This Storyteller Purrs – A Review of The Storyteller Speaks by Annika Perry

From the very first sentence I knew this would be a book review like no other!

“This is not about the war between lovers of dogs or cats. It’s about Annika Perry, a talented writer who works like a cat.”

As I continued to read Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s review of my book ‘The Storyteller Speaks’ I was increasingly awed by its imaginative approach, masterfully weaving the analogy throughout whilst describing my observation of human life, writing style, the book and some of the stories. 

Her favourite story is one close to my heart and she captures its essence beautifully. 

‘My favorite story is The Whiteout Years, and I’ve read it four times. Out of the gate, it captivated me with passages as lyrical as this one when Carl is driving through a winter storm, remembering his wife, Karin:

“A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be awed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the laden fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.”

While this scene describes the landscape surrounding Carl, it also describes his isolation from the world. Lost in the snowdrift of his grief over his wife’s death, he is blinded by silence and whiteness and can’t move on with his life. The threat of Carl’s possible death looms throughout the story.’

I am honoured and touched by this latest review of my book and I am sure you will be enthralled and captivated by Sharon’s unique review which you can read in full on Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s Ink Flare.

For this post I have turned off comments and look forward to your thoughts and discussions on Sharon’s blog. Thank you so much!

‘The Storyteller Speaks’ is available to buy on Amazon, here are the links for Amazon UK and Amazon US.

A Coastal Town’s Mystique

The old and the new sit easily side by side in this beautiful town on the east coast of England. Established as a borough in 1529, Aldeburgh was formerly a Roman settlement, then a small fishing village before prospering when the coastline opened up and brought trade and shipbuilding to the town. The North Sea connects across time, lapping now, as then, along the undulating shingle shoreline. 

Nature’s Art – Large piece of driftwood upon the beach.

I was here with my family for a quick break during school half-term and we were blessed with unexpectedly warm sunny days. It was heavenly and rejuvenating to enjoy this blissful weather, to feel so alive. 

Aldeburgh is famed for its music, literature and arts and it is the birthplace of the composer Benjamin Britten. He founded the famous Snape Maltings, ‘- a place of energy and inspiration, one of the world’s leading centres of music’ –  which is located nearby but we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from the sea views! 

No fears, there was more than enough to enjoy along this unique coastline. The hotel was a few steps from the beach, and it was fun to slip-slide along the shingles as we explored the area! From the waters edge we had a tantalising view of  the picturesque houses in all their various colours. Two-thirds are now holiday homes for private or rental use which must have an impact on the town as a whole.

The Mill Inn

‘The Mill Inn’ is a local pub dating back centuries and its dark beams and low ceiling provided an atmospheric setting for lunch. I sat back and imagined the shenanigans of the smugglers who frequented this establishment!

The Front of the historic Moot Hall

Opposite the pub is the striking and historic Moot Hall, which now stands proudly near the beach but at the time of being built would have been a mile from the coast. This wonderfully striking 16th-century building was the town hall and amazingly this is still its main purpose, as well as housing the town’s museum.

Set to one side is a stone seat, perfect for reclining and enjoying the view. My husband noticed the rusty sign above; the alcove was a place for people in the stocks to take a break before activities resumed! Luckily I could enjoy the long distance views in the knowledge that a calm and peaceful day lay ahead of me! 

Me enjoying a break in the sun on the stock stone seat.

The unusual clock on the building is actually a sundial and the motto translates as ‘I count only the sunny hours.’ Sounds ideal to me! 

Two incredible landmarks flag the most northerly and southerly points of Aldeburgh; one a magnificent historic relic from the Napoleonic era (1799-1815), the other very much of the modern world.

The Martello Tower marks the southern point of Aldeburgh beach and is one of 18 towers built along the Suffolk and Essex coastline to keep Napoleon out. This is not the first such tower I’ve encountered from visits to the coast and they are always an awesome sight, sitting by themselves, standing forty feet high with thick walls and wide roofs. I am sure they would have been an impressive sight to any potential invader.

The Martello Tower

In sharp contrast is the gleaming white dome just north of Aldeburgh.  The dome is a nuclear reactor – named Sizewell after the village nearby – and is one of 15 nuclear reactors in the UK.  I am in equal measure awed and unnerved whilst looking at the power station!

In between are the coastline and its treacherous waters. Here the sea harbours miles of sandbanks which are often swept by fierce gales which present a real danger to shipping and particularly so during the town’s heyday of its busy seaways in the 19th and 20th-centuries.

 Therefore it’s no surprise a lifeboat station has existed on the shore for over 150 years and its existence still plays a major part in the lives of the inhabitants. It was awe-inspiring to learn about the brave deeds of the men and women (all volunteers) of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). In the early years the wooden boats were powered by sail and oars and in 1899 one such rescue ship was overturned by a giant wave soon after being pushed out to sea. Tragically seven out of the eighteen crew died as they were fatally trapped beneath the hull. 

The aft of Aldeburgh’s Lifeboat ‘Freddie Cooper’

The modern-day lifeboat is an All-Weather Lifeboat (ALB) named  ‘Freddie Cooper’. This remarkable boat has been launched out to emergency situations seventeen times in the past two years whilst the inflatable lifeboat has been on thirteen missions. The courage required cannot be underestimated as the weather is often appalling and the crew face massive waves, reaching an incredible and daunting ten metres (thirty foot). Since its inception the lifeboat crews have saved the lives of nearly 700 people!

No travel post would be complete without a mention of the replenishments along the way and we treated ourselves to several  culinary delights throughout our break. As well as the pub, we enjoyed the first ice-cream of the year outside. Resting against the edge of a small wooden boat we enjoyed the delicious and rather large small scoop of maple and walnut ice-cream. The evening meal at the hotel was sublime; a delectable feast and we savoured every morsel. For dessert I could not resist the Crêpes suzettes with Grand Marnier, oranges and vanilla ice-cream

There are of course always gulls by the seaside and Aldeburgh was no exception; their evocative call creating a rush of happiness within me. I felt at home! At exactly the place I was meant to be!

Black-headed Gull – winter plumage
Black-headed Gull – Summer Plumage

Beaches are a haven of discarded objects, and the nautical theme from the array of boats around us continued as we came across this huge anchor resting on the shingle; the red and golden hues of its rusty exterior blended in perfectly with the coloured pebbles.

Thank you very much for joining me on this brief tour of my visit to Aldeburgh and I hope you found it enticing and enthralling; as you can tell I was, and am, thoroughly smitten with the town and outstanding coast! I will be back!  

I Remember

I remember the splash of the waves against the side of my grandfather’s wooden boat, my brother standing proudly by the mast.

I remember sitting in the back, snuggled like a chick under my mother’s arms, the sea salt and my long blond ponytail lashing my cheeks.

I remember being passed to land like a bag of sugar, an exulted terrified scream then the freedom of the warm rocks beneath my feet. Away I sped, an uninhabited island awaiting exploration by five-year-old me. 

I remember our trusted blue Opel Kadett swaying in the sling, over land, over the ship; a pendulum of our future. To stay, to go. Awed, fearful, I awaited its plunge to earth. 

I remember the car’s thudding descent to deck, the rousing cheer from family on shore, a cheer that turned to tears as the giant ship eased from the dock. 

I remember the confusion. Why cry at this adventure?

I remember my guilt. Should I cry too? A guilt often repeated. 

I remember the hastily arranged assembly. The morning’s floor wax still potent and sickening. A keening nausea as we heard the news. Mr Kewley died last night; the incomprehensible words sought comprehension in my nine-year-old heart and mind. 

I remember the poke in the chest, the verbal jibes, and the scornful faces. ‘Why aren’t you crying?’ they taunted. ‘He was your favourite teacher after all. Taught you all that creative writing rubbish.’

I remember the searing slurs.

I remember my silence. Shaking my head as I walked away, not shedding a tear. 

I remember once home just sitting on the sofa, stroking patterns of light and dark gold, the softness reassuring, safe. Not the usual TV or books. Just space. To think. Here the disbelief turned to truth. 

I remember my mother’s concerned questions. Then we rocked, me as a baby in her arms. We both wept at the loss. This was my first death; I had been lucky. 

I remember my first kiss, stolen across a lilo, the warm Mediterranean Sea lapping my body as I paddled languidly to land. My first kiss! A moment I will always remember, bubbling with excitement, with unadulterated joy of being so grown-up. 

I remember splashing along the shore, the air mattress dangling loosely in my grasp, ripples of emotions echoing into eternity.

I remember my feigned indignant recount of THE kiss to my mother. A secret I’d pressed like a diamond to my heart to treasure forever. A secret bursting to be shared. 

I remember her brief questions, her sweet smile. ‘We are meeting later,’ I declared. And so we did!

I remember the strums of the bouzouki, the warm light and night, seeing people on the dance floor, chatting at the tables. There he was! Heading over to me. Almost swooning, a maelstrom of emotions rushed through my body. We had a quick chat. He asked my age. ‘Fourteen,’ I replied nonchalantly. A surprised look flittered across his face then quickly vanished as he invited me and my family to meet his family. I was stricken!

I remember rueing my young age. 

I remember longing for its return. 

I remember a normal spring day, the German lesson in the Portakabin going as usual. My five friends and I. Unflappable Mrs Stockums at the front. As normal in the sixth form we discussed topics with ease and determination. 

I remember the quiet giggles. Who was it? Katy? Sally? Chris? As a fast moving contagion the laughter skipped from student to student. Side-bursting laughter. We tried to rein it in. Honestly. Amidst the uproarious chuckles, we cast furtive nervous glances to our teacher. Was she laughing too? Impossible!

I remember the cacophony of pure happiness. At life itself. Such a jubilant sound of innocence and delight at being. We barely dared look at one another, such was the danger of setting off another cascade of stomach-churning laughter. 

I remember the ache of my side, the slam on the teacher’s desk. ‘Go outside,’ she mumbled, pointing at the door. ‘Ten minutes then come back silently. And sit apart.’ The biting breeze startled us as we marched up and down, calming the inexplicable immersive laughter. It hadn’t quite disappeared but already I was mourning its departure. 

I remember those summers of sizzling sun, drifting in dinghies along thirsty riverbeds. 

I remember those school days, whether good or bad, always coddled at home.

I remember too much. 

I remember too little. 

© Annika Perry, February 2019

Elisabeth’s Lists: A Book Review

My signed copy of Elisabeth’s Lists: A Family Story by Lulah Ellender

There is a word in Japan for unread books left to pile up around one – tsundoku! I’m guilty of a few tsundoku collections of books; ones bought with well-meaning and tingling anticipation. Somehow they become unintentionally forgotten and lay precariously balanced with other books, dangling over the edge of shelves.

Often treasures of literature are hidden among these and this is the case for one such book which I recently extricated from a listing pile and eagerly I started to read the book.

‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ by Lulah Ellender is a gem! I was hooked from the very beginning and it is incredibly moving and thought-provoking.

The beautifully crafted book is an eloquent memoir based on the life of Lulah’s grandmother. A life recorded in meticulous detailed lists; lists which were entrusted to Lulah by her own mother. 

Elisabeth

The lists started during Elisabeth’s childhood whilst growing up in 1930s China. Just as her father was a diplomat, so was her husband, Gerry and her world travels continued into adulthood. The lists, many innocuous and of everyday items, included information about  packing, dinner parties, price of food and even the names of hens and number of eggs laid.  The lists are endless. A touching heirloom in their own right, they have been transformed into a moving and heartfelt book by Lulah. Her research and dedication are superlative and the end result is a sweeping and engrossing story of Elisabeth’s life.

Postings abroad included Madrid under Franco’s  regime, post-war Beirut and Rio. In sharp contrast Elisabeth endured the hardship and deprivation of bombings and food rationing in England during World War Two, whilst at the same time finding a certain peace and harmony as a normal suburban housewife, away from the hectic duties of a diplomat’s wife. Throughout the book the various eras are exquisitely captured and provide a vivid impression of the times.

It was not all a joyous time however, as occasional bouts of depression, some post-natal,  forced Elisabeth to seek medical care and time away from the family. Furthermore, a family tragedy darkened her life.

The author, Lulah Ellender

The book develops into a deeply profound study as Lulah weaves the threads of her own life and that of her mother into the memoir. The three generations of women effectively become the focus of this family story; their lives remarkably intertwined and the memoir gives not only insight and comfort about motherhood, family, and loss to Lulah but also to the reader. 

Even more heartbreaking and poignant is that the book is written whilst Lulah’s mother is terminally ill with the cancer; the very disease which killed Elisabeth when her daughter was only nine-years-old. As Lulah delves deeper into Elisabeth’s life she finds some solace and acceptance in her own life; a process which she describes with exceptional clarity and feeling.

As she must feel, I believe that without our past, our present is unclear, our future unnavigable.

To conclude, ’Elisabeth’s Lists’ is an enriching, gifted and rewarding book and one I highly recommend. 

I just want to add that I had the privilege of briefly meeting the author following a talk in March 2018 as part of Essex Book Festival. Her intelligence, warm and kind nature sparkled and she spoke with ease and confidence at great length without any notes whatsoever! 

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

AVAILABLE: From bookshops, libraries, online such as Amazon UK and Amazon US

Finally, if this book seems slightly familiar to you from my blog, I mentioned it briefly in May 2018 in my post Books in the Shingle.

The title page of ‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ with inscription to myself and signed by the author.

A LITERARY ROLL CALL

I thoroughly enjoyed the recent book discussion following my post ‘Reading Across Time’. Thank you for all your wonderful and fascinating suggestions of books to read for the various eras, particularly coming to my aid for pre 1300. 

As a list nerd, I’ve collated all the mentioned books as below for your enjoyment and perusal. I’ve also included who suggested the books and, when applicable, added links to their blogs. I feel lucky to have made so many warm and kind friends here on WordPress, happy to share their time and knowledge for an in-depth discourse. 

Please note that since this is a follow-up post comments have been turned off.

Pre 1300

Beowulf by Anonymous. Recommended by Dorothea & Julie Holmes

The Illiad by Homer. Recommended by Sharon Bonin-Pratt

The Odyssey by Homer. Sharon Bonin-Pratt

The Aeneid by Homer. Recommended by Sharon Bonin-Pratt

Edda by anonymous. Recommended by Miriam

The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg. Recommended by Miriam

Labyrinth by Kate Moss. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

Hilary Mantel books. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

Cadfael Novels by Ellis Peters. Recommended by Clive

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. Recommended by Mike

The Valley of Horses by Jean M Auel. Recommended by Jennifer Kelland Perry

The Greenest Branch: A Novel of Germany’s First Female Physician

by P K Adams. Recommended by Jena C. Henry

Born in a Treacherous Time by Jacqui. Recommended by Pamela Wight & Julie Holmes 

1300 – 1499

Decamaeron by Boccaccio. Recommended by Laura Bruno Lilly

1500 – 1699

The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

The Heresy of Dr Dee by Phil Rickman. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Recommended by Neil Scheinin

Passionate Minds by David Bodanis. Recommended by Rebecca

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes. Recommended by Nicki Chen

1700 – 1799

Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao XueQin. Recommended by Nicki Chen

1800 – 1899

Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwel. Recommended by Mike

Dostoyevsky novels by Dostoyevsky. Recommended by Jennifer Kelland Perry

Victorian Secrets 

read by Stephen Fry written by Oscar Wilde. Recommended by Rebecca

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Recommended by Khaya Ronkainen

My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother

by Eve LaPlante. Recommended by Bonnie A. McKeegan

1900 – 1919

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. Recommended by Rebecca

1920 – 1939

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell. Reading

1940 – 1959

Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk. READ (Barbara & Jennifer)

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. Recommended by Rebecca

Elisabeth’s Lists by Lulah Ellender. READ

A Killer in King’s Cove by Iona Whishaw. Recommended by Debra Purdy Kong

1960 – 1979

1980 – 1999

Little Fires Everywhere  by Celeste Ng. READ (& Jennifer)

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Recommended by Nicki Chen

2000 – Present

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay.  READ (& Mary Smith)

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian. Recommended by Nicki Chen

The Waiting Room by Emily Bleeker. Recommended by Glynis Jolly

Whispers by Dean Koontz. Recommended by Glynis Jolly

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

by John Carreyrou. Recommended by Mary Ann Niemczura

Them by Ben Sasse. Recommended by Mary Ann Niemczura

Marlie by Anneli Purchase. Recommended by Lori Virelli

Watching the Daisies: Life Lessons on the Importance of Slow

by Brigid P Gallagher. Recommended by Bonnie A. McKeegan

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. Recommended by Bonnie A.McKeegan

The Future

Fantasy / Other Worlds (an excellent additional era suggestion from Pamela Wight)

Books by D. Wallace Peach. Recommended by Pamela Wight

Finally:

A couple suggested How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – which covers many of these eras. Recommended by Josie Dom & Mackay

‘TO GLASS UNSHATTERING’*

Music is an integral part of our lives, winding its way into our souls even before our birth. The array of sounds touch us to the core, reflecting our emotions, creating unique feelings, supporting us through crises, lifting us to new heights of joy. The variety of music is infinite and the range of reactions it creates within us is never-ending. 

Lately I’ve been lucky enough to come across three pieces that sparked absolute awe within me, carrying me beyond the realm of the conscious to purity of just being. 

The first one is a favourite for buskers around the globe, with the haunting refrain echoing around shopping precincts, tumbling down cobbled alleyways. For some reason many see this as a ‘simple’ tune to sing. Nothing could be further from the truth; it demands deep soul-searching  from the singer, one so raw that the unadulterated passion is etched on the singer’s face, until the searing intensity of the song is felt by all. Jeff Buckley brought this Leonard Cohen song to millions around the world, and it was my favourite version until I saw this one below. 

Many thanks to Laurie Buchanan at Tuesday with Laurie  for introducing me to this breathtaking and heart-stopping ‘Hallelujah’ by K D Lang, which had me in tears in the end as the singer greets Leonard Cohen who is seated in the front row.

To lighten the mood my next tune is from on of my all time favourite songs; one that saw me through university and beyond. The first time I heard it was on a sunny day in Scotland (a rarity in itself as many of you will know) and it was one of those perfect days. Sitting on a window ledge with my legs dangling out I listened to this song for the first time as I watched the golfers at the 18th hole in St. Andrew’s. As I heard ‘Africa’ by Toto my spirits soared, life was technicoloured glorious!

Recently, I came across a new piano version of the song. The energy and vitality of Peter Bence, the pianist, is contagious, his enjoyment totally absorbing and fervent. Who knew the inventive sounds of a grand piano? For many musicians the piano lid bangs and the pulling of the piano strings might be cringe-inducing … but wow! The ultimate sound is spellbinding and unforgettable! 

The final offering is one of the most original and eye-catching lyric videos I’ve come across. It is particularly apt for all writers out there and has a marvellous retro feel to it. The message of the song is both stirring and heartfelt, the tenderness and beauty of both the music and lyrics merging to the sublime. I hope you enjoy ‘Taste’ by Sleeping at Last as much as I do and many thanks to Sue Dreamwalker who introduced me to this song on her post Fixing From The Inside ~ To fix the Outside.

Before the video, here is just a taste of the chorus:

‘To fists unraveling, to glass unshattering.
To breaking all the rules, to breaking bread again.
We’re swallowing light, we’re swallowing our pride.
We’re raising our glass, ’til we’re fixed from the inside.

Thank you so much for listening to this musical interlude, and as always I look forward to your comments and discussions! 

*From ‘Taste’ by Sleeping At Last.

Reading Across Time

I’ve never needed any encouragement to read books! When very young I recall looking at the pictures, longing to read the words beneath. Of course there were lots of children’s books, my favourite comic, all read to me. One set of four books though fascinated me, weighty tomes, even more so for four-year-old me, as I lugged the encyclopaedia, one at a time, from the shelf, to my bunk bed, and sat intensely perusing the images, running my fingers under the words, imagining their wisdom. Occasionally I would ask my  older brother to decipher some of the script … although I made sure never to avail myself of his help too often. I did not want to tire him with my neediness!

Over the years I’ve kept numerous notebooks of the books I’ve read,  made various lists, created my own small reading challenges. However, it was only though blogging that I discovered the plethora of reading challenges out there! All are wonderfully inventive and so tempting. However,  I’ve only taken up a main one so far, the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Here you set your own target for the number of books you hope to read in that one year and duly note each one down when finished and possibly add a review.  This challenge not only encourages more reading, but is accessible to other members to look at and it is also an excellent record of books read! My biggest haul one year was 91, the least 52. Still, I met my targets and it is interesting to see how the reading fluctuates. Some bloggers are a tour de force in this challenge and Jacqui Murray at worddreams… managed to read a phenomenal 222 books last year! Congratulations!

Some other challenges are centred around genre, or a famous book, or even the alphabet.

The ‘When Are You Reading?’ challenge intrigued me straight away by the concept of reading a book set in  twelve different eras. Not too ambitious, effectively a book a month, this is one I think I can manage. It’s not too difficult to discover a book for the later timelines and as you will see I am already well on the way to completing four time periods. However, what can I read for the pre-1300s 1400-1599, etc? The mind boggles. I may have to turn to Chaucer for one. Do you have any book recommendations to help me out for any of the eras? 

I learned about the challenge from Mary Smith at Mary Smith’s Place as she joined in for the first time this year. She had read about the challenge on ‘Taking on a World of Words’.

To take part you need to read a book set in each of the following eras, and it is up to you to determine which these are. The suggestion is to choose a year where the largest part of the action or the most important event occurs.

Below are the time eras and I have filled in some with the books I have read/nearly finished for four of the timelines. 

  • Pre 1300 
  • 1300 – 1499
  • 1500 – 1699
  • 1700 – 1799
  • 1800 – 1899
  • 1900 – 1919
  • 1920 – 1939 The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell… still reading – an Ebook – NetGalley
  • 1940 – 1959   Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk … still reading Ebook
  • 1960 – 1979
  • 1980 – 1999 Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (read January 2019) Paperback
  • 2000 – Present This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay  (read January 2019) Paperback
  • The Future

I must admit I rarely tackle four books simultaneously, however the books themselves are so diverse, and owing to the style and content ensured I needed a change of pace and variety.

The dark gothic mystery of ‘A Devil Aspect ‘ by Craig Russell is not my usual genre but asked by the publisher to review this on behalf of NetGalley I could not refuse. Set mainly in the 1930s in Czechoslovakia it is an intense, at times terrifying book. One far too frightening to read at night! Yet the ideas, the merging of the current political instability with the madness of the six homicidal lunatics is intoxicating.  These criminals are incarcerated in the bleakest of prisons and a young psychiatrist travels to see them and unravel their secrets. Meanwhile, in Prague a new serial murderer is at large, his crimes so barbaric it seems they could only be committed by the Devil himself. The city of Prague is incredibly atmospheric and captured in all its layers of beauty and darkness whilst the characters are vivd and intense. 

Many thanks to Barbara at Book Cub Mom for introducing me to ‘Youngblood Hawke’ by Herman Wouk; when it made her most favourite book ever I just had to read it. Do take a look at her review here.

It is a worthy literary opus and runs to nearly 800 pages in paperback. I’m finding it utterly compelling, wonderfully descriptive and the book reaches into the mind and emotions of the young writer, his early success, the crazy ensuing life, battle to control his sense of self. It recreates the era brilliantly but I need an occasional rest from it and hence my more modern books of the past two weeks.

One of these is ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay This a factual book about the ‘life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you.’ I read this book in 24 hours and haven’t stopped talking about it since and there is now a queue in our house to read it next. Although at times hysterically funny the book is ultimately a serious indictment of the numerous governments and their (mis-)handling of the NHS over the years. I feel deep despair at the lack of respect and treatment of the medical staff from the highest level. Whilst laughing at the insanely comic situations (some in graphic detail) I am not sure anyone considering starting a family should read the book – it would have terrified me. Not for the faint-hearted but a very well-written book portraying the harsh reality for NHS hospital doctors.

“Tuesday, 5 July 2005 Trying to work out a seventy-year-old lady’s alcohol consumption to record in the notes. I’ve established that wine is her poison. Me: ‘And how much wine do you drink per day, would you say?’ Patient: ‘About three bottles on a good day.’ Me: ‘OK . . . And on a bad day?’ Patient: ‘On a bad day I only manage one.” 
― Adam Kay, ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ 

What books are you currently reading? Are you participating in any Reading Challenges? Would you be tempted to take part in ‘When Are You Reading’ challenge? If so, please click here to learn more and sign up!


SINGULARITY

For many years I have been an avid reader of Maria Popova’s learned articles. She is a gifted writer and created Brain Pickings in 2006 to cover such diverse topics as literature, philosophy, science and art. Since 2012 Brain Pickings has had the honour of being included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive.

In one recent article readers were introduced to the wonderful poet Marie Howe and her poem ‘Singularity’. Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s work, the poem was written to a short deadline; a daunting undertaking for someone whose creations are often years in the making.

The incredible and striking poem would not leave me and I hope you find it equally as thought-provoking. Below the poem is a video with an explanation and reading of ‘Singularity’.

SINGULARITY

by Marie Howe

          (after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.
   Remember?


There was no   Nature.    No
them.   No tests

to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up   to what we were
— when we were ocean    and before that

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock
was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all — nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All   everything   home

Finally, I want to thank everyone for the beautiful and thoughtful comments on my previous post. Owing to a viral infection morphing into a nasty and debilitating chest infection I, along with the whole family, are unfortunately ill. I will reply when possible and return fully to blogging when better.

“The Secrets of Living” *

* “may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living.”
e.e. cummings

I’m neither a twitcher nor even an avid bird-watcher, yet I delight in the aviary activity in the garden as well as out and about in nature!

Whilst enjoying a break on the swing bench it’s a joy to see the birds flying with precision and speed to the feeder, some darting back and forth for a quick nibble, whilst others hog the stand for minutes at an end.

In the woods other birds swoop between the trees, their calls echoing around the neighbourhood.

Travelling abroad is always a revelation and this is true for the birds encountered. I will never forget the spectacle in Florida of pelicans flying eye-level past the balcony on numerous occasions, almost within touching distance. The sense of awe was phenomenal.

In today’s world the natural environment competes with digital elements of our lives. We seem increasingly time poor as screens easily win the battle for our attention. It would be a bleak and empty future if the wonder of nature and animals is lost to the latest generation.

In an attempt to combat this possibility, Denzil Walton has written a book to share his knowledge and experience of bird watching with children. Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is written for adults caring for children and gives advice on how to tempt children away from their screens to the outside world. In this first of a series of Encourage a Child the author begins by showing adult how to best bring the world of birds alive for children.

At first I was slightly sceptical. Surely it is just a matter of heading out and pointing at the birds! I could not be more wrong!

The book is highly informative, detailed and well-written. It is aimed for children from seven to twelve years old, however I feel it is relevant for both younger and older age groups. To be honest, I have found lots of helpful information for myself and made notes for future reference. Whilst the book concentrates on birdlife in Western Europe there are also many references to birds in America and Australia.

The book teaches us the difference between merely looking at birds and watching them with real engagement. The explanations are clear whilst still detailed. The format is easy to read and absorb, with sections broken up with a summary list of suggested questions to ask the child. There are ten chapters in all which progress from the basic bird watching, to feeding, caring, closer viewing through binoculars, taking notes etc. Later in the book various excellent project ideas are described and there are some for all age groups. In addition the personal anecdotes makes this a highly engaging and approachable book.

The information within the book includes the best viewing places, such as observing a swan from a bridge which allows the young person “to be able to see the swan’s large webbed feet, frantically paddling away, while on top the swan looks perfectly serene and calm.” Furthermore, Denzil Walton advices adults to teach children to “use mnemonics to memorise bird songs and calls.” The book explains the difference between bird calls and bird songs and suggest that listening to these will help children appreciate classical music such as Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

The writer’s in-depth knowledge is superb and gives us nuggets of fascinating information. This ranges from becoming involved in bird census counts (the RSPB one in the UK has over half a million members) to learning the interesting fact that peregrine falcons reach speeds of 150 mph as they fly to knock another bird out of the sky! Furthermore I learned how to buy the best bird book and how to choose the right pair of binoculars. A quick hint, it’s not all about magnification!

The book helpfully includes a link to Encourage A Child website where there are many other numerous resources. I must hasten to add, the irony is not lost to the author of an ebook and website to encourage young people outside … I would argue that internet research is both unavoidable and imperative in today’s world.

Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is great aid and inspiration for all those looking after children with wonderful suggestions for appreciating bird life and I believe that not only parents, grandparents will find this extremely helpful but also nursery and school teachers etc. My only quibble is the lack images of birds, which I appreciate may be down to copyright, cost issues. However, as a result of reading the book I was inspired to print out lots of images myself from the internet for reference!

Watching birds is a wonderful and relaxing break from our busy and hectic lives and I’m confident that Denzil Walton’s wish to help give a child ‘resilience for stress later in life’ will be fulfilled through this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ebook of Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is available on Smashwords and also here on Amazon UK & Amazon US.

Note: I received the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Finally, I’d like to share a short video of bird life in my garden, centred around a couple of the feeders. Enjoy!

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” Chinese proverb.

The photos are all by myself from my garden apart from the first one which is courtesy of pixaby.com.

CHRISTMAS DREAMS

As many of us are looking forward to the festive season I wanted to share a Christmas song that’s been with me these past few days. As you travel to see loved ones, as you prepare the food for special lunches and dinners, as you wrap those last minute presents, enjoy this piano cover of Fairytale of New York.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and heartfelt thanks for all your support & comments this year – it’s been a privilege and joy to get to know you!