27 March, 2017

The Essex Serpent

I recently received Sarah Perry's novel, "The Essex Serpent", as a birthday gift. I have just finished reading it and very much enjoyed it.

The novel is set in 1893 in London and Essex. The central character is a highly intelligent and wealthy widow called Cora Seaborne. The story, very broadly speaking, is about Cora's relationship with, and growing love for, Essex vicar William Ransome, whose wife Stella is dying of TB.

However, the book is so much more than a love story; it is an education. It touches on numerous topics including domestic violence, society's view of women at the end of the nineteenth century, the developing field of surgery, the growth in natural history and palaeontology (and the contribution of women to these fields), and the appalling living conditions that the poor had to endure at this time as well as the efforts that individuals were making to highlight and improve the plight of the poor.

I found this novel extremely interesting and I learnt a lot from it. The prose was also very well written and expressive.

If you are looking for a book that is a pleasure to read but also challenging and though provoking, I would recommend this one.

14 March, 2017

Yoga in Kennington

I recently had to look for a new yoga class to join because the teacher whose classes I had attended for the past ten years or so was taking a break from teaching. I was rather disappointed because I thought that it might be difficult to find a good replacement for my old teacher.

It took me a few tries to find a new teacher who is (a) local, (b) good, and (c) runs sufficiently challenging classes, but I've managed to find someone who is great. She is called Elli and runs regular classes in Kennington near Oxford.

Elli teaches hatha yoga. The classes are very well structured and quite demanding -- focussing on increasing core strength as well as maintaining flexibility -- but they are also fun and easygoing. Elli herself is lovely -- very friendly and relaxed. The classes take place in a large school hall, so there is plenty of space.

If you're looking to join a yoga class in or near Oxford, I would recommend this one. You can find out more about Elli's classes on her website.

11 March, 2017

How you view buildings

Something struck me the other day when walking into the building where I work -- how you perceive a building very much depends on your state of mind.

The place where I work has a (fairly) impressive entrance lobby, with a dedicated and very professional receptionist and comfy chairs and corporate literature for waiting visitors. There's a big stairway that sweeps down into the lobby and, when you come down that stairway, those people waiting in the lobby in the comfy chairs look up expectantly.

I remember coming for my interview here. It all seemed rather intimidating at the time -- waiting and watching the stairs for my host to come and collect me. But now that I work there, the building doesn't seem imposing or intimidating at all. It's all quite familiar; it's just where I work, after all.

Isn't it interesting, then, how your mental state or the way you are feeling can affect your perception of concrete things?

The Tidal Zone

I have just finished reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Sarah Moss.

This one -- her most recent -- is called "The Tidal Zone" and is a really interesting, thought-provoking read. The basic story line involves a fifteen-year-old girl who almost dies from an unexplained anaphylactic incident whilst at school. The book is told in the first person (from the girl's father's point of view) and follows how the girl's family copes after this incident.

However, this basic story line is in fact a container for a whole host of other things -- and it is these things that the book is really about. Moss covers the NHS (how it operates in today's chronically underfunded and chronically overcrowded world), the nature of family, how one's previous experience shapes one's reaction to future experiences, how the the practicalities of everyday life impact on a relationship, the role of breadwinner versus homemaker... The list goes on.

This description makes "The Tidal Zone" sound like a very serious book -- and in some ways it is, or at least some of the topics that Moss writes about in it are serious. Yet the writing style is light and lively and Moss is genuinely funny, drawing out the humour in the banalities of everyday life.

If you're looking for a book that is superbly written and easy to read but also intelligent and insightful, I would recommend "The Tidal Zone".

03 March, 2017

The Waterfront Cafe at Benson

I just wanted to write a blog post singing the praises of the Waterfront Cafe at Benson.

My friend Sally and I meet up here regularly for coffee, cakes and a chat. It is right by the river, so has a lovely outlook with lots of boats and meadows beyond. There are lots of tables inside and a large, canopied terrace outside, so you can always get a table -- including one in the fresh air and sunshine, if you wish.

The coffee is good and they have an unusual and scrummy range of cakes (we are particularly partial to the Portuguese custard tarts). They also serve a range of hot meals, cooked breakfast, etc.

The waiting staff are friendly and efficient.

What more could you want?!

Eltham Palace

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated  my birthday with a day trip to Eltham Palace, which is near Greenwich.The last time we visited was when our oldest daughter was a tiny baby, so more than fourteen years ago...

We found Eltham as interesting now as then. It was a royal palace for centuries, dating back to the time of Edward II, and Henry VIII spent much of his childhood there. Only the great hall of the original medieval palace remains, but this has been incorporated into the modern mansion, and it is really stunning.

The modern house that stands now was built in the 1930s. It is a beautiful mansion, with an enormous, wood panelled entrance hall. It is really interesting to see a stately home from this contemporary period when what you are used to visiting is ancient houses from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even the kids were impressed -- they really enjoyed seeing something newer and different.

The gardens surrounding the mansion are also beautiful and we spent an enjoyable half hour strolling through them. We finished off with lunch in the newly-built visitor centre, which was very good. There is also an outdoor adventure playground, which will be of interest to families with young children.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our day out at Eltham Palace, and I would certainly recommend a visit.