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August 2018




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Jun. 11th, 2018

Who's Queen?

The malign influence of Instagram

You will notice that when I photographed the books I bought at the weekend, I did not pose them with flowers. I am getting a leetle irritated by this trend.

Am I just a grumpy old bat or do others agree?

Jun. 10th, 2018


TV watch: My Generation with Michael Caine

huskyteer and I watched this film yesterday evening and enjoyed it very much. I love Michael Caine and there were good film clips plus a great soundtrack featuring a lot of Kinks’ numbers. I must have been an annoying companion, with my ‘tsks’ and ‘pah!’s because, as I wrote way back in 2006, I refuse to believe that music and fashion changed the world in any way, or that the working classes asserted themselves for the first time in the sixties. Well worth seeing, though.

We’re going on a Book Hunt

It’s Folk Festival weekend here, which means a large charity fair, always with a huge bookstall. After parking, we were just about to make our way to the Minster Green when we were ambushed by the CAB, who were having a book sale on the pavement. So we bought some books. Then we made our way through the merry throng of folk dancers and spectators and bought some more. We both did quite well and, as so often happens, huskyteer found me a treasure. I got these

What a lovely cover on the Bryson. And more

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Jun. 4th, 2018


May books

Metroland, Julian Barnes
Citizen Clem , John Bew
Mr Pim Passes By, A A Milne
Land of Plenty , Charlie Pye-Smith
The Green Man, Kingsley Amis
The Man Between , Charles Cumming
The Way of all Flesh, Ambrose Parry with Chris Brookmyre & Dr Marisa Haetzman.
Chloe Marr, A A Milne
Two People, A A Milne
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May. 26th, 2018


In the garden: May at last

It’s rather grey and miserable today but the garden, about a month behind, is catching up.

Roses and clematis on gable end of house.
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May. 24th, 2018


The Man Between, Charles Cumming

I love a spy story, so I’m surprised I hadn’t read anything by Charles Cumming before. This is a classic story of an amateur spy, the sort of thing Joseph Kanon does so well. Kit Carradine is a successful writer of spy fiction and about to travel to Morocco to take part in a literary festival. He’s asked to do a small job for British Intelligence while he’s there and is thrilled by the prospect. His own father had been in the Service but his career was ruined when he was betrayed by Philby. Perhaps Kit can redress this? He’s a patriotic sort of chap and pleased to serve his country.

As is the way of such novels, he soon finds himself in way above his head not knowing whom to trust. At the time the story is set (pretty much the present day), an outfit called Resurrection is carrying out terrorist attacks all over the world against people and institutions perceived to be right wing. Kit has been asked to hand over a package to a missing girl, Lara, once associated with Resurrection and now believed to be on the run. He does find her and determines to rescue her. But does she need rescuing? Is she what she seems, a beautiful young woman always travelling to escape those who want to kill her? There are so many twists to this story that I can’t describe the plot for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say that I finished it in an orgy of one day reading and found it a real page turner.

Charles Cumming was himself recruited by MI6, so knows his tradecraft. No wonder he can write such a gripping tale. The Man Between will be out on 5th June and I read it thanks to NetGalley.

May. 23rd, 2018


TV watch: A Very English Scandal

Photo BBC

The BBC’s new series, A Very English Scandal is good; very good. An hour’s viewing passed by in a flash, always a good sign. As I’ve written before, I’m old enough to remember the unfolding of the Thorpe scandal and have also read John Preston’s book, on which this series is based. I don’t really want to write about the drama so much as about Hugh Grant. I’m rather sick of reading, from both professional critics and bloggers, that Grant’s performance is ‘surprising’ or ‘revelatory’ because the writer had previously thought of him as ‘just’ a romcom actor. Just? Since when did comic acting become easier than any other kind? Don’t you think that a lot of hard work and serious craft goes into playing a romantic lead? Take Cary Grant, the absolute master of the genre. Did he make it to the top without hard work and artistry? Hugh Grant is a very good actor and, IMO, plays Thorpe very well indeed, capturing the charm and glamour of the man but also his recklessness and his ruthless streak. He’s totally believable, which is the more remarkable in that he’s playing a man who was thirty years his junior at the time of these events.

May. 21st, 2018


Land of Plenty, Charlie Pye-Smith

In The Green Man by Kingsley Amis, the narrator writes,
‘Rural life is a mystery until one realises that nearly all of it, everywhere in the world, is spent on preparing for and recovering from short but punishing bouts of the tedium inseparable from the tasks of the land, or rather, their failure to give the least sense of achievement, as it might be a lifetime spent washing up out of doors. I have never understood why anybody agreed to go on being a rustic after about 1400.’

Reading of the trials farmers suffer through bad weather, fluctuating international markets, the loss of subsidies after 2020 and the demand from supermarkets to keep prices down, you have to wonder what keeps otherwise sane people tied to the land. It’s rather like a book version of Countryfile, discussing many of the same issues: is indoor or outdoor rearing better for animal welfare and the end product; does badger culling reduce the incidence of bovine TB; is there a future for mixed farming?

Charlie Pye-Smith travels the country visiting farms large and small and trying to find out what makes some more successful than others. Unfortunately, he feels obliged to describe everyone he meets as tall or short, fat or thin, good looking or not and also to tell us what they gave him to eat. I found this extremely tedious and not at all to the point, which is of course, what does the future hold for British farming? Why don’t we produce more of our own food? There are plenty of interesting facts here, such as that most potatoes grown in this country are used to make chips and crisps. Successful farmers are those prepared to change with the times. Negotiate a good deal with Waitrose for top of the range products. Diversify into products like cheese and ice cream made from local milk. Run tea rooms, offer bed and breakfast, sell at local markets and build up a customer base. Be prepared to use part of your land as a nature reserve. Not all gloom (unless Eastern Europeans stop coming here to work) and a brighter future for those willing to adapt. Mr Pye-Smith tries not to be nostalgic for the kind of farming he remembers from the fifties and sixties but to embrace changes which can improve both the food we eat and the natural environment. The big questions are firstly, are we prepared to pay more for our food and secondly, are we happy to pay farmers to maintain the landscape we love?

Land of Plenty is published by Thompson and Elliott, who kindly sent me the new paperback edition to read.

The way we were. The Farm as depicted by C F Tunnicliffe for Ladybird Books, 1958.

May. 15th, 2018


Citizen Clem, John Bew

Clement Attlee has long been my political hero, so when a friend recommended this book, I was keen to read it. It’s brilliant and deserves all the prizes it’s won. I won’t try to write a review, since I can’t imagine that many people who visit here will want to read nearly 600 pages of political history. So I’ll just flag up some of the interesting things about Attlee’s life.

First, you have to remember that he was born in 1883 and always recalled watching the parade for Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897. He was a Victorian, yet was Prime Minister when I was born. His upbringing was conventional: a happy family life, Haileybury and Oxford; not the background you expect for a revolutionary. It was working in the East End of London which converted him to socialism and he devoted his life to improving the lot of the poor. Already thirty-one when the First World War broke out, old by the standards for new recruits, he volunteered anyway because of his strong patriotic feelings. He fought bravely throughout the war, ending it as Major Attlee. This stood him in good stead in his later political career, as no one could doubt his courage.
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May. 11th, 2018


TV watch: Detectorists

Detectorists completely passed me by when it first appeared on television and I've been catching up on Netflix. I love its gentle humour, the sweet characters and this theme tune, which we don't hear enough of, IMO.

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