Diary of a December

On Monday I was sitting at work, head in hands, as I stared at my computer screen and the numbers on it that would not add up. I have been working single-handedly on a proposal for the past few days; it’s worth 2 million English pounds and would mean a huge amount to the charity I work for should it be successful. No pressure! By Monday, I was at the final hurdle, but unsurprisingly budgets are not my forte, and after strategising and finding estimates and carefully crafting paragraphs to answer pernickety questions for five long days, I was ready to throw my computer out of the window. December is turning out to be a bloody rubbish month, I was thinking, as I furiously jabbed buttons on my calculator. It’s hard to let the joy of Christmas light up your soul when you spend the majority of your days working out percentages, isn’t it? But then I stopped and thought about it and realised that actually December has been a pretty fantastic – if busy – month outside of my working life. Here’s why:

1. I have discovered Anthony Trollope. Who knew a 1000 page novel could be so much fun to read? I am giggling away on the bus in the morning and lapping up every juicy detail like a greedy child. I have missed my stop once already this week while reading the exploits of Alice Vavasor and Mrs Greenow and Lady Glencora; this is brilliant stuff! I am annoyed that I hadn’t started reading Trollope before and now I can’t wait to steam through the rest of the Palliser novels. Can You Forgive Her? is meaty Victorian saga at its best; highly recommended!

2. I got to see the lovely Claire and Simon and watch a preview showing of The Descendants, a new film starring George Clooney. He plays a workaholic husband and father whose wife is left in a coma after an accident, leaving him to parent two difficult daughters who have become strangers to him, as well as cope with some startling revelations about his marriage in the process. It’s set in Hawaii and looks like typical lightweight Hollywood fare on the trailer, but don’t be fooled by this; it’s actually a very moving, well acted and thought provoking film, and I loved it. Definitely one to go and see! It was also good fun to catch up with Simon and Claire, enjoy a delicious pumpkin thai curry at Rosa’s in Soho, and see inside the Twentieth Century Fox London HQ – not as fancy as I was expecting, but who doesn’t want to work in an office with its own private cinema?!

3. I celebrated the birthday of my gorgeous oldest nephew, George (pictured above with his brother Freddie…and my lipstick smeared all over his lips!), who turned 5 and had a party for all his little classmates in the village hall last weekend. My sister and I decorated the hall with jungle themed banners and balloons, and a talented lady came to paint the children’s faces. Georgie was an elephant, his little brother Freddie refused to have his face painted at all, and instead covered it with chocolate and other sticky messes that ended up on Aunty Rachel’s nice clean top, and his littlest brother Albert slept through it all on his Granddad’s lap. It was hectic but fun, and I still can’t believe the little baby I saw at one day old is now 5. How time flies!

4. I have benefitted from the generosity of some lovely friends. The ever generous Darlene sent me The Unborn Dreams of Clara Riley, and through Simon, Wayward Girls and Wicked Women, both of which I can’t wait to read. Poor Simon lugged a huge bag of books all the way from Oxford to London, and there was one for me in there, as a completely unnecessary thank you for having him to stay in my supremely comfortable bed (obviously not with me in it!!) – Passionate Kensington by Rachel Ferguson, who some may know as the author of Alas, Poor Lady. I can’t wait to read more about one of my favourite areas of London, through the eyes of such a talented author. Such a thoughtful gift! Finally, from my dear friend Ellen who I had to leave behind in New York, arrived Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets, which features Vita Sackville-West, and sounds fascinating, and a brilliant catalogue of all the booksellers in Britain in 1951. I wonder how many are still open?

5. I had the best post-budget writing Monday night treat with my flatmate – we stuffed our faces at my favourite burger joint this side of the Atlantic, Byron  – which, incidentally, serves hands-down the best pickles I have ever tasted – before watching Hugo, the first 3D film I have ever seen (yes, yes, I am a neanderthal) and which was wonderfully charming, inventive, moving and completely inspiring. It gave me a much needed boost and reminded me how important it is to believe in myself, and my dreams. It has also given me the kick up the arse I need to actually get around to booking a mini break to Paris and see the beautiful city Hugo depicts so magically for myself next year.

60 comments

  1. Oh my goodness…you have me all excited about Anthony Trollope and both movies you mentioned. We were supposed to have seen “Hugo” this past weekend for FREE but my husband’s schedule changed—grrr. Maybe I will have to do a back to back movie day soon.

    Hope December gets a bit lovelier for you. ~~Bliss

    1. Oh Anthony Trollope is such a treat – read soon! You have to go and see Hugo – shame you missed the chance to see it for free but it’s worth paying for!

      Thanks Bliss!!

  2. Second post.

    I rule!

    And while I’m here, I feel compelled to say “Last night I dreamt i was at Manderly again”. Does the trick for me. I’m sure it could be applied medicinally in regard to droll December days.

    OK, OK…..I’ll stay under my duvet.

  3. What a lovely post and I hope you enjoy all your new book lot. And those nephews! So adorable and I know how much you missed them. May I read the Rachel Ferguson when you’re done? It is not available here at my special library. No rush – as you know my TBR pile is the size of the Chrysler Building.

    I MUST go to Trollope again. He is shear delight. I recently tried Angela Thirkell. Disappointing.

    1. Thanks Ellen! My babies are so cute aren’t they? It’s so lovely being so close to them again.

      Of course! I’ll send it over when I’m done – though I’d shocked there’s no copies in your amazing library! I thought they had everything?!

      I am so excited about Trollope! So many more novels to read! Oh really? I think she is more of a ‘comfort’ read, isn’t she?

      1. Yes, that’s true, but I think she thought of herself as an heir to Trollope. The two that I read were just a little too forced for me; however, since I own about 10 of her books, I will probably try another sooner or later.

        Continue to have a wonderful holiday season.

  4. Lovely post, Rachel, and not just because I feature in it! I love finding a book that I think someone else will really love and, although I haven’t done more than flick through Passionate Kensington, I get the feeling that it will be right up your street. Thanks again for the von Arnim🙂

    Love the picture at the top – who is it by?

      1. Ha! No offence taken David! I’ve posted the link below.

        Oh really? I can’t believe I’ve taken this long to read him for the first time!

  5. Pretty fantastic, indeed, and I hope that by now your numbers are crunched to the acceptable percentages and you are smiling with glee. I know I am at all your venture, but, especially in seeing those darling boys.

    I’m also sitting here cringing as a bookmark just flew out of my worse than usual pile of papers. A post office trip in is the works asap.

    PS – The only snow here, as yet and surprisingly, is that coming from your screen.

    1. Yes Penny, it’s all over thank goodness! It’s wiped me out and I hope it’s successful!

      Glad you liked my babies! They are so cute aren’t they?

      I know, no snow here for me either! It doesn’t normally turn up until January though. I can wait – I had more than my fair share last year!

  6. What a lovely painting at the top of your post! As someone who spends every day crunching numbers and working out percentages, I feel your pain. I’m thoroughly impressed by how much you’ve already been able to fit into December! I only started reading Trollope this year and agree that giddy is a perfect way to describe how his books make me feel. As soon as I finished reading my first Trollope (The American Senator), I started building my Trollope collection and am hoping to work through a good bit of it this winter. I’m just coming to the end of The Warden and can’t wait to start on the next Barsetshire book!

    1. It’s lovely isn’t it? I wish I could have a print of it!

      Isn’t Trollope magnificent? I LOVE him so much – he’s so funny! I wasn’t expecting that at all! I’m going to do the Pallisers first then move on to the Barsetshires. It might take me a few years but I don’t care – these are books to be savoured!

  7. Lovely post — and very lovely painting of London at the top — do you know who it is by? and how on earth have you managed to get snowflakes to fall down your blog? I think WordPress must be a lot more sophisticated than Typepad. Sometime when Simon comes up from Oxford I might tag along as it would be great to meet you in person. The Trollope I have loved best has been the Barsetshire novels which are simply wonderful — I got rather annoyed with Can You Forgive Her, because I couldn’t.

    1. Thanks Harriet! I put a link in Simon’s comment above to the painting – it’s lovely isn’t it? Those snowflakes just happened automatically – I think it’s a wordpress thing!!

      Oh you must come Harriet – I’d love to meet you!!!

      I’m looking forward to the Barsetshire novels, I have heard many good things! Oh really? I must say I am wondering what Alice is up to…

  8. Great post, Rachel! I love all the recommendations!
    That’s wonderful about Paris – if you have any time to spare, I would love to meet up with you and chat about books in person! I can recommend a few great places to visit too – including some delicious tea shops🙂
    Here’s my email: madamigella1900@yahoo.com
    Best wishes,
    Florence.

  9. If you’re new to Trollope, please don’t overlook his greatest (to my mind) novel, THE WAY WE LIVE NOW. Amazingly relevant to today with its unscrupulous financiers and both men and women trying to manouver into advantageous marriages. A great book.

    1. Don’t worry Deb, I definitely have it on my agenda! I am a little daunted by the sheer amount of Trollope novels there are, though The Way We Live Now already has extra brownie points from me for not being part of a series!

  10. Great post, Rachel! We saw The Descendants on Thanksgiving Day — a bit unorthodox for such a holiday but we thought it was very well done.

    I hope you enjoy A Book of Secrets. I read it not long ago, fascinating stuff.

    1. Thanks Laura! Glad you got to see The Descendants – isn’t it very good?

      OOoh, glad you give it the seal of approval…I’ve never read any Holroyd before so I am looking forward to trying him out!

  11. Oh my goodness, the image of your nephews rooting through your make-up bag is too cute and so are they! And despite it still being morning here I am now desperate for a Byron burger with a whack of blue cheese on top…and those chips…and the lemonade! Now I’m off for a closer look at that ‘Passionate Kensington’ book….

    Thanks, Simon, for delivering Rachel’s book!

    1. Thanks Darlene – they are just too much sometimes! Byron is super delicious isn’t it? I don’t know what I’d do without them!

      Thank you for giving Simon my new book to deliver to me – it looks so good!

  12. I have just finished a re-read of the Palliser novels by Trollope and earlier this year re-read all the Barchester Chronicles. Then Mr Scarborough’s Family, The Claverings and now I am re-reading Ayala’s Angel. I simply LOVE Anthony Trollope and have a sneaky feeling I may now prefer him to Dickens. But don’t tell anyone…..

    1. Elaine I know you are a huge Trollope fan…I am in awe at your ability to steam your way through them all! I can’t wait to read more. Prefer him to Dickens?! Now that’s controversial! (though I am starting to think the same…they’re not so dark and depressing!)

      1. I have just finished Ayala’s Angel and loved it though I did want to shake the heroine at times. Have just started the Vicar of Bullhampton. I feel guilty sometimes at reading these when I have all these review books to get through but sometimes a good Trollope is all one needs…

        Going to the Persephone open evening on 15th and I gather you may be there so will be lovely to see you if so

  13. You certainly have been busy this month! Your nephews are so cute! Good luck with your proposal. I finished one a couple of weeks ago (for a lesser amount and I had help with the figures), but I certainly have an idea of how you must feel.

    1. I have indeed – no wonder I’m exhausted! Thank you – it’s always stressful when these things crop up but at least I can feel I’m earning my keep I suppose!! Hope your proposal is successful!

  14. I hope you plans for your work come to fruition.

    I have yet to read any Trollope, though I do have some on my kindle to try out. I have read so much about him this last year that I felt I was missing out on something.

    Lovely nephews who look like you spoil them and embarrass them in equal measures!

    1. Thanks Jo, me too! I will be quite upset if they don’t!

      You must read Trollope – I put him off for years because of the length of his novels and now I really wish I hadn’t! He is incredibly entertaining!

      Oh yes – I love those boys but I can’t resist showing them off!!

  15. Our Book Group is reading The Eustace Diamonds from the Palliser Series for a six month readalong and the story is absorbing, although Trollope would probably have a stronger editorial hand hovering over him today. This story will be read in a fortnight!

    I bought ‘Can you forgive her?’ from a second hand shop a few years ago but the small font has put me off starting it. Perhaps …

    1. Yes, an editor could certainly have been useful at some points, I agree! Glad you’re enjoying the Eustace Diamonds…Can you forgive her is excellent though – don’t be put off!

      1. Whenever he sees me lugging around a door-stop-sized Victorian-era novel, my husband laughs and says, “It’s easy to see that 19th-century novelists were paid by the word.”

  16. No time to read all the other comments but I love Trollope too — The Way We Live Now is one of the best books EVER!!! I still haven’t gotten through the Pallisers, I started Can You Forgive Her a couple of years ago and got distracted, but my library just got an audiobook version which is waiting for me on the hold shelf. There is no way I’ll finish it in three weeks!! May have to wait and try again later. I’m happy you’re loving Trollope, sorry work’s been so frustrating.

  17. How very “Pollyanna” of you to find and list all of the wonderful things about December so far. With that attitude, the rest of the month will be even better. Your nephews are adorable. They remind me of my grandsons. If you know anything grandmas, this is high praise indeed.

    1. Oh goodness, I’m not really anything like Pollyanna! Ha! But thank you! That IS high praise, thank you Janet! Hope you are seeing lots of your grandchildren over the holidays.🙂

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