Favourite things: Book chat

This time last year, I spent a couple of hours reading – and sheltering – inside a large marquee at the Royal Geographic Society for the inaugural Emerald Street Literary Festival. In spite of the damp and dreary weather, I had a lovely time – so much so that as soon as I saw the promotion for this year’s event, I snapped up some earlybird tickets.

In stark contrast, yesterday’s sun cast its benevolent warmth over the RGS marquee as it fizzed with London’s literati enjoying Festival number two. The rooms and theatres played host to author panels, discussions on themes like race, travel writing and witchcraft, and freebies. The Map Room had an Aperol Spritz waiting for each attendee and in the marquee, Headline Publishing were offering a choice of one of six paperbacks for those who’d booked multiple sessions – like me.

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My free book – The House of Birds – thanks to Headline Publishing

After checking out the lay of the land and collecting my book, I headed to the theatre for the first of the four sessions I’d booked for the afternoon. Here’s how it all went down.

1. Why do we love to talk about books?

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced this week and this panel was the last of the Prize’s official events. It comprised Kate Mosse – author, Prize co-founder and honorary director – Naomi Alderman – winner of this year’s Prize with The Power (it’s a great read) – and Ayobami Adebayo – whose first novel, Stay With Me, was on this year’s short-list. The trio took to the stage to chat about their own reading and writing and to explore the question: Why do we love to talk about books?

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L to R: Naomi Alderman, Ayobami Adebayo and Kate Mosse

Over the next 45 minutes, these three authors talked about their writing, the rollercoaster of confidence that comes with it and whether/what they actually read when they are writing something. (For each it depended on the draft number but the general consensus was don’t read the same genre as you are writing.)  There was also a really interesting discussion on criticism and I liked the way that Naomi answered this: There’s enormous value in paid-for constructive criticism, ignore the ‘abuse’ at the other end of the spectrum and remember that reader reviews e.g. Goodreads, Amazon etc. are ‘not really for us [the authors]’ but rather for other readers. Ayobami also loved that she’d discovered the mute conversation option on Twitter.

And what about the question at hand – why do we love talking about books? Well, Naomi likened it to finding this amazing new cafe and then telling everyone they should go. She also shared an observation about the personal affront you feel when someone doesn’t really love a book that you did. The chat about this swayed from jokes about ‘we can’t be friends any more’ (Ayobami) and the overwhelming urge to defend and re-sell [them] on your choice of reading material to feeling utterly shocked and deflated (Naomi). Haven’t we all been there!

2. Telling true stories: Explaining narrative journalism

This was a fascinating peek into the world of long-form journalism with Clare Longrigg, deputy editor of The Guardian’s Long Read, and Sophie Elmhirst, a journalist who’s written pieces for The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar and The Guardian (just to name a few.)

They chatted first about the difference between a long read and a longer celebrity profile – Sophie particularly talked about the greater amount of time invested in a long read piece to explore whatever the subject matter is (and she’s written on everything from water to Robin Wright). When a person is the subject of her article, she tries to see them at home or do something with them, and also talks to others in that world to get a range of angles to draw from. She mentioned that it’s often the innocuous thing that someone says that breathes life into the piece. For example, did you know that when Richard Dawkins‘ can’t sleep, he goes through the alphabet and assigns mammals to each letter? Well thanks to Sophie, you do now.

3. Essex Girls, Serpents and Writing a Best Seller

Sarah Perry‘s second novel, The Essex Serpent, was on the Prize shortlist in 2016 but at the time, I thought it sounded too primly Victorian to be my cup of tea. How wrong I was on both counts – it was far from prim and I absolutely loved it. So to hear Perry chat with Lucy Mangan – I have been a fan of Mangan’s column in Stylist magazine for a while – was something I was really looking forward to.

I was completely charmed by Sarah. She talked about her unorthodox upbringing, the way she has always like her eccentricity, her curious mind that ‘needed nourishment’ and her drive to explore themes in her writing to make it a worthwhile pursuit.

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Lucy Mangan (L) listens as Sarah Perry (R) reads from The Essex Serpent

Sarah spoke about exploring different sorts of love in her writing – except romantic love. She professed to being bored by exploring this as a writer and as a reader in light of her own smooth path to love and marriage – “I just found a nice man and married him.” She also talked about how her first novel, After Me Comes The Flood was published: After 19 rejection letters, her agent left the firm…and became her publisher.

Sarah’s passion, curiosity and unusual viewpoint made for a delightful 45 minutes – she’s interested in so much and for me, it’s what made her so interesting to listen to.

4. Emerald Street Presents Robin Dalton

I had never heard of Robin Dalton before the festival but she’s 96, grew up in Australia before moving to London in 1946 and has been a literary agent, TV personality, film producer and spy for the Thai government so I figured that it had to be interesting. She was promoting her memoir, One Leg Over, and read a few pages to get things started…

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Kat Poole (L) listens as Robin Dalton (R) reads from One Leg Over

She spoke of her gallivanting during the war years and her lack of ‘ambition’, preferring to live in the moment and see what happened from that rather than making any plans. And she’s had some moments – her society divorce kicked war from the front pages and her reading included anecdotes of time spent with the likes of John F Kennedy and Noel Coward.

Robin also told us that the eyebrow-raising title of the book was not intended to be salacious but rather, it captures a moment – the moment when she’s getting out of the bath, has managed to get one leg over the side and thinks to herself “that’s one leg over”.

So that was the formal part of the day. In between I found a lovely wodge of time to read – in the marquee over lunch and then later in a quiet sunny spot on the steps with a deliciously large slice of coffee and walnut cake – and indulge in a chat or two with some of my fellow bookworms.

Books, cake and glorious sunshine – what a great way to spend a Saturday!

The meaning of stuff

Lately I’ve been thinking about stuff.

Just over thirteen years ago I packed my stuff into a half container and had it shipped across the world. A year later, when I finally moved into a tiny flat in South West London, I can still remember how thrilled I was to have my stuff all around me again. I remember filling the drawers of my beautiful wooden sideboard with games, crockery and assorted bits and pieces and ripping into the box marked CDs to plug into some much-missed Aussie favourites. It felt like Christmas and a birthday all rolled into one.

Spending so much time at home at the moment has made me realise how much stuff I have. Most of this original shipment is still with me and my years here – and a move to a bigger flat five and a half years ago – has seen me accumulate more.

What has struck me is how it runs my life. Last week, I spent almost three hours re-staining my 5-year-old outdoor setting. It was not a fun experience and as a mucky pup, I managed to get the wood stain in all sorts of places it wasn’t meant to be. But it’s a big job that’s been ticked off the list and I’m really pleased with how it looks. Until I have to do it again…

Outdoor setting freshly stained

Almost 3 hours of work and it looks great. But I know I’ll have to do it again…and again.

I saw Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, interviewed earlier in the year. It was clear that he’d been considering this as well.

“We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.” 

His point was this. Before we caught on to the idea of cultivating more wheat than we needed, we hunted and gathered only as much food as we could eat, following and staying where the food source took us. Wheat had us stop and settle, invest time and energy and resources – including the building of fences and the shovelling of sh*t – to preserve and protect it. His question is ‘do we really think we are running the show?’

My question is now, ‘has my outdoor setting domesticated me?’

Stuff is everywhere. And here in London you cannot travel far without coming across a testament to it – a museum. And it’s been in visiting some of the smaller ones recently that has got me thinking about what stuff means and why preserve it.

In the last couple of months, I’ve visited the home of wealthy industrialist, Frank Green in York, the Hampstead home of Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna and the home of architect and collector Sir John Soane in London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields. For me, these personal collections of antiquities, curiosities and everyday items created a much greater sense of the person’s story and time. I was especially fascinated to learn that:

  • Sir John Soane was such an avid collector that he bought the sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharoah Seti I (1303 – 1290 BC) when the British Museum ran out of money after it had secured the controversial Elgin Marbles.
  • Sigmund Freud was so attached to his stuff that he refashioned the study he had in Vienna in his new home in London, including THAT couch.
Freud Museum montage

Freud lived at Bergasse, 19 in Vienna for 47 years. Before he fled to London in 1938, he had his rooms in Vienna photographed with a view to recreating them in his new home.

Without stuff, how would we get a sense of what has happened before or what life was like? And yet the physical stuff is not the whole picture.

I attended a breakfast seminar in April which addressed the question of stuff. There was a lot of talk about decluttering, connoisseurship and the trend towards spending on experiences rather than things. Research shows that the Millennial generation in particular (born between the early 80’s and the late 90’s) are tending to share and access stuff versus owning it. Perhaps this is a conscious choice about being unencumbered and financial enough to travel, attend events, concerts and festivals, eat out and, as one media pundit noted, ‘drink their £4 coffees’.

The digital discussions around music (iTunes), streaming services (Netflix/Amazon Prime) and e-books were also interesting and in the face of their continued growth, the non-digital experiences associated with all three industries are being revisited. Vinyl has become the choice of the cool connoisseur. Cinemas are providing VIP services and collaborating with live event providers eg. theatre, opera, ballet and even the annual TED Conference, to expand their audience and revenue opportunities. And books? Well, e-book share is highest in the US, having grown to 25% since 2009, yet only 7% of people state that they will read only e-books in the future. (Source: PWC – The future of e-books 2016). That seems to me to be a gap for stuff to fill…

Here at Gidday HQ, the past few months have been chequered with bi-weekly trips to the charity shop as I’ve been weeding stuff out of cupboards, drawers and wardrobes. In the words of Steve Howard, CEO of global stuff purveyor IKEA…

If we look on a global basis, in the west I’d say we’ve probably hit peak stuff.” 

…and my cupboards probably agree. But with IKEA’s sales up 4.8%, their expansion into new markets going strong and the opening of their IKEA Museum in 2016, I’d say ‘I don’t think so’.

Consider this. How often have you been trapped shopped in the IKEA Market Hall and found yourself putting a funky new toilet roll holder (that you had to have) onto the checkout conveyor next to the matching-colander-and-spatula-set (that will be very handy) and yet-another-bag of 100 tea light candles (because we might’ve run out)? And who doesn’t love a Billy bookshelf – the home for books (and most likely other stuff) that ‘loves to grow’?

No. We like stuff. We like the stories stuff tells us about ourselves – how much or little of it we have, what it all means about us. And we like to check out other people’s stuff – in museums, on social media, on the bus – and decide what we think it means about them.

So to my mind, our relationship with stuff is still going strong and digitisation is just encouraging us to get more and more of it. Case in point: My Kindle currently holds 70+ books, about what I would normally read in a year. (I also have a bookshelf full of ‘proper’ books.)

But in our world of curated content and social media profiles, the tangible and/or visible stuff only tells part of our story. I wonder what the people who will populate the centuries ahead will imagine about us based on this – the visible/tangible stuff we leave behind? I’m not talking about the impact on the environment – that’s a question that could fill several blog posts – but about the minutiae of our daily lives.

And actually, come to think of it, what will the people, the ones who will be buying my pre-loved items from the local op-shop, think about me!?

A scrumptious success

In my last post, I waxed lyrical about my day slicing and dicing at the Waitrose Cookery School.

I am delighted to report that just ten days later, I have successfully reproduced one of the recipes at home.

I’m SO pleased…and proud!

Here’s my path to today’s red onion chutney.

I started by slicing up two large red onions and heating them in a medium-sized saucepan – with a little groundnut oil and sea salt – until the onions started to ‘fall’ (that’s cookery school jargon for soften slightly).

Red Onion Chutney 1 (crop)

I added 62.5g of caster sugar and a quarter teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds…

Red Onion Chutney 2 (crop)

…and stirred through until dissolved (see pic below).

Red Onion Chutney 3

I then added 70mls of red wine vinegar and left it all to simmer – no stirring! – for about 15 minutes.

I ended up with about 100g of this…

Red Onion Chutney 4 - finished

 

Yippee! Woohoo! You little ripper! 

 

Yes, I’m a bit excited. I’ve already had some and can report that apart from looking gorgeous, it tastes absolutely delicious.

I am one happy little Vegemite right now.

Feel free to snaffle the recipe – in about an hour, you could be enjoying this scrumptious treat for yourself…

You are welcome.

Sliced and diced

This week I did a knife skills course. No, I am not running away to join the circus. I’m talking about knife skills of the kitchen variety.

I’m a bit of a foodie, have loads of vegetables in my diet and tend to spend a lot of my meal preparation time chopping stuff. I never had lessons in how to do this – I just got stuck in with what needed to be done over the years and it all seemed to work okay. Especially as all ten fingers remain attached and intact.

But when watching cooking television, I’m always hugely impressed and intimidated by the speed and confidence with which chefs slice, dice and generally handle their knives. Every so often they offer a smattering of how-to-chop instruction when a celebrity guest gets involved but do you think I can remember it for application later on?

So I have never filleted a fish or jointed a chicken and terms like Chiffonade and Brunoise are a complete mystery to me. Or used to be.

Last year a work colleague mentioned that she’d gotten a lot out of a Knife Skills course at the Waitrose Cookery School so this week I and eight others spent a day slicing and dicing above the John Barnes Waitrose store in North London.

It was a pretty packed day – we made:

  • Minestrone – lots of vegetable chopping practice for this and quite tasty. (I’m not a soup kinda girl though so I gave mine to someone else to take home.)
  • Roasted Chicken Breast and Thigh with a Chilli Jam and Vegetable Salad – which included jointing the chicken. I cannot wait to make the chilli jam. It was drizzled over thinly sliced fennel, cucumber and carrot. Super easy and delicious.
  • Red Onion Chutney – I brought some home and, having eaten it with everything since, need to make some more.
  • Sea Bass with Beetroot, Pink Grapefruit and Apple Salad – this was my favourite of the day. I am so excited to make this and also to try it out with mackerel.

We made everything on the day (except the Chilli Jam) under the tutelage of Chef Andy and his team and that included scaling, gutting and filleting the sea bass and jointing a whole chicken. It went by so fast and Andy made it look so easy but I’m a little worried about replicating some of this – namely the chicken jointing – at home.  I mean there was a point when we were trying to locate the wishbone in the a**e end of the chicken…

Speaking of we, we worked through every task in pairs – so I made a new foodie friend – and the group got together a few times to eat our accomplishments with a glass of wine or two. We also got the instructions for making vegetable stock, as well as the fish-filleting and chicken-jointing steps we did on the day AND all of the recipes in a handy folder to take away.

So aside from some great recipes and a pot of Red Onion Chutney, here’s what I got:

1. The claw-in-training

At first this was difficult and awkward. The idea is to form a claw with the ‘holding hand’ by having the tops of your fingers perpendicular to the top of the item to be chopped and then leaning your knuckles forward so that the flat side of the knife brushes across them as you slice. I’ve seen telly chefs do this and explain it to their celebrity guests but this was the first time I’d had any instruction and the chance to practice. It works in conjunction with No. 2.

2. The ‘hang’ of the rolling chop

Again I’d heard about this and seen it on telly but I have been a chopper who has been doing all of the unsafe, bad things – exactly the opposite of what I should have been doing – for a really long time. So I had to concentrate on moving the knife away from me in a rolling motion instead of towards me in a straight saw-like action. It felt really odd but by the time I’d chopped two red onions (for our chutney), Brunoise-d an apple (it means fine dice peeps) for our entree as well as slicing and dicing a whole load of vegetables and garlic for the minestrone, I was starting to get the hang of it. I will have to keep practising.

And last but not least…

3. The Victory: I filleted a fish!!!!

This was THE big win for me and what drove me to do the course.

I love fish but I buy it in fillets. A fish knife has never crossed the Gidday threshold and in fact, I have never held a whole fish let alone done all of the grubby bits. Quite frankly, the thought of dealing with a fish in all its natural glory scared me. But I held that whole Sea Bass in my hands and scraped its scales into the sink. I pierced its underside, slitting its belly open to pull out the guts and drain the blood away. And then I sliced off a reasonably decent fillet and cooked it.

It was delicious. And I was so proud.

So that was my day: I learnt a thing or two, was inspired by some fabulous recipes, met some cool people and overcame a fear.

Oh and I still have all ten fingers.

Not bad for a Tuesday, eh?

 

The intersection of humanity

There is so much to do and see in London. I love living here and am so grateful for the many reasons I find to be delighted on a daily basis. Most of these moments happen when I go slightly off-piste – when I take a variation of my regular route or sit on the other side of the bus or just look left instead of to my regular right. Sometimes something unexpected crosses my usual path and recently I came across some old photos that reminded me of just how delightful it is when this happens.

Back in 2015, I’d been going to the V&A Museum every couple of months (for exhibitions, talks and a rather fabulous book group). The building sprawls grandly on one corner of the intersection of Exhibition and Cromwell Roads opposite the gingham brickwork of the Natural History Museum and the wedding cake pillars of the Science Museum. During the day, taxis zoom past with gusto and excited school groups are herded about in seething clumps. On weekends and school holidays, a human tide of families – with their flotilla of pushchairs and strollers – ebb and flow through the four crosswalks.

It’s an intersection I’d come to know well – a place devoid of monument yet thrumming with humanity, anticipation and movement. So imagine my surprise when I turned up one November evening to find this…

This is When Soak Becomes Spill, an installation for the V&A Museum that was created by artist Subodh Gupta for the museum’s India Festival back in 2015. This was the museum’s first outdoor installation and it ‘ran’ from 23rd October 2015 to 31st January 2016.

Gupta is a contemporary artist who uses everyday objects to reflect his Indian heritage and explore universal themes. He created When Soak Becomes Spill to highlight the parallel themes of how the world’s natural resources are being wasted and how the constant temptation of the new creates a [false] promise of a better future. The installation featured an enormous stainless steel bucket with a foam of shiny pots and kitchen utensils spilling over its rim. He’d also left the bucket empty to suggest the ultimate poverty of consumerism.

Funnily enough, I had come from the V&A having attended an interview with Manolo Blahnik – he of the covetable footwear – and yes, a Manolo addiction could well lead a person to poverty.

Anyway on a cold November evening this new and shiny object commanded my attention and captured my imagination. I remember standing in the crisp London night, admiring the glittering detail of the overspill and the streetlights reflecting in the smooth side of the bucket. I was thrilled by its addition to this familiar space. I also loved how it made me pause. My examination of this one single thing had made a bigger impact on my night than the myriad of wonderful museum treasures nearby.

As January 2016 came and went, so too did this piece of social commentary. The space was returned to the singular service of its pedestrians…and has not featured any other installations since. It’s a shame. To my mind, this space could have been used much like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, featuring a revolving series of installations. What a pair of plinths that would be.

In any case, the crosswalk remains undiminished as a cultural intersection for London’s highbrow and hoi polloi. But is it the best use of this public space? Or a missed opportunity?

What do you think?


If you want to know more about how the installation was created, check out this video:

The coffee moment

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours at the Freud Museum in Hampstead.

I was in my element. I got to potter around half a dozen rooms packed to the gills with mementos, curios, antiquities and furnishings that belonged to the great Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna. It took me right back to my psychology studies at university and as I listened to the audio guide and wandered through each room, I marvelled at how one man and his ‘couch’ (below) could remain so relevant for so long – his methods are still at the heart of many of the ways and means we use to handle the world we live in today.

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Two hours later, and with a head full of Freud (make of that what you will), I headed back down to the main road to have lunch, enjoying a tasty meal then settling in to read for a bit while I drank my coffee.

But the coffee was awful. Bitter and watery and absolutely undrinkable. So I returned it to the waitress, paid the bill (sans coffee but I did leave a tip – after all, my return was well-handled and the rest of the meal was great) and walked down to the bus stop.

I’d been standing there for a few minutes when it occurred to me that I had let the ‘coffee moment’ go.

It might seem a strange thing to say. There had been no shouting nor were there any angry exchanges and the whole thing was dealt with very smoothly.  But I’d had a plan – to enjoy some reading time over a nice cup of coffee – and that had been thwarted. I did not get a nice coffee and I’d left rather than stay to read. If things had been handled in a similar way previously, by now I would have be stewing over the whole incident, despite telling myself not to. And even though I’d try to get over it, past it or whatever, it would have put a definite dent in my day.

But it didn’t. I’d let it go. Even thinking about it again did not wind me up. It was just something that had happened.

I got on the bus and as we trundled along Finchley Road I found myself wondering, could there really be something in this mindfulness caper?  Let me explain.

About five weeks ago, I went to an Introduction to Mindfulness workshop. It was offered as part of my outplacement and it turned out to be quite interesting: Lots of discussion about what it was, questions about what we thought we might get from it (or not for the cynics among us) and information about the science of it.

Just in case you’re wondering, here’s a definition:

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgementally    Jon Kabat-Zinn

We also tried a couple of short meditations. I liked the calmness that I felt afterwards and thought ‘maybe this something I should try’. But I have a tendency to get charmed by something, go hard after it then not be able to sustain it in the face of all of the other interesting things life has to offer. (The peeps-who-know-me-well will be nodding – or even chuckling – knowingly at this point.)

So I set myself a challenge: If I could do the 8-minute Body and Breath meditation – the one that we’d done in the workshop – every day for a month, then I would consider buying the book and committing to its 8-week mindfulness program.

Every morning I sat on the couch with a soothing, gentle voice in my ear that encouraged me to pay attention – to my body, then my breath and then to my wandering mind. Some days it was noisy in there – thoughts, memories and feelings clambered insistently over each other in their eagerness to get my attention, shouting at me to plan, to remember stuff, to dwell on things. Other days they just drifted around aimlessly, taking me away from the thing I was supposed to be paying attention to – the moment and my breath. Yet when the gong sounded at the end, there was always a stillness, however brief.

No-one was more surprised than I when I reached my 1-month target. But did a month of 8-minutes-a-day really make a difference? I have noticed that I am generally calmer and also paying attention better and for longer. However I’m also enjoying my out-of-the-rat-race time while I look for what’s next so was not totally sold that this daily practice was the cause.

Today convinced me otherwise. It was that blinding flash at the bus stop – a mental ‘holy s**t’ – that made me realise that it’s possible, that the shift is palpable and that it’s pretty awesome and worthwhile when you notice it. I observed the moment and let it go. That’s definitely worth practising.

So I’ve embarked on week 1 of the 8-week program. There’s a range of tasks to complete and one is choosing an activity to do mindfully every day.  I’ve chosen brushing my teeth and let me tell you, it’s really hard to keep paying attention to it – and only it – for the whole two minutes that it takes. I have to close my eyes so I don’t get distracted by myself in the mirror or the sink that needs wiping down or the dehumidifier switching on and off in the background.

It also has me continuing with the 8-minute meditation but now twice a day. And I’m to do one Habit Releaser: Changing a habit is meant to make us realise how automatically and unthinkingly we do things – so this Habit Releaser is to change where I normally sit. For the last month, my comfy couch has been the place of stillness so now I sit in my new quiet place – the second bedroom – for 8 minutes when I get up in the morning and 8 minutes before I go to bed at night. And I’m changing my position on said comfy couch too.

To be honest, I’m not sure where this all will lead. My coffee moment was so unexpected that I’m wondering what stumbling about in this new wilderness will uncover.

Path - Dollis Green Walk (Hendon Golf Course)

What will I confront and will I even make it through the 8-weeks?

I’m curious to find out.


Resources I’ve referred to (in case you are interested):

The book – Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman

The website – www.franticworld.com – which also contains the Body and Breath meditation, among others.

York: People and a pastry

My last day in York dawned bright and blue-skied, a welcome sight after my wet Wednesday, so I was up, checked out and ready for a cruise on the Ouse (pronounced ‘ooz’ peeps – just to explain my rhyming turn of phrase) only to find that all trips for that day had been cancelled…due to flooding.

Hmmmm…

So I wandered around the Yorkshire Museum Gardens for half an hour – to make the most of the sunshine (in case it disappeared)…

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…before deciding to head into the Museum itself.

The Yorkshire Museum turned out to be my favourite thing-to-do of the trip – and that’s in a trip full of great things to do. I loved walking through the early years of York – or Eboracum as it was originally known – reading about its people and each era’s way of life. I walked in the steps of the Romans then uncovered some Viking and Anglo-Saxon treasures…

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….before meandering to the Normans (from 1066) and into the reign of King Richard III (during the late 1400s). There was so much to pore over and read about as I wound my way through all of these exhibits. It was fabulous.

And that wasn’t all. The museum had a fascinating exhibit on Extinction. Did you know that 99% of all species that have ever lived are extinct? The exhibit began with an overview of the Five Mass Extinctions and how they happened. What followed was a range of cases displaying fossils from each period which brought each extinction chapter to life – here are just a few:

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The story ended with a showcase of the conservation efforts aimed at some currently endangered species as well as examples of where re-introducing species had not worked. It all led to the final question of the exhibit: ‘Should we just let nature take its course?’. It was a thought-provoking note to end on.

After a bite to eat, I decided on a slightly more modern turn for the afternoon and headed over to Treasurer’s House. The property is tucked away behind York Minster and was donated to the National Trust by Frank Green in 1930. Green was the son of a wealthy industrialist and although he did not always restore faithfully ‘to the period’, the house is a testament to his passion for architecture and antiques. It was also the Trust’s first fully furnished property.

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I spent a pleasant hour or so admiring and reading about each of the rooms and the house’s grand visitors which included King James I and the future King Edward VII.

I also enjoyed learning about Frank Green’s vision for the property. His vision was incredibly specific, so much so that his gift to the Trust came with a condition – that the house would always be displayed as he’d left it. One example: While he had lived in the house, he’d had studs placed in the floor to ensure that the furniture was always positioned exactly where he wanted it.

This practice is still adhered to more than a century later.

This might seem to be – okay it is – the legacy of a control freak but what I ended up seeing was his home exactly as he lived in it and not some version that had been tinkered with over time. It poses a number of interesting questions about the restoration of historic properties and how far this should go before they move away from being ‘original’.

I had a couple of hours before my train back to London and I could think of nothing I wanted more than a return visit to Betty’s Tearooms. I lingered leisurely over some home-made soup and then all but inhaled the most heavenly vanilla slice I have ever eaten. Seriously peeps, I do not have enough words to express just how delicious it was. Needless to say it was my favourite thing-to-eat for my entire stay.

Then it was back to the hotel to collect my bag before trundling back across Lendal Bridge to the train station.

River Ouse from Lendal Bridge (l) (sml)

A sunset-kissed farewell from York while standing on Lendal Bridge

So that ends my marvellous minibreak in York. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’d especially love it if this series of posts has inspired you to go and discover its treasures for yourself. Please let me know if you do…

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My four York posts:

Photo tour: A walk in York

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

York: Amus-(eum)-ing myself

York: People and a pastry

York: Amus-(eum)-ing myself

Let’s begin by establishing that my second full day in York was a wet one. The skies grizzled ominously and gushed forth in turn so it was just as well there were plenty of indoor activities to keep me amused.

After a bracing walk along the river, I spent the morning at the York Castle Museum. Located just by Clifford’s Tower, it’s comprised of two buildings – the old Female Prison to the left and the old Debtors Prison to the right – with a gift shop (there’s always a gift shop) and cafe in between. The museum weaves an eclectic route through York society and culture during the 1800s-1900s and all it takes is a tenner to get amongst it.

I began with the Female Prison Building – containing exhibitions covering the changing nature of homes and living – and a nod to one of York’s great pillars of commerce, chocolate.

York Castle Museum - chocolate montage

The Rowntree’s company in York invented the Kit Kat and the Terry’s Chocolate…Apple?

I wandered through the toys exhibit…

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…passed a number of rooms set up to show life in York’s different social circles…

York Castle Museum - Cottage 1 (sml)

A single room cottage – cosy!

…and ended by meandering around the museum’s indoor streetscape, Kirkgate.

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There was also an exhibit called Shaping The Body covering the history of body shape and size, the advent of fashion and food trends as well as an overview of various exercise fads over the last 400 years. I had a little chuckle at the irony of this given York’s chocolate connection!

Next I headed across to the Debtors Prison Building for the exhibition on The Great War (World War I). If you like war history this would be right up your street. I spent 45 minutes or so wandering through but to be honest, I struggled to stay interested.

I also visited the old prison cells in this building and learned about some of the people incarcerated there – you can actually stand in the cell where highwayman Dick Turpin was held before his execution and hear ‘him’ speak.

As I was heading out to the museum exit, I saw a sign pointing to a ’60s exhibition. A peek outside confirmed that it was still raining buckets so I dashed across to the annex and enjoyed a brush with a replica lunar module, pondered fashion and homewares from the decade and listened to a blast from the past – the theme tune from Doctor Who.

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At this point more than three hours had passed and I was well and truly ready for lunch. Brolly up, I emerged into the downpour and headed over to Castlegate for a pleasant (and dry) spell at Source.

With the rain looking like it was going nowhere fast, I decided to spend the afternoon at the National Railway Museum. This is free and contains an extraordinary number of trains and related exhibits. I am no trainspotter and I still managed to spend just under three hours here…

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I especially liked the display on the warehouse mezzanine floor which showed all of the technologies used to manage the rail network. Of particular interest was the signalling system – anyone who uses the tube and train network in the UK is familiar with ‘signal failure’ being a cause of disruption in their journey. But for the life of me, I could not work out how to read the computer screen showing the real-time ‘ins and outs’ of York Station. Best I stick to my day job.

The damp squib continued outside and the thought of a pint of something somewhere warm was growing in appeal. While strolling down Stonegate a couple of days earlier, I’d come across a sign pointing to an intriguing alleyway so that was where I headed – to Ye Olde Starre Inne, one of York’s oldest (and supposedly haunted) pubs…

It was here that, as I relaxed by the open fire and sipped my pint, I read the news about the Westminster terror attack. Feeling thankful that I was well away from it all (and that I could reassure family and friends I was safe), I was taken back five months when that very place had been part of my daily commute. I shed a few shocked tears at the horror of it all yet tucked safely in a warm and cosy corner of an historic city that had survived so much, it felt like I was in the perfect place to reflect.

And as I fell into an(other) exhausted sleep that night, I thought about the importance of living life to the fullest and being present to life’s many joys every day.

Then Thursday dawned, crisp and sunny…

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My four York posts:

Photo tour: A walk in York

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

York: Amus-(eum)-ing myself

York: People and a pastry

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

As a history buff and fan of the city break, a visit to York has been on my to-do list for quite some time (okay, since I moved here thirteen years ago). So in March, I finally got my act together, booked a bed and a spot of breakfast for a few days and hopped on a train for the two hour journey north.

I had three days to spend and a list of things I wanted to do. The weather managed to mix it up too – bursts of sunshine book-ended drizzle, rain and even a flurry of snow. But it was blue skies that beckoned as I got off the train, bouncing off bobbing yellow daffodils and brushing the distant Minster tower with soft light. So I checked into my hotel (Marmadukes Town House Hotel), dumped my stuff and headed out to explore.

York Arrival montage

I spent the last few hours of daylight wandering through the walled city’s cobbled streets and when the light finally faded, I found a cosy spot at the Lamb and Lion Inn (right under the old City Gate, Bootham Bar) to prepare my plan of attack over a quiet pint of something local.

It was a full three days – a wonderful mix of history, curiosities, architecture and breathtaking views – and I have so much to share with you. So I’ve split my York warblings into three Armchair Tours to cover the things I loved about each day.

Here’s Part One…enjoy!

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Photo tour: A walk in York

I went to York for three days in March. It’s a city that’s absolutely chock full of history – which I love – and is wonderfully walk-able – which I also love. Quite frankly, I’m astounded that it’s taken me thirteen years to get there.

True to form, the English weather prevaricated between gloriously crisp blue-sky days and a grey drizzle that bordered on menacingly unfriendly from time to time.  Needless to say there were lots of layers-off-layers-on moments as I adjusted to these changes. But that did not stop me doing loads of great stuff and taking oodles of photos.

To whet your appetite for the posts to come, I thought I’d share some of the pics that take me back and even now, take my breath away. Enjoy!

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