At home today recovering from two busy busy days. Drove to London on Thursday along the delightful A12 and the North Circular. I know John Betjeman offended a lot of people when he said 'come friendly bombs and rain on Slough' well substitute the North Circular and you will have some idea of how I feel about it. I have now become adept at wending my way along and getting in the right lanes and cutting corners and I bung on the radio, make sure I have a coffee in the holder and a banana or two and just get on with it.
I was attending a Christmas Carol concert at a church on Kew Green and met up with daughter Helen and Grandma No 2, Felicity. There is something rather throat catching and eye watering about watching small, innocent children singing with such gravity and earnestness and I had a job to refrain from a quivering lip. Afterwards, Florence went off to a play date, Helen went to collect Beatrice and Felicity and I repaired to a local hostelry for refreshment and sat in the Library where an open fire was burning and we were surrounded by shelves of books. Lovely.
Dropped the girls off to school next morning and as I had got up at 6am and fed and watered and dressed them was feeling a tad shattered so repaired to a coffee shop for a cappo and a quiet for a bit. Got back to the house and went through the veg drawer in Helen's fridge, always an interesting experience, chucked out a load of stuff, unearthed a heap of leeks and a slightly weary looking cauliflower and ended up making a saucepanful of leek and potato soup and a cauliflower cheese. Then off to school again to collect Les Girls and met up with Grandma No 2 again and Grandpa No 1 and we all went to the Pizza Express for lunch along with Louisa, the lovely nanny and another little girl she was looking after, and had a great time.
Home. I put my feet up for an hour.
Due to go to Christmas at Kew in the evening. Helen and James delayed because of trouble on the District Line and arrived home fraught and frazzled, girls getting tetchy and not a good start to the evening. Off we went to Kew Gardens for the Christmas lights etc and it is all really lovely and gorgeous but tiring. It was dark and keeping an eye on Florence and Beatrice was a nightmare, particularly Bea who has a tendency to suddenly shoot off with the acceleration of a Usain Bolt with parents haring after her. I cannot honestly say that it was an enjoyable evening. If it had just been adults I think it would have been better. The children were over excited and over tired and Florence was in tears and wanted to go home, 'Grandma I am tired'.
I think they need to go on a day when they are not doing anything else. The best part of the whole evening was the light show and music on the great Palm House reflected in the lake which was gorgeous. Florence was very quiet watching this and then said 'Grandma that is beautiful' so pleased to know that some of it went down well. So home to bed and children tucked up and asleep in no time at all.
And, finally, the bookshop. When I walked back to the house after the carol service I realised I was passing Lloyds of Kew Bookshop. I have driven past it many times and kept thinking Oh I must visit so decided today was the day. Oh what a gorgeous shop inside. Ceiling to floor packed with second hand books and a simply wonderful place to rummage. I thought I was being very good and only came out with two purchases. A copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, I already have on but never mind having another, and a wonderful 1960s Pan edition of The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge, one of my all time favourite authors. Dire cover but I love them they are so wildly in appropriate. Do pop in if every you are in Kew, they are located in Mortlake Terrace near Kew Green.
Drove home Saturday morning and as Beatrice had crept into bed with me at 5.30 am and woken me up I was feeling slightly shattered when I got home and took to my bed for an hour or two. So today is a duvet day and a watch cricket day and a marziapn the cake day which I will be doing when I have finished this post.
Lots of books to read and several to bring to your attention. My TBR pile is gradually spreading and I really need to sort it out.
Two books from the British Library. No I do NOT work for them nor do they pay me a retainer but hardly surprising if anybody thinks so as I am always going on about their wonderful Crime Classics which I simply adore. Interesting, intriguing and always with wonderful covers.
Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs. I discovered this author earlier in the year and am working my way through his books. They are rather old fashioned, oddly enough the later titles rather than the earlier, and can be variable as he wrote a huge amount but I really like them. Miss Tither is the local busybody, not liked and always interfering in everyone's affairs, in other words, a prime candidate for murder. A village setting and a marvelously named vicar, Reverend Ethelred Claplady, and this one is nearing the top of my pile
I have started the second Bellairs, The Dead Shall be Raised & The Murder of a Quack, two separate stories. In the first a skeleton unearthed on the moor above Hatterworth where an earlier murder had taken place, both unsolved so the murderer is still out there.
The Murder of a Quack - local doctor, a tad dubious, is found hanging in his consulting rooms but though it looks like a suicide, as in all good mysteries, it is not. Blackmail and fraud and trickery abound. Two good reads.
My final entry for the British Library is Crimson Snow, winter mysteries edited by Martin Edwards who has an unerring eye for winkling unknown tales out of the vaults at Euston Road. A great collection - I have read four of these but am rationing myself. Well known names such as Edgar Wallace and Margery Allingham are represented alongside lesser know authors, Fergus Hume (a ghost story this one - or is it?) and Ianthe Jerrold and S C Roberts, hardly household names but none the less fun to read.
Snowdrift by Georgette Heyer. A collection of short stores, NOT new, but cunningly reissued by her publishers under this title with the bonus of three recently discovered stories never before published. Clever publishers know full well that Heyer fans, of which I am one, will rush out to duplicate the majority of this book for the sake of those three and I duly bought it. My paperback of Pistols for two, the earlier titles, is battered and falling apart anyway so was quite glad to give it the heave-ho and have this new book on my shelves. I adore Heyer and most of these stories are embryonic sketches many of which were used and expanded in her full length novels. Lots of dashing, masterful heroes and glamorous young maidens in distress. No need to expand further. If you love Georgette then order this now. I spent an afternoon re-reading and loved it.
Two books from Oxford university Press who always have interesting books and always beautifully produced. Heartthrobs by Carol Dyhouse is a history of Women and Desire. Oo-er missus. Carol is a social and cultural historian and she draws upon literature, cinema and popular romance to show how the changing position of women has shaped their dreams about men. On flicking through I came across pictures of Elvis Presley, Adam Ant, Liberace (!) and, er, David Cassidy....
Wonderful illustrations of Barbara Cartland covers as well and this is going to be an interesting as well as an enjoyable read.
Note: this book will be published February 2017
Secondly, Charles Dickens, an Introduction - Jenny Hartley. I have bending shelves full of books by and about Dickens and I might wonder if I need any more but this is a concise book - does what it says on the tin - introduces the reader to Dickens but I am enjoying it because sometimes when you read huge fat biographies of authors by different writers, you can get a bit bogged down and need somebody to hone it down to the essentials. This is precisely what this books does.
And, finally, Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck. This is an author I came across when she was published by Persephone and now this is a title published by Furrowed Middlebrow (wonderful title) and is very Barbara Pym'ish and a bit Angela Thirkell'ish as well. If you like these two authors then you will like this. I am not madly keen on either of the aforementioned, Thirkell gets very repetitive and there are one or two of here characters who drive me demented, and I find Pym a little fey for my liking, but this is a charming book.
Camilla Lacey is a vicar's wife in a mid-sized town outside of Manchester and this diary life is set in the early days of World War II. It is impossible to read this without thinking of EM Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady, which is referred to in the narrative, and there are similarities in the content and the noting down of everyday cares and worries and absurdities. I enjoyed it but not as much as I thought I would, I have to be honest. But a delightful book and a great stocking filler.
OK that is it for now.
My blogging has been pretty sporadic of late for which I apologise - one of my resolutions for 2017 is to post more. Though I have a sneaky feeling that was one of my resolutions for 2016 as well...
My knowledge of Jeanette Winterson is limited to the fact that her book Oranges are not the Only Fruit was the first title in the iconic Virago green imprint and, to my shame, I have never read it. So when this title, Christmas Days 12 stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days, dropped through my letterbox I was not sure what to expect.
What I got was total and utter beguilement and enjoyment. It is a delightful mixture of stories, recipes and chat about friends at Christmas time. There is a lot of background on her childhood, which I had read about, and which sounded unremittingly awful though one senses from certain remarks in this book that she reached acceptance and forgiveness with her parents.
I can do no better than quote from the blurb inside the book: "Everybody loves a Christmas story...read these stories by the fire, in the snow, travelling home for the holidays, give them to friends, wrap them up for someone you love, read them aloud, read them alone, read them together. Enjoy the season of peace and goodwill, mystery and a little bit of magic"
Well, I read them alone, in the warm with a candle or two burning. I had put my Christmas cake in the oven, was feeling comfortable and settled and picked up this book. The juxtaposition of story, recipes and reality is what makes this book so fascinating. A delightful story about a modern twist on a Christmas Carol, when a couple whose relationship may be in trouble, find a child alone in the snow who is the Spirit of Christmas and through her, rediscover their love for each other, is then followed by a chat about the author's great friend, the crime writer Ruth Rendell who she used to spend Christmas with and who was a genius at pickling red cabbage. A page about how they spent their day is followed by the recipe.
We then have a ghost story or two and interspersed recipes for New York Custard, Mulled wine, Turkey Biryani, a creepy story The Mistletoe Bride with a wicked twist at the end, O'Brien's First Christmas about an Irish girl alone in the city at Christmas time and how a wish from the Christmas fairy transforms her mundane life and her job working in the pet department of a large store; a story about a wicked woman running an orphanage which sounds like something out of Oliver Twist and how the table are turned on her by a horde of silver frogs, yes that is right, frogs..
And at the end a classic Christmas story The Lion, the Unicorn and Me which is also available in a separate format I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat at the end of this particular part of the book.
"So at Christmas I think about the Christmas story and all the Christmas stories since. As a writer I know that we get along badly without space in our lives for imagination and reflection.....so light a candle to miracles, however unlikely and pray that you recognise yours...and light a candle to love"
A gorgeous heart warming book. Please go out and order it now and give as many copies as you can to friends and loved ones. They will thank you for it.
I am a bit of a misery when it comes to Christmas and find myself getting fed up and rather resentful of all the fuss but reading this today has made me feel, yes, happy.
And what more could you ask for from a book?
Oh and there is a recipe for her dad's Christmas trifle with its jelly and stale cake and custard and great blobs of cream on top which is SO like my mother's that I felt quite a pang of nostalgia!
Up in London, grandchildren, busy busy busy so apologies for dearth of posts but I cannot let this week go by without saying how sorry I am to see Ed Balls leave Strictly. Danny Mac, one of the other slebs, said at the end of the show that if somebody mentions Strictly 2016 they will only remember Ed and he is right.
He has enjoyed the most tremendous support mainly because he is what Strictly is all about, or used to be, and which has been lost in recent years as the show has grown and got bigger and glossier, which is learning to dance. Most of the slebs who appear have been to stage school and have been taught the rudiments of dance and some have been in girl/boy bands and danced, and it is seldom now that we have contestants who have never danced in their lives. Ed was such a one and from the week he did his Charleston I just fell in love with him and as I loathed him as a politician, this came as a huge shock to most people to find him so likeable. Pity this side of politicians is never seen by the public. I reckon Ed could aim to be PM at the moment and would win in a landslide!
The judges have been pretty vile to him and Craig in particular. On the weekly spin off show It Takes Two he made it very clear last week that he 'wanted to get rid of Balls darling'. Darcy Bussell was interviewed on the radio and said she would vote Ed out in the Dance off despite having said in an interview last year that when it comes to the dance off they judge on what they see in front of them at that moment. So clearly not true. When Ed finally made the dance off last week and they were asked to say who they wanted to win they could barely wait to say Judge Rinder and get shot of Ed. It was quite obnoxious.
Over the years there have been cries of Fix but I do not think it is possible to do this bearing in mind the way the votes between the judges and the public are structured. However, the judges have their favourites and this year this has been most marked with Louise Redknapp and Kevin Clifton wildly over marked and small mistakes picked up for other contestants, ignored (Louise constantly looking at the floor, gapping in the waltz to mention just two). Ore and Joanne (another Clifton) are clearly destined for the final as the judges are determined to get them there. This favouritism has not gone unnoticed by the public and it does not bode well for these two when the final comes round and the judges have no say in the matter. The Great British Public get fed up with being treated as if they are pig ignorant and stupid and the more the judges disparage a contestant (Ed and Gred) the more votes they will garner. By the time that Ed reached the dance off he had come to the natural end of his run and we were down to the nitty gritty and so the public wisely realised this and the so called Joke contestant goes. Happens every year. If the judges would only realise this and instead of being unpleasant and nasty, just went with the flow, it would be much better for everyone. But, no, they have to put the boot in.
So the finalists which the judges want are Joanne and Ore, Kevin and Louise and Danny and Ote. I would simply love it if two of these ended up in the dance off and one had to go. Of course we would then be castigated by the judges as being stupid and cries of You should not be here will be heard throughout the land.
One thing that Brexit has taught us - do not take Us Proles for Granted.....
Been a week of recovery after the Malta holiday experience and my back was giving me so much trouble so I went and had a massage and lots of swimming and it seems to have sorted itself out, but I have finally had to face up to the fact that I am always going to have these aches and problems now. Comes with the aging process and I am pretty fit on the whole, fingers crossed, so no moaning Elaine.
So I have been lolling around a bit and reading and here is a quick round up of the books I have perused over the last few days.
I did mention that I was working my way through the Alphabet books by Sue Grafton, all about her detective Kinsey Millhone and I am getting up to the S and T so will soon have read them all. I will not go into the details of the plots of each one as it all gets a bit muddled after a while but they are well written, pacey and slick and I do like the character of Kinsey a lot. I wonder what the author will do when they are finished. She is up to X I gather so three more to go.
The Twenty Three by Linwood Barclay is the final in the trilogy set in a town with the evocative name of Promise Falls. Of course, lots of murder and mayhem and mysterious goings on and corrupt officials and police, you know the usual small town mix (I am being ironic here I assure you), and by the time I got to this third book I will admit to being a bit confused and getting the characters muddled up. Took me a while to get into the flow again. Detective Duckworth, an overweight man heading for a heart attack, is investigating two murders and an explosion at the drive in. These events were in the previous books Broken Promise and Far from True. An epidemic spreads through the town, mass food poisoning, a virus? It all seems to be connected to the dreadful happenings that have dogged Promise Falls for the last year.
I like Linwood Barclay, like his writing, and have enjoyed his stand alone books as well as these. I was looking forward to this one, but have to report that I was slightly disappointed in the solution and the identity of the murderer which was far fetched and came out of nowhere. I got the impression that he suddenly thought Oh I know I will make it that person. So not sure about it all but overall, the three books are well worth reading. But in order is best.
Deep Water - Christine Poulson. The author sent me this book and I am most grateful to her for her kindness. You know here on Random that I will only review books I really enjoy, and will not give a good review just because I have a free copy. That is something I have always made clear and stood by so when I say that I liked this story very much, then you know I did.
Daniel Marchmont is a patent lawyer and is asked to take over a case for Calliope Biotech after his ex-wife, the previous lawyer, was killed in a car accident. A vital lab book is missing and there are hints that there might have been falsified tests in order to make a successful product. A young researcher, Katie Flanagan, is worried that there is somebody sabotaging the work in the lab, experiments mysteriously fail, there is an explosion and a fire and her life could be in danger.
This is a tricky plot and requires careful reading as there is a lot of detail in the research regarding the hunt for a cure for a genetic disease which the daughter of Daniel and his wife Rachel suffers from. This causes Daniel a huge moral dilemma that could wreck his marriage.
Tightly written, tight narrative, good story-line. I read it through in one sitting. A very good read. I am now going to check out the other books written by this author.
Cold Earth - Anne Cleeves. The latest by this author who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite detective writers. This is the series set in the Shetlands and oh how I want to visit now after reading these. I think I prefer them to the Vera Stanhope stories, excellent though they are and will admit to being a little bit smitten with DI Jimmy Perez, he of the dark melting eyes and olive complexion. The TV series cast Doug Henshall in this role and he was really good, but he has blue eyes and blonde hair. So why I ask myself? Why not go with an actor who looks something like the description given by the author? I think of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child. Reacher is 6' 5" and fair haired and blue eyed and weighs over 200 lbs. So they cast mini-Tom Cruise who is unbelievable in the part and I mean unbelievable in the sense that he is unbelievably awful.
Sorry I digress.
Jimmy is attending a funeral on a dark wet stormy day when torrential rain triggers a landslide which sweeps down the hillside over running the graves and making sure that the mourners have to get out of the way pretty quick. A croft is wrecked and in the ruins of the house, there is the body of a dark haired attractive woman wearing a red silk dress. Who is she? Why is she there?
Read and find out. Loved this story and read it through in one sitting.
And back to Jack Reacher. Feeling so tired last week and under the weather I re-read several of the books by Lee Child which were on my Kindle. Usual story, Reacher rolls into town gets involved with a murder/fraud whatever, usually finds a woman willing to have sex with him, saves the day and then gets the next bus out. I re-read them as I had forgotten most of the plot-lines, such as they were, and was able to just go with the flow. In about a year, when I have forgotten them again, then I can go back and read them again. The gift that keeps on giving....
Lots on my TBR pile and will get round to them as soon as I can.
No 1 in the World. I have been watching tennis for over fifty years and most of that time have suffered deeply at the awfulness of British tennis. I remember a time when we all got excited when Jeremy Bates got to the second week at Wimbledon, excited when we Andrew Castle took Mats Wilander to five sets and lost. That was regarded as a huge achievement. And Now after all those years of suffering along comes Andy Murray who I have watched for years and who drove me mad as Kevin the Teenager who slouched and sulked and chuntered his way around the tennis court. He has worked incredibly hard, he has never given up and he has had to fight against Djokovic, Nadal and Federer for years with everyone saying Oh he is only No 4, he will never be one of the greats.
Well now he is and never was a No 1 ranking more deserved. A fine man, a gentleman and an example of what sheer determination and bloody mindedness can do.
OK well the hols did not go well. My sister was not at all well and as she has asthma and breathing problems it was necessary to curtail the holiday and come home. I am in the throes of filling in claim forms to see if I can get any money back for cancelled flight etc.
When I last visited Malta about ten years ago, I posted about it here and had this to say then:
"I had not been back to Malta since living there as a child and was not expecting it to be in any way similar to the enchanting place I had loved. What I was not expecting, however, was the somewhat shabby, down at heel, tacky appearance of large parts of the island, with houses seemingly built and then abandoned, new flats next to empty craters full of rubbish and discarded bricks, wonderful old buildings shabby and peeling cheek by jowl to nasty, modern, hastily put together holiday flats and garish hotels. It felt very much like Spain used to be back in the 60s and 70s and this was reinforced by the fact that every single eating place advertised 'Pizza, Burgers and Chips'"
I received a very irate email from a lady who lives in Malta who felt I had been very rude about her island. I was sorry to upset her and said so, but that was my feeling at the time.
This time we were staying in St Julian's Bay and, while I did not expect it to be the same as our childhood days, both of us were totally taken aback at the mass of concrete that greeted us. The drive from the airport to our hotel was one main road and traffic and it was continuous from start to finish. The view from our hotel window was of an endless stream of traffic (main road goes right through the town), half built and abandoned building projects as I mentioned above and a skyline full of cranes. The roads were packed with noisy traffic and negotiating the pavements was a nightmare, particularly for my sister who is awaiting a knee operation and walks with a stick, as they were uneven, full of potholes and missing cobbles.
I am sorry to repeat what I said before. I really am as I love Malta and spent so many happy times there as a child. This island had the most appalling time in the war and the bravery of its citizens was simply staggering. No wonder the entire island was awarded the George Cross. I just feel that the rebuilding and recovery at the end of WW2 had to be done quickly because of the bombings and the destruction so no overall design or plan was in place, hence the ugliness of many of the buildings.
But here are two pictures to show how parts of the island remain beautiful. Sadly, we were not able to get there this time but I do not want you to think that it is all ugly, because it isn't.
And looking on the bright side, after the flight home and a dreadful drive from Gatwick in the pitch dark and pouring rain after a sleepless night, I got home in time to watch Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing! No post about it this week but this Saturday it is BLACKPOOL so I shall be there with my Kiss me Quick hat and will make sure I have fish and chips for supper.
One old and one new book both swam into my ken in the last week. First up, the New Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie. This is a US publication and second edition printed in 1991 and I came across it at the NSPCC book sale which I attend each year. Came home with 27 books. I know I know....
This one cost me the princely sum of £1 and I am dipping into it already and then having to tear myself away as I know if I don't that will be it for the rest of the day and I am off on hols tomorrow and have Things to Do. There are copies of this available on Amazon for 1p plus postage so off you go.
Then, by coincidence, Agatha Christie on Screen by Mark Aldridge arrived courtesy of my indefatigable postie who has delivered more parcels to me than he can remember. Apparently, at the local sorting office when post for me arrives they cry 'Hello here is another one' which I find rather funny. At least I know that I will never have misdirected mail.
The publication date of this had changed quite a bit and emails from Amazon kept fluttering in my in box like leaves from Vallembrosa apologising for the delay. Felt like saying please don't worry, it is not as if I haven't got anything to read'..
So another quick gander and then put down quick shows me that I am going to lurve reading this. First section is the Silent Adventures and lo and behold Harley Quinn had a silent film made in 1928. Love the Harley Quinn books, something slightly spooky about them, and there was a German version of The Secret Adversery (Die Abenteur GmbH) made in 1929. This is the kind of pointless bits of information that I love to know about and hoard away.
Then Poirot comes to the Silver Screen starting in 1931 and then onto television and so on and so on. It is all looking totally fascinating and am looking forward to getting stuck in with this during the cold and dark evenings.
At the NSPCC book fair I also picked up one of those hideous Pan paperbacks of the sixties of Crooked House, a superb stand alone by Dame A, and a crime club imprint of Mrs McGinty's Dead. I feel a Christie fest coming on......