Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Easter Weekend Treats: Eddi Reader and lots of chocolate

The highlight of our Easter weekend (apart from the chocolate) was going to see Eddi Reader perform at the Brindley Theatre in Runcorn.  I can't remember when I enjoyed a concert so much.  Down south sister had heard her interviewed on radio and booked the tickets for all of us and she and her husband came with us to the Brindley on Saturday evening.  It's a lovely theatre - only ten years old,  spacious and comfortable and not too big -we were three rows from the front. Much better than the usual smelly venues husband drags me to for concerts. (Refuse to use his word 'gig')

You might not have heard of Eddi Reader though she once had a number one hit in her band Fairground Attraction in the 1980s.  She did a few of old songs but most were from her new album 'Vagabond'.  Her songs are rooted in her experience of growing up in a tenement flat in Glasgow and she told us the story behind every song.  So we heard about her grandmother from Tralee, her father Danny with his habit of singing loudly after an few drinks and her Auntie Molly whose housecoat and red straw hat Eddy was wearing on stage.  She finished the concert by singing 'Moon River' in role as her mother, Jean.  I think it was the way she weaved a kind of family narrative into the performance was what appealed to me. Sister enjoyed so much that she's thinking of booking to see her again at the Barbican where she is playing later in the year.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


I've spent quite a lot of time in the last week gardening.  This has not been much fun as there have been many tedious things to do before I plant anything.  Mostly I have been removing weeds.  Giant dandelions and thistles and that stuff that sticks to you.  This picture is of a corner of the garden which I have left alone even though the plants are really weeds as they established themselves in this spot.  I seem to have a large crop of forget-me-nots in various parts of the garden, but don't recall planting any.  Pleased about this as I noticed a tray for sale in a local garden shop for £3.50!

I've also been removing weeds and moss and grime from paving stones on the patio.  To assist me in my miserable task I purchased a 'natural' eco-friendly bottle of patio cleaner from the supermarket.  I applied it today with a watering can and now the patio smells like a chip shop.  Looked at the side of bottle.  It says 'contains acetic acid'.  Vinegar!  Suspect I purchased a large, overpriced bottle of pure white vinegar.  By tomorrow it's supposed to have started to work on the grime and it will continue to work for two weeks according to the instructions.  Unconvinced.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Year in Books: April

So linking up rather late again with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees with my reading plans for the April and a review of my March reads.  I'm really enjoying this link up as reading about others' choices gives me new ideas.

I read quite a few books in March because I wasn't sleeping that well at the beginning of the month.  My latest way of dealing with occasional insomnia is to not worry about it and instead get up and read until I feel sleepy again.  Which is sometimes never, until I fall asleep early the next evening in front of the telly.  So I finished 'Expo 58' by Jonathan Coe and then 'Stoner' by John Williams.  Both books written by men and both featuring men with rather unhappy, disappointing lives.  'Expo 58' wasn't anywhere near as good as Jonathan Coe's other books with an unconvincing spy plot.  I liked 'Stoner' more - stayed up til 5am one night to finish it, but found it terribly depressing.  The central character supposedly falls in love with literature when he discovers it as a subsidiary subject on his agriculture course.  Again, wasn't convinced but there was something about the character and the writing style that drew me in.

I also read two other books which I enjoyed more: 'The Snow Child' by Eowen Ivey and 'The Shock of the Fall' by Nathan Filer.  I was prompted to read these by recommendations from friends and also because others on The Year in Books have been reading them.  'The Snow Child' was beautifully written with stunning descriptions of Alaska.  It also appealed because I know exactly how it feels to long for a child like the couple in the novel as it took us years of misery and four IVF attempts before we succeeded in having our daughter.   The ending was telegraphed a little, but still the kind of book I buried myself in until I finished it.  (Perhaps I do this too much, living in the worlds created in my head rather than engaging in the real world with the real people around me.)

'The Shock of the Fall' was also unputdownable.  I finished it in the airport when we were travelling back from Rome on Sunday and probably looked very odd as I couldn't stop myself from crying. Very sad (but not depressing),  and this time a completely convincing character.   I liked the unusual way the story was structured and told so that you had work hard to follow the plot.  Glad I actually bought a real copy as I hate not being able to flick back to reread bits when using the Kindle.  It reminded me of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog' and the author reveals in an interview at the end of the book that he was also influenced by Iain Banks' 'The Wasp Factory:'  both these books have troubled, teenage narrators.   'The Snow Child' and 'The Shock of the Fall' are both contenders for my all time top 20 reads, which you can check out here and here.

In April I am going to read some of the books nominated for the Carnegie Medal for children's books this year.  We shadow the shortlisted  books every year in school, getting students to read and briefly review them.  I've already read 'Blood Family' by Anne Fine which was excellent and the student in year 10 who read it agreed.  It's not suitable for younger readers as it has rather adult themes - domestic abuse and alcoholism.  I'm going to try Susan Cooper's 'Ghost Hawk' next, hoping it's a more escapist read.

I also hope to read 'The Universe versus Alex Wood' by Gavin Extence which is my book club choice.  Sounds more like my kind of book than last month's which I didn't finish, '59 Seconds, Change your Life'.  Teenager reading over my shoulder on the plane said, 'What's the point in reading that?'.  Exactly - too many statistics and very dull.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Roaming and Reading in Rome

I've just returned from a few days in Rome - a short break now the Easter school holidays have started.   Luckily the forecast heavy rain occurred overnight and we had several pleasant warm days to explore the city.  I've never been before and was a bit overwhelmed just how much there was to see.  In fact we had monument overload by the end and on the Sunday headed for the park by the Villa Medici to escape the crowds.  The collage below pretty much sums up what we did.  And a lot of eating of pizza, pasta and ice cream.  Husband's dodgy ankle meant we didn't walk too far so most afternoons were spent lazily reading and sleeping.

We stayed in an apartment by the Pantheon  (view from our window top right),  just opposite a primary school - what an unusual location.  The teenager was more interested in what was going on in the present around the Pantheon than she was in its history, despite choosing this subject as one of her GCSE options.  We were both shocked by the young beggar with bare brown legs and a club foot who moved around the square on a skateboard asking tourists for money.  She wanted to know why he wasn't getting any help. Good question.

Another day we came across this sight - rows of people reading in silence for an hour in front of the Pantheon.  I asked an organiser and was told it was a peaceful protest defending freedom of expression and also about the anti-homophobic legislation going through the Italian parliament.  I assumed they were supporting this legislation, but looking at the website I'm not so sure. So I feel a bit foolish now as I told my daughter that they were protesting against homophobia.  Shouldn't jump to conclusions, I suppose.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Love and ladybirds

The teenager has returned from her trip to France with a bad cold and an arrow through her heart.  Not a nasty accident when doing archery but a visit from Cupid.  She had a bit of a holiday romance with a boy her age from another school.  So she spent yesterday lying on the sofa coughing and snuffling; catching up with soaps and Towie; and messaging this boy.

Meanwhile I spent my Saturday doing loads of her washing and mowing the lawn.  There are certain chores I don't mind much so I tend to do these first, ignoring more tedious ones.  Hanging out the washing is one but mowing the lawn is my favourite.  I like the smell of the grass and it's very satisfying and soothing walking up and down in straight(ish) lines.  Not that I'm a perfectionist - our lawn is full of moss and weeds and yellow patches where the dog has peed too often.  It still looks ok after a good mow, though.

It was a lovely sunny day and I spotted a butterfly or two.  A peacock sat still for ages on one bush - laying eggs perhaps. There were also loads of ladybirds around.  We have had a plague of ladybirds in the house over the winter, hiding in the window frames and occasionally crawling around the ceiling in the kitchen. But we put up with them as ladybirds so pretty and, so I believe, eat other garden pests.  They are my third favourite insect after butterflies and dragonflies with their rainbow wings.

So I got out my camera and attempted a picture. No glasses so I couldn't see very well and the first two attempts were very blurry. Then I realised that I was photographing not one ladybird but two in close proximity and all over the bush were pairs of ladybirds mating.  So I have included a rather rude image in  today's post.  Oh well, I suppose it is springtime and time for love.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Gotcha nuthatch!

I've been trying to capture on camera this shy visitor to our garden for the past two weeks.  Have eventually succeeded. He's easily frightened off and is always looking around him checking for dangers.  Sounds familiar.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Things that might happen...

Early yesterday morning I waved goodbye to teenager for the week as she is on a school trip to France - staying is a chateau, doing various activities such as abseiling and also visiting war graves in Northern France.  She seems to have squeezed most of the contents of her wardrobe into her very heavy suitcase for the four nights she is there, but appears to have forgotten a rather vital accessory - her hairbrush.

Inevitably, I spent the day waiting to hear that they had got there safely.  Texted her on the coach around midday to see how the journey was progressing.  No reply.  Tried again in the afternoon. Still nothing. I knew all must be well as I'd have heard from school if there was a problem.  But kept inventing things that might have happened. Coach crash; abducted at service station; fire in Channel tunnel...Was 7.30 before she eventually got in touch with a brief dismissive text saying her phone had run out of charge on the journey. Mobiles actually makes things worse for the overanxious mother like me.  They give an illusion of security, that you can make contact quickly but then it's frustrating if you can't.

She's 14 now and so I have to let her go off and be independent without pestering her all the time.  But it's tough and not just on occasions like this trip.  A couple of weeks ago on a sunny Sunday afternoon she set out for a ride on her bike around the village with the girls who live next door. Great, I thought, a bit of fresh air and exercise for a change.  So mowed the lawn and half an hour passed.  Still not back though the circular route takes no more than 30 minutes. Went to the supermarket to stop myself stressing, certain they'd be back when I returned.  No.  Took dog for walk across fields and listened out for the usual squealing which indicates their presence.  Nothing.

It was a beautiful afternoon - sun shining, daffodils and blossom.  Attempted to banish negative thoughts and be mindful. Listened to birdsong, but imagining ambulance sirens instead.  Future nightmare scenarios spooled through my mind and I was choosing funeral songs. Visualisation comes easily to me, but only the bad stuff.  Tried instead to visualise her wedding, but failed.

Nearly back home with heavy heart when I heard the telltale squealing behind me.  Three girls with hair streaming behind them and four boys all on bikes. Nice boys, old friends from primary school whose mums I know. They'd met two of them and then called for the others.  Relief swept over me, but hid it well.

The problem is, of course, bad things do happen all the time.  Phoned NZ sister at the weekend and she told me of horrible drowning accident which had occurred on the beach near them.  Was off again, visualising the horror of this poor woman watching her husband rescue her young daughter only to drown himself.  And who could not be moved by the raw grief of the relatives of the passengers on the missing Malaysian aircraft?  I was a bit uncomfortable with the cameras intruding on this.

I'd welcome any advice on how I can stop myself worrying about things that might happen. Or is this just how it's going to be?