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Winter Weather, Books to Enjoy

To start this post, I must apologise for the fact that the photos on the home page have disappeared. I have tried to get them back; I’ve been in touch with the kind woman who set up my blog page last year and she tells me it’s a hosting problem and suggested a different website host.  I had a word with my computer man and he wasn’t convinced that I needed to change my host, and he said he’d look into it for me.  Apparently, it’s to do with broadband width, but being totally ignorant of such matters all I know is that my thumbnail photos don’t now appear on the home page and I would like them back as it makes the page look more interesting.  But until this happens, I hope you will still log on and look at my new posts.

Right, onwards and upwards. First, the lisianthus are looking good in the sitting room; they are lovely flowers and bring a touch of early spring  although we are still in the depths of winter.  I looked in vain for more spring-like flowers (not chrysanthemums) while out on Saturday morning, and could only find dark pink roses which always look elegant, but they are a little short for the place where I wanted to put them.  Yes, I could’ve gone for tall lilies, but the fragrance of lilies can be a little overpowering, beautiful flowers though they are.  But maybe next time!

A dear friend invited me for a cuppa on Friday afternoon.  It was lovely to have a catch-up conversation during which I admired her lovely deep plum-coloured candles on her mantelpiece. She said she buys them in bulk for a very reasonable amount of money and forthwith drew out a large box from their concealment under the sofa, and gave me two of them.  I knew they’d look lovely in our tall glass candlesticks on our mantelpiece, and they do …

This is just one of the pair of candlesticks that my mother bought (from what was then referred to as a junk shop) in the 1950s and which my father detested. He couldn’t understand why she had “wasted her money” on horrible, old-fashioned things.  Dear Dad, he was a lovely man but only liked modern things as many people did in the 1950s, things that might’ve appeared at the Festival of Britain, and certainly not Victorian or Edwardian candlesticks with glass lustres to catch the flickering candle light.

But to the topic of the day:  books.  I was asked to review Parisian Charm School by Jamie Cat Callan and while I like to oblige readers, I tend not to review but just to mention books I’ve enjoyed.  I would hate to put any reader off a book which they might enjoy even if I hadn’t enjoyed it myself as reading, in particular fiction, is so very subjective.  Being a writer – although not of books – myself, I know how much time and effort is put into writing and I really wouldn’t want to dismiss any book even if I hadn’t enjoyed it, knowing how much effort would have gone into writing it.  And so, to Parisian Charm School.  Perhaps I’m not the ‘target readership,’  maybe it’s for a much younger person, or one not already happily married as it’s mainly about the French art of flirtation.  Maybe I’ve missed the point, but let’s just say not one for me and leave it at that.

However, there are books about France and, in particular, Paris, that I have very much enjoyed.  Those by Jennifer L Scott focusing on Madame Chic and what the young Jennifer learned while staying with M and Mme Chic.

I also enjoyed The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz and Almost French:  A New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull and on the strength of the Lebovitz I have ordered his latest book, L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making my Paris Home

I also loved Joie de Vivre by Harriet Welty Rochefort

and, it goes almost without saying, the lovely books by Janice MacLeod, A Paris Year and Paris Letters, which I mentioned in a post last summer.  But these modern books aren’t the only ones I have enjoyed about France.  Long before Peter Mayle wrote his best-selling book about Provence there was Winifred Fortescue and her delightful book Perfume from Provence.  It was published in 1935 and tells of Lady Fortescue and her husband, Sir John Fortescue’s move to France in the 1930s where they lived at what they called the Domaine.  It was re-issued in the 1990s by Black Swan and has recently been re-issued by a publisher called Summersdale (for the first time since 2000.)  You can read much more about these books and the Fortescues by looking at the website www.perfumefromprovence.com

When I was helping out in a friend’s antiquarian/2nd hand bookshop some years ago, I was able to find not only an old copy of Perfume from Provence, but also Lady Fortescue’s six other books, all autobiographical and in her own inimitable style.  Of course, today, talking about the indigenous population, which was mainly working class (and very hard-working class I would think, mainly fishermen and farmers) as “peasants” and also referring to “servants” mightn’t be politically correct, but we must remember the times in which these books were written, when  people had staff to do the washing and the cooking and the gardening, and Lady Fortescue does this without in any way belittling these people.

I am currently reading the second book in the series, Sunset House.  This was written after Lady Fortescus’s husband died (sadly, only two years after their move to Provence, but he was 28 years her senior) and is about her purchase of a dilapidated cottage and the story of transforming it into her new home.

Reading on the bed yesterday afternoon, rug, hot water bottle, cup of tea …

These books are about Provence as it would have been over 80 years ago, but for a lovely read on a dark January afternoon they bring to mind the warmth, the food, the smells of the herbs and flowers of that region, and are a delight.  I can’t think why I’d only read Perfume from Provence in the series; perhaps having the books ready-to-read on the shelves meant that I knew they’re there but just hadn’t bothered to take them down to read!  I shall now.

As well as these books by Lady Fortescue, two books arrived in the post today …

so I’m rather hoping that this very cold weather stays a while longer and then I shan’t feel quite so guilty about spending time reading, on dark, cold January afternoons (and sometimes with a glass of Tia Maria or Bailey’s).

Until next time.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. Isn’t it wonderful having a pile of books to read. This winter I’ve read The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst (my husband was at Magdalen College with Alan so I always buy his books as I understand even for a proper writer how precarious the existence is) and Longbourn by Jo Baker (as well as skipping through Deceived By Kindness by Angelica Garnett daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant). Such different books, so well written, I ached to know what happened to the characters and a true test for me I felt I inhabited the worlds they created. Alan is particularly good at writing big party/gathering scenes which always make me feel I’m present watching how the characters talk and interact. In my bedroom bookcase, where I keep my ‘to read’ books I’ve got The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Sense of an Ending by Juluan Barnes, At Last by Edward St Aubyn and Autumn by Ali Smith. My book of the moment is Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – can’t really think of a better book to be reading on a freezing cold January afternoon. Ruth writes so beautifully and she is unusual in that she is the only writer to be awarded the Booker prize (for Heat and Dust) as well as two Oscars for her screenplays of A Room with a View and Howard’s End. I’ve also been dipping in and out of Virginia Woolf’s diaries and skimming through the Farrow and Ball book titled How to Decorate which is full of good ideas and inspirational photographs. Happy reading Margaret. Oh and I must just tell you that at the age of 17 I became the emergency summer holiday au pair to Peter Mayle’s two little girls by his second marriage. This was 1978 and he had just taken flight to Provence with the future third Mrs Mayle leaving my Mrs Mayle in the lurch. I had the best time but I’ve never read A Year in Provence.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      My goodness, au pair to the second Mrs Mayle! That could be a book title in itself! I read the book when it was serialised in the Telegraph magazine and watched the TV dramatization of it starring John Thaw.
      You certainly have a wonderful selection to read. I gave up on Autumn by Ali Smith after a page or two and now I can’t even remember those, but I know it’s been highly regarded. I also read half of Longbourn by Jo Baker but by half way I felt I’d had enough, the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere, perhaps I was wrong and should’ve carried on! I read one book by Angelica Garnett years ago, but whether it was Deceived by Kindness, I can’t remember – what an odd bunch they all were. I had a whole collection of Bloomsbury-related books, including Harold Nicolson’s diaries and loads of stuff by Vita and Virginia, but have now cleared that section, I felt the time had come to part with them. I’ve not read anything by Alan Hollinghurst, but if your husband was at college with him, little wonder you buy his books, that’s only right and proper, supporting someone you know. I really must get my mitts on Heat and Dust, not read anything by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala either, but of course, know of her screenplays, her collaborations with Merchant/Ivory. I have the Farrow & Ball books (as you might imagine I would) … it’s just their latest one I’ve not bought as they are a little repetitive, but I have ordered the latest Ros Byam Shaw book, Perfect English Townhouse. I read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton but wasn’t overwhelmed by it, so I’d be interested to hear what you think of The Muse. I also enjoy letters and diaries, and my favourite letters are The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters (all 6 volumes.)

  2. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    You will need to build an extension to house all your books soon, Margaret. Or, are you perhaps planning to open your own bookshop? What a nice idea…with a little coffee shop on the side. Oh, I’d like that!
    Have you ever read the Katherine Tessaro book called Elegance. It is a novel based on a non-fiction book by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux.
    A quote about the tessaro book from Goodreads: Unhappy with her looks, her life, and her empty marriage, Louise Canova needs help — and she finds it in a secondhand bookstore. A forty-year-old encyclopedia of style titled Elegance, this slim volume by formidable French fashion expert Madame Dariaux promises to transform even the plainest of women into creatures of poise and grace. I enjoyed both.
    I am currently (slowly) ploughing through my book on the history of Ireland. It was described as ‘accessible’ but I’m finding it hard going.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Ah, but, some books go to the charity shop as soon as they’ve been read and I’m gradually similarly removing some of my many thousands of magazines (I have huge collections of those) although it pains me to do so. I’m not a hoarder in the sense of I don’t hoard all kinds of unrelated things and can’t tell the difference between rubbish and non-rubbish, I just keep all my magazines and often refer to those going back not just a few years but decades. I used to work in a bookshop, twice a year, just to help out when a friend went on holiday and I worked with her sister who was in charge, and I enjoyed it, but it’s not all sitting around chatting to customers, it’s jolly hard work if the bookshop is a busy one (and of course, the internet has been the downfall of many a bookshop, both those selling new books and those selling secondhand.) Yes, I loved Katherine Tessaro’s book, Elegance, but liked even more her one called The Perfume Collector. I also have Generieve Dariaux’s book, A Guide to Elegance (and much of it is relevant today, such as Christian’s Dior’s Little Dictionary of Fashion is relevant today, if one wishes to look elegant.)
      Yes, I would think a book on the history of Ireland might be hard going. These books often seem like a good idea at the time …
      I had to dispose of a heavy tome on art recently. Wonderfully researched but just too much like hard work.

  3. It sounds like you are making the best of the cold weather – settling into a good book with your blanket, hot water bottle and something nice to drink. Your descriptions are so illustrative – I can almost picture myself on your other couch doing same. And that’s saying something given that I can already hear the cicadas outside (before 8am) warning me it’s going to be another blazing hot day !

    Your lisianthus flowers are very pretty. You certainly have a good eye for displaying flowers. Your bookshelves are also very eye catching. My local area has recently caught onto the ‘street library’ where a small, glass fronted, weather proof structure is installed in a public area for people to ‘take a book, leave a book, share a book’. Such a wonderful concept. I have taken, left and shared several books – some have been great reads and others not to my taste but it’s been fun as it has certainly encouraged me to read some I would normally not. I think that anything that encourages people to read books is wonderful. Ditto for anything that contributes to the feeling of community.

    I also enjoyed Jennifer L. Scott’s Madame Chic and have read it a few times. I also enjoy her blog. As I’ve said before, I enjoy learning about how others live their lives – the more detail on the day-to-day, the better 🙂

    I follow Maggie Anderson on Instagram – an English writer who lives in Hastings but lived in Australia and was an editor in several Australian fashion magazines. She has been ill with what sounds like the flu. I’m not sure whether her or her friends’ comments (or perhaps in your posts) have called it ‘the Aussie flu’. It sounds awful and I would like to apologise for it on behalf of Australia. I would much prefer we share our hospitality, shared roots, etc than horrible viruses that have you laid up in bed for days on end !

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, I’ve heard that we have “Aussie” flu here, but how it differs from good old English flu (or even Bird flu) I do not know! I accept your apology on behalf of the rest of Britain, ha ha, for sending us this bug!
      I’d not heard of Maggie Anderson so will look up her Instagram pages. I do not belong to Instagram, so I can’t leave comments.
      Yes, people have been setting up small street libraries that you describe over here although I’ve yet to see one. Sometimes in disused phone boxes, or they have made a little box of their own and put it outside their home.
      Glad you like my descriptions of how I was reading yesterday, not on the sofa, my usual place, but on our bed, late afternoon, bedside lamp on, hot water bottle at my back, cup of tea and my book. Utter bliss for a dark, winter’s Sunday afternoon. We could do with some of your heat right now, but not the 55C which I heard it was on the cricket field yesterday (I don’t mean in the shade but on the pitch) when we lost yet again to your Australian team! But 55C is a silly heat in which to do anything, let alone play cricket. How hot does it have to be before those organizing such events see sense and play at night, under floodlights, when the temperature is just a little cooler? No money on earth would induce me to run around in those temperatures.
      PS Tried to find Maggie Anderson on Instagram, but there are many women with this name, so was unable to find the ‘right’ person, sadly.

  4. I so enjoy the detail of your descriptions. Lying on the bed with a hot water bottle, a nice drink, and a wonderful book sounds a lovely way to spend a cold and dreary afternoon.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, lying on the bed on a cold, January afternoon, is one of life’s affordable luxuries, Jeannine. I do recommend it!

  5. It’s Maggie Alderson. Sorry – spellcheck !

  6. What a great way to gently make our way through these short, grey days of January by keeping cosy and reading our books Margaret.
    I am still working through my British Library Classic Crime Collection, purchased especially with the long dark nights in mind, my beloved also gave me two books by Robin Hobb for Christmas including the final one in a much enjoyed trilogy so I am trying to eek that one out for as long as possible, have been reading that series for years so it will be like saying goodbye to old friends!
    I am yet to read any of the Mme Chic books by Jennifer L Scott but they are on my (never ending ) list.
    The candles look very effective in those glass candlesticks and I can see why you were drawn to the colour, as always your home looks very elegant Margaret.

    • Margaret Powling

      I’ve not heard of Robin Hobb, Elaine, so that’s a writer for me to investigate (appropriate if he’s a crime writer!)
      Yes, the Madame Chic books are fun and there’s some good advice in them, too, but I don’t think any thing we don’t already know although we mightn’t adhere to it!
      Thank you for saying our home looks elegant, it’s really a very ordinary home and we seldom re-decorate, but I was fortunate that my mother was a collector although she never had much spare money for buying real antiques, but she had a good ‘eye’ as they say, and although I wasn’t able to keep everything, I did keep a lot of the very pretty things she had, including the candlesticks.

  7. Greetings Margaret. I hope you are staying well and warm in this winter weather. We had our first big rain storm of the season today down here in southern California. I loved reading your post and the comments you shared in regard to the books you’ve read. Being a fiber artist, it’s sometimes hard for me to put down my yarn and read, but I do love to read a good book. I lived in a small farming community for many years and the library was my connection to the big world. But, times have changed and there are many “modern” authors that I don’t care to read. I sometimes feel that books should have ratings like they have with the movies. Maybe I’m old fashioned in that sense. My blog friends, including you, have shared some great books that I can easily buy online via Amazon, Ebay or AbeBooks. But, the other day I bought a book, written by a new author, supposedly set in the 1930’s. I began reading it and by chapter four it was not my cup of tea, so to speak and it will now be given away or thrown away. I really enjoyed reading Alan Titchmarsh’s book, The Haunting. Thank you for sharing Lady Fortescue’s books which I can readily order online. My favorite are the classics but I do enjoy discovering new authors. My best to you, Pat

    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Pat, and I’ve been saddened to see the mud slides and utter devastation in some parts of California being shown on our TV this morning.
      Yes, thank you, I am now well again, after the severe cough and cold, but get tired more easily although this morning I feel quite perky but it’s more an emotional feeling than a physical one – I looked out and the sky looked so beautiful over the sea (which was a milky white in the early morning light) that it really lifted my spirits (not that they were low anyway.) I’ve been sitting in the sitting room reading the book by Mary T Wagner while husband sleeps on, it’s not yet 8am on Wednesday morning. I’ve not been able to get into any of the three books I’ve bought recently, but I’m going to persevere with them a little longer, give them a chance at least.
      I have never been great at making things – my mother attempted to teach me to knit but gave up in the end. Perhaps had she chosen some lovely yarn I might’ve been encouraged, but I detested the mauve, scratchy wool and I thought even if I made it into a jumper I’d never wear it anyway! Just as a child shouldn’t be taught to play the piano on an old out-of-tune ‘joanna’, or taught to paint with wishy-washy paints that didn’t give good colour coverage, I do think it helps to teach people with quality products even if they ‘waste’ them to start with, because if the sound from the piano is awful even if they play the right notes, or the pullover they are making is in awful yarn, why bother? I know people have to learn, but I think it’s best to give them a sporting chance in the first place!
      Oh, that’s a wonderful idea, ratings for books! I’m so glad you enjoyed Alan Titchmarsh’s book, The Haunting. I think it was one of his best. I hope you won’t be disappointed with Lady Fortescue’s books, the first is Perfume from Provence which I loved, but reading is subjective and what one person loves another rejects, a bit like food. Thankfully, there are books out there for all of us.

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