Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Year in Books: August

Joining in again with The Year in Books hosted by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees.  I missed the July link up and am only now reporting on my June book 'Bellman and Black'.  I didn't read very much at the end of June and July but I'm catching up now it's the school holidays.

I enjoyed 'Bellman and Black' by Diane Setterfield, though I'm not sure it was a ghost story as it claims to be.  It's a portrayal of a successful Victorian industrialist: how he is 'haunted' by the elusive Mr Black who seems to be associated with the rook that William Bellman shot with a catapult as a child.  The shadow of the rook pervades the novel: there are chapters devoted to descriptions of the bird and the folklore associated with it.  There's also a great deal of description of Bellman's success in his business; he is a kind of upmarket undertaker, providing coffins and the trappings of mourning for wealthy clients.   This contrasts with the tragedy of his personal life - I won't reveal any more plot details in case you are tempted.  I was particularly interested in the character of his daughter, Dora, and was a little disappointed that her storyline wasn't developed more.  Penny at The Homemade Heart has written an excellent review of the book.  She described it as a psychological study of Bellman and that is, I suppose, why we don't hear more about Dora.  The focus is on how his mind works, how he makes a success of his working life at the expense of personal happiness, perhaps because he is unable to deal with strong feelings. So, overall, good, but doesn't compare with my all time favourite period ghost story, Susan Hill's 'The Woman in Black', which is properly scary.

I've also been reading a couple of texts by Irish writers in preparation for a coursework unit I'm going to be teaching to an A Level class in September.  I've read 'Amongst Women' by John McGahern and also the play 'Dancing at Lughnasa' by Brian Friel.  By coincidence, both texts feature on a group of sisters living in a village in Ireland so particularly appeal to me.  I am already familiar with 'Dancing at Lughnasa', having seen an excellent production of it at the Theatre Clwyd in Mold a few years ago.  It was one of the most enjoyable evenings at the theatre I have ever had.  The play explores the relationships between the sisters and how things are changing for them and the country.  Reading it wasn't quite the same as a live production but I do have a DVD of the film to watch this week.

For my August book I'm reading another novel by an Irish writer, 'The History of the Rain' by Niall Williams, which was nominated for the Booker prize. NZ sister recommended it and for me that's a better reason to choose it rather than a Booker nomination.  I'm also dipping into another book which kind of links to 'Bellman and Black' as it features Victorian business men. It's Jacqueline Yallop's 'Dreamstreets: A Journey through Britain's Village Utopias'.   It has a chapter on Port Sunlight, which is near here, and how it was created by William Hesketh Lever for his workforce to live in, We visited Port Sunlight last week and went to the museum as my daughter has to complete a piece of history coursework about Lever and Port Sunlight.  So I'll be encouraging her to read this book too.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Visit to Portrush

When I was a child we went on holiday and days out to Portrush, or The Port as we called it, on the north coast of Northern Ireland.  I returned there couple of weeks ago with my sisters and our families to find that some things had changed but much had remained the same.  I was pleased to see that this building the Arcadia, which seemed very glamorous when I was little, has been restored and is now an art gallery, cafe and wedding venue.  I remember going to a 'disco' there in the 70s (What ever happened to discos?) and apparently The Stranglers played here in 1978 supported by The Undertones.  Would like to say that I was there but really I had no idea about this until I googled it a couple of minutes ago.

Don't be fooled by the blue skies - it was fairly chilly the day we visited, as it nearly always was.  But just as we had often braved the freezing Atlantic water, our children - well the smaller ones anyway - were right in there paddling and getting wet as soon as we got onto the beach.  It was really busy too, everyone determined to enjoy themselves and defy the weather. 

After a while on the beach we headed for Barry's Amusement Park, where we spent much of our days on damp Sunday School excursions. I loved it then: my favourite rides were the cyclone and the Ghost Train and I loved playing the arcade games where you could race little horses or win money by making the coins tip over the edge.   I was brave enough to try the Big Dipper roller coaster a few times as a teenager, but was never that keen.  Now there are more rides outside, but my favourites are still there and the Ghost Train doesn't seem to have changed at all in nearly 50 years.  The actor, James Nesbitt, worked there once and seemed to share my memories as you can see on this You Tube clip.  Sadly the man featured in the clip, Colm Quinn, who worked on the Hobby Horses all his life until he was 79, died earlier this year.

I brought my daughter here when she was little and she rode on the hobby horses just like I did.  This time, though, I found it a bit too noisy in Barry's so I left her to take her little cousins on the ghost train and went for a more peaceful walk around Ramore Head with husband and dog.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Five on Friday: Sisters

Sisters on the Strand in Portrush 
I am one of five sisters and last week we were all together for a few days in Northern Ireland, a rare event as Sister number 4 lives in New Zealand.  She returned for a visit this month and we all gathered for a reunion in our family home in Ballyronan.  With husbands and 8 of the 11 children we have between us, that made for quite a large party and it was a bit of a squeeze.  We hired a holiday home in Magherafelt, aptly named Ronan Cottage, so my husband, accompanied by our dog also called Ronan, could, at times, escape the smaller children and watch the Tour de France.

We had a lovely week.  The weather wasn't great but there were still plenty of walks to the lough, the playground and the little beach at Ballyronan marina.  Our children range in age from 6 to 23 and while the older ones were either working or travelling the world, the others enjoyed seeing each other.  I hardly saw my daughter all week as she stayed with the cousins in Ballyronan, entertaining the little ones and hanging out with 12 year old cousin Sarah from New Zealand.  There were also football games and Mario Cart battles with the big boy cousin, Callum.

We also saw some of the extended family and invited cousins to a barbecue one evening - the sun shone even though it was a touch chilly and it was good to see everyone again and welcome them to the house which was always full of visitors when Dad was alive.  And another relatively sunny but chilly day, we took a trip to the seaside and visited Portrush, where we used to go for holidays and Sunday School excursions.

When I get together with my sisters we tend to revert to our childhood family roles. This is not something I was aware of until my husband pointed it out.  This picture of three of us taken in Portrush in about 1966 kind of illustrates this. I'm the good girl, always keen to please: look at my smile and neatly folded arms, whereas Sister 2, is the cheeky one with her tongue out.  So it was no surprise then when last week she avoided the cooking and the washing up and chose instead to entertain her small nephews by playing Dragon Trail on the Ipad with them.

Sometimes people say we are similar and I suppose in some ways we are. I'm more aware of differences than similarities.  I'm the only teacher and the only Arts graduate, most of the others leant more towards Science or Maths. Two are opticians(or optometrists, the official term) but are very different personalities. The other two are very organised (unlike me) and have the kind of managerial jobs which require them to travel abroad at times. One sister has a very lively social life, I prefer a quieter life with some time on my own, just as I did as a teenager when I was the only one to have a bedroom to myself. Three of us read similar kinds of books, recommending writers to each other; one prefers fantasy- Game of Thrones type stuff, and one doesn't read very much at all.  I could go on....

When we are together, it is very loud.  Husband says we all talk at once and shout each other down. There was quite a lot of that last week - sitting around drinking wine after dinner and talking.  There was also a bit of bickering over the chores and other stuff - as there always was - I'm not painting a picture of a perfect family here.  But we don't fall out for long.  I love my sisters and count myself lucky to be part of a close family.

Linking again with Amy at Love Made my Home.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Catching Up with Myself.........

Ramore Head, Portrush, 15th July 2015

 I seem to have had an unintentional blogging break - no posts for a whole month.  Where have I been? What have I been doing?

Where does the time go? Does anybody know? (That's a line from a song which has stuck in my mind.  Might be Julia Fordham, but will have to check with husband who will know this)

I think that's the reason I blog - for the record.  To capture and remember the things I do.  An online diary really which I share with others.  I'm getting braver too, telling people I know, including relatives, about the blog. This has pros and cons.  If I know my readers, I tend to self-censor in case I cause offence or reveal something embarrassing.

So what's the craic...

Yes, I've just spent a week in Northern Ireland and so have rediscovered dormant vocabulary.  I was foundered all week as the temperature was a coolish 14 degrees. But that visit deserves a post of its own. And now I'm back, and it's the school summer holidays, there's plenty of time to hang around in pjs writing this instead of doing housework.  (I've just had an embarrassing encounter with an Amazon delivery bloke who turned up at the open back door to discover me in my grotty pjs; husband's instructions said leave parcel round back!)

But I digress...

I've not been blogging because I've been...

Celebrating birthdays...

 My own last Saturday, husband's at the beginning of July and my friend's 50th at the end of June.  For my friend's birthday I organised a spa day for six of us at a local hotel.  Good fun hanging out in their pool, chatting and drinking fizz all day though I'm not so sure the treatments are worth it.

My birthday last Saturday was a non-event since we spent most of it travelling back from NI via Cairnryan, but we did go for a meal on Friday night to celebrate in advance.  We ate in the Church Street Restaurant in Magherafelt which I think is in the building that once housed the shop where Mummy bought our Clark's shoes.   Times have changed and I could hardly believe there was such a posh establishment in Magherafelt. We were even served an extra mini course of fennel and potato soup in tiny coffee cups - just like a Michelin starred restaurant!  A lovely meal and a lovely evening, though missed my girl who wanted to spend the last evening of her holiday with her cousins.

Saying goodbye....
To Songsmiths, my choir and specifically Rick and Dawn Smith who have lead the choir for the last eight years but are now moving abroad to teach in Brunei.  We had a final concert on the 6th July, many of us getting a bit emotional as we sung 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' and  'Tell me it's not True' for the last time.

Songsmiths at Eaton Hall, Christmas 2012
Another goodbye..
We also said goodbye to my wonderful colleague, Louise, at school.  She has been such an inspiration to me and my daughter and will be greatly missed.  She is leaving teaching to pursue her interest in the United Nations, doing voluntary work for them and helping to set up more model UN conferences like the one we attended in Holland. I organised a small party here in the last week of term to show our appreciation of her.

Going on school trips.....
To London with Year 11 for a tour of the Houses of Parliament, a visit to the National Portrait Gallery and a wander round Covent Garden.  I went for a walk in shady St James Park at lunch time while the rest of the staff and the kids sat in the sun in Trafalgar Square.  I'd not been there for years and had forgotten how beautiful it is.

St James' Park, London, June 2015

Some of the reasons I've not been here.  More catching up soon so watch this space.  And welcome new readers, especially cousins!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Five Flowers on Friday

Short on time to post today so just linking up with Amy at Love Made my Home with a five June flower pictures from my garden and beyond.

This is bush is called Philadelphus I think or mock orange though I think we called it Bride's Blossom in Northern Ireland.  Whatever it is called, it smells wonderful and this year is magnificent. Last year the man we get to cut the hedges trimmed it at the wrong time and we had few flowers, but I managed to save it this year and it's better than ever.

My oriental poppies are also in flower.  They last a day or two before dropping their petals at the slightest sign of wind or rain, but are spectacular when they are out. This year I have noticed that there are two different colours, one salmony pink and the other paler. I'm sure the plants were identical when I planted them. A mystery. 

I don't bother much with pots of annuals as they need too much watering but I make an exception for these Livingstone Daisies which have an unspellable proper name beginning with M.  These were my mother's favourite and I plant them in memory of her.  They are a bit sulky, only opening when the sun comes out, but look so cheerful when they do. 

 And this week the wild dog roses have finally opened, rather later than usual after this cool spring.  These are growing by the railway line on my dog walk which is a real haven for wild flowers.

Will be back later this weekend with more news from a busy week.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Five on Friday

This week I'm linking up with Amy again with five 'highlights' of our week.

1. Exams.
 Not exactly a highlight but a major preoccupation in our house at present. My daughter had her first GCSE paper in Biology yesterday afternoon.  She has been working really hard for it so was a bit disappointed that a lot of the things she revised didn't come up and she found it quite tough.  I remember that feeling so well; other people talking about the questions afterwards and the anxiety that caused.  She's ok though - went to see Pitch Perfect 2 with a friend to take her mind off it all. But it's back to revision today.
And it was the English Language paper this week for my Year 11 students.  For one of their Writing Tasks they had to write a blog post about a favourite place.  I'm a bit worried that some may have written too informally for this task.  But time will tell and there's no point in fretting now.

2. Sandals
The week started cold and wet but by Thursday the sun came out and it was time to paint my toenails and wear my new sandals for the first time.  I'm very pleased with them - they're from Clark's.  I buy quite a lot of shoes from Clark's as they are good quality, comfortable and not that pricey.  My mum, who insisted as I do, that school shoes come from there, was right!

3. Evening Walks
I love the long summer evenings and the chance to get out for a walk in the evenings after dinner instead of just watching television.  Dog walk field is now waist high with long grass, buttercups and cow parsley.  It was peaceful swishing through the grass and watching the sun go down on Thursday evening.

4. Goldfinches
The goldfinches I had hoped for have finally discovered my niger seed feeder.  I managed to catch these two before they flew away - they are much more timid than the robins or bluetits.  One of the questions on the Biology paper my daughter did was about how the number of goldfinches seen in gardens is increasing and students were asked to give reasons for this.  Something to do with predators and food sources it seems,

5. Gardening
I bought a discounted gooseberry bush and planted it.  Too late for any fruit this year but I'll be patient.  After a couple of years of poor yields the blackcurrant bush I planted three years ago is promising a good crop.  I love fruit bushes and have good memoires of gathering fruit for jam from my grandparents' garden in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Year in Books: June

I missed last month's link up with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees as I didn't finish any of my planned reads for April and ended up reading a lot of self help books instead.  I've now decided to abandon this genre as you can see in this post and am enjoying reading again.

So a quick round up of my recent favourites and plans for June.  I'm half way through The Rosie Effect by Graham Simsion, the follow up to The Rosie Project which many other bloggers enjoyed. It's more of the same from the narrator Don and his interpretation of the world around him is touchingly humorous, but I'm finding the plot dragging a little this time.  But an easy bedtime read which is what I want sometimes.

It's my usual habit to read several books at once so I'm also half way through 'Late Fragments: Everything I want to Tell You (About this Magnificent Life) by Kate Gross.  This is a brilliant book and more valuable in its advice about how to be happy than any of the self help books I've read, surprisingly as the book was written by a young woman who is dying.   Kate Gross died of bowel cancer aged 36 on Christmas Day last year , leaving a husband Billy and twin boys aged 5. This book is primarily for her children.  She wrote about her life after her diagnosis as a way of coming to terms with it all,  and preparing herself and her family.  She wrote about her early memories; her family and friends; her awkward teenage years; her impressive career - how she became a policy advisor for Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister and then chief executive of the Africa Governance Initiative. But it's not just the subject matter and the fact she was a successful woman that makes this book so good.  It's also really well written. She's an English Lit graduate and her book is full of quotations from other writers - everything from John Donne to J. K. Rowling. Here's a snippet for you:

'I can spread my childhood memories out like a patchwork quilt.  My quilt is brightly coloured, richly textured, a mix of the familiar and the foreign.  My parents showed me the world form an early age and experiencing it - drinking in the astonishing wonder it provides - has made me who I am.  Because of them ,'the ears of my ears awake and the eyes of my eyes are open', as ee cummings put it.'

I'm looking forward to reading the rest.  How sad that such a talented woman died so young.

In June I'll be finishing these books and hope also to begin 'Bellman and Black' by Diane Setterfield which I'd ordered from the library after reading Penny's comments on it via The Year in Books.

I'm also reading 'Amongst Women' by John McGahern in preparation for a unit of work on Irish Literature which I am teaching in September.

I also get to teach some Seamus Heaney poems which I am looking forward to very much.