WW2 Photo Appeal

One of the places I am most looking forward to visiting one of the days is the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. It’s quite ridiculous that I spend most of my holidays in Cambridge and have somehow never managed to make it there, but I do tend to use my school holidays as time to sit and let my brain stop whirling. But yes…someday soon.


I was intrigued, therefore, when I saw an article about the American Air Museum in Britain was asking for people to come forward and identify local people who worked there during WW2. There is an archive of some 5,000 photographs and, as time passes, the chances of identifying the people in them grows smaller. I really hope this appeal travels far and that the museum’s curators can find and identify many of the people in the photographs, and possibly share their findings with the public. That is one exhibit I would be fascinated to visit.

Happy New Year

I’m still not exactly sure where 2014 disappeared, but it was an interesting year. I finished my first year of full-time teaching in a British school, started my second, became a tutor and took on added responsibilities in my department, and generally muddled my way through the year.

I have high hopes that 2015 will be slightly more mellow, and that I’ll have more time to open doors and try new things. Regardless, I am looking forward to a new year. And since I am one of those people who actually like arbitrary dates to start new things (as, I suspect, most list-builders do), I’m enjoying the thought of a new start with all kinds of resolutions, including using this lovely space that Paul has created for me. Happy New Year, my friends!

Entrancing old door and post box near Kew Gardens, spotted on a frosty morning hunt to find coffee on January 1st.

Entrancing old door and post box near Kew Gardens, spotted on a frosty morning hunt to find coffee on January 1st.

Christmas Truce

My little blog seems to be nothing but videos these days, but I’ve found myself genuinely moved by the number of touching films and remembrances of the Great War that have come out this year. The new Sainsbury’s ad honouring the Christmas Truce is one of the most beautiful ads I have ever seen; and, far more than shouting and grandstanding could ever do, quietly points out the pointlessness of war.

Christmas Around the Corner

I am not generally one to admit to get a bit sniffly at television or films, but I have to admit, the John Lewis Christmas ad this year made me genuinely teary. Also, I really, really want my own penguin (or two) now.


Cambridge Apple Festival

I’m not sure if I’m getting better or just more used to this teaching lark, but the longest term of the year didn’t feel so horribly long as it did last year. I was, however, very ready for break when half-term rolled around. And what’s a lovelier way to celebrate autumn half-term than with an apple festival?

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On Sunday I joined hundreds of other be-jacketed and booted people at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens for their Apple Day festival. While some people were bringing in local varieties to find out what they were, I was just there for a jolly day out. I started with a leisurely walk through the gardens, which are absolutely gorgeous this time of year. I paused at a tent for a pint of hot cider and kept walking until I found a serene spot in which to ponder Stuff and Things and cabbages and kings.

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It’s impossible not to quote Keats at this point, and so I did…’seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness’ indeed, so I took myself off to find the fruitfulness. I joined the long line for the apple tasting, chatting to the student in front of me and enjoying the warm smell of crepes and the soft sunshine.

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The tasting itself was a lot of fun. I must have tried about 40 different apples; only tiny pieces, but I didn’t want lunch at the end of the tasting. I had ticked off the ones I liked the most and bought a few bags to take home. After that, I had a wander through the shopping tent, stopping off for local cheese, homemade gin, a bottle of cider, and a choice sniffing of all the different chocolates, cakes and pies of local bakers. I only wish I’d stopped to snag a pumpkin, but otherwise, a truly glorious way to start off the half-term holiday.


Rainy Weekend Jaunt

After what can only be described as the world’s longest staff inset day, following a 14 hour school day with Open Evening, I met up with Paul in London for a Saturday of doing lovely, relaxing, bookish things. From a leisurely train ride with a new Persephone book to climbing into bed in flannel pyjamas warmed on the radiator, it was possibly the most therapeutic thing I could have done.

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We braved the downpour for a lovely brunch at Giraffe, did a bit of umbrella shopping, stopped to admire the leaves in Russell Square Gardens and get very wet indeed. We made our way to The Folio Society bookstore where Paul had one of the limited edition Odes of Horace manuscripts illustrated by William Morris. It was boxed and wrapped and rewrapped so it wouldn’t get wet, so I haven’t had a chance to peep at it, but it looks to be one of the most exquisite books I have ever seen.

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And that is one of the loveliest bookstores I have ever been into; wall-to-wall of stunning books, comfy chairs to have a sit-down, and being offered a glass of port and toffee apples on a steamingly rainy day. I have now added about a dozen more Folio books to my Must-Buy list.

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We made our way to Mayfair and to one of my very favourite places in London, Heywood Hill. Part of my love for this shop is because Nancy Mitford worked here during the war, and I love treading the boards and picking up books from the same shelves she once stocked. (I still need to read the collection of letters she wrote with Heywood Hill…may need to go back just to snap that one up!) Paul found one of Nancy’s books with her autograph inside, and I had a lovely, ghostly encounter when one of the beautiful cupboards opened on its own while I was browsing the shelves. I like to think it was the kind of tease one of the Hons might get up to. I snapped up the most delightful looking book, Christmas with the Savages, by Mary Clive. It’s just the kind of read for this time of year and I’m trying to save it for when I don’t have controlled assessments to mark! The bookseller mentioned that she was one of the Pakenham family and now I’m eager to find some of her other books.

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It was especially lovely to go into the Chesterfield Mayfair for a luxurious champagne tea after all the darting about in the rain. We had gone earlier in the summer for a tea in the conservatory while staying for my friend Kat’s gorgeous wedding, and while I like the beautiful dining room, I love the open and airy conservatory. I indulged in my love of cucumber sandwiches, nattered on and on to Paul, and tried to get him to look at my new book. It took me a few hours of thinking he was a weirdo for not wanting to see it, only to realise he’d slipped another book I had been looking at while at Heywood Hill into my bag. Lovely boy, he is.

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You would think that after that enormous tea we would be ready to roll back out. But no. We were both attracted by the lovely Terrace Bar next door, so we settled into a comfy booth and sampled the range of Gin and Tonics. Paul tried Hendricks, and another I can’t remember, while I discovered that Tanqueray 10 is a bit of magic in a bottle. Needless to say, I slept very well.



While it’s back to marking and lesson planning and prosaic things like cleaning and laundry, it’s lovely to have had a day out with my favourite person. And waking up to the lovely things he surprised me with just made it even better. Truly, the most lovely and relaxing day out I could ask for.



Testament of Youth

When I was a sophomore in college, still just majoring in English and government, I took a cross-curricular English/History class on the female voice. I was already leaning towards adding another major, always wistfully eyeing the history courses. In the end, it was one class and one text that pushed me to make that move, to add another major to an already busy schedule. One of the texts on the syllabus was Vera Brittain’s ‘Testament of Youth’. It was a hefty text, and trust me, I was used to buying enormous law books and English tomes. But I loved the course, and about 10 minutes into reading my assigned pages for class, I was utterly engrossed. I stayed up reading the whole book, in spite of having an early class the next morning, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to do so. To try to sum it up is impossible, so I can only say what it was to me: empowering, heartbreaking, formative, and defining. Vera Brittain’s story is, of course, the story of a particular generation, but it’s more than that. It is a seminal work that should be read so that we do not forget the lessons learned from in the Great War, but it’s also a beautiful and perfect picture of a life, a time, and a beautiful mind working its way through big questions.


There’s a new film version of ‘Testament of Youth’ coming out this year, and while I will actually make it to the cinema to watch this one, what I really hope is that it will cause a new generation of people to pick up this remarkable book. Also , doesn’t Jon Snow clean up well?

On Fabric Row

In spite of the fact that I’m counting down the days until the end of term (19 left!) and starting my summer job of staring blankly at flowers until my brain stops whirling madly, I’m already starting to plan a list of things I want to do this summer. I am headed off for a few days in Yorkshire with the lovely Miranda and her equally lovely mum, Penny; I’m joining friends for a few days at Loncon and exploring the docks and East End of London; and will hopefully manage to sort out a few days at the beach, staring at waves and squishing my toes in moss. I have an epic book list ready to order from Amazon, several new recipes to try, and a few schemes of work to write for next year’s classes. But more than that, I’m so looking forward to making things again. My Mitford sweater is about halfway done, and while I haven’t whipped it off the needles to try it on, it looks like it will fit (lazy knitter these days). I have all the prints I need for my quilt, a stack of patterns I brought home from the states, and some lovely fabric to turn into Things and Stuff. The only thing I’m missing is the sewing machine. 19 days…

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So it was doubly serendipitous to see my friend Rachel, who is over from Canada, not once but twice this past week, and to spend a good part of yesterday afternoon wandering around London with her. Rachel is probably the most advanced sewer I know, and she knew where to find the lovely fabrics. We ended up wandering in and out of fabric stores, all stuffed full with the most beautiful dress fabrics. I had to work very hard to resist a yellow lace that looked exactly like a kicking Jackie-O dress my mother had in the 60s, and several cottons from the outrageously beautiful Cloth House.

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In the end, I did buy a small piece of fabric, a very light and delicate piece of navy blue and black poplin with a beautiful sheen to it. It knew immediately what it wanted to be, and I have just enough meterage to make a fitted tank with a deep dip and a formal soft ruffled edging to soften the severe pinstripes. Now, just need to get through the next 19 days…


The Little Fabric Stall

One of the loveliest stalls in the Cambridge Market Square is The Little Fabric Stall. And in a market full of fresh flowers, local farm produce, artisan cheese makers, ceramicists and jewellery artisans, and secondhand booksellers, that is saying quite a lot.

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The stall is full of the most beautiful collection of fabrics, fat quarters, ribbons, buttons and bits of haberdashery. (Incidentally, isn’t the word ‘haberdashery’ fabulous? There should be more haberdashers in the world) When I finally stumbled on the stall, I had already been to John Lewis and Cali-Co, looking in vain for some unusual fat quarters. I found exactly what I was needing at this stall, and more. I still wish I’d bought the green fabric I put back (damnit), but I finally have enough to start my summer quilt!

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War and Remembrance

On Thursday, as well as fitting in some shopping and wandering through town, I stopped in at the Fitzwilliam Museum for a look at their new exhibitLa Grande Guerre. It featured a collection of lithographs and woodcuts from the Great War, donated by the daughter of Cambridge’s own Gwen Ravarat, and arranged chronologically so that the viewer can see the change in tone as the war progresses. I found the exhibit very moving, and the thoughtful curation of the prints allowed the viewer to see the progression from complete nationalistic control of this military propaganda to letting in just the tiniest slips about the realities of the battles.

LaGrandeGuerreI was slightly surprised to see how the artists included quite a few images of the various cultural groups who fought in the war. There were the ‘Turks’, the Senegalese, Tunisian and Algerian troops who fought with the French, and ‘les Hindous’, the 1.5 million Indian soldiers who fought alongside the British. In fact, I am more than a little in love with that print, and brought home a small copy.

I lingered so long over the exhibit that I didn’t get a chance to have a wander through the rest of the museum, but I’ll be back. In one of those delightful jumps in time, I moved from the First World War to the Second, meeting Paul for drinks at The Eagle.


I’ve been meaning to visit The Eagle since I first heard about it — and it’s well worth hearing about! It was here where Watson and Crick celebrated the discovery of the structure of DNA (or, at least, where they drank to this discovery). Of more personal note, it’s also where the American soldiers stationed in Cambridge during WW2 used to drink. Fortunately for us, they left behind a bit of the past. In grand American tradition, the soldiers graffitied the ceiling of one of the rooms with their serial numbers and other messages. While the bar obviously caters to American tourists (odd hearing so many American accents in one room), it still has the feeling of a local pub, with students and faculty enjoying a quick after-work drink. We were lucky enough to squeeze into a booth in the back room, but there’s also a beautiful front room with glowing stove that must be gorgeous on a rainy winter’s day, and a few tables outside for a beer under the sun. Will definitely be heading back soon.


Half-Term Happiness

One of the reasons I was so excited to move to England was the ease of travel to so many places I wanted to visit and revisit. The reality, however, is that the intensity and focus of teaching means that, by the time holidays roll around, all I want to do is sleep. I’m getting a bit savvier about how I plan holidays now, with at least a few days to rest before jaunting off to see and do.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 21.45.30And while running to make a train to Cambridge immediately after school on Friday isn’t the smartest way to start my week off, I’ve basically spent the past five days resting and relaxing. I’ve spent time in the garden, read books, baked scones and cakes, had a fondue evening with Paul, watched films, knit on my seemingly endless Mitford sweater, chatted to family, made plans for the summer, and just had a lovely, leisurely week.

Heading Home

Spring has finally come to England, and with it, spring break. It’s a much needed vacation from lesson planning, teaching, paperwork and detentions. I’m very lucky because as well as having two weeks off, in a few days I am headed home to the states to see family, friends and furry loved ones for the first time in 17 months. Saying goodbye to St Paul’s and clouds and hello to sunshine and prairie grasses!

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Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

I’ve been meaning to post about my trip to Copenhagen since the new year, but somehow January got rushed along in a storm of school, meetings, lesson planning and life, and my good intentions were swept along with it. I haven’t even gone through most of my photographs – and I took a lot of photographs – so these are just the handful I put up on my Instagram feed, but I wanted to get them posted before it’s February and I’m already thinking of my next trip.

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In spite of the fact that it was December and quite dark and cold, Copenhagen was a beautiful city to visit. Everywhere you look is colour, warmth, and small touches that showed a true appreciation for beauty and comfort. The city is ridiculously pedestrian friendly, and in spite of readily available bikes, I found it easy to walk everywhere.

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My friend Clare traveled with me for the first two days, and we had fun visiting the Royal Library and their crazy-hypnotic exhibition, climbing the Rundetarn (Round Tower) and looking out over the whole city, wandering around Tivoli and enjoying silly rides and stunning fireworks, going on a boat tour of Nyhavn and the city, having a quick look at Christiania, and just generally looking about the city. She only had the weekend, so I spent my last two days in Copenhagen were spent going back to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which I had loved, joining in a German tour of the Christianborg Slot, visiting the harbour again for a last dangle of legs over the water while I enjoyed another fabulous cup of coffee, wandering through the Latin Quarter and popped into the university for a nosy peek, stopping in at the Danish Postal Museum, and spending far too much time browsing shops and falling in love with various designers. The hotel had an amazing complex of indoor swimming pools, including a heated one, but I fell in love with the sauna and spent a good part of the mornings contemplating blonde wood while I slowly turned to heated mush. It was fabulous.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 20.10.16 Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 20.10.29 to go back to Denmark again and next time, venture further out, possibly even enjoy a bike or short walking tour in the summer. I’m looking forward to more great coffee and chocolate pastry, brightly coloured patterns, berries trailing along stone walls, the sound of seagulls, and seeing more gentle lights everywhere I look.

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Christmas Holiday

I know Autumn Term is always the longest of the school year, but this one has felt very long indeed. The last week of school was a good one: there were lights and decorations all over, including some Christmas fairy lights on my monitor, the students were full of excitement, the last day was a jumble of carols and bits of spontaneous creative writing, and I enjoyed getting sweet cards and small gifts from students and my secret elf. I also really enjoyed getting to go home early on the last day of term, climb into flannel pyjamas, and spend the evening watching old films, secure in the knowledge that I didn’t have anything due the next day!

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I set-off for Cambridge on Saturday, spent Sunday reading books and making Kahlua balls, one of my favourite Christmas traditions from home. They weren’t as good as my mother’s, but that just means I need more practice…and more Kahlua! I spent Monday wandering through Cambridge stores and markets, finally getting around to my Christmas shopping. Cambridge was beautifully decorated and felt splendidly holidayish, even in the rain. I stopped off at Fitzbillies for a cup of tea and a scone before heading back to Paul’s. I can’t say that I felt the decor was particularly comfortable or inviting, but the scone was delicious and so was the clotted cream. I’ll definitely be going back to try their famous Chelsea bun.

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On Christmas Eve we headed for my friend Clare’s parents’ house for a lovely family day of great food, pub quiz questions, a walk past the River Nene and around Peterborough, including the cathedral, and an evening of more delicious food and fun games. I suspect that my attempt at impersonating Churchill was the worst Winston ever, but it was a lovely evening of games and laughter, and it was particularly nice to be with a family at the holiday since I’m no longer near my own.

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For the first time in ages, I actually slept in on Christmas Day. When I did get up, we had a leisurely brunch while watching carols from Kings. We then set off for Ipswich to spend the day with another dear friend, Selena. We walked around the harbour, braced ourselves against the cold for a walk into town, and came back to her flat for a peaceful afternoon of book talk, Christmas television, fireworks across the quay, and a lovely indoor picnic with a cheese theme. Even the pudding was cheese-based! Never let it be said that we don’t indulge in cheesiness.

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This morning, fter a lovely, leisurely breakfast and unwrapping of Christmas presents, Paul and I went out for a brief trip to the shops. (On Boxing Day, I know…!) I’m back now and ensconced under blankets, indulging myself with the Downton Abbey Christmas special and my favourite childhood film, Meet Me in St Louis. I should really be packing, as I leave for Copenhagen tomorrow, but I may put it off for just a little bit longer for some more lovely Christmas lounging.

Classroom Reflection

I know I’ve posted before about how difficult this first year of teaching has proven to be. Fortunately, my teaching portfolio has been turned in, my accessor has observed my lessons and written my evaluation, and there’s nothing I really have to do this term except teach. It sounds a blindingly obvious thing to say, but not having those other pressures means I’ve had so much more time to focus on my teaching. And, to think about creative ways of engaging my students.

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Sometimes it’s just the little things that pulls them in. For example, if you give students vocabulary words to learn in a list, or as homework, they dread it and begin to think of language as a dull duty. However, if you wrap up your words and present them as a gift, the students begin to anticipate what the word might be. I tend to draw a gift box and a bow on top, and the students start guessing the word as I’m writing in the box. My Year 7s love this, but even my Year 10s have been drawn to the idea (while still remaining very chilled, of course). It’s the same thing with the Text Talker Cards (not my creation…found online from a fabulous teacher). If you ask a student to embed evidence from a text, they say “uggghhwuht?” But if you ask them to use the card, and make a game out of it, they learn to use quotations effectively.



My Year 7s had a speaking and listening assessment on Friday asking them to perform Hamlet’s great ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy in whatever fashion they preferred. I had shown them three different actors doing three very different interpretations, and it was delightful to see that most of them had really considered what kind of emotion he would be feeling. While I had intended on spending the whole class assessing their performances, I felt compelled to show them the marginalia in Nelson Mandela’s copy of Shakespeare that he had with him in prison. We looked closely at what he had marked and what it might mean, and while I watched and marked performances, they wrote some truly outstanding essays.