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March 2018




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Apr. 27th, 2016


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Reviews Published

100 Book Reviews

Mar. 9th, 2018


A Brave Show

When the cold spell started, these hellebores were already in flower but they lay down their heads on the ground and seemed to give up. Then they were buried under snow. As soon as the snow melted, up they popped again, like magic. It was wonderful to see primroses re-emerge, too; they must have been flowering away merrily under their cosy blanket.

Mar. 8th, 2018

Make do and mend

International Women’s Day

This morning my inbox is full of emails, mostly from publishers, about inspirational women. I’d like to join in the celebrations, I really would, but I have all this cleaning to do …

Mar. 7th, 2018


February Books

Hamlet, Revenge!, Michael Innes
Istanbul Passage, Joseph Kanon
Black Plumes, Margery Allingham
AA Milne: His Life, Ann Thwaite
Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne
The Pocket AAM, AA Milne
Lost for Words, Stephanie Butland
Anne of Green Gables , L M Montgomery
Reading in Bed, Sue Gee
The Proper Place, O Douglas
Amanda’s Wedding, Jenny Colgan
Bergdorff Blondes, Plum Sykes
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Mar. 5th, 2018


A Sweet, Wild Note: What We Hear When the Birds Sing, Richard Smyth

On the moor I saw a plover
And a curlew called her lover
Peewit, peewit,
Spring has surely come again.

We learned that song at junior school. Does a curlew really go peewit? A yellowhammer say, a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese? I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never knowingly heard the call of either bird. Richard Smyth, a birdwatcher since childhood, has trained himself to really listen to the noise the birds make, is happy to use these strange phonetics and can distinguish between a chuck and a chack. Considering the numbers of birds I see in or from my garden, I hear very little of what I would call song. I may hear the overhead mewing of a buzzard or, at night, the call of a tawny owl. I’m all too familiar with the cawing of rooks, the screaming of jays, the descending Mwha-ha-ha-ha-ha (see, I can do it, too), of the woodpecker. Birdsong, for me, is limited to hearing a blackbird sing on an April evening, or the confused twittering of the dawn chorus at four on a summer’s morning, which always lasts just long enough to stop me falling asleep again and then ends abruptly. I’m obviously not listening properly, although I can remember exactly where and when I first heard a cuckoo, or a skylark.
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Feb. 28th, 2018


Nature watch: goldfinches

It’s absolutely beautiful here today, even though, according to my weather app, the temperature ‘feels like’ -9. We had a light powdering of snow yesterday afternoon which has frozen crisp and sparkly. That’s as much snow as I want, thank you.

Looking out of the kitchen window this morning I saw four goldfinches feeding on the seed heads of Verbena bonariensis. This is the very reason I never cut these plants down in autumn. Goldfinches are rare visitors; I saw them occasionally in my old garden, where I had some teasels. If the big freeze goes on much longer, I may see redwings, which only come south in the bitterest of weather. Edit I've just checked and redwings were last seen here in December 2010.

Coincidentally, I’m currently reading a wonderful book: A Sweet, Wild Note by Richard Smyth. It’s all about birdsong and our relationship with it. I’ll write some more about it later, I hope.

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Feb. 17th, 2018


At the market

I haven’t been to the market for ages, due partly to bad weather and partly to the number of failed missions in which I came home with nothing. It was both foggy and frosty this morning and very cold at the market, yet there were plenty of buyers and sellers. I picked up two books very cheaply:

Jenny Colgan is always a pleasant, light read and I really like Sue Gee. I’m already enjoying Reading in Bed. My major purchase was a large box of ephemera: one person’s rubbish, hidden treasure for another. Gosh, what a lot of stuff (like I need more stuff!) and it weighs a ton. Lots of old greetings cards, which I now collect if I can get them cheaply, stamps and covers, old photographs and signed photos of film stars, postcards, travel souvenirs and some interesting wartime stuff e.g. letters which have been passed by the censor. I had a happy time looking through it all and there’s still plenty of sorting to do. A successful outing, except that my legs and feet still haven’t defrosted.

And there’s more!

Feb. 14th, 2018

Who's Queen?

How Terribly Strange To Be Seventy

I sometimes feel I’ve been waiting since 1968 to be able to say that, and now I can.

Austerity baby.

‘A Barrett Baby Study’

Another anniversary: I joined Live Journal twelve years ago tomorrow.

Feb. 13th, 2018


Why I’m re-reading Anne of Green Gables

It’s because I’ve been watching Anne With An E on Netflix and I need to take away the nasty taste with a spoonful of sugar. I enjoyed the first episode to begin with, mainly because of the beautiful scenery. It’s also very well acted. I was slightly taken aback by the flashbacks to brutality in Anne’s past but at the end, shouted, ‘Noooo! It never happened!’ at the screen. After the notorious brooch incident, Anne is packed back to the orphan asylum, almost abducted by a nasty man at the station and eventually rescued and brought home by Matthew. I swore I wouldn’t watch any more but of course I did. Everything is made as bad as possible! Anne loved school at first and told Marilla how nice all the girls had been to her. In the film, she has a terrible time. The same with the Sunday School picnic she looked forward to so much. In the book, she enjoys herself and tastes ice cream for the first time in her life. In the film, she overhears people talking about her unkindly and runs away, wretched. I know that later on there will be even more and worse deviation from the text.

Why take a book which is essentially a happy story about a clever orphan girl who ends up in a loving home, wins all the prizes, goes to college and becomes a teacher and turn it into a fable of child abuse? I just don’t see the point of it. Rather typically, The Guardian reviewer liked this black version, calling it ‘lush, sad perfection’, ‘An Anne for our times’. My view is closer to that of the reviewer in Vanity Fair.

I’ve illustrated this with a picture of the wrong book because my copy of AOGG doesn’t have a pretty dustwrapper. I have all the Anne books and every now and then, I’ll read them again. My personal opinion is that they get worse; I much prefer Anne as a child to Anne as a grown up. There’s her unkindness to poor Gilbert and even when they are at last an item, she’s infuriating, or would be to any normal man. Picture this:
Brainbox Anne, ‘Oh Gilbert, aren’t the stars wonderful tonight? Don’t you think they must be God’s daisy chain?’
Brainbox Gilbert, ‘For goodness sake, Anne, shut up for once and give us a kiss.’
I wish he would say something like that. Sadly, as they get older, Anne and Gilbert become increasingly conservative (indeed, Conservative) and therefore rather dull. I still find the books very readable and L M Montgomery an interesting writer.

Feb. 9th, 2018



In the garden, snowdrops, hellebores, primroses, pulmonaria and viburnum are all flowering. Catkins are out. No chance of a photo, though, as there's a bitterly cold wind and the early sunshine has given way to the usual gloomy cloud cover. These cheerful tulips were on sale in Waitrose this morning at two bunches for a fiver. Who could resist?

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