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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Going There Because Of Books

Today I'm going to the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne to meet the family for one of their famous High Teas. This will be my fifth time - once I went with my friend Natalie, who stays at the hotel when she's in Melbourne, because it's where they put you up when you come from interstate to speak at the Melbourne Writers' Festival and she'd decided to spoil herself after that treat she'd had once. The other times it has been to celebrate something, usually to do with publication( today we're celebrating Wolfborn's trip to the US).

But I got the idea of going there in the first place because of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher novels. It's where Phryne stays when she first arrives in Australia and where she takes Julia Chivers for tea when looking for Julia's missing friend in Murder In Montparnasse.  It just sounded like such a classy thing to do. The price of afternoon tea there is horribly expensive, but I worked for it and once in a while I can take out family and friends if I want, to be happy with me.

I also went for lunch at the Queenscliff Hotel after reading Kerry Greenwood's  Flying Too High , which ends there. In the book, Phryne solves a case just outside Queenscliff, rescuing a kidnapped child and taking the girl, her family and friends to the hotel to recover and have breakfast. The place sounded gorgeous and as I was staying at Sorrento on my holidays, I caught the Queenscliff ferry and went. You could get your meal cheaper if you ate on the veranda than in the pub, but that was fine with me; I sat gazing out at the sea as I ate a wonderful meal. The hotel is beautiful, with stained glass all over the place and I think there are tours. I have promised myself to stay there one weekend.

Then there are some overseas jaunts. When I was in England, of course I made pilgrimage to Stratford On Avon to see places where Shakespeare had been, but I remember how thrilled I was,passing the local Tourist Information Office, to see a small plaque informing passers that this had been the house where Judith Shakespeare had lived with her husband. Imagine it - a historic building being casually used for an office! It was everywhere in England, of course. Five hundred year old pubs, for example.

In London I walked along Charing Cross Road, once famous for its bookshops and one bookshop in particular. Passing number 84, I was relieved to see it was still selling something nice- records.

My friend Maureen Kincaid Speller, who was walking with me, smiled, reading my thoughts. "I think Frank would approve, or wouldn't mind, anyway." (Frank was the bookshop's manager when Helene Hanff was ordering books from her home in the US).

I wanted to visit " merry Carlisle" which got a mention in the medieval ballads, such as Adam Bell, but it was on the border and there really wasn't time. I did make it to Nottingham on the weekend of the Goose Fair, a centuries-old event in early October, because I had heard about it in a song. Buses were laid on to go there every few minutes. Not much was happening there - all the rides were child sized - but the fairgrounds were lined with fortune teller stalls and Mum and I had our first taste of chip butties, chip sandwiches, which we've made at home since then. We did, of course, visit Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak, six hundred years old. Not quite old enough for a Robin Hood connection, but still a historic tree.

One day I went to Oxford to visit my friend Margaret Draper, who worked there. On my first trip to England Margaret had taken me to see the Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings met, and I hoped to find it again. Margaret didn't turn up; she later explained she had been stuck in a meeting at work and these were the days before mobile phones. After waiting an hour, I decided that as I was there anyway I would simply plunge into the streets of Oxford and see what I found. And what I found was very much book related. Christ Church College was where Alice Liddell's father worked in the days when Lewis Carroll wrote her into his fiction. Across the road was Alice's Old Sheep Shop, an Alice-themed shop which was the original shop used as the basis for Tenniel's illustration in Through The Looking Glass.

 I went to Bath because of Jane Austen and it felt as if she or her characters might still walk along the Regency Streets. It was also a good place to start from to visit Glastonbury with its Arthurian connections. We couldn't stay long, alas, due to limited bus timetables, but did manage to get to the ruins of the monastery which made good tourist money in the Middle Ages by telling everyone they'd found King Arthur's bones. Of course that was mainly so people would stop believing he was coming back, but if it got tourist silver, why not?

Shrewsbury, on the border of England and Wales, was where we went to celebrate Ellis Peters' wonderful Brother Cadfael. My mother hadn't read the books at the time, though she read the lot when we got home. I was delighted to see that the author had described the streets so well that I could find my way around. The layout was still the same. We went to the church where Brother Cadfael had prayed with the other monks in the novels, and met one of the parishioners outside as I was taking photos.

After some joking round about being a fan, he pointed out some places mentioned in the novels.

Shrewsbury, which was a gorgeous little town with plenty of historic buildings, was doing nicely out of Brother Cadfael in those days, though the church itself needed some serious renovation, with hoes in the roof and such. Outside it had aVictorian look, but inside there were still medieval tombs.

As it's nearly time to get up, I will stop here, before I get to New Zealand and Lord Of The Rings. I'll keep that for another time.


Satima Flavell said...

Ooh, what a lovely lot of memories, Sue! I hope you get to visit those places again, as well as other not yet seen.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, yes, I do hope I can go back there too! Next time I'm in the UK I will also visit "merry Carlisle" and other places I missed. But there are plenty of places in Oz, too!