One of the many reasons I love the essayist Anne Fadiman’s writings is that she is an unabashed lover of all things explorer, especially the Antarctic expeditions. It’s impossible not to be drawn to someone who writes so beautifully of their bravery and the poignant humour in their failure.
“Americans admire success. Englishmen admire heroic failure. Given a choice – at least in my reading – I’m un-American enough to take quixotry over efficiency any day. I have always found the twilight-of-an-empire aspect of the Victorian age inexpressibly poignant, and no one could be more Victorian than the brave, earnest, optimistic, self-sacrificing, patriotic, honorable, high-minded, and utterly inept men who left their names all over the maps of the Arctic and Antarctic, yet failed to navigate the Northwest Passage and lost the race to both Pole. Who but an Englishman, Lieutenant Edward Parry, would have decided, on reaching western Greenland, to wave a flag painted with an olive branch in order to ensure a peaceful first encounter with the polar Eskimos, who not only had never seen an olive branch but had never seen a tree? Who but an Englishman, the legendary Sir John Franklin, could have managed to die of starvation and scurvy along with all 129 of his men in a region of the Canadian Arctic whose game had supported an Eskimo colony for centuries? When the corpses of some of Franklin’s officers and crew were later discovered, miles from their ships, the men were found to have left behind their guns but to have lugged such essentials as monogrammed silver cutlery, a backgammon board, a cigar case, a clothes brush, a tin of button polish, and a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield. These men may have been incompetent bunglers, but, by god, they were gentlemen.” – Ex Libris
One of the more intriguing museums in Cambridge is the Scott Polar Research Institute. Founded both as a memorial to Scott after his last ill-fated voyage and as an institute to continue his scientific goals, it is now a museum, research facility, laboratories, and home to the Shackleton Memorial Library. It is a gem of a museum with some very important, very moving collections. There are last letters penned to wives and parents, scientific and photographic tools used during the expeditions, and even birds brought back from more successful ventures.
These baby emperor chicks are a touching reminder of the kind of birds and wildlife these men found and introduced to the Western world. They’re also just very sweet.
Even more than the letters home, what I found most moving was the collection of everyday items found after various lost expeditions. The goggles Scott wore, based on an Inuit design, to help protect him from the glare on the snow. The balaclava knitted by a member of the royal family for the expedition, demonstrating the excitement the whole country felt for these explorations. The huswife that was probably used every day, with the original needles and threads, and pockets to store other necessary items. It’s a comprehensive collection of the various explorations, but the museum also includes sections on the climate, native peoples, and future of these areas. It also has a smashing selection of books, which I carefully edged away from, but I’ll definitely be going back to see it again and to snap up biographies of these amazing men.
One of my favourite ways of cooling down in Dallas was to stop for a bubble tea. I’m not exactly sure when bubble tea became so popular, but there have been fun and quirky tea houses popping up all over the state for the past ten years. I had missed it this past year so I was especially pleased to spot a small, bright shop in Cambridge’s city centre.
Ooshi is a small cafe on Regent’s Street with a colourful storefront. There is a staggering array of flavour options, and they have natural flavoured “ooballs” as well as pearls and jellies. There are also some luscious looking cupcakes and mini-cupcakes and other various sweets. My coconut bubble tea with pineapple jellies was absolutely delicious, with plenty of ice and a lovely froth at the top. The cup was sealed and the fat straw made a satisfying “plonk”, and there are comfortable cafe chairs and tables where you can sit back and enjoy your tea. I’m a bit dismayed that I found Ooshi right before leaving Cambridge, but I’ll be back to try some of their other flavours.
I’m not really much of a designer follower, but Orla Kiely is a rare exception. I like her bold geometric prints and her classic, elegant clothing. So I was more than a little pleased with her video unveiling her Fall 2013 collection.
The rotary telephones, vintage typewriters, beehive hairdos, bored expressions and terrible typing…what’s not to love? And the retro skirts and cardigans are great, too.
One of my favourite things to do in Cambridge is to visit the market in the centre of the city. It may just be me, but it seems every street and passage ends up there, so inevitably, I do too. (Please don’t tell me I’m wrong – I don’t want to stop going!)
Paul has a book seller he returns to each Thursday, but there’s usually at least one book stall available every day, and I’ve found some really good books there. There are also fruit and veg stalls, beautiful flowers, people selling music, vintage clothing, all kinds of homemade food, from cheese and coffee stalls that smell divine to a constantly hopping Thai noodle stall where I spotted Sriracha sauce being liberally added so I must try.
Most of the time, I just stop to look at the book stall and pass through quickly, noting new stalls (bubble tea…next time!), but I was struck by a small stall selling ceramics last week. They were beautiful pieces, delicate and slightly quirky, and with the loveliest colours and glazing. I ended up buying a necklace with the idea that it would be a nice gift, but I’m fundamentally selfish so I’ve kept it for myself!
The necklace is fun; lightweight, which surprised me, and the blues and grays and reds and white should make for some colourful and interesting additions to my wardrobe. I was also struck with how she packaged the necklace, in bags made from magazine pages sewn together to create small pouches. A really lovely find. I hope All Gone ceramics is there when I head back for some spicy Thai noodles and a jasmine bubble tea!
I had heard about The Haunted Bookshop long before I decided to move to the UK, and I have to say, the bookshop is one of the many reasons I love Cambridge. You step down a narrow passage that smells of coffee beans (I really must try the coffee shop next door), into a small store with a red door, and suddenly you are surrounded by beautiful old books.
The store is small but jam-packed with the most amazing books. Until last week, however, I’d only seen the ground floor. There was always enough there to entice me. However, some friends kindly pointed out that the best books are upstairs and I needed to have a look pronto.
Look at that bookshelf. LOOK at those Chalet School books! I’ve never seen so many Chalet School books in one place, and these were cloth editions, many with the original dust jackets. There were also Girls Gone By editions, including out of print titles, and the old Armada paperbacks. The room was stuffed, floor-to-ceiling, with Girls Own books. As well as Elinor Brent-Dyer, there was Enid Blyton, Josephine Elder, Elsie Oxenham, and so many more. There were even American authors like Susan Coolidge and Louisa May Alcott. It was basically paradise for anyone who loves girls school stories. I had gone upstairs with the intention of looking for an Angela Brazil I’ve long coveted, but I was so dazzled that I just wandered about finding more and more books to read. I must go back soon to find the last Fun in the Fourth book to complete my collection and to stand in that small room full of stunning books.
Alright, future niece…your cardigan is ready, you can come out now. (When you’re supposed to, that is; no scaring your parents with an early arrival!)
Pattern: Korrigan by Solenn Couix-Loarer, size 3-6 months
Wool: Wooly Wonka Fibers Ceridwen Sock in Twilight
Needle: US Size 4
This was a lovely pattern, although I still think the sleeves are remarkably big for a baby. My lower arm fit in one of them! I added only two buttons to give the cardigan an open, swingy look. The wool is one I purchased at the DFW Fiber Fest last year before I left Texas. I loved it at the time, and it’s even more beautiful knit up. The colour is almost impossible to capture, a combination of violets, grey-blues, stone, grey and a deep purple. Although my sister is having a girl, I didn’t want something that screamed pretty pretty pink, knowing she’ll get enough of that as she grows up, and I honestly think the stunning agate colours and sophisticated shaping are nicer anyway.
So, come on, little Bean! I can’t wait to meet you.
I have a soon-to-be niece, currently referred to as The Bean, scheduled to be born at the end of August. I’ve been working feverishly on Bean’s baby sweater all day so that I can get it packed up and mailed to Texas before she arrives. I was really too busy to do that much knitting last year while juggling school and university work, so it’s been lovely to just relax with something soft and woolly while I watch TV or listen to audiobooks. And it’s been especially nice to be able to do all these things in such a lovely garden. All I’m missing is a cabana boy to bring me drinks and chase away the spiders. Will work on finding one of those…
I meant to be very efficient this weekend and get lots of things done. Sadly, I had the energy of a flobberworm and things didn’t work out quite as planned. It was still a good weekend, though, peaceful and with nice bits in it. Paul did energetic things in the garden with a lawnmower while I sat in the doorway and thought about bees. Or I did until I really noticed the hover mower – the thing actually hovers. He was lovely enough to turn it over and explain how it worked when he realised I was interested. It is seriously cool, like The Jetsons, only without space grass! We had ice lollies from an ice cream truck (the Fab is not up there with the Cornetto), I became hooked on the original ‘House of Cards’, spent time curled up in bed with knitting and books and a new magazine, wandered about the garden, caught up with a good friend on Skype, made a lemon loaf cake to celebrate the announcement of the new Who (hmph), and to quote Paul, I loafed, lazed and lounged. I did all three excellently.
I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather lately and haven’t been out much. But while I’ve been hibernating inside, lovely things are happening to the bushes and trees outside. The Cambridge birds and squirrels must eat rather well.