Friday, 21 January 2022

The New Yorker, January 17th 2022

I am a great fan of the public library system, and have written here about my first library book, which I "borrowed" (in fact my mother handled the entire transaction) at the age of five.

And here about the efforts of the public library to interest me in e-books.  My scorn, expressed ten years ago, has been replaced by delight, especially since the pandemic when the public library buildings were closed for months on end. Many wonderful books could be accessed, at the touch of a phone screen, and audiobooks could be downloaded free of charge. I have written here about the many audiobooks I listened to last year, and every single one was a free download from one of two library websites. One is called "Borrowbox" and the other is called "Libby".

A further delight offered by the library Libby app is the unlimited quantity of magazines available to read online. Downloading a magazine does not affect the number of books or audiobooks you are allowed to borrow at any one time.

You can read the Radio Times, (this does require some patience in scrolling, as the pages are so full of tiny boxes).  You can read "Hello" (if you want to catch up with the latest pictures of William and Kate). You can read "The New Yorker".  

Now, I spent much of my youth reading stories from The New Yorker, anthologised (my copy is shown below)

in paperback form. I still have a copy of this book, in this exact edition, increasingly fragile and yellowing, as it dates back 60 years. My ideal short story, as showcased in this collection,  is encapsulated by a conversational ambience, a comfortable feeling of fireside chat, a pervasively white middle-class tone, (albeit often emerging from an older, immigrant, poverty-soaked childhood), an emphasis on family, childhood memories, and family relationships.

When I read the complete edition of Sylvia Path's letters, I was intrigued to note that one of her great ambitions was to have a story published in The New Yorker.  The magazine accepted many of her poems, but her ambition for a story was not realised.  This was comforting to me. When a writer has become a legend, it is sometimes hard to imagine that they ever failed at anything.  This brings Sylvia to life as an ordinary human being, a new perspective.

So when I discovered that I was able to access every weekly edition of the magazine online, free, and peruse at my leisure, I was delighted.  I homed in first on the stories.

It's somewhat disappointing to find out how completely out of date my tastes in literature have become.  The template for a story to be published these days appears to be that it has to encompass the experience of minorities. That may mean an ethnic minority, but increasingly indicates a minority of sexual preference, and/or of chosen gender identity.  

Sometimes, the story is pure genius, which is hard to define.  An example is anything by the Chinese born scientist, Yiyun Li. Here is a novel which I strongly recommend, as a good indication of her political depth, historical knowledge, and emotional intensity. Yiyun Li was born in China, and hence ticks the box of ethnicity, also being a scientist she is not the usual type of writer. 

Many stories in The New Yorker, however, appear to me to be both pointless and boring.  If nothing happens, I struggle to see why the story is deemed to be worthy of publication, even if it does tick the ethnicity/gender fluidity boxes.

I am an eternal seeker after the next interesting story, so I persist.  This week I am reading the magazine edition of 17th January, and have devoured the first of my chosen items of interest, an interview with the New York based writer, Hanya Yanagihara. 

As a subscriber to "Goodreads" and "Guardian Books" website newsletters, I have already come across this author's name as one to look out for on lists of the best books to be published in 2022. Her new book is called "To Paradise." 

She is best known for her second published book, which appeared in 2015, called "A Little Life".  I have owned a copy of "A Little life" for some years now, and have yet to read a page of it.  The fact that it is 700 pages long is of less importance than the reviews, which all emphasise the content as being terribly upsetting, largely about appalling physical torture and abuse. This has put me off.  The new book, following three timelines, 1892, 1992, and 2092, in New York, sounds interesting, so I read the interview.

As is sometimes the case, I found the author herself (as portrayed in the interview) far more intriguing than the book itself.

She spent fifteen years writing her first book, "People Who Live in Trees"which seems like an incredible marathon.  A triumph of self-belief. It was little thought of at the time, and was quickly completely overshadowed by her second, "A Little Life".

She spent 18 months writing this, her second book, a 1,000 page long manuscript, writing between nine and midnight every evening, and through the weekend.

She lives in an apartment containing 10,000 books. She is 48. 

Why do the numbers grip me more than the content? I am not sure.  All I can say is that I find her own life, as viewed and interpreted by the New Yorker interviewer, far more fascinating than the idea of reading a lengthy tome about torture and abuse, however well reviewed.  I went to my upstairs bookcase and brought down my copy of "A Little Life" to my downstairs bookcase, in case I should feel the need to dip into it.  I haven't felt this need yet.

I think what I really find fascinating is how diverse writers are, how their lives are so different from mine, how they scintillate with visions which they translate into words.  Some of these word-pictures I find entrancing, some moderately interesting  and some completely boring.  But the individuals themselves, the writers, each one completely an entirely unique human being - now THAT is interesting.

Friday, 7 January 2022

The White Ship and In the Midst of Winter

 Two More Books finished, and still in the first week of the New Year! Awesome progress.

This one is  history book, set in the reign of Henry I, but reads like a very exciting blockbuster.

There are some great female characters in the history too, almost all of them called Matilda.

Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, is the mother of Henry I, who was her youngest son.  She had nine children, four of them sons.  Two died in hunting accidents. One of these was the second son, Richard, the other the third son, William II of England. The third and fourth sons became William II and Henry I.

Robert Curthose - short trousers - (the eldest son) tried to become King of England, as one might expect, him being the eldest.  However, the Norman rules of succession were slightly different, and so it was accepted when the Conqueror's third son, William Rufus, succeeded as King of England.  After causing a lot of trouble in Normandy (where he was the legitimate heir under Norman rules of succession), Robert was finally captured and imprisoned by Henry I and kept imprisoned for the rest of his exceptionally long life.
The next Matilda was the first wife of Henry I - she was previously called Edith but renamed after marriage because Edith was an Anglo-Saxon name. 

A third was Matilda of Anjou, betrothed to Henry I's only legitimate son, (on whom the plot turns) - he was drowned in the White Ship in 1120, thus leaving Henry without an heir.  The kingdom was plunged into anarchy, literally, "The Anarchy" as it was referred to by contemporary historians, following the death of Henry I.  

A fourth Matilda, "the Empress"(a title gained on her first marriage to Henry V  of Germany), was the daughter of Henry I. She was his only other legitimate child (he had 22 illegitimate ones). She was named his heir and he intended her to inherit, but as she was a woman, her cousin Stephen took the throne instead, supported by the nobles who didn't want a woman on the throne.  Stephen, a likeable but weak character, was married to yet another Matilda, the fifth in this list. She was a strong and interesting woman, without whose support Stephen's reign would have ended much earlier than it did.

I feel that the field is wide open for a wonderful historical novel, possibly called "The Two Matildas", in which Henry's daughter and his nephew's wife battle it out over the next fifteen years after Henry's death.

I followed "The White Ship" as an audio book, which is a great way to consume more works while multi-tasking.

My next book is as follows:
I studiously avoided Isabel Allende for most of my life, having noted that her blockbuster "The House of the Spirits" seemed to be about things that wouldn't interest me.  I did watch a rerun on TV of the film, and found it better than I expected.  I remained a bit snobbish about blockbusters however, for some further years.

The real breakthrough came when I picked up a copy of her autobiographical work "Paula" in a charity shop. It's about the sad illness and death (at 29) of her beautiful, clever, successful and much adored only daughter, combined with a history of her own life intertwined with the twentieth century history of Chile, Allende's birthplace.  
After this, I would read anything by this author (always excepting The House of the Spirits).  

"In the Midst of Winter" seemed apt, and was available in the library on the shelf, so I took it home.

It would appear to me (I'm not accusing Jeanine Cummins of plagiarism), that the recent bestseller "American Dirt" may have been inspired by this book.  "Winter" concerns three characters, two of whom have been refugees from South American countries ravaged by appalling political and gang violence.  The younger escapes from Guatemala much as some of the younger characters in "American Dirt" did. The older,  being obviously modelled on the author, escaped from Chile in 1973 when a right-wing military coup overthrew the legitimately elected democratic left wing government headed by the author's cousin, Salvador Allende.

There is a bit of a lightweight mystery plot, (who killed the body in the boot? ) and a frankly fantasist love story between the two sixty something academics, but the real meat of the book is the refugee experience, from 1973 and then in 2008, including later references to Trump's border policy which was already being trumpeted (sorry) in 2015 when the book was being written. Also, because Isabel Allende has been married three times, and, at the time of writing was still very close to her 96 year old mother, the book is about women's lives, women as mothers, as daughters, as grand-daughters and as victims.  This is timeless. In both the two main female characters, an absent and/or feckless father has no part in their upbringing, which is carried out by the grandmother in one case, the mother in the other, devotedly, and with huge love which is reciprocated.

Just a couple of quotes -  a third, lesser character, an American white woman grossly abused by her husband, sees a psychiatrist.  Almost as an aside, the author notes that this woman "had confessed to her psychiatrist that she longed to be a widow. He had listened without showing the least surprise, having heard the same from other patients ...[who wished] their spouse dead.  His waiting room was filled with repressed, furious women."

Lucia, the Chilean exile, felt that "the hardest part had been her mother's death, which had affected her more than [her] divorce or cancer".  

Being the mother of two daughters,  I lapped this up.  I have always wondered why the standard romantic trope (or tripe, as you will), depicts a weak and needy woman searching for a strong handsome man to take care of them for ever.  The reality is much more likely to be as depicted here - flaky, or useless, or violent men ( or men who combine all of these characteristics), who leave, either physically or emotionally.  One husband was a bigamist, one left his wife when she got breast cancer because he couldn't cope (this exact situation happened to the fifty-something daughter of my neighbour).  A third was a violent and abusive human trafficker.  Two youths were killed in gang violence.  
It's no wonder I just don't believe in the sweet romance between the two sixty-somethings.

I probably sound like an embittered old bag.  Having been in the same relationship for 44 years, I do feel that there is a lot wrong with the traditional romantic stereotype.  My mother-in-law, whom I have thus known for 44 years, has just died.  I sometimes feel that she understood me better than my husband does.   She is much missed.

Monday, 3 January 2022

First Two Books of 2022 finished 2nd January 2022

So, not quite one a day, but two in two days isn't bad! This is the first:

I have in the past found Nabakov difficult.

 At college in 1976, I had the misfortune to be rooming in a shared house with a colossal bore who wanted to go on and on endlessly about "Lolita" and the brilliance of the character "Humbert Humbert". I dismissed all ideas of reading that book, because even 45 years ago it was clear to me that it concerned criminal child pornography.

Later on in life, I thought I'd give the memoir "Speak Memory" a go, hoping to learn more about what it was like to live through the Russian Revolution. Somehow, this failed to hit the spot. The only detail I retain is the train journey, attempted escape. The wealthy Nabokov family, cosseted in first class warmth and padded carriages, were astounded when thuggish revolutionaries urinated down the chimneys into the elite compartments from the roof.

Recently I took to reading the "New Yorker" online, which contains a short story in every weekly publication. One of the best of all the stories I have read in the last year was an excerpt from "Pnin" (it's actually chapter 6). This enchanted me, and I recognized at last the brilliance of the writing, so I decided to read the whole book.

You do need a dictionary. Why use the word "calvity" when the perfectly good word "baldness" exists, and baldly states the condition without nuance or subtext.

You do need patience. It's not a rollicking page turner.

However, I did laugh out loud on at least three occasions (almost unheard of for a 68 year old with jaded palate for humour).

There is subtlety and there is irony, and there is a very straightforward critique of the more ridiculous aspects of American college education (some of which we now see here in the UK). There is pathos, and the backstory of poor Pnin (far more evocative of the emigre experience than "Speak Memory") is filtered with delicacy during the course of the book through the lens of his current experiences.

Timofey Pnin is a truly unique creation, a bumbling yet endearing intellectual. Rejected by his cruel wife Liza, dismissed as unimportant by the more ambitious academics who seek to oust him from his untenured position, he evokes a long lost past. Through his experiences the author depicts an America which welcomed all its sad waifs and refugees (unlike the America of today). This aspect of the book (unimagined when it was written) has a pathos all of its own.

I give it four stars because there is something unsatisfying about the shadowy "narrator" who first poses as a friend of Pnin's, but is later exposed as someone Pnin cannot stand to be with or near, but this is never explained. Even this is revolutionary, however - the so-called "unreliable narrator" has become an extremely fashionable trope in contemporary English-language fiction in the last five or so years.

Finally, it is a short book, only 168 pages in the Penguin Classics paperback edition, so easily despatched.

The second book I finished today is even shorter, and much easier to read.

I've read books in which the pandemic appears right at the end, ("The Black Dress" by Deborah Moggach) or during the latter part of the book ("Summer" by Ali Smith), and this is the first I've read set entirely right in the thick of it. It is set in the Peak District during the second lockdown of 2020, foreshadowing the locked down Christmas of 2020, and referencing back to the first lockdown.

It's eery to see set down on the page the restrictions, the laws and fines, the confinement to home, the washing of shopping and hands, the loneliness and isolation. I now look back from the perspective of the post vaccination year of 2021 (the first vaccinations were in January 2021, after the book ends). It's so easy to forget what it was actually like, after getting used to the relative freedoms conferred by the summer of 2021 and the booster jabs which have encouraged many to get out more. It seems incredible what we actually put up with. This novel will become important social history. I would expect it to appear on school reading lists in the future.

The author has uncannily inserted herself into the minds of three key characters, representing three demographics - the well-off aged who can afford their comfort but are vulnerable, the frustrated and poor middle aged who lose their salary and their freedom (which matters more), and the young, who are doubtful, confused, fearful, angry but ultimately need the guidance of their elders.

The plot, which concerns a quarantine breaker out walking on the fell, is a neat analogy for those who court the virus by mixing with others, cost the state a lot of money, have to be cared for and are cared for.

Humanity and the mixed perils of being human. A very swift read, and a very worthwhile one.
Why only four stars? I feel the definitive pandemic novel has yet to be written and will be much longer and more philosophical than this one.

Thursday, 30 December 2021

Books Read 2021

From 1st January 2021 to yesterday morning  I have read 29 e-books, 46 audio books, and 56 actual physical volumes. That seems huge but it only works out at 2.5 a week,when theoretically I could consume double that. I am absolutely loving the chance to indulge my reading habit with the excuses of lockdown and other similar reasons for not going out. My stand-out reads are:

Hardbacks: “What Happened” by Hillary Clinton and “Apeirogon” by Colum McCann.

Paper backs – “American Dirt” by Jeanne Cummins and “Last Witnesses” by Svetlana Alexievich

e-books – “Rodham” by Curtis Sittenfeld and “Tom Stoppard” by Hermione Lee. Runner up “Miss Austen” by Gill Hornby

Audio books “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker. Runner up “Dunstan” by Col Igguldon.

I received a Christmas card from an old friend dating back to 1972, when we met in the first term at University. This friend is now resident in France, and we last met in 2016.  She inscribed her card with "Thank God for books!"

I agree.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Rules for Surviving Christmas updated (yet AGAIN)

I have written before on my (constantly lengthening) list of rules for surviving Christmas. Since writing that post in 2015, the rule about cutting everything you say by 50% was amended to 80%.  I would now further amend it to 95%.  That is in part attributable to the Covid pandemic, which means that most of what I say would amount to reminding hubby of handwashing, taking lateral flow tests before meeting people, not going into the houses of neighbours with school-age children. I've been criticised extensively for trying to get these messages across, right back to March 2020, and then been proved right a few days later when the advice becomes standard.  This morning, I waved him off as he went to visit his 97-year-old mother (who is in the terminal stages of cancer), and suggested that he should take a lateral flow test before entering her premises.  He hummed, and said he might.  I said not a single word more. There really is no point, he will do what he wants.  His subtext is that she's going to die soon anyway.  My point (made on previous occasions), is that Co-vid is a horrible way to go, and she would have to die in hospital without any visitors.  As things stand she is set to live out her last days in her own very warm and comfortable retirement flat, with carers, and all her pictures and possessions around her, and all her family able to visit at any time. I've said all this.  I can't go on with this battle.

So the new 95% rule, (which may well increase again to 99%)  - this will involve only speaking on factual matters to do with cooking, or to agree with what the other person has just said. Yes, the latter point is technically dishonest, but what has being honest ever done for anyone except gain them a reputation for being tactless.

Avoiding all alcohol remains the most important item of all, even more important than the 95% rule.

I have one new rule for 2021.  

Get up earlier. This morning I got up at 5.30 am, to see my husband off at 7.30 am, having checked his list, checked again that he has his phone, three chargers, his wallet, the bags of stuff he needs to take. Everything went smoothly, I remained calm, observed the 95% rule, and he forgot nothing (as far as I am able to make out).

Tomorrow I plan to get up at 4.30 am in order to drive to daughter's house, hopefully avoiding too much traffic on the M25.

I will be going to bed at 8.30 pm tonight.  This is no hardship.

I started getting up at dawn during the autumn of 2020, in order to see the sunrise. It got to the point, as spring 2021 advanced, and the pandemic showed no sign of lessening, that I was going to bed at 8.30 and rising at 4.30 to see the sun earlier and earlier.

I do see that you have to be old and retired to do this (no pressing evening engagements, no TV programmes demanding to be watched, no household tasks which have to be put off until after the working day is done). You have to be basically self-sufficient in terms of entertainment, (came in very handy during the lockdowns). You have to be able to survive on six hours sleep if necessary: (when the small hours tick round, you wake, start worrying, and never go back to sleep).  But all in all I strongly recommend this as a strategy.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

The Anglo Saxons by Marc Morris


I finished this book yesterday, and have already ordered a copy of "The Norman Conquest", by the same author, since it will pick up the story at the exact moment this book leaves off.

That sounds like unqualified praise, but in fact I found the book quite hard to read, which surprised me. I own the author's "Edward I, A Great and Terrible King", a book I found extremely easy to follow.

My difficulties may have something to do with the very distance of the past in the case of the Anglo-Saxons.  One is used to following history in terms of: 

a) Personalities.  Problem - in this period there are no personalities at all.  Even the great King Alfred fails to impress as a person.  (The story of the cakes is fiction, apparently).

b) Castles, churches, stately homes.  Problem - as the author points out, almost no buildings from this period have survived.  The Saxon churches in Northamptonshire, at Brixworth and Earls Barton, are notable exceptions, shown in the colour photograph sections. The Normans introduced the Castle system. Stately homes?  Not a trace, although the author points out that the mead hall as depicted in "Beowulf" is the nearest we get to a picture of actual living conditions in the lord's hall.

c) Family trees and successions, marriages, identifiable descents and interlinking of families. Problem - there is so little on record. Only one family tree is shown in the book, (it is spread over two pages but is one tree).  It starts with King Egbert - (who was he?) reigned 802 to 839, and ends with the line linking Edward the Confessor (ruled 1042 to 1066) and his brother-in-law Harold who was killed at the Battle of Hastings. Before 802, the individual are difficult to distinguish. Churchmen, who kept written records, are clearer characters in these early chapters.

d) Maps.  Ah, now here we are on to something.  The maps in this book are an invaluable guide to the period covered by the narrative.  Each chapter starts with a map, which depicts the towns, the regions, and the rivers which are significant in that chapter.  I found the maps a more helpful indication of what was going on than anything else. My only criticism is that the maps are undated.  Each would have benefited, in my opinion, from a title, giving the approximate period covered.

I do have some criticisms of the book.

1) I would not recommend anyone read this book on a Kindle.  The colour pictures and the maps are clear in hardback, but even in this, the top-quality of all formats, the black and white photographs inserted in the text are very unclear, being too dark, and in some cases totally useless as a portrayal of anything. 

2)Another problem is the family tree.  In my experience with Kindle, a family tree has to be magnified each time it is consulted. In this case, the diagram needs to be consulted almost constantly once one gets past King Alfred.  There are just far too many people called Aethelwold, Aethelbald, Aethelberht, Aethelred, Aethelweard, Aelfweard, Aethelflaed, Aelfgifu, and Aethelstan. There is really nothing to distinguish them, because their birthdates are not recorded and there are no personalities to peg them. 

3) There is no list of personae.  An alphabetical list of all those names, with at least an approximation of the years in which they were active, would have helped enormously as the author rips through the 600 years covered in the book. It became quite exhausting trying to identify them, as a lay person. For a trained historian, of course, it would be easy because there is nothing so easy and satisfying as reading a newly published version of things you already know.

4) Another criticism, is the author's apparent lack of interest in female characters in the story.

I already knew that Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred, was titled "The Lady of the Mercians" and famously constructed fortified towns ("burghs")around Western Mercia, but had I not known this, I would have been none the wiser after reading the very brief reference to her in this book.  I was disappointed that she was dismissed so briefly, and not even the specific burghs she constructed were named.  A new statue of her was recently unveiled, to commemorate the anniversary of her death in 918.  There was already a very impressive statue in Tamworth, to commemorate her achievements. 

St Hild of Whitby does get a mention, but only in the context of the epic ecclesiastical row about when Easter should be celebrated.

No mention at all of these other significant ladies- Coenburga (Quenburga) (died c.735). She co-founded a double monastery at Winburnan (Wimborne, Dorset) with her sister Cuthburga.

The name echoes that of Kyneburgha (a hundred years earlier, mid 7th century), who likewise founded a monastery with her sister, Kyneswitha. These women were something, before the days of feminism, but utterly absent from the book.

The book succeeds as a political history, showing how the warring factions of the early tribes fresh off their boats from across the North Sea, were forced, by centuries of constant battles and punishments, into the shape of one kingdom, the England we know today.

In other ways it is a disappointment.

Hasn't stopped me, though, in my quest to learn more, hence I've ordered "The Norman Conquest".

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Old English Wisdom


 Courtesy of "Clerk of Oxford" :

Number 19

Ne deah eall soþ asæd ne eall sar ætwiten.

It does no good to tell all truths or blame all wrongs.

I have been leaning very heavily on this Old English Wisdom in the last two months. First there was a cataclysmic row with my husband.  The easement of lockdown has certainly released devils into the air which were suppressed during the months of literal containment.  I overheard him telling his mother on the phone (she is very deaf, so he was shouting), that I was a nightmare and he finds it expedient to tell lies (I already knew this), by saying the opposite of what he means in order to get his own way, because in his view, I just say no to be awkward.   There were other things.  I initially told hub that I had heard everything, and was really upset, but I have not brought this up again, and have not mentioned any of it to mother-in-law. 

Secondly, his mother (nearly 97) came to stay for a week.  I said nothing untoward for the whole week, despite some provocation.  We hosted two Christmas-size family gatherings during the ten day period of her stay. As I have mentioned before, Hub's determination to outdo himself in terms of all-day fancy cooking marathons can be quite taxing.   The washing-up went on for hours.

Sister-in-law (70), caused problems by eating lunch elsewhere while we were waiting for her and her partner to arrive for the big meal.  They finally arrived two and a half hours late.  I had  removed their places from the table, but they sat down anyway at the empty places, looking expectant, and ate their full portions.  I am particularly pleased that I forced a cheerful smile and said it was no problem.

On the final day, after this big meal, I tripped over the cable for my laptop, and sprained my foot badly.  It still hurts, two and a half weeks later.  I did not blame the fact that I was tired and distracted, as I had been on my feet nearly all day laying tables, helping serve, washing up.  I blamed no-body, but sat down with my foot elevated listening to the guests, (notably sister-in-law) prowling about the premises wondering aloud whether there would be any further food offerings, and  mentioning tea and toast (it was about 7 pm by this time).

I remained seated, and when these ruminations became louder and more insistent, I announced that I had hurt my foot and was retiring to bed to rest it in an elevated position.  In bed is literally the only place where I can guarantee rest.  I heard hubby sorting out the tea and toast, and everyone finally left about 8.30 pm.

I have not mentioned any of this since to hubby or any family member, merely coasted on regardless.  I would have liked to be thanked, by hubby for being so welcoming to his mother (we had to install a stair-gate to stop her falling down the stairs, and a commode for the guest room). 

I would have liked to have my patience and hard work acknowledged (the laundry for all the guests took three days in all).  I would have liked just some recognition that this enterprise took a week to prepare for.  Lockdown had meant that no-one had been in the house for eighteen months, and heaps of books, papers, and lockdown hoarding -(piles of dry goods, toilet rolls and detergents) - had to be cleared away in advance. This was one of the reasons I tripped, because re-arranging the furniture around my desk is needed to accommodate the nine people round the dining room table. The picture above shows some of the results of my tidying efforts.  Following the ten day visit, it took another half week to clear away and put the house back to how it is normally (obviously not  the piles of books and papers).  

However I have said nothing, and cast no blame.  Due to painful foot, I have not been able to seek my usual solace out walking in the neighbouring fields, which is normally my happy place.

However, I think it was definitely all worth it,  as both Mother-in-law and elder daughter said that that it was like staying in a hotel.  Elder daughter's husband (quite a picky eater), said on eating hub's fruit flambe pudding, that hub had certainly surpassed himself there. 

It remains to be seen whether I can maintain this Anglo-Saxon silence through the forthcoming repetition  of all the above at Christmas, and on into next year.