I love September.
The year is turning oh so very slowly this year with hot sunny days and barely a drop of rain for weeks. We are still eating outside, eeking out the garden for a bit longer before the 'clearance' ready for new planting, and hearing of all the harvest festivals around us. We have picked and dealt with another 8lb of blackberries this week (more bramble jelly, plus some frozen) and stored or frozen apples, tomatoes, courgettes, runner beans and anything else we can find. I can think of nothing nicer than finding some of this in January and revitalising the colours, tastes and smells of summer when we most need it.
One celebration segues into another as we drift from wedding anniversary to the Gamekeeper's birthday to my birthday, each conveniently about a week apart, so just time to recover from one lot of cake before the next.
As regards gifts, particularly if of the bookish variety, I find it a whole lot easier (and more certain) if I just order it, hand it to Bookhound when it arrives, and say 'Thank you for buying me this for my birthday,' which is how I am the new owner of this...
Kate from Cheshire (thank you Kate) is partly to blame for waxing poetic about The Bloomsbury Cookbook backalong. I then reserved it from the library which was a complete waste of 50p, and the journey there and back etc, because of course I wanted my own copy within seconds of opening it. Many more mentions of it to come as I browse and amble my way through, but if you anticipate a gift-receiving moment of your own any time soon this would a great choice, and most generously I gather author Jans Ondaatje Rolls is donating all royalties to the Charleston Trust.
The book is full of anecdotes, Bloomsbury moments, photos and recipes, a massive amount of research from diaries and letters about the eating and cookery habits of the Bloomsberries, and you might wonder, as I have, how they weren't all the size of barrage ballons with so much suet pudding to consume.
To complete the whole birthday thing Bookhound and I headed off to London for the day on Thursday, Birthday Eve.
The 7.53 out of Exeter necessitates a 5am alarm for a 6.15am departure from home, which in turn means I don't sleep a wink for fear of sleeping through, coupled with general travel excitement, but what a glorious sunrise as we drove east towards the station at crack of dawn...
5am is way too early for me to enjoy breakfast so what a treat to find that Bookhound had nipped off and booked us breakfast in the Pullman dining car on the train.
We have never done this before but might have to do it every time now. It was a moment of pure luxury between Taunton and Reading to be waited on, served nice food and to arrive at Paddington with batteries fully charged.
We had a full day planned but the main reason for our trip, besides the indulgence of a birthday treat, was to see this...
...and probably another reason I hardly slept a wink the night before was because I was awake late finishing Frances Spalding's book, according to my new ploy of reading the catalogue before an exhibition if I can.
My thoughts about Virginia Woolf - Art, Life and Vision, both book and exhibition, once I have had time to think about it, but suffice to say we both loved this opportunity to see so much in its original form; reading the letters and diary entries, looking closely at the pictures...and of course my whispered Mrs-Know-It-All running commentary..
'Oh yes, Shakespeare & Co asked Leonard and Virginia to publish Ulysses at the Hogarth Press...just imagine type-setting that lot...'
'She's wearing her mother's dress there...look how it doesn't quite fit...'
I wandered off to the shop pondering that final heart-rending letter, while Bookhound did some sketches of the exhibition for me.
'I owe all the happiness of my life to you...'
wrote Virginia in her final letter to Leonard, and I thought how sad to be writing that as you are about to walk into a river with stones in your pocket, rather than tucking it into an anniversary card or something. Who can have known the pain and the fears that the prospect of another mental breakdown were creating in her mind, and the sight of the walking stick that Virginia left on the riverbank, as it lay there in the display case, was suddenly quite overwhelming...
If you haven't seen it Virginia Woolf - Art, Life and Vision is on until 26 October at the National Portrait Gallery and so worth a visit, a rare chance to see this particular collection in one place, and it goes without saying that afternoon tea in the National Cafe is really not to be missed either.
And coming next at the NPG, Anarchy and Beauty - William Morris and His Legacy 1860-1960 from 16 October, tickets booked already here.