Books, life the universe

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Why do we feel so guilty all the time?

I've just read this article by Mark Palmer online at the Telegraph:

A refreshing and thoughtful look at how so many things in life these days are conspiring to make us feel guilty about something.

The comments from a vicar struck me particularly as a balanced view:

I put all this to my vicar. His response struck me as sound advice with which to start 2009: "You can get so taken up with all the dos and don'ts of modern living that you forget the fundamental commandments that provide a moral anchor. Don't start thinking that Sally is a better mum than you or that Johnny is a better provider than you are. Or that everyone is having better sex, better holidays or a better social life.

"I would say this, of course, but try going to church. It offers a pause – a chance to reconnect with the big picture. And remember what is at the heart of Christian society: forgiveness. A little more of that in your life will come in handy."

Enough said.

Saturday, 27 December 2008


I am currently reading Deborah Gregory's Dancing with the Dead and I'm not sure whether I will finish it - chiefly because I can't take to the main character. Her name is Gill and she moves with her actor husband - Seb - and two small children, Rosie and Adam, to a house in very rural Lincolnshire which belongs to her mother. All of this ought to make it my type of book especially when you add in the fact that the house is old and full of interesting bits and pieces and that her great aunt is sending her regular letters about the family's past - apparently from the grave. There is something very nasty in the woodshed which is gradually being revealed. Again this is my type of book - as far as I could be said to have a type of book. Gill herself seems unnecessarily self centred and cruel to her small daughter and her husband - which may of course all be explained later - and I just do not take to her at all. As the book is only about 200 pages and I've read nearly half I probably will persevere and finish it. The book is a bit over-written as well and I keep reading sentences and wanting to chop half of them out. Altogether a pretty good plot but . . . .

I am also part way through Alexander McCall Smith's La's Orchestra Saves the World about La - short for Lavender - who moves to rural Suffolk just before the outbreak of World War II and works for nothing on a farm as part of her war effort and sets up a very ad hoc orchestra to help boost the morale of the local people and the nearby RAF base. As ever the writing is charming and the story intriguing, though maybe not in quite the same league as the 44 Scotland Street series or the No 1 ladies Detective Agency but still worth reading.

As I always have at least two books on the go and usually more I read 50 pages of Anthony Trollope's The Warden last night. I was fortunate enough to buy all 6 of the Barchester novels in Folio Society editions just before Christmas and I'm intending to read them during 2009. I read both The Warden and Barchester Towers when I was still at school but have never read the other 4 - The Small House at Allington, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage and The Last Chronicle of Barset.

Thinking about the Barchester novels reminded me that a twentieth century novelist adopted the geography of the novels in her own stories - Angela Thirkell. Not quite the same as a sequel but interesting for similar reasons.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas

Christmas started off last night for me with a short walk to our village church and the Christmas candlelit 'midnight' Mass. It started at 10.00pm because as is normal these days we are part of a group parish and the vicar had to get on to the next parish in order to conduct their service as well. I hope his voice holds out as he has a cold. There was no sermon because he was afraid he was going to loose his voice by the end of the evening - for which we were all told not to cheer - this raised a laugh which started off the proceedings in a fairly relaxed manner.

There was a practically full house - even more than last year - which was nice to see - and there were mince pies and mulled wine for all. It was also good to see the majority walking to church rather than driving.

What slightly soured things or me is that because one of the parishes did not want a female vicar we no longer have the funny and charming lady vicar we had at this time last year. It seems a shame that people can let their prejudices get in the way. This year's service seemed a mite more formal and impersonal when conducted by a man - or maybe it was just this particular clergyman's personal style. Last year's was somehow more inclusive - or perhaps I am letting my prejudices get in the way. It had a different feel to it - though just as enjoyable and uplifting.

Today I have a meal to cook and television or a DVD to watch and books to read - a relaxing day where I do not feel obliged to do much else.

Happy Christmas everyone

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


I finished Rosy Thornton's Crossed Wires last night and found it totally unlike her previous two. I was a bit doubtful about it when I read the blurb as it seemed to be mainly about the difficulties of being a single parent - a state with which I cannot identify. Once I'd started it though I found that the blurb was misleading. Yes it is about two single parents and some of the problems they encounter - but these are universal human problems - not knowing where a loved one is, worrying that they don't have enough friends, arguments etc.

The main characters are Peter - a Cambridge University lecturer - and Mina - an insurance call centre worker in Sheffield. How these two manage to sustain a relationship makes interesting reading. It is almost impossible to describe without giving away the main components of the plot. I found it satisfying and plausible. The minor characters are interesting as well - the children - Cassie and Kim and Sal - Mina's Mum and her wayward sister Jess; Peter's friends Jeremy and Martin and his research assistant Trish. The contrast between the two lifestyles is well drawn and shows that money doesn't prevent the same issues arising where children are concerned. I found it well worth reading and I look forward to this author's next book with interest.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Winter Solstice and sombre reflections

The Winter Solstice today - the shortest day of the year. From now onwards the days get longer. It's when I start to see in early January that the days really are getting longer that I realise that Spring will arrive eventually. I tend to suffer from SAD but it is exacerbated by the usual gloom of Christmas, my birthday and several sad anniversaries.

34 years ago today my mother died of multiple organ failure at the age of 45. You would think after all this time I wouldn't remember it, but I do every time. I think it is probably because of its proximity to Christmas and my parent's wedding anniversary - 20 December - which is also my own wedding anniversary and the anniversary of my divorce. (33 years ago and 25 years ago respectively). I was married on what would have been my parent's silver wedding anniversary 20 December 1975 - it seemed like a nice thing to do at the time. I suspect now that my mother's death was part of the reason why I dashed with unseemly haste into matrimony just a year later. It was like clutching at anyone or anything which affirmed life.

Once again the festive season will soon be upon us and I find that every year I am more against the commercialism of it all. I had my Tesco shopping delivered yesterday and we were going to Marks & Spencer tomorrow for a few goodies as we have some M&S vouchers we've had for a while. Then I looked at the fridge and the freezer - both as full as they could possibly be - and suggested we didn't go. I haven't a clue where I'd fit anything else in so it seemed a bit stupid. We have booze - neither of us drinks very much; 3 Christmas puddings; chocolates; the meat we're having for Christmas day; a raspberry and frangipane tart in case we don't fancy Christmas pudding; fruit, veg, bread etc. More than enough with which to enjoy Christmas and probably New Year as well. So we've called a halt to it and said what we haven't got now we will go without.

It's not after all the food you eat or the booze you drink - nice though they are - but the people you're with which matters. You won't remember the food later only what you did and who you did it with. With that thought in mind I shall endeavour to instil some cheerfulness into my head - or at least less gloom. I shall start Christmas on Wednesday evening with Christmas Mass at our local church with my next door neighbour and remember what Christmas is really about.

Happy Christmas to everyone

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Northern Clemency

The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher was a contender for this year's Man Booker prize though it didn't win. I was attracted by its cover - not always a reliable way to pick one's reading matter.
In this case it didn't let me down. This is a panoramic novel covering 20 years in the life of two families - the Glovers and the Sellers - who live opposite each other in a Sheffield suburban street. Their day to day lives are covered in great detail - boring to some but I found it enthralling. The writing is excellent and the characters come to life on the page. Nothing earth shattering happens - there's a serious illness towards the end of the book, a near divorce and involvement in a court case and some deaths of mainly minor characters which are not described in detail. There are misunderstandings and misconnections, people fall out and drift apart and they agonise over trivial decisions. Plans are made and abandoned and hobbies are pursued with more or less enthusiasm.
The period covered by the novel is the mid 1970's to the mid 1990's and the miner's strike has a part to play in the lives of some, though not all, the characters. It is reminiscent of nineteenth century novelists such as Dickens and deserves to become a classic in its own right.
My only complaints about the novel are that at 738 pages it is physically difficult to read and whilst the book is divided into 5 sections it doesn't have chapters as such - making it difficult to decide where to stop reading.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Kate Ellis

I have just finished reading Kate Ellis - Seeking the Dead. This is the first in a new series featuring DI Joe Plantagenet - whose family history is that he is descended from Richard III. The story is set in the city of Eborby - based on York as might be expected from its name. There is a serial killer on the loose - known as the Resurrection Man - and Joe and his new boss DCI Emily Thwaite - must catch him before he strikes again. The story raises the hairs on the back of your neck and you almost want to read it with your fingers over your eyes - like watching a horror film. Though it is not gory and the suspense and the horror come as much from the quality of the writing as the content of the story. There is a supernatural and black magic element as well which provide a sub plot and add to the tension. I loved it and will definitely be reading the next in the series - out in 2009. I have posted a five star review on Amazon under the name of Damaskcat.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Brilliant idea for a crime novel

I can't help feeling this has been used in a crime novel but offhand I can't think of one. An actor on stage was supposed to commit suicide by cutting his throat. He picks up the knife thinking it's the usual blunt stage prop and finds out too late that it's a real knife. Fortunately he survived to tell the tale and the audience having applauded a brilliant special effect were shocked when the 'corpse' got up and staggered off stage.

The police are investigating.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Uncommon Reader

I have just finished reading Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader. It's one of the most charming books I've read for a long time. The Queen stumbles across a mobile library when she is following the corgis. In order to be polite she borrows a book and starts talking to ginger haired Norman who works in the kitchen and is also looking for something to read. A touching and unlikely friendship develops between them. Norman recommends books for her to read but Her Majesty is soon off on a journey of her own. She is never seen without a book in her hand even reading one in the coach on the way to the state opening of Parliament. She hides it behind the cushions whilst she goes to make her speech and discovers it has been exploded as a suspicious object on her return. There are many incidents like this as the Queen's courtiers try to break her obsession with reading and her friendship with Norman. To say more would be to give away the plot - slight though it is. The masterpiece is the finale with Her Majesty inviting the whole of the Privy Council to tea and making a speech to them. I loved it.

Friday, 5 December 2008

100 things you might want to do - or not

I'm indebted to KCM over at Zen Mischief for this. I'm sure I've done fewer of these than he has. The ones I've done are in green. If you want to do it yourself then copy and paste etc:
  • Started my own blog - this is it
  • Slept under the stars - and very cold and uncomfortable it was too
  • Played in a band
  • Visited Hawaii
  • Watched a meteor shower
  • Given more than I can afford to charity
  • Been to Disneyland/world
  • Climbed a mountain - does Ingleborough count?
  • Held a praying mantis
  • Sung a solo - now that would be a good way of getting rid of unwanted guests
  • Bungee jumped - I can think of easier ways of frightening myself to death
  • Visited Paris
  • Watched lightning at sea - yes driving - well I stopped to watch it - along the cost of East Yorkshire near Bridlington
  • Taught myself an art from scratch
  • Adopted a child
  • Had food poisoning
  • Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty - saw a marvellous cartoon once of someone playing golf on the top of the flame
  • Grown my own vegetables
  • Seen the Mona Lisa in France
  • Slept on an overnight train
  • Had a pillow fight
  • Hitchhiked
  • Taken a sick day when you’re not ill - yes but about 22 years ago
  • Built a snow fort
  • Held a lamb
  • Gone skinny dipping - I have swum topless though I suspect that doesn't count
  • Run a Marathon - don't intend to either
  • Ridden in a gondola in Venice
  • Seen a total eclipse
  • Watched a sunrise or sunset
  • Hit a home run
  • Been on a cruise
  • Seen Niagara Falls in person
  • Visited the birthplace of my ancestors - I live pretty close to the birthplace of one of them
  • Seen an Amish community
  • Taught myself a new language
  • Had enough money to be truly satisfied
  • Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
  • Gone rock climbing
  • Seen Michelangelo’s David
  • Sung karaoke
  • Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
  • Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant - though I have had a stranger buy me one!
  • Visited Africa
  • Walked on a beach by moonlight
  • Been transported in an ambulance
  • Had my portrait painted
  • Gone deep sea fishing
  • Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
  • Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
  • Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
  • Kissed in the rain
  • Played in the mud - yes I used to love making mud dams in streams
  • Gone to a drive-in - movies or restaurant? Been to a drive thru McDonalds
  • Been in a movie
  • Visited the Great Wall of China
  • Started a business
  • Taken a martial arts class
  • Visited Russia
  • Served at a soup kitchen
  • Sold Girl Scout Cookies
  • Gone whale watching
  • Got flowers for no reason
  • Donated blood, platelets or plasma
  • Gone sky diving
  • Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
  • Bounced a check - to my eternal shame!
  • Flown in a helicopter
  • Saved a favorite childhood toy
  • Visited the Lincoln Memorial
  • Eaten Caviar
  • Pieced a quilt - if a small cushion cover counts
  • Stood in Times Square
  • Toured the Everglades
  • Been fired from a job
  • Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
  • Broken a bone
  • Been on a speeding motorcycle
  • Seen the Grand Canyon in person
  • Published a book - no but I hope to eventually
  • Visited the Vatican
  • Bought a brand new car - more than once
  • Walked in Jerusalem
  • Had my picture in the newspaper several times including earlier this year when we were campaigning to keep our office open - we failed.
  • Read the entire Bible
  • Visited the White House
  • Killed and prepared an animal for eating
  • Had chickenpox
  • Saved someone’s life
  • Sat on a jury
  • Met someone famous - Sir George Young - is or was a Tory MP
  • Joined a book club
  • Lost a loved one - depends whether you mean close relative or partner
  • Had a baby
  • Seen the Alamo in person
  • Swam in the Great Salt Lake
  • Been involved in a law suit - if divorce counts
  • Owned a cell phone
  • Been stung by a bee
  • Ridden an elephant

That was interesting - I seem to have led a very unadventurous life!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Management Speak

Anyone who is in paid employment or who has any interest in news stories will be aware of the strange expressions which become common currency - especially amongst managers. The latest one seems to be 'across the piece' - meaning, I think, across the whole organisation, territory etc. We had thought it was peculiar to our manager and we'd all got to the stage where we cringe when he uses it. Then a couple of days ago I heard a politician being interviewed on television use it - I think it was Jaquie Smith. So obviously this is the phrase du jour. We will have to add it to our 'bullshit bingo'.

In case this hasn't reached your neck of the woods this consists of a piece of paper divided up like a bingo grid with a popular phrase in each square which you can take into boring meetings. You then listen for all the usual management speak and cross off each expression as it's used. Our version is a bit out of date now as it has such things on it as: It's not rocket science; we'll run this up the flag pole and see who salutes it; quick wins; low hanging fruit etc etc. Some of the expressions I like - and probably annoy other people with them, but most of them become so irritating it's difficult to sit through a meeting without becoming totally wound up.

My least favourites are: heads up (making people aware of something in advance); 'Happy to discuss' - in an e-mail when you've just told someone to do something they don't want to do and of course 'across the piece'.

While I'm moaning - I dislike anyone who tells me I'm being negative when I'm simply not agreeing with management. What I'm saying may not be politically correct or in accordance with the party line but it is NOT automatically negative because of that - it might well be very constructive, just not what the powers that be want to hear.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Nearly another week gone . . .

I think time goes quicker in winter - or is that just my perception of it?

I don't seem to have done anything useful this week though I did have some good news earlier - the mammogram I had just before I went back to work was clear. Though having read through all the spiel in the letter about not all cancers are detected by mammograms and the person reading years may make a mistake . . . . I started to wonder whether it was good news after all. I know they have to put all that in because you might have it and they didn't find it but a simple yes or know would be sufficient for me and I'd take all the blah as read. Still, we're all different.

I've just finished reading A A Milne's The Red House Mystery originally published in 1922 and recently re-issued. It stands the test of time well and has all the ingredients for a good country house mystery including a restricted number of suspects as most of the guests were playing golf. I can't really say much about the plot without giving most of it away but it's well worth reading if you like crime. This is one of the classics of its genre.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Time flies . . .

I'm not sure where that week went but it's Friday again and whilst I have started getting stuff for Christmas I really haven't got very far with it. I've been quite tired this week though my arm seems to be standing up to the strain quite well, though today it's been a little bit achy - probably because of the damp weather. Sounds like a good excuse for a rest this weekend.

I finished reading How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly. The author announced to some of her friends that she was going to do this to save for her brother's wedding present. The pound a day didn't include rent - just food and other day to day stuff. It's an amusing read and does make you think about how much money you might waste. In a way she was lucky because she lived in Bristol and anyone who lives in a city probably has more chances for free events to go to than someone who lives in the country. Shopping at supermarkets when they're reducing stuff, looking for coins dropped on pavements - she gave these to charity at the end of the year - looking for free events which provide you with food and drink, take part in surveys, ask for free samples, have a holiday for free by volunteering, hitch hike, walk, cycle. etc etc. Whilst no one will probably follow all her ideas there must be something in the book for just about everyone - even if you only want to stop spending for a short time to save for something.

I also finished Priscilla Masters - Scaring Crows - a convoluted crime story which opens with two bodies in an isolated farmhouse and involves family relationships and feuds in the farming community. This author's books are well worth reading in my opinion and deserve to be better known.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


I finished reading Veronica Heley - False Step the other day and very good it was too. This is a new series which started with False Charity and features widow Bea Abbot who runs a domestic agency. This one involved a suicide which turned out to be murder and a corpse who isn't what he seems. I thought it was the best one so far.

I've also just finished Alison Joseph - A Violent Act which is the latest in the Sister Agnes series. She is a very unconventional nun with a penchant for fast cars, good food and wine. In this story she has to face unfinished business to do with her father who died some years ago. Her friend, Father Julius, wants her to visit a lady who is dying of cancer and an inmate of the hostel for homeless young people which she helps to run dies of an overdose. An excellent complex plot with more serious issues than the average who done it.

Paul Gallico's Flowers for Mrs Harris is a charming short novel - Ada 'Arris - London char falls in love with the idea of owning a Dior dress. So she saves up until she has enough money to fly to Paris to buy one. What happens to her and the people she meets is a gorgeous heart warming story. I had read this author's Too Many Ghosts and The Hand of Mary Constable so this was another one to add to the list.

I am currently reading Trisha Ashley - A Winter's Tale. This is sort of chick lit but also almost an historical novel in modern dress. Sophy inherits Winter's End a rambling manor house, estate and a garden which is in the process of restoration. There are two eccentric great aunts who live on the premises and a cousin who expected to inherit and who is trying to persuade Sophy to marry him so that he can get his greedy paws on the property. Excellent light reading.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Nearly the end of the week

I think I've pretty well caught up with the reading at work - and boy was there a lot of it - most of it not terribly interesting and all of it irritating. I hate management speak! The favourite in e-mails when you're telling someone something they won't like is 'Happy to discuss.' Translated that means 'You can say what you like but that is my final decision.' I thank that's the one which really bugs me at the moment. That and 'By close of play . . .' What are we? Cricketers?

For the next few weeks I'm intending to do a 4 day week by having Wednesday off. This should give my arm a chance to become acclimatised. It is holding up well actually and I'm managing to organise my work so that I give it a rest regularly. Then of course there's Christmas coming up - aaaaarh!!! I haven't done anything about that yet.

Off to have a shower and relax with a book - more about books read at the weekend.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Back to work tomorrow and books

No I'm not looking forward to it! I'm sure I'll feel different when I get there. The trouble is I have really enjoyed these last few weeks of liberty. I think I would feel differently if there was no possible way out until retirement age - but there is. I could apply for early retirement and would probably get it. Being an adult and having responsibilities I have to consider things from that stand point. If I only had myself to consider I would be applying for it as soon as I get in to work tomorrow - but I don't just have myself to consider.

No more reading books for a large part of the day - ho hum! I've read over 50 since the end of August. The latest is Kate Muir's West Coast about Fergus a photographer who leaves his childhood home on the west coast of Scotland in unfortunate circumstances and makes his fortune in London. Having done so he realises that happiness was probably back in Scotland. In a sense a boring story line but the writing lifts it above the banal. The start of his time in London with its ambiguous sexuality is well done as is his gradual disillusion with the art world. This is a far better book than the same author's Left Bank in my opinion.

Currently reading - Alison Joseph - The Quick and the Dead, Kath Kelly - How I lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day, Paul Gallico - Flowers for Mrs Harris.

Enjoy your Sundays everyone.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Modern Childhood

I've just read this article by Ulrika Jonsson:
This is an issue which seems to crop up in the media quite a lot these days with articles usually formulated around clothes for small children which closely resemble those of the most provocative streetwalkers. Thongs for 5 year olds should in my opinion not be sold. Do people really want children to become aware of how to attract the opposite sex at that age?

In this case Ulrika's 8 year old daughter had heard about a makeover party for girls her own age and knew her mother wouldn't allow her to attend. Encouraging children this young to wear makeup and worry about their appearance suggests to me they are being made to grow up at far too young an age.

It's all very well saying girls like dressing up but there's a huge difference between dressing up and worrying about whether you should have cosmetic surgery or go on a diet. No one's self confidence should be tied up with how they look. One person has commented on the article saying that a woman who does not bother about her appearance condemns herself to a life without men. This is absolute rubbish! I have never worried about my appearance - apart from ensuring I look neat and tidy - and I have never been without a man in my life! For a short time I did wear make up regularly but even that was against my better judgment.

If you want to lower the teenage pregnancy rate then you need to educate girls - by example - that there are more important things in life than appearance. Getting the best educational qualifications you are able to and finding a job you enjoy are more important. Looks don't last - your mind and personality do.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Most moving picture of today?

The Rev Jesse Jackson hearing the news of Barack Obama's victory. He must have thought countless times that he would never see a coloured US president in his life time.

Seeing this shot of him on television certainly moved me to tears.

Picture as shown on

America and the NHS

No the two things aren't linked it's just the two news items which are hitting the headlines at the moment.

It is an historic day for America and probably for the world. Barack Obama's success in the presidential elections must mark a turning point in American politics. On the other hand you could say that if America is an egalitarian country - as it is always trying to say it is - then the colour and origins or even the sex of the president are irrelevant. It is certainly a triumph for America's version of democracy.

The NHS - the co-payments issue. I do have mixed feelings about this. Yes it seems immoral people should be penalised by having to pay for drugs the NHS cannot afford to fund. I do not think we are creating a two tier system as we already have that in the sense of private health insurance. Also people have always had the option to pay for private treatment if they wish and can afford it. Why not have the best of both worlds?

What does worry me is that drug research, because there are almost always vested interests involved, is not always reported fairly and accurately - see the book Bad Science mentioned in yesterday's post. Patients, when seriously ill, may not have enough information to make an informed choice about which drug is best for them because drug companies are in the business of selling drugs and making a profit. They could end up paying a fortune for something which may not prolong their lives as much as they have been told it will. It must be difficult to make a rational decision in such circumstances.

On the same theme, I have yet to read a story where someone has been denied a drug by the NHS which will actually provide a cure for their condition. Which is food for thought.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Books read

I've been reading at a great rate knowing I'm back at work next week. Most notably:

Carol Goodman - The Sonnet Lover - Rose Asher has built up a prestigious academic career in New York and has almost forgotten her first love - Bruno - who she fell for twenty years ago in Italy. When circumstances conspire to send her back to La Civetta near Florence she wonders whether old wounds will be re-opened. She is on the trail of some missing manuscripts which may reveal the identity of Shakespeare's Dark Lady of the sonnets, but her search will bring her into physical danger before the mystery is solved. It's well written with an interesting literary mystery at its heart - it kept me reading.

Ben Goldacre - Bad Science - shows what's behind all the medical scare stories we read in the press and how research is manipulated to give the horrific headlines. It is worth reading for its chapter on the placebo effect alone. Easy to read even if you are not scientifically minded and gives you the knowledge to find the facts in a scare story.

Elizabeth Aston - The Second Mrs Darcy - A Jane Austen inspired story which features Octavia Darcy - widowed after a very short marriage to a Darcy cousin. She returns to England from India and decides she will not look for a husband - scandalising her half sisters. An unexpected legacy make sit possible for her to set up her own establishment. This is reminiscent of some of Georgette Heyer's novels with headstrong heroines and interesting heroes. I enjoyed it.

I have also put a review of Noreen Marshall's - Dictionary of Children's Clothes on Amazon. For anyone who wants to read my reviews on Amazon they are now posted under the pen name of Damaskcat.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Otto the octopus

I've just read this:
An octopus in a German aquarium didn't like the spotlight shining on his tank so he found a way of squirting water at it to short circuit it. Trouble was this put the rest of the creatures in the aquarium at risk because the electricity went off. He seems to love tourists and is bored now the place is closed for the winter. Amongst other things he has been seen juggling with the hermit crabs, throwing rocks at the glass and rearranging the lay-out of the tank to suit himself rather than the other marine life he shares it with! Obviously an octopus with attitude.

Friday, 31 October 2008


A few days ago I finished what I thought was a quite unpleasant serial killer crime novel -Andrew Pyper's The Killing Circle. It wasn't a book I would have picked out myself but it was something I was offered under the Amazon Vine programme so I decided to give it a go. It's set in Toronto and features Patrick Rush, a small time journalist and widower with a small son called Sam. Patrick joins a writing circle because he wants to write a novel. He becomes obsessed with the other members of the circle and tapes some of the meetings to listen to later. He also becomes obsessed with the story which one of the group is working on. As the book progresses it becomes very difficult to tell what is real and what is imaginary. What does seem real is that a serial killer is stalking the members of the writing circle. I found I just got annoyed with the narrator - Patrick - and wanted to shake him and tell him to pull himself together. If you want dark, well written, serial killer crime then this may be one for you. It didn't do it for me.

On the other hand I really enjoyed Footfall - Christine Poulson -set in Cambridge and the surrounding countryside. Cassandra James - Cambridge lecturer, is trying to finish her book about sisters in 19th century fiction when she hears of the death of her friend Una in suspicious circumstances. Reluctantly she becomes involved in the subsequent investigation because Una had written to her just before she died saying she had suspicions of someone she had trusted. Una's will leaves her huge collection of books to Cassandra's college and this stirs up some academic rivalries. Meanwhile someone seems to be going round Cambridge impersonating Cassandra. Well written with interesting characters. It reminded me of Jill Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy series. I recommend it if you like crime in academia.

I've also finished Polly Howat's Ghosts and Legends of Lincolnshire and the Fens - fascinating if you're interested in this area as I am. It featured the usual collection of green and white ladies as ghosts haunting museums pubs and churches. The author had tried to find people living who had experienced these strange happenings and the book includes a useful list of Lincolnshire dialect words. It's a useful addition to my collection of books on Lincolnshire and the Fens.

I am currently working my way through Noreen Marshall's Dictionary of Children's Clothes - very interesting it is too and brings back many memories from my childhood. Reading about liberty bodices I could clearly remember my mother saying to my grandmother that she refused to dress me in them because she'd hated wearing them herself. I think it was something to do with the buttons which smelt of rubber! I was also reminded of my school dresses which had tucks in the waist and the side seams so that you could just undo a row of stitching and the garment was instantly bigger. Put that together with generous hems and the dress would last two or three years. Do they still make children's clothes like that? My dresses when I was little were often made out of my mother's and when the bodices became too small the skirts were worn as skirts. Of course when completely unwearable the fabric was used as cleaning cloths. The book by the way is very well produced with lots of colour photographs not just of clothes but of things like old knitting patterns. I shall be posting a full review of it on Amazon probably in the next couple of days.

More books tomorrow probably

Thursday, 30 October 2008

We're all different

I was talking to Kevin next door this afternoon who asked me did I know when I was going back to work to which I replied probably a week on Monday. He immediately said 'I should think you're getting bored by now.' He was quite taken a aback when I said no I wasn't at all bored. He's in his early 40s and is currently not working because of the after affects of a stroke three years ago. He lives with his elderly parents. Maybe that remark indicates he's bored with his life. He used to be self employed selling things on eBay and as far as I know made a decent living at it.

The chance to read as much as I want for nearly as long as I want has been great and has prepared me nicely for retirement. Not that I would recommend a broken arm to anyone. I don't think I have ever had anything which was that painful for that long. I suppose it didn't help that the unbroken arm was also painful. I took painkillers every day for 4 weeks which has to be the longest I've ever needed to. Now I get the occasional twinge if I make an unwary movement and using a computer mouse for any length of time is still quite uncomfortable, but apart from that I can just about say I'm recovered.

More about books read tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

A new author discovered

I finished reading Jane Stevenson's Good Women last night. It is a collection of three novellas all on the theme of good women who ultimately turn 'bad' by conventional standards. 'Light my Fire' is narrated by a man, an architect, who is very conscious of his social position and who becomes involved with a woman who is really a little beneath his notice. He is driven by lust and decides to marry her in spite of her class. The story is even more satisfying because the reader can see the narrator's faults and is waiting for something to happen. 'Walking with Angels' features a downtrodden wife who discovers her spiritual side when she starts seeing angels. Her husband cannot deal with the change in her and the consequences are almost inevitable. 'Garden Guerillas' is my favourite. A widow reluctantly agrees to her son and daughter-in-law taking over her large house in Kew - near the gardens - and starts to look around for an alternative home. During the whole process whilst she is nagged by her son and daughter-in-law she decides she does not like either of them very much nor yet her late husband. She has immersed herself in her garden and it is this she will miss when she moves. Gradually she develops a more forceful attitude and plots a subtle revenge through the garden. Very satisfying.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

More time off and sequels

I have another two weeks off. After that I can either go back to work straightaway or ask for another week or two. I was offered 4 weeks straight off but felt that was too long. It has improved tremendously over the last 10 days. I can use the computer for longer without taking a break and some of the time doing day to day stuff I even forget I've had a problem with my arm. On the other hand I still cannot lift a kettle full of water and getting food out of a dish and onto a plate can be quite uncomfortable still. My doctor said I must not go back to work until it is all right as once I start using it more it won't heal properly. I have spoken to the boss who seems reasonably ok about it and also said he didn't want me to come back until it had healed properly. Things are still up in the air at work apparently and nothing much has happened.

I am still looking into commercially published sequels to classic novels and more appear out of the woodwork all the time. I have managed to find one for Charles Dickens - it's called John Jasper's Secret: a Sequel to the Mystery of Edwin Drood by Henry Morford. There are various ones for Henry James as well. Joan Aiken has several sequels to her name mainly Jane Austen. The Brontes also seem to be favourites for sequels. There is a sequel to E F Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels and even one to The Secret Garden. It's a fascinating subject even if most of them seem to have sunk without trace.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Jane Austen Sequels

I am currently intrigued by the number of Jane Austen sequels/prequels etc there are out there. I had a quick scout round on Amazon and came up with a grand total of 67 though I'm sure there are more than that. I then looked up - which is a largely American site devoted to all things Jane. They have a section on sequels/prequels where I found more of them - and their lists didn't include some I'd found. The site also includes fanfiction - i.e stories which fans have posted which may or may not be of any literary merit at all.

Some authors seem to have made a career out of sequels to famous novels - e.g. Emma Tennant - who has also written around the Brontes as well. I've also located one by Rachel Billington - Perfect Happiness - a continuation of Emma. I suppose one of the well known books on this sort of theme is Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea which has become a classic in its own right and deals with the early life of the first Mrs Rochester - the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre.

The attraction of such literary efforts must be partly that the characters are already in existence so potentially you have a ready made audience for the book. Though of course the purists may not consider them to be worth reading. Many sequels do fail to achieve the popularity of the original - the sequel to Gone with the Wind sank without trace. Many of the spin offs from Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca have not been commercial successes.

Of course using the characters from work which is out of copyright is attractive as well, though sequels of works mentioned above have been sanctioned and even encouraged by copyright holders.

I have not checked to see whether there are any sequels to the works of Charles Dickens or Anthony Trollope. Both these authors must have abandoned minor characters who could be turned into heroes and heroines of their own stories and yet no one seems to have taken up the challenge - or not that I have heard of. Does anyone know any different?

Sunday, 19 October 2008

It's Sunday

I do like Sundays. Which is something I used not to say. Why do I like them? Mainly because I don't feel obliged to do anything and can just relax and do whatever I want. The housework can wait - unless I feel like doing it. I can spend all day on the Internet if I want - not possible at the moment because my arm is still a bit painful if I use the computer for too long. I can spend large chunks of time reading - in between feeding the cat and eating myself or I can listen to music, watch tv etc. Sunday is a day for pottering.

I'm thinking about applying for early retirement when I go back to work, but I'm still in two minds about it. I think I may feel differently when I get back to work so maybe I won't. Our office is supposed to be closing in 2010 - which is not very long away. The last couple of weeks since my arm has not been so painful have been very enjoyable but I know this leisure time must come to an end so it's not like being retired.

What I am looking forward to when I get to 60 is getting a free bus pass. One of my work colleagues is over 60 and he and his wife often go out on buses when he's not working. Hearing him talking about it makes me realise that there are compensations to getting old.

Enjoy your weekends, people.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

1950s childhood

I seem to be in nostalgic mood at the moment - something which doesn't often happen. I've been thinking recently about the 1950s in particular and comparing then with now - which was probably why I found The Accidental Time Traveller so good.

Were the 50s really a golden age? They seem like it to me. I can remember going to school on the bus when I was 6 or 7 on my own which is something parents seem very wary of now. I don't remember having the fear of God put into me about strangers either. We lived in a leafy cul de sac in an Edwardian semi with attics and cellars - I slept in the attic for a time - which I loved. The house seemed huge to me though I suspect it would not seem so now.

I can remember frost flowers on the inside of the windows in the morning and getting dressed in bed to keep warm - or downstairs in front of the fire. We used to toast crumpets and bread at the open fire on a brass toasting fork which had the Lincoln Imp on the handle.

Life was simpler. Television was only the BBC. People listened to the radio, talked, read, did embroidery or general sewing or knitting. My grandparents played cards for matchsticks or read the paper. There was much less choice of food in the shops and there were no supermarkets. We had no fridge and for a long time no washing machine. My mother used to wash in the cellar - boiling the water in the copper and doing the washing in a dolly tub, with a posher and then rinsing in cold water and putting clothes through the mangle (or wringer). Meat was kept in a meat safe in the cellar. Food was bought fresh every couple of days. Bread was unsliced and any that went stale was made into bread pudding or bread and butter pudding. Leftovers were not wasted.

It was a thrifty existence but not a miserable one. Parents spent time with their children. When the weather was fine everyone would be outside. In winter people sat by the fire. There would be curtains over internal doors to keep out the draughts and everyone wore jumpers socks and slippers as a matter of course. We were hardier I think. I didn't live in a house with full central heating until 1977 but I don't ever really remember being cold - you just put on more layers.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

An intriguing book

I have just finished Sharon Griffiths' - The Accidental Time Traveller and very good it was too. Journalist Rosie suddenly finds herself back in the 1950s. At first she thinks her friends have conspired to place her in a sort of 1950s style Big Brother house but gradually she realises it is real and no joke. She keeps bumping into people she recognises and addressing them by their twenty first century names which leads to some misunderstandings. It really brought my 1950s childhood back to me - the clothes we wore and the meals we ate. How televisions and cars were not common and even the telephone was something not everyone had. Washing and ironing were time consuming and there were no supermarkets. Most people walked cycled or took the bus to get about. I won't spoil the story by telling you how Rosie got back to the present day. The book is well written and while it has a sort of typical women's fiction type cover it is very far from being the normal light weight story of girl meets boy. Well worth reading - especially if you can remember the 1950s.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The current crisis

I wasn't going to write about this but reading Keith's (Zen Mischielf) post of yesterday (8 October) prompted some thoughts.

I can see the logic of not letting the banks go under but in my opinion they're all behaving a bit like sulky children refusing to play nicely. Banks etc only make money by lending - if they don't lend they will go bust. In the past they've lent too much - e.g. Northern Rock who tried to corner the mortgage market. How do you increase market share? By lending to people who are at higher risk of defaulting on their loans because you can charge them higher rates of interest. In a healthy economy this is fine but the moment you have a down turn in the economy this is a recipe for disaster - as happened in the States.

What did not help in England was the introduction of HIPS packs as it served to slow the housing market. The timing of this was unfortunate to say the least though house prices were getting silly. As a house is probably the most expensive purchase we make, inevitably people not taking out new mortgages or falling on hard times and failing to repay their loans will have a disproportionate effect on the financial sector.

Are people spending less money? There is certainly a trend towards thriftier ways of living -whether as cause or effect for the current crisis no one knows. If everyone suddenly stopped borrowing money in any shape or form we would have a far worse crisis than we have now. But on the other hand I think we need to bring back some form of credit control - 2 years to pay for a car maximum and at least 30% down payment - 50% if it's second hand; only a year to repay a loan for a holiday etc. I can't remember what they all were now, but if we'd retained them I wonder whether this crisis would have happened? If we could only borrow 2.5 times income for a house then house prices would not have spiralled. Easy to be wise with hindsight.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Books read

It's a good thing I've got at least 100 unread books to attack as this enforced leisure is giving me plenty of time to read.

Books finished in the last few days include:

Martin Edwards - The Arsenic Labyrinth - the third in his Lake District series involving Daniel Kind - Oxford historian who has moved to a cottage with his girl friend Miranda; and DCI Hannah Scarlett - head of the cold case review team. Hannah is reluctantly re-visiting a 10 year old missing person case which may or may not be a murder. Daniel is looking for a new historical subject to write a book about as his savings are dwindling. The result is a densely plotted mystery involving a murder from 50 years previously as well as the disappearance of Emma Beswick 10 years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next in the series.

Frances Garrood - Dead Ernest - a poignant and amusing story of a marriage and how Ernest's widow deals with his sudden death. Annie tells her story to the local vicar - Andrew - whilst getting to know her grand-daughter - Ophelia. It is a common story - farm girl in war time falls pregnant and is forced into an unwelcome marriage by her parents fearing for their standing in the community. The author brings a wealth of compassion and understanding to the story and the characters come to life on the page. Ernest is far from being all bad and both he and Annie are victims of their upbringing and their circumstances.

Currently reading - Arianna Franklin's - The Mistress of the Art of Death - just as good as The Death Maze. Larger than life characters and flashes of humour. I think it's the humour that has attracted me to this author's two books. Historical fiction often lacks a spark of humour. These two books show it is possible to write historically accurate fiction but not have the characters take themselves too seriously. Added to which it is set in my beloved Fens - though in the 12th century.

Monday, 6 October 2008


I was interested to read recently that archaeologists think Stonehenge may have been a centre of healing. This prompted Dr Copperfield writing for The Times Online to imagine what a prehistoric consultation with an A&E doctor might have been like:
I've reproduced part of it below below:

Many of the bodies showed signs of recent serious injury such as broken arms and legs. I'd love to think that these were the mangled remains of amulet salesmen who'd got their comeuppance but it's more likely that Stonehenge acted as a local A&E department. If it did, I'll bet that the doctors on duty there were plagued by the same problems as their 21st-century counterparts. Cue harp arpeggio and mist ...
“Mrs Tharg, you really should have gone to your regular doctor.”
“Couldn't get an appointment, Doctor Zog. Besides, he's rubbish. Stig has had a sore throat for ages and the useless sod that calls himself a village doctor refuses to drill a hole in his head to let the vapours out.”
“But Mrs Tharg, drilling a hole in a child's head isn't going to help a simple sore throat. Most of them get better in about a week or so even if you do nothing except offer a prayer to the Sun god and sacrifice a medium-sized barnyard animal. I suggest you slaughter a goat, sit back and watch Mummy's little caveman get better. If he's not well in a few days I promise that we'll run some tests.”
“I'm not falling for that ‘do some tests' malarkey again, Doctor. Last time Stig was ill the shaman ran around him wearing a sabre-toothed tiger skin and charged me an extra two gold pieces for ‘CAT scanning'. When his hands were covered with warts the doctor gave us the same old ‘they'll get better on their own' story. The week after we went private and had a hole drilled in his head, every single one of them disappeared.”
“Very interesting I'm sure, but if you'll forgive me, I have other pilgrims to see.”
“So you're not going to drill a hole in his head then?”
“No, Mrs Tharg.”
“Well, while I'm here, can you have a look at my leg? I cut it climbing over a fence.”
“Go and see the nurse and she'll put a pine needle and prune dressing on it for you.”
“Pine needle and prune? They use exotic lizard dung at Avebury.”
Avebury is two days' walk and they're covered by another authority. Exotic lizard dung is expensive and our managers will only allow us to use it in certain well-defined clinical situations. For most patients pine needle and prune is every bit as good.”
“What if I'm not one of the ‘most patients'? Does that mean I have to drag my injured leg halfway across Salisbury Plain to get the treatment I need? Suppose I get possessed by demons or an imbalance of the humours? You'll look pretty silly with your pine needles and prunes then.”
“If you want to comment on the service you've received today, you'll have to talk to the hospital administrator.”
“There's no point is there? Mrs Moog lost her husband last year after he got pneumonia doing some etching in a damp cave. No one drilled a hole in his head. They said it wouldn't have helped. But when her son got whacked on the skull and didn't wake up they were there with their drills in no time letting the blood clot out. He was right as rain next day.”
Medicine may have moved on but Stone Age Doc knew when it was right to drill into people's skulls. He had even figured out that willow bark was effective at reducing fever. And so he came up with the time-honoured advice that GPs still rely on today: “Chew two twigs and if you aren't better, see me in the morning.”

Friday, 3 October 2008

More books read

I finished Phil Rickman's 'To Dream of the Dead' last night and excellent it was too. A bit different from his usual Merrily Watkins books as there was very little about her part time job as official exorcist to the diocese of Hereford. There was some very murky corruption going on in the local council and involving a charismatic TV archaeologist and a murder. The advent of a headline making atheist author living incognito to escape threats from various places, next door to a possible prehistoric pagan site which the archaeologist is digging serves to stir things up - if only with the local fundamentalist Christian. The action of the novel takes place over the few days leading up to Christmas and is punctuated by a rapidly rising river threatening to cut off the village of Ledwardine. A very tense and fast paced thriller.

I finished - at last - Anne Brooke's 'Maloney's Law' - not a comfortable book to read including as it does some very murky business dealings. I did like Paul, the private investigator, and thought his upbringing had a huge bearing on the problems he found himself immersed in. I was less sure about Dominic. I thought the ending was appropriate and I feel hopeful about Paul's future prospects. I thought the way Paul always comments about how long it's been since something happened interesting and it fitted his particular personality. He really likes to keep control of things and that quality is also shown by his series of Maloney's Laws. I've only one bone to pick with you, Anne, and that's what you did to Jade - how could you??!! I really liked her and thought she was an interesting character. I have posted a review on Amazon for you - without any comments about Jade as that would have potentially given away some of the plot.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Work rearing its ugly head

My boss rang me today to say he's coming to see me at home. To which I replied 'why?' Answer because he wanted to and because he had a letter he wanted to give me. My immediate reaction was - 'I don't want you to and you can post the letter'. Said letter is only making me 'pre-surplus' which gives me priority for early retirement if I want it as well as priority for any jobs which come up within an hour's travelling.

We knew we were going to get them so it's hardly a big deal as far as I'm concerned. He was trying to say it was really sad - crocodile tears. To do him justice he did manage to chat to me for a few minutes quite civilly but I don't think he expected the reaction he got. I suppose it must be difficult for him as he doesn't know me - which was why I turned down the visit. If it had been either of my previous two managers I'd probably have said yes.

If I'd been off with stress I would have found that difficult to deal with, even though I know they are supposed to do it. I don't even really like to be rung at home. I'd rather ring them - which I'm quite happy to do from time to time. The reason why they have to do all this 'keeping in touch' business is to keep rates of sick absence down - I suspect it doesn't have the desired effect. I know it does make you feel you ought to be at work, though of course they always say they don't want you to come back until you're better. Sigh! What's the answer? I don't know and I've been a manager!

Interesting news for authors

I've just read this article:
It is suggesting that things are changing for self published authors and small publishers. Maybe this has come about through Amazon's well publicised poor treatment of such authors and publishers? To find this sort of article in a main stream publication is in itself encouraging.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Food rationing here we come

I've just read this:
and I'm furious! So if you make people eat huge quantities of fruit and vegetables to make up for the protein etc they're not getting from meat they're going to produce lots of methane themselves. Think baked beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower etc. Reducing children's consumption of dairy products and meat seriously increases their health risks. Women especially need large amounts of iron - best source red meat - and calcium - best source dairy products. If we're reduced to these levels there will be an increase in women - and men - with osteoporosis and severe anaemia, not to mention children with rickets. Are they seriously saying this would be a good idea?

If this report was sparked by the idea that the health of the nation was better in war time with rationing then they are seriously wide of the mark because they seem to have forgotten that whilst dairy products were rationed there was nothing to stop you keeping cows or hens and a lot of people did. There was also the flourishing black market. I absolutely resent these people imposing their views on the rest of us.

Doesn't time fly . . .

Now I'm not in pain all the time and have been able to stop taking pain killers I'm starting to enjoy my enforced leisure. My arm does still hurt if I put too much pressure on it which reassures me that I'm not malingering, but I can do a bit more everyday.

My bookchair arrived but actually it is not really needed now as I can hold a book for quite a while. But as it's a useful object - especially if you need to refer to a book whilst typing - or eating! It looks exactly like a miniature deckchair with the obligatory stripes, though you can get plain ones as well. The only difference is it has two little bits that stick up on the leading edge which hold the pages in place - see picture.
Books read recently - Peter Lovesey - 'The House Sitter' - I've read two other Peter Lovesey novels - The Circle' & 'The Headhunters', both of which featured DCI Hen Mallin - a cigar smoking female detective who's got where she is by sheer hard work. 'The House Sitter' is the first one I've read with Peter Diamond in. The bonus as far as I was concerned was that it also had Hen Mallin! 'The House Sitter' is excellent and not too violent and has two murders which may or may not be connected. Characters are well drawn and the plot is tight and convoluted with some brilliant twists and turns.
I've also just finished Kathy Lette's 'To Love Honour and Betray', and it's the first and last book of hers which I shall be reading I think. She is trying to be funny most of the time and after a few pages you can see the jokes coming a mile off and the language is cruder than strictly necessary - to me it detracted from the story. The plot is good with some sparky characters and some very unpleasant caricatures as well, but overall it left a bit of a nasty taste. I'm sure it will be popular with her many fans

I'm currently reading Phil Rickman's 'To Dream of the Dead' and it's spookily excellent as are all his Merrily Watkins novels.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Another 4 weeks off and a good book

I've been to see my GP today who asked me how long I think I need off. I suggested 4 weeks to which he seemed happy to agree. As he said, there's a huge difference between pottering around at home and stopping when it hurts and being at work where you can't just take breaks when you feel like it. He says he's going to put on the certificate when I go back that I am not to do repetitive work and not lift things which are too heavy etc. That's going to be fun as most of the files I work on are thick and heavy and I have to go through boxes of records - bank statements, receipts etc. Then there's spreadsheets and typing letters . . . . It will be interesting to see how they manage to sort it.

Meanwhile the manager we had back in May before she got temporary promotion sent me a get well card having just heard about my misfortunes - which was a nice thought.

I have just finished reading Ariana Franklin's 'The Death Maze' - historical crime with humour. Feisty women and larger than life men with warts and all. It's set in the reign of Henry II and centres on the murder of Rosamund Clifford - Rosa Mundi - Henry's mistress and involves Adelia who has trained as a doctor, trying to unmask the murderer and putting her own life in danger in the process. Her lover is a Bishop who she refuses to marry and who is involved in the investigation. Brilliant sparkling dialogue and excellent characters and plot. I loved it.

Saturday, 20 September 2008


Liking sheep as I do I could not resist this story from the Times Online:

Woolly thinking goes a long way in the City

A flock of Romney ewes were paraded across London Bridge yesterday, bringing a little cheer to beleaguered City workers. The sheep were driven by liveryman exercising an 11th-century right to bring livestock into the City free of charge. About 500 liverymen, dressed in royal blue robes and straw hats, enforced their right, which 1,000 years ago would have saved them from paying a bridge toll. David Lewis, the Lord Mayor of London, who is a part-time sheep farmer, led the procession, alongside the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers, his official bodyguards.
The Lady Mayoress, Theresa Lewis, noted the morale-boosting potential of the event. “It is just wonderful. Hopefully it is a bit of fun for business people to see, whose day may not be full of happiness at the moment,” she said.
John Martin, the president of the Romney Sheep Breeders Society, explained the significance of the breed. “There is a saying that the sun never sets on the Romney sheep.”
The ewes, from a farm in Ashford, Kent, were trained for the noise and excitement of the City by their farmer George Horne, who spent six weeks marching them along busy roads while banging dustbin lids.
It is hoped that the event will raise £40,000 for this year’s Lord Mayor’s Appeal.

The weekend

As I've mentioned before on here I am part of the Amazon Vine programme and receive free items to review. I can chose two items from a list once a month and then another one from the list the following week. From time to time they also issue other lists. It is quite carefully controlled in that you have to review 75% of the items you've received before you're allowed to pick any more. Up to this month I'd always chosen books. This month I was offered a top of the range electric steamer. By coincidence I'd already just bought a cheap £24.99 Tefal version as we'd decided to steam vegetables in future as we think they're nicer. As I'm never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I chose the Morphy Richards £100 worth of steamer as one of my products this time and it arrived today. It's very well put together and can switch on different bits of itself at different times so you can cook a whole meal by simply telling it when you want each bit to come on. I was pleased with the cheap one so I shall be using the expensive one later today to see if I can tell the difference.

By the way Noreen's book can be purchased more cheaply than Amazon - try Tesco instead - thanks Noreen. Of course Amazon may reduce the price before publication - if they get a lot of demand for it.

I intend to have a lazy weekend and do as little as possible apart from cooking. Have a good weekend everyone.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A new book to watch for

I am surrounded by authors!
Noreen over at Norn's Notebook (link at the top of the page) is the author of this book which will be published by the Victoria & Albert Museum in early October.
Amazon says:
'Over the last 300 years, children's clothing has witnessed a gradual shift from dressing children to adult requirements, in multiple layers and formal styles, to the booming designer childrenswear market of today. This accessible and well-illustrated dictionary features over 300 garments, from air-raid suits to zouave jackets, with specially commissioned photographs from the world's largest and most diverse collection at the V&A Museum of Childhood. A fully illustrated timeline and introduction offers an at-a-glance understanding of the changes in children's fashions and a rich selection of line drawings and illustrations from sewing and knitting patterns, to catalogues, dolls, fashion plates, photographs, paintings and children's fiction puts the garments in context.'
Knowing someone who has had books published is almost as good as having one published oneself!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The wanderer returns

He actually returned yesterday after saying he was all right to come home first thing in the morning when I could tell from his voice he wasn't really well. Fortunately it was going to take me about 2 hours to get there and he for some reason didn't want to go in a taxi on his own. By the time I got there the hospital were saying well you'd better have lunch first and see if you're sick again. He'd been sick 3 or 4 times on Sunday. He is definitely a lot better than he was last week but he now has loads more medication he's got to take which he's not happy about and has been told he must eat more fruit and veg and eat regular meals. I've persuaded him to give it a go, though how long it will last is anyone's guess! Sugar levels are down to pretty well what they should be as they were making sure he ate the right things. So I think that's proved to him that it can be done.

My arm seems as though it's improving still, probably because I've had someone else to take my mind off it.

Perhaps more about books tomorrow.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Sleeping better and audio books

The last couple of nights I've slept a lot better which at least makes me feel more with it.

I've been listening to 3 of BBC Radio's excellent dramatisations of Dorothy L Sayers books on CD - 'Have his Carcase', 'Gaudy Night' and 'Busman's Honeymoon' - very good they are too. I know all three books well and can identify what they missed out but they're a good substitute. I've also got 'Rumpole and the Primrose Path' to listen to. I've also found 'Ladies of Letters' - Prunella Scales and Patricia Routledge exchanging barbed correspondence very funny. Apparently this is from 'Woman's Hour' but as I'm not usually at home during the day I hadn't heard it. Audio books are well worth trying - they can be found on eBay as well.

I haven't read any more of Maloney's Law Anne because I need both hands to hold it open! I'm awaiting delivery of a 'bookchair' - a rest for books which holds them open for you. The I'll be able to read more. For the same reasons I'm finding it difficult to read P D James's 'The Private Patient.'

Onwards and upwards

Sunday, 31 August 2008

It's improving

I managed to read for quite a while yesterday - though nothing very taxing! I'm sleeping better as well which helps. I'm getting better at eating with my left hand as well. It's a real challenge to eat strawberries and ice cream with a tea spoon before the ice cream melts!

I think what has got to me most is not being able to do things for myself. Independence is important so I try and find ways of doing things without help, but that means even trivial things are exhausting. Still there have to be lessons to be learnt here if only that pride comes before a fall.

I knew I needed time off work but didn't want to take it because of what's going on at present and how much I was involved in it. But of course I'm not indispensable and others have taken my place. Circumstances have conspired to give me the time to relax. I should have listened to my instincts.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Books read

'24 for 3' by Jennie Walker - a pseudonym of Charles Boyle the poet. This is a novella rather than a novel and unique as books go. It covers the time span of a test match between England and India. The female narrator - never named - has no knowledge of cricket and her husband - Alan - and lover - the loss adjuster - attempt to explain the rules to her. Stepson Selwyn goes missing for a few days though a phone call is received to say he is all right. The narrator toys with the idea of leaving her husband and family. There are little gems of poetic description and the symbolism provided by the match is linked to everyday life. It is a beautiful book and the Hockneyesque cover really sums it up.
'Got You Back' by Jane Fallon demonstrated in quite literary fashion that you cannot team up with someone else to exact revenge on a third party because you always have different ideas about when enough is enough. Seldom have I read about a believable character with such large feet of clay. James, the husband, is someone we've all met who seems to think his view of life is the right one and everyone sees what he sees. It does not have the conventional happy ending.
I've also read 'Now Then, Lad . . . .Tales of a Country Bobby' by Mike Pannett. This has a very chatty conversational style and contains both funny and tragic events. His knowledge of human nature and the criminal world are wide and he demonstrates how policing in the country is different from policing in London. He transfers back to his home county of Yorkshire because he misses the countryside. His love of the area really shines through. The only thing I found irritating was the Yorkshire dialect - he could have simply commented on the way they spoke and written the dialogue in plain English.
I have also started - Anne Brooke's 'Maloney's Law' - 70 pages - good so far Anne. I like Paul but am definitely less sure about Dominic!
For total contrast I'm also reading Christina Jones' 'Happy Birthday'.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Time off

I have today and tomorrow off work - and of course the weekend and the Bank Holiday. I find August Bank Holiday a bit depressing as it's the last one before Christmas. It somehow feels like we are nearly at the end of the year. But I have been busy today. I have - balanced our bank accounts and paid bills; done the floors downstairs - duster on a stick as they're laminate; caught up with all the shredding - I really should do it every week - so much for good intentions; and made two meals. So I feel I definitely haven't wasted today especially as I also found time to walk to the post office - 10 minutes - and post a letter. I'm going to have a shower a bit later on and then come back to the computer at 8.00pm to see what Amazon have in store for us Vine people to choose from this month. I do love free books - especially from Amazon as they get so much of my money anyway.

As I've been having a chick lit phase recently I have just re-read Hester Browne's 3 books about The Little Lady Agency - 'The Little Lady Agency', Little lady, Big Apple' and 'What the Lady Wants'. The test of a good book to my mind is whether you can read it more than once and these 3 fulfil that criterion. I'm always interested in people pretending to be what they're not and Melissa/Honey is a brilliant creation. These are real feel good reads and better written than many.

I think I'm about to have a crime phase as I have Anne Brooke's 'Maloney's Law' and 'Now then, Lad' yet another description of police daily life glaring at me from the 'to read' pile. Not to speak of Martin Edwards' 'The Arsenic Labyrinth' which has gradually worked its way to the bottom of the pile somehow. Maybe I will have a crime weekend.

On a more sombre note - the tragic air crash in Madrid. let's hope it's not pilot error otherwise the pilot's family will have to live with that as well as losing a loved one. Flying is still the safest form of travel statistically. Though statistics are very little comfort when someone you know is involved.

Monday, 18 August 2008

I thought this was summer? and books.

Whatever happened to summer? Or did I somehow miss it by having a lie in one day? It's not cold just wet and miserable and windy. I can only think of two or three days this summer when I've ventured to go to work without some sort of jacket or jumper. Usually I manage to on most days from June to September - not this year. I'm hoping for an Indian summer. There is something so delicious about that particular British weather phenomenon.

I finished reading 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' by Winifred Watson now of course released as a film. It's very much a Cinderella type story but the characterisation is excellent. Miss Pettigrew - almost down and out governess - rejoicing in the unlikely Christian name of Guinevere - must get another job or . . . . She is given two addresses - Miss LaFosse who wants a governess for two children, and another lady who wants a maid. Miss Pettigrew opts for Miss LaFosse. But the situation is not what it seems and she is introduced to the glamorous and exciting world of the night club singer and her friends. In the space of one day she finds her life changing - for the better -as she realises she is appreciated and valued for herself. The dialogue is admirably theatrical and I'm sure it will make an excellent film, provided it is viewed as the period piece it obviously is. The book was written in the 1930s and was very popular in its day, disappearing into obscurity only to be resurrected by the publishers Persephone, who specialise in reviving forgotten 20th century classics. It's a quick read as there is a great deal of dialogue and I found it an uplifting book depending for its resolution on the basic good in humanity.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Fish and chips anyone?

I've just read this heartwarming story from the Mail Online -
A couple in their 70s have used their free bus passes to travel from Bristol to Weston Super Mare every day for the last 10 years to eat a fish and chip lunch and walk in excess of 6 miles. They started doing this after the man had a heart attack and was told to get more exercise. He's lost 7st in 10 years and is healthy now.

The comments make interesting reading as a lot of them are very negative condemning them for eating fish and chips every day and for doing the same thing day in day out. Some obviously hadn't read the story as they comment on the effect of driving that far each day. They went on the bus so no effect on the environment as the bus would have gone there anyway. It's amazing how people commenting can't see they walk off the energy contained in the fish and chips. Fish is good for your health and everyone needs some carbohydrates and fats. It just shows how many people don't understand what food is basically for - to give you energy. If you then burn that energy you won't put on weight.

Many people commenting seemed not to know routine is actually good for you. They also seem to have completely missed the point that even if you walk in the same place every day you will still see something new - meet different people etc. They're getting exercise and they're not sitting at home staring at four walls. Good luck to them. I hope I'm that fit when I'm their age.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Rape victims responsible for the crime?

I was shocked by the reduction to compensation paid to rape victims if they were drunk at the time. My first reaction was how dare they make the victim responsible for the crime? On reflection I can see where they're coming from. Which may sound equally horrifying.

I could live with the idea provided it was applied to ALL crimes. For example - if you're silly enough to walk down a street late at night carrying an expensive laptop and wearing a Rolex watch whilst making a mobile phone call and you are mugged - then you should be held partly responsible and your compensation reduced accordingly. Get drunk with your mates on a Saturday night and end up seriously assaulted - then you're partly responsible. I wonder whether it does work like that? I suspect not. If it did then I could live with the idea a drunken rape victim might be partly culpable.

On the other hand, if you are raped by a stranger and whether you are male or female, I cannot see how you can be held responsible for the criminal's actions. It's almost like giving people permission to commit crimes if the victims are all drunk. He asked for it, your honour, he couldn't look after his phone properly because he was drunk so I took it off him. Absolute discharge - the victim asked for it - next! No I don't think it's likely.

Rape victims have always been treated differently - by the way I favour anonymity for both victim AND accused - I don't think it's fair as it is. I think the reasons for holding any rape victim partially responsible for her crime goes back to the biblical idea of Eve tempting Adam and therefore being responsible for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In saying rape victims are partially responsible we are no better than fundamental Islam which decrees that the woman is always at fault and must be stoned to drive the demons out of her. Maybe in Britain we ought to give this some thought.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Having it all

I was unsurprised, but disappointed, by the widely publicised report this week - written by a woman - stating women can't have it all without harming family life. So why is it that men CAN have it all - i.e children and a high flying career? Men - see the Fathers4Justice campaign - would have us believe men are just as good at bringing up children as women and should have equal rights in custody battles. So why pillory women for the breakdown in family life?

It seems to me that a single woman bringing up children is condemned if she lives on benefits whilst bringing up children. A man in the same situation who gives up his job to live off the state whilst bringing up children is regarded as a hero - look how well he's managing and how well behaved the children are. If a single mother manages to juggle everything and hold down her job so that she is not dependent on state handouts she is equally vilified for not spending quality time with her children and potentially condemning them to a life of crime and delinquency.

As I don't have children I suppose I shouldn't really comment but I do have caring responsibilities which is just as much a battle ground for double standards. I wonder how many men whose aged parents live with them, give up work to run the household and look after said parents? Very few I should think because it always works out that their wives give up their jobs to look after in-laws - your job is so much less well paid than mine dear.

Have things really moved on? I don't think so. It still seems very similar to when Florence Nightingale was writing in the nineteenth century. Most people would not think of her as an advocate for women's rights. I came across a work of hers 'Cassandra' when I was doing an Open University course in 1996. I was sitting at my dining table at 6.00am one morning reading extracts from it about how if a woman wanted to achieve anything in her life she needed to either get up earlier than the rest of her family or go to bed later. I felt like shrieking as I recognised the same dynamic in operation in the 20th century. Much of what she writes in 'Cassandra' is still relevant today.

Florence herself was quite canny and apart from her trips to the Crimea developed a reputation for ill health and virtually took to her bed. From there she wrote to influential people on all manner of subjects and studied parliamentary papers and reports. She became an unsung power behind the throne. She realised that to get any time to herself for her own work she needed to abdicate from the job of running a household. Illness being an acceptable way out of it - she became ill. Sensible lady.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Nearly the weekend

It's Thursday and nearly the weekend. That makes me sound as though I live for the weekends - which I don't. I try and enjoy, or at least participate in, the rest of my life as well. This week seems to have been incredibly long.

Work is getting even more fraught for some people - I think I'm actually rising above it at last. I was extremely outspoken in a general meeting the other day to one of the higher ups - fortunately not one in my own management chain. He was basically talking rubbish and seemed to expect it would make everyone feel better but we've got way past platitudes and he should have understood that.

Saying things about rationalising office space and cutting costs and carefully avoiding saying anything about cutting jobs. Well I'm sorry but achieving the first two will naturally include the third and we know there are still more jobs to go, so trying to avoid mentioning it is stupid. In the end he did agree with me. The powers that be seem to have just looked at maps to see which places we could all reasonably be asked to get to and have failed dismally to take into account what happens on the ground in rural areas.

My own immediate managers are being supportive and not trying to frighten anyone into doing something they don't want. This is not the case with other people in the office - more's the pity. really they're asking us to make choices about our future when we have only a very small part of the information we need to make an informed decision. Something which I did point out.

I'd best not say any more I suppose but at least all the above could probably apply to any large organisation trying to re-structure. When all's said and done it's only work - there are other far more important things in life.