Tag Archives: Personal memories

Books I Wish I’d Reviewed…

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I read a number of these a long time ago, before the internet existed or I even considered there’d be a time when I would share my love of books and reading with numbers of other people who also take part in this most solitary of hobbies. And the rest are books that I read before I really got bitten by the reviewing bug. Either way, I occasionally tell myself that I’ll go back and reread them some day to write the review. But if I’m honest – I probably won’t because I generally don’t reread books, in case the second time around they disappoint. In which case, I will have gained two miserable memories – the one of revisiting a favourite book and finding it isn’t that impressive after all, but even more devastatingly – it will also have smirched the lovely glow around my recollection of the delight when I read the book first time around.

In no particular order…

 

Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a villagecider with rosie before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.

I read this when I was fourteen and immediately fell in love with the book and the depiction of a lost time in rural Gloucestershire. Much later, when pregnant with my daughter, I encountered Lee’s essay on when his daughter was born and cried as I read it. I was probably a tad hormonal, but it is beautifully written…

 

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartleythegobetween
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years.

Another wonderfully written book – a real mixture of humour and bitter poignancy and the ending is a shock. The dialogue is a masterclass in writing subtext and if you haven’t ever read it, do so. Set before WWI, it is another lost world, where poor little Leo is adrift in a social shark tank and is shamefully exploited by people who should have known better.

 

requiemforawrenRequiem for a Wren by Neville Shute
Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents’ remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents’ parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realizes that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be…

I’d studied A Town Like Alice at school and loved it, so went looking for everything Shute wrote, which was a fair amount. I loved most of it – but Requiem for a Wren stole a particular portion of my heart, as the story depicted all too clearly the personal cost of war. If you ever encounter a battered Neville Shute novel in a second-hand shop – they occur with surprisingly regularity – scoop it up. There is a solid reason why he was such a popular author for thirty-odd years in the last century.

 

Chocky by John Wyndhamchocky
Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.

Another wonderful author, who is famous for The Day of the Triffids, but wrote a number of other really enjoyable science fiction stories. Again, I loved them all – but Chocky was a particular favourite.

 

rideratthegateRider at the Gate – Book 1 of the Nighthorses duology by C.J. Cherryh
Stranded on a distant planet that abounds with fertile farmland, human colonists appear to be in paradise. But all the native animals communicate by telepathy, projecting images that drive humans mad. Only Nighthorses stand between civilization and madness. When a flare of human emotion spreads to all the horses, chaos erupts.

I fell in love with C.J. Cherryh’s writing from the first sentence – and this is her at her unbeatable best. I’d also include the sequel Cloud’s Rider, which is another gem.

 

Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift Saga by David Brinsundiver
No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron–except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history–a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.

I loved this take on what might befall Earth creatures should we encounter alien cultures – and how terrestrial species other than humans might fare.

 

fallingfreeFalling Free – Book 4 of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Leo Graf was an effective engineer…Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither save, nor in the rules… Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies now all he had to do was teach them to be free

Another talented speculative fiction author, whose groundbreaking writing has taken me to wonderful worlds. I have reviewed a number of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures – but this particular story featuring the quaddies has always had a special place in my heart…

What about you – have you any books that you wish you had reviewed? Or books you dare not reread in case they aren’t quite as wonderful as you recall?

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To the people who made books live for me…

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This is a tribute to those people who helped spark my love of books by reading aloud to me.

Pile of Books @ Windham library

Pile of Books @ Windham library

First and foremost – my granny. She read aloud really well, having a beautiful, deep voice slightly roughened by smoking. I vividly recall her reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green and Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, sitting on the end of my bed as part of the bedtime routine, when she came to stay while we were living in Zambia. I can close my eyes, feel the slight pressure of the bedsheets tugging and hear her husky voice as I listened spellbound with the cool night air and the crickets sawing in the background. I could have listened to her all night…

I was also lucky enough to have a number of teachers who read aloud to our class. Mrs Parry read us stories about the Greek myths from a huge, foxed book that had me combing the library looking for more stories like those ones – and stumbling across an edition with some fairly graphic illustrations, when aged eight.

Miss Allson read The Pearl by John Steinbeck and I recall struggling not to cry when we reached the passage involving poor little Coyotito near the end. It was the first time I recall a story that so starkly examined racism and the sheer unfairness of poverty.

On a much lighter note, Miss Jorden read us the wonderful stories featuring Don Camillo, the hot-headed village priest and his regular run-ins with the equally hot-headed mayor Peppone, written by Giovannino Guareschi. I managed to get hold of these books years later and although I enjoyed the TV series, I still far prefer the ironic tone of the books. I, again, can close my eyes and hear Miss Jordon’s gentle voice pattering around the room on a sleepy afternoon and smell the classroom scents of chalkdust, ink and learning.

Mr Crawford read Animal Farm by George Orwell to us and a selection of poetry, which he recited beautifully, managing to imbue the likes of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ and ‘Roman Wall Blues’ by W.H. Auden with passion and understanding.

I recall being entranced by Mrs Jefford’s rendition of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth, furiously drawing black and white doodles as I drank in every word… I don’t know if teachers regularly read aloud to children older than eleven, these days. I hope they do.

So I want to voice my gratitude to all the adults who read aloud to me all those years ago. Although I was one of those children who effortlessly learnt to read at a very early age, it mattered to hear other people read aloud to me, opening me up to literature I probably would never have otherwise encountered. Thank you…

I have always made an effort to pass on the baton, having read to both my children until they got to a point they’d rather I didn’t. And now I read aloud, sometimes until my voice goes, to both grandchildren who love listening to all sorts of adventure stories.

Who read to you when you were a child? What did they read? Do you read aloud to anyone in your life? I’d love to hear from you…

The Bee and Me…

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It was one of those horrible, avoidable accidents that happen when you’re not paying sufficient attention to the little things in your life… This week-end, I’ve been messing around in my garden shed, getting it cleared out and ready to sow this year’s crop of flowers and veg. And because it’s also where the children’s outdoor toys are stored and they were staying for the week-end, the door was secured open. Despite having scooped out a stray bee who’d wandered into the shed and kept battering herself against the window the day before – I still hadn’t got around to cleaning out the spider webs silting up the corners.

I was getting the washing in when I heard it – manic buzzing coming from the shed. I dropped the basket and ran towards the sound. There she was, a large bumble bee thrashing around, unable to escape. Feeling sick, I grabbed one of the pots and tried to lever her away from the tangling trap of old webs. But in the end I needed to use my hands and even then it was a struggle to extricate her without pulling her apart. And she was covered in a thick matt of spider silk – wickedly sticky… Still emitting a screaming buzz as she fought, spinning in my hand.

100_3866If she’d been smaller honeybee, or a fly, I’d have immediately dropped her to the ground and stepped on her to put her out of her misery. But she was so big I thought there’d be a chance – and I am very fond of bumble bees. I try to ensure I have flowers blooming in my garden all through the year for the likes of these remarkable insects. Watching them always leaves me awestruck and happy… and here was one in a horrible mess because a particular chore got missed off the list. By me.

I carried her over to my workbench in the garden and tried to free her from the white mess mummifying her. It was blowy and she was still panicking, but I managed to free her two front feet. I took her indoors. Rebecca suggested I put her in a bowl, but it was too smooth and she couldn’t keep her footing, causing her to flip onto her back which she hated. So I scooped her up in my hand.
I’d been babbling all sorts of nonsense to her… more as a comfort for me, really. And as I picked her up once more, she stopped buzzing in circles and instead kept crawling and crawling across my hand, while trying to free herself. I kept picking away at the threads encasing her wings and her lower body, but it was slow work. There was a miserable moment when I’d nearly freed one wing and she slipped over onto her back and the stray webbing wrapped itself around her two back legs I’d only recently managed to release.

I nearly gave up then. But she didn’t. She was still battling to free herself, so I took a deep breath and kept going, working at the kitchen table. I used a tiny screwdriver to tease the strands away from her wings. It was very ticklish work… she never stayed still and with one slip I’d have shredded her wings and possibly killed her. It took nearly an hour and in the end Himself man100_3868aged to cut away the last ball of webbing hanging off her back left leg with a modeller’s blade. She was still crawling across my hand, although her wings were now free. So I gently guided her onto the cutting board surface and we carried her outside. John gave it a flick, while I got ready to catch her, not convinced after her ordeal that she’d be able to fly. She launched herself into the air and we watched her fly once around the garden, before soaring over the fence.

And tomorrow morning first thing, I’m clearing out those bloody spiders’ webs.

On Being a Mother…

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It’s my son’s birthday, today. Right now, he’s a long way away. Too far to see on this, his birthday. He’s busy ‘out there’ following his dream. But today, I find myself vividly recalling the day he was born. My 2-year-old daughter and I were waiting at the bus stop on the The Green at Long Sutton for over half an hour as snow flurries whipped around us and I had an ante natal appointment that I was going to be late for – although the lovely people at Yeovil Maternity Unit would be kind and understanding, as they always were.

yeovil hosptialWhen the bus finally arrived it was empty and the driver, evidently keen to make up the time he’d lost earlier, drove around the twisting country roads so enthusiastically that I was forced to seat my daughter on my knee and wedge myself in the corner of the seat, to stop sliding around. The situation wasn’t helped by the contractions I kept having. Rebecca grumbled, ‘Mummy, your tummy is too hard and sticking into me!’

Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t ask the driver to go slower. Explain that I was in the early stages of labour. But I didn’t. Instead, I heaved the pushchair off the bus, strapped Rebecca into it and walked to the hospital. I hasten to add, before you think I’m some kind of superwoman (I’m not – I HATE physical pain and am a real wuss about it…) this wasn’t yet at the stage where I was panting like Thomas the Tank Engine as each contraction rolled through me in great clenching waves – this was more your small, griping niggle. However, I was absolutely FOCUSED on being Mummy. So unafraid and expectant. So unlike my normal self.

Have I been a good mother? Not for me to say. I hope they know I’m always there for them. And if I could go back now, after all these years, and give that Sarah one piece of advice? I always knew right down to my core that both my bright, beautiful children were remarkable. People often told me so, in front of them. And for some odd reason that makes no sense to me now, I would always backpedal – make some offhand remark, diminishing that praise with some stupid notion that somehow, it would make them too big-headed… I wish I hadn’t done it. They were remarkable talented children, both badly let down by an inadequate educational system that specialises in mediocrity. They are remarkable talented people and bringing them up was a series of mind-expanding, challenging, heart-wrenching and joyous experiences that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.