Thursday, 11 February 2016

Bed and Breakfast Tales - 9

Splodge!  and it's there for ever!!

Splodge?......   Well, Splatt, perhaps even Blurgh (new word for use in graphic novels and comics - feel free to use!)

I'll explain.  At some point about a year ago, a guest obviously exploded a bottle of something inside the shower.  It wasn't shampoo, nor any kind of liquid soap or shower lotion, because that comes off.  After I've taken my shower, I wash the inside of my shower glass every day with a wet e-cloth, and that means actual glass cleaning (like your would your windows) does not have to be done so often.  I like a clean shower, and I am sure my guests do too.

Whatever this was, and I suspect it was the kind of body lotion you apply to wet skin,  it left the shadow of a seriously big splodge on the glass (and yes, it was just a shadow), which only showed itself once the glass got wet.   I scoured the internet but whatever I tried - vinegar; a dry Brillo pad on dry glass;  window cleaning treatments of various kinds; mould remover - and you name it I tried it, that shadow of the splodge remained.

And then I remembered that someone had given me a showerglass renovation kit as a present a couple of years ago.  In order to get your glass back to pristine, you have to remove any and all limescale and contamination from the glass first, before you give it the protection coating.  We have a water softener so we don't suffer too badly from water stains, but I took the little squirty bottle, and gave that sheet a glass a hell of a squirting!!  Then as instructed, rinsed it and dried it.  What d'you think?   AT LAST - almost gone.  So I am going to repeat the exercise and then do the protection.  There is always an answer out there somewhere, but who'd have thought that limescale remover also removed the shadow of a greasy splodge?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers

I have known about this book for most of my reading life, and it hovered in the background as a shouldberead. It should be read, most definitely, but I wonder how many people would appreciate the rambling style of this American classic now?  Only 23 when this, her first book was published, it shows great insight into the poor of the southern states of America, both black and white in the 1930s and 40s.  McCullers was white, and came from the state of Georgia, although she decamped to New York early in adulthood, and only returned from time to time to absorb the sadness of it all.

There are several main characters here, living in a shall mill town in the south;  all drawn from what I think must have been close observation of those around her.  There's Mick, a tomboy on the verge of puberty, who cannot understand her feelings (and may well be a picture of a younger McCullers herself); John Singer, a deaf mute who lodges with Mick's parents now, following the madness and incarceration of his life's companion;  Doctor Copeland, a black doctor who cannot understand why his children have not followed his route and wanted to better for themselves.  These people, together with others, form a picture of poverty and sadness in a small town where to be poor is expected and put up with. The Doctor has spent his entire career not only healing the sick but urging his patients (all black, of course) on to better things, never understanding why they do not take his advice.  Mick, who wants so much to be able to play the piano and write music, but can only listen to music by walking across town to listen to someone's radio from their open window, is a girl you'd want a stroke of luck for, but it's hard to see where this might come from.
I don't want to give too much away, because I think the best way to read this book is to get in and meander through the characters' lives.It's typical of it's time but still relevant today in it's message. And written in (for me) a new and rather lovely style.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in FEBRUARY

Well - after a wet January, when you must have spent more time than you hoped cooped up inside, and February looks like continuing that wet theme.  So we have to keep reading, no?!

My suggestion for February, therefore, is the kind of crime novel that you would not normally read.  For example, if you read lots of "golden age of crime", come on out of the 1930s and forwards to the new century.  If you read a lot of current crime, try going back in time a bit.  Perhaps you don't read crime novels at all?  Sometimes it's good to break out of your comfort zone.  My suggestion for February is therefore a book set in the years just following WW2 - 1946/7 -

A Commonplace Killing - Sian Busby

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Fin & Lady - Cathleen Schine

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Sometimes I read a book and want to tell everyone about it - resulting in a resounding silence all round!  Sometimes other people pick up on it and read it too, loving it as much as me.  Here is one of those "other people pick up on it" kind of books, I hope.  Published here in paperback in 2013, it only has 6 reviews on UK Amazon, so I hope it is just a sleeper, rather than a book to be ignored.  I loved this one, so let me tell you about it.
Fin is an eleven year old boy, living on a farm in Connecticut, when his mother dies.  He's now orphaned, and has no-one.  Well, that's not strictly true, as he has Lady, a half sister, living in New York city, old enough to become his guardian.  And so he's taken to NY to live with her, a girl who might be described as "flighty", but in the heady days of the 1960s perhaps free thinker might be a little nearer the mark.  Not quite near enough though.  For she longs to be free herself, even though she does not know what she really means.  What she does know is that marriage is something that removes freedom, so it's not for her.  She longs for adventure, and so she and Fin set out to have those adventures, riding bikes in Greenwich village, visiting museums, drinking in cafes, until it's time for Fin to be enrolled in school.  Her choice for him is a school where kids sit on the floor in circles whilst the teacher (called by his first name if you please) discusses "stuff".  For this is a time when Flower Power was at it's height, the Beatles were big everywhere, the Vietnam war was on everyone's mind, and people were marching for peace in the streets. 
If you lived through the 1960s, you will recognise a lot of things.  If you didn't, it will give you an insight of NY at that time.
As Fin grows up, Lady is his best friend, his sister, his mother, his companion.  Full of fun, but with an unsettling view of men, marriage, babies.  It takes some time for Fin to unravel her life and what she thinks.  The book is told by someone who was close to them both, although you will not come to find out who that is until towards the bittersweet ending of this lovely novel.  Just the kind of book to curl up by the fire with; or as Spring comes along, to find a patch of sun somewhere, to start at the beginning and just go for it.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Visitation Street - Ivy Pochoda

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Imagine you are poor in the richest country in the world. Imagine that you live in the run-down end of Brooklyn NY. Imagine that you are never going to leave. And in these few streets and this little strip of water from where you can see Statton Island, New Jersey, Manhatten, there are people whose lives have been hit by tragedy. The girl who comes back from the dead after taking an inflatable out for a moonlight adventure with her friend who does not come back;  The boy whose father was shot dead when he was very young and his mother, haunted by the ghost of her husband.  Then there are the little people, the people who are always hoping that business will improve, even though the reader knows that this will never happen;  the down and outs, the drinkers, the parents who want more than this for their kids even though the readers knows this will never happen either.
A brilliant telling of poverty and what it does to a soul. Val, the girl who didn't drown; Cree, the black kid whose father was shot, Ren, a secretive older teen who seems set on looking out for Cree - these are the major characters here although everyone else is worth listening to.
But there is a righter of wrongs, here. Someone who can put a few things right. And because of what he does, things will change for some of those characters in the book.
The author lived in the area described so well for some years, and although I don't know it at all, she has captured it so that you can see smell and taste the lives of those who star in this book.Told in the present tense (She listens, he walks etc) but please don't be put off if this is not a style you normally like. An Amazon reviewer asks why this book is not better known, and I wish I knew, it is a compelling story and deserves a greater readership.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Rumi - Sufi poet of 13th century

Just came across details of a book about Rumi and one of his companions/teachers.  The book didn't mean anything to me, but I had never heard of Rumi, and wondered what his poetry was like.  There is a lot of it..... but I found this one, and thought it beautiful altogether, describing his thoughts of a lover who he wanted to be with on that particular day.  Lovely isn't it?

“I want to see you.

Know your voice.

Recognize you when you
first come 'round the corner.

Sense your scent when I come
into a room you've just left.

Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.

Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.

I want to know the joy
of how you whisper

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A House in Flanders - Michael Jenkins

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    A little delight to keep on the shelves, ready to lend out, read again yourself, or just suggest to other booky friends.  
    (Sir) Michael Jenkins died, aged 77, in 2013.  He only wrote two books and this is a memoir of his 14th Summer, spent in Northern France in the company of a whole family of elderly not-really-relatives.  
     He was a diplomat, a mover and shaker in the early days of the European Union, a money man; spoke three languages fluently.  A wonderful life - and I believe from this tiny book (171 pages) that his diplomacy was learnt from his Aunt Yvonne, the chatelaine of the house where he spent that 14th Summer. 
     It was obviously a Summer where he learned many things, where he started to grow up, where he learned to appreciate the company of those much older than he.
    Each chapter is headed by the name of one of the characters.  The chapter describes that character perfectly, and one might think that this would be a boring read, because nothing much happens.  But it's the characters themselves, his descriptions of them and the feelings that he remembers those characters conjured up that make this little book a gem.  I found it in a second hand warehouse for £1 - small money well spent!
    You can read his obituary here, but do read the book first.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Breath - Tim Winton

  • After trawling around Amazon reviews for this I find that the 5 stars far outweigh the 1 and 2 stars.  I came to this as a Winton fan already, but it stayed on the shelf for a long while because it’s about surfing, a sport that has no effect on me except the appreciation of the Beach Boys surfer songs of yore.
    But what I do appreciate is a well written book.  This is one.  The lower scores were given by folk who for a start did not like the lack of “speech marks” as they could not tell where a conversation began and ended.  They also did not care for what they describe as the foul language.  Mmmm..... I have never worried about speech marks, and this book is quite clear about conversations, so no worries there.  I didn’t notice much foul language either, but when it was there it was part of the whole – so no offence taken by me.  And yet, those offended by foul language seemed not to have noticed a particular sexual practice...... 
    I know nothing of surfing.  I don’t want to do it, either, but Winton must know, and must have enjoyed or still enjoys the thrill of it – and now I  understand too.  But when you are a twelve year old,  just reaching adolescence with a thirteen year old friend who does not have a great home life, the thrills when doing something naughty; or banned, or just different cannot be ignored.  Led on by a fantastic surfer, who has travelled the world and studied the weather charts for the next storm and the waves that herald it, they learn to surf some big ones. For one of them enough is enough and other thrills beckon – for the other, the thrill of this wave will never be anything except the anticipation of the next.
    It’s short – 247 pages – and it isn’t “sweet” by any stretch of the imagination; but in those few pages Winton has captured something which you could feel,  and has written about it perfectly.  Add to that a first sexual encounter and a loss of friendship and this is a mighty coming of age story.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Dream Room - Marcel Moring

     This very short book (118 pages) is a beautifully put together novella, and for those of you who love a well constructed sentence, well written and leaving you wanting more, this may well be a good pick for you. Translated from the Dutch but with no acknowledgement of the translator, it looks as though he did the translation himself.
    It's a simple story - 12 year old David, a budding chef, is the only child.  He and his parents find themselves building plastic aeroplanes after his father has quit yet another job on the same day that his mother has been fired. This will keep the roof over their heads until other jobs turn up and they are relatively happy doing this for a while.   Then a friend from the past (an English ex-spy) turns up and here the book turns into a little mystery.
    Did so enjoy the read, until the last chapter.  David is now 40 and his current life is the subject of that last chapter - which, sadly for me, rather spoilt that lovely read because this seemed so much like an add on, and in fact it seems unnessary to the story to have it there at all. Still, I didn't write the book, and the author wanted that last chapter in, so who am I to say he was wrong?  Worth seeking out though - and I leave it to you to decide whether you read that last few pages or not.  The prose is lovely though.
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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Bed and Breakfast Tales - 8

A bit of a stink!

Our visitors were out for the day.  Winter, but the sun was shining.  Around noon I went upstairs and opened the bedroom door, to change the cups and glasses and empty the bin.  I  was assaulted by that bit of a stink I mentioned, and worried that one of our cats might have been trapped in there for hours, and - well - you know!

I moved all the furniture, looked under the bed, but could find no sign of anything nasty.  But with the door open, the bit of a stink extended across the landing and into the bathroom.  I opened the bedroom window, I opened the bathroom window.  But an hour later I could smell it downstairs as well.  What to do?  Nothing, except explain when they came back that it wasn't my cats at fault!

In the event, it was a round of lovely ripe Camembert....  so panic over, but you know, they didn't think it smelled at all.  I must have a sensitive nose!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in JANUARY (2016)

Well Christmas and all that accompanies it is over.  The cards will soon come down, the tree undecorated and the glitter swept up.  And then, apart from New Year, which I really don't like, January stretches out before us, seemingly endless and with no money as we spent that all before Christmas!!  Storms, floods, and even perhaps the cold winter promised us by the surfeit of holly berries.
So I am recommending a long read.  Some evenings before the fire, curled up with one you can get your teeth into, and by long I mean 500+ pages.  Here's one I really enjoyed last year:

The Truth According to Us -  Annie Barrows

Happy New Year, everyone! 

Saturday, 19 December 2015

A Parachute in the Lime Tree - Annemarie Neary

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I don't mind what a book is about, as long as I can enjoy reading it.  And as I only review and recommend books I've enjoyed, you will probably have noticed a dearth of reviews recently, due to several duff books passing through my hands!  This does not fall into the duff category - indeed, it was rather a novelty for me as it was a love story, and that is not my usual genre.  But a quite different kind of love story from those modern chick-lit tales, churned out by the dozen by publishers who know how to make a lot of money fast.
Four young people – two of them German.  One an  Luftwaffe conscript, and one a young Jewish pianist, which live next door to each other in Berlin;  and two of them Irish – one a young girl caring for her widowed mother, and the other a trainee doctor in Dublin.  Their stories are knitted together beautifully.
Oskar who we meet first, is young, has high morals, and intensely dislikes the Nazi party and all they stand for, but cannot find a way out when he is conscripted into their airforce. Elsa is his "girl next door", literally.  They have known each other since childhood in their home city, Berlin.  And then, in 1941 when she is 17 and he just a little older, their world falls apart, and she finds herself just being young enough for the Kindertransport from Germany, and is put on the train, bound eventually for Belfast, by parents who she must leave behind in Holland, where they have fled away from anti-Jewish Germans.

Charlie and Kitty?  They are both Irish, Charlie training to be a doctor in Dublin, Kitty at home in the countryside, caring for her recently widowed mother.

Fate has a tangled web prepared for those four. They do not all meet each other, but their youthful lives are each affected by the others and the author has managed to do this seamlessly and beautifully, with plenty of research to back the story up; and I will certainly be looking out for another tale from her.  Well done Annmarie Neary!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Just in time for Christmas - my blue living room!

This was the year that a big job was done.  Cheap pine flooring up, new damp-proofing for the walls (200 year old house has no damp course), new floor down, walls replastered.  And the biggest change?  The colour of the walls from a sort of duck egg blue to dark dark darkest!  Have a look and enjoy the living room!
Just some views of the "before" first; well, I mean "in between" stage, with the flooring ready to be laid, but everything else in a state of flux and mayhem.... Above is our rather sooty fireplace complete with woodburner.  Below is the window that looks out onto the next door cottage.

The wooden shelves below the window will be lovely cupboards shortly.
And finally, what will become the little windowseat and another cupboard.  If you look towards the right of the picture, about 3 inches above the floor, you will see a little wood "box shape".  These window recesses contained short normal radiators, and all the plumbing was on show, with the pipes just bent round things that were in the way.  The lovely old window framing was just butchered to run the pipes along.  So the lovely OH made up a perfectly matched insert for both windows and now, finished and painted, the problem has disappeared!  Brilliant!!

 So, let's just go round the room as best we can.  Cleaner fireplace, mantelpiece done for Christmas (which is a minimalist style in this house)  New lovely bookcase with just a few spaces left in case books arrive for Christmas !!!
And here is the window that overlooks the next door cottage - now complete with cupboard doors and hiding all the junk lovely stuff that has to be hidden for Christmas...... (and in case you ask, no, we are not awaiting curtains - this is it!)
 Here's Fred who cannot keep off the sofa..... especially if I have just got up to get a drink - that warm spot is too tempting. Spot that carrier bag hiding just under the arm of the sofa - oooops!

Here's the door, now (after only 13 years) painted and only awaiting it's lock and handle.  Yes, that is a framed picture on the door and you can thank Ed, the CEO at Libertys' of London for that bright idea.  Ed - you are a genius!  That window overlooks the garden, and beneath the blind is a little window seat now (cushion to follow).
 Yes, the set of drawers are permanent, we love painted furniture and acquired this earlier as it is perfect for the TV plus look at all that storage! It's part of a 1980s bedroom suite.  On that chair to the left is the damned knitted cushion - finished at last and with a couple of red buttons still to go.
Finally the new rug and a little stool given to me years ago by a friend no longer with us.  I believe, judging by the wear on the foot rungs, that this was a pub stool at one time, and it's seat was worn to a velvet finish by many bums....... I gave it  a cream overcoat and little red boots, and it's just right for the Radio Times, the TV controls, and a cup of tea!  The red basket holds videos and DVDs yet to be watched or re-watched.

That's it then, got the dark blue room I wanted, and at night you can see how cosy it is.  The before pics have already shown you the natural light in this room as it has east and west facing windows. so it never looks gloomy.

The true colour is the second "after" picture. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in DECEMBER

A book you would give to your younger self is the subject I've chosen this month.

Well! there are loads of books I would give to my younger self so what to choose!  It's December, so I guess lots of you are thinking about Christmas presents.  And, I hear you say, how young a younger self does she mean?  As young as you like, but not one you actually did read back then.  After all, the younger you will know about it, won't they?!

 I'm going to send my younger self a wonderful Young Adult book that I just loved

                                    Meg Rosoff - The Way I Live Now