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Tunes on a Penny Whistle: Derbyshire Childhood
Tunes on a Penny Whistle: Derbyshire Childhood
by Doris E. Coates
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Memories of rural life, 13 Jan 2014
Pure serendipity brought me to this gem of a book. It is from the Isis Reminiscence series and has a plain, unembellished writing style which gets straight to the point conjuring up images of social solidarity and interdependence in the first half of 20th century UK.

I originally tracked it down because it was mentioned on a radio programme
A Cause for Caroling - the author's grandfather had done a traditional setting to Hark the Herald Angels Sing and I wanted to read the background. There is a bit about local musical customs sprinkled through the book (P72 a lovely description of a carol party setting off on the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve) but my enthusiasm stems from the window on a bygone age which is meticulously records.

Doris E Coates was born in 1908 into grinding but respectable poverty in the Derbyshire village of Eyam (the famous plague village). This was the age before running water and electricity. The author's own overview in the introduction describes the context of the book as follows:

This account is based on my memories of rural life during the First World War and its aftermath. Though it is set in a Derbyshire village, it is of more than local significance. The picture portrayed could equally be true of a village in the Welsh valleys, or in the small spinning or weaving communities of Yorkshire or Lancashire.

So it is geographically precise but with wider implications for other rural communities and for readers like us 100 years later it's a fascinating piece of social history.

The options available for earning an income are looked at in Chapter 4 Making Ends Meet. She describes in depth the history of shoemaking in the Hope Valley and the important place it had in the development of shoemaking in the UK with an account of early mechanization and the arduous conditions of work. This may have been used as source material in the recent TV series - The Village.

She is also very strong on union organization in Chapter 7 No Power to the Workers. Her own father was not a union member but was sacked by the factory owners on suspicion of being a member thus suffering the worst of all worlds - no job and no financial support from the union. The detailed account of his subsequent involvement in organized labour and of a charismatic local MP who fought the workers' corner including daring to stand for election against the mighty Chatsworth estate's placeman is well worth reading.

Chapter 9 - Breaking Down Barriers is about going to school and a grim description of an elementary school under a tyrannical school teacher. The woman was such a bully that Doris was on the brink of a nervous breakdown and was only saved by the school medical officer on his annual inspection. Her return to school was a much happier affair and she was put in the head teacher's class who never scolded her but taught her that only by being her own critic could she improve. An enlightened approach for the times.

So why am I not giving it 5 stars ? Well for 2013 it has a very plain writing style which might not be to everyone's taste and there is a complete absence of hype but for anyone looking for a charming and lucid account of lives lived simply 100 years ago - look no further.


Blogging for Beginners
Blogging for Beginners
Price: 1.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Creating a blog from scratch, 9 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If you are in two minds about starting a blog this will help you decide. Firstly it will ask you the right questions to work out whether your idea has long term potential. If the answer is yes, it will then guide you through the essential techie bit in a jargon-free way. I think here's a particularly useful comparison of the two platforms recommended, Blogger and WordPress. Lots of hints for building up a regular readership. And if you're unlucky enough to attract trolls you're told how to deal with them. So if you want to dispel the myth that you have to be technical to set up a blog, go for it!


Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Hollis, Matthew (2012)
Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Hollis, Matthew (2012)
by Matthew Hollis
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an ideal husband, 16 Jun 2013
I've been reading enthusiastic reviews of this book ever since it was published in 2012 - from these I believed it to be a close examination of the development of the friendship of Robert Frost and Edward Thomas and of Thomas's decision to enlist after an incident with a gamekeeper. It is much more than that - it is a well researched and well written account of the last four years of Thomas's life. Firstly it covers the English poetry scene in the opening decade of the 20th century. You may get rather more detail than you want for your taste ie the differences between the Georgians and the Imagists are academic to me but if that's what you're looking for you will get a cogent explanation here. The early part of the narrative has lots of references to Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Paul Nash, WH Davies, WB Yeats. This leads in to the burgeoning Frost/Thomas relationship. And finally the part of the book which really interested me - the description of Thomas's time in the army.

Throughout the period covered, Thomas is a self-absorbed irascible husband and a negligent father sacrificing family relations on the altar of his writing. He is very careless of his wife's emotional equilibrium by indulging in close relationships with other women -Holly Webb, Eleanor Farjeon and Edna Clarke Hall. Hollis gives an interesting analysis of Helen Thomas's handling of her husband's lady friends encouraging his sense of independence, understanding his desires, praising his attractiveness and appealing subtly to the impeccability of his morals.

The developing poet's voice is intricately followed in the latter part of the biography with several examples of his work and the influences surrounding their composition. Particularly moving is "Not to Keep" featuring a wounded soldier invalided home to his grateful wife knowing that the sooner the recovery the sooner the return to action This is not based upon Thomas biographically but an incident which is, is eloquently described by Hollis - the chapter where Thomas takes leave of his wife to go to France and it is heart-rending.

This is a chunky read and probably best spaced out over a few weeks.


Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady
Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady
by Kate Summerscale
Edition: Diary
Price: 13.59

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much food for thought, 5 Feb 2013
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This book has really gripped me despite my misgivings about the violation of privacy in reading someone's (highly edited) diary. That aside, Kate Summerscale does a great job in contextualising the diary's contents. It gives a sobering account of the plight of even quite wealthy women in the 1850's if they had the misfortune to be unhappily married. This all sounds a bit worthy but I can truly say I found it an absorbing read and am very grateful for the freedom and independence women have always enjoyed in my lifetime. The Kindle edition also contains the full text of Madame Bovary with an introduction by KS which makes it particularly good value.


ADDIS Big Board Stitch, Purple
ADDIS Big Board Stitch, Purple
Price: 44.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Flimsy and wobbly, 29 Dec 2012
Good points : Easy to put up, nice wide ironing surface

Bad points: Cotton cover has very thin poor quality foam. Steel mesh which the board is made of is also poor quality and a section of mine was bent out of shape before purchase and I cannot bend it back. All this means with the thin padding on the cover there is a dip on one side of the ironing board. This complicates the ironing process. Also the board wobbles a lot in the top height positions so beware if you are over 6ft tall.


Me Before You
Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.86

4.0 out of 5 stars A cautionary tale for the able-bodied, 2 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Me Before You (Paperback)
Me Before you is quite a surprise. On one level it's just another issue-driven piece of chicklit à la Jodie Picoult but Jojo Moyes is more skilful than JP in that she doesn't hammer home her message and the main characters are really engaging. In fact for once I agree with the blurb on the back when it says "Lou and Will are a couple who readers will take to their hearts as they did One Day's Emma and Dex". Structurally it's a bit contrived in that every now and then the narrative viewpoint changes. The first change is fine and probably necessary to the plot. But later changes to more minor characters - Patrick the boyfriend for example was eminently forgettable, more of a plot device than a person and when he took over the narrating I don't think it worked. But on the plus side, the thought-provoking arguments on someone confronting their own death were dealt with head-on which actually lead me to clarify my own thoughts on this, and what in other hands could have been a quite depressing read was in fact rather uplifting.


If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
by Robin Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Expanding people's curiosity about each other", 21 Feb 2012
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When Robin Black is good, she is very very good. She generally doesn't do linear plots but the stories are all the better for having your expectations confounded. You start off thinking one person is going to be the protagonist only to find their role is more peripheral. I like this quirkiness. If I singled out one story it would be the Immortality of John Parker. Here she perfectly captures the rawness of recent bereavement and contrasts it with the frantic attempts of another women to set her declining husband in aspic (or paint!). The Guide is another perfectly judged story - the repercussions of a time when a life and those lives around changed in half a second.

So why only the four stars - well I think a couple of the stories are heavy going. The ones I particularly struggled to get through were Harriet Elliot (clunking plot, cardboard characterisation) and The History of the World (failed the "Do I care" test ).

On balance this is a mixed collection but the good stories far outnumber the weaker ones and are to be savoured one by one. They drew me in, cast a spell over me and left me thinking about them long after I'd finished reading them.

Highly recommend to read the conversation with the author at the back of the book (where the quote in the title comes from)


Root of All Evil?: Making Spiritual Values Count
Root of All Evil?: Making Spiritual Values Count
by Antonia Swinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's wrong with our tax system, 12 Jun 2011
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This is an absorbing read for anyone with even half an interest in social justice. The answers to questions like Why is there such income disparity in our society? Why is the property market in the UK so dysfunctional? (for answers to both you just need to read Chapter 5) and other compelling questions of our time are described in laymen's terms in a highly readable account of the financial structure of the UK given by journalist, Antonia Swinson. I have long struggled with the work of land economist, Fred Harrison (most recently, The Predator Culture) and now at last I have found a straightforward explanation in terms I can really understand. The importance of land values in our tax regime has been neatly side-stepped by the prevailing orthodoxy of Neo-Classical economists. The author states that we need to "drag land back into people's consciousness as an urban resource" as the tax on land values is the only tax of any importance that does not distribute itself ie it can't be avoided. Pretty obvious really, when you think about it and why does it not happen? - vested interests. She's also pretty good on the "sick fiction of the 'housing ladder' which breeds constant discontent" and something called "preventive incantation" - ever had a so-called independent financial advisor say 'it never pays to be out of the market' - she exposes this for the shoddy piece of pyramid selling it truly is.

So why have I only given this profoundly important book (economically/politically/morally) only 4 stars. Well, an awful lot of people are going to be put off by the "God" references. She doesn't do it a lot but it does jolt you out of your grappling with the problems of mammon when she does. Also, she gets off to a very slow start. I really don't need to know about her various talks to Church groups or whatever around Scotland. But for anyone truly interested in the intractable problems of our time, she sheds new and original light on these areas.


Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery
Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery
by Jeanette Winterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly different, 17 April 2011
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This collection of essays on the Arts is a refreshingly different take on the place of culture in our lives. The first very witty analysis of the public art gallery experience reassuringly coincided with my own prejudices so I may not be too objective on that one. "Experiencing painting as moving pictures, out of context, disconnected, jostled, over-literary, with their endless accompanying explanations, over-crowded, one against the other, room on room, does not make it easy to fall in love." She then moves on to literature and the defining qualities of good writing, pithy observations on truly reading a text "I do not mean the endless dross-skimming that passes for literacy" (page 111). There is a lovely digression in the essay entitled "The Pyschometry of Books" about her passion for book collecting (pyschometry is the occult power of divining properties of things by mere contact!). Much of what she says will strike a chord and her engaging writing style is very entertaining. But it is a tough read and best taken in small doses


An Equal Music
An Equal Music
by Vikram Seth
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gentle take on life in a string quartet, 29 Dec 2010
This review is from: An Equal Music (Paperback)
This is a gentle understated story with an unhurried pace. The main characters are all classical musicians and the storyline can get a bit music tech heavy in places hence the four stars only. There is a very poetically described scene of mental anguish manifesting as stage fright which in other hands could have simply ended up being sensation grabbing but Seth manages to make it hang in convincingly with the general narrative and he's generated a high level of empathy in me for anyone who experiences such an incident. There is no tying up of loose ends but the book is all the more satisfying for not having a contrived ending. So in spite of being written over ten years ago and being 484 pages long, I think it still has plenty to say today if you want to take the time to read it.


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