Reading challenge Blog 2…

I confess, I failed at the first hurdle! I couldn’t get to grips with The Silkworm – it just didn’t grab me and I found myself not reading at all rather than read it…not good! So I’ve popped it back on the shelf and will try it again another day.

BUT I will not be defeated!! I’ve got up, dusted off my bruised knees and came up with a cunning plan (…luckily of my own design and not one of Baldricks)

To get myself back in the reading mood I found a book I’ve read before but couldn’t remember – ‘Confessional‘ by Jack Higgins.

Hmmm, I have mixed feelings. It was easy to read, a simple storyline that whizzed along and which had just enough element of a cat and mouse chase to keep me interested. However, it didn’t set my world alight, I didn’t really like many of the characters and it didn’t really increase my pulse or leave me wanting to learn more. It’s not a book I’ll read again – but it did give me the push I needed to get reading again and I appreciate that!

So, being on a roll I headed over to leap a second hurdle and picked a new author and a book that had been sat on my bookshelf for several years without being opened (I know, terrible isn’t it? Worse still there’s more just like it…oh the shame!)

The book I chose was Gatekeeper by Philip Shelby. Described on the jacket as: “An international assassin is brought out of retirement for one last lethal commission…his name is the Handyman”

I had reasonable expectations that this would be a page turner for me as I love a good thriller and I was pleased to discover it was ‘not half bad’ as my nan would say. Admittedly I guessed several of the plot twists and the outcome was kinda obvious but actually I didn’t mind; It wasn’t a challenging read and to be honest I wasn’t in the mood for one of those so this was good! And I found myself becoming intrigued as to how the characters would be developed, even the slightly more minor ones, and it is often this aspect of a book that will get me hooked on a story…take Harry Potter for example; obviously the main characters are interesting etc etc but I found myself time and again coming back to the more minor characters and hoping they’d develop (and they did – hurrah!) so I could understand them better and work out what made them tick: Luna’s perceptiveness, Umbridge’s dastardly vindictive evilness (can you tell I REALLY dislike her?because I do…intensely), Neville’s honesty and bravery – they all intrigued me and hooked me into the storylines (to be honest Neville was always my favourite character from HP & The Philosophers Stone onwards and many of my favourite moments throughout the whole series are where he’s making his gentle but significant contribution).

ANYWAYS back to THIS book…this story is left wide open for a sequel or two – which I usually groan at, but in this instance I quite liked that the author didn’t just try to tie everything up neatly in a bow in one book…instead I’m left wondering what will happen next?how the ‘good guys’ will end up working together again? what will bring them to face the Handyman once more?…yeah I quite liked this book 😉

All in all I’m happy to have read a new author that’s easy to read and I’ve found another one of his books to pop on my reading list which is great!

I’m now off to read a new book but by favourite author, “Jack Reacher: The Complete Collected Short Stories…No Middle Name” by Lee Child.

Happy Reading everyone xx


When Daddy Fell Into The Pond…

Undoubtedly one of my favourite books as a child was the Ladybird book of Bedtime Rhymes…full of fun little dittys which made me chuckle, wonder and above all else happy.

My favourite was ‘When Daddy Fell Into The Pond” by Alfred Noyes

I defy anyone to read this or have it read to them and not break out into at least a small smile…

For me it gives delight in several ways. Firstly, it depicts so accurately those wintry weekend days when as a child I would be all like ‘there’s NOTHING to do…I’m BORED!!’ (Despite having a mountain of toys and a zillion books which of course at that particular time were just not enough for a 7yr old!) It brings a certain nostalgia as I remember that feeling of ‘oh would something exciting please happen’ and then my parents doing something to break the monotony – never quite as dramatic as falling in a pond but usually more along the lines of saying let’s play a board game, let’s go for a walk & hunt for conkers, or my mum saying let’s bake a cake – yes she did let me lick the bowl out! Happy days…

This brings me to the second reason why I like this poem – It doesn’t say that ‘Daddy’ fell in the pond deliberately and as a child this thought would never have occurred to me but reading it now as an adult I do think it’s certainly something which could be inferred…as parents we do all do daft stuff to keep our children happy…slapstick humour works wonders with kids, I’ve lost count of the number of times I pretended to befall some crazy harmless misfortune for my boys entertainment… so as a child I loved it coz of that childish delight in seeing a parent fall for something silly and as an adult it brings a new twist of knowing that perhaps the joy was deliberately engineered and what a great Daddy this daddy is!

Finally this poem shows the genuine infectiousness of laughter – of how having a giggle, being a good sport (coz let’s face it the Daddy could’ve gone bananas and had a total sense of humour failure but he didn’t) and seeing the brighter side of all things can make the world around us, even just for that moment, a better place.

It brings me to another favourite poem – I’m not quite sure who wrote it as there have been multiple authors attributed in the past, but I first heard of it when I was reading up on Spike Milligan. Whoever did write it they were insightfully spot on about the power of a smile 😁

I leave you with these words and my smile…

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park

I’ve recently read The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay and then was lucky enough to visit Bletchley Park itself last April.

Bletchley Park is all at the same time small and unassuming whilst being imposing and awe-inspiring. This contrary impression is evident when you walk through the huts, which you can imagine damp and cramped with the breaths of the many people hard at work steaming like hot dragons puffs in the cold air, and the clacking and clunking of the Bombes so loud as to rattle the ear drums and send you slightly doolally. At the same time the grounds are beautiful with manicured lawns, a tennis court and The Mansion with its impressive library, and formal rooms which call to mind a more ‘cultured’ laid-back scene. Something which is very much supported by the personal memoirs, shared by Mr McKay, of most wonderful music recitals in the main house, chess clubs and dance societies such as the Highland Reels club which were part of life at Bletchley.

Mr McKay weaves an insightful tale about this most discrete of places with the loves, lives, fears and hopes that these extraordinary people experienced during their time at Bletchley. The men and women who worked there, fascinate me. I don’t know if it’s the secrecy and that this community of thousands kept it hush hush, the extreme conditions that they put up with in the pursuit of finding the key to win the war or the code breaking skills that these amazing people employed that I’m most intrigued by? What I liked about this book was that I was able to find out more about the actual people and from their own words.

With its independent chapter structure the story can unfold at the readers pace as it’s easy to delve in and out, here and there depending on mood and time. You can read a chapter about the social diversity of the staff one day and then wranglings over whether Bletchley was civilian or military the next. Churchill has a mention and there’s of course much content on the Enigma and codebreaking. But it is the personal accounts of life at the Park, memories from debutantes, students and service personnel, all thrown together because of their significant abilities and bound as one community forever in time, that are the central focus.

It’s a snapshot and in no way a thorough exploration of the phenomenal code breaking that took place, but it is a good introduction to Bletchley and helps to give context and ‘life’ to the Park by sharing the thoughts and feelings of those most marvellous of people who stepped up to serve.

Can I rise to the challenge?

I’m an avid reader but not necessarily a broad reader…well not as broad as I feel I should be.

I mainly like crime fiction, mysteries and fantasy sci-fi; I’m partial to a classic or two and will read the odd historical especially if it’s a personal account of happenings…there’s something about stepping into someone’s memories and seeing that which we learn about in the abstract at school from a personal and REAL viewpoint.

However, the more I think about it the more I have to admit I’m picky about which authors I read and I’ve a tendency to re-read particularly when I’m in need of comfort. I like popping back to see old friends and when the writing’s good the story unfolds in such a way that, even when you know the ending, you still find yourself invested, finding new aspects to the characters and plots that intrigue and envelope you.

The Discworld is a case in point: not to mention that there’s like a million squillion of them so lots to choose from but it’s got to be my ‘go-to’ place when I’m in need of some solace and comfort – I always get swept away by Sir TPs inventive but oh so very ‘almost too close for home ‘ observations on humans and our weird & wonderful lives! I always find a new dimension to a character, realise a parody is not really acknowledged before and the stories are like a warm blanket that wrap me up and cheer my cockles.

So, that being said I am determined to read more variety – I need to discover new authors – those who are blazing into the literary world and those who are easing in gently; I want to discover old established ones too – books that to my shame I’ve not read and by all accounts I should have read, such George Orwell’s 1984 & F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Last year I joined in a Reading Challenge and it was great fun… it really pushed me to read something different – for instance I read Hamlet…

Now Shakespeare is, for me, far better on the stage. I admit to sometimes finding it difficult to follow when reading; the different threads Shakespeare weaves have me as confused a fly trapped in a spiders web and then other times it’s like I’m wading through treacle as I can find the pace so sllooooow. But on the stage the plays comes to life…the players show me the wit and vibrancy of Shakespeare’s words, they move at a pace I can connect with and what’s most important is that I generally find I understand!!

A case in point is last September when I saw A Midsummer Nights Dream at The Globe, London and WOW! The play quirky, modern and hilarious and in The Globe setting it made sense…I now get what Mrs Bedford was blithering on about in Year 9!

Anyways, back to the Danish Prince…reading Hamlet, was quite a challenge for me – but I DID IT!! (Can you tell I’m quite chuffed?!) I read through till the end and although I know I didn’t grasp all the nuances and follow every thread as perhaps as clearly my friend Kerry would like (She’s like a TOTAL Hamlet nut!) I think I got the gist of it! I’d not realised quite how many of our ‘sayings’, our little everyday pearls of wisdom come from this play…

I knew about “To be or not to be” but hadn’t realised “To thine own self be true” or “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” came from Hamlet.

…Ahh but every day’s a learning day isn’t it?!

I enjoyed the reading challenge so I’ve set myself a new one.

This time it’s simple… instead of read one book that’s ‘this’ and one book that’s ‘that’ it is just going to be this:

for every book I re-read or every book I read by a favourite author I have to read a book by someone I’ve not read before…simples!

So I start this week…

As I have just re-read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett (for about the ten millionth time!) I’ve now begun reading The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (yes I know it’s JK in disguise but I’m counting it as a book by a new author as it’s a world away from Hogwarts!). It’s the second in the series but seems easy enough to pick up the character storyline and it’s flowing okay so far…

I shall try to do a book review of each new author or book I read – these may not be long, helpful or indeed well worded (is that even a phrase?) but I shall try…so you’ll all see if I manage to meet my own challenge!

It’s quite exciting actually to think that a whole new world is opening up…I wonder what will be next?

My weekend in quotes…

Thank You For The Music…

Look at me now, will I ever learn?

I don’t know how but I suddenly lose control

There’s a fire within my soul

Just one look and I can hear a bell ring

One more look and I forget everything, w-o-o-o-oh

Yep…Friday night and the lights were low, I’d been looking out for a place to go…and I found it at the theatre – Mamma Mia was showing and it was FAB-U-LOUS as dear ol’ Craig would say…

Cocktails to begin with – Greek Martinis with Brandy & Cointreau (oh myyy) and then singing and dancing in the aisles during the encore – oh we can never resist a boogie and I do wanna sing when they do their thing! Just the best night out!

Live Long and Prosper…

Saturday we boldly went where no man had gone before…off to a Star Trek Murder Mystery. I was wearing the red jersey and so was everso slightly concerned that I’d be a goner but my friends and I set our phasers to stun, chased the Klingons round the moons of Nibia, round the Antares maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames too and survived!!

We introduced the next generation to Star Trekkin’ by The Firm…our work here is done!

Stop and Smell the Roses…

“The rose is without explanation; she blooms because she blooms”

Angelus Silesius

Sunday, ahhhh, it was a lazzzy day…time for pottering in the garden – some weeding here, abit of pruning there…niiice.

My red rose which the fella bought me as a surprise one Anniversary LONG ago and which I thought had finally said that long farewell has suddenly bloomed again…and oh what a bloom!

The air was hot and still, it was reminiscent to me of what the quarry was like for Them…so I sat, in the sunshine smelling that sweet rose perfume and visited some old friends and thought of the future – where there’s a boy and his dog and his friends. And a summer that never ends…

I wonder what next weekend will involve?

Wishing you all a great one xx

The Need to Know…


I was watching Yes Prime Minister “The Tangle Web” the other night and it’s early scene ‘The Need to Know’ started me thinking…always a bit dangerous that!!

We live in a world where we seem to need to know everything…and wherever possible we need to know NOW, if you would be so kind, thank you very much.

But this is not a new phenomenon – far from it. The need to know more, to discover the world around us and understand it, is, I feel, a natural part of being human. From the dawn of time we’ve strived to discover new things and make sense of the universe around us. Newton pondered the mysteries of mathematics and science; Columbus explored the world seeking new lands and Attenborough (Sir David totally rocks IMO) continues to unlock the secrets of the natural world for our everlasting appreciation.

I bought an old book at a recent fayre – it’s called “Enquire Within Upon Everything”. It’s the 1893 ‘revised’ 88th edition by Houlston & Sons, Paternoster Square, London and its foreword states,

“Whether you wish to model a flower in wax; to study the rules of etiquette; to serve a relish for breakfast or supper; to plan a dinner for a large party or a small one; to cure a headache; to make a will; to get married; to bury a relative; whatever you may wish to do, make or to enjoy, provided your desire has relation to the necessities of domestic life, I hope you will not fail to ‘Enquire Within’”.

It’s brilliant! A snapshot of the late 19th century in Britain complete with adverts for Chlorodyne (some sort of cough medicine I think?) and Celandine ‘The Certain Cure for Corns’ – how delightful! This font of all knowledge helps me understand the niceties of how to appropriately address ‘persons of rank and distinction’ including royalty, the clergy and judges, as well as how to preserve fruit and vegetables and all the while explaining the ‘peculiar kind of medicine’ that is an enema!  It also includes marvellous sayings such as:

  • Honest loss is preferable to shameful gain
  • The best physicians are Dr Diet, Dr Quiet and Dr Merryman
  • Observation is the best teacher
  • To hope and strive is the way to thrive

Ahhhh, pearls of wisdom…every one of them!

I do so love a good encyclopaedia. I love a good book to pore over, discovering new facts and bits of trivia – I like the process of finding out just as much as the actual finding out. I say to my boys sometimes “look it up” when they ask a question (usually because I don’t know the answer but I’m pretending to be giving best parenting guidance for ‘independent learning’ skills – ssshhhush that’s our secret ok?) but, when I say that, I’m envisaging Encyclopaedia Britannica not Google, Bing or Yahoo…and the thing is, that what would have taken me half an hour patient searching and deducing from a book/s takes them 5 minutes if that! (Homework is definitely easier nowadays.)

And there, in a nutshell, you have it – the wonders of the technological world that we now live in. We are still discovering- we are still needing to know; it’s just that we don’t need as much patience any more before we find out what we need to know…

The beauty of the internet is that we can, with a few taps of our fingertips, find out all sorts of information in seconds. For example, I just typed one simple question into Google before I started writing this blog and knew, less than 2 seconds later that Egbert is considered the first King of England – in another 10 seconds I was enlightened with the knowledge that his dates were 827 – 839 and that good ol’ Egbert was the “first monarch to establish a stable and extensive rule over all of Anglo-Saxon England” and he was the grandad of Alfred the Great – how cool is that?!

We can use the internet to connect with people from all over the world, learn about issues and happenings from different viewpoints…take Twittersphere (oh I know it can be like stepping through a virtual minefield sometimes but generally it’s fun and interesting so I’ll take the rough with the smooth) and our very own WordPress of course…we connect with people we’ve previously never heard of, listen to their stories and share their hopes and dreams too – it can broaden our minds and educate us if we let it…how utterly joyful!

The internet really is an amazing source of knowledge and it’s hard to imagine a time without it; it’s a weird enough concept if you actually lived pre-internet but if you’ve never experienced life without the wonderful www. it’s practically impossible! I would sometime regale my students with the harsh realities of my university days – they would sit mouths gaping, minds agog as I explained to them how I had used books and journals, documentaries, newspapers and, wait for it, even microfiche (ye Gods I’m ancient aren’t I?!) to complete my degree…and here’s the kicker that they never could quite get their heads round…all withOUT the internet  – yep no Google, no Siri, no Wikipedia (hmmm maybe there’s a blessing or two there??), nope just the good old fashioned library.

Of course the downside to the internet is that there is SO much information, with many conflicting stories and so what do we believe to be true? Unchecked and unattributed articles could be correct or they could be leading us down a false trail…how do we know what’s accurate? Sometimes, when I’m surfing the www waves I feel very much like PM Jim Hacker, caught in the headlights of the oncoming Sir Humphrey – trying desperately to follow the thread but ultimately ending up in a mental tangle!

But hey, that’s part of the discovering adventure…and I love it!

I shall now leave you with this clip which first got me pondering…and as we join PM Hacker in bafflement may we all be assured that we can know what we need to know, when we need to know it, but not know when we don’t need to kno…yeah I’ll just stop there and say “enjoy!”