Books, life the universe

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Cold Earth

Cold Earth by Sarah Moss is a debut novel by an academic. I found it very well written and beautifully produced by the publisher Granta. It features a group of six ill assorted people who go on an archaeological dig in a remote part of Greenland.
It is divided into sections each narrated by a member of the expedition. There are three men and three woman and five out of the six have experience in the field, though Nina hasn't and the others can't really understand why she is there which makes for tension from the start. The other big underlying tension is the spread of an epidemic virus in the rest of the world. Will there be a world for them to go back to?
It soon becomes clear the narrators are writing letters to people they do not believe they will see again. Mixed in with this is Nina seeing ghosts of marauding Greenlanders. Is she mad? Or are the people buried in the graves they are excavating displeased by the intrusion? Several of the reviewers on Amazon state the plot is not original. Well no but there are only supposed to be seven basic plots in the whole of fiction so I don't think this should be counted against it! I thought it was an excellent first novel and worth reading if you like the idea of a different setting. Of course the pandemic is topical which helps.
I thought the way some of the characters react when they find their Internet connection doesn't work and the satellite phone they were relying on doesn't work either was very true to life. I liked it even though some reviewers have called it facile and shallow and compared it unfavourably with Albert Camus. Well yes I would have thought much modern fiction wouldn't stand that comparison! Sometimes people try to be a little too superior!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Trouble in the village

There is a very good free newsletter distributed in our village which contains adverts for local businesses, letters to the editor, information notices and the minutes of the Parish Council meetings. The editor tends to get a bee in his bonnet about things and has used this month's editorial to try and advance his own views as the views of the village.

There is a site in the middle of the village opposite the church and not coincidentally within sight of this guy's house, which has been the subject of controversy for some years. Part if it - an apparently Georgian building formerly used by a printing firm - has recently been demolished. Now Georgian and demolished don't go together in the same sentence. But it wasn't listed and they got permission to demolish it. If you'd seen it you'd have just thought it was just an ordinary modern building and it didn't look particularly representative of the period.

The editor of our newsletter is vehemently opposing - in bold type and capital letters - any development on this site. Some of us would prefer to see the site developed as it is an eyesore as it is. One planning application for houses has already been rejected because they were too densely packed so I'm sure the planners will insist anything built will fit in with existing buildings. There is a house a few yards from this site which is nearing completion. Because of the materials used once the builders mess is removed it will look as though it was built years ago - it fits in with surrounding buildings. I'm sure the same thing can be achieved with this other larger site.

Some people in this village are very nimby-ish. Yet if there are more houses built it helps to ensure the continued presence of the post office and general store not to speak of the village school. Obviously no one wants the village to get too big but as every planning application for even minor works takes forever to be approved I don't think there's any danger of that. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Angel with Two Faces

I finished reading Nicola Upson's Angel with Two Faces featuring Josephine Tey as an amateur sleuth working with her friend - Scotland Yard detective Archie Penrose. Set in the 1930s, it is a convoluted tale of family relationships and secrets from the past which threaten to derail the present. It was a good story and well written and I like Josephine Tey in this incarnation. What I thought didn't come over too well was the 1930s atmosphere. It just didn't gel to me and I kept thinking any moment someone was going to pick up a mobile phone! I don't think the swear words fitted with the period either.

That said, I did enjoy it. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue believable. One of the best scenes was a recreation of 'The Jackdaw of Rheims' at the open air theatre at Minack. Very atmospheric to the extent I felt I really was there watching it as I was reading. At 422 pages it could perhaps have done with a ruthless editor as it was a little too long. 370pages might have been a better length.

Another book in progress is Richard T Kelly's Crusaders about the North East of England and a clergyman setting up - or 'planting'- a new Anglican church. This is a book for the long term and I'm reading about 30 pages a day. It's good - I've reached page 200 - but again could have done with a more ruthless editor.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Carrier bags

I know it isn't fashionable to like plastic carrier bags but I've always thought they were one of the best inventions of the 20th century. I re-use mine as bin liners and if I didn't get them free I'd have to buy bin liners. Now the Consumers' Association are saying supermarkets use too many of them when they deliver online shopping orders and cited Tesco putting meat and washing up liquid in two separate bags with only one item in each bag.

To me there is nothing wrong with that as washing up liquid if it leaked would make a mess of some food items. Meat should be in a separate bag for the same reason. I'm all for taking your own bag when you go shopping and I have done this for the last twenty years - even before 'climate change' and saving the planet were flavour of the month. But if I didn't have some plastic carrier bags I would have to buy bin liners so I resent being told that I shouldn't have plastic carrier bags! Tesco at least say you can have your shopping with or without - it's up to you.

The issue around carrier bags is trivial but to me it seems one more example of the 'goodie goodies' trying to enforce their opinion on the rest of us. In the same vein I see Paul McCartney is starting a campaign to persuade us to give up meat on Monday each week - why?? What are they going to do with all the spare sheep, cows, pigs and chickens if we all do that? I don't eat meat every day in any case so I'm not giving it up deliberately just to make someone else feel better. Bah humbug!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Household tasks

I am definitely not a domestic goddess. I do housework because I don't like to live in too much of a mess but I'm not houseproud - good enough is good enough. I find silly little jobs assume gigantic proportions and I'm forever thinking I'll do a particular job 'when I have time'. Now that excuse is no longer available I find myself saying I'll do things when 'I feel like it'. Today I spent five minutes - yes if I'd thought it would only take that long I'd have done it before - prising the weeds out from between the flagstones which make up the path to the front door. One sharp knife and a placcy bag to put the bits in and it's done.

Yes all right I should have just got on and done it when I first saw it needed doing but for some things procrastination is my middle name. I'd always rather be doing something else such as reading, surfing the Internet or writing or just doing nothing. Cooking I like doing, the washing is almost always up to date, I don't iron because I either hang up to dry or put in the tumble dryer, the floors are generally pretty dust free - at least downstairs, bathrooms and kitchen are cleaned at least once a week but the windows rarely get cleaned inside unless I'm feeling in need of exercise and anything else has to wait for my once in a lifetime desire for a spring clean. I do dust occasionally though not in the living room because that would involve dusting model aeroplanes - don't ask - and I don't want to be responsible for breakages.

Decorating? Yes, well, it needs doing but when is anyone's guess. . . . .

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Not my usual sort of book and websites

Michael Wright's C'est La Folie has been making me chuckle over the last few days, even though I have no desire at all to follow the mass exodus of Britons to France, Spain etc.

Michael Wright, in his 30s decided he wanted to grow up and do something heroic. So he and his cat, Eva, bought a tumbledown farmhouse in France known locally as La Folie. The book is the story of his first year or so in his new home and how he learnt to look after sheep and chickens, deal with snakes and other unwelcome visitors and the cat learnt to catch mice even though they spoke French. I found it compulsive reading.


I had a very unwelcome e-mail this morning from a lady connected with the Fenland Preservation Society with an address in Norwich - which does not appear to have a website itself:

'After some discussion we have come to unanimous agreement that this is the most dreary and poorly written site we have come across this year.

Is there something you can do to jolly it up a bit? And improve the grammar and standard of the pictures?

You do our lovely county a disservice.'

Thanks guys for the no confidence vote. You seem to be at odds with the people from all over the world who have contacted me over the last few years to say how interesting they found it. If we're going to start throwing bricks over grammar then maybe you ought to rephrase your e-mail. This obviously elite organisation only has a snail mail address shown on the e-mail - apart from the Yahoo e-mail address which was used to contact me.

The formatting of my site has gone a little haywire because it has been archived a couple of times recently and not restored quite how it should be and I do want to add to it. Reading it through today I have found some very minor typing errors which I am happy to hold my hands up to. I'm intending to venture out with a camera and take some pictures for it over the next few months so it will be improved.

Neither of the pictures on the site relate to Norfolk and most of the Fens are in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire in any case so I'm not quite sure why they are complaining. While I accept if you put anything on the Internet you must expect to be sniped at I think this is a shade OTT - especially as they don't have a website themselves. I haven't yet decided whether to reply.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Happy Solstice

There are no pictures of the sun at Stonehenge this year because apparently it was cloudy. But still the Druids and other people interested in the Solstice were there.
It is something I would quite like to do. I remember driving past Stonehenge at some point when I was traveling a lot for work and being surprised at how small it looks from the road. I think I've always envisaged it with all the stones being hundreds of feet tall though of course they are rather more in tune with human proportions.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Kind Hearts and Coronets

I was reminded of this film masterpiece by Martin Edwards (link at the top of this page 'Do you write under your own name?') whose blog post of 19 June focused on the novel which gave rise to the film - Israel Rank by Roy Horniman. I have had this book on my wish list since I first saw the film and have never managed to track down a copy. Now Faber have just reprinted it in their Faber Finds series of forgotten masterpieces. Naturally I have ordered a copy.

The film showcases Alec Guinness playing all the ill fated members of the D'Ascoyne family and Dennis Price playing the murderer. It is a classic of its kind and while the plot may be slightly far fetched the acting of the main characters transforms it. The twist at the end is brilliant. If you haven't seen this black and white Ealing Studios film then you're in for a treat.
The picture shows Dennis Price as the murderer and the lady he later marries who is married at that point to a D'Ascoyne who is about to be blown up in his garden shed. Though it is some time since I last watched the film I believe she had money in her own right so in addition to the D'Ascoyne fortune he has the benefit of hers as well.

Friday, 19 June 2009

More family history

I spent several hours on the Internet yesterday tracking down various members of my great grandmother's generation on the census returns. I also manged to find great great grandfather on the 1911 census! He was living with a newly married daughter near Spalding and working as a jobbing gardener even though he was in his mid 60s. The State Pension was first paid in January 1909 and was the princely sum of 5 shillings a week (about £20 per week now) and you had to be over 70 to get it so he wouldn't have qualified at the date of the 1911 census. I've just found out it was means tested as well so if if you had other income of more than 12 shillings a week you wouldn't have got it.

Only 5% of the population was over 70 so at the time the Government weren't taking on a huge financial commitment. Apparently you would forfeit your right to it if you had been in prison in the previous 10 years, were habitually drunk, or had been unemployed even though there were jobs available. In 1928 it was expanded to include anyone over the age of 65.

The state pension was brought in because people were living longer than they were physically able to work and the workhouses and the outdoor relief under Poor Law provisions were overstretched. I think many elderly relatives were incorporated into families but if they had no families who could take them in then the state had to take over. Though 5 shillings a week was not enough to live on even then. How has life changed!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Finishing Touches

I have read and enjoyed Hester Browne's three Little Lady Agency stories and looked forward to her latest The Finishing Touches. Betsy Phillimore was left on the doorstep of a finishing school in Mayfair and adopted by Lord and Lady Phillimore - the owners of the school. Twenty Seven years later, having made a life for herself in Edinburgh, Betsy returns to London for a memorial service for her adopted mother Lady Frances.

Lord Phillimore asks if she will try and return the school to profitability under the mistaken impression she is a management consultant when in fact she is the manager of a shoe shop. Betsy rises to the challenge as she wants to find out who her mother and father were and whether they are still alive. The book is full of lovable and three dimensional characters and a fascinating background not to speak of two eligible men for Betsy to dream about.

This is great escapist reading and Amazon shouldn't have sent it to me because it is actually the American edition and is not really for sale in the UK. The Americanisms were a trifle annoying though they did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. I wonder whether this is going to be the start of another series of stories?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


I love John Mortimer's character that ageless barrister Horace Rumpole, married to She Who Must be Obeyed. I finished reading the first Rumpole Omnibus for the umpteenth time last night. It consists of the first three books. The first two are collections of short stories and the third - Rumpole's Return - is a novel. I think the short stories work slightly better but the novel in this case is equally good and it would have been impossible I think to break it into separate stories.

Rumpole never prosecutes and has a few judges he has regular battles with - The Mad Bull - Judge Bullingham, Judge Vosper who appears not to be human. Then there are his regular clients the Timsons - a family of small time crooks - and their resident solicitor - Mr Bernard. His colleagues change over time - Uncle Tom - T C Rowley - who haunts Chambers because he gets under his sister's feet at home - though he never gets any briefs and is retired; Claude Erskine-Brown who regards crime as distasteful and is married to the former Phyllida Trant - later to become a judge; Guthrie Featherstone QC, MP - head of chambers; Owen Glendour-Owen - though he returned to Wales on being appointed a Circuit Judge; Hoskins who has four hungry daughters to feed; Henry the Clerk and Diane the typist who are involved in amateur dramatics.

In these 3 volumes Rumpole spends some time trying to save Guthrie from his follies by prevent his snooty wife Marigold from divorcing him for having an affair with the temporary typist. His colleagues in chambers spend much time trying to persuade Rumpole himself to retire and he does so briefly in Rumpole's Return when he visits his son and daughter-in-law in Florida. But a murder beckons and he escapes back to his old haunt of the Old Bailey to defend Percival Simpson an Inland Revenue officer against a charge of stabbing at Notting Hill underground station.

I love the dialogue and the plots in these stories. Rumpole himself is a marvellous creation. All the stories have a moral to them and show the disadvantages of the profession. Even when you know what's going to happen - and I have read them all more than once - there are still nuances which I notice on re-reading.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The end of the world?

Apparently this latest crop circle in Wiltshire is predicting/symbolising the end of the world.

Just one question - how does anyone know this? If certain people know this why isn't everyone preparing for it?
I seem to remember several similar prophecies in the past about the end of the world - none of which have proved positive. I suppose if you say it often enough you are bound to be right eventually - like the weather men.

If the crop circles are man made - then the people making them may have thought - 'That one looked good - perhaps we'll do the same.' If they're not man made then why should they tell us about the end of the world and why would they know anyway?

It sounds very much like the first scene in Douglas Adams' A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - where the Vogons destroy earth to build a hyper space byway and they assure Arthur Dent that earth was told so they should have been expecting it!

Whatever its significance it's still a work of art.

Great Grandmother Sarah's birth ceritificate

I received a copy of my great grandmother's birth certificate yesterday. It gave me a really strange feeling to be holding a piece of my past like that This is just the start of the story though because currently I have been unable to trace her marriage or death. She was born in July 1870 and I have found her on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses. I cannot find her on the 1901 census at present ad I cannot find her marriage or death between 1891 and 1901 so what happened to her after 1891 I have currently no idea. But at least finding her birth and where she was in 1871, 1881 and 1891 is a start.

I now have another name to search for as well because Sarah Jane Slator's mother was Mary Sophia Scotney - born in the 1840s and died in 1881 just before the census. Scotney is fortunately not a very common name so if I want to trace her ancestry it might be easier. Sarah Jane's father was Alfred Slator and I also know where he was on the censuses from 1851 right through to 1901 even though his christian name and surname were variously misspelled. I also know when he was born and when he married Mary Sophia though he seems to have remarried after Mary Sophia's death in 1881 so I need to find his second marriage.

But I have made progress and much of the above information I uncovered in a few hours searching even though last time I did any research I got nowhere. This is really one blessing of the Internet - so much information out there even though you do have to back it up with original documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Control Freaks

I've read over the last couple of days The Control Freak Chronicles by Sarah Tucker. I suppose it falls into the genre of chick lit though there is more substance to it than many such books.

Helena has built a life for herself and her son Freddie in the small seaside town of Castleford following her divorce from control freak Leonard. Then everything starts to fall apart - she loses her job as a radio presenter, Leonard announces he is moving to Castleford to be near Freddie and her father is seriously ill. But she has good friends in Victoria and Esther and she is offered a job co-producing a documentary about Castleford and why it's such a peaceful place to live. The job presents its own challenges and new and interesting people to get to know.

Some of the scenes are hilarious as is the dialogue. The book makes serious points about how unimportant appearances are and about love and friendship but it never labours the point. The most important lesson Helena learns is that you cannot control anyone except yourself. Anyone who reads the book will recognise people they know in Leonard and the way he behaves. I found it entertaining reading with a serious point to it. There are some poignant incidents in it which are much better handled in my opinion than those in Knit Two by Kate Jacobs which I read a few days ago.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Children's Book

The Children's Book by A S Byatt is a beautifully produced book with a perfect cover illustration. The story takes place between 1895 and 1919 and features two families of Wellwoods and their friends. Olive and Humphrey Wellwood live in the Downs in a house called Todefright. Their menage consists of their children and Olive's sister Violet who acts as housekeeper and nanny rolled into one.
Olive writes fairy stories for children and Humphrey, when the story opens, is working for the Bank of England an occupation which does not seem to fit with his Bohemian lifestyle. Shortly after the start of the book he gives up the job to become a freelance writer. Humphrey's brother Basil is far more conventional and continues to work in banking. He and his German wife Katharina live with their two children - Charles and Griselda in London.
Olive and Humphrey are friends - if that is the right word - with Benedict Fludd and his wife Seraphita - another Bohemian couple. Benedict is a genius at making pots but a hopeless business man. Philip Warren comes to him as a waif and stray from the Potteries and manages to organise him just as Philip's sister Elsie organises his domestic arrangements. Philip is discovered by Proper Cain - a curator at the newly opened Victoria and Albert Museum - and his son Julian - sleeping rough in the cellars of the museum and drawing the exhibits.
There are various other friends who flit into and out of the story along with historical personages from politics and the arts. Characters attend Fabian Society meetings and women's suffrage meetings and put on impromptu performances of Shakespeare plays. Relationships are convoluted; conversations are oblique and many layered; descriptions are lush and yet austere. This is a book to sink into and absorb.
The era in which the story is set is as much a character in the book as the people. There is a growing air of decadence and decay amongst the arts and crafts these talented people produce just as there is amongst their relationships. Nothing is quite what it seems and characters' thoughts and feelings are laid bare by the author's scalpel and are dissected for our better understanding.
It took me several weeks to read but it was worth it. My only criticism was the ending felt rushed which in a book of over 600 pages I wouldn't have expected. It may be there are more books to come featuring the same characters as A S Byatt has done this before. I did enjoy it and felt it was every bit as good as Possession. Anyone new to this author might want to consider starting with one of her shorter books or a collection of short stories.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Book comparison

Like many people who read a lot of books I always have more than one on the go at once. Currently I'm reading Kate Jacobs' Knit Two - American chick lit - A S Byatt's The Children's Book and John Mortimer's The First Rumpole Omnibus. A pretty mixed bag really.

I have completely lost patience with Knit Two. . I've read two others by Kate Jacobs - The Friday Night Knitting Club and Comfort Food. Knit Two is a sequel to Friday Night Knitting Club which ended in tragedy with the main character's death. I found it a bit too touchy feely for me - especially towards the end though Comfort Food was good. I had thought without the main character the sequel might be less so. But it isn't. It reads as though the author wrote it because she wanted to cash in on the popularity of its predecessor.

There is no real plot and everyone obsesses about the perceived imperfections of their apparently perfect lives. What's more they seem to be stagnating and wishing their friend was still with them - 5 years after her death. It didn't read quite right to me. I know it's meant to be celebrating friendship and I'm all for it but everyone seemed to be wallowing. There was one section about two thirds through the book which was a lot better where several characters go to Italy for a holiday combined with work.

Has my reading of this been tarnished by comparison with A S Byatt? I don't know, but I wonder whether it could have been though Rumpole has not suffered at all and I still love those stories. In The Children's Book she is at her complex, many layered and understated best. The book opens with a group of slightly Bohemian families. The adults seem to have strong friendships and relationships with their children who are all growing up in ideal circumstances. Gradually flaws in this ideal existence are revealed and all is not as it seems. The story starts in the early 1890s and finishes just after the end of World War I. It really deserves a post on its own so I will save a full review of it until tomorrow as I have almost finished it - all 600 pages of it!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Freedom of Speech

I hold no particular liking for any political party but I am in favour of freedom of speech. The way many people are reacting to the BNP's success in the European elections puzzles me. If we support freedom of speech which as a country we always say we do, how can so many people openly criticise this one particular party in such emotional terms?

Freedom of speech must inevitably mean people are going to say things you don't like and don't agree with. But if you start pelting people with eggs or anything else for that matter you have lost the argument before it even started. That is not peaceful protest it is an attempt at intimidation. It is an attempt to stop duly elected politicians having their say. We live in a democracy and have a political system which allows everyone to vote for the people whose policies they wish to support. If you then get the far right or the far left elected by a fair and open process then those are the people a majority in a particular area wish to support. Perhaps that should be a majority of those who voted. If you didn't vote you only have yourself to blame for not exercising your democratic right.

Having said all that I am not sure how anyone with any knowledge of history and the evolution of man can state there are some people in the world who are less equal than others. We are apparently descended from that same small group of people whatever we look like and wherever we live now. That to me means we're all of equal value. The problem lies I think in so many people equating any far right party with the Nazis and the fascists. This is inevitably going to produce a visceral reaction in anyone - me included! This sort of reaction is very difficult to reason with and very difficult to overcome. But it is the protestors who worry me more because they are showing they lack the ability for reasoned argument.

But as ever I'm with Voltaire - I may disagree with everything you say but I would defend to the death your right to say it.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Family history

Over the last few days I've started getting interested again in researching my family history. I haven't touched it for about 6 years and had got stuck with trying to trace my great grandmother. I'm totally astounded by how much there is on the Internet now. I've got a trial membership of
just to see how much was on there. As a result I've managed to track down my great grandmother's birth and have sent off for a copy of her birth certificate - from the GRO rather than via the site itself. Cost from GRO - £7.00 - cost from the same place via £19.99!! Astronomical mark up.

I've also found my great great grandfather and his family on the 1861, 1871, 1881,1891 and 1901 censuses. I'd tracked him down on the 1881 census when I first started researching but had never managed to find him on the 1891 census or the 1901 census. As a result I now know that my grandfather and great grand mother were living at home again 2 months after his birth in the workhouse in January 1891. My great grandmother was one of 11 children - though the last few were half brothers and sisters as her own mother died in 1881 just before the census of that year.

It seems as though people moved around the country far more than we think they did as well. My great great grandfather was born in Lincolnshire, then worked at Thorney in Cambridgeshire then moved back to Lincolnshire and in the 1901 census is living with one of his daughters and her small illegitimate child in Beverley in Yorkshire

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

May Savidge

A Lifetime in the Building: the Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House she Moved by Christine Adams and Michael McMahon is an inspiring book. May lived in a medieval hall house in Ware - or rather she lived in part of it because at one time it had been divided into two. The planners decided in the 1950s that a new road was necessary through the centre of Ware though it was not until the late 1960s that this actually happened. May decided she didn't want to just calmly sell her house, which she had renovated, so she decided to move it - lock stock and barrel - to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, 100 miles away.
The book is the story of her life and the story of how she achieved her aim of living in the house again - though it was far from finished when she died in 1993. Christine Adams - married to May's nephew - finished her work and now lives in the house providing bed and breakfast accommodation to holidaymakers. The author managed to reconstruct this remarkable lady's life through the voluminous records she kept.

Every single piece of paper was retained including labels from tins and bus and train tickets. Even though this meant wading through boxes and boxes when the author first moved to the house May hoarding habit proved useful. Cigarette cards, bus tickets and theatre programmes provided a way of raising extra funds for completing May's work. The picture is how the house looks now.

The book is a poignant and heartwarming story of an indomitable spirit. May took on a project in her 60s which most people in their 20s would hesitate to tackle. For over 20 years she lived in conditions which most of us would have found impossible for a week in order to achieve her dream. I loved it.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Trip to Boston

I've been here today though I didn't go into the church only to the council offices and a quick browse round the shops. The picture aside is of what is locally known as Boston Stump. Strictly the parish church dedicated to St Botolph. It's the tallest parish church in England - if not the UK - and one of the biggest still in use.

It can be seen from Lincoln - 35 miles away - on a good day and is one of the favourite places in Lincolnshire for jumping off, next to the Humber bridge. It looks magnificent on a sunny day like today.

Almost next to it is an old house/shop which is leaning at a very precarious angle and looks as though it would fall over if given a slight push. I think it's medieval - must look it up in Pevsner.

Boston does have a great many old buildings including the Guildhall which has recently been restored and which dates back to the 14th century. Then there's Pescod Hall - see picture - which was picked up bodily and moved 20 metres away in 2003 to make way for a small shopping complex. The Hall itself is now a shop. This photograph was taken before it was moved. It is a former merchants house.
Talking of moving houses I've just started reading a book about May Savidge who moved her house lock stock and barrel from Ware in Hertfordshire to Wells -next-the-Sea in Norfolk. More of this fascinating book tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Gender gap?

I've noticed recently there is beginning to be a backlash against women which today's story about more women than men at universities will do nothing to quell. It appears more women go to university and do well than men who are more prone to dropping out. But men apparently still do better in the courses which are likely to lead to well paid jobs. So nothing new there then.

I haven't read all the media coverage of this story but I could pretty well write it myself. The tabloids will use it as a way of bashing women. Some of the broadsheets will see it as a positive thing while others will see it as a wider trend in society as a whole.

The story this week about women not being as happy as they were before the anti discrimination legislation in the 1970s prompted several articles in the Daily Mail in particular about women never being happy because the poor dears never really know what they want in the first place. I thought this sort of sexism went out with the ark. In my opinion women will never have equality until men play an equal part in child care and domestic chores without being asked and without being thanked. Yes I'm generalising but in my opinion this is why many women aren't happy - because they're now expected to do 3 full time jobs - bring up the kids, do the domestic stuff AND work.

I also noticed a footballer pontificating to the press about women's place in society though much of the media did not take this one up. He was advocating women not being allowed to drive at all though I don't remember him volunteering to do the school run. Someone posted a comment saying he personally would be much happier if women were not allowed to talk, vote and drive. So which bit of the Stone Age did he originate from?

David Starkey couldn't resist a spot of criticism of female historians feminising history and in particular Henry VIII. Probably because male historians have spent rather a long time air brushing women out of history, David, or hadn't you noticed?

As I've said before I do not subscribe to radical feminism but I also dislike the extreme views of some people (male and female) who suggest women should be kept at home and should confine their attentions to domestic chores and child rearing. There's more than a hint of this in the media coverage of female politicians at the moment.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Magic Flutes

I finished reading Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson last night. I enjoyed it even though it's aimed at the teen market. Guy - the hero - is a far from perfect character. At one point he throws a metal soup tureen through a window! This is a Ruritanian romance with attitude. It's set in Austria between the wars and features Tessa - a princess - who is slumming it working for nothing for a struggling opera company in Vienna. Guy is looking for a castle to buy and an opera company to perform Mozart's The Magic Flute at a week long house party he plans to hold to announce his engagement to Nerine - his lost love from his student days in Vienna.

Naturally enough Guy picks the opera company for which Tessa is working. I loved the background to this story and the supporting characters are as interesting as the protagonists. I loved Nerine's snobby relations and the way they treat Guy's foster mother. The dialogue is sharp and amusing and some of the incidents behind the scenes at the opera are priceless. The last few scenes are exactly the right ending for the book. I loved this great escapist read.

Friday, 5 June 2009


No I'm not being headhunted for a new job! This is the title of a book by Claire Peate. I think I read about it on a blog recently and it sounded like my sort of book - and indeed it was. Kate is a journalist in Winchester who feels her career is going nowhere. Archie is the stylish new Dean of Winchester who has belatedly realised that someone has pinched King Canute's skull. Edgar is a press officer for a museum in London but he is trying to keep the press away from a controversial excavation under Kings Cross station. He is also trying to find out what has happened to the missing skull of a famous person. He has to find it without letting anyone know who's it is. Are the two thefts linked?

The book is fast paced and amusing. I loved the characters - especially Edgar - who really grows and develops during the book. Kate and Archie provide some amusing dialogue as they come to know and understand each other better. I like this author's unobtrusive style and interesting plot. This is an enjoyable read.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A pleasant trip out

I had an enjoyable bus trip to Spalding today even though the town was busy. I was expecting it to be quiet as Thursday is the traditional half day/all day closing. I paid off the mortgage - and have the receipt to prove it - which gave me a great deal of satisfaction. The bus fare was cheaper than sending it Special Delivery - which I would have done if I was going to post it.

Then I spent a pleasant hour browsing in the bookshop there and bought Pevsner's Guide to the buildings of Lincolnshire with some of my book tokens from work as well as a book by a local author about Lincolnshire history. I still have some left to spend at a later date.

I pottered around the shops for a while and paid a brief visit to Sainsbury's for some strawberries and other odds and ends that I can't get from Tesco and then returned on the bus just as it was starting to rain - excellent timing.

The town seemed to have a cosmopolitan air today as it's warm enough to sit outside at the various cafes and the smell of coffee made it seem not quite English. I had forgotten how the average age of the people shopping changes during the day. Mornings it's pensioners and people who start work later than 9.00am; lunch time you get the kids out ffrom school eating chips and burgers and working age people shopping in their lunch hour; after about 2.00pm we're back to older people followed by school children after 3.00pm and people of working age with fewer older people. Interesting.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Crop circles

The latest in this summer's spectacular crop circle images. I'm really not bothered whether they're produced by groups of people having fun or extra terrestrials trying to communicate. I think they're clever however they occur. This one is in Oxfordshire though apparently Wiltshire is THE county for crop circles.
All the news sites have covered this one as far as I can see with varying degrees of scepticism.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Money, hot weather and books

I have the majority of the money I'm waiting for as of this morning but as I told the nice man at the building society when he wanted to offer me financial advice it's all spoken for. So that's a weight off my mind. I can now start distributing it.

I've spent 10 minutes pulling up weeds in the shingle in our back garden and came in rather over heated. This is definitely flaming June! I've also walked to the post office - about 5 minutes away - which was quite pleasant as there's a nice little breeze once you get away from sheltered areas.

I stayed up late to finish reading Katie Fforde's Love Letters. It's very much light fiction but this author is one of the best in my opinion. Sparkling dialogue, lots of humour and a heroine who starts off lacking in self confidence but grows throughout the story. I loved the background to this as Laura - the heroine - having been made redundant from her job in a bookshop gets roped into helping to organise a literary and music festival. There are some great scenes with authors sniping at one another and an absolutely marvellous literary agent - Eleanora. I'd love to see more of her though I suspect we're not likely to as she's rather outside Katie Fforde's normal age range.