Epic update time….

Tomorrow we head to Spain for five days, and I thought it might be nice to write a blog about our travels. I went back to check when was the last time I updated this site, and my last blog post was OVER SIX MONTHS AGO. Apols. So I thought I’d catch it up before Spain, as quite a few things have happened since then… It’s going to be less words, more pictures. A highlights reel, if you will.

London – the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library! A two-day conference titled ‘Reformation on the Record’ at The National Archives in Kew. And finally, Keat’s House, Hampstead.

Oh yes, a wee jaunt back to Australia for eight weeks. Christmas, friends, family, new babies, beautiful Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula, Macedon, Adelaide, and surrounding South Australia. The weather, folks. The weather.

And back to bonnie Scotland – more jaunts to the Borders, including St. Mary’s Loch, my first foray to Dumfries & Galloway (Grey Mare’s Tail), the Christmas markets (technically back in 2017), two lots of cat-sitting, Stanza Poetry Festival in St. Andrews, numerous other wee events/festivals/fairs, lovely Cramond beach, and SNOW. Lots of snow.

I am a lucky woman.

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A very late update

August has been such a bizarre, wonderful month. The Edinburgh International Book Festival was such a great experience last year, and this year I got to be part of it! I was part of Story Shop 2017, which involved reading my work in the Speigeltent one afternoon. I met the nicest people while doing this – the lovely staff at the City of Literature, my fellow Storyshoppers (all 17 of us!), and previous participants who came to support us. It was even live streamed on Periscope so my parents could watch it from Melbourne. I even met one of the judges of The Emerging Writer Award – the award I was lucky enough to win second place in earlier this year. She was watching my reading totally by chance!

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I also was lucky enough to chair an event. The brilliant poets J.L. Williams and Rachael Boast were appearing together and I was privileged to introduce them and ask them a few questions after their reading. We had a small, appreciative audience, and the poets signed some books afterwards.

I went to so many events! It was wonderful to see such a wide variety of writers, and I can’t possibly list them all here, but a selection of the people I got to watch/meet/chat to includes: Geraldine McCaughrean, Katherine Rundell, Amy Liptrot, Donald Smith, Beth Underdown, Kirsty Logan, the contributors to the Nasty Women anthology, Jo Baker and the nominees and winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Polly Clark, Annalena McAfee, Meg Rosoff, Zadie Smith, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Brian Bilston, Daniel Piper, Hera Lindsay Bird, Vanessa Kisuule, Ali Smith, Sarah Dunant, Jenny Lindsay, Rachael McCrum, Sara Hirsch, Jo Whitby, A New International, Chris McQueer, Claire Askew, Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Russell Jones, Harry Giles, Jane Yolen, and Finola Scott.

Other festival-type fringey bits:

Edinburgh International Film Festival – we went to a screening of Final Portrait, Stanley Tucci’s directorial debut starring Geoffrey Rush, Clemence Poesy, and Armie Hammer. Stanley Tucci himself was there to introduce it! We also went to a screening of Born in Flames, the 1983 dystopian film written and directed by Lizzie Borden, who was also there to answer questions afterwards!

Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I saw Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, a one-woman show that resets the poem in the American South. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but I was pleasantly surprised. Jennifer Jewell is a wonderful performer. We also went to Lilith: The Jungle Girl at the Traverse, and it was like watching a socially-conscious episode of The Mighty Boosh onstage. Loved every weird minute of it!

Golden Hare bookshop – I went to the Hear Hare Hear event with Christine De Luca, Katie Ailes, and Iain Morrison reading. These three poets are always interesting, and it was a pleasure to chat to them afterwards (and win a prize in the raffle!). I was also a guest on Bibliophile, the podcast produced by Golden Hare, where we discussed the modernization of classic texts. It was great fun to be involved!

Travel wise, we’ve had a wee day trip to St Andrews…

…and a few days in London. It was a pleasure to go with Sean’s sister, it being her first trip there, and I spent most of it wandering around the Brick Lane market or in the National Portrait Gallery, getting acquainted with history and saying hi to the Bronte’s.

We stayed in a hostel in Swiss Cottage for a couple of nights and saw Tim Burton buying breakfast in a delicatessen, then I stayed in Soho with a lovely couple I met at the Bronte conference last year. I saw Eddie Izzard walking down Carnaby St. I finished my trip with a visit to the delightful Persephone Books.

Brace yourself for a level of nerdiness that surpasses even my own past efforts: I’ve managed to join two book clubs, three societies (Jane Austen, Bronte, and Richard III), and am looking forward to the festival finishing so I can get back into the walking group as well. The 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death was marked with a church service and another meeting involved Dr Cheryl Kinney from the USA lecturing on Persuasion and Austen’s use of illness and injury in her novels.

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I have also been hard at work editing Pride & Possibilities and have been loving the contributions I get to work with! I’ve done two online courses – one that tied into the book festival and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize called How to read a novel and one on the life and times of Richard III – and have been working on my professional development for the scheme I am enrolled in, including attending a seminar at the National Library of Scotland on the RDA update and a workshop at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow on libraries, social inequality, and activism. I’m also about to embark on another online course focused on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, and this can be claimed for my professional development as well, thank goodness!

And amongst all this, I have been attempting to take care of the everyday business of life, and prepare for a longer stay in Edinburgh. I had a haircut – bless the lovely hairdresser and her poker face when I told her it hadn’t been cut in almost two years.

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I’m going to run out of time to get my wisdom teeth out this year, but next year it will happen, mark my words! We are moving to a larger, more comfortable flat and we have booked flights back to Aus to take care of our visa requirements. I have been treasuring the Skypes and the correspondence from Australia, as well as the groups of friends I have made here – dinners, afternoon teas, and drinks have been some of the most enjoyable times in the last couple of months! We have had numerous visitors from Australia and from other parts of the UK and Europe and it’s been brilliant to revisit those friendships. Also, I am now a cat-sitter – spent a weekend last month with the handsome fellow below, and looking forward to next month when I get to sit for two kitties at once.

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Well, if you’ve got to the bottom of this blog post, congratulations. You must be my parents – hi, Mum and Dad! I’m off to rest my sore typing fingers in ice and to prepare for a hopefully quiet few months before we skip back to Melbourne for a visit.

Anniversary adventures in London

So I have spent seven years of my life with the massive doofus that is Sean, and I love him to pieces. We wanted to commemorate this somehow so we got some cheap train tickets and went to London for the weekend!

We arrived late, checked into our cheap, slightly dodgy hotel, and headed out for dinner. The Dolphin Pub was delightful – cheap and amazing Thai food (yes, in a British pub), good drinks, nice staff, and unsurprisingly, we ate a little too much.

A walk to digest brought us around Kings Cross, stopping to take the obligatory Platform 9 and 3/4 photo at the station before continuing to Granary Square to watch the fountains. Another drink to cap off the night, and back to our room to sleep.

Dishoom, an amazing Bombay restaurant soon to open in Edinburgh, had been recommended to us by a foodie friend and it did NOT disappoint. The bacon and egg naan was amazing and the chai was perfect. The decor reminded me of the set of Rent, making for an interesting view while dining, and we were besties with the staff by the end of our meal.

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For the rest of the day, we simply wandered. We made our way down to the Tottenham Court/Charing Cross Road area, making pit stops at interesting shops along the way. We bought some cheap tickets for The Woman in Black at the box office and stumbled on a cute little church Christmas Market. The wildly enthusiastic lady out the front was too sweet to refuse – ‘we’ve got the best coffee in London and it’s only 50p!’ – and so we headed in for a lovely cup of tea, some chocolate cake, and a wee poke around the market stalls. I bought some Christmas cards and we got chatting to a lovely couple who’s daughter lives in Aus. We also met Santa and he gave us sweets!! Lucky us!

Already on track for the best day ever, we kept wandering, heading up Regent St before deciding that crowds are rubbish, so we went down to Green Park. We then promptly forgot crowds are rubbish and headed to the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. This. Was. Insane. It’s a massive theme pop-up theme park made to look like a Bavarian village on steroids. We actually didn’t spend any money – we just wandered around looking at the rides, window shopping at all the market stalls, dodging small children, and smelling the delicious aromas of a million bratwursts, pretzels, churros, chestnuts, burgers, and other food truck fodder. We decided, eventually, to exit, and realised we didn’t know where it was (this thing was enormous). We asked a security guard who looked fearful, replied he didn’t know, and wafted back into the crowd.

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But get out we did, and then we hurried our frozen bodies into a pub for a quick drink to defrost, before braving the cold once again and hurrying back to Soho. We had read about a ramen place on Dean St called Tonkotsu, and it was another gastronomical win for this weekend. Delicious, tender gyoza and an enormous bowl of ramen with a glass of yuzu lemonade – I have missed this!!! So full we could barely walk, we made our way to the theatre for the show.

It was a great show – very scary and suspenseful, though actually not as terrifying as I expected because I had a guy with a head the size of the sun in front of me and he insisted on moving it about at regular intervals so I found myself somewhat distracted when I should have been rigid with terror. They were selling copies of the novel that were signed by the author! Naturally, my library has a new volume.

It was a long walk back to the hotel, but necessary for the ongoing digestion of our massive ramen intake. It rained a little, and London looked pretty in the watery night. I very much enjoy this city.

The next morning we went back to Dishoom for another bacon and egg naan because life is for treating yo’self, and then we hopped on the Tube for a few stops down to Liverpool Street to check out the Old Spitalfields and Brick Lane markets. We walked up and down and all around for the next few hours. I did not have money to spend, but that didn’t stop me buying things anyway (I should have known, I should have known) including some delicious raclette potatoes for lunch, some green tea, and a couple of Christmas present bits and bobs. We found a very ‘Melbourne’ cafe for a quick hot drink, then headed back to Kings Cross, visited the Wellcome Collection for a flying visit to their Bedlam: the asylum and beyond exhibition, then collected our bags and headed to the station.

We had booked a first class ticket home to Edinburgh because they had been so cheap at the time of booking. We found the first class lounge and headed up, feeling like imposters, but when we had found some seats, a lovely lady asked me if I would like a complimentary massage. So I said YES PLEASE and then nearly fell asleep under her magic hands.

We fed and watered ourselves (no charge of course), then found our seats on the train. First class seats are just that extra bit roomier than standard, and it makes all the difference on five-hour train. They came up and down with the trolleys offering all manner of beverages, along with sandwiches, cakes, and crisps that we DIDN’T HAVE TO PAY FOR. My enthusiasm felt somewhat uncultured. We got chatting to the lady across from us, who was on a year-long holiday between jobs as an expat in Dubai, who reminisced about the first-class service twenty years ago. I need to save my pennies in order to travel first-class more. Amazing.

We were home by 11pm, and it’s back to the real world this morning. It’s a cold winter day, but it’s nice to be heading out to work to make some moolah for the next mini-break. Sean is off to Lisbon in a couple of weeks and my parents arrive exactly one month from today! Lots of exciting things to look forward to. I hope everyone had a lovely weekend.

*SPOILERS* Harry Potter and the Cursed Child *SPOILERS*

DO NOT READ THIS BLOG ENTRY IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD PLAY, BOTH THE SCRIPT AND STAGE PRODUCTION. I fully respect the #KeepTheSecrets movement and that is why I am attempting to hide my thoughts under a bunch of disclaimer-type layers. The reason I am even putting my thoughts on the internet is because a lot of people back in Australia have asked for specific spoiler-y feedback, and obviously they won’t be seeing the show anytime soon, so this is my attempt to provide that. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. DON’T READ ON IF YOU WANT SECRETS KEPT. Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! And other things…

 

So quite a bit has happened since my last foray into blogging, the main event being that my beloved friend Michelle came to stay! She came to Europe for about three weeks and arrived in Edinburgh to visit us first. It was the best thing in the world to see her (and an excuse to revisit Edinburgh and Craigmillar Castles, as well as eat lots of cake and take a very jet-lagged guest to the final night of Harry Potter trivia)

She traipsed off to Austria and Slovenia to go paragliding(!) and other fun things and Sean and I got our tourist on again and went to several events that were fundamentally Scottish:

Neu! Reekie! Celts! – Neu! Reekie! Is a monthly showcase of music and poetry and film (all very avant-garde and interesting) and this one took place in the National Museum of Scotland to mark the end of the Celts exhibition. Highlights included Liz-freaking-Lochhead, fast becoming my favourite poet of all time; Charlotte Church – yes, that Charlotte Church – and her 10-piece electro-pop orchestra; free whisky tastings; and free entry into the exhibition, which we’ve seen before but did again because it’s amazing.

Doors Open Day – similar to Open Doors Day in Melbourne – we went to the Canongate Kirk and the John Knox House. I’d been to the John Knox House before but Sean had not, and it was interesting to see it again because I had the audio guide this time that told me a bit more. We had been to the Canongate Kirkyard before – it holds several people of note, including the poet Robert Fergusson and what is rumoured to be the body of Mary, Queen of Scots’ murdered secretary, David Rizzio. But the actual church I had not seen inside, and it is, surprisingly, strikingly modern inside. It actually felt a bit nautical with the colour scheme and the various insignia adorning the interior.

McGonagall nite – a night of bad poetry, music, and speeches celebrating the life of William McGonagall, fondly remembered as Scotland’s worst poet. It began in Greyfriars Kirkyard where he is buried (interestingly, it is his gravestone that J K Rowling was supposedly inspired by to name Hogwarts’ Transfiguration Professor and general all-round badass, Minerva McGonagall). The bagpipes played a lament, and then we followed the piper through the streets to the Captain’s Bar, a FANTASTIC little pub that sits below the flat he died in. There, we were treated to more bagpipes, many poetry readings of severely awful poetry, and speeches about his life. We were instructed to stand and toast everytime his name was mentioned, reciting the phrase ‘Sir William Topaz McGonagall, poet and tragedian, Knight of the White Elephant of Burma’ – the way he styled himself. What an unapologetic sweetheart. Loved every moment!

The Palace of Holyroodhouse – I finally went to see this palace with my friend Sophie. We wanted to catch the end of an exhibition of the Queen’s outfits, currently being shown around the UK to celebrate her 90th birthday. It was a smaller exhibition than I expected (the bulk of the collection being in Buckingham Palace), but the garments on display were incredible. They were accompanied with photos of Her Majesty wearing them, as well as information about the design and designers. The Holyrood Palace segment of the exhibition obviously included all the royal tartans and the robes she wears as head of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle – Scotland’s order of chivalry. But of course, we got to see the rest of the Palace itself. It is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, so still a working palace, but you can go through the historic State Apartments when they are not in use and even see the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots (including the rooms where her secretary was attacked and murdered in front of a heavily pregnant Mary). Intense and amazing experience. I have a yearly ticket now, so will go back another time and do it again. There was so much to take in at once, so, like Edinburgh Castle, if you can manage a second visit or multiple visits, it is worth it. There are also the ruins of Holyrood Abbey to see and the beautiful Palace grounds, overlooking Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags.

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Other things I have done that warrant a mention:

  • Bridget Jones’s Baby! Loved it! Was worried it would not live up to the first two, but I was happily reassured. Renee Zellweger is luminous. I laughed loudly. A perfect success!
  • Went to a launch of a literary journal, edited by a friend of mine. The theme of this edition was poetry in translation, so the launch included some beautiful performances of multi-lingual music and spoken word.
  • Went to Stockbridge with a friend and visited Golden Hare Books, potentially my new favourite bookstore in Edinburgh. A beautiful oasis of calm and quiet. Dangerous for the bank account.
  • Had a corporate induction at work! Not particularly exciting, but important nonetheless.

However, the main purpose of this blog was to tell you about London. I’ve had this trip booked for months, but only found out when Michelle arrived a couple of weeks ago that she would be here too! So I’ve spent the last couple of days with Michelle again! We have continued our tourism-and-cake escapades, doing a walking tour of the Old City of London and finding the most charming little bakery (Primrose Bakery) to treat ourselves to some delicious cake-ventures. The walking tour included all kinds of historic information about the actual City of London (as opposed to Greater London) that boggle the mind, and finished by part of the Roman Wall. Definitely a solid recommendation from me! I also nerded out and went to get my one-year Reader Pass from the British Library – now I have no excuse! I have to return for study. I stayed at a hostel near to Kings Cross – six-bed dorm, free and simple breakfast, and GOOD SHOWERS for about 20 pounds a night. If you’re not afraid of roughing it in a hostel, I would recommend it (ask for a bottom bunk as the top bunks can’t reach the power points to charge your phone…)

But. But. The reason for my visit. A Facebook contact in Melbourne had mentioned months ago that she had a ticket to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child going begging. I had written off this experience, convinced when the tickets went on sale that I didn’t have the money or even the knowledge I would be in the UK when the play was on. I knew we were going to Edinburgh, but I didn’t know if it was going to work out, if I’d be in a position to get to London over six months after we had arranged to leave Australia. What if we had to come home and my money was wasted? But now, settled in Edinburgh, knowing this was happening for the long haul, I was able to seize the opportunity. I went to the launch of the play script earlier this year, got my copy, and DIDN’T TOUCH IT. I wanted the proper experience, seeing it onstage without knowing anything about the story and allowing myself to be surprised by the spectacle. I know this sounds smug – I’m sorry, I don’t mean to – and it frustrates me that this is such an exclusive experience. It’s a financial and geographical privilege that I don’t think should be associated with a story this popular. I appreciate that the script was released worldwide to allow readers everywhere to know what happens, but scripts are not written to be read, they are written to be performed. And that means that unless you have the means to get to London and pay for a ticket, you are excluded from seeing this story the way it was conceived to be seen. There are stage directions in the script that are just that – stage directions. They can’t possibly compare with the awesome and intense experience that actors, music, sets, costume, special effects, and the feeling of being part of an enraptured audience brings to the table. And enraptured we were. Spontaneous applause, laughter, audible gasping and (in some cases) swearing were all heard throughout the show from the spectators, and there was a standing ovation at the end.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show like it. It is in two parts – you are supposed to see Part One as a matinee and Part Two in the evening, OR Part One and Part Two on consecutive evenings. Both parts are just over two and a half hours long including a twenty minute interval in each, which leaves us with a show more-or-less four and a half hours long. The actors must be absolutely knackered at the end of every day. I don’t want to spoil anything, so this review won’t, but I am more than happy to discuss in private with people that have read or seen it, or people that don’t mind being spoiled. All I will say is this: the storyline was 100% not what I expected. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. I am so glad I stayed away from the script! But it was 100% more wonderful than anything I expected as well. The magic onstage was an interesting mix – half of it seemed to be more stylized – you could see how the magic had been created and carried off, but it worked as part of the show. The other half was just baffling. We were sitting five rows from the front in the stalls with a perfect view, and I was completely stumped by how some of it was done and I was looking very carefully. The casting – utterly perfect. Ron, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco and all the other characters we know were up there on stage and I might have even shed a tear or two watching them deal with the crazy shit J. K. Rowling and the two dudes she wrote the show with put them through. It probably took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get used to seeing the actors as the characters – they are all very different from the portrayals we are used to for obvious reasons – they’ve aged. But the characterisation was nearly perfect. I suppose if I had one criticism it would be that Ginny was too similar to movie-Ginny rather than book-Ginny…but it is a small criticism indeed.

The ‘new’ characters (ie the ones we didn’t meet properly in the book or film series) were wonderful, the sets were a masterpiece, and the music by Imogen Heap put it on another level entirely. Most of all, it was entertaining. It’s without a doubt the longest show I have seen and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want this journey to be finished again.

I know some people have been disappointed with parts of it and that is understandable – this series and this world means so much to so many people. It is impossible to please everyone and to take the story in a direction that all the billions of fans would agree with. I feel very lucky that I was one of the ones who loved it, who will treasure the memory of seeing it onstage forever. I’m sure it will tour, and I’m sure it will end up on screen in some sort of format at some stage. I hope everyone who wants to see it gets the chance. I would thoroughly, heartily recommend it.

So yeah, I didn’t really sleep after seeing it. Was too excited, with it all running through my head. I should also mention that the two girls I saw the show with were lovely. They were obviously friends of the girl back in Melbourne that I had bought the ticket from, so I didn’t meet them in person until I was at the theatre. But they were great, and took me to see the House of Minalima between shows, which is the shop set up by the graphic designers of the film series. It’s like a kooky little museum of all the different designs used in the Potter franchise, from the textbook covers, to the letters, the ‘Wanted’ posters, and the Marauders Map. It is insanely expensive so I didn’t buy anything, but you are permitted to take photos! We went for Spanish for dinner, briefly saw Michelle who brought me hazelnut and carrot cake because she is brilliant, and I stopped on my walk back home to help two tourists whose phones weren’t working and apartment wasn’t open. I should have slept really well! But I was too busy thinking of Harry.

I checked out after breakfast the next morning and met Michelle at Kings Cross where we stored our luggage and browsed the Harry Potter shop (of course). Then we had a cup of tea and visited the Treasures of the Collection exhibition at the British Library. This exhibition is one of the best in London (says me, a librarian, of course) and includes original books and documents that pretty much shaped society as we know it. I think the earliest item I saw was an 8th century Qu’ran, but there may have been something(s) older. Obviously the main attractions for myself were Jane Austen’s writing desk, a draft of Persuasion, letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, and the Brontë material, which include a mini-exhibition on Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea.

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There is so much else in there though – the Magna Carta! Gutenberg’s Bible! Handwritten documents from The Beatles! Beowulf! DaVinci’s notebooks! I would definitely see it if you have an interest in history. And it’s free! After we left the library, there was time for one final cake date at Kings Cross before I had to say goodbye to Michelle. I will miss her so much! But seeing her and spending the time with her that I did was good for my soul.

The train ride home went fairly quickly – I was devouring the Cursed Child script, finally, with the memories of the night before playing through my head as I read. Back to reality now, but a pleasant reality it is. I really doubt my next blog is going to be this exciting….

London, Winchester, and Chawton!

 

 

This blog covers the last two days, because I didn’t take my laptop with me to London. Despite feeling as though I was missing an arm, I coped. I said goodbye to Mum and Marnie early in the morning and caught a three-hour train to London from Weymouth and the Jurrasic Coast (also, the other day we drove past Chesil Beach and I nerded out because Ian McEwan, though I still haven’t actually read that book). I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society most of the way there and tried not to blub too much in front of a carriage full of strangers. Excellent book. I’m so glad I had time to reread before we hit Guernsey! London was warm, sunny, and busy. I almost felt culture-shocked after spending so much time in quiet little villages and towns, though the sense of familiarity and nostalgia was intoxicating. I love this city. Even the crowded Tube felt wonderful. After locating my hostel, I walked up the Thames (totally spotted a monument to the SOE, and excited my little history/writing nerd heart) and took the Tube to the British Museum. I’ve never been before, and I’ve heard it’s London’s most visited attraction. Had a quick lunch and hot chocolate, and had a quick look inside the beautiful, absolutely enormous, FREE museum. I only saw a fraction of it (the medieval Europe rooms mostly), but it gives a really striking impression, even just walking into the big foyer bit at the start.
London
SOE monument
British Museum
British Museum

Afterwards I went to Green Park, which had deck chairs spread all over the grass beneath the brilliant sunshine. I bought an icypole and finished my Guernsey novel, and managed not to catnap. Then I made my way to the famed Charing Cross Rd, one of my favourite streets in London due to the large amount of bookshops located there, and went shopping. The beautiful Foyle’s bookshop, Blackwell’s, all the little second hand places…I could have spent all day there, but I’m glad I chose not to in this case. I exercised great self-restraint over all. (By the way, I also saw Will Poulter walking down the street. The same Will Poulter I saw two years ago at the Colosseum).

Green Park
Green Park

I met up with Matt in Leicester Square and we went to dinner with his folks, who are also on holiday in the UK. It was great to catch up – good food and company all around. I went back to my hostel afterwards and two of the girls in my dorm were from Weymouth! I had a pretty patchy night’s sleep, but it wasn’t a bad hostel, just noisy. Woke up nice and early and got to Waterloo station in plenty of time for my train!

The train only took an hour to get to Winchester, and I met Mum and Marnie outside the Cathedral. I could not get over the immense size of it. We saw the Winchester Bible, the Holy Hole, the monument to the diver who saved the cathedral, and an effigy of Stephen Gardiner, whose name I recognised because of research for my current manuscript. We also saw (and its not the first examples we’ve seen on this trip), a number of reliquaries and relics. They seem to go in for that a lot here. But the reason I was there primarily, was to see the final resting place of Jane Austen. I didn’t realise how emotional I would actually feel, but I felt a bit teary seeing the little exhibition and her gravestone. It was beautiful. There was also a market in Winchester that we walked through on the way to the car. Mum and Marnie bought more things, but so far we’ve managed to fit everything in…
Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral
Holy Hole at Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

Then we drove to Chawton!! The village where Jane Austen spent her final years is presided over by the very grand Chawton House, but it was in a small cottage where the woman herself lived with her sister and her mother, and where she wrote some of her most famous works. That cottage is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum, and it is absolutely essential for fans of her work. You can see jewellery, needlework, and household furnishings that belonged to Jane and her family, including her writing desk and a patchwork quilt she made. The house and garden has been so lovingly preserved and comes with a killer gift shop, which I could have spend hundreds of pounds in (but didn’t). We had lunch in Cassandra’s Cup, the tea-shop named after Jane’s beloved sister, then walked up to Chawton House itself, which was owned by Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Knight. The grounds of Chawton are something to behold on their own, but we took a guided tour through the house that was terribly interesting as well. The different centuries have been preserved well throughout the house, and lovingly restored by a woman called Sandy Lerner, who has made the house into a library that celebrates women writers. You can make an appointment in the reading room (you don’t need to be a student or scholar, it’s open to the public), and arrange to view any material from the collection that you’re interested in. Obviously I will be going back there. Interestingly, Marnie and I have heard Sandy Lerner speak back home, at the Jane Austen Society of Melbourne meetings, and it was wonderful to actually see the house and library that she was describing. Also at JASM, we have met Caroline Knight and her parents, who were the last Knight’s to live at Chawton. Her father, Jeremy, runs the guided tours through the house, but sadly he wasn’t available today. It would have been amazing to experience the tour through the eyes of someone who grew up there, and is an actual relative of Jane’s, but there is always next time! And our guide was lovely anyway. I really would highly recommend Chawton to any Jane Austen enthusiast.

Jane Austen’s House Museum
Her writing desk!!
Chawton House
Chawton House Library Reading Room
Chawton House – marks to stop the witches getting in through the chimney
Chawton House

One more drink at Cassandra’s Cup, then we drove home. We’ve been to Wetherspoon’s for dinner and have been squeezing all our shopping into our suitcases. Also, tonight a giant bumblebee flew in through our open window and I ran into the bathroom and Marnie put a towel over her head while Mum ran around after it taking photos and eventually herded it out of our room. Tomorrow, Guernsey!

All good things…

Mayhaps, dear reader, this shall be the final blog entry of my overseas adventure. I am sitting in a hotel near Feltham station, very close to Heathrow Airport. I have just had my first shower in nearly 60 hours and am feeling fresh as a daisy, and Sean is out gallivanting with Will for a final hurrah. It feels really, really odd to know that this time tomorrow we will have been flying for a few hours, and even weirder to know that a few hours after that, we will be home. I have missed Melbourne and all my friends and family back there, but I will miss the UK/Europe dearly as well. Some of the most memorable moments of my life have occurred in the last 14 weeks and I have been stunned and amazed by the people I have met and the experiences I have had. Meeting up with friends and family was a great way to break the trip up and, injuries aside, I wouldn’t change a moment of our itinerary. I am literally down to about 3 pounds (I may weasel some breakfast money from Sean tomorrow) and have chucked a whole bunch of clothes/toiletries that I don’t need clogging up my suitcase on the way home. Today was busy, but in a good way, beginning with actually chatting to the girls in our dorm and finding out they were actually really nice, then meeting Will at The Globe so I could do a quick, final shop, before having some drinks and talking about everything Shakespeare. We made our way to the hotel with no trouble and right now I am luxuriating in a comfy bed, a clean, private bathroom and our own space before we are herded into economy class tomorrow (fingers crossed for decent seats. I plan to use the crutches to elicit sympathy). Thankyou everyone for all your support and good wishes and joy in our experiences through Facebook, Skype, this blog and everything else we have managed. I shall see ya’ll shortly!