1. I went to the Dickens exhibition at the Museum of London on Friday. It was marvellous. I had the day off work so I was able to go mid afternoon; as such it was largely empty and I had the pleasure of wandering through at my leisure, taking my time over the exhibits that were of particular interest to me. I really do think that the curators at the Museum of London do an exceptional job; there is always something inventive and quirky about their displays, while also being informative, intriguing and eye catching. Signs from old pubs and other establishments hung from the ceiling and huge screens displayed changing photographs of Victorian London as a backdrop, providing a real sense of atmosphere as you walk through. The exhibition gives an in depth context to the world Dickens lived in, ranging from the Victorian theatre to the Victorian home, by way of the workhouse and the changing topography of Victorian London. Plus, on loan from the good old V&A are several original manuscripts of his novels, which *claim to fame time!*, I raised the money to preserve back in my days as a V&A employee. On my last day at work there, the lovely curator of the Dickens manuscripts gave me a special behind the scenes tour, and I got to touch the paper Dickens himself had touched with my own hands. Seeing the manuscripts on display made me smile; my job currently involves a lot of frustration and disappointments, and being reminded that what I do can sometimes make a difference was a very unexpected bonus of a fascinating and illuminating afternoon out. If you can make it up to see it, it’s well worth it – I believe it’s on until June so you have some time!
2. I am currently having the enormous pleasure of being enthralled by the book I am reading. Every time I open it afresh, there is something new to challenge me, intrigue me, and make me reassess my previous assumptions about war and war literature. Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory is truly an outstanding piece of literary and cultural criticism and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I am going to write a full review when I have finished reading, but for now, I must say the chapter that has struck me most profoundly is that which discusses the literariness of the descriptions of war produced during and after WWI, both in prose and poetry as well as more routine writings such as letters home and diary entries. Even the humblest of soldiers could quote John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress from memory; most could reproduce a Tennyson poem or two, and everyone knew their Greek myths and Bible stories. In an age before television and cinema, everyone read for pleasure; the average person’s knowledge of literature was such that passages from now obscure texts could be quoted as part of a war bulletin in a national newspaper, and everyone from the newspaper boy to the King of England could name the author without batting an eyelid, with no need for a footnote. The decline in this general knowledge of literature over the 20th and 21st centuries is both intriguing and saddening, and as someone who wishes to become an English teacher, is definitely something I shall be pondering on as I consider my own canonical gaps.
3. I finally found a lovely hardback copy of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship (which I see is being re-released in a nice new edition by Virago this month – fantastic news!) tonight in a shop on Charing Cross Road. Tucked inside was the original handwritten receipt from when the book was bought from a Hampshire second hand book shop on the 11th of September, 1978. Along with Testament of Friendship, the previous owner of my book bought Gulliver’s Travels, Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, and The Kreutzer Sonata. Quite the eclectic selection! I wonder who they were. And whether they ever got around to reading those books they bought on that Autumn day long before I was born.
4. Writing about my experiences of reading in childhood over on Simon’s blog brought to mind lots of pleasant memories I had forgotten about, mainly to do with my old bedroom. My mum sold up and moved away from where I grew up when I was 21, and as such I haven’t seen that old room for nearly five years. It was lovely, and I really did cherish it. It was at the front of the house, was always filled with sunlight, and had a huge bay window that looked out onto the busy main road below, with a window seat underneath so that I could sit and watch the world go by. People on the top deck of passing buses could see straight into my room, and I loved that as I could catch a glimpse of their lives, they too could catch a glimpse of mine. I had waited patiently for that room for years, biding my time across the hallway in the poky box room while my sister lived out her teenage years in the plush double bedroom with the en suite and wall of mirrored wardrobes filled with glamorous clothes I used to secretly try on whenever she was out. When she was 21, she moved out to live with her then-boyfriend-now-husband and after a period of brief campaigning from my brother, who claimed he had a greater right to the room due to being all of 14 months older than me, my mum made the casting vote based on the fact that she wasn’t going to redecorate and so unless my brother wanted to sleep in a room with floral wallpaper, the room was mine. My first night luxuriating in a double bed, surrounded by space and watching the flicker of passing headlamps chasing across the carpet was magical. Even more magical was discovering the stash of books my sister had left behind, on specially built shelves inside the wardrobe. My first memory of reading in that room was lying on top of my bed, still in my purple and grey school uniform, eyes wide as dinner plates, reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, one of the books poached from the wardrobe stash. Once I’d read Lady Chatterley, there was no looking back to the juvenile stuff I’d been reading before (I was 13 at the time) – and my sister’s mini library became my canon, introducing me to Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. After everyone else had gone to bed, I loved curling up in my new cosy bed, my bedside lamp burning softly, steeping myself in the language of the nineteenth century. That bedroom was the start of my adult life, and I often wish I could go back and just sit in it, for a little while. So much happened to me while I called that room my own. There were a lot of tears, a lot of laughter, and a lot of growing up. I miss it, and I’m thankful for it. It helped shape me into the woman I am today.
5. My dear friend Naomi has started blogging again over at Bloomsbury Bell. I’ve been gently urging (or really just nagging) her to start up again for months so please do go over and say hello and lend your support!
6. For those who have expressed an interest in hearing about my career aspirations, I had a very promising teaching interview on Monday at a lovely girl’s school who may want to take me on as a paid trainee teacher from September!! Nothing is definite yet and I have to go back for further interviews before anything is decided, but I was thrilled to just be offered an interview and can’t wait to go back and get to sit in on some lessons and meet more of the staff. Prayers, positive thoughts and/or crossed fingers would be much appreciated!
7. Upstairs Downstairs is getting better. I am especially enjoying the sexually charged relationship between Lady Persie (it’s short for Persephone! I love it!) and her brother in law Sir Hallam; it’s all getting very interesting. It’s still no Downton Abbey but it’s very well done and the downstairs staff are fantastic too – Eunice the kitchen maid is a cockney and adorable version of Daisy and if you thought Branson was good looking, you’re in for a treat with Sparko, who has the singular distinction of managing to look very attractive indeed whilst wearing a wife beater vest. You heard it here first.
8. Finally, a gratuitous nephew photo, just because. Isn’t our Albert the cutest thing? He can give you kisses now, and sings, and can just about say mumma. He’s my little angel.