocative of when you’re writing, and the light just catches the wet ink making it gleam. I can almost see Colmeille writing in a drab monastic cell, but with the words on the page gleaming like jewels. Fanciful, perhaps, but it brightened my day.