Friday, 22 August 2014

Giordano Bruno by Alois Riehl / Anne Of Green Gables by L M Montgomery / Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Giordano Bruno: In Memoriam of the 17th February 1600Giordano Bruno: In Memoriam of the 17th February 1600 by Agnes Fry Alois Riehl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This potted biography of the philosopher Giordano Bruno is from 1905 and was the ForgottenBooks book of the day some weeks ago. At just 100 pages, it is a swift read, giving an outline of Bruno's together with an overview of his remarkably accurate insights into the make-up of the universe.

Bruno has turned up in two historical fiction novels - Name Of The Rose and Prophecy - I read last year so this short book helped to fill in factual details for me. I think I now understand the main gist of his discoveries too. The writing is quite formal and old-fashioned, but once I got into its flow, the book was an interesting read and I was amazed at the modernity of the ideas being discussed during the time of Elizabeth!

The great shame is the fear with which Bruno's ideas were widely greeted and the religious intolerance that killed him. What other ground breaking theories might he have developed if allowed to live his full lifetime?

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know I read Anne of Green Gables as a child, but I can’t remember now how I felt about the book at the time. I am sure I must at least have enjoyed discovering so many long words! Revisiting the tale now, thanks to AudioSYNC, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable listen and this Post Hypnotic Press version benefits from the excellent narration skills of Colleen Winton.

Orphan Anne is delightfully infuriating and I also love Rachel Lind whose immense self-belief reminded me of Miss Mapp. We meet many Avonlea characters, all convincingly real people, and the clever portrayal of the changing seasons as Anne grows up makes it easy to picture how life must have been within the community. I do think the story loses some of its spark once Anne reaches Queens. I missed the interplay between her and the Cuthberts and that whole year seemed to go by too fast with hardly any of the detail that makes the earlier chapters so fascinating.

Much like Black Beauty, which I also not so long ago revisited, the writing contains an overwhelming amount of moralising and bold statements about correct behaviour. I suppose, reading some thirty years ago, I would have been so used to being told what to do day to day that this would have seemed normal. However reading as an adult, I was surprised at the sheer volume of rigid demands. I had not remembered Anne Of Green Gables being such a bossy book!

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Code Name Verity far more than I expected too and have even been eagerly anticipating my commutes TO work as much as those from, just so I could listen to the next 45 minutes of the story.

I was a little uncertain when the story switches viewpoints in the middle as I felt it had come to a natural close. However, within a few minutes we were swooping off again, surely much like being in Dympna's Puss Moth! The characters are great and brilliantly narrated in the Bolinda audio version I heard - thanks to AudioSYNC yet again. I loved the twisting plot which has its very dark moments, but is a joy as it begins to unravel, and Elizabeth Wein does a great job of making her locations both real and atmospheric. At the end, Elizabeth herself talks briefly about her inspirations and research and, believe me, that research shows through in the authenticity of her tale.

Code Name Verity is feminist historical fiction that manages to entertain and inform without preaching or being dry. Highly recommended to younger and older adult listeners/readers.

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

I've been given a beetroot!

Which isn't something I get to say every day! Big thanks to Maisie-at-work for the gift from
her allotment. I'm looking forward to the eating of it in my salad lunches next week.

For anyone else who’s counting as well, I’m down to just ten working days to go already! I am a tiny bit torn as I’m enjoying Procurement and my colleagues seem to appreciate me. I got a lovely email earlier in the week from Alison-upstairs which really made my day: “Thanks so much for all your help Stephanie. I shall miss you when you go.” Alison is working on the Pevensey Food and Wine Festival and the Coast and Country Walking Festival, both of which look fun btw and we’re planning to be at the Food and Wine one on the Saturday. The Cajun Dawgs are playing around lunchtime!

Alison’s comment reminded me of one of the themes in Cmdr Chris Hadfield’s autobiography, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. You might remember I listened to this on Audible a few months ago. He spoke of aiming to “be a zero” in any team situation; the options being to be a minus-one (causing more work than you do), to be a zero (neutral), or to be a plus-one (always positively contributing to the team). Obviously actually being a plus-one is the ideal, but Chris gives great examples of when his over-enthusiastically striving for this led to generally being a PITA to colleagues! Now he believes that aiming for zeroship is the most effective way to work and his explanation is inspiring. The best impressions can often be made without rocking the boat. Hopefully my colleagues will remember me as a zero too!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Closing the musical circle

Blues skies again after the rain
Dave played guitar regularly at the Six Bells Folk and Blues Club and at White Horse Folk amongst others up until a couple of years ago and it was due to these Sussex folk club gatherings that we initially found each other. At the beginning, I was nervously singing a cappella and Dave is an amazing guitarist so a mutual friend suggested we make sweet music together! I gave up on the singing fairly soon afterwards – too scary! – but some eleven-and-a-half years later, our relationship is still going strong. Awww!

I mention this because were invited to an unusual party yesterday which was also attended by several friends who have been around since ‘the beginning’. The party was unusual for two reasons: firstly because the hosts, our friends Simon and Lesley, rarely give big parties; and secondly because the venue was a dramatic Moroccan-style marquee erected in their paddock. (The ponies were relegated to a corner of their normal space, but didn't seem to mind too much!) For me, the event seemed particularly apt as the closing of a circle, this part of our lives being marked by similar music and company to its inception. We weren’t sure who would be there but as it turned out, we were given the chance to say our goodbyes to people we might not otherwise have seen before we departed. Dave hardly left the stage for the first couple of hours. He was in demand to accompany others and I was so proud seeing and hearing him play.

Dave Greene and Simon Watt playing the marquee

Monday, 11 August 2014

Spiced poached pears recipe

I mentioned our never-ripening pears a few posts ago and, in order to prevent them being
Pears poached in red wine 
all blown to the ground by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, we've started poaching them this week. This recipe is very simple - basically everything in one pan and then leave it to simmer. The ingredients below will generously serve two and the pears are just as good eaten cold as warm.

2 firm pears
1 cup water
1/2 cup red wine
3 tbsp honey
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp lemon juice

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Put them into a saucepan with all the other ingredients, bring to the start of a boil, then lower the heat and leave to simmer gently for about an hour.
If preferred, you can then remove the cooked pears and boil the sauce down to a thick syrup. Serve with cream or ice cream.

The great thing about poaching is that it seems to work better for unripe pears than for ripe ones. I like to use Conference pears because they still keep their flavour even through the wine. If you don't eat them all straight away, the reddened quarters look fabulous on an upside-down cake or in a tarte.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

I do like to be beside the seaside

We had a lovely day out in Hastings yesterday, wandering along the shingle by the fishing
A view from Hastings beach 
boats and doing our own trawling in the multitude of antique shops and independent boutiques. I saw the most gorgeous long beaded waistcoat which fitted and was only £18. I couldn't decide when I would ever wear it so it is still there - if you're looking for one?

We made the trip because Dave's daughters were visiting for the weekend. I was impressed with Southern Rail's Groupsave ticket which gor the four of us from Polegate to Hastings and back for £19.60 without any delays, and without having to risk our new car's suspension in that ramshackle car park past the Stade. I was less impressed by the Buskers Festival which I had seen advertised for the whole afternoon and thought would be entertaining. We had imagined four or five little acoustic areas, each with a roster of invited players and maybe a variety of stalls in between. What we actually got was a couple of acoustics balefully attempting to be heard over the PA from a single stage where, as we arrived, a woman was murdering the Skyfall theme. There wasn't even any audience seating in front of said stage to encourage us to hang around. We wandered on to see actual fishermen on actual fishing boats - I love that Hastings is a working fishing town and long may it remain so. I was briefly reminded of Alvor harbour which has a similar sized fleet.

We lunched at Isabella where we were served excellent Turkish meze dishes. Our first choice of Harris' Tapas restaurant has sadly closed down, but they recommended us to Isabella and I'm so pleased they did! Make sure to have the Saksuka if you visit. Then more wandering including buying a handful of greetings cards from a tiny gallery, and a couple of gorgeously almond-scented soaps. Dave spotted a divine vintage picnic set in its own case with delicate china plates and metal cutlery. We would have needed staff to carry it around for us, together with table, chairs, linen and appropriate foods, in order to do it real justice though. Maybe in another lifetime!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Flotsam by Troy Blackford / Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss / The Scare by Robert Shaw

FlotsamFlotsam by Troy Blackford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Twitter friend mentioned Flotsam this morning and, intrigued, I clicked through, read other reviews and bought the collection straight away. The six short stories are probably best described as dystopian-fantasy-scifi-horror. Pretty genre defying! It's also just 59 pages so easy to devour in one sitting.

The first offering, The Oblong Man, is only a single page so more of a sketched idea than a full story, but the other five are good and, at working out at just 30p each on Kindle, well worth the price! My particular favourites are On Another Level and Three Types Of People.

Thanks for the tip @HeatherDorcas

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to PunctuationEats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

I didn't read Eats, Shoots and Leaves when it was first published although I do remember the incredible hype surrounding its release. Now, over a decade later, I am left wondering what all the fuss was about. As a grammar stickler myself I do often wince at real howlers, but to be fussy to the extent that Truss claims to be? Life is surely too short?

The most interesting passages are where the history of the various punctuation marks and their uses are described. The fluidity of the English language is always fascinating to me. On the whole, however, I found this book to be just a little dull.

The ScareThe Scare by Robert Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Scare is an American high school horror tale with an interesting mix of contemporary and gothic settings. It does get gory and very sexual so unsuitable for younger teens. The characters are well drawn considering how many there are and, although a misogynistic boys-protecting-girls theme keeps recurring, the female characters are allowed to do more than just pout, scream and die! I particularly liked Shaw's descriptions and imagery. His story is not stunningly original, but makes for an entertaining escapist read.

This book was recommended to me on Twitter back in May and I've unfortunately forgotten who by. If you happen to read this review, please make yourself known - I like your taste in fiction!

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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Potential stopping off points in western France

It seems a lifetime ago since I was last counting down the working days left before undertaking a wonderful adventure. In reality, not even a single year has passed. I am amazed to think back on everything that we have achieved in such a short space of time and, of course, how much our outlooks and dreams have changed in response to our travels.

Dave has been doing a fantastic job over the past few weeks of outlining our journey for the
Sunset rocks at Tregastel 
autumn and winter ahead. Obviously, our plans are still up in the air until we get definite confirmation on the house sale, but there has been much pencilling in going on nonetheless. We believe we will start in France this year, travelling down the west coast from St Malo to see the standing stones and dolmens around Carnac. We have planned before to visit this ancient site, having got close(ish) when we camped on the Pink Granite Coast around Perros-Guirec and Tregastel in 2010. I only recently discarded a pretty biscuit tin I purchased in a Regional Products shop in Tregastel – the biscuits, of course, having vanished far more quickly. I do love a Regional Products shop! However back then we only had a couple of weeks and liked the peninsula so much that we didn’t venture further afield. This year will be our chance. Our friends Steve & Frances kindly lent us their guidebooks which are crammed with information and evocative photographs. I can’t wait!

Other potential stopping-off points include the Ile de Re just off the coast by La Rochelle. Every review we have read of this island heavily sings its praises and hopefully the mass influx of summer tourism will have quietened down some by mid-September. Keep up with my blog to discover if we are as enamoured by the idyllic villages and harbour fronts! I’ve just remembered that I need to check out photos of the bridge ahead of the journey there. I have an illogical phobia of high bridges (and lower bridges and bridges with gaps between the planks and …). Do you remember the scene in GBH where Michael Palin’s character doesn’t drive over the bridge? Well, I’m not quite that bad, but images of a trio of panic-inducing moments from last winter are flashing though my thoughts as I type this now! The road to Sopalmo definitely takes the prize, but that’s because I didn’t drive to the Civil War guns situated high above the sea between Puerto de Mazarron and Cartagena. If Dave hadn’t had the wheel, we would not have got there! That is somewhere I wouldn’t mind returning to though and this time with a torch so we can actually walk around under the guns and see the firing mechanisms.

There’s so much world to see!

Thank goodness I've only twenty-one working days left – and, yes, I’ve already deducted the Bank Holiday!