Golden Hill – Francis Spufford

Golden Hill - Francis SpuffordLeaving the Roman Empire on the cusp of change, Golden Hill brings me to the British American Colonies in 1746 – and the arrival of mysterious Mr Smith in New-York, where the city’s Dutch heritage is still strong and the sugar/slave trade profitable.

A modern take on the 18th century page turner, done in a day down in Walton – and with great pleasure.

Publisher page: Golden Hill – Francis Spufford

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome – Mary Beard

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome - Mary BeardMary Beard’s book on Rome’s first millennium took me a while to work through. Highly readable but dense with ideas and perspectives to think about. I found the first and last sections – on the early history of the town on the Tiber and the lives of “ordinary” people in Rome and beyond – the most interesting; the political history of the Republic and Emperors less so.

Publisher’s page: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome – Mary Beard


The Queen’s Sorrow – Suzannah Dunn

The Queen's Sorrow - Suzannah DunnFollowing straight on from Lady Jane Grey / Queen Jane The Lady of MisruleThe Queen’s Sorrow covers the first year of the reign of Queen Mary – her marriage to Philip II of Spain, her first phantom pregnancy, and England’s return to Catholicism 20 years after Henry VIII’s break with Rome and 6 years of pure Protestantism under Edward VI.

It’s an oblique telling, through the eyes of Spanish sundial-maker Raphael. Far from home and family, he finds himself lodging with an English family, the Kitsons, and becomes friends with their housekeeper, Cecily, and tries to befriend her four year old son, Nicholas.

A chance encounter with the Queen and a misunderstanding of her faith ultimately have terrible consequences.

Publisher’s page: The Queen’s Sorrow – Suzannah Dunn

The Lady of Misrule – Suzannah Dunn

The Lady of Misrule - Suzannah DunnAnother easy read as a break from SPQR. In this case, literally – larger font and wider spacing than Mary Beard’s book.

The Lady of Misrule is the story of sixteen year old Lady Jane Grey‘s 8 months in the Tower of London following the death of Edward VI and the accession of Queen Mary I. For 9 long summer days in between these two Tudor monarchs,  Lady Jane Grey was Engand’s first Queen, Queen Jane.

We’re shown the story through the eyes of Elizabeth Tilney, Lady Jane’s newly appointed Catholic lady-in-waiting. Also sixteen.

Each in their own way were victims of powerful men: Lady Jane Grey’s 9 days as Queen Jane were engineered to allow her father-in-law and Edward VI’s Lord President of the Council, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, to continue in power; Elizabeth Tilney, unwittingly (and I’d say fictitiously) pregnant by her father’s best friend.

Publisher’s page: The Lady of Misrule – Suzannah Dunn

Japan: Prep

The excitement is building….. IJT’s InfoPack for their HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go! tour arrived today for Rosa’s 18th birthday trip – a manga / anime / J-pop themed tour of Japan – kawaii!!

It's here.... IJT's InfoPack for HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go!
IJT’s InfoPack for HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go!

There’s a map of Japan, a more detailed itinerary booklet with names, addresses and maps of each of the hotels. Our tour leader is Charlea Jefts and she will already be at our start hotel – the b ikebukuro – when we arrive, so we should be able to meet up with her to get tips on what to do on our two extra days at the start. Other than get through the jet lag.

Rosa and I spent a lovely afternoon looking through the trip itinerary and what we could do with our extra time, and talking through what to take. Here are the main things:


The trip notes recommend taking ¥‎100,000 cash for a 2 week trip, for food, drinks and entrance fees (some are included, others aren’t, and we’ve got 2 extra days of Doing Things). That’s about £700, which works out at about £50 a day. We have to buy lunch and dinner most days.

So I’ll be keeping an eye on rates on offer at FairFX and Thomas Exchange Global.

I’m going to take some GBP in cash for emergency funds, and my debit/credit cards too.


There’s wifi in most of the hotels and the tour leader has a portable wifi base station (might not be the right term but you know what I mean!) . That’ll do me.


There’s a packing list in the itinerary. The main things I’d not anticipated were:

  • long trousers & long sleeved top/light jumper – for air con train and restaurants
  • mosquitoes – so I’ll be packing mozzie repellent and take a vvv light long sleeved cotton top as cover up too
  • umbrella
  • overnight bag – our luggage gets forwarded twice, and we’ll need a small overnight bag for those nights. I’ve just treated myself to a navy SPAHER Ultra Lightweight Packable 20l Daypack courtesy of Amazon.
  • water bottle(s) – to avoid buying plastic bottles. I’m taking an empty 0.75l Volvic-type one. Maybe a couple.

My packing list for this trip is a bit different from the usual one!

We need to be able to carry our own luggage on/off public transport and from stations to hotels. I’m taking my 40l rucksack – last used in Libya – but then I do pack little and travel light.