1. My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-18-33-50This book starts at the end but without giving anything away, well apart from the fact that one of the sisters is dead. However, you don’t know which and I do like a book that gives the ending away without any of the plot.

This is not a novel for the fainthearted as it deals with PTSD, domestic violence, miscarriage, long standing extra marital affair, alcoholism and drugs. I did not however find it depressing as many people who have reviewed said they did. I felt that Kate, a war correspondent and the PTSD sufferer, took on the job she did full of hope. Hope that in telling the truth others will understand and maybe act, hope that ultimately love does win and hope that she can make a difference. Kate along with her sister Sally had difficult childhoods and both have been haunted by them into adulthood though they react to it in very different ways. As a result they are not on good terms and hold each other responsible for how bad things are.

I felt that Nuala Ellwood dealt with the difficult issues sensitively yet honestly (as far as I know, and I am sure everyone’s experience of each of these issues is different). I had sympathy for both sisters’ perspectives as they reacted to their troubled past, one by confronting horrors directly through her work as a war correspondent and the other hiding in the fog of alcohol.

The parts I found hard to read were when each of the sisters at times drank too much. The narrative took the story down the inevitable path of self destruction when too much wine was consumed and I felt frustrated with the character for not showing more restraint. But that of course is the point and the problem with alcohol even when the individual is not classed as an alcoholic.

I did not foresee the twist in the last quarter or so of the book, maybe a more discerning reader would pick up on it sooner. So for me it was an interesting turn of events which made me, along with the sisters, see the whole story very differently.

The ending could be described as happy but in reality it wasn’t. Without giving too much away, it ends in a peaceful way and I re-read the prologue now I knew the outcome and it helped to re-visit that part. It most certainly wasn’t a ‘happy ever after’, perhaps an ‘as good as it could be’ ending.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend to others.

Read ‘Go set a Watchman’ – number 31

20170114_191558A lot of people read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ at school but I didn’t. I rather wish I had as my set book was ‘Jane Eyre’ and I didn’t like it at all and I still don’t! So I came to ‘Mockingbird’ rather late and in one year read the book, watched the film and saw it on stage. I found it an easy read and of course thought provoking. When I heard that the first book that Harper Lee had written, though it is effectively the sequel to ‘Mockingbird’, was to be published it quickly came on my list of must reads. However, it took me a while to get around to it, but finally I did. Before I say anything about the book, waiting until nearly the end of my time for this list before reading the book has given me an idea. I shall read 55 books before I’m 55 and write a review. That’s 11 books a year, so one a month with one month to catch up. It should all be very doable. Back to ‘Watchman’ for now, there is a spoiler but it comes very early in the book so won’t really spoil anything.

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-15-20-07

Harper Lee in 2007 (White House archives)

I had always thought that ‘Watchman’ was the first book that Harper Lee wrote and that the publisher had asked she write another for when Scout was a young girl. However, it seems that ‘Watchman’ was the first draft of what became ‘Mockingbird’ and there was some controversy when ‘Watchman’ was published as to whether Harper Lee was really in agreement with it. I do hope she was, it is very well written for a first draft (though I am sure that it has had some editing prior to publication) it is a fine insight into Harper Lee’s ways of writing. There was a suggestion the manuscript should be held as such in a university library for scholars to read. I would question why only scholars should read and gain from this work? So I feel grateful to have been able to read it.

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-15-33-46

Scout and Atticus in the 1962 film

Having seen quite a lot of ‘Mockingbird’ diving into ‘Watchman’ was like meeting up with old friends. Time has moved on 20 years, but Jean Louise and Atticus remained true to their Mockingbird portrayals. The shock was that Jem is dead, referred to almost casually and as if the reader knows early on. Of course that was a disappointment but he does feature in the book as part of Jean Louise’s memories. For the most part she is no longer called Scout as befits a young woman in her mid twenties.

‘Watchman’ starts with Jean Louise’s journey back to Maycomb from New York where she is working. It is now the 1950s and racial tensions are high. Jean Louise is sent into turmoil when she sees Atticus at a meeting and her world is turned upside down as she sees his views are not what she always believed them to be. Thus follows a struggle for Jean Louise as she tries to understand the changes in Maycomb in contrast to life in New York alongside the personal struggle to understand her father.

I found the book again an easy read though I did get a little lost in some of the arguments. I also had to look up the NAACP (for those like me who don’t know, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). There were some views expressed that made me feel quite uncomfortable as these were views of the ‘good guys’ and they certainly don’t sit well in today’s society.

I enjoyed the book, it was thought provoking and quite different to ‘Mockingbird’ while believable that these are the same town and same people but a couple of decades on. I would recommend it and may even read it again at some point to understand the history better. There will of course be no more as Harper Lee was a victim of 2016 and is no longer with us. Unless of course, there is an undiscovered manuscript…

Be a befriender – number 40

This is something I have thought about for a long time. Initially I thought about befriending an older person, someone who perhaps doesn’t have much family, at least nearby. This is something that still interests me but for now things have gone in a slightly different direction.

lcd_logoAgate House is a local residential home for adult with severe disabilities. It one of the Leonard Cheshire homes. After much prevarication, I took the plunge and emailed in offering to volunteer, maybe on a one to one basis. Further prevarication took place, but this time it wasn’t me! The red tape had to be done, there were forms to fill in and I had to prove that I’m not a criminal. I also had a workbook to complete about safeguarding, it’s been a long time since I’ve had to do homework! Finally all was done and I was certified as suitable to set free on the unsuspecting residents.

My first day of volunteering arrived and I headed down to Agate House with slight trepidation. Would I know what to say to anyone? What would they think of me? In I went anyway and everyone was really friendly which was great. But to my surprise my job was to help do the crossword. It was only the quick crossword but it’s been a while since I’ve done anything like that so I was feeling rather rusty! However, everyone else was much better so we did get to the end of it.

Since then I have been every Saturday bar one since then doing a mixture of helping with the group and one to one with a gentleman called Paul. I don’t know what has happened to Paul and I don’t need to know. He has very poor motor skills, is unable to do much for himself at all and his speech is very poor. Life can be so very cruel. He has a computer which he can operate one painful key stroke at a time. It is very tiring for him and incredibly frustrating but he maintains his composure. I have certainly learned how lucky I am and will try hard not to take my health for granted. I will continue to visit Agate House every Saturday and try to make a positive difference.

Finish Jack Vettriano puzzle, Record memories, Go to the Proms – numbers 28, 34 and 36

None of these is related, but they are all complete so I thought I would capture them together.

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-18-25-02

Look carefully and you’ll see it is a puzzle!

Jack Vettriano – an artist I very much admire and my favourite work of his is the Singing Butler, the subject of the puzzle. I did worry that it was taking me so long it might put me off the picture but I’m pleased to say it didn’t. The people were relatively easy to do but then it got to the sky and that was a real challenge! I could sit there and look at it for 15 minutes without seeing where a single piece could go and on other occasions would whack in 5 or 6 in quick succession. The trick I discovered was to go for the little and often approach as I ended up not being able to see the wood for the trees. Finally, the number of pieces dwindled until the final one fitted into place. It’s given me quite an appetite for puzzles, which are great fun but very time consuming. I’ve also discovered quite a community of friends who like them too and that makes me very happy. My Jack puzzle is now on its second lend and there are more lining up to have a go. So far everyone has agreed with my verdict on the sky!

20161229_132733

My five year memory book

Recording memories is an ongoing thing. As luck would have it, my daughter bought me a five year memory book. You don’t need to record much each day, after all it is only a fifth of each page. But it’s perfect for me to note down what has happened each day. Most of it is not very interesting and there is a lot about what I spot down by the river while running. Now all I have to do is fill it over 5 years!

And the third item for this post it to head off to the Proms. The first time I went to the Albert Hall for a Prom was one of the first times I headed to London with a friend without adult supervision! It’s so long ago I have no idea what we saw. In 2014 I was fortunate to go to the War Horse Prom. On the eve of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I a special Prom commemorated this anniversary using actors to depict the carefree nature before the war and the horrors that came after. Puppets from War Horse also took their part, with the adult Joey coming up through the floor where the Prommers stand to a cannon firing. Michael Morpurgo was on stage showing his thoughts as he wrote War Horse. Gareth Malone was there with the Military Wives Choir, they sang a particularly haunting version of Home they brought her Warrior Dead with a few of them carrying empty boots they laid on a sheet centre stage. This was then folded over the boots to look like a dear warrior. It was all very moving and incredibly memorable.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-13-31-15

The cast for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

So although the Proms is not a new thing to me, it was something that I wanted to continue. And so in the summer of 2016, we headed to the Albert Hall for an altogether different experience. The Proms really are accessible concerts, the tickets are reasonably priced and the concerts short enough to keep the interest and enthusiasm going. This time it was Beethoven, his ninth symphony including the choral Ode to Joy. Our main problem was the heat, it was an unusually hot day and up in the circle the heat just rose off everyone below us. Thank goodness for a programme to waft. This was a most enjoyable concert with a fabulous choir and soloists. The venue of course is first class. One day I might even get to the last night!

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-13-33-07

The beautiful Royal Albert Hall Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Make damson jam – number 30

I actually did this a little while ago. I added it to the list as we had an enormous bag of damsons and I didn’t want to waste them. So I made the jam.. now, nobody told me about the stones in damsons. Don’t get me wrong, I know that damsons have stones, I mean I don’t know that much about damsons but I do know that they are basically little plums [or as Wikipedia says they are ‘an edible drupaceous fruit, a subspecies of the plum tree’] so I did expect stones. What I didn’t expect was how many there would be!

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-17-42-01

Look at all those stones – and that’s not yet finished!

Ok, so there is one stone per damson and damsons are smaller than plums and there were indeed a lot of them (nearly 1.5kg!) but I’m sure those pesky stones kept reproducing. I stood for so long pouring over the pot of boiling fruit and sugar picking out stone after stone I thought it would never end!

At first it was fun, picking out the stones feeling like I was the saviour of teeth but that novelty soon wore off. It was replaced by a stubbornness to complete a job now started and it certainly tested my patience. I scooped stone after stone, then when it looked like there were no more to scoop I gave it a good stir and more stones rose to the surface. I repeated this dozens of times until at last I felt confident to say I’d done my best. The recipe had made it sound much easier than it was!

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-17-42-21

Double double toil and trouble, fire burn and damson jam bubble

Having taken so long to remove all the stones, not much more simmering was needed and the jam was soon ready to put into jars. I can now say that I have made damson jam but I’m in no hurry to do so again. I have made other jams, including a rather tasty rhubarb and vanilla and a ‘what’s left in the freezer that needs using as there’s no room for the chilli’ jam. In reality that was mainly strawberry but there were other berries in there too and very tasty it was and most importantly not a stone in sight!

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-17-42-35

The finished product, very tasty if I do say so myself, and no one yet has broken a tooth

 

Go to the Globe, Visit the London Dungeons, numbers 6 and 44

A trip to London saw me tick off two items from the list. The London Dungeons was not quite what I was expecting but good all the same. I was expecting dungeons, with grizzly stories of murder most horrid, treachery and other such tales.

20161027_112819

Our trip to the Dungeons was the day after the last BBC Great British Bake Off

Now the dungeons are in their new spot, it is a tour of several hundred years of deepest darkest London. We started off in 1605, the year of the gunpowder plot. Guy Fawkes fate was sealed, but he still had a tale to tell in the form of a holographic head and the whole room shook when he let off the fireworks. We continued round, first of all heading into a lift and it was all enclosed spaces. A slightly odd choice for one who doesn’t like lifts or enclosed spaces…

Oh and the dark too, they plunged us into darkness on a number of occasions, including when questioning a witch who had freed herself and tied up her accuser while the lights were out, and in a pub a year after the last Ripper murder when the bar maid moved around and frightened the life out of those she was suddenly next to!

The end gave the choice of the ride of death (an in the dark sudden drop to simulate hanging!) or the door of freedom. I probably don’t need to tell you which I chose.

Lunch was followed by an altogether more literary visit though no less modern as we headed to the Globe Theatre.

stage

The beautiful stage at the Globe Theatre

I hadn’t realised that it is not built on the exact location of the original though it’s not really that surprising as London has changed somewhat since the days of Shakespeare. In fact, when the Globe was originally built south of the River Thames was not part of London at all.

The tour of the Globe was fascinating, both in terms of the history of the original playhouse as well as the story of the building of the modern replica. Sam Wannamaker certainly had an amazing vision to re-create this important part of our history.

Now all I need to do is go and see a performance, but that will have to be for another time as these don’t take place in the winter months due to the open air nature of the theatre.

roof

The ceiling of the stage depicting the signs of the Zodiac

Tour Arsenal football club – number 49

arsenal

The floor of the lift

First of all it is important to say that I am not a football fan, I don’t like football at all, I don’t support anyone and I think there is too much money in the game. So why do I want to tour Arsenal football club? Well, that’s a good question and the true answer is opportunity. Through work I enrolled on a programme called Aurora for women working in the higher education sector and the programme took place at two main venues in London. The first was the Millennium Gloucester Hotel, which was pleasant except the conference room was downstairs and there were no windows.

pitch

View from the conference room

In contrast our second venue was the Emirates Stadium with a conference room with lots of daylight thanks in no small part to the huge picture windows that over looked the pitch. Now, I may not be a football fan but I can tell a good bit of grass when I see one! And that pitch was spotless, it was hard to believe that, in May, this was towards the end of the season. Those groundsmen must work exceptionally hard.

The opportunity that presented itself was being at the Emirates stadium and having a friend who works there and when I had told her I was coming offered to give me a tour! Well, surely that was an opportunity not to be missed. So I and one of my colleagues on the course snuck out 10 minutes early to meet my friend for the tour. We started in the area where my friend works which is with the local community. The club does a lot of work in the area and has a very lush indoor pitch with artificial grass which can be hired out in the evenings. During the day it is used by local groups, when we popped by there was a game being played by people who had suffered limb amputations. Various educational courses are also on offer for those unable to access other forms of education. Great to see and then we headed to the main stadium which is a world away from the lives led by many in the local community.

members

Members’ lounge

We saw the FA Cup which is a very impressive piece of silverware. By this stage, Arsenal were out of this year’s competition so the cup wasn’t going to be there for much longer. There were all the replicas from the times they had won too. You could get your photo taken with the cup but we skipped that bit. The members’ lounge is very posh with a good view over the pitch. I’m sure you would miss a lot of the atmosphere being inside though, albeit a whole heap warmer on a windy winter’s day!

directors

Director’s lounge

The director’s lounge was even more lush but the lighting not great for a photo. However, the view of the pitch from there was not great in my opinion but I guess if  you’re in the director’s lounge going to a match for the footie is not top of the list!

plunge

The inviting plunge pool

The changing rooms were fascinating and no, no one was actually changing when we looked! The home dressing room was very smart with a plunge pool (which looked most inviting) and the benches arranged in such a way that the manager can see everyone easily. The away changing room was far more basic, no plunge pool and arranged with a table so that the manager wouldn’t be able to see everyone together so easily. The mind games continued as we headed down the tunnel onto the pitch. Life sized cardboard cut outs of the players and, of course, Arsene lined the tunnel.

arsene

Me and Arsene….looking a little flat

They were all positioned 6 or 8 inches above the ground so looked down on you as you walked through. Quite intimidating for the away team I should think!

The pitch itself was just as amazing close up as it was from the window. A bouncer stood at the edge of the pitch (but not on the grass!) to make sure that no one trod on the precious blades.

The last part of the tour took in the press conference area. This was a familiar looking place as it is the window into the thoughts of the football manager. So of course, I had to give it a go….there were no television cameras for me though.

after-match

Post match review…

It was a very fine way to end the day and hasn’t turned me into even the smallest of football fans but I did enjoy the tour. It’s an iconic stadium and I’ve had the privilege to see it first hand.

The irony of the beautifully kept pitch we were not allowed to touch is that on our second visit a couple of months’ later they were digging it all up! They were installing under pitch heating so they could play in the snow and frost. No wonder they need so much money!

gunners

The Gunners