Books, life the universe

Tuesday, 31 March 2009


I'm not normally too interested in politics unless it has an impact on me personally but I'm disturbed by what our trade union is doing at the moment. All the editorial in the union magazine is aimed - overtly rather than covertly - at persuading us not to vote BNP. I know unions are generally by definition anti employer and therefore tend towards the left of the political spectrum, but this to me is interfering with my democratic right to vote how I choose and in my view they are misusing their power and probably not speaking for their membership. In any case what about freedom of speech?

If you're going to say don't vote right wing then there are other right wing parties. Can't help feeling they'd do better to try and persuade people not to vote for either extreme. From some of the stuff I've read you'd think any right wing party should be banned and really that's what they're calling for. Would they be doing the same if the Communist party (does it still exist?) were gaining prominence? Somehow I don't think so.

I always make a point of voting because people chained themselves to railings and went on hunger strike to get women the vote. I feel the least I can do is use it even if not always wisely.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Reinvention of Ivy Brown

It seemed like a good title for a blog post and is actually the title of a novel by Roberta Taylor - better known as an actress who has played characters in The Bill and Eastenders. The Reinvention of Ivy Brown is set partly in the early part of 1963 and all those people who remember that year will recall there was snow on the ground in March. Reading the book - which is a little strange - reminded me vividly of that era.

Smoking allowed almost anywhere - including public transport. Women almost always wearing skirts and stockings and not going into pubs on their own. Leaving work when they got married and not admitting to having illegitimate children but pretending they were a younger brother or sister. How times have changed! I'll write a more thorough review of it when I've finished - probably later in the week.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Lack of inspiration and books

I couldn't think of anything to write about yesterday and was feeling not quite well. Not exactly ill but not 100%. Went to bed early and slept until nearly 10.00am BST this morning and I feel fine now - strange. I think I'm getting too tired a the moment because I haven't had any time off work since Christmas. Roll on Easter!

I've just started reading a strange book by Anne Berry - The Hungry Ghosts set in Hong King before the handover. It starts with an horrific rape and murder of a young Hong King girl which slightly put me off but I shall persevere with it as it seems to be improving.

Also reading Millie Johnson's A Spring Affair about Lou - mid thirties - who is trapped in a very strange marriage. She comes across a magazine article which suggests de-cluttering your home as a way of changing your life. As a result of hiring several skips she meets Tom the owner of the skip company and his dog Clooney. It is light hearted entertainment - which we all need from time to time.

I have the latest Donna Leon - About Face - to look forward to as well. Lots of good books around at the moment.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Eight weeks today

That's how long until I retire - exciting and frightening! I'm looking forward to it - all that free time. It's about 55 hours a week extra to play with. Probably a bit more if you take into account making sandwiches for work and making sure I'm dressed at least reasonably smartly etc. I'm glad I had that sort of practice run last year - but then maybe if I hadn't had that I wouldn't be so keen on giving up work now. Of course I'll be able to do far more, now my arm's at least 90% better, than I could last year so retirement will be completely different from being incapacitated.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The necklace

No I haven't bought myself one. I'm reading a book about a diamond necklace and the women who bought it between them on a sort of timeshare basis. The book is called The Necklace: a True Story of 13 Women, 1 Diamond Necklace and a Fabulous Idea by Cheryl Jarvis. The book describes the women concerned and the effect owning a part share of a fabulous necklace had on their lives.

It's a bit too obviously American for my taste but I have to admit it is interesting. They took it in turns to have the necklace for 4 weeks at a time around their birthdays. They did fund raising events as well and raised funds for various charities. They lent it to their daughters to wear at their weddings and to people they knew from work. The necklace went sky diving and riding a motor bike as well as to important social occasions.

What surprised me was it didn't go missing! Many of the women totally evaluated what was important to them because of it and they all formed strong friendships because of it. The necklace acted as a catalyst in their lives. The jeweller they bought it from reckoned it had been worn 700 times in its first year whereas normally a necklace of that sort would probably only be worn 10 - 15 times in a year.

The book is a quick read and I'm finding it interesting because of the way the women dealt with the occasional differences of opinion between them and how they interacted. It seems the sort of story to appeal to the film world - so watch for the film of the book.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The state of the younger generation

At the risk of sounding like Victor Meldrew I've started to seriously wonder how the children of today are being brought up. In the last couple of days there have been two instances of school children, both boys and girls - who appeared to be about 10 or 11 - using all the swear words you can think of at the tops of their voices in the street/at the bus station.

Maybe I'm old fashioned but is there really a need to use these words all the time? What do they say when things really go wrong? It just heightens the difference between how things were when I was their age and how it is now. I had never heard the F word until I was over 18 though I had come across it in books.

The other incident which caused me some consternation was on Monday. I popped into Sainsbury's on my way to the bus station and having got the few things I needed, visited their loos. There were two girls in there standing around and one in one of the cubicles. I realised very quickly that the one in the cubicle was doing a pregnancy test. If I'm being charitable I would say they were about 16 but could well have been younger.

What concerned me was they didn't seem too bothered about doing it in public as it were - maybe they thought I would not realise what they were doing? But as well it concerned me that there was a need to do it in the first place. Were they old enough to have sex? Why weren't they using contraception? Wouldn't it have been better to have done it at home? I was pretty gobsmacked by the whole thing.

I suppose I ought to have felt glad that at least the one concerned was taking steps to find out early enough to do something about it if she wanted to. Instead I felt uncomfortable that I was a witness to the incident and sad that it should be happening anyway.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


I've just finished Kate Charles' Deep Waters. I've enjoyed all her previous books because they always seem to have added depths. This one in spite of the title seemed to lack that certain something. It was still good but I did not find it as enthralling as her previous work.

Curate Callie Anson moves into the Vicarage temporarily while the roof of her flat is repaired after a gale. But Callie has to ask her friend Frances to look after dog Bella because the vicar's wife - Janet - doesn't want her in the house. Callie's growing relationship with Mark Lombardi is to the fore in this story as is his colleague, Neville Stewart's recent marriage to Triona. The apparent cot death of a baby belonging to a celebrity couple is the reason for Neville cutting short his honeymoon and causing a rift with his wife.

Celebrity is very much a theme in this novel and the two crimes involved take second place to this and the relationship problems of the policemen and their families. There is almost an unfinished air to the whole book with many loose ends. It seemed as though the author had been limited by space constraints and that the book should have been about 50 pages longer. I did enjoy it but I felt it lacked this author's usual polish and depth.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Good news

I had to go for a check up on my eyes today - the first time in 9 months and I had to chase it up to get this one! I think something went wrong with the filing system but I blame the fact that my surname begins with a letter of the alphabet close to the end. Anyway the important things is there was no change - which I was sure there wasn't - but you just like to be 100% sure. He's said 6 months this time rather than the 3 months it should have been before and I am happy with that. I know what symptoms I need to watch for and would get in touch if anything changed.

I find the trips to Nottingham and the nightmare of parking and the amount of time I spend sitting waiting when I am there totally stressful - even with the help of Rescue Remedy. Please note I am not complaining here about the NHS as this is a private appointment!! It's bring your sandwiches, a flask and War and Peace (not that you can read unless it's large print once they've put drops in your eyes) and prepare for a long wait if you're NHS.

So it's been a good week all round one way and another and it's a really lovely day here as well. I've just spent 10 minutes in the garden pulling up weeds in the shingle and it was warm enough to be out there in short sleeves - long may it continue.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Graham Swift's new book

I'm currently reading Graham Swift's new book called Making an Elephant - not as you might expect, fiction, but a collection of essays, interviews and poems as well as pictures. I haven't always found his fiction that readable and struggled with Waterland even though it was set in the Fens, but this is something totally different. There are pieces about how he became a writer and about other writers including spending Christmas with Salman Rushdie while his life was in danger. There's also a touching tribute to his late father and an enthralling piece about visiting Czechoslovakia in 1989 and meeting dissident writers. I chose the book from the Amazon Vine programme which I belong to because it was billed as being about the writing process and indeed it is but it also reminds me of a commonplace book. It's well worth reading when it's published if you're at all interested in what makes and influences a writer.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

That crucial form has been sent off

I finally managed to iron out the last few points I wanted clarified today so I immediately signed and sent off the form before anyone decided to reverse the offer. Not that I think they're likely to since no one had a clue what to give me to do even though I can do - and have done - most jobs at this grade. For the powers that be this is an easy way out. For me it's freedom.

I've told everyone in the office that I've accepted the offer and now some of them are talking to me again. Mind you there's so few of us now that it's quite difficult to avoid talking to anyone. Several people have asked what I'm going to do with my time as though they could not imagine what they'd do.

Apart from having more time available to read and write I think one of the biggest things for me will be that I will have time just to exist. Like this evening there are several web sites I want to look at but I know if I spend as long as I want on the Internet I shan't have time to wind down properly and so won't go to sleep at a reasonable hour. So I'm clock watching. It will be so nice not to have to do that.

I am really looking forward to it. Having worked virtually non-stop for almost forty years I feel I deserve some time to myself.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Definitely surreal existence today

It really did feel strange at work today - sort of surreal. Dali-esque watches dripping over the edges of desks would not have seemed too out of the way. I've fired off e-mails to various people asking them to confirm I can take the money how I want to take it - must get all the details ironed out before I commit myself to such a major step. I have visions of a few people sitting somewhere saying: 'Oh my God! We never expected someone would want to do THAT! How on earth do we do it?' I shall be on the phone to people tomorrow if there are no suitable replies.

Meanwhile I beaverd away, feeling sorry for the poor people or person who has to take over where I left off. Copious notes are being placed in files to try and make the hand over easier. I know how I feel when I take over work from others so hopefully I can make sure people get all the details they need.

To add to the strangeness the weather is surprisingly mild and the trees are starting to come into leaf. We've got snowdrops and daffodils out at the same time which we don't usually have and all the ducks are looking for nesting sites.
There are going to be even more mallards around this year with large splashes of white on them as the white ducks all seem to be paired off with mallards rather than other white ducks. I love the ducks they put everything in perspective. You often see them flying in formation under the footbridges over the river almost like bombers during the war. Maybe they're World War II pilots reincarnated?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Early retirement

Yes I've been offered it - about five minutes before I had to leave work to get my bus! I've got until 31 March to make up my mind but apart from the fact that I need to check one thing tomorrow I shall be sending the form back as soon as possible. Date - not negotiable - is 31 May.

I felt sort of shell shocked when I realised what the e-mail was but I don't have any doubts about it - this is what I want. I'm sure there will be moments when I wonder what I've done just as there are with any big decision but deep down I know it is the right thing for me at this moment. I've got so disillusioned with work that I just can't summon any enthusiasm for it. Then there's all the uncertainty still hanging over the future and the way the goal posts are moved every few minutes.

Talking of goal posts someone said today they felt as though they'd joined a team playing football but at half time they'd revamped the pitch and told the players they'd got to play rugby for the second half. Not a bad analogy I thought.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry - set in Salem as I've mentioned before. A very spooky book but not really for the obvious reasons though witches did feature. The witches who appeared were mainly for the tourists except that some of the 'real' ones read the future through patterns in hand made lace. Towner - christened Sophya - returns to Salem when she's told of her Great Aunt Eva's disappearance whilst swimming. But Towner's childhood is full of shadows which she will need to confront before she can move on with her life.

It is difficult to tell at times what is real and what a figment of the narrator's imagination and sometimes the only sane person in the story seems to be Rafferty - the cop. One of the most frightening aspects of the book is the strange religious sect which appears totally out of control and which participate in the terrifying ending. I thought it was well written but a shade difficult to follow at times, but worth reading.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Calculators and budgets

I've spent a couple of hours today working out possible budgets for if I retire and digging out the information about the mortgage etc. As far as I can tell even with some put aside for emergencies each month I should be all right for money. Yes my calculations do include money for books!!

Now I need to make a proper list of all those things I've been saying I'll do when I retire - most of which don't cost anything except time and effort - and keep my fingers crossed.

One of my colleagues asked me on Friday whether I thought I'd be bored when I retire. Me? Bored? Not at all likely, and I started listing things like tracing some more of my family history, exploring more of Lincolnshire, reading, writing cooking . . . At which point he yelled stop - I can see you won't be bored at all. He's nearly 65 and still working and is worried he'll turn into his next door neighbour who creosotes his fence 4 times a year.

For some people retirement is the end of their life - for others like me it's the start of a new one. Just shows we're all different.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Some good news

I got my pension quote today which turns out to be better than I was expecting. I could work out a large part of it myself but one bit I guessed at and was way less than what it actually is - so that's good news. I have to confirm that I want to be considered for early retirement on the basis of these figures and then they may - or may not - offer it to me. As my manager says if they don't offer it to me he hasn't got a clue who they ARE offering it to! I'm in the highest possible category for consideration and they haven't a clue what to do with me when the office closes next year so hopefully it will be offered.

I shall be e-mailing the form back to the powers that be on Monday so we will see how long it takes after that.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

More people about today and journeys

One and a half more to be precise!

The bus journey home tonight was interesting as the bus driver - ex-tour guide - was trying to get a couple of us to guess his surname and talking about emperors and kings and statues in front of York Minster. It was when he said about the Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity that I realised he was talking about Constantine! Oddly enough, even though he was a bit full of himself - in a sort of proud of my knowledge sort of way - he had the same sort of face as a Roman Emperor.

From there the conversation digressed to all sorts of historical subjects including the different names places have been given over the centuries - e.g. York - Eboracum, Jorvik and the modern day York. We also took in why Harold lost the Battle of Hastings - too tired after the battle shortly before - was it Stamford Bridge?; whether it is better to worship the sun - giver of life - as the Romans did or Christ on the cross and a detour round surnames and family history - which was really where we started.

Coincidentally I finished reading Bloodline by Fiona Mountain last night which has tracing family history as its background. Good crime novel with an interesting background.

Never say we aren't intellectual in the wilds of Lincolnshire!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Sitting in the office on my own

Well not totally on my own just on my own on my floor. One person was on leave and another rang up to say he needed to have the day off and the only other person is out and about all day anyway. The boss wasn't with us either!

I had plenty of work to keep me busy and had to answer all four phones. The peace and quiet was pleasant if a little strange.

It seems that some of the people on the other floor are a little put out that I've applied for early retirement - as though I'm letting the side down. As a consequence they are studiously ignoring me. Oh dear - how childish!! I've always said it is very much a personal decision whether to stick it out until the closure of the office or try and get out while you can. Personal circumstances are all in this sort of scenario.

But that is how things are at the moment. The uncertainty is ensuring that people are at each other's throats. Taking that into account I was quite glad to be on my own - not that my immediate colleagues have a problem with my decision. Maybe I'll hear tomorrow though I suspect it might be a little while before I do.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Current reading

I am currently reading The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. It is set in Salem, Massachusetts and centres on Towner Witney - newly returned because of the disappearance and death of her Aunt Eva. It soon becomes clear there is something in Towner's past which is coming back to haunt her. She left Salem as a teenager because of a terrifying experience and has returned against her will. It is an atmospheric story where the bounds between reality and Towner's nightmares appear very thin. I find I have to read it carefully because it is constantly referring to things in the past and I'm never quite sure whether I'm supposed to be in the past or the present. Certainly an interesting book though I shall reserve judgement until I finish it.

I'm also reading Alexander McCall Smith's latest No 1 Ladies Detective Agency story - Teatime for the Traditionally Built. I love the gentle humour in these stories and their traditional values. In this one Precious Ramotswe is upset because she thinks she will have to finally give up her trusty little white van. Her assistant is worrying that a new assistant in her fiance's furniture store is going to try and steal him from under her nose. Then of course there are several detective agency problems which also need the attention of the two detectives.

Then I'm also plodding a way with The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. This is a very long book and I'm beginning to think it could usefully have been about half its length. Fascinating about the history of polygamy and the Mormons and the way, like any sect, they seek to control the thoughts and actions of their followers. It is, of course, fiction but there appears to have been a lot of research gone into it.

More of all three when I've finished them.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Mind your language

I was amused by an incident this evening when I called into Sainsbury's on my way home. A woman pushing a trolley and accompanied by an angelic looking 4 or 5 year old child was screaming at the top of her voice at 2 thuggish looking teenage boys who were using the F word rather more freely that is acceptable in polite society.

'I don't come shopping to hear people using that sort of language in my child's hearing.' Grabbing hold of a young member of staff. 'You need to bloody well get security to get these bloody people out of here.' Only certain swear words allowed presumably?

Security men are a new concept in our Sainsbury's and the two I've seen seem a bit weak and wimpish so I doubt they would have done anything. With a good hard push I could probably flatten either of them. They can usually be found standing at the door where you come in when perhaps they ought to be wandering around and keeping watch for the handbag snatchers or perhaps standing at the out door and checking people's receipts.

Any sort of crime is pretty hard to come by around here and people are very careless with their purses when they're shopping so I presume some opportunist thief has taken to snatching convenient handbags as the notice has only recently been put up.

Sunday, 8 March 2009


Following on from yesterday's post I looked up Sempringham and St Gilbert in Wikipedia only to find that the village was involved later on in the 17th century with the Puritan exodus to America. The vicar of Sempringham - Samuel Skelton - sailed to Massachusetts in 1628 and was in the first group of settlers to found Salem along with a lady called Anne Dudley - later Anne Bradstreet who became the colony's first published poet.

Here is the coincidence - I am currently reading The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry set in Salem. Anne Bradstreet is also mentioned in the book.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Wales and Lincolnshire

What connection is there between the last princess of Wales and a tiny village in Lincolnshire?
Answer: Gwenllian was born in 1282 near Bangor. Her mother died in childbirth and her father - Llywelyn ap Gruffud - was killed in battle with Edward 1. To stop the baby princess becoming a focus for rebellion she was snatched by Edward and given over to the care of the Gilbertine nuns at the Abbey of Sempringham in Lincolnshire. She was imprisoned there until her death in 1337 at the age of 54.

There is now a memorial to the Princess at Sempringham.
Sempringham used to be well known as the only truly English monastic order - founded by the 12th century St Gilbert of Sempringham

Friday, 6 March 2009

Feeling more settled, minutes and spring

Having finally done something about work I feel very much better, even though I probably shan't know anything for a while. I feel as though I've taken some positive action - always a good thing for me as I'm apt to react rather than act.

I spent a good half of today typing up the minutes from our team meeting yesterday. I volunteered to do them as our usual lady who does them was off. I always used to do them in my last job and I find it makes me concentrate rather than day dreaming and doodling.

Spring is really on its way - I noticed a willow tree this morning on the way to work and it was cloaked in a haze of light green. When the willows start going green it is definitely on its way. A bit further on I noticed a tree with lamb's tail catkins on it and the snowdrops are out at last as well - though in 2007 they were flowering in December rather than spring 2008! It must have been cold this winter.

Have a good weekend everyone

Thursday, 5 March 2009

An interesting day

I finally made up my mind to 'express an interest' in early retirement today. It doesn't at this stage commit me to anything and they may or may not offer it to me in any case. I decided I've had enough so after discussing it with the other half - who finally said as he isn't the one who has to go into work every day and be bored and/or annoyed he didn't feel the final say was up to him - I did the deed.

We keep being reminded of the mobility clause in our contracts and I have no wish to move house (even if it is at my employer's expense) or face a lengthy journey to work each day so it seems like the best thing to do. At least I'm doing something and not having something forced on me. I'm confident we can manage financially and in any case I shall get my state pension in 2013 - which is nearer than you think!

I told my manager I wanted to get on and enjoy my life - not very tactful as he pointed out to me though he understood the sentiment. So I shall keep my fingers crossed and see what happens. I could be turned down; they could say I can have it when the office closes next year or I could get it within a few months - who knows. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Fussy cats

The cat has decided she doesn't like this tin of chicken Whiskas. Not sure why except that she has just finished a tin of chicken so she could be bored. I refuse to throw away a whole tin just because madam thinks she fancies a change. At the moment it's a battle of wills and the pathetic big eyes and desperate 'I'm starving' miaows. She is not starving as she has dry food to eat as well so I'm ignoring her at the moment. I have a suspicion she will win in the end.

I'm sure the idea of training a cat to do anything is a non-starter as they are just so much their own people. I think there's a saying about the difference between cats and dogs answering the phone is that a dog will happily go off and find the person requested but the cat may take a message and might deliver it if it can be bothered. Yes exactly! Cats don't do things for reward they do things if they want to.

You could almost divide people into cats and dogs . . .. Now there's a thought!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Where has spring gone and books

I did think after such a pleasant day yesterday - apart from the cold start - that spring just might be in the air but today it's cold and blowy and wet. Come back spring, all is forgiven.

I finished reading M R Hall's The Coroner - a tense crime story, featuring as might be expected, the work of a coroner. I found it interesting as it features corruption in various places and it has a good old dig at the idea of privately run prisons. I think the only aspect for which I would criticise it is that Jenny - the Coroner of the title - had some anxiety problems which she found difficult to deal with and was constantly popping pills. I wasn't wholly convinced by this and was unsurprised to read - after I'd finished it - that the author is male and I don't think he's wholly got inside this female character.

It didn't spoil the book for me as the plot was excellent and the other characters convincing. It is made clear in the story that there is something in Jenny's past which caused her mental problems but what exactly is not revealed. I'm assuming there will be others in the series and hopefully all will become clear. I would still recommend the book especially for its different background from the usual.

I'm currently reading The Music Room by William Fiennes, an interesting memoir of his childhood growing up in a moated castle somewhere near Warwickshire. His portrait of his brother who suffered from a severe form of epilepsy and how it affected the whole family is poignant but accepting. Memoir is interspersed with excursions into various theories of the mechanics of epilepsy. The writing is of excellent quality with evocative descriptions of the countryside, his home and the various flora and fauna. Worth reading.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Health update

After two good nights of sleep my cold is a lot better. I still have the cough to get rid of but as I have asthma it frequently takes me ages to shake off a cough.

My arm is still progressing as well. I've noticed recently that I've started to let it relax beside me when I'm walking instead of holding it across my body. For a while it was still quite painful to straighten to that extent but it has definitely improved in recent weeks.

Virtually no pain at all now whatever I do with it. I spoke to someone recently who had a similar injury and she said it took her quite a while to get rid of the odd twinge so perhaps 6 months is not too bad. I did go through a phase where I started to think I'd have to live with the pain when I made some movements but now that has nearly gone. I would not care to repeat the experience.

Off to the dentist tomorrow - well the hygienist anyway. It's a bit of a nuisance going every three months, in between the 6 months appointments for the dentist but worth it I think. In any case it's included in what I pay monthly. I have to go back to Norwich - 70 miles away - which is why it's a pain. I could try and find a dentist in Lincolnshire - not easy - but I prefer to stick with the one I've been going to for about 30 years now. I'm going by train which at least means I got two hours each way of uninterrupted reading time.