Thursday, 19 November 2015

A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night - Harry Nilsson

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We've had a makeover in our living room, which meant furniture was removed, stuff was stored in the dining room, and decisions were made about what to keep, what to sell, what to send to the charity shop.  The vinyl is up a a shelf in the dining room. Will we replace them with CDs?  Get them re-recorded onto CD?  Will we just download the stuff we like?  Later, later for that decision.

Now to put the CDs in their new home...... and a real chance to have a listening session and see what the classics of the collection will be.  And the first one is:

I have just replayed A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night - Harry Nilsson which I have loved from the first time I heard it. Arrangements of mostly old standards (It had to be you; What'll I do; As time goes by), it reminds me of a good time in my life (not that it hasn't been mostly good!) and I am never getting rid of this one!

Every track is linked by an intro that "mentions" one of the other classics on the album, although not necessarily the next one you will hear.  A couple of little jokes in the words of songs, too;  it's just glorious.  Are you an old sentimentalist?  Very young with no experience of the standards of the 1930s?  Someone like me who just loves a song with wonderful words?  If you don't have this album, give yourself a treat.  Available for not much money, and I can almost guarantee you will play it many times and find yourself falling in love with the late, great Nilsson.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Christmas decorating - early thoughts!

Just a little idea for Christmas..... I don't mention that word until November each year, even though cards are in the shops in September (when I may not even have had my holiday!!!).  This is the mirror in my dining room..... and the branch was one that fell off my cherry tree in the garden.  If you are going to do this you need to check that your own mirror is nice and secure.

Tie string in three places and attach to mirror with drawing pins (press pins).  Get the level and the look of it right.

Choose your decoration colour (this time it was red, silver and plain glass), and make sure the step ladder you use is steady, and off you go.  I hung all this stuff either with thin silver string, or with the cord that came with the ornament - most of the hearts are cloth, and came from a string of them which I took apart to use them singly on here.

This is something that requires little money (you all have a box of ornaments somewhere, yes?) and only your time.  This was the first time I had done this, but it's been up there a while now...... (the ornaments come off after Christmas, of course!!).  But if, like me, you are a lazy old bat, just dust it with a feather duster and move on to the next idea.  I had miniature eggs hanging on it at Easter.

Keep it up as long as you like, and eventually you may get fed up with it.  At that point, take it down and use the wood for kindling if you have a woodburner or open fire, and if not, cut it into a few even pieces and put it in a corner of the garden, where beetles and such will find it and use it.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Mrs Mac Suggests: What to read in November

The Clocks are back, the nights are longer, and perhaps it's time to look for something different to read.  My suggestion this month is for something written from a child's point of view.  There are lots of them, some much better than others, but if this kind of book is new to you, perhaps it's time to read a new genre.

A famous book in that genre is  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and if you have not yet read this gem, please seek it out and give yourself a treat.

For me, a recently read book comes to mind, that I really enjoyed.  It was

Waltzing Through Flaws by Paula Sharp


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

A Fifty-year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

  • Fifty-Year Silence, A
Miranda Richmond's maternal grandparents were Jews, who by some miracle escaped internment and death in WW2.  She was Romanian, he stateless (although eventually with French nationality) and they met and married, spend short periods together, and finally after only around five years and the purchase of an old house, Anna left Armand, taking their only child,  and they never spoke again. 

Anna, her grandmother, left Europe, and settled in America where she became a psychciatrist; whilst  Armand had been amongst other things in his long career, a translator during the Nurenberg trials.  Two very different people, two very different personalities.  Anna, an open and caring woman who wanted the best for her granddaughter, and Armand, a closed book, who was very bitter about life and who referred to his (ex?)wife as "that witch", amongst other insults, all the while showing love to his granddaughter so long as his wife was not mentioned.  So with the Atlantic between them, they never met and never talked again and somehow, Miranda Richmond had to find out why this happened.

I thought it was going to be rather dry when I started to read, but it wasn't long before I was engaged in this odd, mysterious family history.  The author will tell you everything she found.  Both grandparents would not tell her anything about why they couldn't stay together, and that mystery is solved only by the author towards the end of the book.  Fortunately, her grandmother kept a great many papers which helped, but I must say Miranda Richmond was tenacious.  It took ten years, and a lot of research - and here's the book!

If you are interested in Jewish history and/or WW2,  this has a very different slant from records of Holocaust survivors and their testimonies.  Nevertheless, it is a record of a time and place that those born without memories of war and the horrors that man can inflict on his fellow man may find intriguing and fascinating.  Certainly the author was intrigued enough to continue digging and I thank her for that - for this rather sad, but understandable and ultimately redeeming story is another part of the jigsaw of WW2, as well as a little piece of her own family history.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Prayers for Sale - Sandra Dallas

Hennie Comfort, 86 in the 1930s, widowed twice, mother of a long dead child, and knowing that her daughter may well be right when she says that she can't continue to live up there in the mountains, in the little mining town of High Swan, but must come down and live with her in Iowa.  Maybe she will, but only for the winters, for her plan is to return each Summer until she can't do that any more.

She has a nice house, much larger than the one room cabins that most miners and their families have, she has some good friends, and she has many tales to tell.  These she relates to her new friend Nit Spindle, only 17, with a husband and a stillborn child buried already.  Nit has a lot to learn about life up there in the thin air on the mountains, and Hennie will pass on all she knows.  Nit can't stitch well, either, but she'll get better at it, and when the quilting circle meets up at Hennie's, that's a good way to get the quilters to befriend Nit.

Thoughout this book, there will be chances for Hennie to tell yet another tale about the community, and gradually we will feel we know everyone so much better.

A smile here and there, a tear too, but most of all a tale well told - a story of love, hate, and quilts.  Just what Dallas does best, really.  I really like her books, but they don't have much of a following in the UK - even though I am ever ready to encourage people to read them!  Maybe a viewer or two of this particular post will think again, and get hold of one of hers....... and become a fan like me.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Bed and Breakfast tales - 7

River Cottage fans sometimes stay here....... and two of our guests this year arrived using public transport only.  Fine as it stands, but we reckoned that a taxi one way would be around £30.  So we told them we would drive them there.  Two friends, one Danish, one Swedish who had met in a kitchen many years ago.  Loved each others company, and that was fun for us too!

Anyway, we piled them in the car and off we went, delivering them to the River Cottage carpark.  They got out of the car, and the Swede promptly burst into tears.  What on earth?

Nothing wrong at all, she just said "My tummy is all wobbly!, I have waited for this moment for years!". 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Mrs Mac suggests: what to read in October

October already........ and with it the season of mellow fruitfulness is nearly at an end, for later, November will bring colder weather, windy days, and probably lots of rain.

So for October what about something to curl up in front of the first fire of the year, or next to the radiator when you switch the heating on?

So I suggest that you read a book that you have been looking forward to reading for a while, and put aside because summer was just too busy.

I've been saving   
                                                               all the summer!

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

Not new, but still worth finding and reading this wonderful YA read.  Indeed, there are two more to read as this is part of the Chaos Walking Trilogy, so I'll be searching out the others soon.

Our hero, Todd, is with his dog Manchee, and from the very first page you know you are in for a strange and extra-ordinary journey because the dog is talking to Todd, and Todd is replying.  Manchee needs a poo...... and tells Todd so.  Manchee is a great character in this first book - there are other animals that talk too, but with much less vocabulary, including a huge herd of cattle of some kind, who just sort of sing "Here", "We are Here" to each other all the time to keep the herd intact.  Brilliant concept all round - a new planet, where settlers are still attempting to settle, but finding it difficult for various reasons including the strange phenomenon of all thoughts being audible to all men (Todd's town has only men in it).  There were resident creatures on this planet, but the new settlers seem to have killed off most of them;  in this way it reads rather like North America and the European Settlers in the early days.

Written in the first person (Todd's voice) and the present tense, we accompany Todd and Manchee when they run away from  town and we find that there is a kind of price on Todd's head;  and he's going to have to keep running, and keep out of trouble.   Not easy when he comes across a silent girl, a survivor from a scoutship, sent down from another settlers' spaceship waiting for a message to say Safe to Land.

The book has violence, cruelty, bad spelling (not mistakes, just the way Todd and others talk), but I whipped through it in two days, just turning page after page.  I really like Patrick Ness, and have read some of his later books.  Don't know why I didn't pull this off the shelf before, but glad I got there in the end.  I had tears in my eyes several times, and I cared for many of the characters I came across.  Do find it and read it. Dystopian reads are not everyone's cup of tea - this was definitely mine!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Slammerkin - Emma Donahue

 Central London (Covent Garden and surrounds) 1760.  What d'you think it might have been like then if you were truly poor?  Mary Saunders lives with her mother, stepfather and a baby brother, in a basement room.  She is fortunate that her own father left enough money for her to have an education at a charity school.  Her stepfather is truly only interested in the brother - of course, it's his - and so Mary gets on with life as best she can.  Every day, on her way home from school, the whores are out for business at Seven Dials, and one of them, with a knife scar across one cheek and a grey powdered wig, has a scarlet ribbon in her hair.  Mary wants that ribbon, or one just like it, to colour her grey and dreadful life.  And the evening she looses half the money for the winkles she's sent out to buy for the family's supper, she meets the ribbon seller.  She has no money of her own but covets his wares, and when he offers a scarlet ribbon for a kiss, she's tempted into saying yes, and the kiss becomes a rape against the wall of an alleyway.  And in the daylight, the ribbon he gave is brown, not red.  And of course, the rape must result in a pregnancy. 

She's 14 years old and thrown out by her mother and stepfather.  To her rescue comes Dolly, the whore with the scarlet ribbon, who takes her in, cares for her, and teaches her the business, which she soon becomes very good at.  But she wants more than sex in an alleyway.  Surely there is more to life than watching thieves hung at Tyburn as a day out?  For a while, drinking gin and giving the punters what they want is a good life for Mary and Dolly, but several things change for Mary......

No more of the story as it's too good to tell you the whole tale.  But if you thought being poor in the 21st century was not an attractive deal, read this and see what it was like in the 18th century.  It's described so well, warts and all, and that part of London has not changed its street layouts at all, so if you are familiar with Covent Garden and The Strand, it's easy to recognise.  And if you are not familiar, a map of the time is supplied at the front of the book.  I am unsure how most of the inner city poor survived to adulthood frankly.  Little food, little money, no running water, no sewers (your pot was emptied into the street, and the delightfully named "night soil" was taken to be spread on fields to provide compost to grow food).  The descriptions of the dresses the working girls wore (slammerkins both - for loose woman and whores' dresses) will tell you much.  It's the oldest profession and you'll probably understand why as you read.  There are a lot of sexual descriptions in this book, but as it is about prostitution, it's to be expected.  There are lots of interesting facts in there - including a description of what "hangers on" were, originally.  Who knew?

Donahue has written several books since this was published around 2000, but if she'd only written this one I'd have recommended her.  From two or three lines in public records, she found a character in Mary and put flesh on her, and gave here a character you may not ever like but a character you should empathise with.  I did.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The President's Hat - Antoine Laurain

Ah!  a French author!  Don't turn away.... for if you have anything against foreign authors, you may miss a trick.  This short novel (208 pages) just tells you the story of a hat.  Not exciting? Not romantic?  Not breathtaking?  Well..... that's right, but let's have a closer look.

Francois Mitterrand, president of France in the 1980s, out for supper at a Paris restaurant with two colleagues one night, leaves his hat behind in error.  Daniel Mercier had been sitting at the next table, not quite a guest at the table, but near enough to follow the conversation and to realise that when Mitterrand leaves, the hat stays.  It seems that fate has dealt a good hand to Daniel, for when he puts the hat on his head he feels different, and it's not long before he begins to act in an entirely different way.

The hat will not stay with Daniel, it has several more heads to sit on, but every wearer appreciates that it changes their life in some way.  Sometimes it's a huge change, sometimes just something that needed a little nudge.  It's a wonderful little novel, tells you a lot about human nature in all it's guises, including human failings,  I loved all the characters once they had got the hat on, my especial favourite was the lovely Peirre Aslan, perfume "nose" who had lost his skill after a long period of depression.

I think you might enjoy this, it's a little different, and good because of that. Certainly it's a marmite book.  I had a look at the reviews on Amazon, and the majority are 5 star.  But there are a few 1 star, and one of those is short and succinct.  It just says "Rubbish" - bit strong, eh?  and certainly not true, even if it's a book to make you smile rather than get the goosebumps going! 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Mothers Day; Fathers Day; Grandparents Day; yada yada yada

I added yada yada yada instead of etc. etc. etc. because I found that today, 14 September, was Grandparents Day in the US.   It made me think about commercialism versus families, and I came to the conclusion that we have travelled a long way (or been coerced into travelling a long way) from Mothering Sunday.  I still remember that when I was little, Mothering Sunday was the day you took a little posy of flowers to church to have them blessed, and then you passed them on to your mother as a sort of thank you for her being there.  I have later memories as a teen of buying her a card and a small present instead of the flowers.  But it was always Mothering Sunday.

Now with a lot of the Christian world becoming secular,  people no longer go to church except for weddings, funerals and christenings (and perhaps on Christmas Eve).  Nothing wrong with that, you may have a faith, you may doubt your faith, you may have no faith.  Entirely your choice I believe.

But horrors!  Somewhere along the way, card manufacturers took the place of the church, and some!!!  A card for everything, a card for every special day.  I am sure there was no Fathers Day when I was small - there was certainly no Grandparents Day. 

And soon we will turn full circle - for with postal activity getting less and less, and the fact that you can send a picture of yourself waving hello to the chosen one on their "day" via your phone, we will soon not be buying those cards......  Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might say!

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Snake Pit - Mary Jane Ward

     "Long ago they lowered insane persons into snake pits; they thought that an experience that might drive a sane person out of his wits might send an insane person back into sanity"

Let me introduce you to Virginia Cunningham, patient at a New York State mental institution in the 1940s.  Following a complete breakdown, she is at the stage where she remembers some things - like her husband Robert's name, her own first name, and the fact that the food is awful, but "the bread is good" (that last statement having become part the vocabulary between my sister and myself when things are not so good anywhere, cafe, bank, housekeeping, life in general etc.).

Very much like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the regime described for those suffering from mental illness was unlike the way it is dealt with today (thank goodness).  It was written in 1946, so a few years before Cuckoo's Nest.  It was the time of electric shock treatment; ice cold baths; complete wraps in wet sheets and tied down for the night; the wearing of the same "uniform" every day with only a shower twice a week and lucky if there was soap; the total lack of privacy and in the place that Virginia  describes, the time when the nursing staff were sometimes as odd, eccentric and indeed, using her own word,  as crazy as she was.

This is a short and intense novel.  The copy I read was only 192 pages, and every page worried me for Virginia's sake, for it was clear that at the beginning she hardly knew who she was, let alone where she was.  And all the way through, as she gets transferred backwards and forwards between different wards, meeting people who might be friends; people who cannot be trusted and therefore can never be friends; and every so often, mention of a doctor of some kind;  I worried that another setback would mean she would not be leaving soon.

My own parents both worked in a mental hospital (as it was referred to in the UK then) in the 1950s and 60s.  I heard many stories that as an adult would have horrified me, but as a child it was all part of what happened where they worked.  At that time there were still women who had been locked up in their teens for becoming pregnant - not from ordinary working families, but from upper classes who didn't want the scandal.  Some of those became totally institutionalised and would never have coped with the real world.  Mental health begins to be better understood at around that time.  We certainly don't lower people into snake pits, and whilst we still don't understand everything, we can help more with all kinds of mental illness now in the new century than only 50-60 years ago.

This is a book I urge you to find and read if you can.  If for no other reason than to give you some idea what it is like to be mentally ill (in any way).  It is a glimpse into a nightmare - I cannot imagine how she must have felt.  But feel it she did, because although a novel, this is based on the experiences of the author who did have a total breakdown in the 1940s. 

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Fire Colour One - Jenny Valentine

Meet Iris, teen firestarter, with a greedy mother and a stepfather whose big film part is just the next audition away.  Iris lives in California, where her mother runs up credit card bills, wears Lebutin shoes, and drinks.  All the time.  Suddenly they are leaving their apartment and heading back to England, where Iris's real father - the one who didn't love her and never wanted her lies dying.

She doesn't want to like Ernest, her father, but somehow he seems much nicer than the man her mother is always describing.  She gets to spend some time with him, in the family house full of 20th century art (which is why her mother came back).  As they talk, she gets to hear her father's side of the story.  It doesn't make her like her mother any more than she did, but it makes her think again about the lies people tell.  So is her father lying as well?

At the point in the book when something wonderful is revealed, I actually stopped reading and clapped my hands.  What a great read for anyone, but particularly for the YA audience this is aimed at.

Jenny Valentine is the author of Finding Violet Park which was also a great short read.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Mrs Mac Suggests: What to read in SEPTEMBER

I was just thinking about depression.  An awful affliction - some of my friends suffer badly.  Then I wondered how many of us dismiss any kind of mental illness because you can't see it?  My parents both worked in a mental hospital (as they used to be called) in the 1950s and 60s, and by osmosis I suppose I found out more about these conditions by listening to my parents' conversations about work.  Anyway, this led me on to something to read in September.....

..... and so I am suggesting that you find a book about mental illness of any kind.

The book that came to my mind is a fiction but based on the real breakdown suffered by the author.  I read this first when I was in my teens, and again in my thirties.... rather old fashioned now (written in the 1940s), and the practices of electric shock treatment and cold water baths are, thank goodness, no longer used.  But that book made me again aware of how mental illness was and still is looked upon, but rather more importantly, how the sufferer feels whilst all this is going on.  The book is still available and is:

The Snake Pit - Mary Jane Ward

Waltzing Through Flaws - Paula Sharp

If you enjoy North American fiction, that isn't about murder or mayhem, but gives you a window onto a parallel world similar, but not the same as Europe, you are like me.  And this book is a glimpse through that window and into the world of the late 1970s, when the  pro-lifers were just beginning to campaign.  I certainly knew nothing about that subject then, although I know a lot more now. So this will give you an idea of how that whole thing took off, and how some people got more tied up in it than perhaps was good for them.

Penny, whose life as an eight/nine year old is described here, has an older fourteen year old sister Mahalia.  Mahalia has met and become enthralled by, a pro-lifer called Isabel, well known in their small town as a church woman who can be relied on to look after children if babysitters are scarce; a woman who always attempts to do the Christian thing and take food to people who are without; who will always tell unmarried mothers to be that abortion is not the only way out.  Heart of gold?  Mmmm - I found her very spooky,  personally, and whilst Mahalia was quickly enthralled, Penny's views were rather like mine.  But she was just someone on the edge of their lives until that Summer when the girls' mother had to admit that she was an alcoholic, and her fiance (she was widowed) and brother were going to take her off for a few weeks to dry out.

Marguerite, the girls' mother, asks Isobel if she will move in whilst the adults are away and take care of the girls.  She agrees, and in a short time Penny's life has changed.  Her sister accompanies Isobel on visits to poor families, she helps distribute anti-abortion literature, and she begins to act like Isobel.  Meanwhile, Penny finds that her mother has been writing regularly, but the letters are withheld as the contents are "not suitable" for the children.

Enough of the story.  Paula Sharp?  Who is she?  What a find!  I had never heard of her before acquiring this excellent read, but would certainly read more if they came across my radar.  She tells a child's story, but not in a childish way, although one that most would recognise.  The book is divided into three sections, each headed by the name of one of the lead characters.  Those sections are divided into chapters and I had no trouble in knowing where I was.  It was a page turner in the way that thrillers are.  A sense of doom lurked somewhere just over the next page, and every time the chattering womens' church group got together, I had to grit my teeth!

A good read.  Worth finding.

Friday, 21 August 2015

My Cleaner - Maggie Gee

This is a book about many things,  but mostly it's about children - how we treat them, how we rear them; and about the clash of cultures, either those of other countries, or indeed, those who are different to you even though they are family.  Vanessa divorced her husband (although she never really let him go - handy for DIY) when her son Justin was small.  But then, of course, she had to work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.  And she had to write (two fiction, and a series as co-author about Pilates and the like).  This meant that she had to employ a cleaner who was actually fulfilling the dual role of cleaner and Nanny.  She was Mary Tendo.  When Justin was 12, she went back to Uganda and got herself a good job as Linen supervisor in a hotel and got on with her life.
At 22, Justin is obviously suffering from severe depression, not washing, walking about naked, and spending most of his time in bed eating sweets.  Vanessa cannot do anything with him and frankly, she doesn't have time, so when Justin says one day, out of the blue "I want Mary"; it takes a while before she realises what he means.  She can't do anything with him, but his former nanny might be able to.  So she pays for Mary to come back to England to see if she can rouse Justin from his stupor.  She really doesn't understand depression, and as he has an MA he should really pull himself together and get a good job.

So Mary arrives, and the culture clash begins.

Maggie Gee went to Uganda after receiving a commission from the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and then a grant from the Society of Authors helped with further African travel.  At the beginning of the book there is a half page of thanks, well worth reading.  She has given Mary her own voice, and although I have never been to Uganda, and am unlikely to do so, I quickly understood that like every country, it has its own sense of humour, sense of irony, and way of behaving.  I loved Mary, ploughing on regardless because it was important to get Justin better, save the money she was paid by Vanessa for doing so, and get back to Uganda to a nice life  with her lover Charles. There is sadness in everyone's life, Mary has been divorced by her Muslim husband, she has lost her own son, probably.  Vanessa's background is a closed book, for when she left her own village, she left everyone in it behind too.
Mary can be naughty, Vanessa can be spiteful, Jason is a big baby.  But there are reasons for all of this, and as the story progresses, secrets are revealed and questions answered.  Mary's voice is wonderful.  Vanessa wants a good slap, and Jason?  Well..... there is a reason for Jason's depression.  All will be revealed as you read on.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tommy's War - The Diaries of a wartime nobody - Thomas Livingstone

Guest Review by Mr Mac 

Mrs Mac bought this book for me, as she did many of the others I have on my shelves ready to read.  This one was special, because I am a Glaswegian, and so was Thomas Livingstone, the "Tommy" of the title.  Although written long before I was born, there are many similarities in the way Tommy lived, and the way I was brought up.  His descriptions of tenement living are so similar to my memories that it all came alive for me.  Tommy’s health kept him from call-up to the front, so his job as a shipping clerk made him party to information that the general public had no knowledge of.

In a more priviledged position job-wise than manual workers at that time, it afforded him a slightly bigger and nicer apartment in his tenement block.  Considering the conditions of those tenement dwellers at that time - with washing, drying, cooking, and a coal fire for heat all mostly in one room, ill-health was rife, and Tommy and his little family did well to have a good space for themselves.

Tommy and his wife Agnes and son (wee Tommy) come alive in the pages of the diaries not least because he illustrated his pages with little sketches about his family and the war going on outside.  His style is short but sweet  - the entry for Thursday 8 November 1917 is a perfect example of home and war news in a few words!:

     Agnes doing a lot of knitting this weather.  Italy still advancing backwards.

Considering that these 20 or so diaries with their charming little coloured illustrations were put into a sale and purchased for £300, we are lucky to have them.  I found  this a great picture of how the city functioned and the people lived during WW1.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy - Rachel Joyce

Product Details

A couple of years ago I read and enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the story of a man who when hearing that a former work colleague was dying in a hospice in the north east of England, decided to walk the whole way to see her.  Rachel Joyce says she didn't mean to write another book about Harold, or indeed a book about Queenie Hennessy, but somehow the book came to her fully formed and it had to be done.

Queenie Hennessy is a woman with a past.  Whenever there has been a problem, she has simply up sticks and run.  And when she is forty, she finds herself in Devon, working at a brewery, and in love with a shabby man who dresses in fawn/beige and is not an exciting man at all.  And she can't tell him for fear of hurting him, his wife, his son. When a tragedy strikes Harold Fry's family, Queenie runs again.  She takes a train all the way to Newcastle and eventually finds herself living in a beach side wooden bungalow, with a sea garden.... until she finds a lump in her jaw. We meet her just after she has sent the first letter to Harold - the letter that urged him to make his marathon walk in the earlier book.  She's now in a hospice, for the lump was serious and now her life is nearing it's end.  Harold has answered her letter with a short note - "wait for me", and she is trying to do just that.

But there are things that happened a long time ago in Devon that affected her, Harold, and Harold's son David and she must tell Harold all of this.  She cannot be sure she will be alive when Harold eventually arrives...... and in any case the cancer proved so aggressive that she really cannot speak to make herself understood.  So when a nun with a typewriter offers to transcribe Queenie's shorthand notes into a letter for Harold, it's the answer to a prayer.

It seems so simple, doesn't it?  A dying woman telling another woman about her life.  But it is so wonderfully written, with other larger than life characters in the hospice sharing her (and their) last journey.  It is a "couldn't put it down book".  It is a book that left me smiling with a tear in my eye.  I think for anyone who loves a tale well told, and who has not read this or Harold Fry.... the two together would make a wonderful gift.  Rachel Joyce has the skill to observe and relate the whims of complex human nature so well, and with seeming little effort.   And, dare I say this? this is a better book than Harold Fry, although I loved them both.

Don't read the last page, please, until you get there.  And do read Rachel Joyce's letter to you, the reader, when you have finished the book. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

You know what a CEO* is, right?

Today we booked our car in for a clean and valet.  I firmly believe in paying for good service if you can afford to do that, for you're keeping someone in a job.  The young man who came out with the diary found that they had a space at 12.30 on Friday next, and we booked that.  He took our phone number and name, and confirmed that we were having the "number 3" valet.  And then he added....."sadly, it will not be me that does the job on Friday.  Freda, our CEO will be valetting your car".

As this little business is a two man band, forgive us for smiling all the way home in the car!

*CEO - Chief Executive Officer (well, you can't blame them for looking to better things, can you?!!)

Monday, 10 August 2015

Zeitoun - Dave Eggers

Today I am going to say very little about a book that shook me up.  I am going to add a link to another blog where the book is reviewed at length, and where a follow-up explains what happened to the Zeiton family afterwards.

The book is non-fiction, and tells the story of Zeitoun, a Syrian-American and his family, a businessman living in New Orleans.  It starts with the approach of Hurricane Katrina;  continues with the devastation of parts of the city, and ends with a worrying last chapter, when his wife is obviously going through a breakdown whilst trying to come to terms with what had happened.  I believe that despite what  has happened since, this is a book worth reading.  A book which shows all too simply how society breaks down in an emergency, especially when ordinary people want to do their bit but are not always able, and especially when a uniform suddenly makes you a god who must be obeyed.

If you can bear it, read it, please - but do go to this blog and read the review and the afterwards.