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.