Sunday 30 August 2015

The Light Of Falling Stars by J Robert Lennon / The Saturday Night School Of Beauty by Marsha Mehran / Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Light of the Falling StarsThe Light of Falling Stars by J. Robert Lennon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up a copy of The Light Of Falling Stars at The Childrens Society charity shop in Garstang. A well spent 99p!

Described as a novel of loss, grief and survivor guilt, The Light Of Falling Stars is set in a small American town, Marshall, which has the incredible misfortune to be the site of a plane crash. Many of the victims are local people so practically everyone is personally affected. Lennon divides his tale into three Parts with the first introducing us to selected relatives waiting at the airport, and the couple, Paul and Anita, whose house was partly destroyed by a falling engine. Part One is undoubtedly the strongest. Heavily emotional, but without being mawkish or overly sentimental, there are excellent character studies and Lennon seems to have an real understanding of the agony of waiting. Even cameo appearances such as the airport staff and chaplain are perfectly crafted.

Unfortunately, after this promising start, the novel loses its way and veers off to focus on the collapsing marriage of Paul and Anita. Their storyline has the potential to be an interesting novel in its own right, but I didn't like the way it took over The Light Of Falling Stars at the expense of the ensemble piece for which we had been set up. Other characters do still get a look in and their tales are neatly concluded in Part Three, but after the wandering style of the middle section, I felt that their emotional impact had been lost. And the final scene is embarrassingly schmaltzy.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

The Saturday Night School of BeautyThe Saturday Night School of Beauty by Marsha Mehran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of The Saturday Night School Of Beauty from its publisher, AmazonCrossing, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. The novel will be published on the 8th of September and is available to pre-order from Amazon now.

Although The Saturday Night School Of Beauty is set in Buenos Aires, we are presented with very little to identify Argentina. Instead, through the conversations and reminiscences of a disparate group of Iranian exiles, we learn of Persian culture and tradition, and how political upheavals caused chaos and loss in their lives. The overwhelming feeling I came away with, having finished the book, was that of homesickness and longing. It was not as deep a read as its synopsis suggested and I had hoped. Poetry is indeed read and quoted extensively, but the discussions are brief and generally simple. On the other hand, the title is suggestive of a chick-lit novel, and even the beauty shop scenes don't portray that kind of sisterhood.

Perhaps The Saturday Night School Of Beauty would best be described as a series of vignettes. Characters in turn delving into their remembrances of home. Often, as readers, we are unsure if they are talking to the group or to us alone and these intense monologues are particularly moving. Overall I did find the story disjointed and unfinished. This may be due to its author having sadly died before its completion and her father having taken responsibility for its final edit. As portraits of Iranian life and the longing of exiles, this has a fascinating elements, but as as a novel, I found it ultimately unsatisfying.

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dave bought Everything I Never Told You for his Kindle months ago so I get to also read it thanks to Amazon's Family Library policy which is a great idea. We can use the campsite's wifi at our current CS so I seized the opportunity to download most of the books he has bought that I have not yet read!

Everything I Never Told You is marketed, on its cover at least, as being similar to The Lovely Bones and I think that does this book a disservice. Yes, both are set in the 1970s and the catalyst for both storylines is the death of a girl, but that could apply to dozens of books. Everything I Never Told You is an exploration of family relationships and tensions in a biracial household where two generations of wanting the best for their children has spectacularly backfired.

Marilyn, a white American woman, longed to be a doctor despite her mother's intention that she conform to perfect 1950s housewife ideals. Ng quotes from a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook whose guidelines for a happy home were hilarious until I remembered that they were meant as serious advice. Thank goodness the society in which I live now allows women the right to choose or refuse that lifestyle! Marrying a Chinese-American man, James, allows Marilyn to defy her mother, but also ends up with her losing her dreamed-for medical career. Instead, and unable to see the irony, she foists that ideal of perfect happiness onto her eldest daughter, Lydia. Lydia dutifully strives to make herself into the woman Marilyn obsessively pushes her to be, and when her body is discovered drowned in a nearby lake, the loss tears her family apart.

Several issues are carefully and cleverly interwoven to make this an interesting novel to think over and discuss after it is finished. The shocking casual racism is a reminder of how we can still recoil from people who display differences. And James's constant need to fit in clearly illustrates the effect such behaviour has on its victims. Most important though, I think, is the message that our dreams are just that. Ours. And, even with the best of intentions, foisting our own life goals onto others is rarely the best solution for them.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Saturday 29 August 2015

Visiting Brecon and walking the Monmouthshire And Brecon Canal

I thought that Brecon was a lot closer to Cynghordy than it actually is.
View into Brecon canal basin under bridge 167 
The drive took three quarters of an hour, each way, but it did give me the chance to preview some of the road I will be driving with our Bailey Orion caravan on Tuesday. It's always a bonus to have an idea what to expect when towing! Once in Brecon, we parked up near the canal basin in an official car park that was only £1 for 6 hours. We had a quick look around there, planning to return later in the day, and watched a large day trip boat, The Dragonfly, being poled 180 degrees to start its noon voyage. We vaguely considered hiring a little boat or canoes to explore the canal for ourselves, but hadn't come prepared and I wasn't going to risk getting my gorgeous red Gabor boots wet!

Brecon town centre is smaller than I expected it to be. There were quite a
lot of people enjoying the sunny afternoon, but it didn't feel like the height of the summer season. We walked up to Brecon Castle and got a good view of the outside. It is now a luxury hotel. The town is made up of lots of little streets, many of which have Georgian and Jacobean shop fronts and an interesting array of shops. As well as a choice of outdoorsy shops, there are also several dedicated to classy homewares and decor, antique dealers, an extensive vintage bookshop and a smattering of High Street names. We walked through the little undercover market and admired the exterior of the Brecknock Museum. Unfortunately it appeared to have closed down so we couldn't see inside.

Lunchtime allowed us discover another pretty little cafe, the Bijou Deli on
Niloc Semaj will live by the canal! 
Watton. The building functioned in turn as a coal merchant's, an antique shop and a shoe shop before its current incarnation as an elegant and friendly cafe. The wifi isn'f for customer consumption, but the coffee is very good and we both enjoyed our food. Dave had a large bowl of Mediterranean vegetable soup and I had a tasty Veggie Chilli with Nachos. The cafe window displays vintage-style wicker picnic hampers which I would love to own. Completely impractical for our style of walking and picnicking, but they do look fabulous and weren't outrageously priced.

After lunch we stashed a few bits of shopping in the car and decided to
walk along some of the Monmouthshire And Brecon Canal which dates from the 1790s. The towpath is now a popular cycle route as well as being used by walkers and joggers so, at times, it felt even busier than the centre of Brecon. I had caught a glimpse of this pony sculpture from the car as the road goes alongside the canal for a little way. Made from wood, it commemorates the tramway which used to run from the canal at Brecon to Hay On Wye and was at one time the longest tramroad in the world. Other wooden art along the first couple of miles of canal include several benches with metal bars and rings that look as though they were created from pieces of dismantled locks. We also liked this map bench which shows the entire length of the canal.

Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal bench 

Friday 28 August 2015

We see Red Kites in Wales

We notched up another fantastic wildlife sighting to add to our tally when
out walking near Cynghordy a couple of days ago. Red Kites! Four of them wheeling in the sky, practically overhead, so we were able to get as good a look at them as possible and they stayed around for three or four minutes which doesn't sound long, but in catching-a-glimpse-of-nature terms is forever. Normally by the time one of us has said 'do you see tha...' it's already gone! Of course, the beautiful birds were too far away - and wouldn't stay still long enough - for my camera phone to capture their image, so I shall subsitute my photo of a bleached sheep skull instead. We spotted a single Red Kite on our way back from shopping in Llandovery again this morning which reminded me that I had not yet blogged our walk. The birds have such a gorgeous chestnut brown colour that almost seemed to glow in the sun. It is wonderful that they are re-establishing themselves successfully in the UK. What would be even more wonderful would be if people would stop killing them.

As walks go, it wasn't one of our best by a long chalk. I had woken up in
an unusually gloomy mood anyway, critical footpath signs were missing - Eileen at Cwmcuttan campsite had already warned Dave that farmers around here aren't the best at preserving public access rights - and the ground around here is absolutely sodden. Even by Welsh standards, it's wet for August! However this did mean that we shared our tracks and footpaths with a number of little brown frogs and also got to see loads of these unusual mushrooms spread across a field. They look like blobs of bright yellow candle wax until they begin to open and then turn into sombreros.

We did manage a three hour loop, but with too much step retracing for
We didn't go up there 
my liking and I managed to get water in one of my boots while fording a stream. I am less impressed with these North Face boots now that I have been using them for a while. The inner fabric is already wearing through on the soles and they seem to have stretched to a looser fit. Once home, I actually got around to using the Nikwax waterproofing gunk I bought at Go Outdoors in Saltney. Let's see if my feet stay dry next time out. Having needed to take the laces out in order to use the Nikwax, I am going to try a different way of relacing them to see if that improves their sturdiness.

Don't forget your Camping and Caravanning Club card
for extra Go Outdoors discount on non-sale items!

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Darkness And Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett / Weeping Susannah by Alona Kimhi / Traveling In Place by Bernd Stiegler

Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from

I received a copy of Darkness And Day from its publishers, Endeavour Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

I love the elegant new cover for the reissue of Darkness And Day which, together with its Virginia Woolf quote of 'intense originality' convinced me that I had to read the novel. First published in 1951, Darkness And Day does have a certain period charm to it and might well appeal to fans of Downton Abbey. It is written as a series of conversations and discussions between the inhabitants of two distinguished houses and, as readers, we get to eavesdrop both upstairs as the families converse and downstairs as the servants do likewise. Ivy Compton-Burnett created some memorable characters. I particularly liked the selfless Mildred, the irascible Bartle and the haunted Bridget. I did think that the words of the children often seemed way beyond their professed ages, but their treatment of Mildred is funny to read.

The themes of class and family are eternal, but Compton-Burnett's addition and treatment of incest is surprisingly modern so this novel must have been incredibly shocking in the 1950s. Her unfolding of the story through gossip and speech is a perfect device for the tale. It is tricky to keep up with who says what at the beginning of the book as the speaker of each line of dialogue is not always identified. However, as the characters develop, their personalities shine through in their words, frequently making identification superfluous. I often felt as though I was reading a play rather than a novel and I think it would be interesting to experience Darkness And Day as a full cast audio recording.

Weeping SusannahWeeping Susannah by Alona Kimhi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the paperback from
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I bought my copy of Weeping Susannah at the OXFAM bookshop when we were in Petergate, York, attracted by the premise of a contemporary Israeli novel. I love discovering different cultures through my reading. Set in Tel Aviv, Weeping Susannah is written in the first person and takes us through several months in the life of a thirty-three year old woman. Susannah lives basically as a child, cared for by her aging mother, as her chronic depression leaves her unable to cope with every day life. She has a horror of bodily functions including simply eating so cannot eat in front of anyone, and has never had a job or adult friends other than those of her mother. When an American second cousin unexpectedly arrives and expects to stay in Susannah's home, she initially shuts herself away in her room, but gradually begins to discover that she can be stronger and more social than she believes.

Weeping Susannah is a thought-provoking novel that transcends its storyline to become a fascinating view into depression and mental illness. Susannah is not a sympathetic character. In many ways, she behaves like a child even expecting her mother to pick up her underwear from the bathroom floor after her shower. The unnaturally close relationship between mother and daughter, while allowing Susannah to function, also smothers her rare chances at independence and ultimately leads to disaster when Susannah decides that she could leave. The small central cast of five are brilliantly portrayed and none are exactly sane! Friend Nehema is wonderful and I liked reading her scenes very much.

In criticism, perhaps Weeping Susannah is a little longer than it needs to be and the image of cousin Neo on the front cover was obviously chosen by someone who hadn't read the book - he is supposed to look like the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley - but otherwise this is a good read and a great insight into the culture and blend of nationalities that make up modern day-to-day life in Israel.

Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel
Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel by Bernd Stiegler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from
Buy the hardback from Waterstones

Traveling In Place is the August free book download from the University of Chicago Press and I am glad to report that I got far more enjoyment from this than from the July download of Dona Barbara, even though I slightly misunderstood the synopsis. I expected a short story collection of micro-scale travel writings. This book is actually a scholarly survey of many examples of the genre written over the past two hundred years.

I had not previously thought about my room - or my caravan as I should say at the moment - in the same way as I appreciate it now. Stiegler has studied dozens of novels, essays and memoirs, mostly by French and German authors, who have chosen to look at the everyday and the mundane through the eyes of a visitor and a tourist. Apparently the original and example - Voyage Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre - is quite famous and extensively quoted. Who would have known?!

Traveling In Place is not an easy read, especially as the only one of the quoted writings that I knew of is Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. I admit to being at the limit of my comprehension when we got to early twentieth century experimental film making. However, I am quite taken with the basic premise. The examples of 'flanerie' - exploring one's own familiar environment with new eyes - struck a chord with our current travels around our own country and also reminded me of a character in Bleeding London who resolves to walk every street in the London A to Z. Stiegler's extra reading suggestions at the end of each chapter are a great touch and I am inspired to seek some out. I have already found the Xavier de Maistre in English on Kindle and will be joining his journey around his room sometime soon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Tuesday 25 August 2015

We conquer the Llandovery one way system!

A combination of a break in the rain this morning and an almost empty
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd
Fychan of Caeo 
fridge encouraged us to make a visit to our nearest significant town, historic Llandovery. Its location at the centre of ancient routes linking Dyfed and Powys meant this has been an important strategic military centre since Roman and pre-Roman times. The motte and bailey castle, of which a later ruined stone wall remains, was first constructed in wood by the Normans in 1100. This site is now directly above the main town centre car park together with this fabulous statue of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan of Caeo, a loyal supporter of Owain Glyndwr. During Glyndwr's war of liberation from 1400-1416, Henry IV led his English army through Llandovery in search of his enemy. Llywelyn refused to betray Glyndwr and so, in 1401, was hung drawn and quartered in Llandovery market square. The statue was created by Toby and Gideon Petersen in 2001. In no way historically accurate, it is still powerful symbolically. There is more information and lots of photographs on Howard Williams' Archaeodeath blog post. This shield is at the base of the statue hill. I have no idea what the inscription says! Would any Welsh readers like to translate in a Comment ...?

Llandovery has quite an odd mix of shops. There is a high proportion of
Llandovery Castle 
cafes, pubs and gift-type shops, and several charity and vintage shops. However, other than a couple of banks, there were hardly any of the standard High Street names. The Post Office has a good range of greetings cards and gifts too. We did find a butchers, Mathew's, but the only greengrocery, other than within the surprisingly large CoOp, was outside what turned out to be a fabulous Aladdin's den of a shop. Iechyd Da is a wholefoods shop that also sells fresh sourdough breads and is absolutely crammed with deliciousness! We picked up local honey, smoked soya tofu and a new-to-us hazelnut tofu, half a dozen paper bags of organic fruits and vegetables, and a huge bag of organic oats for my porridge breakfasts. We could have spent even longer (and far more cash) there had we properly perused all the tins and jars too. Perhaps when we are back in town on Friday!

Getting out of Llandovery proved to be trickier than getting in.
Porthmon - a drover 
Resurfacing work on part of the one way system threw us off into a long residential road that came out almost exactly by where we started so we ended up following another mile long diversion that gained about thirty metres, but fortunately did bypass the roadworks. Llandovery isn't far from Cynghordy and, in theory, cyclable. However, we started a cycle ride yesterday and turned back after just half an hour. The hills are steep for out-of-practice puffers and the volume of traffic on these winding single track roads meant we spent more time jumping off our bikes to haul them out of the way than we did actually riding. There are footpath choices around here though so we are planning to get ourselves out for a walk soon. We also want to visit Brecon because we don't think we did when we were around this way for Dave's 65th birthday. Remembering his birthday, when we stayed in a gorgeous cottage on the Monmouth and Brecon canal, gives me an excuse to reblog his prize-winning photograph taken at the time - me walking in the Brecon Beacons!

Monday 24 August 2015

How I have finally earned money from blogging!

Can I get a Woo Hoo? It's certainly taken long enough!
Thanks for buying these mugs
from Twinings

For those readers who are newer around here, Stephanie Jane is my second blog (the first being the now-defunct local arts and culture blog Theatrical Eastbourne) so I have been blogging since April 2012. Over three years experience means I pretty much know what I am doing and also have a good idea of what brings in lots of blog traffic and therefore potential income. Unfortunately those sorts of posts aren't the subjects about which I enjoy writing! I am never going to be fascinated by celebrity gossip. Neither am I going to start trialling loads of different brands of makeup or getting Dave to photograph my daily dress choices! He's already frequently infuriated by having to wait to eat while I snap pics of our dinner!

So, as a niche blogger, where does this leave my potential blogging income? I use a few sources, some more successfully than others. Google adverts have adorned both my blogs since the start. My account there seems to be credited with about a penny for each hundred page views and a higher single payment if one of you kind visitors actually clicks through to an advertiser's website. Click amounts vary from usually less than 10p to once a massive 74p. Google won't pay out until I accumulate £60 though and, after over three years, I am still nearly £6 short of that magic total. I'll keep on slogging blogging.

You might have spotted the PayPal link in the right-hand toolbar? Dickens fans should get the Dorrit reference. I put this up after seeing other blogs with similar 'hats on the pavement' and the link has worked. Once. Thanks Adrienne!

Affiliate links used to be a lot more successful than they are now. A
Thank you for buying this t-shirt
from Red Dog Wear on
website I curated a over decade ago brought in at least £100 every month from affiliate perfume sales. Stephanie Jane doesn't! However, I link all my book review posts to their respective titles on There's other varied links scattered throughout this blog too. Any visitor clicking through an link who then buys any item will earn me a small commission. The purchase doesn't have to be the one I suggested and's payout threshold is lower than Google's too. It's just £25. I have only £19.92 still to earn.

My passion for reading and blogging my book reviews has had unexpected benefits though. Independent authors and small publishing houses have begun to contact me via Goodreads and Twitter offering free ebook copies of their novels to read and review. These offers are becoming more frequent as I am better known. (I am now in the #200 top UK reviewers on Goodreads.) I get to not only save money on book purchases, but also to read some superb novels that I might not otherwise have discovered. One author even sent an gift card with which to purchase their book. The card had a greater value than the book price so technically I guess I got paid the remainder to review the work! This week I have also been invited to guest post on a purely-books blog.

My final and most financially successful avenue is another affiliate
Thank you for buying this book
from Waterstones
programme, Affiliate Window. This site is basically a middle-man between business advertisers and website owners allowing me to choose to promote companies whose products I actually like and use myself. I drink Twinings tea and Whittards hot chocolate. I like shopping at Go Outdoors, Waitrose and Waterstones, use Ordnance Survey maps and visit English Heritage properties. I adore spending hours browsing Etsy! This makes it easy for me to integrate name-dropping into my posts and my enthusiasm for the products must show as I get far more click throughs from specific text links than from generic banners. Pennies only roll in from purchases though so Thank You for purchasing those pretty mugs from Twinings, that English Heritage membership and those books from Waterstones. After three months with Affiliate Window I achieved their £20 payment threshold and my first payout arrived in my bank account a couple of days ago. How much was it?

Drum roll?


OK, it's not a life changing amount, but it is enough to cover our internet bill this month. And, if I could just get Stephanie Jane to earn that much every month, or even every day ... !

(Please remember that all income should be reported to HMRC.)

Sunday 23 August 2015

We get heavy rain in Cynghordy and Now neonics are killing our birds as well as our bees

There's ever more frightening news emerging regarding not only the fate
of Britain's bees, but now also, it is being discovered, our wild birds too. I received this urgent email yesterday from SumOfUs:

"The bee-harming pesticides we’ve been fighting for years are worse than we imagined. Research suggests that neonicotinoids aren’t just decimating bee colonies - they’re hurting birds too. Researchers found that in areas with high concentrations of neonicotinoids, bird populations declined every year. This means our worst fears are coming true - neonicotinoids may be moving up the food chain and killing our birds and our bees.

For the sake of the birds, the bees, and the whole food chain, we are challenging one of the biggest neonicotinoids producers of them all: Bayer. In two weeks, we’re going straight to Bayer’s door with our massive petition - and we hope to have your name in our massive petition box."

Please sign and share this vital SumOfUs petition.

And now you've done that, let me show you our lovely new campsite in
Cwmcuttan lake 
Carmarthenshire! We are now at Cwmcuttan in the village of Cynghordy on a Camping And Caravanning Club CS for a change. It is very lush and green - the grass is absolutely sodden - but we have a large hardstanding pitch with room enough for Bailey and the awning as well as the car. The CS is full, but doesn't feel it as all five pitches are a good distance from each other. We have electric hookup, water and waste, and recycling facilities close by. Plus we get to use the site wifi and all for £12 a night. The wifi is a real bonus as we are already getting close to having used up our month's allowance on the Osprey and there's still a lot of month left. This will save me having to spend another tenner buying a data add-on. For anyone else using an Osprey while travelling, as we are, we've discovered that poor internet reception can sometimes be remedied by propping the device up in the skylight. We found this out when on the valley campsite at Broadgate Farm and it served us well at Crab Mill Farm campsite too.

Cwmcuttan is right by Cynghordy railway station which has four trains a
Our pitch at Cwmcuttan 
day stopping here. We can just glimpse them through the trees. Otherwise there is practically no noise at all other than a yappy dog on one of the other pitches. The site is adults only due to safety issues because it has a beautiful lake with waterlilies and good sized fish. There are ducks here too and a black cat who spent the afternoon snoozing in the shade by the bins and was definitely not impressed by our driving up and disrupting siesta time!

When I say 'no noise', this isn't strictly true as the rain has been
Pitched up at Cwmcuttan 
thundering on the roof in short bursts this evening. It was gloriously hot and sunny when we arrived - can you spot Dave recovering from his intense three hours of navigator duty? - and we managed to get pitched up, lunched and had the awning all done before the clouds found us again. Part of our drive here, on a high section of the A483, necessitated us driving through low cloud for about fifteen minutes. The road was nicely windy and pretty narrow by this point and the cloud was effectively thick fog so that was fun. Fortunately we were following a large slow motorhome so I could just hang back and see which direction their tail lights swung to judge the next bend in the road.

We are forecast lots more rain this week and are planning to stay holed up here until after the Bank Holiday weekend. Hopefully we will get to do some walking and sightseeing. If not, you can expect a glut of book review posts!

Friday 21 August 2015

Shrewsbury - new sandals and a superb park

We loved Shrewsbury! We spent yesterday afternoon there mostly
Flower bed in Dingle Gardens 
exclaiming at the varied architecture, doing a spot of shopping and exploring the streets and parks. Probably we should have gotten the historic buildings leaflet from the Tourist Information Office so we had a better idea of what we were seeing, but there are lots of helpful plaques and noticeboards around town too. Shrewsbury is a good hour's drive from our campsite. We had visited a couple of my ancestral villages en route - more about that in another post - so got to the Park And Ride not long before noon. Shrewsbury Park And Ride is superb value! For £2.50 we got our parking and a Group Of Two return bus ticket to the town centre. Friendly driver and clean buses too.

Our first photocall on arrival was this huge Darwin-inspired sculpture
Charles Darwin outside
Shrewsbury library 
(pictured below) down by the riverside. We had spotted it from the bus. Darwin is a huge deal around the town even having a shopping centre named in his honour - I'm not sure if he would be pleased about that! He was born and grew up in the town. The sculpture is entitled Quantum Leap and was erected in 2009 to mark Darwin's bicentenary. I have seen it described as a helix, a spine and even a shell. We also saw a large bronze statue of the man himself which was prominently placed outside the library where we took advantage of the benches to perch and eat our picnic lunch. The historic building used to be Shrewsbury School and has an impressive list of alumni including Michael Palin, Nevil Shute, John Peel and the aforementioned Darwin. There is a Greek inscription on the wall behind the statue which Dave unsuccessfully attempted to decipher (he does know some Greek!).

Quantum Leap in Shrewsbury 
Just over the road from the library and along from two fabulous old
Laura's Tower 
buildings is an anonymous paved path which led us unexpectedly to the grounds of Shrewsbury Castle. Exploring without a map is much more fun - especially in a small enough town that even I can't get too lost! The Castle is constructed from a gorgeously coloured sandstone and we thought its gardens were beautifully presented. All of Shrewsbury is decked out in stunning floral displays and, unknown to us at this point, the best was still to come. We were intrigued by a lone tower set above the Castle gardens and away from the main structure. Known as Laura's Tower although I have been unable to find out why, this now marks the site of the original Norman castle that was built in 1070 and lasted until the reign of Edward I. There's a pretty good view from the top of the semicircular steps, but it wasn't possible to actually get to the top of the tower. The Castle itself is now open to the public and is primarily a regimental museum.
Shrewsbury Castle 
Away from the Castle, we plunged back into the maze of fascinating
Grope Lane, Shrewsbury 
streets that make up the centre of Shrewsbury. The town nestles in a bend of the River Severn so is prone to flooding these days, but we didn't see any sign of that. There is a fantastic array of shops and cafes, independents as well as High Street names, with very few units standing empty which was good to see. I overheard a tour guide telling her group that this spot at the top of the brilliantly named Grope Lane is the most photographed view in Shrewsbury. It is a particularly narrow street where the medieval buildings lean in towards each other and was, apparently, named for the economic activity taking place within it i.e. prostitution. Wikipedia has an entertaining article about the history of this once common street name. (Probably best not to click this link if kids are reading over your shoulder!)

In my opinion, Grope Lane should now be famous for the lovely little Quirky Coffee Shop just to the left at its top. I loved the decor and the very comfortable armchairs set in the fireplace! Good coffee, great cake - I had the Red Velvet to match my armchair and Dave had an excellent Poppy Seed and Cherry Cheesecake which, we later discovered, shouldn't actually have been on the menu, but was delicious! The Quirky Coffee Shop also stocks dozens of blends of Morgan's Brew tea. I am happy to recommend the Pembrokeshire Peppermint as the perfect refreshing drink for a hot day! While we are talking tea, Shrewsbury has a
Russian Caravan tea at Whittard Of Chelsea 
Whittards into which I rushed to get some of their excellent hot chocolate. I struck lucky with the Summer Sale being on right now and picked up a set of five flavours for £12, reduced from £18, and also a pack of appropriately named Russian Caravan tea, reduced to £3 from £4.25. I love a Sale sticker and, having not bothered to look for new sandals in Jones Bootmaker when we were in Chester because I thought they would be way over budget, I did venture in to the Shrewsbury branch when Dave spotted 'sensible' prices in the window. Amazingly I had a choice of sale sandals in my size (8, never easy to find!) and came away with these super comfortable Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals for just £27. (Jones are running down their summery stocks now and have sold out of the Gizeh, so links here go to the same sandals on Amazon).
Birkenstock Gizeh sandals 

Our final delight of the day was walking alongside the River Severn on a
Percy Thrower bust 
tranquil wide footpath/cycleway bordered with weeping willows and lime trees. It's a wonderful green space and led us to the massive Quarry Park. The Shrewsbury Flower Show had not long finished and all the marqees were being dismantled so it was pretty hectic until we passed through an unassuming gate and found ourselves in the most beautiful bright garden. A true riot of flowers! Shrewsbury Parks department have certainly outdone themselves! We absolutely loved the flower beds and displays. We learned that Percy Thrower had been the Parks Superintendent here from 1946 until 1974 and was responsible for much of the initial design and creation of these Dingle Gardens in the Quarry Park. There is a bust of him overlooking the immaculate gardens and I am sure all Blue Peter viewers of a certain age will recognise his name.

Dingle Gardens, Shrewsbury