Books, life the universe

Monday, 31 December 2007

Night Climbers of Cambridge and 2008

No not the title of a book I've read, but one which has recently been re-released in a new edition. You can read a review of it here:;jsessionid=YC4U4AB2IN50JQFIQMFSFGGAVCBQ0IV0?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/arts/2007/12/29/bowhi129.xml
The author goes under the pseudonym of Whipplesnaith. It had been out of print since 1952. The reason why I am writing about it is because it was discussed in Jill Paton-Walsh's 'The Bad Quarto', published in 2007. Students took part in contests to climb the buildings of Cambridge - the taller and more dangerous the better. Part of the plot of 'The Bad Quarto' hinges on a climb which went wrong.

I am wondering whether the re-release of 'Night Climbers' was prompted by Jill Paton-Walsh's book or perhaps by another work of fiction - 'The Night Climbers' by Ivo Stourton which was also published in 2007. Strange coincidence.


How will you be spending New Year?

If it's anything like usual I shall have good intentions of staying up to see the New Year in and then falling asleep well before then - only to woken up by the sound of fireworks. I think these days I prefer not to see the New Year in, even though I do always make some sort of resolution.

It's like a new year at school. You start off a new notebook and vow to keep it neat and it lasts all of a few days - well perhaps longer than that.

However you intend to spend the last hours of 2007 - enjoy! And a very happy and prosperous 2008.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

That was 2007

2007 is memorable for the floods and the way they were reported in the media and exploited by the climate change lobby for their own ends.

National news appeared to forget Hull was under several feet of water until the leader of their council - Carl Minns - started jumping up and down very publicly. As soon as places like Reading, Oxford and Worcester were affected then it was headline news. The reason why Hull never made it to headline news I think was because their flooding was not caused by the River Humber flooding but by inadequate drainage systems. No one could make capital of that. If you build more houses you need to upgrade drainage systems - simple.

As Keith says at Zen Mischief, York flooded - that's not news -it always floods. Worcester and Evesham always flood - the Rivers Severn and Avon are notorious for it. I'd been to Worcester 3 times at different times of the year before I realised that the pub I thought was by the river was actually by the race course!

Here in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk - the Fens - we did not flood. Has anyone stopped to ask why? We're situated on the biggest flood plain in the country - the Rivers Witham, Welland, Great Ouse and Nene and their tributaries draining 13 counties did not cause flooding this summer even though we had the same amount of rain as anywhere else.

The answer is simple. We have a sophisticated drainage system which is monitored 365 days a year. We have dedicated teams of people from the internal drainage boards who work round the clock to ensure we do not flood. We also have thousands of acres of both salt and freshwater marsh which can be flooded when necessary to protect property. All our pumping stations are built so that if there are very high water levels the pumps will still work as they will be above the water level - unlike Hull where the pumps for their sewage system were at ground level.

We have a very fine balance between man and nature here. It works because we do not underestimate nature, and we work with it. We sell water from the Great Ouse to Essex so that they do not have to build more reservoirs. None of this sort of thing gets in the media but to me it is admirable and shows what can and should be done in areas such as around the Severn and the Avon. We need to have areas near many of our rivers which can be flooded like sponges to take up excess water. Ultimately this is one of the schemes which will need to be considered in order to safeguard lives and property.

If you must build in areas of potentially serious flooding then why not build houses on stilts - i.e. have the garage at ground level with storage areas, use waterproof plaster, ceramic tile floors, electrical sockets at waist height and no electrical wires running at floor level. These modifications would add very little to the cost of a new house and would save everyone millions.

I do not believe in climate change except as an ongoing global phenomenon. The Thames used to freeze. We used to be able to grow oranges and peaches in this country. The climate has always changed - no one really knows why. If we could stop all the volcanoes then we might have some chance of affecting it - but that it about as likely as pigs growing wings and flying. The North West Passage between Europe and Asia has always been a bit of a hit and miss affair if you look back in history so why is it remarkable that it is open this year?

My other big issue with 2007 is the Princess Diana inquest. Many people will not believe the verdict. Conspiracy theories do not die that easily. The people who believe in these theories will always believe she was taken out by the security services because she was pregnant/about to get married. These people will not accept the inquest verdict because anything that smacks of the Establishment is regarded as suspect and part of the cover up.

There are questions to be answered but they would have been best answered when the bodies were first brought back to the UK. The inquest should have been held then and an accidental death verdict recorded. The reason given at the time was that the French investigation was not complete. Every body that is brought back to the UK from abroad where there has been a sudden death has an inquest held on it. An inquest is not meant to cover all the circumstances of the case, but just to establish how the person died under broad headings. If things are not clear an open verdict could have been recorded. The inquest could have been re-opened at a later date if more evidence came to light. Why were these bodies treated differently? To me that is the major question which needs answering.

Saturday, 29 December 2007


I have nearly finished Victoria Clayton's 'Moonshine'. This is a mammoth effort as the book is almost 700 pages long. It is well written - could almost qualify as literary fiction - and is full of memorable characters.

Bobbie - Roberta to her parents - has an affair with married MP, Burgo Latimer, which is exposed in the press after nearly a year. So far so ordinary. Bobbie decides to escape and gets herself a job in Ireland as housekeeper at a castle. At first she wonders whether she's done the right thing, especially after a pleasant journey through Ireland with Kit, a literary agent she meets on the ferry, she is met at a deserted bus station by someone who appears to be a tramp. There follows a wet trip through deserted countryside in an open horse and cart.

The castle is run down, and in need of costly repairs. Bobbie at first is not universally welcomed. Constance is the owner's sister and is wholly in favour of Bobbie staying as her own cooking skills are in danger of poisoning the household. Then there are the three children - Flurry (short for Florence), a slightly autistic boy who is building a steam engine; Flavia - who is growing up fast and always reads at the dining table and dislikes sad books; Liddy - Phylidda - a former anorexic teenager.

Violet - the owner's wife is in her 30s but is confined to bed as a virtual vegetable after a stroke - is the mother of the three children. She can hardly speak and is fed only fluids. (the mad woman in the attic ). Then there is Maud - Violet's mother and Finn - the owner of the castle who is also a member of the Senate. There is also Sissy who always dresses as though appearing on stage, and who used to be a member of a circus - she is reputed to be Finn's mistress but no one really knows. The final member of the household is Eugene, a poet, who was stood up at the altar and still wears the same clothes he was wearing then. He came to dinner because people felt sorry for him, and is still there a year later. There are also 3 servants - two women and a man - all of whom are usually drunk from the illegally distilled whiskey brewed by Timsy in the apple store.

Bobbie finds solace in the domestic tasks and enjoys cooking. The household gradually warms to her because at last the food is edible. She starts to clean and re-decorate the castle as well as planting fruit and vegetables in the walled garden which has been allowed to go to seed. Everyone gets involved. She persuades Flurry to eat other things apart from sausages, and manages to help Violet to regain consciousness and her speech, with the help of a physiotherapist and speech therapist.

Finn, the owner, does not appear until about half way through the book and is not at all sure at first that he likes the improvements, but gradually gets used to them as nearly the whole household is involved and enthusiastic. Bobbie finds by this time she has recovered from her broken heart, and is faced with several possible suitors including Kit, but she realises - as Violet is recovering her senses - that it is Finn she loves.

The characters are eccentric and lovable and the descriptions of country living are enjoyable. One reviewer on Amazon mentioned she was a little fed up with a heroine who succeeds at everything she tries, but I feel this is a little unjust. She has to work hard for her success and starts off at a disadvantage. Maybe that reader had forgotten that she had been running her parents' large house before she went to Ireland and would have had most of the skills required.

The relationships between the characters are complex and intriguing though ultimately satisfying from the the reader's point of view. I am thoroughly enjoying it and will be sorry when I finish it.

Friday, 28 December 2007


Keith writing at has made some thoughtful comments about democracy and how much other nations - including us - have struggled with it over the years. Magna Carta took a long time to come into its element. It is interesting this important document has hit the headlines recently. Perhaps democracy is about to become the issue of the day.

Is Pakistan just the start of a new wave of violence across the world? Or will people see sense and make this the point at which things change for the better?

More later perhaps.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto

Why oh why can't we all live together peacefully?

I am shocked by this latest assassination but hardly surprised as I think it was a disaster waiting to happen.

I'm not even going to speculate about who could have been behind it. Suffice it to say that there is nothing more dangerous than a martyr.

I just hope this does not make the situation in Pakistan worse than it already is, though I can't help feeling it will do. The country has been a cauldron of unrest for so long it is going to take someone remarkable to bring everyone together and keep them together.

Female politicians in India and Pakistan do not seem to be terribly safe in general - what about Indira Ghandi?

I am reminded yet again of the words of Aristotle - the gist of which was that you cannot legislate against those who are prepared to die for their cause. An assassin's bullet you may be able to dodge and safeguard yourself against - but a suicide bomber is a different matter entirely.

At the risk of sounding like any of the church leaders - Pakistan needs our prayers.

Teeth and the sales

My crown is now back where it should be - in my mouth - and I am no longer catching my tongue on the rough edges. Norwich is about 70 miles from where I live and we allowed plenty of time to get there as we wanted to go to Staples - the office supplies store. Our nearest one is about 40 miles away and as we were going right past one on the way into Norwich we thought we'd use up some of our spare time and go and browse. Traffic was relatively light until we got to the outskirts of the city but then we hit the traffic. It took 45 minutes to drive less than 2 miles!!
Norwich traffic has always been bad but most of this must have been people going to the sales as it was between 11.00am and 12.00pm. I was beginning to think at one point that I'd have to get out and walk in order to get there on time! Our route took us through a small part of the shopping centre - past M & S and Debenhams - for those who know the city. It was just wall to wall pedestrians! Loads of cars queueing for the car parks as well which doesn't help the traffic flow.
Everyone was carrying masses of carrier bags. I really can't see the attraction and where does everyone get the money from? Perhaps the ones shopping are the ones who didn't spend money at Christmas? I suspect though that it's those of us who spent less on Christmas who are also boycotting the sales. There is nothing I particularly need anyway so Ican't see the point in braving the crowds.

My next item really deserves a separate post . . . .

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

It's a lovely sunny day

It is as well - after yesterday's dull and wet it made a pleasant change to wake up to bright sunlight. My other half was sick last night and is inclined to blame too much indulgence in chocolates and Christmas pudding. I thought we were doing very well to have got to about 5.00pm without hm feeling ill. His digestive system doesn't always work properly so I suppose neither of us was surprised. He is still feeling fragile today and so has retired to bed.

We watched 'Finding Nemo' on television yesterday. Yes I know - very juvenile - but I love these animations. The films always contain something for adults as well - such as the references to other films as in 'Shrek' - and of course the humour appeals to any age group. The fish with a very poor short term memory - Dorry - not sure the spelling is correct - is my favourite character in 'Nemo'. She always reminds me of those moments we're all familiar with - going into a room and trying to remember why you went in there in the first place.

Today I am taking it easy - apart from loading the washing machine at intervals. I suddenly realised I'd got masses of the stuff sitting glaring at me in the utility room. I shall also be doing some writing a bit later on. I'm reluctant to write more about my current project in case I put a jinx on it.

I've just started reading Victoria Clayton's 'Moonshine' - nearly 700 pages of it. Sort of more up market chick lit I suppose. As I like to have more than one book on the go at once I shall probably start something else before too long.

Happy Boxing Day - or happy St Stephen's day if you prefer.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Innovative services

If you love chocolate you have to read this:

Midnight mass and Christmas

I went to Midnight Mass with my neighbour last night. It was a candlelit service - nightlights at each end of every pew and proper candles everywhere else. The church looked beautiful, and it was a reasonable sized congregation.

Here is a picture of the inside of the church - without candles. Considering this is a small village - less than 1000 inhabitants - it is a magnificent church. It was commenced about 1175 and has a fifteenth century crocketed spire. This has been restored several times in its history including in the last few years. I moved here in 2002 and the spire had scaffolding round it then. The church itself was extensively restored in the Victorian era but still has many older features. It still has live bell ringing as well.

The service last night was cheerful and refreshing. We have a female vicar currently who tends several parishes. Our service started at 10.00pm and ended before midnight and she apologised to us for not staying to say goodbye to us but she had to dash off cross country to the next service which was due to start at 11.30pm. It is a great shame that our national religion has declined to such an extent that this sort of thing has to happen. In some ways we are almost back to the bad old eighteenth century days, where livings were in the gift of landowners who gave several at once to their favourite proteges and services were conducted occasionally if you were lucky.

On n the other hand perhaps I am the last one to moan as I have lived here five years and that was the first time I have set foot inside the church. I went for spiritual refreshment which I received. Perhaps I ought to go more often. I have never been confirmed though I have been Christened - maybe that is also something I need to look at doing in the near future.

I am a bit of a dinosaur I suppose as I still prefer the King James Bible - updating the language has spoilt it for me. It's the old fashioned language that does it in my opinion, and it's the old fashioned language which I remember. I find myself mentally translating everything into the original version. But the carols haven't changed - there's still 'Once in Royal David's City', 'Little Town of Bethlehem', 'In the Bleak MidWinter, 'Come all Ye Faithful.' The latter with its glorious last verse 'Ye Lord we greet thee/ Born this happy morning.' If I was a Catholic I'd still be rooting for the Tridentine Mass.

But our service as I say was relaxed and friendly, the sermon was short and to the point - You already have perfection why try so hard to make all the material things perfect at Christmas? Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas - no I made that last bit up myself. We had mulled wine and mince pies, and everyone was cheerful. There was a good illustration of God and Mammon when we came out - the very loud disco music floating out of the pub across the road. This served as a timely reminder that not everyone celebrates Christmas in the same way.

I think Christmas is too commercialised these days in any case. The mad stampede to the shops shows that perhaps we do not have our priorities right. Muslims and Christians worshiping side by side at Midnight Mass in Bethlehem shown on television said to me that there is hope for the world in these troubled times. Or is it just an indication things will carry on as they always have been? After all, the Crusades - 1000 years ago - were about removing the infidel from the Holy Places - in this case the Infidel meaning the followers of Islam. Strange how the usage of words changes.

At least the Pope and Queen Elizabeth seem to have synchronised their Christmas messages - watch out for the vulnerable. Cormac Murphy O'Connor may not have hit the right note when he urged us to be kind to immigrants - perhaps he should have said be kind to everyone. I think Rowan Williams may have missed the point when he featured Climate change - but that is only my opinion.

That's my Christmas message for the day.

I shall be cooking shortly gammon done in honey, roast potatoes, Brussels Sprouts and peas, followed by Christmas pudding made from Panettone - Waitrose or Sainsbury in case you haven't come across them.

May you have an enjoyable day and a very happy and prosperous and peaceful New Year.

To finish - two pictures from the BBC's news site -

This one is Christians in Iraq to the left.

This one is Christians in Palestine from the same source. To me these sum up my hope for the world. Peace and freedom to follow your own religion.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Dentists Christmas and all that

I rang my dentist today and they will fit me in on Thursday - it could have been today, but my other half felt there would be too much traffic. He did say that if I was in pain he would have taken me today. As it's not hurting I'm happy to wait until Thursday. I think that is excellent service - and it's why I stick with this practice even though a 140 mile round trip is not ideal.

Nothing to do now until Christmas - well apart from cook a meal tonight and go to midnight mass if my neighbour still wants to go. Weather is dull here today having been brilliantly sunny all day yesterday. It was even still daylight at 16.00 yesterday. No I don't think it means that the days are getting longer I think it's just it was a lovely bright day.

Nothing much on the news today to comment on and nothing remarkable on the books read front. I did finish reading 'Twenty Times a Lady' by Karyn Bosnak last night which was enjoyable. Written by the lady who set up a web site to appeal for donations to pay off her debts. She also wrote a very successful book about the experience as well. 'Twenty Times a Lady' is about a girl - Delilah - who decided to revisit all her former lovers to see if she's accidentally overlooked Mr Right. Her hilarious adventures across America and her self analysis in the process makes good light reading. I thought the plot was interesting only to find in the next book I picked up - Shari Low's 'The Motherhood Walk of Fame' - that the heroine mentions a trip she made to meet all the men she'd been engaged to when she was wondering if she'd missed Mr Right!! OK the trip was described in a few paragraphs but it just shows you can't keep a good plot down.

I am currently having a chick lit fest as anyone reading this blog might have gathered. I have loads of other books to read but at the moment I'm in the mood for light reading. I have Judith Cutler's 'The Food Detective' next in line to read - so I'm back to crime with that. Judith Cutler has written several books so I'm hoping she's going to be an author I'll enjoy. I'm always on the look out for authors who have written more than two or three books, and nothing pleases me more than to discover someone I like who has written a dozen or more. I find it very frustrating to hit on an author's debut novel just after it's published because I'm then left waiting for the next one to come out!

But as I read probably about 3 or 4 books a week and many different authors it's not really a problem. This is where EBay and Amazon second hand is useful. I don't mind paying £2 or £3 to see if I like an author because I usually then go on to buy new.

I'm starting to wonder whether all authors and would be authors ought to make a point of buying one self published or small press book every month, to try and get more publicity for the independents. I often pick up ideas for new authors to try from Writers' News and Writing Magazine. That was how I first came across 'Pink Champagne and Apple Juice'.

But I'm waffling. Writing a blog appears to be addictive!

Happy Christmas everyone

PS I like the name Delilah - I wrote a short story about a girl called Delilah who had been to art school and whose nickname was Dali - from when she was going through a surreal period. It went through to the final judging stage in - I think - The Cotswold Writers' short story competition in 2004/05.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Housewife On Top

I thought this needed a post on its own. I finished Alison Penton Harper's 'Housewife on Top' last night. The characters also feature in her two previous books - 'Housewife Down' and 'Housewife Up'. They are all memorable. There is Helen - the merry widow (the housewife of the title); her friends Leonie and Marcus, Sally and Paul; sister Julia and her husband David and Helen's boss Rick. Added to this eccentric bunch is the glamorous and exotic Rosa who moves into the downstairs flat from Helen.

The book is funny with many laugh out loud moments. Helen has agreed to organise Christmas for Leonie who hates it. She also gets to organise it for Rick including buying presents for his many offspring by many different mothers. She is concerned about sister Julia who has hooked up again with the love of her life and appears to be having a mid-life crisis rather early.

The party which Rosa holds for all her friends and acquaintances is brilliantly described. The last few pages had me in tears, having had me laughing shortly before. Very good light reading with some marvellously eccentric characters.

Anne you would love Sally and Paul who are a gay couple - Sally is really Salvatore and a brilliant creation. Paul lends Helen some chandelier type earrings for Rosa's Christmas party and advises her on what to wear.


Yes OK this is hardly a cheerful subject for the festive season, but I have just been reading the BBC's web site about soup kitchens encouraging rough sleeping. I can understand the theory behind that as in if you provide the mechanisms for supporting rough sleeping you make it possible for people to do it. But then isn't that what some people believe about the welfare state in general? Withdraw the financial support and people will suddenly miraculously become model citizens with a 9-5 job, house and car etc. Yes, OK I fully accept that some people living rough and some people living on benefit probably could help themselves and don't choose to and also some people would rather live outside society and not have to be bound by its rules and restrictions.

What horrifies me and always has done is the fact that a civilised developed country like Britain actually has people who do sleep rough. Why? When I lived near Norwich and worked in the city centre there were almost always one or two rough sleepers in our doorway each morning when I got to work. There were also many beggars - with or without dog and/or mobile phone. Here in Lincolnshire I don't think I've ever seen anyone begging or sleeping rough. But Lincolnshire has a lower average wage than Norfolk. There is something doesn't add up here. Especially when you put these together with all the beggars and rough sleepers I remember seeing when I visited Canterbury two or three years ago. I would think Canterbury is a fairly prosperous City.

So why do we have more rough sleepers/beggars in apparently prosperous areas? Not that I can claim my own experiences as scientific research of course. Is it because they will get more money/help in the more prosperous areas? In the poorer areas people have less money to spare? Is it that housing is cheaper in poorer areas so there is less homelessness? But as wages are correspondingly lower it cancels out the advantage.

What is the answer? I'm not claiming to know. I wish I did. I just find it seriously offensive that we have not yet found a way in this country to make sure that everyone has a roof over their heads every night. I'm not talking here about people like my former neighbour who worked in the oil industry and could not drink for weeks on end whilst he was working. When he was home he used to go out and get drunk and try and cycle home - usually ending up sleeping it off in the hedge! I would not call anyone like him a true rough sleeper. I'm most concerned about the people who for whatever reason choose or are compelled by their circumstances to live on our streets.

But then we have the perhaps questionable motives of some of those who run soup kitchens or shelters. Do they believe they are helping to solve the problem? Do they do it because it makes them feel better? Do their motives matter or is it just the results that count? What can be done to ensure everyone can have a roof over their heads? I have a suspicion it is not just a question of money because if it was I'm sure it could be solved quickly.

I'm know the problem will not be solved this Christmas.

I was surprised by the BBC's article which says there are about 500 people sleeping rough on the streets of Britain every night. Is this figure right? I would have thought from the rest of the article that perhaps that figure only applied to London - read the article here:
I suppose that figure does not include those who might have found a bed in a hostel but who are actually homeless, which would account for the huge numbers who will visit the soup kitchens over the next few days.

On a similar theme. I find the usual charity appeals made by many newspapers at Christmas very irritating. They are usually for charities which will help people overseas - why? Whilst we still have people living rough on the streets here shouldn't we be collecting for them? I was particularly incensed by an appeal by one of the papers for a charity which helps people with eye sight problems in Africa. Yes I know this is a worthy cause but what about eye sight problems in this country? Research is notoriously under funded and many treatments are not available on the NHS - why weren't they appealing for the RNIB and related charities in this country?

It sometimes seems to me that we would almost rather help people abroad than tackle the problems in our own country. Is it guilt? Or is it lack of knowledge of the real issues under our noses?

Rant over for today.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Teeth etc

As a follow up to my earlier post about getting problems fixed I bit into a home made sausage roll earlier and one of my crowns came out. At one time this would not have been a big issue with my dentist five minutes walk from where I worked. Now my dentist is 70 miles away - about 1.5hrs by car or by train. As I made the sausage rolls I can't even blame anyone else for this mishap!

I don't fancy these buy over the counter kits to fix things like that so it will mean a trip back to Norwich from Lincolnshire I'm afraid. In case anyone is wondering why I don't have a dentist nearer home it's because the one I go to is good and it's private and the state of my teeth I would hate to start again with another dentist who I'm sure would charge an absolute fortune.

Dentists are rarer than hens' teeth - pun intended - in Lincolnshire.

So if there are any dentists out there reading this and you want to open a new practice - try Lincolnshire. I can guarantee you'll have queues round the block. I know someone who has been on a waiting list of 500 people. He'd been on that 2 years before they invited him to an appointment - which was made for him - he didn't have a choice of when. He had been travelling back to Evesham, Worcestershire before that for two years, and during that time he couldn't even get on the waiting list he had to go on to get on the real waiting list. In the mean time he's moved to a different part of the county but hasn't got the stamina to start again with another one.

Plumbers, Anthony Powell and Amazon

Hah! that's hooked everyone who thought this was going to be something erudite and literary! Seriously though, I have just read Anne Brooke's writing blog - see link - and then followed the link to her interview with Chroma, where she mentions 'A Dance to the Music of Time'. Funnily enough it was my fault that the Anthony Powell Society was formed, as I introduced Keith Marshall to the books in the first place and got him hooked on them. Strange how apparently trivial actions can have such large repercussions as I mentioned in my comment on Anne's blog.
The Zen Mischief link is Keith's own blog and the Anthony Powell web site can be found here

But now to plumbers. I am £78 poorer today but I now have hot water and can stop having cold showers! Simon Barker of Spalding you are a star! You came out the day after our phone call, and arrived when you said you would - and what's more you fixed the problem. We have this electronic box of tricks where the airing cupboard should be called a Boilermate - made by Gledhill. It runs our heating and hot water linked to an oil fired boiler, and provides an electric powered back up should the boiler fail. It gives us hot water on demand - normally. But the sensor had gone wrong and we were getting cold water. Many plumbers don't know what they are and how they work, and normally they don't need any maintenance - except the hot water sensor fails about every 5 years. We've been in the house just about 5 years. Anyway it's fixed now and we have the name of a reliable plumber who understands oil fired boilers and Boilermates.

So a good day as one of the problems on my list is fixed. Actually I think most of them have been fixed now as we had to buy a new printer - the old one decided it wasn't going to print the colour yellow - and the new one arrived yesterday. I don't think I'm waiting for anything else to be fixed now, so I can relax and have a good Christmas.

I have just signed up to Amazon Prime which for those who didn't know about it involves paying £49 per year and getting free one day delivery without having to wait until you've picked enough books to put the order total over £15 and then waiting for your super saver free delivery which sometime takes forever. I decided that I would probably order fewer books and so save money as I wouldn't always be looking for books to make it up to the right price. Well that's what I told myself. Of course I had to test it out and I can verify it works! Obviously if the book isn't in stock it won't be that quick, but you still get free first class delivery when it is dispatched. It looks like being a good thing. It also saves you money on express delivery, though if you've got one day delivery I can't see the point of express, but I suppose some people are just super impatient. Of course Amazon Prime doesn't work with their second hand sellers only Amazon itself, but it always says on the listing whether the item is eligible.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Hearts and Minds

I finished reading Rosy Thornton's 'Hearts and Minds' last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not at all like her first book, but as I am always keen on novels set in universities I was quite happy to read this one. James Rycarte has been appointed Mistress - or should that be Master? - of St Radegund's College, Cambridge. He is a man in a woman's world as it is an all female college.
The college is faced with a serious moral dilemma. It needs a large amount of money to restore the college library which is slowly sinking into the Fens.

Along comes an Italian benefactor willing to offer the money in exchange for his daughter's entry to the college. In addition to potentially compromising its admissions policy the college has to decide whether the money has been honestly come by - especially when the potential donor is arrested in Italy for corruption.

James is faced with trying to do the best for the college without making to many enemies in the process. He establishes a rapport with the senior tutor, who's marriage is falling about her ears, and whose days at the college are numbered. Sometimes Martha seems to be his only friend at the college. Will James survive his baptism of fire and manage to keep his job?

The moral dilemmas involved take this book above the common run and turn it into a thoughtful and humorous story which pokes gentle fun at some of the characters who can be found at any Oxbridge college.

I'm now reading Alison Penton Harper's 'Housewife on Top', successor to 'Housewife Down and 'Housewife Up'

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

SAD etc

Yes it is definitely what I suffer from in winter! I felt really crotchety yesterday and every minor thing that went wrong seemed a major disaster. I did go out in the morning but obviously didn't get enough daylight. Today I walked to our post office - about 5 minutes walk - and feel a lot better. Also used my alarm with the gradually brightening light on it to wake me up - this definitely helped as well.

I'm still reading Rosy Thornton's 'Hearts and Minds' - if you like Oxbridge novels then this will be right up your street. Reminiscent of the background to Dorothy L Sayers' 'Gaudy Night' though this is not a crime story, and it's set in Cambridge not Oxford. I will write about it in more detail when I've finished it. I would not describe this as chick lit as it deals with some serious moral issues. I do like Oxbridge novels - probably because I didn't go to university myself. I expect I have a very rosy picture of life there. Jill Paton-Walsh's Imogen Quy novels are also good reading - set in Cambridge, but this time with a college nurse as the main protagonist. This is a brilliant scenario for confessions from all and sundry and being able to talk to anyone you want to without arousing suspicions.

Today I have had my Tesco delivery and the cupboards, fridge and freezer are full with enough food to last us until - oh at least next year! Apart from the midnight service on Christmas Eve I have no intention of going anywhere now for at least a week.

I need to start writing again and I think this is causing some of my less than placid mood. It's just that at the moment reading seems to hold more attraction. Writing is starting to look more interesting now I am updating this blog a bit more often.

I'm now off to review some of my favourite Internet sites and then review previous writing efforts.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Ship of fools

If you want some humour with your religion then you could do worse than try which labels itself as 'The Magazine of Christian Unrest'. Here you can join in the search for a pizza with the face of Our Lord on it, create your own Virgin Mary piece of toast and see some very good religious cartoons. You can even buy a Virgin Mary memory stick. Then if you click on one of the links it will give you some interesting facts about today in history. One of the snippets for today - 17 December - is as follows:

It is St Olympias's Day, a wealthy widow who gave vast amounts to the poor and became a deaconness in John Chrysostom's Constantinople. She is chiefly celebrated for making things difficult for John's successor after he was deposed.

You can also buy a St Laurence pincushion to recreate his torment of being tied to a tree and having arrows fired at him. In appallingly bad taste I know but I could not resist a chuckle at some of the stuff on there. I could not help thinking that it would have been taken down long ago if it had been about any other religion . . .

I have done the last of my Christmas shopping today - mainly food bits and pieces. Once I get my Tesco order tomorrow, that will be it for us. Anything else we don't have we'll have to do without. I need to make some pork and apple sausage rolls but that is definitely it this year. Surprisingly enough the smallish - 25,000 population - local town where we went this morning to shop, was relatively quiet. We had deliberately picked 8.30am as being a quiet time, but hadn't expected it to be quite that empty.

The supermarkets, and Marks & Spencer Simply Food, all seemed to be stacked to the rafters with no one buying. I can only presume there will be a stampede later in the week - which I intend to avoid.

I'm not due back at work now until 2 weeks on Wednesday and I intend to make the most of my time off - reading and maybe even writing as well as surfing the net without one eye on clock like I usually do.

Off to read some more of Rosy Thornton's 'Hearts and Minds' - about a man in a woman's world.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Rumpole and Christmas lunch

I finished reading John Mortimer's latest Rumpole - 'The anti-social behaviour of Horace Rumpole'. It was great fun as usual with Rumpole taking swipes at the stupidities of the establishment. At last he has the support of Leonard Bullingham the judge usually referred to as the mad bull. There is an uneasy truce between them because the bull plays bridge with Hilda - she who must be obeyed. Rumpole decides to try for silk - but fails at the last hurdle because he will not listen to a Government Minister. There is also a Civil Servant who is accused of murdering a Russian prostitute and one of the Timson clan with an ASBO. Add to this mix a spot of people trafficking and you have some very up to the minute mayhem. A good read as ever, if rather short. I think I prefer the books of short stories, but any Rumpole is better than none at all. His love of the simple things in life and a certain sense of fair play make these books multi-layered reading. There are serious points beneath the humour and the beautifully delineated characters.

I went out for Christmas lunch with the team I work with today, and really enjoyed it. I prefer socialising with small groups and there were 8 of us which was perfect. The small restaurant/bar we went to was pleasant and the food was good and good value. In the main we do not talk all that much at work, and it was lovely to find that we could talk about other things than work. I was going to write that we have a wide range of ages, but actually now our youngest member has moved to another office we actually don't. We're mainly 40s and 50s with one over 60, who could retire and doesn't want to. We had our manager with us as we all get on well with her and it was nice to relax and just chat. No one got too drunk especially as several people had to drive home, but we all had enough to be slightly merry. One of our number has only just come out from a messy divorce and it was good to see him enjoying himself. The whole thing actually made me feel a bit Christmassy at last and I went home feeling definitely unstressed.

Off to find something I fancy reading in my to read pile and chill out.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Monday . . .

Hospital appointment out of the way for a couple of months - not much change and nothing worth treating which will make any difference. Good news - other eye not affected. So on with my life again. I'm always in a scratchy mood before and just after. Back to normality now and on with the reading.

Started reading 'The Anti-Social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole' as I felt I needed a treat. Not finished it yet, but I will write about it when I have.

Why is it that people at work leave their common sense outside the door? I can't elaborate on that without getting into trouble but suffice it to say I have read so many stupid memos today that I'm practically reduced to Victor Meldrew's level 'I don't believe it!' A slight smidgen of common sense could well have prevented all the memo writers making fools of themselves.

I went out at lunchtime to get some gift tags - you know - the things you tie or stick on Christmas parcels? Woolworths, I thought - they're bound to have them, and I can get some chocolate as well. How wrong can you be? Christmas wrapping paper on a display stand - got to be the place - turn over small packet that looked hopeful - fairy light bulbs - ribbon in all shades of the rainbow - Christmas cards - temper fraying now as I was being buffeted by the crowd - turn over another small packet - GRHHHH!! - MORE fairy light bulbs. Calm down, calm down - look for chocolate - Lindt's Lindor - no!! It's Christmas - you can't just have chocolate you have to have boxes not bars. At which point I left Woolworths and headed for a market stall - it was market day - success!! I ended up with an Eccles cake from the bakers instead of chocolate - AND I had to queue for it!!

Relieved stress when I got back by filling in the staff survey . . . . Very very negative. Good thing it's anonymous!!

Most people's tempers seem to be fraying at the moment, and I shall be glad when we get to Christmas.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Heaven sent

I'm half way through Christina Jones' 'Heaven Sent'. I've read all her books and they're really good light reading. There has to be a bit of suspension of disbelief here as regards the 'magic' involved in all her books, but if you can deal with this you should find them amusing. This one is about making fireworks. Characters who have appeared in previous books appear in this one - Jemima and Charlie, Lola, the Berkeley brothers and the Pinks, as well as Mitzi Blessing and Amber from recent books. From this book there is the unforgettable Guy Devlin and YaYa Bordello - the best drag queen in the business. How could I have missed out the unforgettable Suggs the ferret. A brilliant read, and you can learn a lot about making fireworks as well. Thank you Christina for keeping me amused before my medical appointment later today.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Second time lucky

I have now finished Sophie King's 'Second Time Lucky'. No, it's not about getting back with the husband you've just divorced, though that scenario does come into it at one point. All the characters live in a cover ted stately home, including Roddy whose childhood home it was. He is struggling to overcome alcoholism. Then there are Marcie and David who are trying for a baby, and Marcie is struggling with her stepchildren and her thesis. Mollie De May is a retired actress whose husband has just died, and is not getting on very well with her stuffy son. She is also being haunted by the ghost of her late husband. Louise has had to move out of her six bed roomed home because her husband has gone off with someone else, but there is nice kind dependable Guy waiting in the wings. All the children are characters in their own right, and if you add to this mix a pregnant actress - who is the father? - a chocolate Labrador called Hector and a burglar called Kevin, and a cleaning lady called Sally who is into alternative health, you have an incendiary mix. The book is funny and sad at times, but well worth reading if you want a relaxing few hours. It does have more weight than your average Aga Saga. I enjoyed it.


What miserable weather! It's cold and wet and typical December. This is not my favourite month of the year even though it is my birthday month. I think I probably suffer from SAD as I never really feel normal again until February. That's not to say I'm down in the dumps all the time because I'm not. I just feel as though I have to try extra hard to get motivated. Most of the year I'm out of bed by 8.00am at the latest. The last two days I've not got up before 10.00!

I've only got this week to work and then I'm off until January 2nd. We're not doing anything for Christmas, just staying at home and relaxing. I really do not like the current trend of busy, busy, busy. Everyone needs time to sit and relax. Why put so much pressure on yourself to fit all sorts of things in if you don't enjoy them? I have days when I do fit lots in and enjoy it, but I can't do it all the time.

Once again I failed to take part in National Novel Writing Month. In case you haven't heard of it, it's all about aiming to complete 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. Doesn't matter whether the writing is good or bad - just write and don't revise. I haven't looked at the web site recently, but I don't think there's a prize - just the satisfaction of achieving it. Some books which started in this way have gone on to be published.
Web site:
Obviously this year's is over - but how about making a date for next November? I might just do that.

Off to finish Sophie Kings' 'Second Time Lucky.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

A dangerous man

I finished reading Anne Brooke's 'A Dangerous Man' this week. It is a book that lingers in your mind long after you've finished it. It doesn't really fall into any particular category - it contains a crime and a love story but does not fit under either heading. It is a story of Michael's obsession with his art, and his need to transcend his past. There is Joe, who has an unrequited love for Michael, and Paul who is a nasty piece of work. Then there is Jack, a wealthy business man, who loves Michael from when he first meets him. Because of his abusive uprbringing Michael finds it impossible to accept Jack's love for what it is, and ultimately it is this flaw in his character that causes the violent and tragic ending. Here is a lesson in how by trying too hard to escape from our flaws we will ultimately destroy the things we love. Powerful and dark, the book describes gay relationships in a way which brings home to the reader the similarities between all relationships.

I also in the same week, by way of contrast, read some of Erica James' 'Tell it to the Skies' and was disappointed by it. I read her books because they are well written escapism and this one contained too much reality. I didn't finish it because I found the characters surprisingly uninteresting. I'm sure some people will read it and think it excellent, especially if they have not read anything else by her, but I just could not get into it and gave up after about 100 pages. Perhaps I should not have read it at the same time as ADM.

In search of escapism I am now reading 'Second Chance' by Sophie King, and will report on that at a later date.

Surprisingly I have had the latest Rumpole from John Mortimer on my to read pile and have not yet started it. Usually I pounce on these the moment they're published, and re-read them regularly. I think I had it in mind to read over Christmas.

I'm off on Monday for my 3 monthly check up on my eyes. With wet age related macular degeneration in one eye, even though I hate going I know it's a necessity. I get so wound up before I go, though fortunately I haven't felt too bad this time. I am hoping in the next few years that they will find a cure for it, and I watch out for the latest developments. Currently treatment with your own stem cells seems to be promising, but who knows how long this will take to be available? AMD seems to be every much the Cinderalla disease. It is not much talked about and research is significantly under funded. Glaucoma is widely publicised, but unless you know someone with AMD you may not be aware of it.

In spite of lack of awareness and treatment ( I'm in BUPA fortunately) about 500,000 people in this country are affected by it. The figures for the developed world are about 1 in 50 of the over fifties and 1 in 5 of the over 85s. Often wet AMD - where blood vessels leak and damage cells in the macular, is not spotted early enough for the treatment that is available to be effefctive, as the good eye tends to compensate for loss of vision in the eye that is affected. Ho hum. Must stop brooding on it and concentrate on things now rather than in the future.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The chocolate lovers' diet

I loved 'The Chocolate Lovers' Diet' by Carole Matthews. It is the sequel to 'The Chocolate Lovers' Club'. 4 friends - Nadia, Autumn, Lucy and Chantel - are chocoholics. They meet whenever there is an emergency in their lives at a cafe called Chocolate Heaven. What happens when Lucy finds herself mixed up with her ex-fiance Marcus; Nadia tries to find out whether her estranged husband has kicked his gambling habit; Chantel decides she'd like to get back with her estranged husband Ted and Autumn wonders whether she'll ever be free of her drug addict brother. As I said in my Amazon review, the wedding day is worthy of an Ealing comedy. Whilst the book is strictly chick lit it does have its more sombre moments and deals with some serious issues - on-line gambling, male prostitutes - for women that is - debt, pregnancy when you don't know who the father is, drug addiction, class divisions. Well worth a read - epsecially if you cannot resist descriptions of chocolate!

I reviewed my to read pile and finally chose 'The Diary of an on-call girl' by E E Bloggs. This is written by a WPC and is along the lines of the popular blog turned book called 'Wasting Police Time' by PC David Copperfield - another pseudonym. I think I've read most of the current crop of 'reality' books and found all of them engrossing. What is there to beat an insider's view of their own profession?

I have just received today in the post Rosie Thornton's 'Hearts and Minds', and I'm looking forward to starting it. Its theme seems to be how a man survives in a woman's world. I shall say no more until I've read it.

I have read so many really good books lately. It seems to me the standard of published books is increasing though perhaps I'm reading more widely that I used to. This is very much thanks to dovegreyreader - linked to this blog - and to Writers' News and Writing Magazine. Amazon having the facility to search inside books also makes me try things I might otherwise not consider at all. Then of course there's cheap second hand books available. I don't mind paying £2-£3 to try an unknown author. Though I also buy loads of new books as well.

Off to have a shower and curl up with 'Diary' as above, with maybe a dip into 'A dangerous man' and 'Hearts and Minds' as well.

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Hit List

I finished reading Anne Brooke's 'The Hit List' last night. If you want something a bit different - though not in the same vein as 'Pink Champagne and Apple Juice' by the same author - then go for 'The Hit List'. Jamie is doing sterling work looking after his cantankerous elderly father and running his own business from home. His half brother, Mark, the apple of his father's eye, is working in Japan.
One of Jamie's friends from University returns to the village in Suffolk where he and his father live. But David appears to be gay, which he definitely never used to be - which worries Jamie - who soon adds him to his hit list of people he really needs to do away with to improve his quality of life. Then there is Robert - Mark's former boss - who turns up after six years away. The reason for his absence only becomes clear as the story progresses.
Naturally his father who is always comparing him unfavourably with Mark is top of the hit list. I was on tenterhooks wondering how and when Jamie was going to succeed in carrying out his list. The sexuality of many of the main characters is constantly in doubt which adds to the drama. It is not a comfortable book though there are many moments of comedy.

I am also reading - in complete contrast - Carole Matthews' 'The Chocolate Lovers' Diet'. This is chick lit though it does have a bite to it, apart from the chocolate, with a suicide because of huge debts, a drug problem and its effects on immediate family, and two gay men running a chocolate themed cafe . The book has a feel good factor to it with its emphasis on the power of female freindship.

What's next on the list to be read? John Cowper Powys 'A Glastonbury Romance'; Anne Brooke 'A Dangerous Man'; John Mortimer 'The Anti Social behaviour of Horace Rumpole', Erica James 'Tell it to the Skies' - the pile is growing ever taller. I know I buy books at a faster rate than I read them, so eventually I'm liable to disappear under a pile of unread books!! To stop that happening I'm off to decide what to read next.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Agatha Raisin and others

I have just finished reading the latest Agatha Raisin - 'Kissing Christmas Goodbye' by M C Beaton. This is one of the best ones. The detective agency is thriving and Agatha takes on a new detective - Toni - female and 18. She turns out to be an asset to the firm, and is probably going to be a permanent character in the series . I won't give away why that is - you'll just have to read the book! Agatha is longing to see ex-husband James who has said he will arrive home in time for Christmas. Agatha, naturally determines to make the celebrations as perfect as possible. At work she is dealing with a lady who believes - not without cause - that her family are out to get her. Well worth a read especially curled up inside on a cold day.

I have belatedly read some of the comments made by Rosie back in October, and have, belatedly again ordered her new book this is 'Hearts and Minds' by Rosie Thornton. I enjoyed 'More than Love Letters' and I'm looking forward to this one.

I've just had an e-mail to say that I won a hardback copy of R F Delderfield's 'The Spring Madness of Mr Sermon' on Ebay. I'm very pleased because I've been trying to get a hardback for the last three years. Years ago I read his Swann Saga which started with 'God is an Englishman' and found it engrossing. The same with the Avenue series and the one about the school which included 'To Serve them all my Days'. One day quite by chance I came across 'the Spring Madness of Mr Sermon'. It features a school teacher who suddenly walks out of a class room in the middle of a lesson and goes in search of adventure. What happens to him makes fascinating reading. I do enjoy books about people who break out of their pigeon hole and dare to be someone different.

I have acquired a habit belonging to the younger generations - an MP3 player. No I did not go for an ipod. I have a sleek silver Sony Walkman. I have had it for nearly two years and I used to take it away with me to listen to when I was staying in hotels for work. Now I have a job where I'm in the same office pretty well all the time so I don't get as much chance to use it. Since it's been too dark really to read on the bus to and from work I now listen to my Walkman instead. My music is often classical - selections from opera and orchestral music, Charlotte Church, music from films such as 'Cabaret' and 'Evita', The Corries, Abba, Neil Diamond, Baroque music by various composers, Eurovision songs, Andrea Boccelli - a pretty eclectic mix all in all. Trouble is I realise I've started to sing along with it if I'm not careful, and my singing is hopeless even though I love music. I can see I'm in danger of being carted off to the funny farm if I'm not careful.

Off to curl up with a good book . . . . .

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Pink Champagne and Apple Juice

I have just finished reading Anne Brooke's novel 'Pink Chmapagne and Apple Juice'. It is really good. Angie runs away from home and descends unnanounced on Uncle John - the black sheep of the family. He turns out to be a transvestite running his own club for like minded people in Muswell Hill. How Uncle John welcomes her into his home and yet manages not to 'corrupt' (her mother's word) her in the process makes for an amusing story. There are serious aspects to it though and Angie has to come to terms with John's role in the break up of her own family before the end of the story.

As might be expected the book is full of colourful and yet believable characters. Derek the doorman, Malcolm - Uncle John's lover, Philippe the French waiter and Heinrich the German chef who always cooks mushrooms. Thrown into the mix is Lisa - Angie's friend from university - who turns out to be lesss of a friend than might be expected. This is a brilliant story and it would make a good film or tv drama. Why it hasn't been snapped up by a main stream publisher I don't know. It deserves to become a classic like John Hadfield's 'Love on a Branch Line'.

It doesn't fit into any particular category and will still be readable in 20 years time. Go out and buy it! Anne Brooke has her own web site - and a blog at

I've also read Mary Nickson's 'Secrets and Shadows'. A group of people meet on a creative writing week in Scotland. All have secrets and shadows in their lives. Some are known to each other, some are strangers. All are changed by the course. Some find happiness where they least expected it others have a harsher future in front of them. Some have to make compromises and some find their ambitions are not realisable in the form they had hoped for. Interesting reading if you want a change from light fiction. This is still not heavy reading but it is more thought provoking than many.

I have just bought Ken Follett's 'Pillars of the Earth' which looks like a hefty read at over 1000 pages. It's about the building of a cathedral in the twelfth century. There is a sequel to it - recently published - 'World Without End'. On an epic scale I've bought John Cowper Powys' 'A Glastonbury Romance'. I've come across his books before mentioned in Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series. if you want more information.

Back to work tomorrow - I shall have to cut down on my reading then - not as much time.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Paper dolls

Now I know why there are so many blogs out there in cyberspace - it's because people start them with good intentions and then never add any more posts!

I was browsing Amazon - as you do - and came across a category that I did not even know still existed - paper dolls to cut out and then dress with cut out paper clothes. I remember them from my childhood. I preferred them to 'proper' dolls. Now you can get film stars - Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly - Maria Callas, Bill Clinton, John F Kennedy, Robert Reagan etc etc. As well as historical costumes and costumes from films. There is far more variety than there was in the 1950s. I was almost tempted to buy one but there were nearly 500 to choose from and I couldn't make up my mind which one.

I've just finished reading 'Sepulchre' by Kate Mosse. I think it was better than 'Labyrinth'. Definitely not a book you want to read on your own in an old house. It covered some of the usual ground - Holy bBood and Holy Grail territory. The 1891 part of the story was set near where the Abbe Sauniere was flourishing at the time -Rrennes le Chateau - and even brought the man himself in as a minor character.
I thought the modern day story was more convincing. Meredith - an American -is writing a biography of Debussy and visiting places he lived during his life time. She is also going to take time out to trace her own family history. Coincidence - she stays in a hotel which was once the home of one of her ancestors. The book as a whole was gripping as such stories often are, and Meredith does not get her happy ending without a few murders along the way. A mysterious and pwerful Tarot pack is involved in both stories.

I was just reading about bullying on the news sites. It was something I really was not aware of when I was at school. People didn't speak to you for a few days and then it was on to someone else - big deal - what goes round comes round. Name calling is not bullying - why do people think it is? If someone sends you nasty text messages - complain about it! People can be banned from having a mobile phone. If someone puts nasty things about you on the internet - don't read them! Victims can take action themselves - and no reaction from the victim means the bully goes elsewhere. Stand up to them and bullying ceases to be fun. In some cases bullying only works because everyone is so worried about what others think of them. If you aren't worried what people think then you can't be bullied. The same rules apply in adult life.

I have been bullied at work and it was only because I didn't make enough fuss about it that it worked. As soon as I started complaining loudly and publicly about it the bullies slunk into the shadows. It made me feel better too. If you're bullied as an adult don't worry about being reasonable - complain, stamp your feet, have a tantrum, burst into tears. If your manager doesn't do anything go higher up the chain - someone won't want the bad publicity you can give them. Don't be a victim - oppose the bullies. People only bully because it stops them feeling insecure.
Make sure you don't use bullying tactics yourself. If you're a manager think about how people are reacting to instructions you give. Be firm and fair - don't pick on one person. If someone isn't pulling their weight help them improve.

Lecture over! We wouldn't need laws if everyone was considerate and courteous.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Phil Rickman

I have just emerged blinking into the sunlight having read Phil Rickman's latest installment in his series about Merrily Watkins, parish priest and part time 'Deliverance consultant'. To the uninitiated this is the current term for the old fashioned exorcist. For anyone who wants to know exactly what an exorcist does these are excellent. This is understated horror with insights into all things occult, including in this volume - 'The Fabric of Sin' - a foray into the murkier regions of Templar history in Britain not to speak of a sinister masonic influence.

What is most interesting to someone who has read the rest of the series is the development of characters - Merrily's teenaged daughter Jane is growing up but not losing her enquiring mind, Merrily's relationship with Lol is developing and deepening. Frannie Bliss - the policeman is still there as is Gomer Parry the former plant hire man and stalwart of the village of Ledwardine in Herefordshire on the border with Wales. The village - fictional - reminds me of Ludlow with its black and white houses. The real Hereford appears as well, and of course the cathedral there features.

I thoroughly recommend this series for a well written and well researched clutch of novels showing the darker side of life and the Church of England. They deserve to be better known. As do the novels of Kate Charles and Susan Howatch. Kate Charles does not cover quite the same ground and her novels usually feature a crime, though the background is the clergy and the Church. Susan Howatch in her trilogy about the St Benet's healing centre - 'The Wonder Worker', 'The High Flyer' and 'The Heartbreaker' covers similar ground though more about the ministry of healing than the deliverance ministry. Her 6 Starbrdge novels do touch on deliverance though.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Books etc

I finished reading 'In stitches' by Dr Nick Edwards over the weekend and all engrossing it was too. It just shows how people misuse the emergency services as well as showing the heroic work the staff of an A & E near you do. Needs to be read as an antidote to politicians pontificating about how much they've done for the NHS and programmes like'Casualty'. It's written in blog type format and started off life as a blog, so it's easy to read but it doesn't undermine the serious points the author is trying to make. The most important of which is the unintended consequences of arbitrary targets - for example the time limit which means that more people are admitted than is medically necessary to stop the department breaching its four hour target of either admitting or discharging people. I recommend it as necessary reading to see the NHS from the point of view of the people who work in it.

Looking back at previous posts, I have now finished 'Dark Hearts of Chicago' and recommend it to anyone who likes historical novels with a well researched background.

I have also read over the last week or so: Sally Nicoll's 'Bets and the City' about what happened when a novice decides to take up spreadbetting on the financial markets - think Nick Leeson on a smaller scale. I put myself off the idea for life! This is not for me.

I like Catherine Fox's writing - her latest is 'Fight the Good Fight' about how a clergyman's wife in her forties got to grips with Judo. Her style is always humorous but she has some profound observations to make about life in general and about her life as a vicar's wife.

I'm currently reading chick-lit in the shape of Carole Matthews' 'The Chocolate Lover's Club.' It prompted me to search the internet for quality chocolates. They all sound totally drool worthy but the prices are completely OTT - £45 for a box of chocolates?? Not even a big box at that. I'll stick to Thorntons or Green & Black or even my local Lidl who do some very good chocolate at a very low price - 3 longish sticks of 36%, 55% or 80% cocao solids - very moreish without breaking the bank.

I have succumbed in recent weeks to the power of internet grocery shopping. Much though I dislike Tesco I now place an internet order about every three weeks. It saves me so much energy not to speak of diesel and aggro and time that I came to the conclusion it was worth it. I only did it the first time because I was feeling very unwell - a trip in the middle of the night to casualty had rather knocked me for six. I'd nearly passed out and wasn't feeling any better half an hour later. I could not have wished for better treatment - this was 2.00am on a Tuesday morning, so I did not have to wait - blood pressure ecg etc did not reveal anything major except blood pressure slightly too low. My GP suggested a few hours later - I'd been recommended to go as soon as I could - that I might have a virus. I presume that meant he hadn't got a clue and thought I'd recover on my own - which I duly did. But I did feel very shaky for several days afterwards - hence my conversion to internet shopping. I could not fault the treatment I received at the hands of the A & E staff at the Boston Pilgrim Hospital so a big thank you to them. That's UK not USA.

Back to the reading - I still have the latest Harry Potter unread on the pile. I'm not sure why. I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually.

Back to work tomorrow. I know I'm getting ready for retirement when I start thinking that provided I manage to retire at 60 there's only 4 more August Bank Holidays before the happy day. Roll on retirement!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Not read Harry Potter yet

But it arrived yesterday by post from Amazon. I have cheated and looked at the final page. I shall read it in full but I have other books to read at the moment.

Currently reading 'Miss Mapp' by E F Benson. This is the fifth one of the Mapp and Lucia books that I've read. I've been reading them out of order but it doesn't spoil the delicious social comedy. I recommend these to anyone who loves a comedy of manners or anyone who is trying to write one. They are as fresh as the day they were first published in the 1920s and 1930s. A favourite of Noel Coward.

I did finish 'Season of the Witch' by Natsha Mostert and was thoroughly unnerved by it. An excellent book.

I'm also reading 'Dark Hearts of Chicago' by William Horwood and Helen Rappaport. Very good and absolutely marvellous historically as you might expect. It shows the seamy side of Chicago at the height of the World Fair in 1893 in complete contrast to the glamour of the fair itself. This was a society in the melting pot, with a mixture of races and creeds and the emerging women's movement not to speak of the barbaric treatment of anyone with the faintest hint of mental illness.

I have started writing again after a long break and have written a couple of letters to magazines and a book review. I will report on here if I have any success. So far - fingers crossed - every letter I have sent in has been published. About 20 in all. So I must be doing something right if you put that together with the one short story I've had published and a short story that got to the final judging in a competition.

Off to EBay now where I'm bidding on a couple of Jill Churchills. I haven't read the Tim Pears yet but it's getting near the top of the reading pile.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Season of the Witch

I am reading 'Season of the Witch' by Natasha Mostert. The gothic horror novel par excellence. It's scaring me rigid and I'm really not sure whether I'll read it all word for word. Two sisters and a mysterious house and the art of memory - think Giordano Bruno, Frances Yates and Hermes Trismagistus - not sure whether I got the spelling quite right here. What could be more terrifying than someone taking over your mind? If you put the two sisters and the house together with a 30 something man who is arrogant and confident he can out do anyone in the computer hacking field, as well as being an expert remote viewer - a mind reader - and you have the recipe for disaster.

Gabriel Blackstone is asked by a former lover to find out what happened to her step son who has disappeared. Naturally after initial relutance, he takes on the challenge and comes very close to losing his sanity and his life in the process. But I won't spoil it for you - do read it if you're at all interested in a more sophisticated horror story. It is well written and the characters are believable, and it could just happen. Who knows but this might not be the warfare of the future?

On a lighter note - I have just discovered Jill Churchill - American crime writer. Amusing, light, easy to read - fluff if you like. But every one needs the fluff occasionally.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

On Chesil beach

I have just finished Ian McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach' virtually at one sitting - it is a short book, only just over 160 pages, but well worth reading. It is a masterly piece of fiction with not a cliche to be seen. Every word is made to count and is perfectly in context. If this isn't at least on the Booker long list I shall be surprised and it is in my opinion a worthy winner. 'On Chesil Beach' makes you realise how you can effect the whole course of your life, and other people's, by not saying or doing something at a particular moment. Edward and Florence are all too memorable characters. I loved this book.

Politics and books

I'm usually quite disinterested in local elections but this week's was an absolute gem of the English political scene and brought joy to my heart. I live near Boston in Lincolnshire and councillors for our area sit on the Boston Borough Council. For years Boston has needed a bypass - a proper bypass that is. Currently the A16 goes through the middle of it and there is gridlock every day of the week. Finally we had lots candidates standing as Boston Bypass Independent - with many of them having defected from the main political parties. What happened? They got overall control of the council at the first attempt! This is an absolute triumph for democracy in my opinion - it could only happen in the UK. What their chances of success are is anyone's guess but their going to have a go - and more power to their elbow is all I can say.

Books - I've just finished Nigel Slater's 'Toast' - and very good it was too. Growing up in the 50s and 60s. I remember how fruit cocktail and tinned peaches were a treat for high days and holidays, when choc ices came in silver foil, how the only pre-prepared meals you could get were fish fingers. Whatever happened to Surprise peas? Those little shrivelled green blobs that looked like something you'd throw out rather than eat but tasted delicious after they'd been boiled. And what about Ruffle bars? I also remember coffee crisps - what happened to them? I totally agree with his comment that there's no such thing as a bad crumble!! Thoroughly recommend it for the memories it brings back for anyone growing up in that era. His 'Kitchen Diaries' are very much cookery and food as porn -love it!

I have just bought Tim Pears' 'Blenheim Orchard' and Ian McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach' - thought I'd do some literary reading for a change. I will report back on both of these in due course. I also have William Horwood's 'Dark Hearts of Chicago' to attack as well - but that is going to take a concerted effort as it is rather large, then of course there's Michel Faber's 'The Crimson Petal and the White - another large book, not to speak of Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose'. Somehow I find myself not always keen to start on a large book - unless it is by a favourite author, but I'm sure I'll get there in the end. I've also ordered one of the Mapp and Lucia books by E E Benson. They seem to keep coming onto my radar and are obviously trying to tell me something.

Have also been reading some so called chick lit - Rosy Thornton's 'More than Love Letters' - it makes a change to find a book set in anywhere other than London - this one's set in Ipswich and consists of letters and e-mails with no other narrative. The novel of letters brought up to date. It's still a good format which shows the eighteenth century novelists knew what they were doing. I recommend it for light reading.

I shall sign off as I have bank statements to check, breakfast to eat and a cake to make - and a long weekend to enjoy - no work until Wednesday.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Money saving and Donna Leon

I was recently incensed to discover that if you order new books way in advance of publication date from Amazon you may well end up paying more than if you order close to or after publication. I am prone to order books by favourite authors as soon as they are listed. Now I shall just add them to my wish list and review that regularly so that I pay the lowest price possible. I have recently reviewed all my pre-publication orders and cancelled them where the price shown on the site is now less. Grhh!! But glad I spotted it.

For most books I will look on Amazon second hand listings and on EBay before I commit to buying new in any case. I keep a fairly tight rein on my book collection these days and only retain what I know I will want to read again. Anything else gets read and sold on Amazon or Ebay.

I'm very much into second hand stuff at the moment and I can't remember the last time I bought new clothes from a conventional shop. Even cheap prices strike me as expensive. I was conducting an interview this week and needed to look smart so I wore a black jacket I bought last year and had not worn. £10 on Ebay - if bought in a shop would have cost probably about £90 - and it was new!! It was an Elvi jacket and those of my readers who are familiar with clothes for 'traditionally built ladies' in Alexander McCall Smith's immortal phrase, will know how good their quality is and how expensive they are. In fact my whole outfit on that day cost less than my shoulder bag - which was expensive and was a Christmas present!

Donna Leon - I have just read her latest Brunetti novel - 'Suffer the little children'. Excellent as always though not perhaps up to the standard of 'Through a Glass Darkly'. A convoluted story offering several ethical dilemmas for Brunetti. This time, topically, illegal adoptions. If you have not read Donna Leon then I would thoroughly recommend her for complex characters and motives and the never less than honourable Brunetti himself and his firebrand wife Paola who we don't see enough of. Satisfying well written crime novels with violence only where it is necessary to the story. Love them.

Have just got hold of 'Dark hearts of Chicago' by William Horwood - I saw it reviewed on Dove Grey reader's blog - link above - and it seems like 'a good thing'. I will report when I have read it. Currently reading the never less than trenchant Theodore Dalrymple's 'Romancing Opiates' a polemic against the medicalisation of drug addiction. He's demolished for ever my lurid ideas of withrdawal symptoms - they only last about 3 days and are nothing like we're led to believe. I was fascinated by his quotes from Thomas De Quincy's 'Confessions of an English Opium Eater'. De Quincy apparently used Opium on a very occasional basis for 20 years before becoming an addict. More anon when I've digested it - if that's the right word to use?

Monday, 9 April 2007


It worked!! Well little things please little minds.

New links added I hope . . .

I have just added some links to the template so I hope they will show up - if not it's back to the drawing board!


I finished reading 'Ghostwalk' by Rebecca Stott in less than 24 hours. I found it gripping reading. Lydia returns to Cambridge at the request of a former lover to complete his mother's magnum opus about Sir Isaac Newton. Naturally enough her relationship with the married Cameron takes on a new lease of life. Unfinished business from the past becomes mixed up with dangerous goings on in the present. Neither the reader nor Lydia is sure who they can trust completely. Is Will (short for Willow) really all she seems? What is Dilys Kite - a clairvoyant - really up to? Above all who is the spectral presence with white hair and a red gown and what does he want with Lydia? I was left with the feeling that even the narrator wasn't wholly to be trusted. The book has stayed in my mind for several days now and I'm still wondering whether the real murderer was put on trial.
It's a combination of murder mystery and ghost story set in a background of Cambridge academia, and very well written. The cover is a work of art with a shimmering quality to it which really sums up the book quite well.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Book Lover

I'm in the process of reading 'Book Lover' by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack. It is American which did not endear it to me, but the synopsis did, so I put aside my prejudices and got a copy. This is someone who turns to books for comfort and looks for her answers to all life's problems between the covers of a book.

There is a helpful list of authors and titles at the back so that you can read the same books. There are memorable characters as well - Fred the book shop assistant and his mother Bea, and niece Harper. The heroine - Dora - named after Eudora Welty -soon finds that Fred even though he works in a book shop, is not really the ideal person for her.

I would not have said the book was particularly light reading in spite of what the review on Amazon says. Maybe the reviewer was trying to impress with their literary erudition. If you are a book addict like I am then read it.

I've just bought a copy of 'Ghost Walk' by Rebecca Stott which looks fascinating - I will post my thoughts when I've read it; and then there's the latest Donna Leon which I can't wait to read . . . Too many books, too little time . . . .

Why do people get ill?

I was absolutely fascinated by 'Why do people get ill?' by Darian Leader and David Corfield. Its sub title is 'exploring the mind body connection', which really says it all.

There are so many case histories detailed in the book you have to wonder what's going on whenever we fall ill. From my own experience I know that when things aren't going well I can succumb to anything that's doing the rounds. I had a bad year in 2004 and had a cold about every 6 weeks throughout the year. But when I say bad I perhaps should say boring. Nothing much happened and I knew I was getting a bit fed up with the job I was doing but didn't really want to admit it even to myself.

2005-06 was an even worse year in many ways and yet I only had one cold! I did however discover I have an eye problem which is basically still not treatable in spite of the miracles of modern medicine. Is there a connection there? I wonder.

The case that most struck me in the whole book was of the young woman who was diagnosed with MS after various upsetting symptoms which had at first been attributed to her pregnancy. She told her parents, who reacted very strangely. Her mother immediately announced she had severe stomach pains and would have to go home. She then looked at the photograph of her daughter and without looking at the young woman in front of her announced that it was a shame she no longer had a daughter.

This weird behaviour sparked such rage in her daughter that she vowed to find out exactly what was going on in her family and enrolled on a course in psychology. Within a few months she had reached a better understanding of the family dynamics and when tested a year later she no longer had any signs of MS and never has had ever since. Whether or not this is an apocraphal story it does make you stop and think about the mind body connection. Admittedly MS is a disease that can come and go, but even so people don't usually eliminate all signs and symptoms like that.

I've been interested in the mind body connection for a long time ever since I had a conversation with my then GP about someone I know well. I could not see at the time how there could be any benefits to an individual in being ill. His comment was 'do you expect less of someone who is ill?' This made me think and it's true you do make allowances for someone who is ill. Yet why should you? They may be ill but still be capable of leading a normal life. Illness doesn't absolve you from the normal requirements of living in the world and yet that's how we treat people. The disabled who overcome their difficulties to lead a normal life are regarded as exceptional and yet why should they be? Surely we should all be trying to overcome our problems, not magnifying them as many people do.

I will always try and find a way to overcome a physical problem. I remember vividly an incident while I was still in hospital recovering from a hysterectomy. I dropped something on the floor and instead of waiting for someone to come in and pick it up for me I got out of bed and very gingerly squatted down until I could pick up the object without having to bend in the middle. I was about to return to a standing position when a nurse came into the room (this was a private hospital) and was horrified to find me in that position. 'Why didn't you ring the bell?' My answer was along the line of well if I can find a way to do it myself why do I need to bother you? I hadn't burst my stitches or done myself any other injury so what was the problem? She seened quite surprised that I'd tried to help myself instead of immediately calling for help! I'm not reporting this to show how independent I am but to show how other people react when anyone with a physical problem tries to help themselves.

I have another book to report on but I think I'll make it a separate post.

Friday, 16 March 2007


I have finally digested Oliver James' latest book - 'Affluenza'. Definitely thought provoking and it certainly made me consider my spending habits seriously. He interviewed people from several different countries - Britain, America, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, China and Singapore. He came to the conclusion that people were happiest in Denmark where it is bad manners to diplay your wealth by conspicuous consumption. In Denmark there is a much smaller gap between rich and poor in any case; household chores are shared relatively equally between men and women and there is no long hours culture. People are not ruled by our materialist gods and are almost impervious to advertising. What you own is secondary to what sort of a person you are.

What came over loud and clear from the whole book is that chasing after material goods will not make you a better person or a happier person. Those who live the happiest and most fulfilled lives are those who work hard enough to supply their basic needs - adequate food shelter and warmth - and who feel they ae part of a community and a family.

The most vital aspect of happiness seeems to be the ability to distinguish between material desires which are needs rather than wants. For example - a roof over my head may be necessary but a 12 bedroomed mansion at the end of a mile long drive is no better at fulfilling this need than a 2 up 2 down terraceed house unless I am providing a home to a large self-sufficient commune with security risks!

I think I was most struck by James' interviews with a middle class Chinese couple who were basically hot housing their small child. He had to learn Japanese, music and painting as well as go to school! From reading the papers and talking to people in the UK it seems that bringing up childdren is very similar in this counrtry in certain strata of society. Do children need to be stuffed full of knowledge rather than allowed to spend their free time doing what they want? Do we turn out better citizens this way? Or is this more about the parents' needs and desires?

The main point of the book was the very old fashioned idea that money can't buy you happiness. This was brought home to me by the single man in New York who had inherited a fortune and made himself another one. He seemed a very discontented person whose only interest was in what he could buy with his money. He couldnt understand why his relationships with women lasted no more than a few dates. Either he got bored or the women ditched him because of his totally un-caring attitude. He knew he was missing something but couldn't understand what. He didn't seem to have any close male friends either. Because money could buy him anything he wanted he'd forgotten that life is a system of give and take and compromises.

The pursuit of money and material goods was not condemned as such but there has to be more in life than this. The ability to enjoy things for their own sake is more important. Humour, vivacity and not taking life or oneself too seriously seemed to be the key to happiness and contentment. You could be rich and still have a fulfilled life but if you were accumulating money and possessions in order to show the world what a successful person you were then this could never lead to contentment or a fulfilled life.

Current reading is 'Why do people get ill?