Monday, 10 December 2012

A Shocking Discovery

A Shocking Discovery

At the grand old age of thirty-two
I'm unprepared for this, 'tis true:
Two strands of hair turned white,
Age ganged up on me in spite.
I've much hair yet to go to seed
But we all know where this path doth lead -
So as there's no Time-Backward cure,
Let me begin the Hair-Dye war.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Hello, all you What's On Your Workdesk Wednesday-ers - and apologies to most of you, whom I didn't get round last week! Good intentions and all that - oops!

Still, here we are again: Wednesday, and sharing our creative spaces with fellow nosy crafters, courtesy of Julia over at Stamping Ground. As I'm a writer who crafts as a hobby, my actual desk is rather anti-craft in terms of space...

You can see my laptop (closed because not a lot of writing has been going on - boo!), green 'To Action' file covered in Post-Its, specific Novel Number Two notebook (also closed and collecting dust, at this rate!), and, to the right-hand side, Novel Number Two files (pink is my second-favourite colour, with red being my first - girly, moi?! Never!) all stacked up and waiting to be taken out and used!

My desk is in the cupboard-under-the-stairs, which I cleared out and converted into my study, or Scriptorium as I like to call it, several years ago. My crafting supplies have sneaked in to claim a spot to the right of my desk...

Embellishments and buttons are stored in old cranberry sauce jars (try some with a ham or turkey sandwich, and add in some brie if you're feeling indulgent...yum, yum!); next year's calendar is Novel Number Two themed (fashion and handbags play a large part of the story - all to be revealed...when I write the damn thing!) and waiting for January 1st to be daily-inspiring; the top shelf holds my small (yet growing...) collection of stamps and inks, plus an apron 'cause I hate getting messy!; the middle shelf has papers and card; and the bottom shelf hides all manner of bits and bobs. As you can see, I don't have that much room at the actual crafting happens on the kitchen countertop! There, at least, is space and natural light...

Before I away to snoop and nose at your desks, I wanted to share with you the completion of the Christmas present I was making last week. I can't show you the 3 individual canvases, as the friend in question sometimes pops by the Pen Pot (if I remember after Christmas, I'll post pics then!), but I can show you the 'handmade' tag I stamped and included in the wrapped-up box...

Hope you all have a good WOYWW for as many days as it lasts - I shall still be visiting on Sunday, I suspect!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

WOYWW 182 - Belated!

This is a belated post - oops - hoping to grab those snoopers still looking at the (long!) list over at fabulous host Julia's Stamping Ground, and inviting (er, begging!) you to browse my workdesk. WOYWW-ing on the actual Wednesday was my intention...but unfortunately, it didn't come to fruition, so here I am today.

Such a terrible timekeeper am I, that I'm belated in two other things: paying homage to a fab craft weekend the other week, and welcoming a few new followers. My desk today addresses the first of these: my own creations from the Crafty Boots Design Team meet-up a fortnight ago, where I accompanied (er, tagged along with...) my good friend Zoe, who is one of the wonders of said team. I must say a huge thanks to all the lovely people I met; everyone was friendly, fun and generous in sharing their own craft and top tips. Special thanks go to Stephanie-Emma for organising the whole shebang, to Gabrielle for the book-cover workshop in which I managed this...

Your eyes do not deceive you - it isn't finished...yet! Though the idea was to create a kind of souvenir book to house the projects we completed on the day, I loved it so much I want to make it into a poetry chapbook of my work this year - so that's the plan, now I just need the time!
...and to Bev, whose workshop showed us how to make a felt flower brooch:

I really enjoyed this one, and happily hand-sewed while everyone else waited for a turn at the sewing machine! From Bev's tub of pretties, I chose a dewberry cluster (probably rescued from a broken necklace) rather than a button or some sparkles, and now I just need to find (or buy!) the right handbag to attach it to... 
It was a great weekend, and I really enjoyed learning new well as confirming that I don't like being messy! Since then, though, I've bought inks and done some stamping (for a Christmas present that I can't share - yet - as the friend in question sometimes looks on my blog!), so you're all rubbing off on me, after all!
Before I sneak off to nose at your wonderful WOYWW desks, I want to thank my new followers - I've been rather blog-shy these past few months, so imagine my surprise and delight to log on today and notice you! Many thanks for joining the Pen Pot and I hope you enjoy/chuckle at my mad ramblings.
Right then, the teapot is brewing and the day is all mine...let me get my snoop on!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Retail Therapy

Sometimes, you just need to shop. Yes, you really do. To treat yourself – because you deserve it. You do. I know bank managers and husbands the world over moan about this, but it’s true. Sometimes a girl’s just gotta shop.

A couple of posts ago I shared with you the pages I’d crafted in my fabulous new SMASH book – I was excited, enthusiastic, chuffed with what I’d done and keen to do more, and then... Life and its ups and downs interrupted. Sneaked in and stole my SMASH book bliss, how dare it!   

A couple of weeks passed and it was time for a catch-up with my wonderful and creative friend Zoe, who always cheers me up and inspires me – and, as usual, she didn’t disappoint. However, one could argue she’s a bad influence on me – after lots of craft-talking, digi-designing of a funky signature to end each blog post with (it’s still in the blog-interface development stage till we iron out the niggles, I’m afraid!), and a request for a new SMASH book (!), I went home and blew some hard-earned dosh on craft stash!

And here it is...

All together...

Up close: you can see I got a bit excited with some papers...

...and some fab fun bits! Can't wait to use them.

All bought with my SMASH-book-as-story/character-portfolio in mind, I can’t wait to get it all out and play, play, play. Hopefully, that’ll lead me on to write, write, here goes, crafty-toes! Shame I'm working tomorrow... But as soon as I can, I'll be crafting!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Just in Time?

You know when you know you’ve got to do something but don’t do it immediately, because you’ve got ages before it needs to get done? While this is often my ironing pile (!), today it was a small, short competition entry; one that I’ve known about for a few months, brainstormed (to ensure I don’t pick the obvious angle), planned and even First Drafted...and yet forgot all about the closing date!

Imagine my horror at my disorganisation this morning when I realised the deadline is in 2 DAYS! Oops. Imagine my relief, though, that I’m on a day off and had time to scrabble together a couple of rewrites and then the Final Draft...and that I’ve caught the last post of the day. Phew!

Who knows if it’ll make the judges desk in time?!

If it doesn’t, it’ll teach me not to leave things to the last minute (though you would’ve thought I’d have learned from all those school homeworks and uni essays...!)

But if it does, I might very well be in with a chance to win a book called ‘The Writer’s Treasury of Ideas’ by Linda Lewis. It’s a 365-day collection of writing prompts, triggers and nudges that might spark off a piece, or even simply act as a warm-up to the day’s main writing. I’ve always fancied books like this and made a few mistakes in buying ones that don’t quite match my expectations – but, hey, life is a gamble, right? And if I can win a copy, that’ll keep my bank manager happy...!

So, the competition was to write a 250-word fictional passage in which “a bottle perfume [one of the prompts from the book] plays a major part” – and, as I’ve been Blog-Absent* for absolutely ages, I thought I’d share my entry here with you:

The bottles line up on the shelf like optics behind a bar. It was her addiction, collecting these scents; her alcoholism. Each morning she’d take a nip, spritzing her body, selecting which aspiration to buy into that day. It no longer exists, not for her.

Now it is my turn. I’d yearned for this once; coveted the delicate crystal unicorn, the elegant ballet slipper, the iconic square bottle with the interlinked double C. Never mind the perfume inside, never mind the allure it promised. For me, it was always about the shape, the artistry of the glass itself; pushed and pulled in its making to the brink of collapse yet still surviving.

I look again and see used-up femme fatales; spies with no intrigues left to report on. Some have scent left, so old it has become jaundiced; jaded. Others are empty, the life sprayed out of them. I remember the power they had, the gulp of her taste as she passed an unwelcome intimacy. They are mine now and I no longer want them. The glass that sparkled with her reflection seems stained; surrendered.

Unlike her, I can make my own Twelve Steps. One by one, I take the bottles down and pour their perfume down the sink. I consider sensibly putting them in the recycling bin, but it is not enough of a spectacle, a ceremony.

Instead, I smash each exquisite bottle and cherish the delicious crunch of glass which punctuates the “goodbye” I never got to say.

Hope you liked it – self-centredly, I’m pretty pleased with it! Let’s wish it good luck for the comp.

*Apologies – it isn’t that I’ve been neglectful because I have thought about my Blog and its purposes a lot, and made attempts at posts that haven’t worked. My absence has been because I’ve been working on and crafting the background ideas to Novel Number Two – and this has taken priority. I hope to share some of this with you as time goes on, but I need to do it first to know what’s worth keeping and showing, and what’s just for the wastepaper basket!

Ta ta for now!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Wow, it's been a while since I participated in What's On Your Workdesk long ago in fact, the week numbers were down in the 140s! For those lacking a previous introduction, here's today's invitation - join in the global desk-hopping courtesy of fab host Julia and become just as nosy as the rest of us!

So, what is on my desk this week? My pink Smash Book! I'm sure most of you already know about these, but my good friend Zoe showed me hers (she has one in every colour...yes, really!) and explained they were the new scrap/journalling craze sweeping across from America...and the pink one was so lush I had to have it! This is a promotional image to tempt you if you haven't already taken a fancy...

Being a writer, I'm using mine rather differently to how most people would and to explain this, I need to let you into a little secret... 'The Dressmaker's Daughter.' Hey, who's that, I hear you cry? Well, it's the title of my next book, which I've been nicknaming Novel Number Two here on the blog...and this is the first online reveal of the proper title! In previous posts, I've detailed how I've found it hard to get into the narrative writing and even planning of this story...but now with the Smash Book in my life, I can make this ideas-process fun, fresh and fuelling!
'The Dressmaker's Daughter' gives away the fact that there is a dressmaker and her daughter, but the rest of the plot I'm going to keep quiet, as I don't want to jinx my writing mojo! I've been collecting magazine snippets of clothes/fashion for ages, and this past week I've been working on putting them together as my dressmaker's collection...
So, scroll down with me to see some select pics of how I did...
You are lucky, you know... Not only do you get to know the title of Novel Number Two, but you also get to meet visual prompts for the two main characters! I've not used this technique before but I'm liking it so far. Now, which do you think is the dressmaker and which the daughter?!

This is a retrospective page in terms of process - it was only after I'd compiled the fashion pics in their 'stories' (as capsule collections tend to be known) that I could narrow down my dressmaker's style and produce this, her Design Signature list! It should help me stay on track when writing about the designs/outfits, as well as inspiring me anew...

Each fashion 'story' has its day half and night half, each of which which gets a Smash double-spread, but I've just picked my favourites to share with you here.

Originally, I was going to leave these papers blank as I love the birds and didn't want to swamp them or overdo the page, but then I noticed this fab fashion sketch, lonely on the side of a gift bag in M&S! I spent ages wandering around the wrap section, but when I found the greetings card I was disappointed - it was half the size and yet more expensive! I'm really pleased with how it's turned out, especially as I had no idea how I was going to use it when I bought it!

And to end with today, here are the end pages of my Smash Book - oops! You've caught me in an unfinished moment - I've used the slogan from the side of the M&S gift bag on the right, and am waiting for that to dry before I stick down the other femme fatale sketch on the left...!
That's it from me, hope you're enjoying your WOYWW - I'm going to make a cup of tea after linking this post, then I'll be a-visiting for the rest of the afternoon! See you then :0)

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Monday, 6 August 2012


Forgive me, Reader, for I have sinned. It has been a month since my last Pen Pot Post. Now, I confess: I’ve found creativity hard-going lately, and it’s left me wondering quite what I should blog about!

From previous experience, I’ve learned that when the end of a project arrives I feel bereft and lost for quite some time – and it’s easier said than done to launch into the next project. Since completing my ‘Identity’ poetry sequence, I have written six poems and have plans for a seventh, which is great. Fabulous. Almost prolific, even. But as poems are short and so a self-contained project, I’ve been feeling lost after finishing each one!

Fresh ideas for longer pieces, then, have been lacking – and I got to thinking about why I set up the Pen Pot Blog in the first place. Realising that it’s a year since we began, I figured it was time for a Retrospective.

Back on the 8th August 2011, I opened the Pen Pot with the aim to talk about:

1.      The crafting of writing;

2.      The critiquing of writing;

3.      Words that work as writing prompts;

4.      Specific inspirations;

5.      Books I’ve learned from;

6.      Inspirational quotations; and

7.      Beginning/completing writing exercises (and sharing them with you, if I was brave enough!).

Have I achieved these aims, then? Well, it’s a mixed bag, I guess – ‘yes’ to words that I like and find inspirational; a mega ‘yes’ to talking about books and my reading, though a ‘maybe’ to discussing anything learned from them; a teeny tiny ‘yes’ to sharing quotations (and yet I was sure I’d share loads!); a fair ‘yes’ to sharing how my own writing has been going and my drafting/critiquing process (though not in detail); but a big fat ‘no’ to writing exercises.

And that’s what I’d like to change, going forward. I need to be more disciplined and definitely DO some exercises!

This Retrospective is also a big “thank you” to you, the Pen Pot Readers, for sticking with me and my warblings!, and a huge “thank you” to those of you who have ‘followed’ the Pen Pot (if you haven’t yet and you want to – so that you’d never miss a post – just click on the ‘Follow’ icon at the top of the screen and carry out the instructions!).

While I genuinely appreciate you reading this, I had also hoped the Pen Pot would find a wider, more writerly-based audience too, so as to put me in touch with other writers; and perhaps we would’ve even been able to have a creative correspondence of some kind. Unfortunately (even after I promoted the Pen Pot address in a published letter to ‘Writing Magazine’...), this hasn’t happened yet...and I still would like it to.
So, I think it’s time to try and cast the Pen Pot’s net a bit further... I hear Twitter is the place for writers to hang out, chat and connect – so watch this witterings may become Tweets sooner than you’d think!

Retrospective-wise, then, for the next year of the Pen Pot’s life, I aim to:

1.      Post a writing exercise of some kind once a week (written, if not immediately shared online, on a Monday evening when the TV is out of my control because the soaps are being watched...grr! But this does free up an hour and a half of watching-nothing-time which can become writing-exercise time instead of reading/listening-to-music/chatting-on-the-phone time!);

2.      Talk more specifically about how critiquing helps improve my work;

3.      Be as short in my postings as I am in real life (!), and share succinct quotations and posts instead of War and Peace type ones (!!);

4.      Be brave and wade into the Twitter domain so that I can hopefully connect with more writers; and

5.      (in the way of Strictly Come Dancing-speak)...

Ke-eep writing!

Monday, 9 July 2012

A Reading Quartet

After complaining last post that I’d been struggling with my reading, I found myself wandering into the library on my day off. I took my time (as I hadn’t done before!) scanning the titles and spent a good half-hour or so choosing, making sure I read the first page and not just the blurb... And away I came with three books, two of which I read last week and I’ve just begun the third – see, that’ll teach me to moan!

So, the first book was Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott, the story of a late academic’s potentially controversial book about Isaac Newton and alchemy, the woman who ghostwrites the final chapters and the deadly mystery she gets drawn into... Sounds right up my alley, particularly with excerpts of the Newton book being included in the narrative (this is a technique I love and affectionately call intertextuality, meaning other texts – pages of books, diaries, letters, either real or imaginary – appearing in the text; however, I’ve just looked up the term and found I’ve inadvertently skewed the definition! Intertextuality actually means “in literary theory, a text evaluated in terms of its explicit relation (e.g. by allusion) to other texts.” Oops! Underneath, though, is the word ‘intertexture’ meaning an “interwoven state”, which is what I intended! See, we learn new things every day...)

Anyhoo, Ghostwalk didn’t quite live up to my hopes, though I did enjoy it. The major issue for me was characterisation, as I didn’t care for any of the characters. Part of this is to do with style, for Stott writes in the first-person narrative of the ghostwriter and moves around from past to present, plus dipping into the 17th Century with regard to Newton and alchemy, yet there is a curious distance in the writing which keeps me from feeling as if I’m standing just behind the first-person narrator. Another part of this is that I just didn’t find the people in these pages likable, and so I wasn’t invested in them.

What kept me reading, then, I hear you cry, as you know I’m a chronic stop-reading-and-skip-forward-to-the-end – er when I get bored with a book! It was the writing that kept me interested, for Stott writes startling, involving and sometimes beautiful prose which often made me think anew about how I, as a writer, may describe things in the future. From a reader’s point of view, I tipped to the twist early on and didn’t find the resolution satisfying – but I am glad I read it and would recommend you give it a try.

Second up was Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You – and I really liked this one. I may be about to give too much away as I explain the plot, so feel free to skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know! Will is an extreme sports adventurer who is now a quadriplegic after suffering terribly injuries in a motorbike accident; Lou is the small-town girl with small-town ambitions who becomes his companion – and as they come to open up each other’s personalities, viewpoints and dreams, they fall in love. The problem is, Will wants the type of life he had before he was injured and he’s determined to do something about it – so can Lou change his mind?

While the plotline itself could be argued to be predictable without any surprises, the way Moyes leads us to the dénouement is thought-provoking, touching and warming (I cried buckets during the last third!). For me, this book had characterisation in spades; everyone is wonderfully drawn, with their flaws amusingly commented upon and their best bits celebrated. Here, the first-person narrative / character of Lou sidelines Moyes’ more literary writing (it wouldn’t have been authentic for Lou to speak in such a way, due to her personality), but the story makes up for this with its heartfelt content. Moyes doesn’t shy away from disability, its challenges and the often intolerant viewpoints of others, and for these reasons I think everyone should read this book – it’ll open your eyes and make you really think.

The third book from the library is The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell, which mixes genealogy with the investigation of a murder, leading us from the current crime back to a Victorian serial killer... I’m not far in yet but it’s good so far, and interests me because Waddell is primarily a non-fiction writer (this is his first novel), and wrote the accompanying book to BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are? Series, which I love! It’ll be good to see how he weaves the genealogy (which could be a dry study in, er, studying, and therefore bore the reader!) into the investigation. I’ll let you know...

Now, making up the Reading Quartet of my last week is The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid. I’d missed ITV’s Wire in the Blood TV series, which is based on some of McDermid’s books, and have just been introduced to it on DVD by a good friend (thanks, Sarah, ’cause I’d miss out on some brill TV without you!). I wanted to see what the novels were like, as though I’ve stepped away from reading grisly crime fiction (as it’s too, er, grisly for my weak stomach!), the TV show was fab – and I wasn’t disappointed. McDermid is a former journalist and her writing is intelligent, articulate and clever, as well as forming a shocking yet believable plot which is delivered with pace and feeling. Though the torture, mutilation and murder is disgusting, it is never sensationalised or gory for gory’s sake (which is the tone and treatment I hate). I sped through the book and will be reading the rest of the series, as well as a couple of McDermid’s stand-alone novels, as time goes on.

This Reading Quartet surprised me as I’ve been struggling with my lack of concentration of late, but I’m glad I read myself out of the scuffle and found good titles in the process! Now, let’s get the kettle on and get back to it... 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Oh Pledge, What's Happened to You?!

Back in February, I pledged to borrow a book every month from my local library in the spirit of ‘if we don’t use it, we might lose it’ (even though my local library isn’t under threat of closing). For two months, I borrowed books that weren’t quite Me...and since the last one, I’ve not borrowed any.

Oh Pledge, what’s happened to you?!

Part of the problem is, I think, that I realised I needed to devote more time to choosing a book from the library, rather than plucking them from the shelf or just-returned cart – and I’ve not made the time to do this. Naughty me, then.

I think, though, that the main problem is that I’ve been struggling with my reading of late. I’ve been drained and tired and not concentrated well, ’tis true, but I’d also started not-quick books that have been dragging their heels...and the lack of progress and (if I’m being gut-wrenchingly honest) enjoyment has made me a bit of a reluctant reader, which isn’t usually my problem!

A couple of days ago, I finished one of these slow-burn books, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. Like Girl Reading, the recommendation came from Channel 4’s Reading Group booklist – and while it sounded completely different to what I normally choose, I was imbued with the reviewers’ pleasure and amusement, and I wanted a bit of that myself.

Now, I’ve had a fraction of it – the story is interesting, the characters quirky and thought-provoking and the pace quick, actually...but I’ve been reading it in ten-minute tea-break chunks, with maybe twenty minutes during my lunch break, rather than giving it hours at a time. I have been able to put it down (though it hasn’t left my thoughts and I have remembered to go back to it) and let days, perhaps even a week, pass before I pick it up again. Oops.

It is worth reading, despite my bit-at-a-time approach: a Western with a 21st Century-relevant moral, it will make you wince and smile in equal measure. Is it one to keep on the bookshelf? I’m not sure! And that, ladies and gentlemen, probably means I didn’t love it enough...

The other started-but-not-yet-finished book is the biography of my favourite poet, The Life of Emily Dickinson by Richard B Sewall. Now, to be fair, this is a tome of a book; a proper scholar’s tome. In that sense, it can’t be quick to read because there’s so much information, detail and analysis. I think it’s a really well written to-be-studied biography, and it’s clear that Sewall has done his research and states when he’s surmising what might have happened so as there’s no confusion...but it is long and, as it allots a chapter to each of the people in Emily Dickinson’s close relationships, it can feel, for the casual reader, a little laborious.

I think, too, that because I’d been so looking forward to receiving it for my Easter present (yet, alas, I still consumed a couple of Easter Eggs...damn the cheap sweet shop opposite work!), the bulk of it overwhelmed me – and by this I mean its actual size and weight, rather than page-length. I don’t buy hardbacks, you see, because I find them cumbersome to hold: I can’t curl up with a cup of tea in one hand, book nestled in the other. A hardback or equally bulky book requires both hands holding it, with a cushion standing by to prop it on when they ache; the bookmark has to be inserted when a sip of tea is taken, otherwise it clunks closed and the page is lost; and so, for me, the magic is interrupted, disrupted. Reading The Life of Emily Dickinson lying in bed is no easy task, and so that cuts down on the time I have to read it.

But I shouldn’t be moaning, really: I am enjoying it, though a little impatient to move on from the people she knew (and thus who can tell us about her – she was a recluse who wilfully left little written records or papers when she died, and so getting a gauge of what really made her tick is very tricky) to get to the good stuff: how she wrote what she wrote; her writer’s process. Alas, I am realising that there might be very little that Sewall can say on this subject, as Emily Dickinson kept her poetry personal (other than sending it to friends) rather than public (i.e. discussing how and why she did it, and expressing the desire to publish it)...but there are the final two chapters which seem to concentrate on her reading and writing, so I just need to get there!

So, with my Pledge nonexistent for the last few months and my arms aching from the weight of this biography, what should I do to choose my next read?

Just hold on and wait, I think...till the need to read grips me so tight that even the cereal box will do...! Then, you see, I shan’t be able to put it (or the cereal box!) down and so shall be properly immersed in reading, just as I love to be.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Vienna Views III

For my final look-back, I'm going to share with you my penultimate day in Vienna. I visited (on my very own – gulp! – in a country where I speak none of the language – eek!)
Schloss Schonbrunn, a huge (there are 1,441 rooms!) 17th Century palace.

See, I wasn’t kidding – even standing at the grounds entrance gate a good distance away from the castle, I still couldn’t get it all in! Thus, I turn to Google Images to do so instead:

Inside, you can’t take photographs (which is a shame, but understandable), but you can pick up an audio guide...or a booklet. No prizes for guessing which one I opted for! But just as my experience with the Mona Lisa in Paris (see my moan here – ), today’s preference for technology left me cold. During my visit, I only spotted one other person with the booklet – everyone else was using the (to be fair, quiet and non-static) audio guides.

While I appreciate the technological advances society has made, over-reliance on technology is, to me, prescriptive and prohibitive to real, actual experience. You can’t take the audio guide home as a souvenir, as I have the booklet. You listen to someone else telling you the history before you even take in each room and its contents (because, as soon as you see the number relevant to that part of the tour, you press the keys on the guide), rather than discover and react to your own first impressions, then read up on it after. You are a sheep following a well-trodden path as you listen to pre-recorded directions and look at what you’re told to look at, oblivious to the other sheep and the potential of non-sheep (like me!) standing around you as you bump into them without excusing yourself, rather than being an individual (definitely me!), spotting what interests you, sourcing your own intrigue...and your physical space!

Am I a relic, then, wanting to be present and to actively engage in my experiences, rather than to hold a device which assimilates this for me?!

Anyhoo, I’m getting away from my experience of Schonbrunn...!

So, rant aside (sorry!), there I am, wandering around this amazing stately palace, taking in the sights and noting thoughts and reactions on my (free!) booklet (and yes, I realise that I’m a special case – non-writers wouldn’t be doing this!). What struck me the most, then? Well, the splendour and sumptuousness of the interior, without doubt – royalty really is another world! I’ve googled the interior and copy a couple of the images here, so you can see what I mean:

This is a ceramic heater - much more elaborate yet less cosy than one of our fireplaces! - in the Porcelain Room, which is decorated with "213 pen-and-ink drawings which were executed by Franz Stephan and some of his children." Talented family!

On a people-level, I was impressed with the character of the Empress Elisabeth, who born on 24th December 1837. At 16 years old she married Emperor Franz Joseph, and was known to her family as ‘Sisi’.

Sisi was, so the guide booklet says, “...a self-confident woman. She led an independent life, travelling extensively...she kept up her extensive correspondence and wrote her diaries and her poetry...” She seems to have been a bit of a feminist and certainly an individual, and I regret now that I didn’t pick up the book about her in the gift shop, as I’d like to know more about her and her writings. Ah, well, another visit sometime beckons!

The room which made the most impact was the one in which I felt, like a shiver over my skin, the stately and poignant atmosphere – and this was the Vieux-Laque Room. Remodelled in 1765 (so before Sisi’s reign) at Maria Theresa’s instruction, it forms a memorial to her beloved late husband, Franz Stephan.

The guide booklet says, “Black lacquer panels from Peking were set into the walnut wainscoting and embellished with gold frames.” I found the decor to be truly moving; not overly melancholic but suitably sober, with lavish embellishment to mark the greatness of the man she lost. After her own death, a note she’d written was found in her prayer book. In it, Maria Theresa “...had noted the length of her happy marriage, right down to the precise number of hours.”

Moving outside, then, the grounds of Schonbrunn are vast, incorporating gardens, an orangery, Roman ruins, and even...a zoo! Unfortunately, during my tour of the palace interior, it began to rain heavily and, though I waited almost an hour, it refused let up, so I didn’t get to see the gardens or the zoo (which I was really looking forward to!).

Other things that I didn’t have time to do in Vienna include seeing an opera, riding in a horse-drawn carriage, or heading outside the city into the mountains...

...all of which means I shall just have to go back, of course! I’d better get saving those pennies...!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Vienna Views II

Welcome to the second part of my Views of Vienna, shared with you...


I don’t have any technical knowledge about architecture, and I can hardly draw a straight line with a ruler, but when I look at buildings I know what interests and pleases me...and I usually take an admiring snap while I’m standing there!

Here, I particularly like the arching, curved streetlamps; so much more elegant than the ones I see every day...!

Parks & Trees

I do love a good tree, and a lovely bit of greenery too...thankfully, Vienna didn’t disappoint on either count:

And, as it's chucking it down with rain here in good ole Blighty as I reflect on my time in Austria, I thought I'd leave you with a little Viennese water:

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Vienna Views I

I’ll be honest and admit that I’d never before thought of Vienna as a holiday destination – mainly because I get fed up of rainy grey days and tend to plump for sun-sea-sand weeks away, though with a fair bit of history/culture to balance out all that sun-tanning!

However, visiting my lovely friend Charlotte, who moved to Vienna last year, has shown me I’d definitely go back.

Now that I’m back home, fully rested from the rather arduous travelling (bloody late coaches! We’ll say no more...!), and back to work (boo!), I thought I’d prolong my holiday by sharing my views of Vienna with you:


Taking first place in my favourites list is Stephansdom, or St Stephen’s Cathedral. Founded in 1137, further construction/renovation continued until 1511, with conservation work currently taking place. Much is said about the spires, roof and tombs (all pretty amazing, it has to be said)...

...but for me the wonder, the awe, is in the stained glass windows.

Perhaps it was simply that we popped into Stephansdom at just the right time to witness the sun, at just the right strength, streaming through the stained glass at just the right angle. The filtered fusion of colours transformed the interior of the cathedral into an art installation, and I was stunned to silence.

I’ll forgive you for thinking my pictures must have been photoshopped but I promise you they haven’t: those shades, that atmosphere, are real. The sun truly is a special thing. It took me a while to realise that the stained glass windows were clear, coloured panes; no images are etched onto them to tell a story (which is the opposite to any stained glass window I’ve ever seen) – yet this omission made the cathedral’s message somehow more special, more enlightening.

Anyhoo, that’s quite enough philosophy for one day! Let’s move onto the equally enriching experience of...


This is a Viennese specialty...and a very yummy one at that!

Sachertorte is a chocolate sponge cake coated in dark chocolate icing, with apricot jam in the centre. I took mine without cream (because I hate it!), but I’ve just discovered that cream is traditionally eaten with it as Sachertorte is thought of as dry. Oops. I do like a bit of tradition, but, to me, the chocolate-and-apricot taste was just divine on its own and not at all dry!

Food-wise and working backwards from dessert to main course (as I always do when I go out for a meal...choose which delectable pudding to indulge in first, and then pick a good, light main to justify it!), I would also recommend the...

Weiner Schnitzel

Traditionally, it is a veal dish but you can opt for the popular pork version; coated in breadcrumbs, it is fried until golden brown and served with potato salad. I tried it on my first night in Vienna and the few, warm bites I had were lovely and tasty...but unfortunately I was ill with a migraine and couldn’t manage any more  L  However, Austria is like America in the way of the doggy-bag (or boxing up your leftover meal to take home with you), which is a very un-English thing to do (we either scoff it down or, most unusually, leave it!) and quite hard to get used to – but very handy, in that we got to take my Schnitzel home with us. I can report that it is equally tasty eaten cold and with fresh Austrian rolls (which I think were called Kaisersemmel...) for breakfast...though this way of eating Schnitzel probably has any chef up in arms!


On my second day in Vienna, Charlotte and her husband took me to the Museumsqurtier, which is a hub of art museums, galleries and exhibition spaces. We sat outside at a cafe and watched the world go by for a bit...and had the weather been nicer (it was grey and raining...see, I just can’t escape it!), we’d probably have had a good wander round. Though I didn’t visit any of the places in the Museumsquartier, I am rather jealous that Vienna has such a place, as I’d love to be able to access such culture so easily each day. How about it, then, town planners?! Charlotte and I did take in the sights of fellow art museum the Albertina the following day, so I did fit a bit of culture in!

I'll see you later in the week when I share more Vienna Views...