Thursday, 26 May 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Mays past

For my second monthly #ThrowbackThursday feature, I
The People's Monarch
Photo courtesy of @eccn_news 
am taking today's date of the 26th May and revisiting blog posts published on the same date (or thereabouts) in years gone by. It's great having this reservoir of posts to click back through because my memory can be somewhat unreliable and we've done so much in the past few years! If you've been following me since 2012 then I hope you enjoy rediscovering these moments. If you're newer to Stephanie Jane then this is some of what you've missed out on!

On the 26th of May 2012 I blogged on Theatrical Eastbourne about The People's Monarch which was a giant photographic installation created by Helen Marshall to celebrate the Jubilee. It had opened at Eastbourne's Towner Gallery the day before and I got there early in the day to be one of the first visitors to see it!

One year later and I had just posted a letter booking us into
Our first caravan campsite 
our first ever caravanning campsite. We had just bought Bailey and were now going to spend a weekend in our very own caravan for the very first time! I was so excited! We're a bit blase about it all now, but I remember writing a list of everything we needed to do and check before setting off and upon arrival. It seemed incredibly complicated back then - and I still haven't completely got the hang of the jockey wheel. It usually needs to go a couple of turns further than the end of the pole. Checking the old links for this post, I don't think the Old Mill campsite is still open for touring caravans. Their website has been taken over by adverts and we've heard talk of only static parkhomes there now.

Orlando audiobook 
May the 24th in 2014 was a book review day and I posted about a trio of very different books. I had listened to the audiobook of Orlando by Virginia Woolf, and had read both Mysteries Of Mithra by Franz Cumont and Witness The Dead by Craig Robertson. Amazing transgender fiction, interesting religious history and a pretty dire thriller.

Mam Tor 
We were well into our UK summer tour by May 2015 and had pitched up in the gorgeous scenery of the Peak District. My blog post for the 25th of the month recounts our nine mile walk from Lose Hill to Mam Tor, one of the iconic Peak District routes. We shared our day with lots of other walkers which gave an unusual community feel to it - long distance walks usually result in us seeming to have the world to ourselves. It was a beautiful day and we treated ourselves to ice cream in Castleton at the end. Both Dave and I loved the Peak District and I definitely think we will return at some point for more superb walks.

That's all for this month's reminiscing. If you want to share your own #ThrowbackThursday posts, feel welcome to drop a link in the Comments. Next month I'll be remembering the 30th of Junes.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Walking from Lemonford campsite to Rora Wood and Liverton

One aspect of our current campsite, Lemonford, that most
Vintage tractor at Liverton 
attracted us to it is its proximity to Dartmoor and, therefore, potentially good walks. We set out on one a couple of days ago which Dave had plotted from our new Ordnance Survey Landranger map 191. Starting from Lemonford and walking in to Bickington, we crossed over the River Lemon and took the second left, passing under the A38. We then passed a turning to Yeo Farm, instead taking the bridleway towards Goodstone Woods. I wondered if Yeo Farm was a contributor to Yeo Valley, but couldn't find any connections mentioned online. There is a beautifully picturesque Bed and Breakfast called Owls Rattle on the junction. (They're not taking bookings right now though)

At a fork, we took the right-hand footpath towards
I never get bored of bluebell woods 
Ramshorn Down. There was a little uncertainty leaving the first field. It turns out that through the leaning metal gate is the correct route! The narrow wooded path follows a pretty little stream for quite a way, emerging at Coombe Farm where a protective collie dog didn't allow us much thinking time. We should have gone straight ahead uphill, but actually took the right fork along a rough road away from the farm. It didn't really matter as we then rejoined our footpath by turning left at the tarmaced road and completing a triangle. Our track to Ramshorn Down, after a short distance on the right, climbed up onto open moorland with stunning panoramic views in almost 360 degrees. We spotted Lemonford below us and looked over to Haytor where we previously walked a couple of weeks ago.

View to Haytor (you'll need to squint to see it though!) 
Descending towards Rora House, we passed either several little or one huge equestrian establishment. There are numerous tyre jumps by the sides of tracks too. The three-way junction where we turned down to the House only has signs pointing in the other two directions, but it is marked as a right of way from the other end. Rora House is an elegant pinkish coloured building, unfortunately obscured by scaffolding at the moment, and is a religious retreat for 'Regions Overseas, Regions Around'. I think the house must have been named first!

Liverton hamlet, on the far side of Rora Wood, is picture
Song thrush egg (?)
postcard pretty, although a possible scrap metal merchant on the outskirts spoils the effect. I think the vintage tractor pictured above was his though. We ate our picnic lunch perched on a road bridge just before the village, and then followed the road through as the farthest point of our circular walk. Returning around the other side of Rora Wood, we climbed steadily uphill along forestry tracks and paths. There are lots of options here and the Wood seems popular with dog walkers. I am not sure of our exact route, but we ended up coming back to the three-way junction and retracing our steps to Ramshorn Down, now with those expansive views in the other direction. There are two tracks marked on the map to cross the Down. We had come up from the Coombe Farm direction and so headed back along the other track. This entailed climbing over a stile prior to a short but very steep downhill section after crossing the road. I didn't like this bit at all, but had we done the route the other way round we would have had a very steep uphill and Dave certainly wouldn't have liked that!

We returned along the same woodland path as we had taken on the way out. There are a couple of places where unofficial small diversions around fallen trees or muddy patches make the path vague for a while. Our whole route was about six miles and we were delighted with the range of environments we saw. Were we staying here longer, we would certainly do more walking from Lemonford as it is a great base location. The little roads are very quiet and there are plenty of small villages and hamlets to discover as well as Dartmoor itself.

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Life Of Elves by Muriel Barbery / I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse by C H Clepitt / The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I was very happy when one of my favourite book publishers, Gallic Books, contacted me to ask if I would like a review copy of a new Muriel Barbery novel, The Life Of Elves. The book is very different to Barbery's previous novels such as The Elegance Of The Hedgehog which I have noticed has upset other reviewers.

Set in a timeless France and Italy, the story revolves around the mystical connection between two young girls. Maria was abandoned in a French village as a baby, the only clue to her origins being two Spanish words embroidered onto her wraps. Clara was brought up in Italy and finds herself a child prodigy pianist. I loved Barbery's descriptions of music and the evocations of sound. Clara's flights of imagination at these points, seeing mountains and streams or the stone cages that are cities intricately woven through the melodies she plays, are superbly written and some of the most visionary prose passages I have ever read. This alone is the reason why I would urge people to buy The Life Of Elves.

However, alongside such beauty also comes frustration as, even after finishing it, I still don't really know what this book is about. Supernatural beings in the form of Elves have come into the human world and Maria's village comes under attack, but I never understood why or even really who by. Perhaps experienced readers of fantasy novels would find the overriding story ar so obvious that Barbery felt she didn't need to make it explicit. Personally, at the time, I was happy to simply be swept along in the whirl of words, but now I am trying to write a review I think it would have been nice to have known exactly what was going on!

I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse by C.H. Clepitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I enjoyed a previous C H Clepitt witchy read, The Book Of Abisan, so was happy to be offered an advance copy of her newest novella intriguingly entitled I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse. The book will be launched on the 26th of May and there is a two day Facebook party in celebration starting on the 23rd May.

I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse tells the story of web designer Kerry who, having dressed snappily for a business interview, then finds herself hopelessly attired for escaping exploding coffee shops and general running away as The Apocalypse takes place all around her. Exasperated at becoming the generic pathetic female, she befriends a talking badger (as you do) and eventually finds that she might have a useful skill or two after all.

I Wore Heels is a whimsical exploration of survival in desperate times. The characters are more caricatures than fully rounded portrayals, but their adventure takes interesting turns and is always entertaining. Personally I would have preferred more background and description and less chat as the dialogue isn't always convincing, but otherwise this is fun escapism - and possibly zombies!

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I read The Midnight Palace in September 2013, but wasn't blogging my mini book reviews back then. I re-discovered a few recently so am adding them into the next few book review trios.

I didn't realise this was a YA title when I bought it, another Oxfam find. I loved Shadow of the Wind and was hoping for more of the same. Midnight Palace does not have the beautiful poetic prose of Shadow. However, it does have good atmosphere with a strong sense of place, and is a gripping adventure story. I would recommend this to adults as a light fantasy thriller and a good holiday read.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Sunday, 22 May 2016

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye!

It's now the second day of rain at Lemonford. Yesterday I spent creating a new bookish blog (which will officially launch on the 1st of June) so that passed a bit of time. Today I am a tad bored! I thought I could entertain myself by rounding up a few potential treats for you. If you follow me on Twitter you might already have seen some of these, but this first one is brand new!

I've seen vague mentions of a new Harry Potter book but
hadn't taken much notice until it was highlighted at Waterstones this morning. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is half-price in hardback. It's actually a play script for the official West End production, written by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, and due to be published on the 31st July. I wouldn't be surprised if the first edition has sold out long before then!
Pre-order yours for £10, reduced from £20

Also in the theatrical line, this time two London plays:
former Dr Who Matt Smith is to star in Unreachable at the Royal Court Theatre from the 1st July until the 6th of August. The play is about a film director's obsessive quest to capture the perfect light.
Tickets for Unreachable are on sale now from London Theatre Direct.

If that sounds a bit deep, perhaps 'razor sharp' new comedy The Spoils at Trafalgar Studios will be more your thing. Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar stars alongside Jesse Eisenberg who also wrote the play. Unpopular bully Ben discovers that his school crush is going to marry a banker and sets out to win her back. The Spoils was hailed as 'a triumph' in New York.
Tickets for The Spoils are on sale now from London Theatre Direct.

Time for a cuppa now and Twinings are offering 3 for the
price of 2 on all their Single Origins Tea Caddies throughout May so you've still got just over a week to take advantage of the offer.

And why not serve your tea in this gorgeous Emperor's Bird tea set by Alison Appleton. Created from De Hua porcelain and black clay, the five piece set has a literary connection having been inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale The Emperor and The Nightingale. I love the little white bird as the teapot lid handle.
The Emperor's Bird tea set retails at £58.

For the kids, English Heritage have some fun Princess or Knight bedding sets available at the moment. For a limited time, you can get a matching door sign with every single bedding set purchased. At checkout simply enter code EHP5D for the Princess bedding set and sign or EHK5D for the Knight bedding set and sign.

Plus, if you're stuck for half-term holiday ideas, English Heritage membership might be something to consider. A year's family membership is £92 for two adults and up to 12 children (12?!) and gets you entry into English Heritage properties all over the country. They frequently have special events over the school holidays. If you pay by direct debit, English Heritage are offering an extra three months free so that's fifteen months for the price of twelve.


Saturday, 21 May 2016

Moving onto Lemonford campsite and visiting Trago Mills

After two weeks each at the Devon campsites Widend and
A Dornafield rabbit 
Dornafield, we are now settled in at Lemonford, near Bickington, for a week and a day before we head into Somerset. We were a little sad to say goodbye to our new Dornafield friend who you can see checking out our stuff in this photo. This not-so-little wild rabbit was so relaxed around people that it wandered into our awning several times!

Lemonford was less than a half hour drive from Dornafield and getting to the campsite doesn't involve any single track roads which was nice with the caravan on tow. I am always a little nervous of those kinds of road! A seasonal deal means that we are now paying £100 per week including electric here instead of the £99 at Dornafield. Lemonford is nowhere near as immaculately groomed, but the upside of that is that it seems much quieter. There is continuous background traffic noise, but I can tune that out. Our pitch is hardstanding in a grassy area with trees and the water and waste water are only a short walk away. There is a bit of a step up to both so I now know not to let the waste master get too heavy!

The little shop-reception has basic groceries and a couple
Out pitch at Lemonford 
of shelves of books to swap. They also sell local pink Ordnance Survey maps at a very good price of £6.99 so we got number 191 (Okehampton and North Dartmoor) to go with our existing number 202 (Torbay and South Dartmoor). It is possible to walk onto Dartmoor straight from Lemonford and we did one such route today which I will blog about soon. Other facilities include a laundry area with communal drying lines and sanitary buildings which are a bit dated, but clean and with a good sized shower cubicle that stays warm because it is effectively its own little room. Lots of the pitches here seem to be set up for the season, but with their caravans unoccupied so we have much of it to ourselves which seems ghost towny. Perhaps that will change over the weekend?

As well being very near to Dartmoor, Lemonford is also
A Trago Mills tower 
within easy driving distance of the locally famous Trago Mills - huge retail and entertainment complex which we had heard about from our friends Chris and Marta. We popped along for a visit after pitching up on Wednesday afternoon and found it to be a rather surreal experience! I was reminded of the huge Roy's of Wroxham department store(s) we saw last, but Trago Mills is even weirder! Most of the buildings are topped with these white towers, even the Co-op, and the items on sale range from motorbikes to furniture to food to musical instruments. Having not really intended to buy anything, we came away with two pillows, a box of DVD-Rs, a DVD of The Crucible and a banoffee cake. There are concession shops too which sell jewellery, goth fashions, fudge and sweets, swing sets and goodness knows what else, plus a large area of recreational attractions including radio controlled boats, a ride-on train, a model railway and amusement arcades. I couldn't quite believe the extent of the attractions crammed into the park! And I am not sure I would ever want to go back there - even though the cake was pretty good!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

We visit Cockington Court country park and craft centre

We met up with our artist friend Marta yesterday
ROC Creative wedding dress displayed at
Cockington Court 
afternoon. She is on a flying visit to the UK and suggested that we might like to spend some time together at Cockington Court. We had seen the Torbay attraction advertised, but hadn't yet got around to visiting so were happy to take up her idea. As it was a sunny afternoon we decided to walk in from the outskirts of Torquay, parking up near to the station and following a very pretty open woodland path into the Court grounds. Our alternative, which I had already checked via a Twitter conversation, was to park onsite. This is reasonably priced at £1 per hour up to three hours and £4.50 for over three hours (exact change needed for the machines). Cockington Court has been extensively renovated, part paid for by the European Development Fund, but still retains a real air of history and reminded of Alfriston - a historic village near to where we used to live in Sussex.

We started our visit with a drink at The Drum Inn which
The Drum Inn, Cockington 
was built in 1936 and sports a blue plaque outside because it was designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The coffee is pretty good and Marta was pleased they had St Austell Brewery's Proper Job beer on tap.

Outside we could see picturesque thatched cottages and a water wheel being repaired as we walked by. The number of ice cream shops and tea rooms gave us an idea of just how busy Cockington Court must get in the height of summer, but it was pleasantly tranquil on a weekday May afternoon. There are over twenty artisan studios whose windows we peered into. I loved the gorgeous colours at OurGlass glassblowers workspace and was tempted by the four-tiered chocolate-covered cakes at Cockington Chocolate Company - almost worth getting married for, except I wouldn't want to share!

Cockington Court house 

Leaving the studios behind, we crossed the windy cricket
Stairwell window 
pitch towards Cockington Court house itself. Apparently a thriving Saxon community in 1066, Cockington was seized and passed to a conquering Norman family, the FitzMartins, who promptly changed their name to deCockington. The family remained until 1375 when they sold the estate to Sir John Cary. A Chief Baron of Exchequer, his family owned the estate continuously, despite beheadings and forced exiles, until they were ruined by the civil war. Exeter goldsmith Roger Mallock bought Cockington Court in 1654 and also, later, Torquay's Torre Abbey. The beautiful stained glass window here features stylised 'M' letters which I presume were for Mallock. William Of Orange was met on British shores at the quay by a Rawlyn Mallock in 1688 and this third family continued to live here until 1933.

Cockington might no longer be a place for making history,
Cockington church 
but echoes of its past are everywhere - even the church has real battlements! Nowadays, the emphasis is s on art and creativity and we were lucky to catch a ROC Creative art exhibition in the Kitchen Gallery. Entitled Memories, its publicity poster indicated it should have finished in April so I don't know for how much longer it will continue, but the work was still on show as of the 17th of May and included the gorgeous wedding dress illustrated in the first photo at the top of this post. ROC Creative is an inclusive arts-led project supporting people with learning difficulties. The Wedding Dress was originally created as part of an exhibition to commemorate 200 years of Singer (of sewing machine fame). Artists were given plain white cotton cloth and asked to create a garment that evoked a significant personal memory. ROC Creative's dress is transfer printed with photographs important to the members and staff who wanted to take part.

As Cockington Court was closing for the day as we left the Kitchen Gallery, we started back through the village and along the pretty path. Our entertainment wasn't quite finished though because Dave expertly crossed the stream and back balancing on a sloping fallen tree!

A circus career beckons? 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Told From The Hips by Andrea Amasson / No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe / The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Told from the Hips by Andrea Amosson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Told From The Hips by Andrea Amosson from its publishers, Nowadays Orange Productions, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This collection of ten short stories and vignettes is mostly set in Chile or features people emigrating to or from the country. The tales centre around strong women or women whose situations bring out their inner strength and I found it a remarkably inspirational and uplifting book to read, despite the dark turns of some of the stories.

We visit Copenhagen with a young Chilean woman whose ex-pat aunt and uncle now life in the city. Effectively exiled from their homeland, the aunt and uncle make weekly cycle rides to a flea market. Their niece is underwhelmed by the trip until she realises that this is the closest her relations have to a remembrance of home. Then, in Cover Story, a different young woman is so excited to have landed her ideal journalism job and had her first article printed in the newspaper. She learns the hard way that not all women believe in sisterhood though as her dreams are spitefully ripped away.

Ananuca and Chachacoma are a particularly moving pair of stories about an orphan who never knew her mother and the mother who was given away in marriage for the price of a few animals, losing her baby daughter 'to the city' during a particularly harsh winter. I loved the imagery of this story and that of The Blood And The Escape where Teresa, declared insane, walks barefoot to a railway station to escape imprisonment in a nunnery, but cannot steel herself to leave her daughter behind with 'the lump', her husband. In common with the final three stories, Octavia who is lost to gypsies, Marcelita's Amusement where a slow-witted girl decides to entrap a husband, and Suan who is born to a Chinese immigrant woman, simple effective prose and beautifully evoked characters make these the kind of tales that are good at face-value and become greater with pondering. The women and girls are real with easily relatable problems that are repeated the world over so, while there is a Chilean flavour to the writing, in many ways these stories could be told of women in many different countries. The whole collection is short and I easily read it in a couple of hours, but then returned the next day to read it again to make sure I had picked up on all the details and emotions.

No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I originally listened to No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe in February 2013 and chose to return to the book now so I could include its review in my WorldReads - Nigeria collection. This Audible download is narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez who does a pretty good job although his British and Irish accents are mangled at times. I don't know Nigerian accents well enough to tell if those are accurate or not.

No Longer At Ease is the story of Obi Okonkwo, a talented young man whose village, Umuofia, clubbed together to pay for him to be the first from there to study in England - a fantastic honour. The village did want Obi to study law in order to further their interests legally and Obi switched courses to study English literature, but a university degree is still something to be very proud of and Umuofia welcomes back their son with celebrations. Swept along by expectations Obi lands himself a prized government job at the ministry dealing with scholarships, an apartment in a formerly whites-only enclave, a new Morris car and the fantastic salary of seventy pounds a month. It's all obtained fairly, above board and Obi feels he represents the new face of Nigeria.

I loved how Achebe chips away at Obi's naive beliefs and expectations for his life. We know from the very beginning of the story that he will be shamed by bribe-taking, but his downfall is so cleverly portrayed that I felt sorry for him and completely understood his predicament. Torn in many directions, Obi finds himself not only standing against matter-of-course corruption, but also small town views opposing Lagos city experiences, and ancient beliefs still strong under the veneer of his Christian upbringing. The scholarship was actually a loan that must be repaid and keeping up appearances in the city is pricey; his younger brother's school fees compete with those of his mother's hospital; his white boss repeatedly undermines Obi and his country; his girlfriend is of a forbidden caste; and then bills that he never imagined existed begin to pile up. From wonderful initial hope, No Longer At Ease is a portrayal of culture clashes between races, generations and belief systems and provides a valuable insight into how strong people need to be to live between all of those stools.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell is one of my 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge books, ie a book I have been meaning to read, but struggling to get around to. In this case its length has been putting me off. I am not a great fan of loooonnnng books! Of the twenty TBR list books I challenged myself to read this year, I think The Bone Clocks is only my fourth. Must try harder!

The Bone Clocks is a sweeping epic of a novel, told from multiple viewpoints and covering over half a century in time from 1984 until the 2040s. Everyday events are blended with an overall fantasy good-against-evil arc and several heavy lectures about how mankind is destroying the Earth and our own futures. We first follow young Holly Sykes, a fifteen year old runaway from Gravesend, in a Black Swan Green-like storyline with lots of nostalgic 1980s detail. Holly was easily the most believable of all Mitchell's characters and I enjoyed her segment of the book. The fantasy element introductions here are intriguing, but peripheral. A time jump later we meet privileged Cambridge student Hugo Lamb and are whirled into drunken parties, skiing trips and underhand machinations. We also begin to understand more about the supernatural forces at work. I was still quite happy with The Bone Clocks at this stage, but when we had to spend many pages with jaded fading author Crispin Hershey, I began to lose interest. This segment might be hilariously funny if you're part of the literary in crowd, but I just found it self-indulgent and patronising. It's followed by an anti-Iraq occupation harangue that, to me, read like a synopsis of Imperial Life In The Emerald City and then Mitchell goes all Ben Elton on us in his near-future dystopia where there's No Internet. Scream!!!

I did read The Bone Clocks all the way through to the end and there were significant parts of it that I thought were brilliant, hence my overall three star rating. I liked the nods to previous Mitchell books such as Black Swan Green and Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet and caught myself wondering what other nods I might have spotted had I read more Mitchell books - neat marketing ploy! However the storyline rambles around too many Important Issues leaving me feeling distinctly hectored on several occasions and I wasn't convinced by the supernatural thread. All that effort to save four lives a year yet leaving a higher body count in their wake!

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads