This is one of the best historical novels I’ve read. Thanks to my friend Yasmin Cooper who mentioned this to me as one of her favourites and gave me a copy to read.The author explores some of the discrepancies in the Houses of York and Lancaster story covering the late medieval period. Anyone who is familiar with English history is well aware that the Wars of the Roses culminated in the brutal murder of Richard III in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth. After Henry VII was crowned the new king of England, he married Elizabeth of York and their marriage symbolically brought an end to the Wars of the Roses and the unification of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster that created the ‘Tudor Rose’ which is widely recognised as the floral heraldic emblem of England.
Although the novel is about Richard III, it is also as much about his older brother, Edward IV, and the latter’s rise to power and his sudden and unexpected death at the young age of 41. It was a very turbulent period of English history with the country pretty much divided into two factions, Lancastrian and Yorkist. Ms Penman gives us a gripping tale of England and Europe in the late Middle Ages — its social and political atmosphere. The author’s attention to details is exceptional with description of the terrible illnesses, childbirth, death, battles, and more importantly, the people, their faith and practice, and their relationship among themselves and with the nobility and monarchy.
The story starts during Richard’s childhood growing up in a large family; the tale of all the wars, power struggle and politics, from his perspective. By introducing Richard at such a young age allows the reader to understand his formative years and the circumstances that shaped his unique personality. The author presents Richard as a young man who, despite all the afflictions that affects his early life, is rather a visionary, ethical and honest. The author doesn’t portray him to be perfect — far from it; rather Richard’s character, his emotional and psychological frailties as well as strengths are put within a broader social context. The reader is given some insights and understanding as opposed to simply presenting some judgment on Richard.
The novel is also about an incredible love story in the custom and tradition of the day. Despite all the picture of war, the blood shed by men and women who sacrificed their lives for power, central to the theme of the novel is the love story of Richard and Anne Neville, his childhood friend, cousin, companion, and later on, his wife. Another love story is that of two domineering personalities, his brother King Edward and his queen consort Elizabeth Woodville. The couple were both endowed with remarkable physical beauty — Edward, a very tall and handsome king while Elizabeth was considered one of the most beautiful of English queens. Elizabeth is particularly presented in the novel as a cold-hearted woman who’s very aloof to her children and other members of her family, and who did whatever she could to retain control not just over her own life and that of her children’s but also as to cling to power and authority. Later in the book the reader comes to understand her motivations, her earlier manipulations to gain control are shed in a more sympathetic light.
As for all the other characters in this very long novel such as George Clarence, the Duke of Buckingham, Will Hastings, Jack Howard and many others, including a host of foreign kings, archbishops and other members of English nobility, ultimately it’s Richard, the main character of the novel, who shines.
There are not very many novelists like Miss Penman who can present a nine hundred plus pages and captures a reader’s interest. Although it took me a while to read this book, only because I read 2-3 history/biography books at a time, I was deeply fascinated and gripped by the heart-wrenching, tragic yet triumphant tale about this particular period of English history. As mentioned, this really is one of the best historical fictions I’ve ever read. It is an impressive narrative of the York family from the moment they become ‘Sunne in Splendour’ before their fall under the mighty hand of the Lancaster dynasty. This captivating novel immerses the reader into a historical period from beginning to end. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who loves historical fiction.
The terrible tragedy in Kensington last week caused me to once again ponder about the uncertainty and fragility of life. It was the second most horrific event in London this month following the June 4th London Bridge terror attack and the Finsbury Park terror attack the other day. In all three London atrocities, and particularly the blaze that ravaged the 24-storey residential building in west London, really did hit too close to home than I might want to admit, literally and figuratively, the realisation that a disaster can happen without an apparent warning.
On the 4th of June, eight people were killed and forty eight were injured when three men ploughed pedestrians with a van at London Bridge before slashing Londoners and tourists alike at Borough Market. And then the Grenfell Tower blaze occurred ten days later; seventy nine people had been killed (as of today’s count), many people are still being treated at hospital, and no one knows for sure how many more remain unaccounted for. Then five days later Londoners once again woke up to another terrible news — the Finsbury Park terror attack that killed one person and injured 10 people.
I could not even begin to imagine what the survivors as well as the victims’ families are going through right now. It must be a dreadful experience. Some have lost not just a family member and/or friends but also their homes and possessions. Just the thought of it sent chills down my spine.
It was wonderful though to hear the stories that people shared — the survivors who revealed their dramatic escape as well as the people who helped the victims. How the emergency services arrived quickly and risked their own lives to save others. How the doctors, nurses and other medical staff worked round the clock to help those severely injured. How the neighbours and strangers from across England came together to distribute relief goods and reach out to the evacuees. There are other tales of tragedy and heroism following the fire and terror attacks that were very touching and heartwarming. They influenced many lives and made people feel loved and valued.
There’s a story about some of the residents in the tower hanging out of the windows crying out for help. And a young woman who, out of desperation, dropped her baby from the window of her 10th floor flat and a man on the scene ran forward to safely catch the tot. This poor mother got a backlash for what she did. But she probably made the wisest decision she could ever make given the circumstance. These are just some of the harrowing accounts in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.
It’s a haunting experience to come upon the debris site as I was making my way closer to Grenfell Tower on Wednesday afternoon. The fire trucks and other equipments were already removed, but pieces of the shattered building are still strewn across the neighbourhood while the emergency services are still trying to recover the remains of those who were trapped inside the tower. It was heart-wrenching to see people huddled in small groups weeping together, some of them were waiting to hear some news about their loved ones; others were hopeful that the firefighters will be able to pull out from the ravages of fire any physical remains of a missing family member.
On my way back home I noticed the street sign ‘Clarendon Road’ — it leads to Holland Park, one of Britain’s wealthiest neighbourhood, and I thought about the evacuees, the homeless people who used to live at Grenfell Tower, most of them are London’s poorest and are on welfare or state benefits. As I look back and saw the dark gutted tower block it dawned on me that Grenfell Tower is too close to Holland Park, that it is not that far away, yet it really is a world apart.
It’s not the first time that a blaze and a terror attack hit London, and sadly it’s not likely to be the last. In fact, there is a serious danger of terror attack or other type of disaster and it could happen to any of us at any time. It is indeed a sobering thought. A week ago I stood on Grenfell Road astonished at the devastation; I then looked up at the bright blue skies and this passage came to mind, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3, KJV)As I stood there taking it all in while watching the firefighters come and go, I prayed for the victims and their families, the emergency rescue team on the ground, the government leaders and the British people as a whole. I particularly prayed for the Christians around the country that they will continue to stand up for the truth and try to make a difference in the lives of others, and I ask the Lord to give peace to those who keep their faith and trust in Him.
There’s so much craziness going on around us — terrorism, persecution, violence, crime, economic uncertainty, etc. We fear for our safety, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, and the list goes on. There actually is so much we could potentially worry about. But the scripture tells us to “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, KJV)
This is the very first novel I’ve read within 24 hours. Yes, all 234 pages in one day! I hardly ever read fiction nowadays (mainly because I prefer history and biography), but I simply couldn’t put it down till I turned to the last page.
The story revolves around Sophie and her life in Alpha Land; she reluctantly moved to London from Canada with her husband Michael and three-year old daughter Kaya. Michael had to work long hours leaving his wife and toddler by themselves which made Sophie very lonely and unhappy. Kaya ended up in the best nursery school in the city, Cherry Blossoms, where the kids of the rich and famous attended, and where the mums are always dressed up to the nines for the school runs. Sophie soon finds out that there’s a clique among the mothers, what she calls ‘Alpha Mums’ and she feels like as an outsider therefore she calls herself a ‘Beta Mum.’ With Sophie’s husband being very busy with his new job and not having the time of the day to spend with her and her daughter, much less listen to her personal issues, Sophie turns to the internet and starts a blog, where she could freely express what she’s going through. Overnight Sophie’s blog gains a readership from around the world, even from among her co-parents at Cherry Blossoms, the very same people she talks about in her blog.
The drama that transpired next — from Sophie’s secret correspondence with a man, an avid follower of her blog; the backstabbing and catfights among the mums; the extravagant children’s birthday parties; the parents having affairs; Sophie’s own inner conflict, and the climax of the gripping narrative — are all exhilarating!
This is a book that gives the reader a glimpse into the world of the super-rich, particularly the Notting Hill set — the ‘Yummy Mummies’ as they are famously called. It’s about their desire to raise perfect children, to maintain their lavish ‘instagram-worthy’ lifestyles, and so on. Yet behind the mask, underneath the picture-perfect image they’re trying to project, is a life filled with so much conflict and emptiness, constantly seeking for approval and acceptance, and not having joy and contentment. And sometimes they become too wrapped up in the material things that their life meets a tragic end. The author has done a great job presenting this narrative in an easy and fast-paced manner that the reader has no time to get involved with any of the character except Sophie’s, the main character.
As a Christian and having a different worldview than most people (and I say this in humility thanking God for saving me at a young age), I realised while reading this that the life of the characters in the novel is the ultimate example of what the lifestyle of London’s super rich have turned into — keeping up with the Joneses; marital affairs, high-profile breakups and divorces, and so on. It’s a never ending quest to satisfy their heart’s deepest longing.
I am very much aware that this type of ‘sub-culture’ exists within the top strata of the British society, and it’s far and above the lifestyle of today’s British royalty and aristocracy — the world of mega-yatchs, mega-jets, mega-mansions, etc. Since I’ve relocated to London seventeen years ago, I’ve personally heard from my friends at the health club different stories that are similar, if not exactly the same, as those I’ve read in this novel. I am a Notting Hill resident and have friends who shared with me very controversial details about some of the parents they know at ‘the nursery’ their kids went (my friends’ kids went to one of London’s top nursery school and just like Sophie in the novel, they both felt like an outsider).
The Beta Mum may be a fiction but I know, some of the stories mentioned happened in real life to some people. It may be coincidental but some of the stories is a fact of life for a tiny group of Londoners — the super-rich club.
This is an easy read, very engaging and highly entertaining novel. If there’s only one contemporary fast-paced fiction I’d recommend, it would be ‘The Beta Mum’ hands down. A great debut book from Isabella Davidson (the author’s pseudonym), and I hope it will be a huge success, and the first of many series.
Many thanks to the author, Isabella Davidson, for providing an electronic copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
In my previous post I mentioned that Filipino food has recently been making waves in London foodie scene — thanks to Rowena Romulo and many others who are raising awareness for Filipino cuisine in the UK. Romulo Café London opened only over a year ago and has already garnered an award — the ‘Most Loved Restaurant in Kensington’ at the 2016 Time Out Love London Awards, and has continually received commendations from food critics and customers, and it now appears in some of London’s restaurant guide books. I decided to interview Rowena for two reasons: first, she has a fascinating story to tell; and second, other women will certainly gain some insight and inspiration from her experience.
Elna Smith: In terms of your background, you were a banker before you got into the food business; what prompted you to say, “I want to go into the food service industry?”
Rowena Romulo: I discovered that I had another passion in life as an entrepreneur, which dates back to about 30 years ago when together with my uncle and aunt, we opened the first Thai Restaurant in Manila. The whole idea and feasibility of opening a Romulo Café in London dated back Oct. 2014. We hired a UK consultant to help us put a feasibility study together so that I could present the business plan to my family. It was already at that time that I felt it was time to make a change and build something of my own. After 32 years in banking and having made MD (Managing Director) at 40, I knew I was never going to become CEO of an American bank but I could certainly become CEO of my own company! The business plan looked promising and my family was supportive and the next step was really to look for a place. It took us about 6 months to find a site. The first one we set our eyes on and made a bid for actually turned us down because the landlord didn’t know what Filipino food was all about and he wanted something more known and chose an Italian restaurant. Then the Kensington site became available and after some tough negotiations, we signed the lease! My gut feel told me it was now or never! So now that it was really becoming a reality, I couldn’t get this done working on it only on the weekends.
ES: Has your background as a banker been valuable in helping you operate Romulo Café?
RR: Yes it has definitely been valuable. The training, skill set and disciplines I acquired during my banking career has really helped me manage the day-to-day operations of the company. Firstly, having a financial background has allowed me to manage the bookkeeping, accounts, P&L of the company with ease. Having run a global business at JPMorgan, I gained experience in operations, start-up projects, business management, people management, product development etc. to name a few – all skills which I have been able to apply in the restaurant.
ES: What has been the biggest challenge in this industry and how did you overcome it?
RR: The restaurant business is quite challenging and competitive and requires long, long hours of sacrifice and personal time. “As much as people would like to think the restaurant industry is glamorous, it is more than anything a hardworking business. Beyond providing great food, wine, and service, your job is to make someone you don’t even know happy. “
To meet this challenge, we have tried to:
– design and create a physical environment, atmosphere and ambience that is universally appealing, resembling a ‘comfortable Filipino home’ as the enjoyment of our cuisine is indelibly linked with this experience.
– preparing good quality, Filipino comfort food and drink, beautifully presented – Produce is carefully selected and both Filipino ingredients and local British sources used wherever possible. The dishes need to be carefully plated, using the standards of the best London restaurants as a benchmark. Moreover, by not shying away from the claim that this is the ‘Romulo family version’ of Filipino favourites, guests are enlightened to the fact that there are differences and twists to dishes such as ‘adobo’, ‘relleno’ and ‘kare-kare’ wherever one goes.
– The final secret – “No slacking!” My team and I work extremely hard, seven days a week to offer a service that showcases the best of Filipino hospitality. The Filipino and international staff are trained to serve people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds with an equal sense of pride, dignity and respect. Training is on-going, as customer expectations — of both food and service — are now extremely high.
ES: Before Romulo Café opened in London; what were some of the goals you established for the restaurant, and do you feel you have achieved what you wanted to accomplish on the first year?
RR: From the outset, the vision was to create a family restaurant and dining experience that could hold its own and compete in London, one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. It was also meant to be, in its own small way, a showcase for the Philippines, its food, culture and people.
Until recently, it’s fair to say that Filipino cuisine was not on the map in Britain but instead still firmly rooted in the Pearl of the Orient.
In a year since opening in March 2016, I believe we have put Filipino cuisine firmly on London’s foodie map – winning the Time Out Love London award for most loved restaurant in Kensington, a four-star out of five review from Timeout critics, 3 X Opentable Diner’s Choice Award and inclusion in Harden’s Best UK Restaurants 2017.
Furthermore Filipino food and service is now being covered relatively widely in the communications space (e.g. Time Out, Square Meal, The Caterer, The Kensington, Good Things, The Resident, London Visitors, Sainsbury’s Magazine, The Independent) catching the attention of trend-spotters and trend setters.
ES: Do you feel the need to keep up with food trends?
RR: Yes, it is important to keep abreast of the latest trends to continue to remain relevant in this industry. For example, the original cocktails we serve using Filipino mixes and liquors, have been immensely popular (e.g. ‘Batangas Bad Boy’, ‘Imelda’s High heels’). It is equally important not to be afraid to try new things; never standing still!!
ES: Do you keep up on social media as a means to promote your business?
RR: Yes social media is key for us and we are active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
ES: What is the most popular dish on the menu, do you know why that is?
RR: It changes every month but I would say that the all-time favourites are Crispy Pata, Kare-Kare and Pancit Bihon Guisado simply because it brings comfort and a taste of home.
ES: For a first-timer or anyone who wants to get a sense of what Romulo Café is all about, what would you recommend? And why?
RR: I would recommend our signature dishes (I.e. The dishes with a name beside it) because these are the family heirloom recipes that we are proud of and dishes that I enjoyed growing up with in our family compound in Manila
ES: For the years to come, what do you want Romulo Café Londonto be known for?
RR: I want Romulo London to be the Filipinos “home away from home” where people feel cosy and relaxed as if dining in the comfort of their own homes, a place to celebrate all occasions (weddings, birthdays, anniversaries) and if you love Filipino food, this is the place to get your fix!
ES: If you could create your own motto in life, what would it be?
RR: “We are never too old, nor is it ever too late to start from scratch. All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. Nothing is impossible. The impossible only takes time.”
Rowena, thank you so much for sharing with us your story.
• Photographs: courtesy of Rowena Romulo.
• Here’s the link to Romulo Café. They have deals for ‘London Food Month’, and I’d highly recommend you try the ‘Philippine Islands Cocktails and Tapas.’
Shetland may be remote and wild; but it is an oil rich country and the public infrastructure is one of the best in the UK. Despite its small size, only 1,468 sq km, and a relatively small population, just over 23,000, the Shetland Islands Council is the richest in Britain with £266 million in reserve — thanks to the oil industry revenue. (Apparently even London’s royal borough, Kensington/Chelsea and Westminster are in continuing deficit every year).
Shetland has well-maintained road networks, bridges, public housing, hospital and other public facilities that’s far superior than any boroughs in Britain. If you drive around the Shetland isles, from the mainland to the other smaller inhabited islands, you’d never come across a single pothole. Even the Council Housing is a proper single detach house equipped with all of the modern fixtures (unlike the high-rise, tiny, crammed and dirty Council flats in London). They have free accommodation (dormitories) for high school students whose families live outside of the mainland; the residents get massive discounts on travel — 50% off on the airplane and 30% off on the ferry — and practically everything is highly subsidised. Every year the pensioners also get two free return tickets by ferry if they want to travel to the mainland UK. These are just some of the benefits that the residents of Shetland get to enjoy on a daily basis.
Crime figures suggest that Shetland is also one of the safest communities not just in Scotland but in the whole of UK. We were told that on the outskirts of the town centre many people leave their doors unlocked.
Shetland is an intriguing mixture between Scotland and Scandinavia. The unpredictable weather, craggy landscape, deep fjords, and architecture are wistful reminder of the Scottish Highlands and the Nordic countries.
Buildings were traditionally made of stone, but some are made of corrugated iron.
The recent trend in domestic architecture however, is leaning towards Scandinavian timber design, colourfully painted, in a style that was once common in Shetland.
There are houses that simply stand out like this particular bungalow with walls decorated with various seashells — quite unique and full of character.
There are also many derelict houses and church buildings all over the islands.
With enormous bright skies, the scenery is quite stunning especially when the sun is out.
We drove, travelled by ferry, rambled around to explore the isles and stumbled upon some very interesting places.
One of the most amazing places we saw is called Mavis Grind. It is the narrowest land in the whole archipelago. This narrow strip of land with sea on either side, is almost an island in itself, and joins it to the rest of the mainland of Shetland. This is a very unique spot to view the North Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
If you stand on the Mavis Grind you can see both the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean from the road (right and left side on top and bottom photos respectively). It truly is a remarkable place.
People there say that if you stand on the Atlantic Ocean you’ll be able to throw a stone into the North Sea but you have to have a strong arm to be able to do so.
Also, the Shetland Islands have an extremely fascinating history and extraordinary heritage well worth exploring. We visited Scalloway, Shetland’s ancient capital, and toured Scalloway Castle, home of Patrick Stewart — Earl of Orkney and Shetland.
We tried to explore every nook and cranny of the castle and were very impressed by its cleverly crafted stonework. It was built in 1599 and its elaborate stonework is a fine example of Tudor era tower house.
We also visited Clickimin Loch, one of Shetland’s major archeological sites. Built around 6th-7th century BC, the stone-walled fort is a well-preserved remains of a prehistoric settlement.
Shetland doesn’t have many trees or woodlands, and apparently, it has a lot to do with wind and foraging sheep.
But we drove through roads lined with well-established trees, and visited a park where we got a glimpse of different trees, shrubs and several flower species such as bluebells and foxgloves.
We’ve meet Garry Dean, a Welshman who brought back into the island one of the only ten dying breed of four-horns Shetland sheep.
Evidently these four-horns sheep is native to Shetland but originally brought into the island in the 11th century by the first settlers from Norway.
He also breeds the famous Shetland ponies — not very big, only stand up to 42 inches high at four years old or over. They are very charming, friendly, and pretty captivating creatures.
We’ve also meet other local residents, visited tiny villages and we wandered around the mainland coastal walkway, but it’s worth mentioning one of the highlights of our first two-days in Shetland — it was meeting a few Christian Shetlanders who continue to make an impact in the lives of people on the island.
Shetlanders are incredibly welcoming and very friendly people. We learned that among family and friends, it is rude to knock on the door when you visit their home. You just show up unannounced, straight into the living or dining room, and you’ll be offered tea, or coffee, or whatever you fancy.
We’ve meet a young couple, Alisdair and Rhoda MacPherson, with their four adorable boys. They live in a very nice and comfortable modern home with magnificent views of the sea and the surrounding valley.
Rhoda prepared a delicious dinner for us and we really enjoyed the food and the fellowship. I must mention Rhoda . . . aside from juggling motherhood and a family business, she is into all sorts of creative pursuits such as calligraphy, stampin’up, etc. She is very artistic, so sweet and kind, and a truly admirable lady. I absolutely adore her. Please check out her Instagram account Rhoda MacPherson and follow her — it’s full of beautiful photos of her artwork and some stunning photos of Shetland that will totally inspire you.
Their kids are all smart and good-looking, and the youngest, 2 year-old Cole, stands out because he’s a particularly funny little boy. We still laugh when we talk about him and the things that he said. After dinner at the MacPhersons, we attended a mid-week worship at their church. We greatly enjoyed our time with them, and it was a great blessing to meet some new Christian friends in Shetland.
There’s another couple we’ve meet and visited at home.
Davy and Jean, both in their late 80s, are native Shetlanders and friends of Kevin.
Davy shared stories about his ancestors who were some of the few people sent by the Norwegian/Danish king to inhabit Shetland back in the 14th century. Evidently his family and a few others, to this very day, are related to at least half of the residents on the island. We listened to Davy and Jean’s fascinating stories over tea and biscuits. Oh and we got to try salted leg of lamb — top picture shows the huge piece of meat hanging on the ceiling.
Their house has 360-degree panorama of the sea, lochs, and hills — from the living room to dining, kitchen, and bedroom, anywhere you go around the house the views are incredible.
This is the view from Davy and Jean’s kitchen window. The loch has 12 miniscule-islets that Davy skilfully built one by one for each grandchild as soon as they’re born. He told us that he named each one of them after his grandkids; that he has a map that he shows to them from childhood to assure them that they owned an island (I can only imagine that their grandkids bragged about owning an island in their grandparent’s backyard ). They tried to encourage us to relocate to Shetland. They couldn’t comprehend that in London people had to lock their doors, can’t leave valuables in the car or don’t know their neighbours. As we were leaving Davy said, “Hope to see you again soon! Please move to Shetland!” “Only if we get to live in your house, and if there’s sunshine all year round!” I jokingly said. And he replied, “You can bring some sunshine from the Philippines, and we’ll sell this house to you then.”
And so our journey is to be continued.
In my third and final instalment, we travel farther north. I’ll be talking about our visit to other islands including Unst, at the tip of Shetland. It was recommended to us by our friend Kevin, who I’ll quote, said: “You’ll see all of Britain’s most northerly — house, police station, post office, bus stop, tea shop, lighthouse, outpost, etc!” And boy was he right!
Filipino food has recently been making waves in London foodie scene — thanks to Rowena Romulo of Romulo Café, and many others who are raising awareness for Filipino cuisine in the UK. Evidently the trend is growing; supper clubs like Adobros, Pepe’s Kitchen, and many others are popping up all over the city in the last couple of years. Taking advantage of the current growing Filipino food craze, the Department of Foreign Affairs spearheaded a project called ‘Kulinarya:A Guide to Philippine Food‘ and sent a team of famous Filipino chefs and food writer to ‘formally’ introduce Filipino food to the world. Continue reading “A Tale of Filipino Feast: Philippine Embassy London Supper Club”→