The most haunting book in years

There are not many books that haunt you to the extent where you struggle to sleep and, at rare quiet times in the day, you experience flashbacks at a particularly harrowing part of the book’s plot.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave haunts you in this way. I am less eloquent than book critics, so here’s what they have to say…..

I felt the same excitement discovering this as I did Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and Paul Torday’s Salmon Fishin in The Yemen. There is an urgency here, an inability to put it down and a deep sense of loss once finished. It is a very special book indeed. Profound, deeply moving and yet light in touch, it explores the nature of loss, hope, love and identity with atrocity its backdrop. Read it and think deeply. Sarah Broadhurst, Bookseller.

A better book than Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand may be published this year, but I wouldn’t bet on it…….exquisitely written…..the most powerful novel I’ve read in a long time….I finished The Other Hand in tears, and I still can’t get it out of my head. Just read it. The Gloss, Ireland.

The book hinges on the plight of a vulnerable child in a war torn country – children UNICEF work hard to protect.

This blog is for UNICEF.

Thanks for reading. 

Pancakes, Frozen and Trains

As usual this morning, I reluctantly got out of bed. As soon as I was downstairs my daughter announced that it was pancake day and ‘where are the pancakes?’ I groaned and mumbled about doing it later but then decided I had no excuse and pancake were best eaten at breakfast, so, fuelled by a cup of tea,I set to work mixing and flipping. The children were happy pouring copious amounts of maple syrup on their pancakes and waaaay too much sugar. I later did the same for hubby and I for tea. The first course was bacon and maple syrup toppings and the second sounds vile, but was actually a scrummy combination of rhubarb, plain yoghurt and maple syrup. There is something about pancakes that leave your tummy very satisfied. I like them infused with things like berries and alternative toppings, such is there versatility. However, I estimate I have consumed at least 10 pancakes today so I am now very happy to give the a rest fro my diet for a while.

Another thing we have overdosed on recently is the film Frozen. We were invited to a ‘sing-a-long-a’ Frozen film party at a ocal cinema, complete with actors on stage, special effects and props. I have never seen so many Anna and Elsas in one small area and I was thankful my two children were not dressed up as I could easily spot them. Despite my 9 year old thinking it was a bit ‘uncool’, this didnt stop her joining in with all the dance routines and singing. My son was on the edge of his seat chanting ‘Run Sven RUN’ at the appropriate moments in the film.

But, for my daughter, the most exciting part of the day was when we stood on a railway bridge and waved at a train and she saw the driver wave back and then he sounded the trains horn – she was soo excited and said ‘its just like the railway children!’. It just goes to show the old stories are still the best.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

Losing yourself

I am now on my third Virginia Woolf novel and I have got to be honest, I havent a clue what is going on.

In fact ask me to describe the plot of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and I couldnt. My current read, ‘To the Lighthouse’ is just as challenging. I liken reading Woolf’s novels as experiencing a dream. Occasionally there are moments of clarity, when my brain manages to associate two lines with a character or occurrence from earlier in the story but the rest is just a haze. Woolf’s writing style is like a stream of consciousness, which, for me, requires a higher than average concentration level when reading a book. I tend to read just before bed which probably doesnt help.

But strangely I persevere, because when I do summon the concentration levels I enjoy getting lost in the prose in much the same way that I occasionally enjoy listening to Lana Del Rey’s music.

Sometimes its good to lose yourself in literature.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

Merry Mums enjoy Merry Wives

Apologies for my absence yesterday, another £1 in the pot to Unicef, but I was busy with a family friend and fellow mum, enjoying Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives’, in the beautiful idyllic grounds of a boarding school in the heart of the British countryside. It was oozing with national charm, right down to the 1950’s setting, the cameo appearance of a vintage car and good old-fashioned fun-poking at the aristocracy, the Welsh and the French (in no particular order).

The lead role of the overweight, boozy and letchy Sir John Falstaff was played by Northern charmer, Ste Johnson, whose wicked wit, genuine 44inch waist and willingness to poke fun at the audience (and judge them on their wine from Lidl) as well as his salacious appetite for their crisps, was unlike anything I had ever seen. Knowing our hubbys were at home dealing with bath-time and bed-time while we sat in St George’s flag themed deck-chairs, eating picnic food rom M&S and drinking mojitos while guffawing at one elegant and poetic innuendo after another was different and bliss all rolled into one.

I did not know the plot of The Merry Wives before last night’s performance but the brilliant acting made it so easy to follow, freeing the audience to fully appreciate the prose and poetry that makes Shakespeare so entertaining and so admired.

In fact understanding the plot is key to really enjoying Shakespeare, thats why a book that has converted all of the key Shakespeare plays into cartoons for primary school children is genius. I bought a copy for my daughter and it puts Shakespeare’s lines next to illustrations as well as explaining, in modern-day English, the complexities of the story and the many characters and how they relate. I figure if she reads some of these in bedtime stories, by the time she has reached secondary school a basic understanding of  some of the key plays will have sunk into her psyche.

I have started to read some classic texts as part of my bedtime reading too. I have just finished ‘The Age of innocence’ by Edith Wharton and was blown away by her descriptions of characters and emotions, it is this ability to use words that effortlessly describe a feeling or an emotion, that makes enables a nook to give pleasure regardless of the century it was written in.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.


A difficult dichotomy

Last night i spent 3 and a half hours on the phone to a friend of mine i havent spoken to in years (hence the length of the call to plug the gap in communication). By the time i put the phone down at midnight, i was all spent and a blog post that night was never going to happen, so £1 in the pot to Unicef  as per this blog’s policy – a pound for each missed post.

I then enjoyed a girly night in this evening (making the most of my husband on a residential study course). I was particularly impressed with how i avoided all the chocolate on offer.

Conversation was random and at times irritating. My old school friend has grown up in a middle class rural bubble, so when she goes to the capital for an ebay purchase and finds herself hunting for an address in a high-rise block of flats, she starts to wonder at ‘what cultural minority’ she will see at the door. I squirm like bait on a fish hook at this comment, but she is my friend so let it go. This then progresses to my other friend who works as a paramedic in London talking about the cases she is sometimes called to. Sadly some people are so depressed they drink bleach to overcome their situation. At which point my friend pipes up ‘god what a waste of tax-payers money to do something that extreme just for attention’. I squirm some more and start to wonder who has been brainwashing her into thinking like a Daily Mail buffoon.

I have had enough of this ignorant attitude to cultural and social differences – why is it always about them and us? We are all trying to live the best way we can in the circumstances which we find ourselves in, regardless of background or genes, this is a fact that unifies us.

I read an article today in The Guardian that made me think – Alan Bennett criticising private education labelling it as unfair because it is based on the social situation of parents rather  than ability. I agree it is unfair. If we merged the state and private sector together, good schools would push nearby property prices up to be ‘in catchment’, so less well-off children would struggle to live close enough to the good schools. It is difficult to find a way round education that doesn’t result in the wealthier families securing ‘the best’ education. What i do think is possible to change is a private school’s position as a charity. To maintain their charitable status, they dont have to do an awful lot in my opinion, they now dont even have to provide a certain number of bursaries, they just need to do something of ‘public benefit’. I would ask independent schools to sponsor failing state schools, to assist with the schools who didnt fare well following ofsted inspections. With combined resources and teachers the help of a private school to act as a guide for a failing school would be a good thing. I would ask that private schools have their fees capped like universities so that they never become too exclusive and that they have a set number of students whose joint family income is 20k or below and 40k or below so that families across the social scale benefit from the education. Private schools should not be allowed to ‘groom’ russell group universities and companies who exist to ‘train’ private school pupils for university interviews should also offer heavily subsidised services to the state sector.

I firmly believe education is the  source of the class and cultural divide still very present in British society so something needs o be done to bridge that gap. Abolishing private schools completely will create problems in other areas, the state and private sector working  in partnership driven by government policy might just work. Parents and pupils deserve choice in education and this country cant afford to continue on his current trajectory that breeds snobbery, ignorance and contempt.

This blog is for unicef. Thanks for reading.

British Book Off

There is an argument for losing the word ‘English’ in ‘English literature’. I often think about all the good books and authors out there that I miss out on because they havent been translated, or rather, I dont speak or read any other word apart from English, this includes ‘American English’ as I cant tolerate the weird spelling.

While I think it is good to review the current texts on the British secondary national curriculum, am I the only person who thinks it strange, illogical and, frankly, bordering on facism to dictate that young developing minds must only digest literature written by English authors.

I am going to try and remember what I read at secondary school (incidentally while under a Tory government, led by John Major, havent the foggiest who looked after education but do recall my dabble in state being disastrous, the standard was abysmal yet today now it is brilliant. Naturally Gove wants to revert to the crap system of the nineties to help broaden the gap between the privileged and the less so.

I read: William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, Susan Hill’s ‘I’m the King of the Castle’, James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ and F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines. I’m sure there were more but these were the most memorable. Most of these would still tick Gove’s boxes. My favourite thankfully will still be on the list, ‘Lord of the Flies’. I enjoyed the book so much I kept my battered original from school days. My second favourite (helped by the hit song during that time ‘Wake up Boo’ by the Boo Radleys, is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, i think it is criminal this is no longer on the list. It has more messages about social history, ethics and justice than Michal Gove has in policy u-turns.

I work at a place where students decide on the book they will study. There is obviously a long-list but they have a discussion about the synopses of each collectively with the class and then decide which one to study based on discussion. Kids are more receptive to learning if they take ownership of what and how they learn. I think this may make life more interesting for teachers too. So back off Gove and hand the power of what texts to study to the teachers and their pupils. They are the experts NOT you.

Contemplating sending a list to Gove of what he is permitted to read on holiday and see how he likes it.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.