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Have you written your Christmas cards yet?

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Well, have you?  I haven't. I have a pile of lovely cards, still wrapped, sitting reproachfully on my table. This is the time of year when most of us veer between having fun and feeling stressed and harassed in the extreme.

BISHOP Isabella Bird - Autograph Card Signed 1893 There is an answer to all this, of course. Noel Coward wrote a song about it and called it Sail Away - which is precisely what Isabella Bird did. 

Here she is on Boxing Day 1893, explaining that "I am within ten days of sailing for Korea and instead of sending Xmas cards am just writing to let my friends know of this great move and to ask them for their good wishes . . ."

The adventurous Isabella did a great deal of travelling, mainly to the Far East, and wrote some very well received books about her journeys. Interestingly, she suffered from a bad back, which seemed to improve greatly when she was at sea. Considering the comfort, or rather lack of comfort, which sea travel entailed in those days, this seems extraordinary. Was it all that bumping about that set it right again?  Or was her back pain caused by tensions in her private life in England, only to disappear when she escaped?  We are unlikely to know for certain, but what is certain is that she was a prime example of that intrepid breed of lady travellers. The year before writing this letter, she had been the first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.  There were several such exciting women about in an age which favoured the delicate angel of the home. For those of you who are interested to know more, I heartily recommend the Virago Book of Women Travellers. It's an exciting read, and will make you want to learn more about all these ladies.


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