Book Review: How Britain Really Works by Stig Abell

I’ve always enjoyed watching Stig Abell on the Sky Newspaper review (before Sky stopped him for doing it when he went to work at Times Radio) and always felt he was sensibly even handed when it came to a whole range of subjects. I figured we were a similar age (although when reading the book I found out he was born in 1980 – so I am in fact 6 years older – he must have had a tougher paper round!!) and had both taken our daughters to watch One Direction in concert. When I saw he’d written this book I was keen to read it – but somehow never got round to it (too busy drowning in ARCs from NetGalley!) but my Mum, who is also a Stig fan, purchased a proper copy – so I borrowed it (as I often have a hard copy non fiction as well as a Kindle copy fiction book on the go at the same time – living life on the edge!). Mum’s top tip was to make sure you had a book mark in the main part of the book and also the references at the back – and this proved to be very useful! Here’s the blurb:

“Getting to grips with Great Britain is harder than ever. We are a nation that chose Brexit, rejects immigration but is dependent on it, is getting older but less healthy, is more demanding of public services but less willing to pay for them, is tired of intervention abroad but wants to remain a global authority. We have an over-stretched, free health service (an idea from the 1940s that may not survive the 2020s), overcrowded prisons, a military without an evident purpose, an education system the envy of none of the Western world.
How did we get here and where are we going?
How Britain Really Works is a guide to Britain and its institutions (the economy, the military, schools, hospitals, the media, and more), which explains just how we got to wherever it is we are. It will not tell you what opinions to have, but will give you the information to help you reach your own. By the end, you will know how Britain works – or doesn’t.”

From the introduction Stig’s ‘voice’ shines through – which I always like in a book – and I liked his style of writing immediately. After the introduction it gets into the nitty gritty of various British institutions with chapters on:

  1. Economics
  2. Politics
  3. Health
  4. Education
  5. Military
  6. Law and Order
  7. Old and new media
  8. Identity

The inner geek in me loved all of the history! There was, as my mother predicted, a lot of toing and froing from the main body of the book to the references at the back and initially I found this quite annoying (and wondered why bother doing it like this, when surely everyone would want to read the references, so why not include them in the main text?) but I got over myself and got used to it. It might be easier reading an electronic copy where it’s just a click of a button (ooh, and that’s made me wonder if there’s an audiobook and how the references would be done in that?)

The ‘Health’ chapter was great for the history of the NHS etc – but did feel like it had been slightly blown out of the water by the last 18 months of the covid pandemic. Interestingly within the chapter Stig refers to the fact that an institution like the NHS wouldn’t change significantly without an earth shattering event such as a global health crisis – so maybe this is the start of a new era for British health?

The ‘Old and New Media’ chapter also has evolved since Stig wrote this – with the new radio station being one change, along with the global phenomena of TikTok which has exploded during lockdown in particular. However, again, the basics and the history are always going to be there.

The epilogue contains Stig’s advice for the future of Britain – and how he thinks certain things could be solved. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with it all – but it’s definite food for thought.

Overall I feel like I’ve learned lots from the book and enjoyed it (and will probably quote facts from it in quite an annoying way for some time!)

Book Review: The Wife Who Got A Life by Tracy Bloom

You know when you start reading a book and you think – this is a bit close to home?!?

Let me introduce you to Cathy Collins – she’s:

  • Late 40s – check
  • An accountant – check
  • Resident in the Birmingham area (well, close enough to go to her husband’s colleague’s house in Edgbaston – I’m assuming the nice bit, not the red light bit I lived in after my divorce in the late 90s) – check
  • One of three sisters, and one lives abroad – check

And for those of your not quite as spooked as me by this point – here is the blurb:

“Cathy Collins is a mum on a mission – to change her life. 
When her husband drops a midlife-crisis bombshell,
Cathy decides it’s time to take control. 
No more laundry, teenage tantrums or housework.
After years of putting herself last, she’s going to be first for a change. 
Cathy Collins is carving a new path, and nothing is going to get in her way… 
From No.1 bestselling author Tracy Bloom, The Wife Who Got a Life
perfectly captures the joyous chaos of family life.

Cathy’s sister who lives in California, sends her a motivational journal in which to record her goals for the year. Initially Cathy is incredibly reticent – as she doesn’t want to write down goals like ‘learn Mandarin / bake your own bread’ etc to not achieve them and then feel even more fed up. But then she decides upon some monthly goals that she will try and achieve which are very much hers:

JANUARY – Write the list!

FEBRUARY – Ditch Periods

MARCH – Ditch Cooking

APRIL– Get a Life Outside the Family, preferably with ‘Young’ People

MAY – Secure My Son’s Future – i.e. Put a Rocket Up His Arse

JUNE – Teach My Daughter How to Not Get Screwed Over by Relationships

JULY – Reduce My Carbohydrate Footprint

AUGUST – Agree Who Will Clean Mum and Dad’s Toilet

SEPTEMBER – Make the Necessary Announcements about the Menopause

OCTOBER – Have the Really, Really Important Chat with My Husband

NOVEMBER – Fall in Love Again

DECEMBER – Dance with Hugh Jackman

I am so with Cathy on these goals!! The book follows each month as Cathy ticks off each goal in turn.

She used the pill to ditch her periods – I had an endometrial ablation.

She contacted the local catering college to get someone to come and assist with family cooking – I employed a friend to do our cooking (RIP Mrs Patmore – although I should add she’s not dead, just relocated to Cornwall!)

The book is so well written and laugh out loud funny. I loved the book – and Cathy – right from the start. I guess I was always going to be onto a winner having so much in common – but it was ace!!

I had a smile to myself every time The Mustard Factory trendy working space was mentioned – clearly not based upon The Custard Factory in Digbeth in Birmingham, nope, not at all!!!

The book made me laugh a lot (teenage parties / first love) but also have a huge lump in my throat (neighbour battling cancer) – I guess the roller coaster is what makes a book so great. The writing about life with teenagers is so true to life – as with the extended family / friends / book club / colleagues – it was really great.

A massive thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC – but I was slightly slack, due to an overload of books, and it was out at the end of April 2021 – so you can buy it immediately if you fancy it – and it’s only 99p on Amazon – result!