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Peasant (Deepest England)

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Perfect English Farmhouse
Perfect English Farmhouse
by Ros Byam Shaw
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Farmhouses for non-farmers., 24 Jan. 2015
Very nice, but these are not the houses of people who might drive a combine harvester or sit up all night lambing.The chapter heading 'Organic Farmhouse' had me going for a moment, but then all was explained - the editors simply meant that this set of interiors contained a lot of 'organic' features like . . . er, wood.

"Only one farmhouse in this book has retained it's original acreage". Not that the owners actually farm it, we find - they let out the land for grazing to other farmers, and concentrate on conservation. Other do "farming of the Marie Antoinette variety" (owner's own words).

Modern agribusiness, in other words, has meant that these redundant farmhouses have fallen into the welcoming arms of the rich, with money hard-pressed dairy farmers could only dream of to spend on tweaking their interiors. And how tweaked they are; as primped and preened as any footballer's wife. All is artless artiness. How I longed for the wholesome smell of cow muck!

Household Management
Household Management
by Margaret Willes
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The working areas of National trust houses, 24 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Household Management (Paperback)
This is a slim book, about equal parts photos and text. It has been produced by the National Trust for sale in its gift shops and features properties owned by the National Trust; notably Uppark and Lanhydrock.

The text describes the way the working part of large country houses - kitchens, dairies, servant's bedrooms and so on - were laid out, illustrated by good pictures featuring examples of the different periods and styles. It says more about the architecture and the administration than about the daily lives of those working in the houses. What there is, is interesting and well-written, but the book is best regarded as additional illustration to be used alongside one the many books which deal with the subject in more detail.

The Old Wives' Tale, Grand Babylon Hotel & Anna of the Five Towns (Arnold Bennett: Classic British Books Book 12)
The Old Wives' Tale, Grand Babylon Hotel & Anna of the Five Towns (Arnold Bennett: Classic British Books Book 12)
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Two human tales and a ripping yarn, 13 Jan. 2015
Some of Arnold Bennett's novels are closely-observed studies of the everyday tragedy of human existence. The Old Wives Tale and Anna of the Five Towns both come into this category. Bennett isn't a great writer but he is a heartwarmingly humane one, and both these famous novels will engage your attention and provoke your sympathies.

The Grand Babylon Hotel, on the other hand, would make a splendid 'caper movie'. Like most thrillers, it is completely unrealistic and full of improbable concidences, with the hero showing a good deal of unlikely athleticism and a heroine of quite uncommon resourcefulness. Unlike most modern thrillers, they are father and daughter and there are few romantic shenanigans in the plot.

Read it as a jolly romp, an old-fashioned adventure - The Riddle of the Sands and The Thirtynine Steps are obviously the kind of thing Bennett is aiming for, though he never quite achieves either the excitement or the improbability of his prototypes.

This might well be a good collection to take on holiday if you want something which is going to sooth rather than stimulate. Or you could take 'Cranford' and 'The Woman in White', and enjoy things even more . . .

The English Country Cottage
The English Country Cottage
by Sally Griffiths
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Cottage charm, 13 Jan. 2015
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This book in no longer in the first flush of youth. However, though some of the styling has dated a little, the cottages selected are so charming that it can still be a source of inspiration. Most interiors books have a touch of 'house-porn' about them, and inevitably when the writers are able to visit and photograph the most attractive cottages in the country, there is room for a great deal of envy on the part of the reader.

However, 'visually stunning' as they are, the interiors in this book do not derive all their charm from architectural features which we can only drool over impotently; it is the way they are furnished and styled which produces a good 60-70% of their effect, and there is much here that the owners of more ordinary houses can learn from.

Be prepared for a good deal of clutter, much of it in shades of brown. This book was written when that was the style. However, unlike some of the worst excesses of 'shabby chic', this clutter is all liveable-with, and does not give the impression of having been just-this-minute piled on every visible surface by and overactive stylist. It is the clutter of real people who happen to like 'stuff', and have cleverly made room for a good deal of it in relatively modest surroundings. It does not take too much imagination to see how the same approach could be applied to pretty pastels or shades of off-white, with a modern effect. Having said that, the style in these pages has dated less than most interiors trends and is probably on the verge of 'coming round again', as styles do.

You will recognise some of these interiors from other books, while others, fresh when the book was published, have since become cliches. Here is Mary Wondrausch's "Brickfields" - but happily a different view: there is that bed with the red-and-white-striped quilt which we have seen so many elsewheres. Seaside cottages adorned with model boats and vintage oars are a bit old hat now, but still appear regularly in the pages of magazines, so must still be on many people's wish-lists.

The subtitles says "interiors, details and gardens". The book is predominantly interiors, and the garden stuff is fairly predictable, though nice. The 'details' are more those of objects than of architecture - this is not a book on restoration, it is one on decorating and furnishing.

In so many recent interiors books, the text is infuriatingly trite and asinine. Here the text does add to the photos, supplying both sensible background and relevant information. The producers of some of the more recent Ryland, Peters and Small titles should give this book to their 'words' people to peruse.

Mutton and Oysters: Food, Cooking and Eating in Victorian Times
Mutton and Oysters: Food, Cooking and Eating in Victorian Times
by Sarah Freeman
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading, 13 Jan. 2015
You would think, that with so many books on the Victorians, and on their food, available these days, that this book from 1989 would have been superceded. In fact, exactly the opposite is true; recent books seem to recycle the same old material, while this one has a fresh perspective and much that you won't find elsewhere. Sarah Freeman has done her research in unfamiliar places and what she has found doesn't always agree with the accepted platitudes.

First of all, this is more a book about food supply and diet, than about recipes - although she does include a selection of these to illustrate her text. Many myths are shot down in flames. Surveying the monstrous lists of dishes served at Victorian dinner parties, she explains that so far from pigging out on heaps of food, guests would select a little here, some more there, often skipping entire courses; the list was there both to give choice and to show off the host's wealth. Normal meals, even for the well-off, alternated boiled mutton with roast mutton, cold mutton appearing at other meals until the family must have had their appetites dulled by mere boredom. She also, of course, details how restricted the diet of the poor was, even in relatively well-off times.

Her chapter on the workhouses is well-balanced, and she makes the point that the food offered should not be compared with a modern well-balanced diet (which practically nobody, even the wealthy, ate at the time) but with the usual food of the poor, which was actually far worse than what most workhouses supplied. She also examines, at length and very clearly, the scientific understanding of diet during the 19th century. The misapprehensions, flawed science and prejudices of the period, slow as they were to fade, added to the general levels of malnutrition. Following 'scientific advice' during the Victorian period meant eating a very unhealthy diet by modern standards and led to malnourishment among all children, even those of the rich. Although Freeman inevitably covers the levels of adulteration and poor hygiene which were at their worst during the period, she sets this in the proper context and does not overemphasise it; the lack of understanding of nutrition had a far more deleterious impact.

One subject which is neglected in most other titles is the rise of the vegetarian movement, and Freeman devotes a entire chapter to this, which even non-vegetarians will find fascinating.

The book does have its flaws. Proof-reading is patchy, and frequent errors of punctuation, plus some obscurely convoluted and over-long sentences, serve to stop the reader in their tracks and interrupt the natural flow of reading. The book comes to an abrupt halt at the end of chapter 13 with no conclusions or elegant resume, rather as if the writer had run out of time. There is, however, a proper index and references are numbered and given in full at the back. There is a substantial bibliography. Minor explanations are given as footnotes. There are no plates but several dozen black and white illustrations in the text, many of them new to me.

As there is no 'look inside' on this book I'll now give a list of chapters.
1. Shops and shopping customs; normal and sharp practices
2. Markets, fairs and street-sellers; oysters three a penny
3. Produce; the best in the world
4. Products; the worst in the world
5. Drink; the grape v. the gooseberry (a reference to home-made wines)
6. Cooking; management of the fire
7. The cooks; aspiring heroines and artistes
8. The cookery writers; frugality and economy v. extravagant farragos
9. Meals and entertaining; from porridge to poularde al a Nelson
10. Children; mutton or cook-it-yourself
11. Nutrition; a case of direct observation
12. The vegetarian movement; heavenly voices and the garden of eden
13. Eating out; a matter of necessity rather than pleasure

The Victorians
The Victorians
by A.N. Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but patchy, 17 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Victorians (Paperback)
It's not like there haven't been quite a few books on Victorian England . . . to find a new approach is demanding, but A N Wilson's book is thought-provoking and intriguing. Though broadly chronological in arrangement, he explores themes and the development of ideas rather than simply recounting events or detailing social history. This brings us to a far better understanding of the Victorian way of thinking than most books on the subject.

This is not a social history and Wilson concentrates his attention on those who shaped public opinion and influenced events. He is particularly good on political personalities; their relationships with each other and the changes in their views over time. Anyone interested in Victorian parliamentary politics is strongly advised to read it; as well as laying bare the thinking of both Disraeli and Gladstone he is excellent on the less well-known players. There is a oversimplistic tendency on the part of many writers to divide 'eminent Victorians' into establishment figures (with cliched 'Victorian values') and outsiders who somehow illustrate Victorian England's disreputable underbelly. A N Wilson shows a continuity between the world of cabinet ministers and aristocrats, and that of liminal figures like Oscar Wilde and Madame Blavatsky, which makes a lot of sense and brings the period into a more modern focus.

Wilson himself apologises for giving disproportionate space to some themes - the Crimean War for example. This is inevitable if the book isn't to run into several volumes, and we can forgive him. What is more worrying is the presence of certain of the author's 'hobby horses'. When an author makes strange or silly errors, it is not so much the ones we can easily spot that give one pause for thought, so much as the concern about those which we are unaware of and take at face value. Wilson starts out with the powerfully stated belief that neither Queen Victoria nor Prince Albert were the offspring of their mother's husbands. Whether or not Prince Albert was, as he asserts, the son of some German fancy man of his mothers, I am not equiped to judge. However to claim that Victoria was undoubtedly the daughter of her mother's favourite John Conroy is absurd for a very simple reason. Conroy had 'shirt-model' good looks; clean-cut and with an enviable profile. Victoria looked like a boiled codfish; pop eyes, projecting beaky nose, no chin; an extraordinary face which even Winterhalter's flattery could only do so much to disguise. She was, in truth, the dead spit and image of her father, grandfather and uncles - if the Duke of Kent had been the milkman, he'd never have got away with it.

It does make you wonder what else Wilson is astray on . . .

Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory
Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory
by Francis Pryor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Marmite all the way through, 13 Dec. 2014
If this is your first encounter with Frances Pryor's writing, it may not be quite what you expect. Far from being a dry explanation of one particular viewpoint, backed up with reams of dull archaeological detail, Pryor leads the reader through the development of his ideas from his student days on, illustrating his arguments both with vivid descriptions of particular digs, and with insight into the way his views have developed and changed over time. Discussions with other academics feature as prominently as examination of the results of field archaeology.

Not everyone will like this approach. It is very similar to that of Michael Pitts' Hengeworld, now a classic but equally one which divides readers. If you want a lucid survey of current archaeology, avoid it. If you are interested in the way archaeologists arrive at such complex conclusions from the few faint clues left by history, you'll enjoy it. You will certainly learn a lot not only about the archaeology of everyday domestic life, but also about the way theories about prehistory change over time. Highly recommended for anyone thinking of studying archaeology at university!

by Walter J.C. Murray
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant enough but lacks real sparkle, 31 July 2014
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This review is from: Copsford (Hardcover)
Walter Murray decides to take a sabbatical. He will spend a year in isolation, making a living by collecting wild herbs for sale to pharmaceutical companies, and use the peace and quiet to write. He selects a ruined cottage, with neither orad nor decent path to it, infested by rats, for his home. Why? It would seem he has a friend living nearby, but he is exceptionally coy when writing about her.

The farmer who owns the cottage thinks he is off his chump. The author's romantic project is embarked upon without much research, and proves less of an easy living than he anticipates. Much of the wild herb material he collects rots because he has not prepared it properly. So far, a standard snippet of autobiographical 'up against it' writing. We get a good deal of the author's philosophical musings and a little bit about the collection and use of wild herbs. It is quite a charming little book but, in the last analysis, lacking either powerful atmosphere or unexpected insights. It is a bit like a good magazine article expanded into 207 pages.

This book has considerable charm, but the lasting impression one receives is that if the author planned to make a living by writing, he had a way to go - and his subsequent career indeed took him away from journalism. A quick Google reveals little; he published a book on Romney Marsh in 1972 (I haven't read it yet) and one titled 'Nature's Undiscovered Kingdom'. These are the only two books listed on the dustjacket, which tells me that Murray went on to establish an independent school and achieve fame as a wildlife photographer and broadcaster.

'Copsford' was published in 1948, and in the years during and after the Second World War there was a great demand for wild medicinal plants from the mainstream pharmaceutical companies. A more interesting book on the subject (although quite different in every way) is Florence Ranson's pocket guide British Herbs, published to aid those involved in collecting herbs.

The Life of Thomas More
The Life of Thomas More
by Peter Ackroyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.79

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book spoiled by one silly flaw, 3 Mar. 2014
Thorough, sensitive and with a sure touch in conveying to the modern reader the colour and mood of the time, this book is just what we would expect of Ackroyd on top form. So one is left bemused by one stupid and pointless editorial decision. Thomas More wrote obsessively all his life, and we thus have a huge resource of original material to call upon, which Ackroyd quotes very frequently, often at length.

Sixteenth century spelling is not as modern spelling. More was used to Latin, in which 'U' and 'V' were once written both as 'V'. The letter 'J' was commonly written as an 'i', and other spelling variations were common. I can understand that Ackroyd wishes to give the flavour of the original, but it is utterly perverse to transcribe each U as a V, and each V as a U, as he does here. There is no reason moreover why J should not appear as J. The 'y' of 'ye' is not a Y, it is a letter representing the sound 'TH', and was used for abbreviation.

The net result of Ackroyd's perverse transcriptions is that we are unable to read More's words, and instead have to decode the likes of 'conivnccyon' for 'conjunction', 'uiciovs' for 'vicious', 'yt' for 'that', and so on. In a few anomalous cases the original text is written simply with modern spelling, make it vibrate with sense and cogency. The decision not to do this throughout is inexplicable and very much to be regretted.

The Lays of the Pharisee - Being a Volume of Verses Together with Poems in Blank Verse, Telling of the Things That Are in the Modern Life of Today; Critical, Satirical and Political
The Lays of the Pharisee - Being a Volume of Verses Together with Poems in Blank Verse, Telling of the Things That Are in the Modern Life of Today; Critical, Satirical and Political
by Edith Watson
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The world a hundred years ago, 1 Dec. 2013
The poetry is, lets face it, dire. The illustrations are distinctly tedious. The interest lies in the content - what was thought a suitable subject for biting satire in 1913. Many of the poems are aimed at religious hypocrisy - hardly surprising. The more interesting ones are those highlighting vice in high society and political attitudes. One poem is anti-Home Rule. Another sheds fascinating light on the atrocities in the Belgian Congo which form the inspiration for Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and which were reported on by Roger Casement, earning him public acclaim and a knighthood before his actions in the cause of Irish republicanism brought about a downfall even more shocking than that of Oscar Wilde a generation before.

As literature this book is a mere curiosity. As a document of social attitudes the year before the First World War it is valuable and entertaining.

My copy is unlike any others I've seen offered, with marbled outer boards and a vellum spine.

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