by Kristine Hughes Patrone

Two British widows who met at a wedding trade letters in which they attempt to one-up each other with stories and events from their lives. Based on the iconic BBC radio show, this 10-part series stars Maureen Lipman (The Pianist) and Anne Reid (Last Tango In Halifax).

The wedding of Irene’s daughter Leslie was a great success, but Irene later learns that guest Vera is not a relative at all-just helping with the catering-but she’s very nicely written to say thank you, so Irene replies to Vera, thanking her for her thank you letter.

Vera and Irene reveal their exploits and adventures to each other in their letters and e-mails, but sometimes their correspondence becomes fractious when one accuses the other of being an alcoholic or engages in too much one-upmanship. Nevertheless, when the chips are down and the going gets tough, each is instantly there for the other, like a charge of the cavalry but with a more sarcastic bugle call.

As stated above, the series was originally a BBC Radio 4 comedy starring Patricia Routledge and Prunella Scales and there’s very much a “Mapp and Lucia” quality to Vera and Irene’s relationship – with humour, pathos and a soupcon of malice occasionally thrown in for good measure. The series is lots of fun and available on Acorn TV.



A recent Google images search for examples of Mrs. Delany’s shell work brought me to a blog called Plays With Needles by the exceedingly talented Susan Elliott. Her blog is a wonder and a delight, with gorgeous photos and interesting posts on where she finds her inspiration and what goes into the creation of her art. Reading about her shell work, above, I was interested to learn that Susan had found many of the shell components herself on the beach in Naples, Florida, which is only about forty minutes south of where I currently live. I know it well. It was fascinating to see what Susan’s keen eye and abundant talent could do with the same shells others walk by daily without noticing. You can read the story behind the piece above here.

Like Mrs. Delany, Susan is a multi-medium artist and her blog posts are about so much more than her own amazing artwork. In her post about the Breakfast at Tiffany’s inspired piece above, Susan discusses the cult of Holly Golightly and the gulf between the film and Truman Capote’s novel. I love the way Susan has incorporated so many elements in this piece, resulting in a three dimensional creation with enough sparkle and bling to make even Holly take notice. Susan’s use of meticulous beadwork is gorgeous. 
In this piece, Susan uses both shell and bead work elements. You can read more about it here
Susan has titled the piece above Your Majesty and has written a fabulous, photo laden post about her research into historic royal wedding gowns, their decoration, design and embroidery. Susan found  inspiration for this piece from several different gowns and time periods. You can read the entire post here. 
Has your historic research taken you to unexpected places? If so, we’d love to hear about it!


No, not that Monarch of the Glen.
This Monarch of the Glen.
Monarch of the Glen was a BBC TV drama series featuring the exploits of an impecunious and somewhat dysfunctional Highland family in their efforts to keep the estate of Glenbogle going after Archie MacDonald, a young restaurateur, is called back to his childhood home where he must act as the new Laird. 
Adapted from the so-called “Highland” novels of Compton MacKenzie, author of Sylvia Scarlett, the series originally starred Richard Briers, Susan Hampshire, Hamish Clark, Alastair Mackenzie, Dawn Steele and Sandy Morton. The programme ran for seven series, from 2000 to 2006, becoming the longest running non-soap drama ever run by the BBC, beating Ballykissangel by one year.
In reality, Archie is not really the new Laird, as his eccentric father, Hector, is still alive, though increasingly unable, or unwilling, to fulfill the role. Archie’s mother, Molly (Susan Hampshire, right) uses this as a crafty excuse to call her son home. In the first season, Archie resents his obligations as various problems arise at Glenbogle – not the least of which is that Hector’s neglect of the estate has put it in dire financial straights. As the episodes progress, Archie finds himself increasingly attached to both the estate and it’s inhabitants, including Lexie (Dawn Steele), the estate’s sexy, street-smart cook; the shy and bumbling  kilt-wearing handyman Duncan (Hamish Clark), and a quintessentially Scots gilly named Golly (Alexander Morton). Archie is constantly tasked with making the estate profitable, or at least marginally solvent, and schemes for raising money include turning the estate into a museum, a wedding hall, a hotel and a wildlife park.  As the series goes on, we learn more about the lives of these characters, their connections to one another and their own reasons for wanting Glenbogle, and Archie, to succeed.  
Another of the stars of Monarch of the Glen is the atmospheric setting and gorgeous Highland scenery. The series was filmed around Badenoch and Strathspey – mainly in the Laggan, Newtonmore and Kingussie  area, and the fairy-tale like Ardverikie House, on the far shore of Loch Laggan, became Glenbogle Castle. Ardverikie is itself a grand Scottish estate which, through time, has faced many of the problems that underpinned the stories of the dramatized in the series.

Ardverikie was built in 1878 by local craftsmen and has been owned by the same family since then. It has had a rich history, almost chosen by Queen Victoria instead of Balmoral as her Scottish retreat and ironically used briefly in the film `Mrs Brown’ for some scenes. English painter John Millais spent many months here on the estate sketching and drawing. Landseer’s influence is also evident within the house, as well as in the adoption of his most famous stag painting for the title of the television series.

You can watch a bit of Monarch of the Glen here, but the series is widely available through Netflix and local libraries.

If you’ve always dreamed of seeing the Highlands for yourself, consider joining author and guide Sue Ellen Welfonder for Number One London’s 2017 Scottish Castles Tour – details can be found here. We’d love to share our love of Scotland with you!


The London Library in St, James Square

Aaah, the London Library. The Holy Grail of research libraries as far as most historians are concerned. The oh so hard to get into Valhalla of archives. Such is the mystique that has been built up about the Library, one is certain that access into it’s hallowed halls is as difficult to attain as a ticket to Almack’s had once been. So, when Victoria and I were in London in September over Open Houses Weekend, we put the London Library in St. James’s Square at the top of our list. This would be our chance to finally see the inside of this venerable institution. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that one had to sign up for the Library tour prior to the date, but the very nice lady at the reception desk invited us to take a seat and to wait for the next tour to start. If the anticipated numbers did not show up, we would be more than welcome to join the group.

So we waited. And we eagerly eyed all who entered. Surely, we’d see the likes of world famous historians, household name authors and mayhap an Oxford don or two. Not a bit of it – everyone who entered the Library looked quite ordinary. Many of them looked to be students. When a pair of particularly young seeming male students walked by, Victoria whispered, “How do you think they got in here?”

“Don’t know,” I whispered back. “How did any of these people get in here?”

“The entrance fee is supposed to be really expensive, and besides that, you have to provide references. What sort of references could a pair of seventeen year olds have?”

“I think you’re making it harder than it really is to get in here. I mean, we have references.”

“We do?”

“Yes,” I hissed, “of course we do. We’re both published authors, aren’t we? And we have the blog, which has been up and running on a regular basis for six years now. That should demonstrate a serious academic bent. At the very least it proves that our interest in researching 19th century Britain is more than a passing fancy.”

“I don’t know,” Victoria said, “I think you have to have like three references from people who are already members of the Library.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you’re confusing it with White’s Club.”

The next tour group began to form and, miraculously, Victoria and I both got in. Joy! I must say, we really were given a behind the scenes tour: we were shown through many of the rooms and miles of stacks. We went up floor by floor to the attics and down again to the basement, all the while being surrounded by books we longed to get our hands on. The pictures below will give you some idea of the Library’s holdings.

Upon our return to the States, I went online to seriously investigate exactly what membership in the London Library involved. Unsurprisingly, I soon got distracted – the Library has an online catalogue of its holdings called Catalyst, that will not only search for books and journals in the Library, but will also search for titles and in many cases the content of the Library’s eJournal and database collections, as well. So, again unsurprisingly, I searched for the Duke of Wellington.

And got 6,614 results.

I also found online guides to various collections: The Food and Drink Collection,  A Guide to the French CollectionsGuide to the Topography Collections. Many more can be found on the Library’s website

At long last, I got around to the membership page – Individual annual memberships are £485 or forty pounds per month. Victoria was correct, you do need a reference, or Referee, but they do not necessarily have to be a Library member:

Referee: Applicants are asked to give the name of a referee, who should be someone to whom you are known personally (but not someone living at the same address) and whose position can be verified if necessary (e.g. a member of a prof
essional body, an academic, teacher, current member of the Library etc.).

And there are alternatives to an annual membership for those who are just visiting the UK, shown below. Can’t wait to let Victoria know – we actually do know several people in the UK who might vet us and we could always split the membership fees and share the online membership. Now it’s just a question of how long it will take me to get through over six thousand results for the Duke of Wellington. 

Daily and Weekly Tickets

Daily & Weekly Tickets

  • A limited number of temporary tickets are made available for non-members who wish to consult specific material from the Library’s collections which is not available in other publicly accessible national, specialist or public libraries
  • Daily tickets £15.00. Weekly tickets £50.00. (Cash or cheque payment only)
  • Advance booking required
  • Tickets are for reference use of the Library only
  • Applicants will need to produce two identification documents – one including a photo (eg passport, driving licence, travel card, student card, ID card) and one including confirmation of their current address (eg driving licence, recent bank statement or utility bill, official letter). Visitors to the UK are required to produce confirmation of their address while in the UK.
  • Contact Book Enquiries in the first instance to enquire about the materials you wish to consult. Contact Reception thereafter to make a booking

Temporary Overseas Visitors Membership

Temporary Overseas Visitors Membership

  • £243.00 for 4 months
  • Available for visitors from overseas with no permanent address in the United Kingdom. In addition to the subscription fee a deposit of £243.00 is payable on admission, refundable at the expiry of the membership, or earlier, provided that the membership card is surrendered and that all loans have been returned


The BBC’s Shipping Forecast has been broadcasting coastal weather conditions to its listeners for over 150 years and its loyal following extends far beyond mariners. Fans of the television show As Time Goes By will be aware that Mrs. Bale, the Hardcastle’s housekeeper at their country home, stops everything in order to listen the Shipping Forecast. In Keeping Up Appearances, Hyacinth Bucket consults the Shipping Forecast before she and Richard go boating – even though their sail will only follow the inland Thames. In addition, the Shipping Forecast has inspired music, literature and art. Heck, my online friend and fellow blogger Scott Lyman even named his blog The Shipping Forecast.

So . . . . just what is the Shipping Forecast?

From Wikipedia:

The Shipping Forecast is a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles. It is produced by the Met Office and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The forecasts sent over the Navtex system use a similar format and the same sea areas. The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas, also known as weather areas (see map below)[1] There are four broadcasts per day at the following (UK local) times:
  • 0048 – transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from an extended list of coastal stations at 0052 and an inshore waters forecast at 0055 and concludes with a brief UK weather outlook for the coming day. The broadcast finishes at approximately 0058.
  • 0520 – transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from coastal stations at 0525, and an inshore waters forecast at 0527.
  • 1201 – normally transmitted on LW only.
  • 1754 – transmitted only on LW on weekdays, as an opt-out from the PM programme, but at weekends transmitted on both FM and LW.
The unique and distinctive sound of these broadcasts has led to their attracting an audience much wider than that directly interested in maritime weather conditions. Many listeners find the repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the night-time broadcast at 0048 UK time.
In October 1859, the steam clipper Royal Charter wrecked in a strong storm off Anglesey; 450 people lost their lives. Due to this loss, Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy introduced a warning service for shipping in February 1861, using telegraph communications. This remained the United Kingdom’s Met Office primary responsibility for some time afterwards. In 1911, the Met Office had begun issuing marine weather forecasts which included gale and storm warnings via radio transmission for areas around Great Britain. This service was discontinued during and following World War I, between 1914 and June 1921, and again during World War II between 1939 and 1945.[2]
Today, although most ships have onboard technology to provide the Forecast’s information, they still use it to check their data.
The last broadcast of the Shipping Forecast at 0048 each day is traditionally preceded by the playing of “Sailing By“, a light orchestral piece by Ronald Binge. This is only very rarely omitted, generally when the schedule is running late. Though occasionally played in full, it is common for only a section of the piece to be broadcast; that section being the length required to fill the gap between the previous programme’s ending and the start of the forecast at precisely 0048.[8] More importantly, Sailing By serves as a vital identification tool – it is distinctive and as such assists anyone attempting to tune in. The forecast is then followed by the National anthem and the closedown of the station for the day, with the BBC World Service taking over the frequencies after the pips of the Greenwich Time Signal at 0100.

You can listen to a broadcast of the Shipping Forecast here.

Alternately, here’s Stephen Fry’s cheeky take on the shipping forecast.