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September 2019




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Apr. 27th, 2016


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Reviews Published

100 Book Reviews

Sep. 7th, 2019


Hilary McKay bargain

The Book People have six Casson family paperbacks for £9.99.
I love the books and recommend them, though I’m not sure about these covers. See here.

Sep. 5th, 2019


In which I fail at satire

Apologies to people who read my post about The Lives and Letters of the National Theatre and thought the letters quoted there were genuine. They are not; I made them up.
Please don’t let that put you off a good book. I’ll get my coat.

Sep. 3rd, 2019


Dramatic Exchanges: Letters of the National Theatre, ed. Daniel Rosenthal

Some correspondence from the National Theatre archives.

X to Y

Dearest Y,

Thank you for sending me your latest play. Without wishing to be the least offensive, I have to say that it is probably the worst play since
Gammer Gurton’s Needle * and so, regrettably, we shall be unable to stage it at the National. So sorry, do let us have first dibs on your next!

Ever yours, dear one.


Y to X


You *&%$+@( *&%£!


X to another Y

Darling Y,

Can’t I persuade you to reconsider your decision about playing - ? You know how we long to have you here at the National and I feel you could bring so much to the part.

Do, please, please, say yes.

All love,

Another Y to X

Dear X,


Another Y

Yet another Y to another X

Dear another X,

I am at a loss to understand how you could have my play in rehearsal for two months and then fail to put it on! I feel very let down by an institution I have always supported. I am convinced that an absurdist comedy featuring violent rape, torture and beheadings would be delighted in by a wide audience (especially the matinée crowd). It is just the sort of play the National should be showing.

Yet another Y

Another X to Yet another Y

Dear Yet another Y,

Please believe me when I say that we *love* your play and would be only too happy to put it in the repertoire but, alas, the technical difficulties of staging it proved to be too great.

Yours admiringly,
Another X

*'the worst play since Gammer Gurton’s Needle' is a quote from I Like it Here by Kingsley Amis.
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Aug. 31st, 2019


Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames, Lara Maiklem

Lara Maiklem is a mudlark. That means she spends hours of her spare time crawling about in mud beside the Thames, getting cold and wet, in the hunt for treasure. Not gold or jewels but everyday items which the river gives up. It’s like being a detectorist only filthier and more dangerous. (There are mudlarks who use metal detectors, but you need a special licence for it.) Getting covered in mud and then bearing home a rucksack full of dirty, smelly items is not something which appeals to me, but I totally get the thrill of holding in your hand a Tudor shoe or even a humble clay pipe and feeling a connection to the unknown person who lost the item centuries ago.

The book is mainly about three things. 1) Personal history: how and why I became a mudlark. 2) The history of the Thames: its tides, bridges, wharves, pubs, steps, embankments, shipping. 3) How to be a mudlark and what to look for. That’s not how Maiklem has organised the book. She takes each stretch of the Thames in turn e.g. Vauxhall, Blackfriars, Bankside, then writes about what she finds there, other mudlarks she meets and the history of that particular part of the river. I could have done with a large map in front of me to trace all these journeys.

I was able to get a ‘read now’ extract from NetGalley for this Bloomsbury book. Either they sent me the whole thing or it’s a very long book, because it took me ages to read. I did find it fascinating, although I thought the history and the possible stories behind the found objects more interesting than the autobiographical elements. The story of the Doves Press is particularly good. I like the way each section begins with a quotation from an earlier work (e.g. Mayhew) about mudlarks of the past. This would be a very useful addition to the library of anyone interested in the Thames and London.

Aug. 26th, 2019


Vitae Lampada

photo Telegraph

Mike Atherton begins his cricket column in The Times today:
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?

If he can quote Macaulay, I can quote Sir Henry Newbolt:
(Seventy-three) to make and the match to win -

It took one other man, not two, to hold the bridge. Step forward Jack Leach, last man standing and a dogged hero who lasted the course and made it possible for Stokes to win the game so astonishingly; something Stokes himself is keen to point out. How often do you see an England player wiping his glasses before facing all that Australia can throw at him? Atherton sees Stokes as Horatius; to me, he’s a berserker. That Viking chin of his hints at distant warrior ancestors, charging into battle with a red mist before their eyes. I was very hard on Stokes when he was in trouble last year; drunken violence is not the example you want an England cricketer to set to the young. I forgive him now for his sheer, determined heroism. I see him going over the top, insanely brave and inspiring others.

Some of the papers opine that England was ‘glowing’ yesterday, after record-breaking temperatures (not that bad here, fortunately) and an apparently miraculous Test victory. This particular English person was a complete wreck by half past four. The afternoon veered unbearably between hope and despair and as the number of runs required got into single figures, the tension was almost intolerable. What a day to have been at Headingley!

Aug. 24th, 2019


I’m so analogue! (I have to be.)

This morning, I can’t get any BBC reception on my television or DAB radios. Other stations aren’t affected, nor are my analogue radios. A good reason not to ditch analogue broadcasts.
I hope the problem is sorted before it’s time for TMS.

Aug. 23rd, 2019


Oh, good grief!

I was busy and missed the start of today’s match at Headingley. I thought, cynically, ‘I’ll just see if Roy is out yet’ and sure enough he was out, for nine. How many more chances will they give him? I switched off, went downstairs and switched on the radio there and Joe Root was out! I don’t care what Alastair Cook says: I don’t like Root playing at 3. If he’s out cheaply, the opposition think, ‘Whoo hoo! We’ve got their best batsman out already.’ I liked the BBC blog writer’s account of Root’s dismissal, which began, ‘Hello darkness my old friend…’ and went on to say there was 'the sound of silence' over the ground.

Do England expect Jofra Archer to do all the work? I agree with Geoffrey Boycott that they’re in danger of over-bowling him.

Aug. 19th, 2019



Last week, I was getting through a book a day, mostly crime novels. I’ve never been a great fan of Agatha Christie but who could resist two bags of her books in those editions with facsimile covers for £5.00? Not me, for sure. They are all Poirot stories and those I read most recently are: Peril at End House; Cards on the Table; Death in the Clouds and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Death in the Clouds was by far the best and also had the prettiest cover. I couldn’t enjoy The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as much as I might have done because, although I hadn’t read it before, I already knew, just from general reading, what the twist at the end would be.
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Aug. 16th, 2019


A wasted opportunity

Excellent bowling conditions yet five or six overs gone without a wicket. Joe Root, why did you wait so long before bowling Woakes? Poor judgement (again).

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