Highs and Lows


Reading South Riding. What an absolutely beautiful, engrossing, perfect book this is. From the first page I have been totally absorbed in the world of marvellous, touchable characters Winifred Holtby has created. Her philosophy on life, revealed through her prose, is so inspiring, passionate, fearless and deeply stirring. How I wish I had known her, and that she had lived longer. What an admirable and talented woman. I shall be reading Testament of Friendship, Vera Brittain’s biography of her, as soon as I have reluctantly closed the pages of her remarkable masterpiece. If you haven’t read South Riding, please, please do!

Visiting the Women War Artists exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. It’s a fascinating and enlightening look at both women’s roles during wartime and how women perceive war. From propagandist images of women in factories to desperately moving portraits of wounded men, it’s a rare glimpse into war through female eyes and definitely worth a trip if you’re in London. It closes soon, so go quickly!

Watching Happy Go Lucky. This is one of my favourite films. It’s about an ordinary woman who sees the bright side in every situation, and it simply chronicles her life in London and the lives of her friends and work colleagues, etc. It always reminds me of the beauty of everyday life and how we can triumph over the often difficult situations we find ourselves in. The rituals of cups of tea, of laughing with friends, of the bus ride to work, all take on a sort of magical, special quality in this film that inspires me to celebrate the ordinary and remember what is truly important in my life.


Baking an inedible cake from my new Great British Bake Off cookbook due to getting carried away singing along to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack while mixing my ingredients. Never again will I neglect to check whether I am using plain rather than self raising flour. Self raising flour = lovely light fluffy delicious cake. Plain flour = weapon of mass destruction.

Watching Downton Abbey. I love it, in theory. Really, I do. And Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery are superb actresses and keep the whole thing afloat on their very slight shoulders. But the script is getting more and more absurd every week, and when the actors look embarrassed to be delivering their lines, you know it’s not good. However, I remain hopeful that things will pick up. It better had, or I fear for the fate of the proposed third series.

Getting my first filling. I’m off to the dentist’s this morning…it looks like my diet of icecream and burgers in New York has rotted my teeth. Wish me luck!


  1. Oh no! It’s killing me hearing the news of Downton Abbey without having it available in the U.S. yet. It started off so well! Here’s hoping for a recovery.

    1. It’s still enjoyable, don’t worry! It’s just not as good as it was…I fear the rush to get the second series finished is what has damaged the formula that worked so well in the first series!

  2. The war exhibit sounds interesting, Rachel. I have always been interested in women’s lives through the war, whether here in the States or there in Britain and am drawn to the posters of the era. My mother worked in an airplane factory in Chicago during the war.

    Oh my. I do hope Downton Abbey improves. I’ve been waiting, and waiting, like everyone else on this side of the ocean and hope we aren’t disappointed.

    Good look at the dentist. You’ll do fine.

    1. It’s a really interesting topic, isn’t it? It’s a shame more exhibits aren’t devoted to it, in my mind. I bet your mum had some really interesting stories to tell!

    1. Thanks Verity…it was fine, didn’t hurt a bit. Good luck to you – wisdom teeth are better out than in though in my experience…if I get one more infection in mine I will be in the same boat as you!

  3. I watched South Riding on telly earlier this year and wasn’t sure about reading the book. But I may just have to pick it up once I’ve forgotten the story a little. And thank you for reminding me about the Women War Artists exhibition. Must catch that before it closes! And good luck at the dentist.

    1. Sakura, the book is brilliant and probably miles better than a TV series – I haven’t seen the TV series though so can’t promise, but I can be pretty sure! Hope you make it to the exhibition!

  4. Saw the exhibit at the Imperial War Museum when we visited earlier this month. I heart it. And yes, you will enjoy Vera Brittain’s work. (Rather long, but interesting all the same. Hadn’t realized that she was writing about Winifred as when I read it, I hadn’t heard of Win. I wonder if that would change my perspective…knowing it was Winifred?..,.I’ll have to see when you’ve read it. 🙂

    Flour mistake is easy to do. I am still recovering from the trauma of my cookery lessons in my teens, so don’t worry about it. Minor mistake. 🙂 And dentist – good luck. Get the laughing gas and then you don’t mind at all…

    Did you see the TV series of “South Riding”? It’s good. And sorry to hear about Downton Abbey. I am still looking forward to it coming over here to US next Spring… Fingers crossed it isn’t too bad.


    1. Glad you got to see the exhibition, Liz! I loved Testament of Youth so if Testament of Friendship is half as good I know I’ll love it!

      Cooking is so disappointing and traumatic when it goes wrong isn’t it?!

      No I didn’t, I’m going to now though. I wonder if the characters will turn out like they do in my imagination? You’ll still enjoy Downton, don’t worry…just don’t expect the magic of the first series.

  5. We just watched Testament of Youth on dvd that we bought in London and saved for home. Cape Town. It was great. I also loved south Riding – both the book and the movie. We are waiting for Downton Abbey part 2 to get to our shores.

  6. I can well see how Moulin Rouge’s soundtrack could be distracting! What’s your favorite song? I’m constantly humming Roxanne and Hindi Sad Diamonds…

  7. Thank you SO MUCH for giving a link to the Women War Artists exhibition. I can’t go, of course, but I did look at the 8 works selected. Beautiful and inspiring.

    Do you mean you have never had to endure a filling before? You are so lucky that these days there is practically no discomfort involved. Promise. It’s just boring and tiring having to keep your jaws open for a long time. I don’t want to think about fillings by the merciless School Dentist when I was about 10.

    I’ve heard a lot about Downton Abbey but haven’t had a glimpse of it yet. Perhaps it’s best to stop after the second series?

    I will read South Riding before too long. It’s a title that I’ve been aware of for years and never got round to. Thank you for all these recommendations. Oh – and isn’t life like a cake? One day very fluffy, others not so much. I loved your phrase ‘weapon of mass destruction’ – it had me smiling for ages!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the glimpse into the exhibition, Chrissy…sorry you can’t get over here to see it in the flesh.

      No I haven’t…and I was so nervous but it didn’t hurt in the slightest!

      I think they should have taken longer to write it…and not edit it down to the bare bones, which really is the problem.

      Chrissy you will love South Riding…and I’m glad my cake made you laugh – I was so upset!

  8. I’m so glad you enjoyed South Riding! I have enjoyed every Winifred Holtby book I have read except for The Land of Green Ginger (too earnest). I still love The Crowded Street the best, but South Riding is definitely my second favourite. She was able to really recreate a whole community of people and explore very deep themes of what life means in the face of death. Since you like novels about spinsters, I would definitely recommend Poor Caroline; it portrays a spinster during the Inter-War period who has the idea of starting the Christian Cinema Company and how the people involved in the project all view her (it follows their own stories, as well). It’s funny and well done.

    I have to agree about Downton Abbey. I was really enjoying it for the first few episodes, but there are some story lines that I definitely don’t like now. I’m still watching it partly to give it a chance and partly because I feel invested in the story, but I may not continue watching it if it doesn’t turn around soon.

    1. I need to read more Winifred Holtby…I can’t wait to get stuck into the rest of her novels. Poor Caroline is at the top of the list – your description has really whetted my appetite!

      It’s just not going where I want it to go…I’m worried that what I want to happen won’t happen! But I will say no more!!

  9. I just finished watching the first season of Downton Abbey and LOVED it (obviously!). The first series ending feels so incomplete that I am desperate to start watching S2, so I’m a bit sad to hear that it pails in comparison to the first. Curses!

  10. I believe there is an expression used to describe when popular TV or movie series begin to lose the plot, or rather when their plots just get too absurd, namely that they have “jumped the shark”. Apparently, it’s all to do with something in one of the Jaws films. I have never seen them, indeed I’ve seen very few cinema films, so I cannot elaborate on that, but I must admit that it is an expression which has more than once sprung to my mind during series two of Downton Abbey. I won’t spoil things for your readers on the far side of the Atlantic, but you’ll know what I’m talking about if I use just one word to describe the prime shark jumping moment: Canada. It’s a pity because in some ways the increasing absurdity of what Steph called “S2” is retrospectively tarnishing the excellent first series by association. Having said that, for all its ridiculous melodrama I have still enjoyed it a great deal, and Maggie Smith still delivers some wonderful comic lines with applomb.

    Good luck at the dentist, Rachel – and Verity too. Did you hear the one about the dentist who only ever read Readers Digested condensed books? He preferred extracts!

    1. Oh yes, David…Canada was really a low point!!

      Thanks for the good luck wishes – it turned out alright in the end, even if it did cost me a fortune!

  11. I hope you will not be invaded after your WMD event. I have not watched Moulin Rouge for ages, must dig it out, I also loved the soundtrack.

    Mmm know what you mean about Downton Abbey, I do wonder that because they were trying to get the shows screen so fast that perhaps there is some lacking in the script and storyline. All I know is I have an overwhelming urge to slap Lady Mary? Is it just me?

    I have not got round to South Riding, but did see it when it was on the television. I think it is one of my one day books!

    1. Hahaha! No, thankfully not!

      Yes – I agree – they tried to bring it to the screen so quickly that they’ve clearly cut corners and it feels lacking and rushed. I’m hoping the Christmas special will redeem it. I LOVE Lady Mary – but she does really need to get her arse in gear if you know what I mean!

      Jo, don’t leave South Riding too long!!

    1. Thanks to Nan, for the background on this expression. So it originated on the small screen after all.

  12. Wow, so my experience of self-rising v. plain flour is the polar opposite of what yours is. On the rare occasions that I have accidentally used self-rising flour, catastrophe has always struck. Self-rising flour is how the flour companies screw with me and ruin my foods.

  13. Well, by now that dreaded first filling is behind you so things should definitely be looking more rosy. Isn’t South Riding wonderful?…thanks again for another great book! The television adaptation was great but left out so much (they have to). And my goodness, Rachel, the makeup department has lost their mind with the liquid eyeliner on Cora. She looks in a perpetual state of wide-eyed surprise! No matter, as long as we still have the Dowager.

    1. Yes, it’s all over now thank goodness! And it didn’t hurt much at all. YES it is – oh I forgot I sent it to you! I am just loving it – it’s the best! Darlene I love how you notice these things…Cora is getting short shrift this season as well. Whiny and annoying!! Maggie is keeping the ship from sinking if you ask me!

  14. Thanks for the recommendation of the exhibition – I know where I’m going the next time I’m in London! South Riding is fantastic; have you already read The Crowded Street? If not, you have another (tooth-friendly) treat in store.

    1. You’re welcome, Tanya – I hope you manage to catch it in time! Yes – I really enjoyed The Crowded Street but South Riding is in a whole other league!

  15. To keep me company while the snowy Noreaster hits NY i rented Happy Go Lucky. Thanks for the tip.
    What a wonderful movie. I want the delightful Sally Hawkins to do more starring roles. I’ll have to check your blog for FILM recommendations too.

    1. Oh wonderful doggity! I’m so pleased to hear that you loved it! It’s a bit of a niche taste but it’s so warm and lovely – Sally Hawkins played Anne in a recent adaptation of Persuasion if you’re interested!

  16. I just discovered and got hooked to Downton Abbey last week – I watched the back to back episodes of Season 1 on Netflix and then found some ways to watch the Series 2 episodes. As a result I am suffering from sleep deprivation and emotional upheavel. Series 2 is taking a very soap-opera like turn though Michelle Dockery and Maggie Smith make up for everything. I think Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery have good on screen chemistry and really bring out the best in each other – but they need better script. Hopefully the last 2 episodes will tie up everything together in a believable way

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s