Friday, April 30, 2010

Hail Britannia's busiest month yet

Although April has only 30 days, this April has been my busiest month on Hail Britannia -- more page loads, more first-time visitors, and more repeat visitors -- than any other month since October 2008. In fact, for the last year my readership has been steadily increasing each month.

And for that, I just want to offer a heart-felt thanks. I don't run this blog to make oodles of money or to compete with Perez Hilton. I simply like to share with other like-minded Anglophiles subjects and stories that I find interesting, and hope there's a connection or two (or okay, 200,000!) I can make. I've met new friends through this blog, and I've found out that some old friends were closet Anglophiles.

From that perspective, this blog is a wild success. Thank you!

The ad that's making Britain weep

I read this morning that this minute-and-a-half television ad may propel Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman" back on the charts. Oh no! Not one of my favorite Billy Joel tunes, which explains why I didn't shed any tears watching this. I'd much rather listen to "Only the Good Die Young," but I suppose that's not the message John Lewis is aiming for.

Did you cry watching this? What do you think of the ad? I've seen similar ads here in the U.S. -- can't remember for which brands, though.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Hail Britannia Young Victoria DVD giveaway winner is ...

... Amy, our first entrant into the contest. Congratulations!

(See? The early bird does get the worm.)

Amy, send me your mailing address off list at hailbritannia at gmail dot com, and I'll send you the DVD pronto. Thanks to all who entered!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Last day to enter Hail Britannia's Young Victoria DVD giveaway

At 5:00 p.m. today, I'll be closing the comment section of the post announcing my Young Victoria DVD giveaway. You can earn three entries to the giveaway by 1. Tweeting about the giveaway, either on your own or retweeting my post that announces the contest 2. Subscribing to Hail Britannia's feed and 3. Letting me know in the comments section of the giveaway post that you've tweeted, subscribed and/or just want to enter the giveaway. Click here to enter.

I watched The Young Victoria this weekend and really enjoyed it. The director took some liberties with history -- I won't spoil it for you, but one of them involves a major plot point near the end of the film -- but the liberties didn't diminish the film at all for me. My favorite part? The costuming. I loved the closeups of the hats, the petticoats, even Prince Albert's (sexy!) linen shirts. There's also a neat cameo in the film -- Princess Beatrice plays one of Victoria's ladies-in-waiting. Kind of cool considering that Queen Victoria is her great-great grandmother and she's named after Victoria's youngest daughter.

Enter today to win a copy of this beautiful film!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking by Jane Brocket

Last week I blogged about my obsession with British writer and crafter Jane Brocket's book The Gentle Art of Domesticity. I've just learned that she has a new book coming out -- it's already out in the UK! -- called The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking: 15 Projects Inspired by Everyday Beauty. It looks like it'll be released the second week in May.

I'm a novice quilter, but I'm much more confident with a needle and thread (or sewing machine) over a pair of knitting needles. And even if the projects are above my skill level, I'm sure I'll love looking at the pictures; one thing I love about The Gentle Art of Domesticity (and Jane's blog) are all the photos of flowers, food, and fabric. Yummy!

So this and Elizabeth George's latest Inspector Lynley mystery in one month. So much to read, so little time. What's on your Anglophile reading list this spring?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hail Britannia's Young Victoria giveaway

FedEx just pulled up to my house with two brand-spanking-new DVDs of The Young Victoria, compliments of Sony Pictures, one for me to use for a review, the other to give away to Hail Britannia's readers. I'm chuffed!

I'm so looking forward to watching this movie tonight. I don't get to the movies as often as I like to, and when I do it's to see something my husband and I both agree upon ... and this is probably a film he'd nix. (Although we did see The Devil Wears Prada, and he thought Emily Blunt was wonderful in that.)

So here's the deal for the giveaway. Last week I won boxed sets of BBC America's Survivors from SmittenByBritain and I liked the way Melissa set up her giveaway, so I'm, ahem, borrowing it. You can earn up to three entries in this contest by:

1. Subscribing to Hail Britannia's blog feed with Bloglines, Google Blog Reader, or your preferred blog reader. Just click on the "subscribe" button in the upper right-hand corner of this page. (ETA: If you're already a subscriber, you get a point.)

2. Tweeting this blog post. All you have to do is click the green "retweet" button in the upper right-hand side of this post next to the photo of the DVD.

3. Leaving a comment on this post and letting me know that you've subscribed to Hail Britannia, retweeted the contest/blog post, and/or that you just want to put your name in the hat for the DVD.

The giveaway is open to anyone living in the U.S. -- sorry, but the DVD is formatted for North America viewing.  I'll be randomly choosing a winner on Monday, April 26. Good luck, and stay tuned for my review of The Young Victoria later this week.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A 20-year-old letter from England, part 3

[caption id="attachment_802" align="aligncenter" width="199" caption="From Flickr/Michael Stringer"]From Flickr/Michael Stringer[/caption]

Thursday, August 10, 1989

Disley, Cheshire, England

I'm beginning to shake off the last of my jetlag (finally!). I could have slept for another two hours this morning, but Frances woke me bright and early for tea. She wants to feed me more, but in the summer my appetite isn't good, plus we Americans seldom eat a hearty breakfast like our English cousins do!

It was a bright morning, and we generally had a sunny day with huge, billowy clouds drifting across the sky, their shadows trailing on the hillsides. Frances and I took a morning walk around the neighborhood; we were able to view an "aspect" of Lyme Park. [Lyme Park was used in the BBC's adaption of Pride and Prejudice as Darcy's family seat. I can just see Colin Firth stripping off his jacket now ...] I noticed an ancient fortress on a distant hillside. Frances thought it was a place where ancient warriors locked up prisoners.

We returned to the house. At 11:30, William and Margaret arrived to take us to a pub lunch. We drove through some of the Peak District in Derbyshire. Margaret pointed out the heather for me ... huge amounts covered whole hillsides -- pretty! The countryside is covered with dry stone walls ... some of the roads we drove on were lined with them. We stopped at the Lantern Pike Inn, a pub in Hayfield that William and Margaret had picked out the day before. It was a typical English pub, dark with a few sour-faced Englishmen sitting in a corner downing pints. I had fish & chips with a half pint of Guinness.

Before we went into the pub, William had some fun parking his car. The man who lives behind the pub was shouting out to him, "Are you parking a bus?" Margaret, Frances, and I thought it was funny, but I think William was offended. On our way back to Disley, William got lost, which furthered his bad mood. I wanted to pick some heather, but didn't press it. Back at Frances's place, I wrote up some postcards, then we watched tv (or the "telly" as they call it here). Frances brought out some old family pictures. She had a lot of Margaret and William's children: Ruth*, Catherine, and Jared. Frances told me of her holidays abroad, trips to beaches in Spain.

*Ruth tracked me down a couple years ago, and knock wood, this fall I hope to meet up with her when I'm in England!

The Daily Mail timetravels to Kate and Prince William's wedding

The Daily Mail published a tongue-in-cheek article about Kate and Prince William's November wedding, written as if it had already occurred. The highlights about the Duke and Duchess of Connaught's nuptials:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron and wife Samantha with newborn baby daughter attend. Bad news for Gordon, I'm afraid!

  • Kate wears Diana's tiara

  • Kate's cousin Gary Goldsmith can't make the big day. No surprises there.

  • Sister Pippa lunges for the bouquet

Everyone seems to think this wedding is going to be a low-key event, but I think it's going to be a big deal, just like Charles and Diana's wedding was some 30 years ago. What do you think?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket

Last month I wrote a blog for The Atlantic's Food Channel about my obsession with British cookbooks and the best places to cookbook shop in London. One of the blog's readers suggested that I might want to get my hands on a book called Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats by Jane Brocket. In here I'd find dozens of recipes from classic British storybooks. Unfortunately, the book is hard to get here in the U.S., and since I don't have a lot of extra money right now for, I located another book Brocket wrote, The Gentle Art of Domesticity: Stitching, Baking, Nature, Art & the Comforts of Home at our local library.

I've renewed it twice, and now the library wants it back so I see I'm going to have to buy it for my personal library. It has been the prescription I needed to get me through cleaning and packing our home for our move. I haven't read it cover-to-cover, but instead, dip into it during the day between scrubbing bathroom floors and packing books. What I like most about it are the photos: Brocket is an avid knitter, crocheter, and quilter (and blogger!), so there are dozens of colorful pictures of her handiwork. The book also includes recipes, lists of novels and movies that celebrate domesticity, and even an extensive list of sources for quilters, bakers, and "haberdashers" that covers not just the U.S. and U.K., but countries all around the world. The book is a wee bit aspirational for me, except for the baking and maybe some simple quilting projects, but hey, an Anglophile can dream.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The 8 worst toilets in the world

I'm fascinated by toilets around the world. (My big goal in life is to visit the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets next time I'm in India.) Not sure why this fascination, except it might be a genetic quirk, a healthy infusion of Anglo-Saxon blood that makes anything poo-related utterly engaging to me. This personal quality, btw, horrifies my husband.

I've traveled a bit around the world, and I'm always eager to adopt local standards for relieving myself, whether on squat toilets, street loos, and open urinals. Closer to home, I was poking around YouTube and found some absolutely horrendous toilets that I hope never to encounter on a trip.

A squat toilet isn't so unusual in China. But with this one, you'll need your waders when you flush:

This toilet aboard a Chinese ferry boat has a unique flushing system. However, you might want to skip eating the local seafood once you're back on land:

The owners of this Chinese toilet are so protective of their facilities, they're got a dog standing guard. (Warning: salty language). Poop at your own risk!

This was the "better toilet" near the Great Wall of China. I'd love to see what the other toilet looked like:

At least you can have a loo with a view in Tibet. You just have to walk the plank to get to it:

In this African locale, the bathroom experience is strictly DIY. On the plus side, you can pretty much choose your seat. Bonus: toilet paper!

Imagine relieving yourself with an audience. In this Brazilian bathroom, you don't have to imagine it. Hundreds of eyes will be on you:

The crown for the worst toilet in the world goes to this one filmed in Odessa, Ukraine. Warning: don't eat while you're watching this video; you can practically smell the horror through your computer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Live from Abbey Road (London webcams)

Did you know there's a webcam view of Abbey Road at the crosswalk made famous by the Beatles? I didn't. I've been watching it for the last half hour, waiting for a gang of four to do "the walk." So far, I've just seen some groups of people gathered on the sidewalk; perhaps they're looking for a break in traffic -- it's a busy street!

Here's another of Oxford Street, one of my favorite places to shop. Oh, it looks so springy there today!

This one gives a live view of Piccadilly Circus from the Criterion Theatre, overlooking the Statue of Eros.

This webcam focuses on Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Not one of the more exciting London webcams, I'm afraid.

If you happen to be driving around London and want to know what kind of traffic you'll face, check out the BBC's list of "Jam Cams." You have to refresh your browser to get fresh shots of the streets, but it's still a fun way to get a bit of London in your own backyard (or home office).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We want season 3 of Mistresses on BBC America!

I've mentioned before on Hail Britannia my obsession with Mistresses, the soapy series about four friends with messy love lives that ran for two seasons on BBC America. In fact, that post gets hundreds of hits each month from people looking for news about its third season, supposedly in production with Joanna Lumley in a guest role as Katie's opinionated  mother.

I've had my fingers crossed that BBC America would be adding the final season to its lineup, so today I inquired and received this swift response from BBC America's publicity department:

"Thanks for your interest and support of Mistresses but currently (my emphasis) we don’t have any plans to air the third season."

Bummer! But I was heartened by the word "currently." That means things can change, right?

Ok, Mistresses fans -- it's time to let BBC America know that we want to see this third season in their programming. If you're one of the hundreds of fans who check my site each month for news about the series, please add your support below and I'll forward the link to my BBC America contacts. Thanks!

Kate and Prince William: A royal engagement forthcoming?

This morning, news outlets in the U.S. and the U.K. are speculating that an engagement announcement from Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, is imminent. Who is reporting this? Everyone from CNN and MSNBC here in the U.S., to the Telegraph and Sky News in Britain. The news is based on a blog post written by Tina Brown of the Daily Beast, who claims that a highly placed Palace insider has told her that June 3 and June 4 have been blocked out on the royal calendar, suggesting that those will be days during which the engagement will be announced. (The wedding will occur in November, supposedly.)

William strikes me as a cards-to-the-chest kind of guy, so I'm betting the actual date of the announcement will be a surprise. But the engagement itself? No surprise there. Even when they "broke up" a couple years ago, I thought it was some kind of ploy to keep the media away from Kate.

What do you think? Do you think Tina Brown is right on this? Or has she been played by her royal sources?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why can't Kate Middleton get a break from the press?

I'm not the most avid royal watcher, but even I've noticed the bashing Kate Middleton, Prince William's girlfriend, is getting in the British press lately, mostly about her role in her parents' business, Party Pieces. It seems no matter what this young woman does -- or doesn't do -- someone in the press has got a complaint about it. To wit:

Back in August 2008, the Daily Mail suggested that Kate was "work-shy" and should have some sort of career.

So the following month, she starts working at her parents' company, but wait .... scandal! Her picture appears on the business's website. God forbid there's visual evidence a potential Queen of England works for a commercial enterprise.

Most recently, Kate's taking heat for an interview that briefly appeared on Party Pieces' website where she described some of her childhood birthday party memories. And now some "news outlets" (I use that term loosely here) are gleefully reporting that Kate's parents have passed her over as a photographer for the company.

Come on ... don't you feel a wee bit sorry for her, even if she is privileged, beautiful, and hooked up with the future King of England? She's damned if she doesn't work, damned if she does.

The British press loves to point out the Middletons, especially the mother, are social climbers extraordinaire. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. As an American, I think claims of their "social climbing" are nothing but evidence of the class system being alive and well in Britain. From my vantage point, they've behaved rather demurely over the past seven or eight years compared with some of Prince Harry's escapades or Prince Edward's commercial dealings.

And I've got to hand it to Kate. Let's for the sake of it assume she really does love William and she isn't the single-minded social climber the press makes her out to be. What a tough spot she's in. If she gets a job at any top-drawer firm, she'll be accused of cashing in on her royal connections for the position. Some have suggested she get a job in the "real world." What real world is that? Starbucks? Primark? Can you imagine the crowds during Kate's shifts? If she does charity work, she'll be acting above her station, like a princess-in-waiting. If she doesn't work, she's a loafer. So in my mind, she's doing the exact right thing: she's working at her parents' company, where she can remain productive, as well as protected.

What do you think? Do you think the press is unfairly harsh on Kate Middleton? Or is she just another hanger-on to you? Express yourself in the comments section below.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A 20-year-old letter from England, part 2

[caption id="attachment_787" align="aligncenter" width="240" caption="From Flickr/DaveKav"]From Flickr/DaveKav[/caption]

Wednesday, August 9, 1989

Disley, Cheshire, England

Today Frances, her friend Brenda and I spent the day at Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron's ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. First we enjoyed a leisurely drive through the countryside, long, winding roads lined with mauve weed and grasses and goldenrod. Miles of dry stone walls pitching recklessly along hillsides and winding through valleys. We drove through towns with wonderful, odd names: Chapel-en-le-Frith, the famous plague town Eyam, etc. Then we passed through grimy towns famed for their collieries: Mansfield, Chesterfield with its crooked steeple (I thought of D.H. Lawrence the whole time).

Newstead Abbey itself was stately, and there were sloping miles of grass, trees, and tended gardens. We began the tour with the house itself. I read aloud from the guidebook we borrowed from the admissions desk. The rooms were rather dark and somber; medieval. I enjoyed viewing Byron's dining area. I could imagine the poet penning a few lines of verse over his morning tea. We met a tour guide in Byron's sleeping chambers. Frances, Brenda and I were fascinated by the presence of ghosts in the Abbey, and we asked if he had seen any. He replied that he hadn't, but he led us to an adjoining dressing room and informed us that the poet had seen a spectre several times: a monk in a black habit. He told us, too, that one of the female tour guides had some strange experiences in the room: feelings of child, dizziness, etc. And another guard saw a ghostly figure emerge from a boudoir in another part of the Abbey. When we later arrived at the boudoir, Brenda and I noticed a distinct chill  ... but nothing else.

I took many pictures; hopefully they'll come out. When we returned to Disley, we all went to dinner at the Red Lion, a nice pub a few blocks away.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tea in London

(Today I have a guest post from Denise LeCroy who runs Tea in London, which specializes in tours to London for tea lovers. Denise tells me that registration for her upcoming September tour has been extended to the end of this month.)


Do you have a passion for something, or perhaps a passion for several somethings? Hello! My name is Denise LeCroy and I have several passions – tea, travel and London.

Several years ago, I married a man from London and left the United States to live with him in that most glorious of cities. I had visited London before with friends, but living there was a dream of a lifetime. I think I dragged my poor husband to every tearoom, tea shop and tea event in London during those years!

When we returned to the states, I settled into married life on this side of the pond and the days and weeks proceeded smoothly until a routine mammogram showed an abnormality that turned out to be breast cancer. Early detection saves lives. Surgery and radiation followed immediately, all went well, and today I celebrate being four years cancer free.

Throughout those soul-searching months of recovery my illness forced upon me a new perspective on many things…life, relationships, what matters and what doesn’t matter. I was given a second chance and was reminded that it was time to dust off my dreams and goals and aspirations that had been neglected for far too long.

I thought about my passions and how I wanted to further pursue them. I already had been a local tea educator for quite some time and although I was also a seasoned traveler, I studied to become a London Destination Specialist. I realized that London’s rich tea history was being virtually neglected by the travel industry, and so I started Tea in London tours - the perfect combination of my love for tea, travel and London.

English Afternoon Tea at traditional and non-traditional venues is a daily event on our tours, together with a combination of other unique activities that include guided walks through areas in London where the tea trade once ruled England’s commerce; visits to museums and galleries to discover old and new tea treasures; journeys to gardens and ancestral homes of early English tea drinkers; and much more. (I can assure you that if one digs deep enough - and I have - one can find a tea-connection to almost anything in London!)

We use a charming hotel in Bloomsbury as our base. It’s a great, quiet location. All of our transport is on a private, comfortable air-conditioned coach and my favorite London Blue Badge Guide, Sarah, accompanies us every day. She loves tea, and you will love her.

But Tea in London is not strictly for tea lovers as we encounter many of London’s famous places and landmarks. Opportunities for shopping are built-in, as well as a free day to privately experience London.

The next Tea in London tour is scheduled for September 13-18, 2010 and I am happy to announce that it will include an optional full-day Tea Masterclass with tea expert Jane Pettigrew. I invite you to visit our website http://www.TeaInLondon for more information about the Masterclass and about the tour.

I hope 2010 will be the year that you have Tea in London!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A 20-year-old letter from England, part 1

The reason why I've been so quiet is that we're moving from Boston to Houston, Texas, in the next few months and my days have been spent cleaning the house, packing boxes, and going through files. (ETA 4/23/10: The move is now off, but I'm still cleaning the house.) I found a diary I'd kept during a visit to England in 1989; I'd spent a week visiting my family outside Manchester before I headed off to Sligo, Ireland, to attend Yeats International Summer School. I thought I'd post some of the entries for your reading pleasure -- and also as a way of ensuring I don't lose these words during our move.


[caption id="attachment_791" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="From Flickr/Patrn"]From Flickr/Patrn[/caption]

Tuesday, August 8, 1989

Disley, Cheshire, England

Landed at Heathrow at 8:15 a.m. Uneventful flight. Sat next to a man who had terrible body odor. The man next to him read the New York  Times Review of Books and John Updike. Rolled his eyes a few times when the foul-smelling man between us shifted positions. Customs in London was packed. Barely made my 10:45 a.m. flight to Manchester. Lovely weather up here; warm with a cool breeze. Cousin Frances picked me up at the airport, then we came back to her bungalow in Disley for some tea in her garden. After this we walked to a local pub for a lunch, but I didn't have much of an appetite.

When we returned home, I napped for three hours, then more tea and a visit from cousin William and his wife Margaret, who is from Sligo.  I immediately took a liking to her: lively eyes and mannerisms, very youthful. When the left, I bathed and now I'm settling down for the night. I'm terribly exhausted. Tomorrow Frances and I are spending the day in Nottinghamshire at Lord Byron's manor, Newstead Abbey. Frances said the ride there is "lovely." I'm looking forward to this since I was hoping to do more literary tours of England -- sorry so short, more tomorrow.