The Costs of Living Abroad in London

Friday, 24 October 2014

Living in London has always been expensive. Evangeline Holland, author of Edwardian Promenade, gives us an idea of just how expensive it was in the Edwardian era. To quote:

Life in London “chambers” has romantic associations with the old Inns of Court and ancient and somnolent city squares, where one can live in the atmosphere of dead memories and associations, features that tend to add considerable to the charm of London for the American. Usually “chambers” are to be had at a cheap rental, but also with a few attendant disadvantages. In the Adelphi Terrace, a little backwater just off the Strand that the flood of modernising which is sweeping over London threatens annually to blot out, one can still hope to find vacant “chambers” in a house decorated by the famous Adam Brothers.

From the windows of many of these houses one may look out over the Embankment Gardens and the foggy stretches of the Thames. The Royal Chapel of Savoy is a near neighbour, and ghosts, of Dickens’ characters float around every corner. On a winter’s day at four o’clock the muffin man, ringing his bell, still makes his round of the district. Muffins and crumpets for afternoon tea at twopence each are a pleasant interlude and quite in the spirit of this old-time atmosphere.

Hereabout one ought to be able to find five rooms, distributed over two unevenly laid floors, for five to six pounds a month, which is not out of proportion for such genuine historic associations as the rental includes. To discount this there will be a lack of water, hot and cold, except that which flows intermittently from an adapted kitchen sink, and your heat, what does not go up the chimney, is all radiated from grate fires. In these old buildings there are no elevators, no dumb waiters even, and coal, wood and everything else must be lugged up the front stairs, though plenty of willing hands are to be found, and at a small price, to do one’s fetching and carrying. Ashes and garbage must be carried down to a tiny, well-like courtyard, and within the week the dustman will come along to remove it, of course demanding a tip. You may ask why, but he couldn’t tell you if he would, except that it is in accordance with precedent, the thing that governs all walks of English life. The tenants collectively contribute towards the cost of the lighting of the front hall and of the keeping of it clean, the tenants of each floor attending to their own hall.

To read the entire article, click here.

Madame Sophie Of France

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Born on 27 July 1734, Sophie Philippe Elisabeth Justine is the lesser known of the surviving daughters of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska. Even art historians hardly know who she is. For years, one of her portraits (below) was thought to represent Marie Antoinette, and was only correctly identified recently thanks to the parquet in her library! I'm not sure Sophie would have minded though.

Sent to the Abbey of Fontevraud with her two younger sisters, Thérése and Louise, to be educated, Sophie returned to Versailles only 12 years later. Lacking both social skills and a strong, dominant personality, the shy girl was happy to appear in public only when etiquette required it. Like Madame Campan, reader to the daughters of Louis XV, wrote in her memoirs, she much preferred to be alone or with a small group of favourites ladies:

"I never saw anyone having such a frightened look; she walked at an extreme speed, and to acknowledge, without looking at them, the people who gave way to her, she had acquired the habit of looking sideways, in the manner of hares. This princess was so shy that it was possible to see her everyday for years without hearing her pronounce a single word. One asserted, though, that she displayed wit, even graciousness, in the society of some favoured ladies; she studied much, but read alone; the presence of a reader would have infinitely bothered her.

Yet on occasion this princess, so unsociable, suddenly became affable, gracious and showed the most communicative kindness; it was during thunderstorms: she was afraid of them, and such was her fright that she would then approach the least important persons; whenever she saw lightning, she would press their hands, for a thunderclap she would have embraced them; but once fair weather was back, the princess went back to her stiffness, her silence, her fierce look, passed everyone without paying attention to anyone, until the next thunderstorm brought back her fear and affability."

Madame Sophie died like she had lived, unnoticed. She passed away of dropsy in Versailles on 2 March 1782. She was buried in the royal tomb at the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis, which was plundered and destroyed during the French Revolution.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France, by Madame Campan

Etiquette Of Travelling

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

There is nothing that tests the natural politeness of men and women so thoroughly as traveling. We all desire as much comfort as possible and as a rule are selfish. In these days of railroad travel, when every railway is equipped with elegant coaches for the comfort, convenience and sometimes luxury of its passengers, and provided with gentlemanly conductors and servants, the longest journeys by railroad can be made alone by self-possessed ladies with perfect safety and but little annoyance. Then, too, a lady who deports herself as such may travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, and meet with no affront or insult, but on the contrary receive polite attentions at every point, from men who may chance to be her fellow-travelers. This may be accounted for from the fact that, as a rule in America, all men show a deferential regard for women, and are especially desirous of showing them such attentions as will render a long and lonesome journey as pleasant as possible.


However self-possessed and ladylike in all her deportment and general bearing a lady may be, and though capable of undertaking any journey, howsoever long it may be, an escort is at all times much more pleasant, and generally acceptable. When a gentleman undertakes the escort of a lady, he should proceed with her to the depot, or meet her there, a sufficient time before the departure of the train to attend to the checking of her baggage, procure her ticket, and obtain for her an eligible seat in the cars, allowing her to choose such seat as she desires. He will then dispose of her packages and hand-baggage in their proper receptacle, and make her seat and surroundings as agreeable for her as possible, taking a seat near her, or by the side of her if she requests it, and do all he can to make her journey a pleasant one.

Upon arriving at her destination, he should conduct her to the ladies' waiting-room or to a carriage, until he has attended to her baggage, which he arranges to have delivered where the lady requests it. He should then escort her to whatever part of the city she is going and deliver her into the hands of her friends before relaxing his care. On the following day he should call upon her to inquire after her health. It is optional with the lady whether the acquaintance shall be prolonged or not after this call. If the lady does not wish to prolong the acquaintance, she can have no right, nor can her friends, to request a similar favor of him at another time.


The lady may supply her escort with a sum of money ample to pay all the expenses of the journey before purchasing her ticket, or furnish him the exact amount required, or, at the suggestion of her escort, she may allow him to defray the expenses from his own pocket, and settle with him at the end of the journey. The latter course, however, should only be pursued when the gentleman suggests it, and a strict account of the expenses incurred must be insisted on.

A lady should give her attendant as little trouble and annoyance as possible, and she should make no unnecessary demands upon his good nature and gentlemanly services. Her hand-baggage should be as small as circumstances will permit, and when once disposed of, it should remain undisturbed until she is about to leave the car, unless she should absolutely require it. As the the train nears the end of her journey, she will deliberately gather together her effects preparatory to departure, so that when the train stops she will be ready to leave the car at once and not wait to hurriedly grab her various parcels, or cause her escort unnecessary delay.


A lady, in traveling alone, may accept services from her fellow-travelers, which she should always acknowledge graciously. Indeed, it is the business of a gentleman to see that the wants of an unescorted lady are attended to. He should offer to raise or lower her window if she seems to have any difficulty in doing it herself. He may offer his assistance in carrying her packages upon leaving the car, or in engaging a carriage or obtaining a trunk. Still, women should learn to be as self-reliant as possible; and young women particularly should accept proffered assistance from strangers, in all but the slightest offices, very rarely.


It is not only the right, but the duty of ladies to render any assistance or be of any service to younger ladies, or those less experienced in traveling than themselves. They may show many little courtesies which will make the journey less tedious to the inexperienced traveler, and may give her important advice or assistance which may be of benefit to her. An acquaintance formed in traveling, need never be retained afterwards. It is optional whether it is or not.


In seeking his own comfort, no passenger has a right to overlook or disregard that of others. If for his own comfort, he wishes to raise or lower a window he should consult the wishes of passengers immediately around him before doing so. The discomforts of traveling should be borne cheerfully, for what may enhance your own comfort may endanger the health of some fellow-traveler.


See everywhere and at all times that ladies and elderly people have their wants supplied before you think of your own. Nor is there need for unmanly haste or pushing in entering or leaving cars or boats. There is always time enough allowed for each passenger to enter in a gentlemanly manner and with a due regard to the rights of others.

If, in riding in the street-cars or crossing a ferry, your friend insists on paying for you, permit him to do so without serious remonstrance. You can return the favor at some other time.


If a gentleman in traveling, either on cars or steamboat, has provided himself with newspapers or other reading, he should offer them to his companions first. If they are refused, he may with propriety read himself, leaving the others free to do the same if they wish.


No lady will retain possession of more than her rightful seat in a crowded car. When others are looking for accommodations she should at once and with all cheerfulness so dispose of her baggage that the seat beside her may be occupied by anyone who desires it, no matter how agreeable it may be to retain possession of it.

It shows a great lack of proper manners to see two ladies, or a lady and gentleman turn over the seat in front of them and fill it with their wraps and bundles, retaining it in spite of the entreating or remonstrating looks of fellow-passengers. In such a case any person who desires a seat is justified in reversing the back, removing the baggage and taking possession of the unused seat.


A gentleman in traveling may take possession of a seat and then go to purchase tickets or look after baggage or procure a lunch, leaving the seat in charge of a companion, or depositing traveling-bag or overcoat upon it to show that it is engaged. When a seat is thus occupied, the right of possession must be respected, and no one should presume to take a seat thus previously engaged, even though it may be wanted for a lady. A gentleman cannot, however, in justice, vacate his seat to take another in the smoking-car, and at the same time reserve his rights to the first seat. He pays for but one seat, and by taking another he forfeits the first.

It is not required of a gentleman in a railway car to relinquish his seat in favor of a lady, though a gentleman of genuine breeding will do so rather than allow the lady to stand or suffer inconvenience from poor accommodations.

In the street cars the case is different. No woman should be allowed to stand while there is a seat occupied by a man. The inconvenience to the man will be temporary and trifling at the most, and he can well afford to suffer it rather than to do an uncourteous act.


While an acquaintance formed in a railway car or on a steamboat, continues only during the trip, discretion should be used in making acquaintances. Ladies may, as has been stated, accept small courtesies and favors from strangers, but must check at once any attempt at familiarity. On the other hand, no man who pretends to be a gentleman will attempt any familiarity. The practice of some young girls just entering into womanhood, of flirting with any young man they may chance to meet, either in a railway car or on a steamboat, indicates low-breeding in the extreme. If, however, the journey is long, and especially if it be on a steamboat, a certain sociability may be allowed, and a married lady or a lady of middle age may use her privileges to make the journey an enjoyable one, for fellow-passengers should always be sociable to one another.

Further reading:
Our Deportment, Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society by John H. Young

Book Reviews: La Belle Creole, So You Want To Work In Fashion, & Train Your Way To Financial Fitness

Tuesday, 21 October 2014
Hello everyone,

curious to know what I've been reading lately? Read on:

La Belle Creole: The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris by Alina Garcia-La Puerta
Before stumbling upon this book, I had never heard of Mar a de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, later knows as Comtesse Merlin, but boy, what a fascinating woman she was! Born in an aristocratic Cuban family, she was raised by her maternal grandmother, who adored and spoiled her, while her parents left for Europe. She would meet her father again only years later, when she was 8, and had to wait even longer, and move to Spain, to be reunited with her mother. Life in Europe was far from peaceful and quiet, though. Mercedes lived there during the time of the Napoleonic invasion, became friends with Joseph Bonaparte, the new king imposed on the country by Napoleon, and then married a French military officer in the emperor's army. When Napoleon lost his throne, Mercedes and her family had to hastily leave the country and start again in France. Here, she hosted a popular musical salon where she entertained and charmed with her grace, colourful personality, and beautiful singing voice, the likes of Rossini and Liszt. But her main contribution to history are her books. She penned several memoirs and accounts of life in Cuba, which charmed European audiences with their exotic descriptions but also made them think by discussing serious issues like slavery.
Mercedes was an emotional and generous woman with a somewhat disobedient streak (she once escaped from a convent to go back to her beloved grandma) but who never let any of the many adversities she faced get her down. Instead, she always made the most of what she had. Garcia-La Puerta draws on her embellished memoirs, letters, and contemporary accounts to bring her back to life once again. She tells her story in an informative yet engaging manner that hooks you from the beginning. You won't be able to put it down.
I highly recommend this biography to all fans of Cuban history, the Napoleonic Wars in Spain, travel, and strong women.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

So, You Want to Work in Fashion?: How to Break into the World of Fashion and Design by Patricia Wooster
Thinking of starting a career in the fashion world? Whether you'd like to become a designer, model, photographer, writer, PR, cutter or colourist, this book has you covered. It features an overview of the many different professions needed in the fashion industry, along with tips on how to get started and interviews from young people, including teenagers, who are making their dreams come true. While the book has a positive tone, the many paths it presents to get an education and start a career in fashion are also realistic. There are several roads you can take, depending on what you want to do and what your current situation is, but they all demand a lot of commitment and hard work.
Although the book is quite short, it is very informative and engaging. It features cool quizzes and activities you can do to learn the basic and prepare yourself for a career in the industry. My only disappointment? The model section doesn't mention the dark side of working as a model, such as the risks of developing an eating disorders or sexual abuse, or the tendency of agencies to separate young girls from their families and making them navigate this sometimes dangerous world on their own when they're still too naive and inexperienced. That doesn't mean you shouldn't follow your dream, but it would have been nice if the book had offered tips on how to deal with these issues.
Overall, this is a honest but supportive read that offers many practical tips on how to get started in fashion, even if you're still at school.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Train Your Way to Financial Fitness by Shannon McLay
I loved the concept of this book, but its execution didn't fully satisfy me. McLay acts as a financial trainer who promises to help you achieve a healthy financial life. The book starts with a quiz to determine your level of financial fitness. There are three: fat, skinny, and fit. The latter's your aim, although financially fit people can have issues with money that needs to be addressed too. Once you've figured out in what category you are, you should read only the section dedicated to it. Each section helps you figure out what your problems with money are and offers advice on how to fix them. You don't have to do all the exercises, though. Just like you would do a lot of squats if you wanted a firmer behind, you should only do the financial exercises that remove the obstacles that keep you from being financially fit.
Of course, the worse your starting point, the more advice you need. Therefore, the financially fit section is very short, while the financially fat one is the longest. As your situation starts to get better, there is no need for you to read the other sections as well. The financially fat section, for instance, provides all the tips you'll find in the other two, only slightly tailored to you. While I appreciate the intention, this tailoring is so minimal to be almost useless. To me, it just makes the book unnecessarily repetitive. Of course, I've read it all so that I could review it. You would only read the section that applies to your financial personality, avoiding repetition. Even so, I'd rather the author had discussed the problems affecting each type more in-depth and then advised you to read the next section as your financial fitness level improved.
Each section is also very short. I read the book in 3 hours or so, so if you were to read only your section, it'd take a lot less time! Don't let this fool you though. This book may be a quick read, but doing the exercises and improving your financial fitness level takes a lot of time and dedication. Yet, to me the book felt rushed. Others will argue that it is simply straight-to-the-point. And it is. If you want a book that tells you clearly and briefly what you need to do, and in a emphatic and non-judgemental way too, then you'll love this book. As for me, I felt that a lot of the tips were simply common sense that I was already implementing, so I didn't find much value in this book.
Despite its faults, Train Your Way to Financial Fitness is a nice introduction to the topics of money management and budgeting that I would recommend to those who are seriously struggling with their finances and are looking for a clear and concise guide to help them get back on track.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3/5

What have you been reading lately? And will pick up any of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

My Top 5 Literary Crushes

Monday, 20 October 2014
If, like me, you're an avid reader, you've fallen in love with your fair share of literary heroes. Some of these crushes are enduring, while others disappoint us as we grow older and make us go, "woah, I can't believe I ever was into you!". I think I'll probably feel like that about a couple of men in this list but for now, here are my top 5 current literary crushes:

1. Mr Darcy (Pride And Prejudice)

Which girl doesn't have a crush on Mr Darcy? He may be a bit of a snob (ok, he was insufferably snobblish and rude at first), but that doesn't prevent him from ignoring both his aunt's wishes and her family's faults and marrying Elizabeth. And he has a heart of gold. His loyalty to his friends and family is unflinching and admirable. He's always willing to help those he loves, and doesn't even want praise or recognition for it. The way he protected Elizabeth's family from ruin without asking for anything in return, not even telling her what he'd done, is something very few would do and made me fall in love with him even more. Oh, and being rich and handsome doesn't hurt, either.

2. Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre)

He's not the nicest chap. He's quite cynical and does attempt to commit bigamy. But at least he didn't lock up his wife in an asylum. He cared for her the best he could given her condition, and only tries to marry again when he truly falls in love with another woman. A woman that's neither beautiful nor rich, but is strong, determined, and true to herself, unwilling to compromise her values, and who challenges him. Only strong men fall in love with women like that. Anyway, he's punished for his sin. The fire ravaged his body, but cleansed his heart. He learned to value kindness and compassion. And remains faithful to Jane throughout it at all.

3. Eric Northman (The Southern Vampire Mysteries)

The Sookie Stackhouse books are more raunchy and violent than I usually read, but they got me hooked. Especially Eric, magnificently brought to life in the TV series by Alexander Skarsgård. A 1000 years old vampire, Eric is cold, arrogant, cunning, and ruthless yet, for the few people/vampires he loves, he is willing to do absolutely everything. Rather than evil, he has his own code of honour and doesn't break it for any reason. He also has a zest for life and a great sense of humour. Of course, if he really existed and I were to meet him, I'd run in the opposite direction as fast as my legs could carry me!

4. Noah Calhoun (The Notebook)

No one does romance quite like Noah Calhoun. A hard worker, he's been in love with the same woman for all his life and raised a family with her. Yet, despite his busy schedule and life adversities, he always found the time to surprise his wife, to write poetry, to take her on a romantic trip to a lagoon, or just to dance with her in the kitchen. And when she becomes ill with Alzheimer's disease and starts to forget everything, he stands by her side, telling her their story over and over and over again. Awww.

5. Mr. George Knightley (Emma)

Mr Knightly is the practical friend you can always count on. He's cute, honourable, always willing to help others or tell them the truth, even when they don't want to hear it. In his gentle, quiet manner, he encourages Emma to be the best person she can be. And that's what true love is all about.

What are your literary crushes?

Movie Review: Moulin Rouge (1952)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Baz Luhrmann's dazzling musical extravaganza, Moulin Rouge, is one of my all-time favourite movies. But I recently discovered another film of the same name, shot ion 1952, that brings the Moulin Rouge to life in a much more realistic way. This Moulin Rouge tells the story of Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, the scion of an ancient aristocratic family who, crippled at a young age, turns his back on his family and the shallow and disappearing world they inhabit, to make it as a street artist in Paris.

Convinced he will never find love because  he's a cripple, Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer) finds solace in his art, drinking, and the company of the Moulin Rouge crew who, being outcasts themselves, treat him like one of their own. One day, he meets Marie (Cloette Marchand), a streetwalker he falls in love with. But Marie isn't capable of loving anyone and just ends up breaking the artist's heart. This just makes Henri even more cynical and bitter, to the point that he sabotages every future chance at romantic happiness. Even when the right woman comes along, he's unable, or unwilling, to let her into his heart, and pushes her away instead. Only in his art, he never loses faith, but even that won't be enough to save him in the end.

Jose Ferrer's portrayal is both witty and haughty. He perfectly captures and conveys Toulouse-Lautrec's need to be loved and appreciated for who he really is, but at the same time his cynicism and bitterness give him an air of remoteness and indifference that never allows the viewer to feel much sympathy for him. Henri both amused and annoyed me, but never moved me. I felt a lot more sorry for Marie, the girl who broke his heart, because, despite all her faults, she was more real.

The movie portrays both the glitz and glamour and the dark side and squallor of Bohemian Paris, as well as both the triumphs and failures of Toulouse-Lautrec's life and career. And yet, like most Hollywood movies of the time (and of today, as some can argue), it is highly sanitized. Henri visited brothels quite frequently and caught syphilis which (together with his heavy drinking) caused his death. Yet, there’s no sign of that in the movie. Even his relationship with streetwalker Marie is romanticized, putting the emphasis on Henri's feelings for her rather than on her profession.

The movie is a feast for the eyes. It won two Academy Awards, one for Best Art Direction – Set Direction (Color) and Best Costume Design (Color). It's not surprising as bright colours are a big part of the movie. Together with the extravagant costumes, beautiful music, and colourful characters, it splendidly brings to life the excitement and joie de vivre of Paris and the Moulin Rouge, and of a long ago vanished era. It drags on a bit, but overall, it still makes for a compelling watch.

Why Write A Novel About The Man Who Killed Anne Boleyn?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Many novels have been written about Anne Boleyn, but what of the executioner who took her life? C.C. Humphreys made him the protagonist of his novel, The French Executioner. Here, he explains why:


Where do the ideas for novels come from?

I remember exactly what I was doing when the idea for The French Executioner hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was working out.

I was living in Vancouver at the time. Making my living as an actor. I’d written a couple of plays. But my dream from childhood had always been to write historical fiction.

I wasn’t thinking of any of that, on that day in a gym in 1993. I was thinking about shoulder presses. Checking my form in the mirror.

This is what happened. (It also shows you the rather strange associations in my brain!)

I lift the weight bar.
Me, in my head. ‘God, I’ve got a long neck.’
Lower bar.
‘If I was ever executed,’ - Raise bar - ‘it would be a really easy shot for the ax.’
Lower bar.
‘Or the sword. Because, of course, Anne Boleyn was executed with a sword.’
Raise bar. Stop half way.
‘Anne Boleyn had six fingers on one hand.’

Flash! Boom! Put down bar before I drop it. It came together in my head, as one thing: the executioner, brought from France to do the deed, (I remembered that from school). Not just taking her head. Taking her hand as well, that infamous hand – and then the question all writers have to ask: what happened next?

I scurried to the library. Took out books. I knew it had to be a novel. I did some research, sketched a few ideas. But the problem was, I wasn’t a novelist. A play had seemed like a hill. A novel – well, it was a mountain, and I wasn’t ready to climb it. So I dreamed a while, then quietly put all my research, sketches, notes away.

But I never stopped thinking about it. The story kept coming and whenever I was in a second hand bookstore I’d study the history shelves and think: if ever I write that novel – which I probably never will – I’ll want… a battle at sea between slave galleys. So I’d buy a book on that subject, read it. Buy another, read it.

November 1999. Six years after being struck by lightning. I’m living back in England and I find a book on sixteenth century mercenaries - and I knew the novel I was never going to write would have mercenaries. Twenty pages in, I turn to my wife and say: “You know, I think I’m going to write that book.” And she replies, “It’s about bloody time.”

I wrote. The story, all that research, had stewed in my head for so long, it just poured out. Ten months and I was done. I wondered if it was any good. I sent it to an agent. She took me on and had it sold three months later.

I was a novelist after all.


The most notorious executioner of his time, Jean Rombaud is brought over from France by Henry VIII to behead the condemned Queen of England, Anne Boleyn. But on the eve of her execution, Rombaud is coaxed into a promise by the ill-fated queen to bury her six-fingered hand at a sacred crossroads.

Yet in a religious war-torn Europe, the hand of this infamous Protestant icon is such a powerful relic that many will kill for it...And so from a battle between slave galleys, to a black mass in a dungeon, to the fortress of an apocalyptic Messiah, Rombaud must travel to honor his vow.

The French Executioner can be purchased at Amazon UK, Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble.

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