Joyful Easter, the only time it’s safe to put all your eggs in one basket!

Happy Easter

Having Easter in April feels just right, March always seems too early for this celebration of renewal. Long before clothes shopping was an everyday occurrence, Easter was a time when everyone wore new clothes – a small remnant remains in the many Easter Bonnet activities that still go on in Schools. Easter is a pivotal celebration – the dreariest months of the year are behind us and summer is not that far away. Time to pack up winter woolies, and make room for floaty dresses and cotton cardigans. Absence does make the heart grow fonder – because each box is a rediscovery –   like a whole new wardrobe -not just a new outfit.

Pink Crochet Baby Blanket

My beloved, daughter is expecting a little girl in August – I can’t tell you how excited I am about being a Nanna! I attended a midwife appointment with her which was marvellous – the little girl’s heartbeat resounded in the room loud and strong. Knowing its a girl somehow makes her a person already.

It is splendid that already the  process is so much better than my own experience – my own mother had died long before my daughter was born – those early days after giving birth came with such a deep longing for my mother that I suffered both baby blues and bereavement, it was a bleak time; I am so thrilled that I am here to support my daughter, if she needs me.

This is me a few days after having my daughter, I was 22 years old and had been married nearly two years –  we all wore Laura Ashley back then!

Lucy Susie baby copy

I want to wrap my daughter up, in warm fuzzy love, cherish her through this process – I am glad to see mothers  have so much more support, net mums is a great resource and one that is available for those early morning feeds when you feel you are the only one awake and  she can text the midwife anytime.

It has also drawn us closer together – she was my first baby – it is miraculous that my baby is having a baby! I am amazed at how much I had forgotten until we discuss morning sickness, stretch marks and that phenomenal sensation of fluttering baby movements. I am planning a baby shower for her, which is a lovely invention that has crossed the pond – that I am savouring every moment.

I am crocheting a pink and cream blanket, the wool is sensuously soft and delicate, I believe that you can put a positive intention of love in every stitch – which will in time wrap around the baby – pink is the colour of self love so there is a lot of it going around right now!

Vision board

This is my vision board which is plastered on the fridge, I wanted to focus on being more healthy this year and this has taken the form of mindful eating and weaning myself off sugar. Vision boards are the most fun you can have with paper, scissors and glue! You simply take a stack of magazines and cut out pictures that inspire you, paste them to paper (I use lining wall paper) and then put them somewhere you will see them every day. Repeat often – the brain loves novelty and often filters out after  a while, it is a great way to keep on track and fill every day with inspiration. I sometimes make these focussing on colours – or home decoration – Country Living is a feast of beauty and inspiration.

 

Saffron Tales
energy balls natural sugar free treat

I would say I was quite addicted to sugar – after all from an early age I was rewarded with sweets and my Nanna loaded me up with comforting sweet tea. I am not alone in this process – it seems every article on health or fitness has a campaign of demonising sugar. All the writing on the subject blames the demonising of fat thirty years ago – which has produced an epidemic of type 2 diabetes, as manufacturers loaded up our fat free food with sugar to make it palatable. I rarely eat pre packaged food, because I want to know what I am eating, sugar has many names and many forms -I was amazed to discover fresh chicken is pumped full of glycerine because it weighs more!   Despite this trend, the dairy producers are slow to react – try buying full fat yoghurt!

The Saffron tales is a delightful book – armchair travel to the middle East – including a recipe for Energy balls which can be eaten as breakfast on the go. They are made from 160g of dates which I replaced with apricots – they provide the right note of natural sweetness when my desire for a sugar hit is at its height – usually around 4 o’clock in the afternoon when dinner is hours away.  You whizz up the apricots with a cup full of flaked almonds, a table spoon each of cinnamon and vanilla in a food processor. Add enough Tahini (or you can use Almond or Peanut butter) so that the mixture forms balls – and then roll these in coconut or ground almonds. The combination of nuts and natural sugar – releases its energy over time so you avoid the crash that happens just after a sugar hit. I find they sustain me as I don’t feel hungry for a good while afterwards – I can get to suppertime without going through a dozen biscuits!

Yoga for Life

As part of my intention for a healthier year – I have been enjoying this delightful yoga lifestyle book from Maya Fiennes.  The chapters are based around the chakras – using Kundalini yoga (I did not realise there were different types of yoga before reading this book).

A Kundalini session leaves you feeling fighting fit, ready and able to tackle every day challenges with new zest.

The book contains positive quotations, recipes and poses as well as lots of beautiful inspirational photography. It encouraged me to go out and buy some kaftans and leggings – dressing the part makes me feel halfway there and they are sooo gloriously comfortable I often keep my yoga outfits on the rest of the day!

I go to a yoga class every week, but this is a great guide for those days when I want to continue to practise at home – I tried the frog pose and it was the first time I felt the soar of energy that comes from using the poses. It was like discovering magic, and it does make me feel more alive!

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Our evening beach walks are lovely, the sea round here is rarely choppy, and the beaches have never been crowded. I am really enjoying my photography, Barney makes a good subject!

At the end of the week we enjoyed another writing session, which is also in tune with mindful attention – its only when you step back from life an become an observer that you have an opportunity to notice all the small things.

We have family gatherings to look forward to and it is wonderful to enjoy a long weekend. Happy Easter

Easter Eggs

 

 

Enchanted April – Sunday Sevens 9th April 2017

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OH! what bliss it is to wander in Spring sunshine without a coat! It has been a delightful early spring so far, March went out like a lamb and April has been all sunshine and smiles!  The Crab apple trees on our daily walk are beautiful leaving a carpet of pink among the grass! There seems to be an abundance of pink everywhere we look –  pink is the colour of self love.  It is hard not to be affected by the burst of positive energy all around – life feels great.

I have been rifling through my seasonal clothes and have been re-united with some of my lovely summer dresses – everything feels lighter and brighter. The seeds I planted are coming along well, and we have been enjoying longer walks in the evenings – which lifts my energy levels and makes me feel better.

Spring

I unearthed my supremely comfortable pink (of course!) walking  boots and we headed to the local woods to see if we could find any wild garlic -we spotted clumps of white among the bluebells but the carpet of white flowers were anemones! They look so pretty and fresh among the vibrant greens, but I am not sure they are edible.

Primroses in the woods

These little beauties were flourishing at the side of the path – I remember when I was a child the woods would be covered in a carpet of blue, yellow and white – so it is nice to see there are still abundant wild flowers.

Old tree trunk in the woods

This tree trunk looks like some sort of Velociraptor (see the jaws on the right?) goodness knows how long its been there, but it is beautiful.

Live Simply

My quote this week reflects my decision this year to seek out the small pleasures. I know that Simple Abundance is having a huge impact and I feel as if I am waking up from a deep slumber. Once I began to mindfully, taste, touch, smell and hear it connects me with nature,  – everything you need is right here, right now, and there are gifts everywhere.

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I am a real fan of older films – this is from a film called Enchanted April made not that long ago in 1992, it is perfect Sunday afternoon viewing. Its available on Amazon for under a fiver.

A careworn middle class woman, Lottie Wilkins sees an advertisement to rent a small castle in Italy for April – England seems to be endlessly raining and her life seems so small and drab, She spends her life seeing to the whims of her husband.  When Lottie notices another lady, Rose Arbuthnot – looking just as downcast and in need of a holiday, they agree to rent it together. Two other ladies join them, a socialite Lady Caroline and a dowdy, widow Mrs Fisher. Italy works its magic and we see the women flourish among the terraced gardens and turrets of the small castle.

The book, by Elizabeth Arnim was written in 1921 – and is semi-biographical created when she was physically, and emotionally exhausted, having recently become a single mother. To recover  she travelled to Italy to get away from dreary England – and one day she observed the beautiful gardens below her study, and so she transformed the magic into a story of hope and liberation.

What the book highlights, is just how burdened women can be – and not just from responsibility but their own continual desire to ensure the happiness of those around them, family, friends neighbours. Nearly 100 years later women are still juggling with these same issues of commitments and family stress.

Women run on expectations, the way a car is fuelled by gas. And it doesn’t matter whose: unspoken assignments from parents, bosses clients, children and lovers all crowd our calendars’ borders in ink only we can see.

While the film is delightful, I am finding the book has more depth, you read from each character’s perspective – you get inside their heads whereas the film can only hint at hidden motives. I found the character Lady Caroline more interesting, she is stunningly beautiful – but it is a burden that perhaps I had not appreciated until reading her tale.

hair do

My beloved son, Will is the Director of a Salon in Hampshire every 6 weeks my friend Jo and I  jaunt off for the day to have our hair done together. We usually spend a couple of hours browsing the shops and head to the Salon just after closing hours. We have the whole salon to ourselves.  Afterwards, we head out for a bite or two, sometimes we go jive dancing -depending on how exhausted he is after working all day!

Afternoon tea

Mothers Day was a protracted affair, my daughter and son in law came over for Afternoon tea, and then my son came over for a meal the following weekend, so it has been a great family time all round. I adored Mr D’s swirly sausage rolls and had more than one … or two!

Staffie in the woods
Staffordshire Bull terrier, Barney with ball

Of course, we can’t let a week go by without a Barney picture.. the ball is still intact surprisingly, although it did start out as a cuddly pig, but the pig fabric ended up decorating the lounge floor!

Happy Sunday. x

Sunday sevens is the delightful invention of Nat.. read her blog here. 

Book Review – The Taxidermist’s Daughter Kate Mosse

taxidermists-daughter

It is wonderful to read a story set in your own small corner of the world, Kate Mosse is a local writer and this is the first book I’ve read that features many of the local landmarks. I loved hearing the names of places I know well, Chichester and Fishbourne which is where Kate grew up. You can read an article about the house that inspired this tale here.

What Kate does well, is to write evocatively about a place – I loved that about Winter Ghosts and I began this book almost straight after finishing Winter Ghosts, but this tale is darker and more macabre.

Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Told over one summer, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is the haunting new novel from the bestselling author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel and The Winter Ghosts.

I have to admit the detailed description of the process of taxidermy described early on in the book made me feel slightly squeamish. I can’t say that it endeared me to Connie, I found it took a while to really get into the book. It was like catching glimpses in the mist, the sense of place, the marshes and the ebbing water – play just as big a role in this tale along with the characters.

wash stand Petworth Cottage Museum

The tale unfolds gradually, the lives of Gifford and his daughter resonate strongly with the sense of decay. Their art is no longer sought after or appreciated, but, Kate makes it very clear, it may be macabre but it is an Art of its own. It made me look at taxidermy in a different light – the skill is in preserving life, forever -from the smallest bird to the well loved dog.

It is gruesome in parts, especially the murders – but then it is why this tale hangs together, so reminiscent of Victorian Gothic – you get a sense of chilling in your bones, as the tidal waters rise, the crows circling or roosting in packs, even though it is more Edwardian than Victorian, it is a delightfully suspenseful tale.

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Kate’s sense of  of place is masterly, cosy tap rooms of local Public houses, an austere asylum, chilly carriage rides and living beside the frosty ebbing and flowing estuary mirroring the Giffords’ place in the community. We also have gallantry and just the wisp of romance .. if only the two lovers had a chance.

It’s a good read, one definitely for cold winter nights with a crackling fire – to ward off the chill of the mist and fog, in good gothic style.

If you loved Susan Hill’s The woman in Black, then you’ll enjoy this. (When, dear Susan, will you write another Gothic novel?)

I can’t wait to see what Kate Writes next…

Outlander Series one and The Witches Daughter – book review

Outlander-TV_series-2014

We bought an Amazon TV stick and have been enjoying some great films; this Series kept on popping up in our feed, so we decided to try it.

The basic story is about an Army Nurse in the 1940’s who is visiting Scotland with her husband after the war. One day she visits a standing stone circle and falls back in time by 200 years.

I really enjoyed the first half of the series, it was great learning about the clan culture and seeing Claire navigate her way in another time. She used her knowledge to heal and earned respect for her skills. She falls in love with one of the characters (I’ll try not to spoil it) but somehow when we reached two thirds of the way in I began to feel my interest waning.  How many times did she ignore advice and get herself in trouble? I find I was getting restless at her inability  to learn from her mistakes.

Beyond episode 11, I was watching it alone, Mr D having lost interest and it was becoming too romantic even for my interest, but the final episode left me frustrated and angry! What began as a promising tale – seemed to take a turn that left me feeling uncomfortable to watch. It seems to me that current box sets seem to desire to push boundaries, but I find it difficult to understand why the last episode would be so dire.

We became sucked into Game of Thrones a few months back – the first series was gripping, but when we reached the end of series five I felt sickened by the sheer violence depicted and refuse to watch any more. (Seriously, seeing someone squeeze a person’s eyeballs out of their sockets is gruesome! a final straw after episode after episode of skinning people alive, cutting off hands, beheading and poisoning, it is not my idea of entertainment)

However, I shall give the second series of Outlander another chance in order to recover the initial enthusiasm, maybe try and see if the books are any better than the TV series, Game of Thrones readers say there is not the same level of violence in the books.

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Outlander left me with an interest in time travelling tales: The Witches Daughter was an interesting read. I am not really into witchcraft but I do love the concept of fantasy and adventure.

Bess sees her mother hanged as a witch, with good reason it turns out. She is taught how to cast spells by a warlock called Gideon, who eventually helps her to become immortal. We follow Bess through three lives with Gideon hot on her tail.

It is an entertaining story , Paula Brackston is a talented writer: the story moves quickly and easily to a satisfying conclusion.

A good read I will give it five stars.

What do you think of time travelling tales?

Sunday Sevens -8 May 2016

New Home card

My lovely daughter moved home this week so I made her a little card to wish her well! It is also her Birthday this weekend so will be cake making! Family visiting and we are also following the Chichester Art Trail!

Mr D had a bit of a sort out last weekend – we ended up with a pile of 20 shirts that he no longer wanted to wear. I could not resist the lovely soft cottons so have been working on a little project – can you guess what I am making?

colour me positive 18

The Colour me positive weekly challenge was ‘Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics, Art brings healing’. It’s a Julia Cameron quote from the Artists way.  To be honest with you I think Art brings its own baggage with it; while it might be relaxing it can also be frustrating – things never turn out the way you visualise them. I have to battle the inner critic every time I pick up a pencil or a brush, but there are blissful moments when you can get lost in a sketch for a while. I am enjoying the challenge of having to create something and once a week is manageable – alothough this image is a lot darker in my book than it appears on here.

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This is the book group choice this month and what a gem! I cannot recommend this book enough! It is certainly original, Emma Healey is a talented writer you would never imagine she is in her twenties! Maud is a wonderfully entertaining old lady, I smiled, I laughed, I sighed – it was quite an adventure, one that I would like to read again sometime.

Here is the intro in case it peeks your interest –

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey’s stunning debut novel, introduces a mystery, an unsolved crime and one of the most unforgettable characters since Mark Haddon’s Christopher. Meet Maud …

‘Elizabeth is missing’, reads the note in Maud’s pocket in her own handwriting.

Lately, Maud’s been getting forgetful. She keep

s buying peach slices when she has a cupboard full, forgets to drink the cups of tea she’s made and writes notes to remind herself of things. But Maud is determined to discover what has happened to her friend, Elizabeth, and what it has to do with the unsolved disappearance of her sister Sukey, years back, just after the war.

A fast-paced mystery with a wonderful leading character: Maud will make you laugh and cry, but she certainly won’t be forgotten.

 

The beautiful Keeley Hawes is extremely talented – the two characters she has been playing DI Denton in Line of Duty and Mrs Durrell in the Durrells could not be more different! I am bereft on Sunday nights now!  – I am just missing the querky Durrells and the blissful Corfu sunshine  what a shame it had to end!

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The fantastic Home Fires was also keeping me parked in front of the Telly – who would have thought Pat (on the right) would get the courage to have an affair!  I am the secretary for our local WI and I can assure you we are not half as sparky as these ladies. I am really disappointed to hear that there won’t be another series! I even signed a petition!

Sunday Sevens is the fabulous idea of Nat over at Threads and Bobbins, where you give a little round up of your week, if you want to participate pop over to her blog and sign up! Its such a great way to link up with other bloggers.

The House at Riverton book review

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If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry, you can read this review there is no spoiler. 

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.
In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they—and Grace—know the truth.
In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace’s youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties, and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.
The novel is full of secrets—some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne Du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war, and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.
Originally published to critical acclaim in Australia, already sold in ten countries and a #1 bestseller in England, The House at Riverton is a vivid, page-turning novel of suspense and passion, with characters-and an ending-the reader won’t soon forget.

 

My thoughts:

Kate Morton is a very talented writer, of that there is no doubt… I found this book an engaging read.

It is so beautifully written in places:

I told you about the memories I’ve been having. I told you about the curious sensation that they are becoming more real to me than my own life. The way I slip away without warning, I am disappointed when I open my eyes and see that I am back in 1999. The way the fabric of time is changing, and I am beginning to feel at home in the past and a visitor to the this strange and blanched experience we agree to call the present.

What beautiful observation – simple genius.

There are so many metaphors where the house and the family reflect the wider society. The house personifies the fate of the aristocracy, the family’s decline is a slow painful death, as the dust begins to collect in corners. Class is brushed aside as bankers and business take control, reflecting the change in the wider society, it is the nouveau riche in the guise of Teddy that intend to bring the house back to its former glory.

The incident weaves in and out like a ghost, we catch snatches, we know someone died, we know there were two witnesses but we ebb backwards and forwards in time the story is pieced together like a jigsaw. At one point I was frustrated with the writing, we get closer and closer and then suddenly we are transported away to another time. Perhaps that is what is it is like in old age?

The last piece is not supplied by the narrator but as a recorded epilogue from Grace to her son. To be honest, I felt rather cheated by this, we never really get the story straight, the details are second hand and not fully there – we are left to surmise our own opinion about what happened.

But then so much of the novel is hinted at, Grace’s father, her mother, the game .. the mystery swirls around the story, just like the mist around the house itself.

I am not entirely sure I agree with the publishers that this is reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier – Rebecca is a novel about a house of ghosts, but the tale has none of the suspense or tension of Rebecca as it  whirls to a crescendo where this tale just fades away.

It was an engaging read, she deserves her place on the best seller lists but I am reluctant to pick up the second book: the Forgotten Garden just now, because I am not really satisfied with the ending – it just simply faded away with Grace’s death and perhaps that was intended by the writer.

I did not mourn its loss which is an indicator of how I feel about books, when I am usually sad to let the characters go. In this instance, it was a peaceful passing!

The Cheesemaker’s House – book review

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The internet is a wonderful place – sometimes it can take you on a journey of discovery, there I was on Streetlife promoting my Happy Hookers and Knit wit’s group when up popped a post about local authors selling their books. In no time  I had clicked on the link and ten minutes later I found myself fully absorbed in this wonderful book.

I clicked on the link initially because I believe passionately that we should all try and support local artists and writers. I believe publishing has been destroyed; like so many things in our society, where the driving force is make money rather than publish good books.

I have read a couple of self published books before, so I was not expecting a great deal but I was pleasantly surprised.  From the very first page, I was absorbed in the story, something quite rare these days, not only was the quality of writing excellent but the characters were engaging from the start.

It was the sort of day when the roads melt. So William and I don’t take them. Instead I clamber over the garden fence … grass ripples around my feet and ankles, filled with the buzz of summer.

So begins the tale of the Cheesemaker’s house – Alice begins a new life in Yorkshire after her divorce – with plans to renovate her barn into a holiday let.

My mental image of a Yorkshire builder was a rotund man in a cloth cap who would exhibit a great deal of sucking of teeth when confronted with my barn. I certainly didn’t expect Richard Wainwright to be tall, dark and handsome.

Welcomed by the locals she soon hires handsome Richard to renovate her barn but they both begin to hear crying that brings Alice to the brink.

Owen a local ‘herbalist and healer’ meets Alice in church – he is quiet and caring completely different to Richard.   Pretty soon the three of them become entangled as the past and present meet when the body of a baby is discovered buried in the floor of the barn.

Jane’s writing flows easily from the page, Alice is a strong character – likeable, down to earth and no-nonsense. Her patience with the Owen went beyond mine to be honest. I did find at one point I was rather fed up with Owen’s mood swings.  Owen’s disappearance was not  fully explained, it was irritating and I never really understood why Alice loved him so much, but then I have never found vulnerability in men appealing.

As a hero in true romantic novel style- Owen is too weak. Yet it is the very fact that he is not perfect brings the story together – it makes Owen a human being and this novel a little less shallow than a romantic romp.

The incidents where the past and present meet –  were limited to sound and vision – I would have liked them to be richer – using all the character’s senses but maybe Jane intended them to be fleeting glimpses.

That said it is well worth a read – an engaging tale, light hearted with a little bit of the supernatural but nothing to give you nightmares

The writer self published because because the book doesn’t really sit neatly into a category! Yet, the mixture of supernatural and romance was just what I had been looking for! You can find out about the author, Jane Cable on her website but the really wonderful discovery is that Amazon has now shown me a whole list of authors I hadn’t heard of before to explore.

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Ladybird books – The keys to the Kingdom of Reading and the start of a life long love affair with books.

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While I was browsing Pinterest I came across some Ladybird book illustrations that had me all misty eyed in no time! Those little hardback books have such an endearing quality full of joyful memories. This illustration was the first book in the Key Word Reading Scheme the mainstay of primary education in the 1970s. Just looking at the pictures brings back vivid memories of toil as the five year old me tried to decipher the strange squiggles -into words.
Ladybird books

Despite never being read stories and books, once I learned – I became an avid reader -these books were beautifully illustrated – the series depicting family life of the 1950’s that was already seen as old fashioned in the 1970’s but had a profound influence on the children it was educating – including me.

Beauty and the Beast

Ladybird books were the start of my life long love of reading, seeing this picture gave me a tingle of joy – Beauty and the Beast was beyond my reading ability when it was a favourite,  I scoured the pictures to decipher the story and that memory is  vivid forty years later – The slight fear, the ugly monkey in fancy clothes, I could not understand why the girl in the story stayed with him. As an adult I can look upon this and see another underlying message, that beauty comes from within and rich people can make demands!

Rumplestiltskin Ladybird books

Another was Rumplestiltskin – he might have been a rather nasty character but I did feel that he was unfairly treated, by then my reading was much better and I have a clearer idea of the story. Imagine spinning straw into gold.

The Elves and The Shoemaker Ladybird books

Another favourite was the Elves and the Shoemaker (is that where my love of sewing came from?) Those beautiful clothes made for the Elves at the end were so quaint. Ladybird had a love affair with the 17th Century all the stories seemed to be set in that time frame, Cinderella, The Porridge Pot and Sleeping Beauty.

Crafting Ladybird books

Ladybird did not just stick to reading schemes and fairy tales; there was a vast range of Learn about books with subjects covering Crafts, Nature books to Science, History and workplaces. It is why they are such a valuable resource for social history as well as illustrating  the development of technology, the book on space included a trip to the moon long before the moon landings of the 1970s.

ladybird books sewing

I remember thumbing these crafting books desperate to try out some of the projects, only now do I see the dawning of my crafting obsessions! I still collect crafting books that are running into six bookshelves. My love of sewing began with Ladybird.

domestic life as depicted by ladybirdThere has been a great deal of criticism regarding the depiction of traditional White British Middle Class family life and stereotypical gender role models in the reading scheme – which makes me want to leap to their defence.

Idealised family values from Ladybird books

In 1960s versions Jane was shown helping her mother while Peter was helping his father wash the car. The illustrations were updated and altered a lot over the years. It is evidence of the shifting attitudes in society – the 70s was a decade of sexual liberation – shortly followed by racial equality. It is unfair to judge them as outdated and bigoted – they are representations of the society at that time. Values change with every generation but that doesn’t mean to say the past should be papered over.

Domestic life portrayed by Ladybird

The most striking memory when I see these illustrations was an overwhelming sense of being an outsider. My home life was very different, my poor father was working full time, managing a home and bringing up two children on his own while being in a deep and profound state of grief.

Ladybird books domestic life

I had an idealised vision of what family life was like for everyone else – a realisation that there was a big part of family life missing. When we had a new housekeeper, I remember a vague expectation that I would return home to a table laid for tea and that she would be wearing an apron, but it was the 1970s -they shifted in and out my life with no explanations leaving broken promises behind. Oddly enough – when I see these pictures that state of confusion comes to the fore strongly – I knew never to ask questions so spent my childhood in a state of uncertainty. All this surfacing by looking at a few images!

Vintage picnic - ladybird books

That sense of alienation is not the fault of the books, times were very different, single parents were thankfully, rare. Yet I cannot help but wonder if these depictions positively influenced me when I had children of my own:  I wanted to be a home maker, I baked with my children despite never having done it as a child myself and I remember trying to live up to a rather unrealistic ideal – one that still resonates with me after forty years.

Ladybird Books

Can these books be responsible, I wonder, for the growth of the Vintage Movement so popular in our culture today? There are so many women reaching out for the clothing and lifestyles of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Vintage Apron patterns abound and traditional home making skills are popular again – is there a deep seated perception about the past that remains imprinted from these early reading schemes I wonder?

Classic tales from Ladybird
My children loved the Billy-goats Gruff

I ponder if we are any closer to getting the balance right with reading schemes, my children’s books were alienating for them – no familiar domestic family but with Asian characters dressed in jeans and t’shirts called Biff and Chip.  I believe that while politically correct the reading scheme books did not ignite the love of reading in my children. Reading with them became the medicine of our ‘reading time’ I had a sense of unease that my children’s reading was so political. Despite reading some joyful books with them, Dr Dog was a particular favourite neither became an avid reader until they were teenagers with the advent of Harry Potter.

illustration from the Gingerbread Man

What cannot be denied is the enduring appeal – the pictures are so beautifully done. Ladybird employed talented professional artists – Harry Winfield and Martin Aitchison

The Gingerbread Man Ladybird books

I love the movement of the water is depicted in this illustration, and the changing nature of the fox is vivid.

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Harry Wingfield was an artist who worked for Ladybird up until his death in the 1980s, he illustrated  the nature books and many of the Look and See Series- they are simply beautiful. I have found memories of looking at those beautiful illustrations with awe – there was so much detail to explore

The night sky from Ladybird books

The small bite sized books contained beautifully drawn infographics, making complex subjects accessible to a young audience. There was no sense of dumbing down, science, geography, travel, technology the subject matter was vast.

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Ladybird are celebrating their centenary this year as the publishing company was set up in 1915,  you can see some of the illustrations  at the House of Illustration in London until mid September.

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I am sure I am not alone in the love of Ladybird – who are still publishing today there are many enthusiasts out there.

Feel free to share your personal memories of these delightful books, I would be thrilled to read how special they are to you.

ttfn x

Summer Reading – Book Reviews

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This is the second Lesley Pearce book I have read, I picked this up reluctantly, I wasn’t thrilled about the last one, but was interested in this story and willing to give the author another try.

Coronation Day, 1953.
Molly Heywood has always been a pillar of strength for her local community, so when her friend Cassie fails to attend the Coronation Day party in the village, it is Molly who heads out in the rain to look for her.
But nothing can prepare Molly for what she is going to discover.
Now with Cassie gone and her six-year-old daughter Petal missing, it is up to Molly to head to London to uncover the past Cassie kept so well hidden.
But will Molly discover the truth before it’s too late? Or has Petal disappeared forever?

I found Molly a likeable character from the start, anyone who volunteers to run a children’s party has got to be nice! Cassie’s friendship broadens Molly’s outlook from the small village and she heads to the smoky streets of London not only to get a better life but to uncover what happened to Cassie’s daughter. Molly makes friends and enemies along the way and finally discovers who murdered Cassie.

I was reluctant to read another of Lesley Pearce’s novels because I find her characters a little on dimensional, they are either good or bad, with nothing in-between. I also dislike it when characters are given modern opinions – such as women’s equality and homosexuality. It just irks my sense of authenticity.

That said, this is an interesting tale, the story has its twists and turns, with a rather unexpected twist. Although I found once the mystery had been solved, the story continued along for another chapter – tying up loose ends, but for me it was simply padding.

A good read for a poolside holiday – I would classify it light hearted chic lit.

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Stephanie Lam’s stunning debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House, is a gripping read laced with mystery, secrets and love.
It’s 1965 and eighteen year-old Rosie Churchill has run away to the beautiful but run-down Castaway House in the seaside town of Helmstone. But when she uncovers a scandal locked away in the walls of the old house, she soon comes to realise that neither her own troubled past nor that of the house will stay buried for long. . .
In 1924 fresh-faced Robert Carver comes to Castaway House to spend a languid summer in the company of his much wealthier cousin, Alec Bray. But the Brays are a damaged family, with damaging secrets. And little does Robert know that his world is about to change for ever.
As Rosie begins to learn more about Robert, the further she is drawn into the mysterious history of the house, and their stories, old and new, entwine.

This was an engaging mystery, I liked the two timelines although Robert’s tale was preferable. There are a number of links that bring the two timelines together, not least the House itself, re-invented in 1965 into small flatlets. The characters were well rounded, both timelines had their twists and turns, and I was drawn into the tale easily finding it difficult to put the book down. This is a great read, I can thoroughly recommend this book for a holiday and hope the writer publishes another soon!

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Since reading the book, the Woman In Black, I have been a huge fan of Susan Hill. She is a superb spinner of gothic ghost stories – don’t confuse the book with the film, which was not a patch on her novel. She weaves a tale in classic gothic tradition mixing cosy libraries and fire lit studies with chilling ghostly shadows. Read the woman in Black, it is one of her best, but these two smaller novelettes are a wonderful introduction to her writing.

The Man in the picture is the story of a haunting tale,  the picture appears to collect victims who are mesmerised by the scene depicted.

In the apartment of Oliver’s old professor at Cambridge, there is a painting on the wall, a mysterious depiction of masked revellers at the Venice carnival. On this cold winter’s night, the old professor has decided to reveal the painting’s eerie secret. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with the unseen demons it hides, and become the victim of its macabre beauty.

This tale is engaging – I love the contrasts, warm cosiness of college rooms to chilly cold nights, passionate love and black hearted obsession. I love the way her novel time periods are hard to define, but they have such an element of early 20th century when most men were gentlemen – not easily shaken. It is a great tale to read on a long winter’s evening, while the fire softly crackles and settles down.

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Returning home from a client visit late one evening, Adam Snow takes a wrong turn and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiousity he decides to enter, only to be repelled when he feels the unmistakeable sensation of a small hand creeping onto his own. This is just the beginning of a series of odd experiences.

This has a more modern feel but still a male protagonist – our book dealer is not someone easily spooked, but the many incidents begin to unnerve him. All Susan Hill’s stories appear to revolve around similar characters, and I wonder if this helps us to take the ghostly apparitions seriously, men after all are supposed to be more logical and less emotional. What happens is believable, the mystery is slowly unravelled until we are left with a logical explanation and satisfying sense of justice. Definitely worth settling down for – though not in a rambling old house.

The Little Paris Book Shop – book review

The Little Paris Bookshop

Bear with me, while I enthuse about another wonderful book!

This little delight, called the Little Paris Bookshop is written by phenomenal Nina George and translated from German into English by the talented Simon Pare.

Nina George is a wonderful story teller, there are some sublime pieces of writing that simply stopped me in my tracks; given that this has been translated, I have to admire Simon Pare for being able to translate so beguilingly.

It is different from anything else I have read – but does bear a slight resemblance to Paulo Coelho – in that there is an air of wisdom that simply slips off the page and does your soul some good. However, I found the characters in this book more accessible than Coelho’s; they are more emotional and less remote.

and very, very lovable.

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If you like the idea of a book apothecary where books can offer solace to the soul for every heartache then this is the book for you.

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I have peppered this post with quotes from the book, but I could not include all the pencilled highlights and margin notes because there are too many.

This is a book about love, not the falling boy meets girl type of candy floss, but the hard edged, gut wrenching, soul destroying heartache of love’s ending and how to come out the other side alive.

It is also about healing, hope and friendship.

This is not a story to scan in one sitting – this is a book to savour, slow down – read and re-read. I wanted to bask in these pages, in the way that Perdu prescribes a book to one of his customers:

‘This book which you will please read slowly, so you can take occasional break. You’ll do a lot of thinking and probably a bit of crying. For yourself, For the years. But you will feel better afterwards. You’ll know that now you don’t have to die, even if that is how it feels because a guy didn’t treat you well. And you will like yourself again.’

I ended up reading with pencil in hand underscoring and writing in the margins. I rarely keep fiction books, but this one will sit on my shelf and I imagine will be dusted off and fingered through when I need the solace and comfort.

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I admit here, there was one point in the book that really did hit home. I took a break, cried a little but mostly I felt comforted because I was not the only person to suffer in that way. I felt no longer alone with that small, tiny, heartache. And I felt absolved of blame, that it wasn’t my fault – and it was healing.

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For all Perdu’s ability to look at a customer and reach into their souls, touch their pain and prescribe the book that will heal them, Perdu is lost, (it took me a while to notice but his name is French for lost!). He cannot heal himself.

When he can’t over come his pain he distracts himself by healing other people in the vain hope it will silence the aching wail inside him. Its like a sort of deal we do with ourselves. We want to avoid feeling or expressing the hurt because we are frightened.  Thus Perdu has been running is book apothecary for twenty years – sending customers off with books that soothe their troubled souls and mend their broken hearts. Only, it is he who needs the healing most of all.

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At some point in our lives we have to face the heartache inside us, examine and feel it. Overcome the fear that we will drown in our own tears and let our crying begin – only when we have done this can we start to piece ourselves back together.

Perdu faces his pain by reading a letter written by his lover twenty years ago before she left him. He has reduced his life so much, in order to protect himself from any form of human contact. But he is forced to read the letter and the tight constrains he has placed on his life begin to crumble – he runs away.

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Everyone is carrying some form of pain or other -this book offers hope.  You will discover that your pain is not unique, others suffer the same maladies, just the names, times and places are different.

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This is also a tale of friendship – not the superficial kind – passing acquaintances that we see regularly – but the true friendship that develops when you are prepared to strip yourself emotionally naked of the culture and masks we wear in society and show another soul our scars. Those are the friendships that matter and not a process we can do with hundreds of people – a handful is too many, if you have one or two then you are blessed.

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We see this happen with Perdu on his journey south, the fear of expressing his pain had him locked down where only the feint brush of a cat around his leg was the only tender contact he bear without fear of breeching his defences.

‘Habit is a vain and treacherous goddess. She lets nothing disrupt her rule. She smothers one desire after another; the desire to travel, the desire for a better job or a new love. She stops us living as we would like, because habit prevents us from asking ourselves wether we continue to enjoy what we do.’

I think that is a very profound truth, one that we can all do with pondering now and then. I know that fear hides in many of the limitations we place in our lives in order to be ‘safe’. While security is a good thing, a little bit of danger and adventure makes us feel more alive!

Perdu is writing a Great Encyclopaedia of Small Emotions on his journey, collecting different experiences and noting them down. It is our thinking, that frames not just what we believe about ourselves but our world, our experiences and ultimately our lives. Science is already showing the close connection between thoughts and the body, even to the point of suggesting that in order for a disease in the body to begin we activate the messages that send out a trigger. These small emotions, these little heartaches are the things that eat away at us, if we aren’t careful, affects our health.

Perdu begins to participate in life again, no longer hiding in the shadows, but opening himself up to friendship and then to love. He makes peace with his lost love – he firstly begins to say her name eventually, finding forgiveness in his heart not just for her but himself.

With all these quotes it might seem that this book is a hard tome to plough through, but it isn’t.

It is an easy story to read – a canal boat trip with friends at the very least.

The tale gently unfolds, like the pace along the river itself.

The wisdom drifts off the pages like a feather resting gently on your lap – for you to take up if you wish.

The Little Paris Bookshop-14Our experience shapes us forever, the people we meet every day, the interactions, misunderstandings and aggression that is all around us; life does sometimes feel like a battle.

The ultimate anti-dote for stress is reading,  an escape into worlds where usually wrongs are righted, justice prevails and we can all be heroes. For me, they have always been a lifeboat – a place of sanctuary.

I read as a child, taking comfort and adventure from other children’s lives; the famous five, ballet shoes and the Chronicles of Narnia.

Reading preserved my sanity when my children were small, I would take long baths with a book – so I did not get distracted by the housework piling up around me.

What has reading done for you?