October 28, 2014

Chedworth Roman Villa

When the mental and emotional scars were still fresh from last year's October half term break, I vowed to go on a fabulous trip this October.  But after visiting ten countries in four months this summer, we were incredibly excited to stay right here at home!  Let's face it, our adopted "home" is pretty darn amazing.

We decided to utilize the time off by visiting local sights that we've never explored.  Our first stop was Chedworth Roman Villa.

For over 300 years, most of southern England was part of the Roman Empire.  Roman ruins are scattered about our area, but the best preserved has to be at Chedworth.  Here you can find remnants of a massive, luxurious Roman villa in a picturesque spot overlooking a valley.  Whoever owned this place must have been massively wealthy.  He also had outstanding taste.

The wealth is evident in not only the size of the structure itself — it was massive! — but also in the quality of construction.  There is underfloor heating, delicate mosaic work, thermal baths, indoor plumbing, and other examples of luxury and comfort practically unheard of in the fourth century.  As for the owner's taste, I could take in the view of that valley forever.

My ladies overlooking the gorgeous valley.

Annie is so happy to take part in the exploration of Roman ruins.

It was damp, so naturally we girls wore our wellies.

Kate standing on the foundations of the north wing.

Selfie with my middle lady.

Inside the museum our girls wore Roman tunics and played with Roman-style artifacts.

We admired the mosaic floors...

...and created a few mosaics of our own!

All in all, Chedworth Roman Villa was a fabulous day out a mere 14 miles from our doorstep!  I'm so happy that we finally paid it a visit.

October 27, 2014

Cheltenham Monopoly

On the first day of the half term break we spotted this gem on the shelves at Waitrose.

That's right.  Monopoly CHELTENHAM Edition.

I'm not a Monopoly fan, but this was too good to pass up.  Baltic and Mediterranean (the browns) are Montpellier and Imperial Gardens!  Dean Close is one of the greens (North Carolina Ave)!  The Festivals are railroads!  Pittville Pump Room is Boardwalk and the Cheltenham Racecourse is Park Place!  Talk about the perfect souvenir of our time in England.  This is just amazing.

We dropped everything and played a three hour game of Monopoly over the course of two days.  Every time we would land on a property we would all talk excitedly about experiences we've had in each location.  That's where I had my fourth birthday!  That's where we saw JK Rowling!  That's where we go to see the Bubble Clock!  There is only one property on the entire board that we haven't visited at least once.  I'm super excited about this gaping hole as it means I am pretty much required to have tea at the very posh Ellenborough Park!

Kate's only goal in life was to secure the property that is Dean Close.  She succeeded in doing this the first time around the board, and proceeded to bleed us all dry with her masterful management of the green properties which are three of the many excellent educational institutions in Cheltenham.  And speaking of education, imagine how we laughed when Ella drew the Community Chest card that says, "Congratulations!  You have won an academic scholarship to Dean Close School.  Collect $50."  :)

My loves playing Monopoly in their jammies.

Check out Kate's fat stacks of bills!
Thank you Dean Close for creating a financial wizard!

This was such a fun experience.  I have never enjoyed a game of Monopoly even close to as much as I enjoyed this one, in spite of the fact that I was the first player to go bankrupt.  (My go-to orange properties — Brewery, Beechwood, and Regent Arcade — totally let me down!  Thanks for nothing, Bubble Clock!)  

This was a fabulous and fitting way to kick off a half term spent right here in Cheltenham!

October 23, 2014

A Bibliophile's Dream Come True: Literature Festival 2014

Ella and Kate are not the only book lovers in our family.  Annie — who came into the world during last year's literature festival — shrieks with glee and comes toddling over at top speed any time she sees me collect a giant stack of board books and get comfy on the Fat Boy.  She will sit and read with me until there are no books left unread.  I'm ashamed to say that I tire of the board books before she does.  (In my defence, it is my third time through!  They were much more interesting the first time around!)

All three of our children come by it honestly.  Nick and I are readers.  A night in which we share a cozy couch, a contented cat, a great book, and a bottle of nice red wine is one of our favorite ways to spend the evening together.  And if that's one of our favorite evenings in, one of our favorite date nights out must be listening to Judi Dench and Mark Haddon speak about their latest books.  (Although neither talk held a candle to JK Rowling.  That was surely a date night to be remembered!)

This year Nick and I attended many events separately in addition to our fabulous date with Judi and Mark.  When I say we attended many events, I mean we went to 14.  (And that's in addition to the six kids' events we attended with the big girls!)  Some were good, some were great, and some were just okay; but none were downright bad.  Talking about books is never a waste of time.

Speaking of a waste of time, I truly don't mean to waste your time talking about books.  This post is for me.  My goal was to remember one thing from each event.  (Hopefully something more significant than the tidbit that Vikings threw cats on their opponents' heads in battle, but I make no promises.)  After all, I'm writing this post a month after the fact.  All so-called quotations are approximations at best.

Cider with Rosie

This was a round-table discussion since author Laurie Lee "wasent there because he wasent alive." The group was a strange amalgamation of readers, which made the discussion interesting.  My friend Kate made the point that many of the book's events are deeply disturbing (murder, rape attempt, etc) while many people only focused on and/or remembered the idyllic scenes of village life from a time gone by.  Most of what I remember was a strange focus on the validity of Lee's vignettes (i.e. whether or not he could possibly "remember" these events as he claimed to).  Perhaps I am in the minority, but I personally had never entertained the idea such a thing was possible.  I suggested to the group that these supposed memories drew from a larger collective memory.  I have no idea if anyone agreed with this or not as Annie (who was sound asleep for the first half hour), woke up ready to add her (very unwelcome) two cents (or pence) to the conversation and I left early.

Caitlin Moran

Saw her two years ago and wanted to be her friend.  Saw her this year (cried a little bit) and wanted to be her friend even more.
Two words: Feminist Smile.

Margaret Atwood

First of all, I had a date for this event.  Max Daman (age 4) was there to accompany me, and he was an absolute delight (thanks to Nicole and her iPhone full of boy apps).  As for Mrs Atwood...wow.  She is a master of her craft.  Everything that I've read is completely different and wholly amazing in its own way.  During this talk she was speaking about the Oryx and Crake trilogy.  Her one-line statement that really struck home for me was something to the effect of: If any of you [Brits] were plonked down in Texas right now you would think you had arrived on a different planet.  I could not shake that comment (and the discomfort it implies) for weeks afterward.  While I'm well aware that the distance from England to Texas is monumental in virtually every respect, most of the time I try to pretend it does not exist.  Dang you, Margaret Atwood!

Nick Hornby

Author of such favorites as Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, About a Boy, I was jealous that I could not go with Nick to listen to his talk.  That being said, Nick had watched all his movies and only read one book: How to Be Good.  In Nick's words, "Nick was more interesting than I had expected for 'dude-lit' writer.  My seat was really uncomfortable I remember my back cramping.  He talked about a book that hadn't been released yet [Funny Girl], but it wound up being very good.  Had interesting things to say about not being snobby in the literature world."  Well said, Nick.  Your synopsis was more interesting than I had expected for a "dude-lit talker."  :)

David Nicholls

Since I loved One Day (book and film), I was super excited about this talk.  Nicholls was articulate in his description of writing as a craft, and his reading from Us was fabulous.  One statement particularly struck home: Now that I'm in my 40's, the idea of writing a love story from the start...parties, dating...felt like archaeology.  He chose instead to write about a mature relationship that had perhaps reached the end of its duration.  A mature relationship combined with a European adventure?!  I cannot wait to read Us!

The English

Sometimes an in-the-flesh appearance is less than ideal.  I adore Kate Fox's book, Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior.  If you are an Anglophile like me, this book is an absolute must on your reading list.  If you are moving to England from abroad, it's a critical research on how to live.  However, had I actually seen Kate Fox before reading this book, I would have been monumentally put off.  There is no kind way to say this.  She's a better writer than she is a speaker.

Cheltenham: A Literary History

This lovely little gem is packed full of quotes and tidbits regarding Cheltenham and its relationship to authors and books.  Did you know Jane Austen stayed on our High Street?  Did you know Byron and 
Tennyson lived here?  Whether or not they enjoyed their time in Cheltenham (for the most part, it seems they did not), I tend to identify more with the quote from Charles Dickens, "It happens that I read at Cheltenham a couple of months ago, and that I have rarely seen a place that so attracted my fancy."  Chuck and I are in agreement: we love Cheltenham.

The RSC's Christmas Truce

After a one-hour talk with author Phil Porter and director Erica Whyman, I was sold.  Within five minutes of walking out of the tent, the girls and I had purchased tickets to see this performance in Stratford-upon-Avon.  In case you're not familiar with the Christmas Truce concept, what follows is a description in the words of director Erica Whyman.
A completely remarkable event happening in late Dec 1914...there was this moment, not really repeated since then in our history, where on both sides everybody fighting in those trenches decided to lay down their arms over Christmas.  It happened spontaneously, it wasn't authorized, it wasn't permitted, and indeed some people objected and refused to participate in the truce.  But right along the western front, groups of men on either side of the line decided to celebrate Christmas.
Sounds like a heartwarming way to kick of the holiday season to me!

Literature Quiz

My friend Kate had the wonderful idea to participate in a literary pub quiz.  While we knew it would be fun, we also figured we would be weak (as Americans typically are when taking part in these obscure trivia competitions that the Brits hold so dear).  Little did we know we would be competing with your run-of-the-mill book-loving Brits AND a team from the Sunday Times Literature Review!  When I looked at the next table and recognized our competition as the very same people who interviewed all the authors, I figured we would get our asses handed to us.  I wasn't wrong.  We came in right in the middle of the pack, thanks to everyone else on our team.  I figured I contributed two unique correct answers all night.  I was glad they could carry my dead weight!

Legendary Whiskies

Nick was all over this one.
Single malts plus books?!  Sign my husband (and Laurie's and Whitney's husbands) up!  In Nick's words, "The guy was not good at promoting his books — it was a step beyond even the typical English self-deprecation — but the talk was enjoyable.  Plus he gave us extra free drams...of the bad whisky."  :(

Jane Austen Tea

This was an extremely enjoyable afternoon out with my friends Kate and Whitney.  The Spiegel Tent setting plus delicious tea and scones plus the company of other Jane Austen lovers was a winning combination for me.  Author Deirdre Le Faye has spent her life poring over Austen's diaries and letters.  Her knowledge knows no bounds and her recall of even obscure details is excellent.  I especially enjoyed Le Faye's observation that Austen's books are all of a seemingly boring pattern: boy and girl meet, boy and girl argue, boy and girl make up and fall in love.  What makes Austen brilliant is entirely in the details.  I could not agree with her more!


I have spent four years of my life being treated for a chronic disease with National Health Service doctors.  I have experienced two entire pregnancies and delivered two babies in the NHS system.  I am here to tell you in no uncertain terms that nationalized health care works.  I believe in the NHS and everything that it stands for.  (You hear me, America?!  Open up your eyes!)  This talk was essentially a panel discussion about the problems of the NHS and how to minimize those negatives in the future.  It was heated, it was emotional.  A British panellist cried on stage.  (If you've read your Kate Fox and know anything of the English reserve, you know that simply does not happen.)  Even though the discussion was bitingly frank and emotionally charged, here's what sticks with me most: after a particularly oppositional exchange of views, one of the panellists softened slightly and said, "Isn't it wonderful that we're having such a heated debate??  After all, the UK's National Health Service is the number one health care provider in the western world.  We've got our troubles, but we're doing so many things right!"  He got a standing ovation.  I was one of the people standing.

The Dark Net

If you can't tell by the title of this talk, Nick went to this one.  (After this year's Science Festival experience I am afraid to go to any talk about the internet.  That was terrifying.)  In the words of my computer geek husband, "I was really tired and found myself dozing off, but it was actually really interesting.  And I was in the front row.  Not quite the subject matter that I expected.  He talked about how subversive groups use mainstream media like Facebook."  (Curse you, Facebook!)

Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench is hilarious.  She's sharp as a tack and she can go off script and tell a story with the best of them.  I bought her book and got her signature (photos were not permitted), but I don't know when or if I'll actually read it.  The experience of being in the same room with Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Philomena, and M was enough.

Mark Haddon

This was a great way to end the festival.  Mark Haddon was awesome.  Nick and I have loved Curious Incident since we read it as newlyweds in 2004.  During this talk Haddon spent a lot of time talking about the new theatrical adaptation of the novel, and it was all I could do to refrain from buying tickets the minute we walked out of the tent.  Although the whole talk was wonderful, my most memorable moment was when Mark Haddon signed my 10 year old edition of Curious Incident and showed me that the word "autism" was incorrectly printed as "austism" on the copyright page.

And that's the grown-up side of Lit Fest 2014 in a nutshell.  As I said on the kids' post, I'm gutted that we can't do this every year for the rest of our lives.  Then again, what's to say we don't schedule a biennial trip to Cheltenham in the month of October?!  If I had a million dollars...  :)