Sunday, 31 August 2014

Going for a vintage bus ride, discovering exotic foods and getting to see Bailey again

It has certainly been a weird few weeks. We are STILL waiting for our conveyancer to
Vintage bus Park and Ride to
Pevensey Food and Wine Fair 
exchange contracts - it was going to be last Tuesday, but nothing had happened by Friday so we're not moving out tomorrow after all. Maybe next Monday ... ? It is so frustrating! If you are planning to move house into or away from the Polegate area, do use Archer And Partners estate agents - they have been friendly and helpful. Unfortunately I cannot offer anything like such a strong recommendation for Hobson and Latham conveyancers.

We have done pretty well catching up with people before leaving though, some deliberately and some by lucky coincidence. A lovely evening was spent with Linda at Hailsham's Chapter 12 wine bar on Wednesday. We only meant to have a drink or two after work, but much nattering later, we'd missed dinner and were still in situ. Fortunately they serve delicious tiffin slices!

Friday night was spent in Eastbourne for a farewell dinner with the Procurement Team, my current temp contract. We went to Toreros on Terminus Road for an appropriately Spanish themed tapas meal. I was touched that they all went to such effort!

Yesterday, we treated ourselves to an afternoon out at the inaugural Pevensey Food and Wine Festival. Using the Park and Ride got us two journeys on the above pictured vintage bus. Now I know there are many buses considerably older, but this is just the sort that was trundling around Nevill Estate in Lewes where I grew up so it brought back memories to ride it again. The Festival was pretty busy and we spent an hour or so chatting with the Cajun Dawgs who were the opening band. I enjoyed going round the varied food stalls and bought a walnut sourdough loaf from Judges Bakery of Hastings, and an excellent Jamaican Goat pie from Brambletigh. Kush Cuisine had a stall there too and I've got a couple of jars of interesting looking spice blends to take away with us - Bajan Fish Spice and Cocoa Spice Rub. The only stall that was obviously missing was one selling decent coffees and teas. There were multiple wineries and breweries but, as is so often the case, no luxury non-alcoholic beverages. Maybe next year?

Today we've been packing more boxes. There are 21 already and we thought we had gotten rid of most our stuff. Not so minimalist after all then! We cleared some space by taking a few boxes of bits to Bailey and checked that everything seemed ok for us to move in. Fingers crossed for next weekend.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Who I Am by Pete Townshend / The Long Song by Andrea Levy / The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer

Pete Townshend: Who I AmPete Townshend: Who I Am by Pete Townshend
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Phew! It's a relief to click 'I'm finished' on Goodreads for Who I Am because I seem to have been reading Pete Townshend's autobiography for weeks. At over 500 pages, it is far too long for the amount of material incorporated which is a shame as a good edit down to around 300 pages could make this a far more gripping insight.
Instead we get some good Who stories early on, but once Townshend departs from his interesting supporting cast, all we are left with is an insecure boy apparently trying to fill the emotional vacuums in his life with sex, alcohol and endless shopping (houses, boats, studio gadgets). Full of grand ideas and wearying protestations of his own importance, Townshend cares little for any other people around him and is frequently dismissive of even the fans who have 'kept him in cheques' (nice one, Roger!).
For such an artistic and literate man, the writing is surprisingly basic, mainly brief disconnected chapters that offer little reward for the long slog of reading them all. A shame.

The Long SongThe Long Song by Andrea Levy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

The Long Song is set in 1800s colonial Jamaica and manages a wonderful duality in that it tells of a life lived through the last years of slavery and on into freedom, but without becoming another book about slavery. Our protagonist, July, is born to a field slave mother on a sugar cane plantation and is abruptly taken to the house at eight years old when she catches the missus' eye. Through her reminiscences, we are introduced to a outlandish social structure with many more subtle layers than just that of masters and slaves.

I love how Andrea Levy draws us into her characters' lives by way of gossip and chatter. The minutiae gives a fascinating illustration of their world and the device of the elderly July talking makes her story all the more real. Major historical events do happen, but just out of sight so this is always a novel of people not facts. I was completely hooked and read the whole book in just over a day!

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #5)The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Case Of The Cryptic Crinolene is the fifth book in its series, but the story is sufficiently self-contained that it didn’t really matter I hadn’t already read the previous four. Enough back story is explained that I soon caught up.

The young adult adventure is set in the late 1800s. It seems pretty accurate historically – was SOS used that early? – and imparts a strong sense of the period and its social attitudes. Although obviously there is some steampunky unrealism in that the young Enola would not have been treated with the equality she frequently enjoys, this does not detract and the tale would be much the poorer with total realism!

I was a little concerned that Sherlock’s little sister was purely a marketing device and I still don’t feel that this ‘connection’ to the famous character is particularly beneficial. Enola is a great character in her own right and doesn’t need the overshadowing. Mrs Tupper is fun and the portrayal of Florence Nightingale is interesting, but other surrounding faces seemed two-dimensional.

The mystery itself has good pace and, as enthusiastically read by Katherine Kellgren, makes for an entertaining listen. It is detailed enough to maintain interest and does not overstay its welcome. I hope Enola’s other Cases are on audio too.

View all my reviews

Friday, 22 August 2014

Giordano Bruno by Alois Riehl / Anne Of Green Gables by L M Montgomery / Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Giordano Bruno: In Memoriam of the 17th February 1600 by Alois Riehl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This potted biography of the philosopher Giordano Bruno is from 1905 and was the ForgottenBooks book of the day some weeks ago. At just 100 pages, it is a swift read, giving an outline of Bruno's together with an overview of his remarkably accurate insights into the make-up of the universe.

Bruno has turned up in two historical fiction novels - Name Of The Rose and Prophecy - I read last year so this short book helped to fill in factual details for me. I think I now understand the main gist of his discoveries too. The writing is quite formal and old-fashioned, but once I got into its flow, the book was an interesting read and I was amazed at the modernity of the ideas being discussed during the time of Elizabeth!

The great shame is the fear with which Bruno's ideas were widely greeted and the religious intolerance that killed him. What other ground breaking theories might he have developed if allowed to live his full lifetime?

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Books by Alois Riehl / Biographies / Books from Austria

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I know I read Anne of Green Gables as a child, but I can’t remember now how I felt about the book at the time. I am sure I must at least have enjoyed discovering so many long words! Revisiting the tale now, thanks to AudioSYNC, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable listen and this Post Hypnotic Press version benefits from the excellent narration skills of Colleen Winton.

Orphan Anne is delightfully infuriating and I also love Rachel Lind whose immense self-belief reminded me of Miss Mapp. We meet many Avonlea characters, all convincingly real people, and the clever portrayal of the changing seasons as Anne grows up makes it easy to picture how life must have been within the community. I do think the story loses some of its spark once Anne reaches Queens. I missed the interplay between her and the Cuthberts and that whole year seemed to go by too fast with hardly any of the detail that makes the earlier chapters so fascinating.

Much like Black Beauty, which I also not so long ago revisited, the writing contains an overwhelming amount of moralising and bold statements about correct behaviour. I suppose, reading some thirty years ago, I would have been so used to being told what to do day to day that this would have seemed normal. However reading as an adult, I was surprised at the sheer volume of rigid demands. I had not remembered Anne Of Green Gables being such a bossy book!

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Books by L M Montgomery / Children's fiction / Books from Canada

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I enjoyed Code Name Verity far more than I expected too and have even been eagerly anticipating my commutes TO work as much as those from, just so I could listen to the next 45 minutes of the story.

I was a little uncertain when the story switches viewpoints in the middle as I felt it had come to a natural close. However, within a few minutes we were swooping off again, surely much like being in Dympna's Puss Moth! The characters are great and brilliantly narrated in the Bolinda audio version I heard - thanks to AudioSYNC yet again. I loved the twisting plot which has its very dark moments, but is a joy as it begins to unravel, and Elizabeth Wein does a great job of making her locations both real and atmospheric. At the end, Elizabeth herself talks briefly about her inspirations and research and, believe me, that research shows through in the authenticity of her tale.

Code Name Verity is feminist historical fiction that manages to entertain and inform without preaching or being dry. Highly recommended to younger and older adult listeners/readers.

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Books by Elizabeth Wein / Young adult books / Books from Scotland

Thursday, 21 August 2014

I've been given a beetroot!

Which isn't something I get to say every day! Big thanks to Maisie-at-work for the gift from
her allotment. I'm looking forward to the eating of it in my salad lunches next week.

For anyone else who’s counting as well, I’m down to just ten working days to go already! I am a tiny bit torn as I’m enjoying Procurement and my colleagues seem to appreciate me. I got a lovely email earlier in the week from Alison-upstairs which really made my day: “Thanks so much for all your help Stephanie. I shall miss you when you go.” Alison is working on the Pevensey Food and Wine Festival and the Coast and Country Walking Festival, both of which look fun btw and we’re planning to be at the Food and Wine one on the Saturday. The Cajun Dawgs are playing around lunchtime!

Alison’s comment reminded me of one of the themes in Cmdr Chris Hadfield’s autobiography, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. You might remember I listened to this on Audible a few months ago. He spoke of aiming to “be a zero” in any team situation; the options being to be a minus-one (causing more work than you do), to be a zero (neutral), or to be a plus-one (always positively contributing to the team). Obviously actually being a plus-one is the ideal, but Chris gives great examples of when his over-enthusiastically striving for this led to generally being a PITA to colleagues! Now he believes that aiming for zeroship is the most effective way to work and his explanation is inspiring. The best impressions can often be made without rocking the boat. Hopefully my colleagues will remember me as a zero too!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Closing the musical circle

Blues skies again after the rain
Dave played guitar regularly at the Six Bells Folk and Blues Club and at White Horse Folk amongst others up until a couple of years ago and it was due to these Sussex folk club gatherings that we initially found each other. At the beginning, I was nervously singing a cappella and Dave is an amazing guitarist so a mutual friend suggested we make sweet music together! I gave up on the singing fairly soon afterwards – too scary! – but some eleven-and-a-half years later, our relationship is still going strong. Awww!

I mention this because were invited to an unusual party yesterday which was also attended by several friends who have been around since ‘the beginning’. The party was unusual for two reasons: firstly because the hosts, our friends Simon and Lesley, rarely give big parties; and secondly because the venue was a dramatic Moroccan-style marquee erected in their paddock. (The ponies were relegated to a corner of their normal space, but didn't seem to mind too much!) For me, the event seemed particularly apt as the closing of a circle, this part of our lives being marked by similar music and company to its inception. We weren’t sure who would be there but as it turned out, we were given the chance to say our goodbyes to people we might not otherwise have seen before we departed. Dave hardly left the stage for the first couple of hours. He was in demand to accompany others and I was so proud seeing and hearing him play.

Dave Greene and Simon Watt playing the marquee

Monday, 11 August 2014

Spiced poached pears recipe

I mentioned our never-ripening pears a few posts ago and, in order to prevent them being
Pears poached in red wine 
all blown to the ground by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, we've started poaching them this week. This recipe is very simple - basically everything in one pan and then leave it to simmer. The ingredients below will generously serve two and the pears are just as good eaten cold as warm.

2 firm pears
1 cup water
1/2 cup red wine
3 tbsp honey
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp lemon juice

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Put them into a saucepan with all the other ingredients, bring to the start of a boil, then lower the heat and leave to simmer gently for about an hour.
If preferred, you can then remove the cooked pears and boil the sauce down to a thick syrup. Serve with cream or ice cream.

The great thing about poaching is that it seems to work better for unripe pears than for ripe ones. I like to use Conference pears because they still keep their flavour even through the wine. If you don't eat them all straight away, the reddened quarters look fabulous on an upside-down cake or in a tarte.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

I do like to be beside the seaside

We had a lovely day out in Hastings yesterday, wandering along the shingle by the fishing
A view from Hastings beach 
boats and doing our own trawling in the multitude of antique shops and independent boutiques. I saw the most gorgeous long beaded waistcoat which fitted and was only £18. I couldn't decide when I would ever wear it so it is still there - if you're looking for one?

We made the trip because Dave's daughters were visiting for the weekend. I was impressed with Southern Rail's Groupsave ticket which got the four of us from Polegate to Hastings and back for £19.60 without any delays, and without having to risk our new car's suspension in that ramshackle car park past the Stade. I was less impressed by the Buskers Festival which I had seen advertised for the whole afternoon and thought would be entertaining. We had imagined four or five little acoustic areas, each with a roster of invited players and maybe a variety of stalls in between. What we actually got was a couple of acoustics balefully attempting to be heard over the PA from a single stage where, as we arrived, a woman was murdering the Skyfall theme. There wasn't even any audience seating in front of said stage to encourage us to hang around. We wandered on to see actual fishermen on actual fishing boats - I love that Hastings is a working fishing town and long may it remain so. I was briefly reminded of Alvor harbour which has a similar sized fleet.

We lunched at Isabella where we were served excellent Turkish meze dishes. Our first choice of Harris' Tapas restaurant has sadly closed down, but they recommended us to Isabella and I'm so pleased they did! Make sure to have the Saksuka if you visit. Then more wandering including buying a handful of greetings cards from a tiny gallery, and a couple of gorgeously almond-scented soaps. Dave spotted a divine vintage picnic set in its own case with delicate china plates and metal cutlery. We would have needed staff to carry it around for us, together with table, chairs, linen and appropriate foods, in order to do it real justice though. Maybe in another lifetime!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Flotsam by Troy Blackford / Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss / The Scare by Robert Shaw

FlotsamFlotsam by Troy Blackford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Twitter friend mentioned Flotsam this morning and, intrigued, I clicked through, read other reviews and bought the collection straight away. The six short stories are probably best described as dystopian-fantasy-scifi-horror. Pretty genre defying! It's also just 59 pages so easy to devour in one sitting.

The first offering, The Oblong Man, is only a single page so more of a sketched idea than a full story, but the other five are good and, at working out at just 30p each on Kindle, well worth the price! My particular favourites are On Another Level and Three Types Of People.

Thanks for the tip @HeatherDorcas

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to PunctuationEats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

I didn't read Eats, Shoots and Leaves when it was first published although I do remember the incredible hype surrounding its release. Now, over a decade later, I am left wondering what all the fuss was about. As a grammar stickler myself I do often wince at real howlers, but to be fussy to the extent that Truss claims to be? Life is surely too short?

The most interesting passages are where the history of the various punctuation marks and their uses are described. The fluidity of the English language is always fascinating to me. On the whole, however, I found this book to be just a little dull.

The ScareThe Scare by Robert Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Scare is an American high school horror tale with an interesting mix of contemporary and gothic settings. It does get gory and very sexual so unsuitable for younger teens. The characters are well drawn considering how many there are and, although a misogynistic boys-protecting-girls theme keeps recurring, the female characters are allowed to do more than just pout, scream and die! I particularly liked Shaw's descriptions and imagery. His story is not stunningly original, but makes for an entertaining escapist read.

This book was recommended to me on Twitter back in May and I've unfortunately forgotten who by. If you happen to read this review, please make yourself known - I like your taste in fiction!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Potential stopping off points in western France

It seems a lifetime ago since I was last counting down the working days left before undertaking a wonderful adventure. In reality, not even a single year has passed. I am amazed to think back on everything that we have achieved in such a short space of time and, of course, how much our outlooks and dreams have changed in response to our travels.

Dave has been doing a fantastic job over the past few weeks of outlining our journey for the
Sunset rocks at Tregastel 
autumn and winter ahead. Obviously, our plans are still up in the air until we get definite confirmation on the house sale, but there has been much pencilling in going on nonetheless. We believe we will start in France this year, travelling down the west coast from St Malo to see the standing stones and dolmens around Carnac. We have planned before to visit this ancient site, having got close(ish) when we camped on the Pink Granite Coast around Perros-Guirec and Tregastel in 2010. I only recently discarded a pretty biscuit tin I purchased in a Regional Products shop in Tregastel – the biscuits, of course, having vanished far more quickly. I do love a Regional Products shop! However back then we only had a couple of weeks and liked the peninsula so much that we didn’t venture further afield. This year will be our chance. Our friends Steve & Frances kindly lent us their guidebooks which are crammed with information and evocative photographs. I can’t wait!

Other potential stopping-off points include the Ile de Re just off the coast by La Rochelle. Every review we have read of this island heavily sings its praises and hopefully the mass influx of summer tourism will have quietened down some by mid-September. Keep up with my blog to discover if we are as enamoured by the idyllic villages and harbour fronts! I’ve just remembered that I need to check out photos of the bridge ahead of the journey there. I have an illogical phobia of high bridges (and lower bridges and bridges with gaps between the planks and …). Do you remember the scene in GBH where Michael Palin’s character doesn’t drive over the bridge? Well, I’m not quite that bad, but images of a trio of panic-inducing moments from last winter are flashing though my thoughts as I type this now! The road to Sopalmo definitely takes the prize, but that’s because I didn’t drive to the Civil War guns situated high above the sea between Puerto de Mazarron and Cartagena. If Dave hadn’t had the wheel, we would not have got there! That is somewhere I wouldn’t mind returning to though and this time with a torch so we can actually walk around under the guns and see the firing mechanisms.

There’s so much world to see!

Thank goodness I've only twenty-one working days left – and, yes, I’ve already deducted the Bank Holiday!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Banana bread in a bread machine recipe

I got lucky this morning! Passing the little greengrocers at the Triangle in Willingdon I spied
Freshly baked banana bread 
a trug of almost overripe bananas on offer at just £1 for the lot. I snapped them up and ended up with 14 for my pound. Bargain!

I decided that banana bread would be their perfect use. However, Dave's slow cooking his excellent Pork with Fennel Seeds in the oven and this takes all day. I definitely don't want to interrupt the pork as that would not be to my benefit at all. Thinking hard, I had a vague recollection of seeing a recipe using the bread machine somewhere. A quick search turned up two choices: Banana and Peanut Butter bread in One Hundred Bread Machine Recipes or Banana and Walnut bread in our machine's own instruction booklet. Having neither peanut butter or walnuts, I decided that omitting the latter posed least risk of ruining its recipe! I was right - we both agree this banana bread is delicious and it's going so fast, I might find myself baking another loaf tomorrow.

2 tbsp melted butter (I used margarine)
1 tbsp milk
1 cup mashed banana (I used 5 because they were quite small)
1 egg
1 tsp grated lemon zest ( I tried but life is too short for zesting lemons)

Put all these ingredients into a bowl together and mix until well combined. Place the mix into the bread machine pan.

Dry Ingredients:
1.5 cups plain white flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Mix together the dry ingredients and place these into the bread machine pan too. Our machine has a Quick Setting which is a total of 1 hour and 40 minutes, about 80 minutes of which is actually baking. This is what I used and hopefully you can find a similar setting on your machine.

A letter to my hero

I recently learned of an interesting writing opportunity. Having seen a tweet about my Boules! post St Wilfrid’s Hospice asked if I’d fancy participating in a blog challenge for them. The Hospice does such fantastic work – and has such excellent ‘vintage’ shops - how could I refuse?

“Your challenge is to write a letter to your hero and publish this on your blog. Be it a superhero, a literary favourite, or simply your own personal hero; we’d love you to share the story behind them, why you look up to them, and the difference that they have made to your life” said Kathy.

That got me thinking.
My hero? Do I even have one?

The word ‘hero’ is so bandied about in Western culture that anyone can be called a 21 st century hero. The car wash people at Sainsbury’s are Heroes according their trolley branding. Some friends of ours exclaim the heroic status of their children for undertaking the simplest of tasks. Football players’ headlines frequently include the moniker and I’ve even seen it applied to non-entity celebrities ‘battling’ addiction or ‘overcoming’ reviews from less-than-encouraging critics. We are swamped with costumed superheroes in cinemas and on TV, all action and violence together with improbable physiques and a two-dimensional moral stance. I don’t look in any direction to these creations, let alone up.

To my understanding, a hero is a positive role model I can aspire to emulate. Clicking to the excellent website, pretty much confirmed this thought. The earliest English usages mentioned are late 14 th century: a “man of superhuman strength or physical courage” (from the Latin) or a “demi-god” (from the Greek). By the 1660s, a hero is a “man who exhibits great bravery” and another century passes before we see the first record of the term ‘hero-worship’. I’m sure the action must predate the word by many previous millennia! It is not until 1955 that a completely different ‘hero’ is revealed. The people of New York give the name to a particular type of sandwich, perhaps because, as with much American food, it is huge, or perhaps because its name is rooted in the Greek word ‘gyro’. Now, I am partial to a Pret A Manger New Yorker on Rye, but I’m not sure St Wilfrid’s mean me to write an ode to one!

My personal search started in the most obvious place for me, in a book. I’m currently listening to a biography of Claudette Colvin. A black teenager in 1950s Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette quietly protested bus segregation months before her more famous counterpart, Rosa Parks. Both women were undoubtedly heroic and I admire their calm, firm resolve. One personality aspect appeals to me, but I am not convinced either could be my absolute hero. The same is true of others I have found through books: Corrie Ten Boom, Dr Hawa Abdi, Mary Anning and Beatrix Potter. All astounding women indeed but not quite who I am looking for. I appreciate learning women’s stories, global and historical, the details of their lives adding more resolve and strength to mine in an incremental process of gaining pride in my gender. Much of my school education only taught male accomplishments because Women Didn’t. I am now learning that Women Most Certainly Did, and frequently with small children in tow. The difference is simply that their stories weren’t told.

Sports people are another popular source of heroes. I admire Jess Ennis and have often wished I could run like Tirunesh Dibaba. If only this damned apathy didn’t keep getting in the way! Long-distance walker Ffyona Campbell is probably my favourite candidate for a sporting hero. Strong-willed and with incredible endurance, reading of her walk across Africa was a definite turning point in my twenties. I’m not a record breaker, but I know I could do impressive-for-me distances if I trained and tried.

Maybe I should try looking closer to home. My Mum taught young children for decades in a deprived area of Brighton and her example inspired at least one friend to become a teacher too. As a talented pianist and Musical Director, Mum gave any number of amateur theatricals the courage and confidence to stand on a stage and sing. Many fondly remember her infectious enthusiasm and her bellowing at them from the orchestra pit! This is the root of my love of theatre but performing is not a path I kept to. My desire to travel comes from my father’s family. My paternal grandmother took up an amazing opportunity in her youth. A trained nurse from Northumberland, the young Madge Tait travelled to Kentucky to join the Frontier Nursing Service – a band of intrepid horse riding midwives – in the 1920s. Should Madge be my hero? I too enjoyed horse riding in my youth! Our imminent caravan travels are a diet version of Madge’s adventure and immersing myself in another culture is tremendously exciting.

So do I have a hero? Spending several hours considering my potential heroes has been fascinating, but I still can’t settle on one individual. Each candidate considered triggers thoughts of another inspirational role model. So I guess my letter to my hero will need to be the following

Dear Hero,
Thank you for your life and for inspiring the people who know you and know of you. I haven’t found you yet but eagerly anticipate that discovery, in the meantime being buoyed by the search, my own journey and everyone else I am lucky to meet along the way. Yours, Stephanie Jane

This September, St Wilfrid’s Hospice is holding their very first Hero Walk. Reimagined from their much loved JimJam walk of previous years, the Hero Walk will see hundreds of people from the local community descend upon Eastbourne’s beautiful seafront for this 10km (or 5km!) challenge dressed as, or walking for, the hero of their choice.

St Wilfrid’s want this to be the biggest event of their fundraising calendar this year so please get involved. If you’ve got a blog, a Facebook page or even a Twitter feed, write a letter to your Hero. Send the link to St Wilfrid’s so they can have a read and share their favourites online. And if you’re inspired by Ffyona Campbell too, or just love dressing up, why not join in the Seafront Walk!

Friday, 1 August 2014

My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding / Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose / Be My Knife by David Grossman

My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Clare Balding is on TV a lot at the moment presenting the Commonwealth Games. I hadn’t considered this when I began to listen to her autobiography via Audible a few days ago, but it is certainly an apt time to experience her book. I like Clare as a presenter because she is knowledgeable and comes across as a strong role model - no reliance on simpering or cleavage from her! However, I knew very little about her life before she began presenting mainstream sport. I had no idea she had been such a successful jockey for a time, nor that her family is so steeped in the world of horseracing.

Although this is very much a book about that world, I was pleased that I didn’t need to be a fan in order to understand it. While the result of a privileged upbringing, Clare is very down to earth about her childhood and adolescent experiences. I particularly liked that she doesn’t shirk from revealing actions that show her in a bad light as well as times when she shone. Her dawning awareness of the constant misogyny around her makes for an interesting theme and I am grateful that my teenage weight battles weren’t made such a stark focus as Clare’s were.

At one point Clare mentions that she enjoys listening to audiobooks and I believe this comes through in her narration as, not only is her story well written, but she does a great job of telling it too.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Clare Balding / Biography / Books from England

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward JusticeClaudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another audioSYNC listen, Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose is the first of the season to feel as though it is particularly aimed at a teenage audience. That said, the book is a fascinating listen and taught me much about the realities of segregated life in 1950s America. For example, I didn’t previously know the actual origins of the phrase ‘Jim Crow’. I particularly liked the way the side-bar sections were read. These little snapshots of historical information about prominent people and events complimented the main text allowing greater understanding of issues such as the practical logistics of staging the Bus Boycott.

The multi-narrator storytelling is a great device that really brings Claudette’s words to life. Her resolve to help bring about change, together with her disappointment at the lack of support from adult activists in Montgomery made for a poignant tale. The brief words of the author at the end explaining how this book came about were an interesting touch.

For me however, the strongest feeling I am left with after hearing Claudette’s story together with my other recent listen, October Mourning, is one of disappointment in America itself. The country is true melting pot of practically every people, yet only relatively few can really be themselves and thrive.

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Books by Phillip M Hoose / Biography and memoir / Books from America

Be My Knife by David Grossman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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I registered a book at!

This book is infuriating! Essentially a one-sided book of letters from a thirty-something man to a woman he spies at a reunion, the concept is unusual. Some of the prose is stunning, really profound streams of consciousness. However, these brief passages are hidden in the depths of so much arrogant, egotistical whining that it became a real slog to finish the book. I've seen effusive five star reviews for Be My Knife so obviously others have got into the writing in a way that I was unable to do. Still, having finally got to the decidedly bizarre ending, I am relieved to stop!

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Books by David Grossman / Contemporary fiction / Books from Israel