Don’t Stop All the Clocks

A few weeks ago there was UPROAR because Big Ben isn’t going to bong for many years whilst the Houses of Parliament are undergoing renovations!  People were quoted as saying it may harm tourism?!?!  (To be honest most tourists want a photo with Big Ben in the background not a sound recording of the bongs?!?)

Big-Ben (1)

In the mid 90s I lived on St Paul’s Square in the centre of Birmingham.  There was a church in the middle of the square (cue reminiscing about my brother in law doing a comedy dive over one of the benches in the churchyard the day they helped me move in!)  Anyway – I digress.

St_Paul_Birmingham

 

When I first became resident I was really concerned that the clock would keep me awake – but it didn’t at all.  In fact the only time it was an issue was when the clock was broken and stopped chiming every 15 minutes, and bonging on the hour!  I think my subconscious would wait to hear it – and when it didn’t happen I’d wake up – weird!

We now live within striking distance of one of the churches in our village.  Bell ringing practice on a Tuesday can be a wonderful sound (or it can be quite annoying when children use it as an excuse as to why they can’t possibly get to sleep!)  Again the clock at this church chimes every 15 minutes and bongs the hours. This was very useful before I wore a Fitbit 24/7 – as if I was up in the night with small children I could work out what time it was even if I wasn’t near a clock.

St Laurence Church

The other day the 5 year old announced that as the clock had just struck she was coming in for some lunch – given it goes every 15 minutes, I’m not sure why this particular ringing meant food time?!

Although award for the craziest bell has to go to the church in the centre of Le Biot in the French Alps where my BFF from school and her family live.  There is seemingly no rhyme or reason to when or how many time that bongs!!  But at least I’m not moaning about the cow bells – which apparently most English residents living there don’t like (well, according to the Daily Mail anyway – so it must be true!!)

Le Biot France

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Book Review: Watermelon by Marian Keyes

Watermelon

I recently read The Break by Marian Keyes and really enjoyed it – so when my 2017 Reading Challenge suggested ‘ the first book in a series’ I thought I’d go back to the start of Marian’s writing and read  the first book in her series about the Walsh sisters.

Here’s the blurb:

“On the day she gives birth to her first child, Claire Walsh’s husband James tells her he’s been having an affair and now’s the right time to leave her.
Right for who exactly? Exhausted, tearful and a tiny bit furious, Claire can’t think of what to do. So she follows the instincts of all self-respecting adults in tricky situations.
. . . And runs home to Mum and Dad.
But while her parents are sympathetic, Claire’s younger sisters are less so. Helen wants to share the new toy (she means baby Kate). While Anna is too busy having out-of her-head experiences.
So when James slips back into her life, desperate to put things right, Claire doesn’t know whether to take a chance on a past she feared she’d lost forever or face an uncertain future of her own.
But is she as on her own as she really believes?”

Very early on in the book I had a wobble.  Claire takes her 2 day old baby and flies from London to Dublin.  I was concerned about the lack of official documentation, surely there are child trafficking issues if the new baby doesn’t have a name, let alone a birth certificate or passport. Anyway, I gave myself a good shake, and reminded myself it was a book and I shouldn’t be so anal.

Slightly further on – Claire, at her parents’ home in Dublin, phones her husband back in London – but he doesn’t pick up.  Why doesn’t she text him?  Facebook or Twitter direct message him?  Send  him a quick Whatsapp or Snapchat message?  I am confused.  I then check when the book was published and it was 1995!!  This is practically a historical novel!  I hadn’t even graduated or been married the first time back then.  So – I went back to the book with a slightly different view point!!

The book is told from Claire’s point of view – and she thinks around facts A LOT.  Sometimes I wanted to give her a slap and get her to concentrate on the task in hand.

I found the character of James REALLY annoying (and not just because he is giving accountants bad press!) – but he was horrible and controlling and not nice at all.  I also didn’t particularly like either of Claire’s sisters that you meet in this book (so I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the rest of the Walsh family books TBH)

A lot of the writing felt quite frantic, and rush rush rush from topic to topic – almost manic at times. I think Ms Keyes’ writing style has definitely improved over 20 years.

Overall it was amusing, emotional, entertaining and not challenging to read – but hasn’t made me want to go through the entire Marian Keyes back catalogue in order (which was kind of my reasoning for starting with the first one).

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Left To Their Own Devices?: Confident Parenting in a World of Screens by Katharine Hill

Left to Their Own Devices

Recently my parents came over for coffee, and Mum gave me a book to read that  she’d already lent to both of my sisters.  One of my sisters found it particularly useful both as a parent (although her teenagers are pretty grown up now) but also in her work as a family support worker.  She even asked Mum to send her some of the details in the Appendix to give to a family she was working with (as an aside – Mum was well impressed with herself for taking the photo and Whatsapping it to my sis – not bad at 60 something!!)

Anyway – despite me being 43 and the mother of 4, when my own mother says I should read a book then I feel like I have to (even if it won’t fit into a category on my 2017 Reading Challenge!)

Here’s the blurb:

“How do I connect with my fifteen-year-old whose phone needs to be surgically removed from her hand? “How do I stop my five-year-old from throwing an iPaddy when screen time is over? “How do I help my child to stay safe online?” Ten years ago, we didn’t need to ask these questions. But today these questions are very real. And we need answers. Katharine Hill explores the impact of the digital world on teenagers and younger children, giving practical advice on screen time, social media, and consumer culture as well as how to tackle some of the more serious issues such as cyberbullying, grooming and pornography. Whether you are cradling a newborn or riding the rollercoaster of the teenage years, a stranger to Snapchat or have 500 followers on Twitter, this book is for mums and dads who not only want to ‘cope’ with bringing up children in the world of digital technology but to be on the front foot – confidently parenting in a world of screens”

I have to say I really enjoyed the book.  I’d expected it to be all ‘the internet is awful, keep your children away from screens all the time’ etc etc – but it wasn’t at all.  It talked about how the internet can be a force for good – if used properly.  It was also good at explaining the different social media – I’m a reasonably savvy internet user (hey, I’m reviewing this on my blog – which I will share to my Facebook and Twitter accounts) – but it gave some great background on all of the different apps etc that ‘the youth of today’ enjoy.  I also found it really useful to hear the author’s stories of her one son being completely engrossed in a game and the ‘I can’t save it so I can’t come for dinner’ things  that come out of our son’s mouth almost word for word  – it was nice to know we’re not alone.

It is written in a really humorous way – and some of the cartoons in it are hilarious. But it also deals with really serious issues like grooming and pornography – and it’s definitely given me food for thought for talking to all 4 of my children about these things.

It’s got sensible advice, and sources of additional information and support – exactly what any 21st century parent needs to help them in this often tricky journey of parenting.

I have to confess I’d expected it to be a bit preachy (the foreword was written by Rob Parsons OBE who I know has had connections with my parents’ church) but this is in no way religious at all.  There’s one reference to a biblical proverb – but I’m not sure I’d even have noticed that if I wasn’t looking for it.  It’s just a really sensible guide to anyone wanting support with their parenting around the subject of IT.

I would thoroughly recommend this to parents of kids of all ages – different bits were applicable in different ways to mine aged from 14 down to 5 (in fact I did wonder if the first couple of sentences in  the blurb were written after observing our house?!?)

And I still have to ask my Mum how she’s got a signed copy!!

 

 

 

Wonky wigs and sore feet!

Last Friday was a friend’s wedding 40th birthday party, and the dress code was ‘black and sparkly’.   One of my best friends, Mandy, was also in attendance – and we were asked if we’d been shopping together as our dresses were so similar – but we’re just girlie swots who do what we’re told when there’s a dress code!  I love this photo of us (even if we do look like we’re trying to be the next hosts of Strictly!)

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And it’s a good job there was someone taking proper photos, as our selfie attempts (ok, my selfie attempts) were rubbish!  Our teenage daughters would be ashamed…

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My lovely friend Mandy has had a pretty horrible year – having been diagnosed with breast cancer back in January.  It has been AMAZING how she and her gorgeous family have dealt with it – and you can read about just how amazing on her blog which has already helped lots of people going through the same.  Throughout this year, though, I have never seen Mand without a full face of slap and a wig on (she now admits to being a bit of a wig addict)  I may have to confess to initially looking straight through Mandy on Friday night as I’m not used to her with long hair, as she usually rocks a shorter one (thankfully when I realised that she was stood next to her husband I twigged who it was #somefriend!!)

It was really fabulous to be ‘out out’ together. Anyway – much gin (me) and vodka (her) was consumed and there was LOTS of dancing.

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Totally not induced by the booze (ahem!) I told Mandy how bloody chuffed I was she was there and dancing with me.  She agreed, saying back when she’d been invited in February she’d said she’d come if she was up to it – but at the back of her mind she was actually thinking she’d come if she was still here……..

Obviously this induced weeping from me and an emotional hug – but I was clearly being a bit too ‘huggy’ as this voice piped up ‘Er, Lib, you’re pulling my wig off’!!

Thankfully the wonky wig was sorted out and Mand looked at stunning as ever, and I wiped up the snotty face from hysterical, tired and emotional weeping!

If recent years have taught me anything, it’s be grateful for the little things – like dancing with your mate until your feet hurt – and that 40th birthday parties are ace!!

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Book Review: The Woman Who Ran by Sam Baker

The Woman Who Ran

I feel like I’ve known Sam Baker for years (not in a weird stalkery way – honestly!) but initially as editor of Red Magazine – and now as joint founder and regular contributor to The Pool website.  I’ve read some of her previous books (way back when I didn’t bore everyone with book reviews of everything I read!) but somehow this one, published last year, had slipped through my net.  However I needed a book with an unreliable narrator for one of the categories on my 2017 Reading Challenge – and Helen,  the main character in this book, definitely looked like she’d fit that description.

“What is making Helen Graham so jumpy and evasive? Newly arrived in a tiny Yorkshire village, she finds the locals’ curiosity her worst nightmare.

Looking over her shoulder every day, she tries to piece together her past before it can catch up with her. But with everything she knows in fragments, from her marriage to her career as a war photographer, how can she work out who to trust and what to believe? Most days she can barely remember who she is…

She can run. But can she hide?”

I just want to say up front I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I read it as quickly as I could – even staying up late reading one night (which is ridiculous given how sleep deprived I am at the best of times!!)

It is set in the current day – but then also in flashbacks as Helen recounts her story – or what she remember of it – to a man she meets whilst hiding out in the Yorkshire Dales. He, Gil, is a recently retired journalist – with relationship issues of his own.

The book twists and turns and keeps you guessing.  It’s also beautifully written – quite often in books I spot chapters or chunks that feel like they’re ‘padding’ to up the word count – but at no point during this novel did I think that.  Everything is described brilliantly without being verbose – and it’s really atmospheric.

The descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales are stunning – and it also cleverly intertwines digital footprints, domestic violence, everyday sexism and village life throughout the book.

When I read the interview with Sam Baker at the end – along with the book club discussion suggestions – I realised that it was loosely based around The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. And having just Googled the novel (to check which Bronte wrote it) I’ve realised that the character names of Helen Graham and Gilbert Markham are also the same.   Having never read that classic, I didn’t see that of my own accord, but some of you may – and I suspect there are super clever plot alliances that I’ve missed too!  **  Note to self: I must read the original to compare!! **

I can’t say much more without giving the plot of the book away (and I loathe reviews that do that) but it’s definitely a thumbs up from me!

 

Book Review: Crackanory Too Cracked for TV (Audible)

Crackanory Too Cracked for TV

One of the categories in my 2017 Reading Challenge was an audiobook.  I have NEVER listened to a book before – it kind of feels like cheating??  So – I decided to search on Amazon for an audible book for something a) free and b) short – and decided I could listen to it in the car on the way to and from work. I came across Crackanory – and thought this could be amusing….

Here’s the blurb:

“Imagine if Jackanory was set free from its childish shackles. What twisted, funny tales would it unleash upon the world?

Combining some of the UK’s best and brightest comedy writers and performers, this exclusive to audio edition of UKTV’s Dave Channel Crackanory is a master class in storytelling and features an all-star cast including Toby Jones, Katherine Parkinson, John Robins, Robert Bathurst and Simon Bird.

Episode List:

  • ‘Kill Phil’
  • ‘Mummy Business’
  • ‘The Character Assassin’
  • ‘The IT Man’
  • ‘The Egg That Knew Too Much’  “

 

All of the stories were silly / funny / rude / a bit offensive / sweary / amusing / far fetched  fairy tale esque.  They were in bite sized chunks – so throw in a bit of a traffic jam each way, and they were a car journey each.  I enjoyed them – but would also have enjoyed listening to the radio and singing along to some tunes.

I can see that audio books have a place – maybe if you’re partially sighted, or doing a monotonous task for hours and want a distraction. Perhaps if I was to do a long car journey on my own then it would be a good call (although if I did a long car journey on my own I’d probably just enjoy the silence of not having to referee squabbling children!)

All in all – I don’t think I’m a convert – but wouldn’t be scared to download one in the future.  #glowingpraiseindeed

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan

Earlier in the year I tried – and failed – to read my first Steampunk novel – for my 2017 Reading Challenge.  I struggled with the book I chose – and so a friend suggested this.  Her reasoning for choosing it for this category was it was young adult and so wouldn’t be too onerous or long to read – but she’d actually enjoyed it, and gone on to read the rest of the trilogy.  She and I have similar tastes in lots of things (in fact there’s potentially a whole series of blog posts in that single comment!) so I went for Leviathan so I wasn’t beaten by Steampunk.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“The year is 1914 and Europe, armed with futuristic machines and biotechnology, is on the precipice of war. Prince Aleksandar is fleeing for his life, having discovered that his parents have been assassinated and he is now a target for the Clanker Powers, a group determined to take over the globe with their mechanical machinery. When he meets Deryn Sharpe, an orphan girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can to join the British Air Service, they form an uneasy, but necessary, alliance. But the pair will soon discover that their emerging friendship will dramatically change their lives – and the entire course of the Great World War…”

So……

It was better than the first Steampunk novel I tried – but still not really my bag.  I romped through it – but because I was desperate to finish it and read something I wanted to, not because I was really enjoying it.

I’d been warned the YA style ‘swearing’ could be a bit annoying – and it was!

The Clankers and the Darwinists – with their traditional machinery and weird hybrid animal machines respectively were all just plain odd.

I quite liked Alek and Deryn as characters – and despite massively different backgrounds – their loyalty and bravery were parallel.

My favourite part was after the book finished (I could just put a full stop there?!)  and there was a section telling you what was based on fact and what was purely fiction – that showed it was quite clever – definitely more clever than I’d appreciated as I was reading anyway!

I also felt a bit short changed, as I did with the penultimate Harry Potter film, it didn’t really stand alone – and felt like a big introduction to the next installment.  The story was not concluded and you need to read on to discover what happens – whether anyone works out that Deryn is a girl, if it ends up being a love story, who wins the war etc etc.  Now I don’t mind a book being the first in a trilogy – but it’s good if you can read it on its own – but in this case, I don’t feel like I’ve finished.  However – I have – and I can finally say I haven’t been beaten by Steampunk – but I know I won’t be venturing into it ever again!

Now – back to a nice thriller or chick lit book for me!!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Family Ghouls by Alex A King

Family Ghouls

This was recommended by a friend as ‘a book with a cat on the cover’ as part of our Reading Challenge 2017 – and so I downloaded it purely on that basis!

Here’s the blurb:

“Allie Callas has a normal-ish job: she’s the owner and sole employee of Finders Keepers, a service dedicated to the time-consuming task of finding (and finding out) things on the tiny Greek island of Merope. The fact that she’s been seeing the dead ever since she can remember is incidental. It’s nothing more than a … a … a birthmark on her soul and a pain in her butt.

Except now death is getting personal and the dead are getting bossy. Her best friend (and neighbor) has been murdered, and her ghost is back to tell Allie that the events leading up to her death are hazy (very unhelpful), and that she wants Allie to figure out whodunit.

Allie isn’t a cop, but the wall-banging, hump-happy Detective Leo Samaras is just one floor away. Does he want her help? Nooo … But he wouldn’t mind taking a good, hard look at her bedroom.

With the dead starting to make unreasonable demands on her time, can Allie figure out who killed her friend, without taking a one-way trip to the grave herself? Will she start cursing the day she started seeing ghosts? And where did the hefty ghost cat that has moved into her apartment come from anyway?

FAMILY GHOULS is the first book in the Greek Ghouls series: a comedic mystery set in Greece and steeped in ouzo.”

I have to say I really enjoyed this!  It was an easy read and a mixture of romantic comedy / murder mystery / ghost story – but all very cleverly written and amusing.  I liked Allie immediately – and would quite like to be her friend and share her supply of cupcakes.

It’s set it Greece – and I sometimes struggled with the names and Greek words – but it added a different element which was fun – and I now know some rude words should I holiday in Greece in the future.

My only minor misgivings were that there were occasions when there were words missing in sentences, only little words like to / of / in etc – but still a bit frustrating. There were also 2 instances of continuity errors – once when Allie’s sister’s car is described as a sedan in one chapter and a people carrier in the next, and another where a previous event was described as happening at ‘Starbucks’ when it had happened at ‘Merope’s Best’  – the local coffee shop.  I realise that I am completely anal – and I have clearly missed my calling as a book editor!!

But these are only minor issues, it really did leave me wanting more – which

a) is the sign of a good book and

b) is particularly good when it’s the first book in a new series (which is another topic I need to tick off my reading challenge list – so I can always move this sideways should I find another book I want to read with a cat on the cover #winning)

You know you’ve been at Centerparcs Longleat for the week when…………

  • You’re not sure if the children have got mud or chocolate on their faces – and frankly you don’t care
  • Daddy has cycled the tagalong bike through every possible puddle in Longleat and covered the smallest child in yet more mud.
    Tagalong
  • The adults all have rapids related injuries from the swimming pool – where the kids are all totally fine!  Centerparcs elbow is a well known ailment in our house – and tends to have just recovered before the next visit!!Rapids
  • ‘Essentials’ from the Parcmarket on the last night are bread, milk and prosecco
  • You’ve had to stand on the top of the hot tub to get a decent phone signal to take a work call
  • You’ve hit your steps target on your Fitbit every day from marching from the outdoor activity center to the Jardin de Sports because your activity planning didn’t take geography into account
  • The number of parents growling through gritted teeth at their children ‘we’ve paid a lot of money to be here, you should be enjoying it’ has hit triple figures
  • You’ve got back ache from pushing a small child’s bike up (and down) hills because they’re only confident on the flat (of which Longleat doesn’t have much!)
  • The sauna has been used every day without fail – but only to dry towels and swimming stuff.
  • You’ve bumped into a friend from school that you haven’t seen in 25 years – but you’re both necking booze at lunchtime
  • The story about Mummy crying on the Tree Top Trek has been recounted to many staff and random strangers #thankskids
  • You’ve decided to try and ignore the fact that the pool is human soup and satisfy yourself that the chlorine levels must be fine as they’re making everyone’s hair a bit lighter too!
  • The house has had to be re-mortgaged so that the children can paint random pieces of pottery that will end up being stored in the loft within 6 months
    Pottery
  • You’ve realised by the end of the day that the changing rooms at the pool need a health warning – so you plan to go earlier in the day to avoid the strange things people leave in the cubicles…
  • You’re shocked at the number of people who don’t wear cycling helmets and don’t insist their children do – having witnessed first hand the accidents that can happen even at slow speed when coming off a bike I want to shout at them all (but have refrained!)  but for us – no helmet = no bike
  • You’ve decided that donuts are a perfectly acceptable breakfast and pancakes a perfectly acceptable lunch (apologies to the parents of the children we brought with us!)
    Pancakes
  • The highlight of the week was to be the full body massage you had booked for the last afternoon – but it drops off the Centerparcs app the night before – so you almost weep with relief when the lovely lady at guest services tell you that it’s still booked #phew (and it was WONDERFUL – thank you Molly!)
  • You’re sending your nephew home with trainers entombed in mud from where he rolled his quad bike – and potentially half of his wardrobe is in a similar state #sorrysister
  • You’ve made loads of brilliant memories that will be talked about for years – and you’ve already booked to come back again for New Year and are bringing some overseas Centerparcs virgins with you!!

 

Thank you again Centerparcs Longleat for a fab stay.  Last time we stayed in this lodge we went home pregnant with our 4th child – hoping we don’t have QUITE such a lasting memory this time!!!

Do you remember where you were when???

During your lifetime there aren’t many dates that you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing.

I’m not talking about wedding(s) and the birth of children – but major worldwide events.

For me there are only a couple.

September 11th 2001:  I was at work at the Head Office of the aerospace company that I’d joined 10 days before.  The FD’s wife was at home, and after the first plane hit the twin towers, she called him to tell him what had happened.  He, I and another colleague then turned on the TV in the Boardroom and watched the news unfold in horror – witnessing the second plane hit.  My husband was having lunch in the Sports Bar on Broad Street in Birmingham.  We could instantly be transported back to that time when asked. This was highlighted when we took the kids to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York this summer – memories for us – and history for the kids.  Although one of the September 11th stories that I’ve read a couple of times – and still makes me weep tears of joy, contrary to most, is from Tara over on the Sticky Fingers Blog ( http://www.thestickyfingersblog.com/2011/09/are-we-the-only-one-with-fond-memories-of-911.html) – you will not be able to read it without crying!!

The other, for me, is 31 August 1997 –  the day Diana died – and highlighted with all of the current 20th anniversary programmes.  I was on the West coast of Scotland staying in Largs with my first husband – visiting the Isle of Cumbrae, where I used to holiday as a child (and where I took my second husband and kids last year!) We’d gone to bed after watching Scottish Match of the Day (possibly one of the most pointless programmes ever at that point – Rangers and Celtic would win every week) and at breakfast the next morning were told that she’d been in a car crash in Paris.  We caught the ferry over to Millport and cycled around the island – and at each pitstop (Fintry Bay being the one that sticks in my head the most) the news was on TV and it was evident she was dead.  It was before 24 hours news was a real ‘thing’ and so the fact that all of the TV and radio channels stopped normal service was unusual.

For my Dad, the day of Diana’s funeral the following weekend would also be memorable.  He was driving down the motorway on the way to a trade fair in London and got stopped for exceeding 100 mph on the empty M40! (He subsequently got off with 6 points and a fine – not sure if that was due to his reason for speeding being that he needed the toilet – and after the policeman had finished with all the forms, Dad went in to the loos at the services just to prove a point!!)

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So, where were you on 9/11 and when Diana died?