Random Commentary

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 FriendshipΒ (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.

38 comments

  1. I love looking over (reading, touching as much I can without being noticed) manuscripts. I haven’t yet had the chance to get one-on-one time with any Dickens manuscripts, but I’ve looked over some from the Brontes, Oscar Wilde and Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s such a magical, spiritual experience for me, the time spent with manuscripts by the authors I love, running my hands over the pages on which they pondered and wrote. It’s my Mecca!

    Good luck with this new job prospect! They would be lucky to have you.πŸ™‚

    1. Manuscripts are amazing, aren’t they? I remember seeing some of the Brontes at Haworth and it was wonderful to see that tiny handwriting…didn’t get a chance to touch though!

      Thank you very much!πŸ™‚

  2. Congrats on having a great interview – I second Diana – they’d absolutely be lucky to have you! Since part of my job is teaching, I can say with authority that the zest and passion you bring to your blog would translate beautifully into the classroom.

    But please, please stop buying books on Charing Cross Road. I can’t bear my jealous feelings…

    I loved the movie. So, I guess there really are bookstores there…

    Must pop over and have a look myself one of these days!

    1. Thank you – I really appreciate your support! I just hope I can get that enthusiasm across under pressure!

      Sorry!πŸ˜‰ It’s all I can do to keep away – I ration myself to a couple of times a month as otherwise I’d really get crushed under the weight of all of those books knocking about in my room! You must come for yourself, yes!

  3. HI I absolutely love your description of your bedroom and the wardrobe bookcase!! . I can picture you there, I, like you had the boxroom and sadly I moved out first , so I never got the big bedroom, maybe that’s why I now have a king size bed and a big bedroom……making up for the lost years!!

    1. Thanks tigtigs! You poor thing – moving up from the box room is definitely a rite of passage that has to be experienced!! Good for you making up for it now though – a king size bed is certainly a fantasy I had throughout my years of slumming it in university accomodation and cheap rented flats – I have one now and it’s bliss!!

  4. I don’t know why I had it in my head that you were not a fan of the Museum of London. Clearly a crazy notion. I’ll cross my fingers for the job, the baby is adorable as can be, and I seriously cannot wait to read your full review of the Fussell book. It sounds right up my street.

    1. Yes a crazy notion! I really like it and it’s amongst my favourites!

      Thank you! And I will write a full review hopefully this weekend so you won’t have too long to wait – you’d definitely love it! Paul Fussell is American so it should be in the library for you!

  5. I LOVED this post. How wonderful for you to spend your afternoon in museum…enjoying such a wonderful gift of an exhibit. Just yesterday I was in an antique store and picked up a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities” and thought, “I need to start reading Dickens again”–it has been a long, long time.

    “The Great War…” (can’t remember the whole title without scrolling up–LOL!–case in point, non?) sounds very intriguing. In this computer/digital/information overload age, I have often wondered what its ill effects could be on all of us. I know I don’t retain information the way I used to and it is harder to memorize things. For example, I used to remember phone numbers almost instantly and would call friends/family from memory. Now our phones store the information so our brains don’t have to. Or I could read a book and the details of the book would stay with me forever. Now I have trouble remembering if I even read the book–exaggeration but true in its essence.

    I really enjoyed reading the memories of your bedroom. How special to have had such a sanctuary and you can still revisit it in your mind. I feel that way about a house we lived in from age 5 to 9…I have the BEST memories associated with that house and would love to go in it again sometime. Or is it best to just keep the memories as they are and not have them altered by possible changes made to the home by new owners? I don’t know. Last September I opened our Historic Home to a community home tour. One lady that came through lived here when she was a little girl. She was able to tell me how things used to be, what had changed since the 1950s. I could tell it was bittersweet for her.

    OK, sorry so long. I am supposed to be writing a post on my blog right now…not yours. ; )

    1. Hehehe don’t worry about the length – long comments are the best!

      Enjoy your Tale of Two Cities – I definitely need to read some Dickens this year – it’s been such a long time. His novels do require a significant time investment and that’s why I have let them lapse since leaving university!

      Yes absolutely – I was just saying to my mum the other day that if I got into an accident and didn’t have my phone, I wouldn’t be able to phone anyone – I don’t even know my mum’s home phone number because I have never lived at her house. It’s just recorded in my phone and I’ve never really made an effort to memorise it. Interestingly though I can remember my old phone number at my childhood home, as well as all my childhood friends’ home phone numbers – I didn’t have a mobile phone then so I had to and they’ve stayed in my memory!

      A historic home?! How wonderful! I love that the lady was able to share her old memories…though I think I would find it painful to go back to my old home and find it changed and lived in by someone else.

  6. Another enjoyable post – I really must get to the Dickens’ exhibition – I promised my younger daughter that we would go during half term – then she was ill and we never went – note to self.

    I hope you are successful with the job you have interviewed for – you bring a book to life so well that, as has already been said, they would be lucky to have you. With two daughters at secondary school I have first hand experience of the types of English teachers out there and I’m sure you would be up there with the best of them. Good luck.

    1. Thanks Jennifer – yes you must go! Try and go on a weekday if you can, otherwise you’ll be elbow bashing with the crowds!

      Thank you very much Jennifer – I really appreciate that! I am going back in on Friday for a day to meet everyone and see some lessons etc so hopefully that will convince them that I am the right candidate!πŸ™‚

  7. Goodness – what a lot you have going on Rachel, but I wouldn’t expect anything else. Good luck with the potential job, I’m sure you’d make a fantastic teacher. And yes, isn’t Fussell’s book excellent? i read it over and over again as part of my degree.

    1. You know me, Verity – I like to keep busy!πŸ™‚ Thank you very much – and yes – it’s fantastic. I can’t believe I just heard of it!!

  8. I’m going to the Dickens exhibition next month, it must be so good to know you have had a part in preserving a part of the nations heritage. Adorable Albert. Good luck with the job interview.

  9. Oh Rachel, to touch such a manuscript and see such an exhibit. I need to calm my pounding heart.

    Some years ago, Ken Burns, that icon of PBS history pieces, did “The Civil War”. It was so well done and still airs from time-to-time. I will never forget the first time I heard the reading of a soldier’s letter, writing home to his wife, knowing he would probably die in battle the next day. He writes about a soft breeze passing her cheek and knowing it is him loving her. The soldier was a poor farmer, yet wrote so eloquently. I thought of it now as I read your words about WWI soldiers, quoting Tennyson, knowing the Greek myths and such. Knowing your generation is reading good literature and writing so well about it has warmed my soul, Rachel, as I had feared this was lost to technology and television. I do hope you get to teach literature. Those prayers, thoughts, and crossed fingers are held here in your honor.

    Oh, I do ramble. Wonderful post and what a darling prince Albert is. From a few pictures of yourself you have shared, I think he must resemble your side of the family.

    1. I have been so lucky to get close to so many wonderful original manuscripts through working at the museum, Penny – it’s such an exciting experience. That letter sounds magnificent, and so tearjerking – I just can’t imagine the pain of receiving – and writing, for that matter – a letter like that.

      Thanks for the good wishes, Penny – let’s hope it won’t be long before I find out my fate!

      Thank you Penny! His facial features resemble us more than his dad’s side, though all the boys have their Daddy’s fair colouring. They’re all little cherubs!

  10. Couldn’t you just weep for want of your childhood bedroom? We moved around quite a bit as my parents rented until they bought their first home when I was ten. At one point we lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building that overlooked Lake Ontario and the lighthouse would shine into my room at night. It was the first time I owned reading material, a box of cast-off Classic Comics from the Legion bazaar stored under my bed. But I so love the image of a double-decker bus driving past your window and the thoughts that must have gone through your head. It’s like something out of a Persephone novel. And Albert, I could just eat him up!

    1. Yes! I love my room now but nothing beats that cosy security of a childhood bedroom! Wow Darlene, that room sounds lovely – how romantic to have a lighthouse beam come into your room at night!

      One of these days I shall write a novel about it. A day in the life of of the 269 bus!!

      Couldn’t you just?! I told my other nephew Freddie I could just eat him up the other day and his little eyes went all round and he said ‘would you really Aunty Rachel?!’ – must be careful not to say such things around little people who take everything literally!!

  11. I was with you in that bedroom you described. Just wonderful.

    Good luck with the teaching job, fingers crossed for success with this challenge.

    I agree about Up/Dw it has got better, but it should not have been released so near to Downton though, I think it would have got better critiques but I suppose that is TV for you. I am looking to forward to the new Titantic TV programme by Julian Fellows.

    1. Thanks so much Jo!

      No absolutely – I think that’s the problem really – it’s not as involving as DA, but if DA hadn’t have been on, I probably wouldn’t have found it so and would have enjoyed it more for its own merits.

      Oh yes me too – Downton on Sea!

  12. Really enjoyed your post Rachel! And I am crossing everything that you get that job, it sounds perfect and you’d be brilliant at it.

    Your nephew is adorable! And I miss my childhood bedroom too. I liked the idea that just as you were peering out at the bus passengers and imagining their lives, so they could do the same with you, it was a two-way communication of dreams…

    1. Thanks Helen! I appreciate your support!πŸ™‚

      Oh yes…I spent so much time staring at people out of my window. I used to think about where they were going, what they were thinking…I would make up stories about them. I wonder if anyone ever did that about me?!

  13. I’ve given up on Upstairs Downstairs. (Now waiting impatiently for the return of Mad Men.) The trainee teacher post sounds very promising. They’d be barmy not to appoint you.

    1. Oh Liz! I’m only hanging on for Spargo. He’s my bit of excitement for a Sunday night!!πŸ˜‰ I also can’t wait for the return of Mad Men – series 4 was so fantastic and I am hoping that series 5 will go to yet another level of brilliance. The only sadness is that I don’t get the channel it’s being broadcast on – will have to be naughty and find it online somewhere, as I’m not waiting for the DVD!

      Thank you very much – I think so too!!πŸ˜‰

  14. Oh, what a day you had with Dickens. I would love to spend an afternoon with Dickens. I also love the description of your bedroom. I had to wait for my big sister to move away before I was able to move to the attic. I loved that room and liked to think of spending time in my garret.

    Of course, your nephew is adorable.

    I hope you get the teaching position. In 2010, I retired after teaching nearly thirty years. It is very rewarding (spiritually, not financially). I still do substitute teaching because I enjoy being around the kids. I was tired of the paperwork and red tape so subbing is the best of both worlds for me. I wish you luck in getting the position.

    1. I wonder whether a museum or library near you is hosting anything for the Dickens centenary, Janet?

      So many people I know had to bide their time for the ‘best’ bedroom – it helps you appreciate it so much more, doesn’t it? My sister never really thought about it as a great room because she always had it, whereas I had about seven years to get jealous of it before it was mine and so I never took having it for granted!

      Thank you – I can’t bear how cute he is at the moment!

      Thank you so much Janet. It’sgood to hear that you spent 30 years finding it a really rewarding career – I don’t know if it will be a ‘forever’ career for me – I’m also interested in education policy and would love to be able to work with our dreadful government in order to make real changes for all children in the UK – but I think, at least for the next ten years or so, it will be a career I would relish.

  15. What a beautiful post, I feel all warm and fuzzy just from reading itπŸ™‚

    I love the description of your old room, and all the powerful memories the thought of it evokes. My memories of old bedrooms feel dreamlike but also incredibly vivid and connected to specific moments in the past. It’s quite nice to think back to those days and reflect on how those times helped to make us who we are today. Such cozy memories!

    Good luck on your interview! I’ll most definitely be thinking positive thoughts and wishing you the very best!!

    Lastly, your nephew is absolutely adorable!!

    Cheerio!πŸ™‚

    1. Oh thank you Lucy!πŸ™‚

      Yes they are nice and cosy memories aren’t they – so nice to look back and think of happy times when I had a pretty certain trajectory in life!

      Thank you very much – I appreciate those positive thoughts!πŸ™‚

      Thank you – he is so cute it’s unbearable sometimes!!

    1. Thanks so much Nicola! Yes, it is – I think for the more mature graduate it’s the best way in and I’m really excited about it. Fingers crossed!

  16. Had a long, leisurely lunch with a friend, followed by a walk to and through a museum. Immediately on returning home, forwarded your Paris post, as my friend and her husband return to France shortly. You draw out the best of each place you visit. Thanks.

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