“Cranford” – the location of Lady Ludlow’s House

Very often when I’™m watching TV I wonder where the filming took place ‘“ the scenery and the buildings can look so familiar and yet usually I can’™t place them. In the case of Lady Ludlow’™s house in ‘œCranford’ I recognised the outside views immediately. It’™s West Wycombe Park, in Buckinghamshire. It is set in beautiful grounds. It’™s been a while since I visited the house and I’™m not sure that the scenes inside Lady Ludlow’™s house were filmed inside West Wycombe Park mansion. Looking at the pictures in the guidebook the grand entrance hall has a similar floor but the columns and walls are different. The colour too is different, whereas the actual entrance hall is predominantly cream and brown Lady Ludlow’™s grand room was overall white and grey, matching the grey grandeur of Lady Ludlow herself. Wherever it was filmed it was impressive. Lady Ludlow is becoming my favourite character in this TV production, stealing the show somewhat from Miss Matty in my view. The view of the railway coming over the horizon onto Lady Ludlow’™s land was astounding ‘“ I could almost believe it was real!

I’™m looking forward to visiting West Wycombe Park again next year. It is owned by the National Trust and is only open to the public during June, July and August. The grounds with its temples, lake and cascade are open from April to the end of August. It’™s a beautiful Palladian style house, remodelled from the original Queen Anne house between 1735 and 1781 by Sir Francis Dashwood. Sir Francis was a most interesting character ‘“ a member of the Hell-Fire Club, and a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries.

Elizabeth Gaskell based her fictional town of ‘œCranford’ on Knutsford, in Cheshire. I suppose it is because Knutsford has changed since the 1840s that Cranford was not filmed there, but in Lacock, in Wiltshire. I had a school friend who lived Knutsford. Every year there is the May Day festival in Knutsford and I remember going with my friend to watch the May Day procession through the town, but the highlight for me as a young teenager was the fairground rather than the coronation of the May Queen. It was all very different from the ‘œCranford’ May Day celebrations, which were filmed on the Ashridge Estate in the Chilterns, not in Cheshire. There were Morris Dancers and a Maypole, but I don’™t remember a dancing bush!

What’s In a Name? Challenge

I can’t resist joining this challenge, even though I’m already doing a few. This one is hosted by Annie, who is ten or eleven. See Words by Annie for the full picture. The idea is that you read one book from each category over the course of next year. Surely I can do that, especially as I can choose books from my to be read list.

These are the books I’ve chosen for now – I may change them later as who knows what I’ll want to read next year? I’ve been meaning to read these books for quite a while now, so this should push me into reading them.

A book with a colour in the title: Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A book with an animal in its title: The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney

A book with a first name in its title: My Cousin Rachel, Daphne Du Maurier

A book with a place in its title: Winter in Madrid, C J Sansom

A book with a weather event in its title: Snow, Orhan Pamuk

A book with a plant in its title: Gem Squash Tokoloshe, Rachel Zadok

Surveillance by Jonathan Raban

I wasn’™t sure what to expect when I started to read ‘œSurveillance’. The title suggested to me that it is about spying and being spied upon and in essence that is the book’™s main theme. However, it is also about paranoia and the many insecurities, fears and weaknesses in our modern society. The Spectator reported ‘˜Raban’™s book should certainly be required reading. Of all the 9/11 books so far, Surveillance is perhaps the most disturbing because it offers scant comfort and no certainties.’™ The Sunday Herald Books of the Year described Surveillance ‘œlike Dickens revived to witness the ‘œage of terror’.’™

There’™s a lot going on in this book. It starts with a bang:

‘œAfter the explosion, the driver of the overturned school bus stood behind the wreckage, his clothes in shreds. He was cupping his hands to his ears, as if to spare himself the noise of sirens, car alarms, bullhorns, whistles, and tumbling masonry. When he brought his hands away and held them in front of his face, both palms were dripping with blood. His mouth opened wide in a scream that was lost in the surrounding din.’

However, things are not always what they seem. The main characters are Lucy, a journalist and single mum, her daughter eleven year old Alida, and Lucy’™s friend and neighbour Tad, who is HIV positive and full of conspiracy theories: ‘œYou think you’™re living in a democracy, then one morning you wake up and realise it’™s a Fascist police state and it’™s been that way for years.’ Alida, in contrast, believes in facts and is ‘œhungry for realism’. She prefers non-fiction to fiction, Ann Frank’™s diary to Lord of the Rings and tries to understand human relationships in terms of algebra.

August Vanags (Augie) is a professor of history who has recently written the bestseller ‘œBoy 381’, a memoir of his terrible childhood in Europe during World War Two. Lucy has been assigned to interview Augie, said to be a recluse. Augie believes that the world is in a worse state than it was in 1939, presaging a catastrophe for civilisation. Lucy, whilst terrified of terrorism, feels more threatened by natural disasters such as greenhouse gases and earthquakes. The instability of the planet and our precarious existence run parallel with the violence and fear generated by terrorism. As the story unfolds Lucy investigates the truth of Augie’™s memoir ‘“ was he really a refugee from Hitler’™s Europe or did he spend the 1940s on a farm in Norfolk?

Then there is Finn, a schoolboy geek who can ‘œrattle out stuff in HTML and Java faster than the girls could write English when they were IM-ing. If Finn had a life, which was doubtful, it lay somewhere out in cyberspace.’ Another character who may or may not be what he seems is Mr Lee, the Chinese landlord of the Acropolis building where Lucy and Tad live. To Tad Mr Lee epitomises what is wrong with society ‘œthe way the world had lately fallen into the hands of grifters, liars and cheats.’ Tad’™s anger with himself, everything and everyone else threatens to overwhelm him and possess him.

As the novel built to a climax I was so engrossed in wondering what was the truth about the characters and what the outcome would be, that I failed to foresee how the book was going to end, even though thinking back over it now I can see that hints were given almost from the beginning. This is not a book where all the ends are tied off, or where all the questions that have been raised are answered. Everything is left unresolved and to my mind there could be no other conclusion.

This Time 10 years ago …

Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book posted earlier this year on books he had read ‘œOn this day ‘¦’ where he listed books he had read on a particular day in the year going back several years ‘“ in his case on 28 September. I haven’™t kept such accurate records as Simon, but as I found a notebook listing books I read in 1997 I thought I’™d look back to see what books I was reading in December in 1997, 2002, 2006 and this December. I didn’™t record the precise dates and have just picked one book out of the books I read in December during those years.

December 1997 ‘“ Homeland and other stories by Barbara Kingsolver. I made just a brief note at the time ‘œv. readable’. This is a book of short stories and I have to admit that at a distance of ten years I can’™t remember much about them. So, I’™ll just quote from the back cover:

‘œExtraordinarily fine. Barbara Kingsolver has a Chekovian tenderness towards her characters ‘¦ The title story is pure poetry.’ New York Times Book Review.

December 2002 ‘“ Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein. I first read the books when I was at Library School ‘“ everyone on my course was reading them. I’™ve read them several times since then and this time I read them again, prompted by the films. The films compared quite favourably with the books, although I think the Ents didn’™t live up to my expectations. Ian McKellen as Gandalf was just perfect.

December 2006 ‘“ Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I have read several Atwood books and I think this one is one of her best. It’™s based on the true story of the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper in Canada in 1843. Grace and fellow servant James are found guilty of the murders. James was hanged and Grace imprisoned for life. The question, never answered to my satisfaction, all through the book is, was Grace guilty?

December 2007 ‘“ All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I haven’™t read any other books by Sackville-West and was pleased to find it most enjoyable with an awful lot packed into what seems on the face of it to be a novel where not much happens. It’™s a novel of opposites. For example old age and youth are contrasted in looking back over the life of Lady Slane, widowed at the age of 88. I’™ll be writing about this in more detail, after 15 December, as it’™s the chosen book for Cornflower’™s book group.

A Christmas Meme

I was tagged by Sam for this Christmas meme.

What is your most enduring Christmas memory? I don’t think I could single out one particular moment, maybe remembering back to my childhood when Christmas was a magical time, later enjoying it through my son’s excitement and these days through my grandchildren’s eyes.


Do you have a favourite piece of Christmas music? Silent Night, but don’t ask me to sing it solo.

Do you stick to the old family traditions? Apart from giving present and celebrating with lots of food, no. My grandmother used to stand to attention during the Queen’s speech but no one else did, much to her disapproval.

What makes your mouth water at Christmas time!? I love all Christmas food.

How soon do you put the Christmas tree up and when do you take it down? It varies – we haven’t put one up yet. It has to be taken down and all Christmas decorations put away before Twelfth Night.

I would like to tag Nan, Kay, Cornflower and Geranium Cat for this meme.

Cranford – a “Multi-Threaded Production”

The third episode of “Cranford” is being shown on BBC1 this evening. Over the course of last week I have puzzled over my reaction to the production. If I hadn’™t only recently read Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford I might not have been so bemused. I was quite prepared to find that the actors and the locations didn’™t match the pictures in my mind ‘“ how could they? I also didn’™t expect the dramatisation to follow every word in the book ‘“ after all it is a dramatic representation, not a book.

Still, after seeing two episodes and looking at the preview of the third, I think that by amalgamating Cranford with two other books the end result is not Cranford. One difference that really has jarred is concerning Mary Smith. In the novel Mary is the narrator. She lives in Drumble (Manchester) with her father and writes about her visits to Cranford at different intervals over a number of years. Her father is an old friend of the Jenkyns family, maybe even a distant relative, who helps with Miss Matty’™s business affairs. Nowhere in Cranford is there any indication that Mary Smith has a stepmother and stepbrothers and sisters, but they appear in the TV series ‘“ I can’™t see how they add anything to the story. And why was it necessary to make Miss Brown’™s death take place before her father’™s? I could go on.

The BBC’™s Press Office page has some interesting information that explains how the script was written. The creators did not think that there was enough material in the novel suitable for a straightforward adaptation. So, as they wanted to keep ‘œtrue to the spirit of Gaskell’ they took several of her books and interwove them together. This quote from the Production Notes explains the process:

“We took a lot of liberties with Elizabeth Gaskell,” Sue continues. “We lost some of her characters, we amalgamated some and we invented. We shuffled story beats around and we added extras to some of the stories from the other books.

“And we lifted out two comic incidents from her essays about her childhood which weren’t in the novels. In the end, we had interwoven parts of all the three novels so closely that it took on a life of its own, and essentially became a new drama.’

Cranford is thus a multi-threaded production, combining three of Elizabeth Gaskell’™s books and essays as well as introducing new material. They have indeed produced a new drama. My question is ‘“ do I want to watch it? I’™m not so sure that I do.

Francesca Annis is quoted in the Press Pack:

“I read Gaskell’s My Lady Ludlow, and (Cranford writer) Heidi Thomas’s characterisation is quite faithful to her but she obviously had to leave out a huge amount of detail that I found completely fascinating.

“But then this serial isn’t called Lady Ludlow… unfortunately!”

Maybe it shouldn’™t be called ‘œCranford’, either.

One thing I do know is that thanks to this production, I shall read Mr Harrison’™s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.

November Round Up of Books

Another month of good reading. I have already written posts about most of the books I finished reading in November. Clicking on the titles links to my posts.

Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham – an excellent book, looking back over 60 years.
Lewis Carroll: a biography by Morton Cohen – long and detailed.
The Sidmouth Letters by Jane Gardam – good (better than I expected).
Remainder by Tom McCarthy – mixed feelings about this one, thought provoking.
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – a very enjoyable read, better than the TV series for me.

The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning (the first in her Balkan trilogy) – set in Bucharest during the ‘phoney war’ period of the Second World War.

Posts to follow on these books that I’ve also finished:
Surveillance by Jonathan Raban – an interesting look at modern life.
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson – a thought provoking book.
Currently I’m reading:

My Cleaner by Maggie Gee. I’ve nearly finished this about Vanessa, English, middle class and Mary, Ugandan who used to be Vanessa’s cleaner.

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I’ve read the first chapters of this story of an aging British aristocrat. This is the book chosen by Karen for her new book group.

Winter In Madrid by C J Sansom. I’ve just started reading this. I chose it because I read with great enjoyment his three earlier books, Dissolution, Dark Fire and Sovereign, historical mysteries featuring Matthew Shardlake, a lwyer-cum-detective. I hadn’t realised this book was set in the 1940s when I decided to read it – yet another book from that period.