Throwback Thursday: Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

Today I’m looking back at my post on Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill. I first reviewed it on March 15, 2018.

My review begins:

I was delighted on Sunday when my son gave me Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill as a Mother’s Day present. I read it straight away and loved it. The cover shows Churchill’s painting of his home, Chartwell. Churchill was forty when he first started to paint at ‘a most trying time‘ in his life and art became his passion and an ‘astonishing and enriching experience‘.

Click here to read my full review

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for June 2, 2022.

New Additions to BooksPlease

Yesterday we went Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop (this is a secondhand bookshop where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves). It’s only the second time we’ve visited since January 2020 before the first lockdown.

It’s almost back to ‘normal’ now, so there was no queue to get in. Some people, but not all, were wearing face masks and it was busy, busier than I would have liked and in some sections such as crime fiction and paperback fiction in particular where the bookcases are close together, people were crowded together choosing books, so I didn’t linger, as I would normally do. Consequently I didn’t get any crime fiction books. I did manage to get three historical novels, seizing the opportunity when people had moved away.

I took back 18 books and brought home 6, so I’m still in credit:

The descriptions are from Amazon and from top to bottom the books are:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, the first book in the Troy series.

There was a woman at the heart of the Trojan War whose voice has been silent – until now. Discover the greatest Greek myth of all – retold by the witness that history forgot . . . Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is a slave to the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive to become the author of her own story?

The King’s Witch – this is historian, Tracy Borman’s debut novel.

As she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth, Frances Gorges longs for the fields and ancient woods of her parents’ Hampshire estate, where she has learned to use the flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer.

Frances is happy to stay in her beloved countryside when the new King arrives from Scotland, bringing change, fear and suspicion. His court may be shockingly decadent, but James’s religion is Puritan, intolerant of all the old ways; he has already put to death many men for treason and women for witchcraft.

So when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to court, she is trapped in a claustrophobic world of intrigue and betrayal – and a ready target for the twisted scheming of Lord Cecil, the King’s first minister. Surrounded by mortal dangers, Frances finds happiness only with the precocious young Princess Elizabeth, and Tom Wintour, the one courtier she can trust.

Nucleus by Roy Clemens – the second in the Tom Wilde series. I’ve already read book 1, Corpus and book 4, Hitler’s Secret.

June 1939. England is partying like there’s no tomorrow . . . but the good times won’t last. The Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, in Germany Jewish persecution is widespread and, closer to home, the IRA has embarked on a bombing campaign.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, in Germany Otto Hahn has produced man-made fission and an atomic device is now possible. German High Command knows Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is also close, and when one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is drawn into the investigation. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin, and from the US to Ireland, can he discover the truth before it’s too late?

The Sound of Laughter: the Autobiography of Peter Kay – this is my husband’s choice, but I like Peter Kay too, so I’ll probably read this one too.

Peter Kay’s unerring gift for observing the absurdities and eccentricities of family life has earned himself a widespread, everyman appeal. These vivid observations coupled with a kind of nostalgia that never fails to grab his audience’s shared understanding, have earned him comparisons with Alan Bennett and Ronnie Barker.

In his award winning TV series’ he creates worlds populated by degenerate, bitter, useless, endearing and always recognisable characters which have attracted a huge and loyal following.In many ways he’s an old fashioned kind of comedian and the scope and enormity of his fanbase reflects this. He doesn’t tell jokes about politics or sex, but rather rejoices in the far funnier areas of life: elderly relatives and answering machines, dads dancing badly at weddings, garlic bread and cheesecake, your mum’s HRT…

His autobiography is full of this kind of humour and nostalgia, beginning with Kay’s first ever driving lesson, taking him back through his Bolton childhood, the numerous jobs he held after school and leading up until the time he passed his driving test and found fame. 

And finally two books on painting – both to encourage me to actually do some painting, rather than just reading about it.

Painting with Acrylics by Jenny Rodwell – 27 Acrylics Painting Projects, Illustrated Step-By-Step With Advice on Materials and Techniques with demonstrations of how to paint a variety of project, such as landscapes, portraits and still life etc.

Paint and Draw with Tony Hart – I remember enjoying watching Tony Hart’s TV programmes. This book contains 50 projects in a variety of materials – oil, watercolour, acrylic, gouache, pastel, crayon and other material. It looks excellent.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Rain by Melissa Harrison

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’ve just started reading Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison, a ‘meditation on the English landscape in wet weather.’ She describes four walks in the rain over four seasons, across Wicken Fen, Shropshire, the Darent Valley and Dartmoor.

The Book begins with an Introduction:

What does rain mean to you? Do you see it as a dreadful inconvenience, a strange national obsession, or an agricultural necessity? We love to grumble about it, yet we invent dozens of terms to describe it and swap them gleefully; it trickles through our literature from Geoffrey Chaucer to Alice Oswald, and there are websites and apps that mimic its sound, soothing us while we work or sleep. Rain is what makes the English countryside so green and pleasant; it’s also what swells rivers, floods farms and villages and drives people out of their homes.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56 is in the chapter about her walk in the Darent Valley, in Kent, in August:

Behind the cumulonimbus currently discharging itself over the Darent Valley, more are forming; the afternoon will see thunder and lightning over much of the south-east of England, including London, less than twenty miles away.

Synopsis from Amazon UK:

Whenever rain falls, our countryside changes. Fields, farms, hills and hedgerows appear altered, the wildlife behaves differently, and over time the terrain itself is transformed.

In Rain, Melissa Harrison explores our relationship with the weather as she follows the course of four rain showers, in four seasons, across Wicken Fen, Shropshire, the Darent Valley and Dartmoor.

Blending these expeditions with reading, research, memory and imagination, she reveals how rain is not just an essential element of the world around us, but a key part of our own identity too.

I think I’m going to enjoy this book.

About the Author:

Melissa Harrison is a novelist, children’s author, journalist and nature writer. She contributes a monthly Nature Notebook column to The Times, and also writes regularly for the FT Weekend, the Guardian and the New Statesman. Her most recent novel, All Among the Barley, was the UK winner of the European Union Prize for Literature. It was a Waterstones Paperback of the Year and a Book of the Year in the Observer, the New Statesman and the Irish Times. At Hawthorn Time was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, while Rain: Four Walks in English Weather was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize.

How to Catch a Mole by Marc Hamer

Longlisted for the Wainwright Book Prize 2019, How to Catch a Mole and Find Yourself in Nature is a beautiful book by Marc Hamer and illustrated by Joe McLaren. It is part memoir, part a nature study of the British Countryside, part poetry, and, of course, about moles. It is a mine of information. After leaving school Marc Hamer was homeless for a while, then worked on the railway, before returning to education and studying fine art in Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent. He has worked in art galleries, marketing, graphic design and taught creative writing in a prison before becoming a gardener. And before writing this book he had been a traditional molecatcher for years.

I read the book in January and have been wondering what to write about it, mulling it over in my mind. I’ve made several attempts to write this post as it’s not a straight forward non fiction book. He tells the story of his life intermingled with that of the mole, writing about what his life as a molecatcher was like, how it affected him and why eventually he decided to stop. The result is that this book is a mix of recollections and information about moles. He doesn’t write his recollections in chronological order – the harder he tries to remember, the more his memory seems to shift and change as though he is looking into a kaleidoscope where the colours remain the same and although the patterns are slightly different every time, the picture remains true to itself.

He no longer catches moles and says:

Molecatching is a traditional skill that has given me a good life but I am old and tired of hunting and it has taught me what I wanted to learn.

I’ve only seen a mole once when our cat caught what I think, sadly, was a baby one, and I know very little about them. Our garden has mole hills on the edges of it, piles of earth that the moles have turned over, and dug to a fine crumb – ‘the kind of damp rich earth that farmers and gardeners love for its texture and nutrients.’ So, I’m comfortable with having moles in the garden.

Not everybody is happy about them, however as Hamer points out:

Apparently sane people lose sleep over the chaos the moles create. We do not like to lose control of our property it makes us feel uncomfortable, impermanent, weak. Moles can ruin domestic lawns, and I have seen real hatred developing in homeowners as they lose control and ownership of their gardens. An obsession grows and an endless, unwinnable war can take over their lives. (pages 17-18)

Moles are small and powerful, moving at speed in their tunnels hunting worms and digging about 20 metres of tunnel in a day. They pack the soil into the roof and walls, pushing the soil ahead until there is too much to push and then make a diversion pushing the earth out onto the surface making a molehill. They go where the worms go. I was fascinated by this fact:

In times of plenty a mole will dig a little room in the wall of his tunnel, then gather lots of worms and bite their heads off, leaving them all knotted together in a section of tunnel. We call this the worm larder; it is a fairly common sight. A tunnel system could have any number of worm larders. (pages 202-203)

I was also interested in his thoughts on gardening. Here are a few extracts:

Gardening is not nature: it is using the laws of nature and science to impose our will on a place; and for some people this need for control goes to extremes. (page 19)

As a gardener I do not dig any more: I hoe off the weeds and top-dress the gardens in autumn with compost just as nature does with falling leaves and grasses. This keeps the moisture in and the weeds suppressed; it allows the worms to break up hard soil and increases microbial activity, allowing life to expand its range, and lets air and water into the soil. Moles do this for us. Some gardeners still double-dig, but more and more people are coming to understand the importance of microbes and fungi, and often see digging as destructive and prefer to stay off the soil to avoid compacting it. (pages 58-59)

And

A fine-looking garden is a sterile place. A perfect green lawn is only kept that way by continually dousing it with chemicals. A lawn that is not treated will naturally become home to a massive number of species of birds and worms and native wild plants, crane-fly larvae, beetles, invertebrates. (page 223)

I don’t usually include so many quotations and such lengthy ones, but I’ll end with one more quotation:

Having worked all my life, created a family, discovered a home, I feel as secure as a working-class man ever feels, and I feel a sense of equality again with the crow and the toad and the hawthorn, with the rain and wind. I am them and they are me. . . . I am just another animal, another tree, another wild flower in the meadow among billions of others. . . . There is something deeply magnificent in being just ordinary. (page 115)

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harvill Secker; 1st edition (4 April 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1787301249
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1787301245
  • Source: Borrowed from my son
  • My Rating: 5*

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m currently reading two long books, one nonfiction and the other fiction, so it will be some time before I can read another book. But I’m thinking of read Out of Africa by Karen Blixen next.

The Book Begins:

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘After Kamante had become a Christian he was no longer afraid to touch a dead body.

Summary:

‘I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills . . . Up in this high air you breathed easily . . . you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.’

From the moment Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya in 1914 to manage a coffee plantation, her heart belonged to Africa. Drawn to the intense colours and ravishing landscapes, Blixen spent her happiest years on the farm, and her experiences and friendships with the people around her are vividly recalled in these memoirs.

Out of Africa is the story of a remarkable and unconventional woman, and of a way of life that has vanished for ever.  (Goodreads)

~~~

What have you been reading lately?

Throwback Thursday: The Perfect Summer

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

Today I’m looking back at my post on The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson a book I loved. I first reviewed it on October 29, 2009. It focuses on the period from May, when King George V was crowned, to September, describing the minutiae of everyday life of both the rich and the poor. 

My review begins:

The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson is a fascinating look at life in Britain during the summer of George V’s Coronation year, 1911.

When I finished reading this book I decided that the summer of 1911 was not “the perfect summer”. It was one of the hottest years of the twentieth century, making life most uncomfortable at a time when most people had no means of getting out of the sweltering heat. Even a trip to the seaside for working class people meant they donned their Sunday best clothes and spent the day standing because they couldn’t afford to hire deck chairs!

Click here to read my full review

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for December 30 2021.

Recent Loans from the Library

Guilty Creatures: A Menagerie of Mysteries edited and introduce by Martin Edwards. I like these anthologies as much, if not more, for Martin Edwards’ introductions than for the actual stories. I often find that they’re too short for my liking, but I’m hoping there will be some that will prove me wrong. This collection includes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, G K Chesterton, Edgar Wallace, Josephine Bell and Christianna Brand, among others.

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry. During the fist lockdown I loved watching Grayson’s Art Club, Channel 4’s documentary series hosted by him and his wife, psychotherapist Philippa Perry. In this book he is looking at masculinity, particularly examining how men dominate much of our world, how men dress and act, how men resort to crime and violence, and how men feel.

Black Sheep by Susan Hill, a novella about a brother an sister who grew up in a coal mining village and yearn to escape. Neither can break free and their decisions result in brutal consequences. It sounds a bit grim!

Rescue by Anita Shreve. The last few books by Anita Shreve I’ve read haven’t been as good as her earlier ones, so I’m hoping this one won’t be disappointing. It’s about a paramedic who rescues a troubled young woman from a car crash. They start a love affair and have a daughter. Eighteen years later he is raising the girl on his own,

Servant of Death by Sarah Hawkswood, historical murder mystery set in the 12th century, the first in the Bradcote and Catchpole mystery series. The Lord Bishop of Winchester’s clerk – is bludgeoned to death in Pershore Abbey and laid before the altar in the attitude of a penitent. Who hated him enough to murder him?

The Long Way Home by Louise Perry. I thought it looked familiar and when I got home and checked my blog I realised I’d borrowed this book before – in 2018! But I took it back unread, thinking I’d try to get the first one. It’s the 10th Chief Inspector Gamache novel – and I still haven’t read any of the previous books, so maybe I’ll read this one this time.

Short Nonfiction: Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke

Little, Brown Book Group| 26 January 2021| 154 pages| 4*

Novellas in November is hosted by Cathy and Rebecca. This week the focus is on short nonfiction.

I’ve watched TV programmes about Covid-19, seeing what it was like in a number of hospitals as the virus took hold in the UK, so a lot of the information in Rachel Clarke’s book, Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic wasn’t new to me. But, I wanted to read this book to get an inside perspective on what it was like working in the NHS during the pandemic.

There have been so many fears that the NHS would be overwhelmed and reports criticising the way the government has dealt with the situation – and this is still the case now as winter approaches and the number of daily confirmed cases of coronavirus is still high, whilst hospital waiting lists for non-Covid-19 treatment remain high. Add to this there are now reports that doctors are saying that casualty departments are on the ‘edge of a precipice’, leading to dangerous levels of handover delays with patients forced to wait in ambulances for up to 11 hours outside hospitals. On TV I’ve seen the enormous queues of ambulances outside hospitals waiting to admit patients!

Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor and her book recounts her experiences during the first four months of 2020, when she worked on the Covid-19 wards in the Oxford University Hospitals system. Taken from her diary that she kept at the time it has an immediacy as she records her insomnia, her fears for her family and also the tremendous resilience, courage and empathy that she and the rest of the hospital staff had.

She tells the now familiar story about the PPE shortages, the lack of funding they experienced and criticises the government for their failure to act quickly enough – which I echo. Although it is a grim account, as I expected, it is also uplifting to know the care they took of their patients and the attentiveness to their patients’ needs despite the fact that many of the staff were not trained in intensive care and had never dealt with anything like this before.The way they had to prioritise patients is shocking, but I suppose inevitable given the lack of resources and staff.

She found that being a pandemic doctor was revelatory:

The crisis has undeniably revealed sweeping truths about social and economic inequalities, class divisions, global interconnectedness and the fact that our society’s most vital key workers were, and remain, among the lowest paid and the least empowered. Historians will dissect the issues for years to come. My revelations were about people. I learned from ward to ward, from bedside to bedside, paying meticulous attention to one human being and then another. I discovered how to distinguish what we absolutely cannot do without from what is really in the end, superfluous. (page 18)

This book is a snapshot, written at the time:

It depicts life and death, hope, fear, medicine at its most impotent and also at its finest, the courage of patients in enormous adversity, the stress of being torn between helping those patients and endangering your spouse and children, the long, fretful nights ruminating over whether the PPE you wear fits the science or the size of the government stockpile. I needed, I think, to take a stand with my pen and simply say: I was there. I have seen it, from the inside. I know what it was like. Here, with all its flaws and its inherent subjectivity, is my testimony. Make of it what you will. (pages 18-19)

Breathtaking records the compassion and kindness of numerous people, and pays tribute to both NHS staff and volunteers in dealing with such a distressing and immensely horrific situation.

Novellas in November: Short Nonfiction

Novellas in November is hosted by Cathy and Rebecca. This week the theme is short nonfiction and these are some I’ve read in previous years.
  1. Alive, Alive Oh and Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill (21 December 1917 – 23 January 2019). She was a British literary editor, novelist and memoirist who worked with some of the greatest writers of the 20th century at the London-based publishing company Andre Deutsch Ltd. This book contains her memories, thoughts and reflections on her life as she approached her 100th year, covering events from her childhood in the 1920s and 1930s, her post-war life, visits to Florence, and in the Club Mediterranee in Corfu in the 1950s, and the friends and lovers she has known upto 2009 when she moved into a home. The chapters follow on chronologically but are unconnected except for the fact that they demonstrate her love of life. And it is this love of life that is evident in her writing that makes it such a remarkable book. I loved it.
  2. Ink in the Blood: A Hospital Diary by Hilary Mantel, another short memoir. I read this in 2011 after Hilary Mantel’s talk at the Borders Book Festival at Melrose had been cancelled in the previous summer.  She had to cancel that because she wasn’t well – I didn’t know just how ill she was. Ink in the Blood reveals all – how she had surgery to remove an intestinal obstruction that ended up in a marathon operation, followed by intense pain, nightmares and hallucinations. Illness she found knocks down our defences, revealing things we should never see, needing moment by moment concentration on breathing, on not being sick and being dependent on others for your well-being. Writing was Hilary Mantel’s lifeline – it was the ink, as she wrote in her diary, that reassured her she was alive.
  3. James Herriot’s Cat Stories is a collection of ten stories clearly demonstrating his love of cats. In the introduction James writes that cats were one of the main reasons he chose a career as a vet. They have always played a large part in his life and and when he retired they were still there ‘lightening’ his days. This is a short book of 158 pages with illustrations by by Lesley Holmes.

I’ve recently read Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke and I’ll post a review later.

Nonfiction November: Week 2 Book Pairings

Week 2: (November 8-12) – Book Pairing with Katie at Doing DeweyThis week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story. 

Earlier this year I read the novel A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville and I’m pairing it with Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge by Michelle Scott Tucker, which I haven’t read yet.

Kate Grenville is one of my favourite authors, so I was very keen to read A Room Made of Leaves. It’s historical fiction telling the story of the Macarthurs, Elizabeth and John Macarthur, who settled in Australia at the end of the eighteenth century. It’s based on the real lives of the Macarthurs using letters, journals and official documents of the early years of the New South Wales colony. Her writing suits me – historical fiction, with good descriptive writing setting the scenes vividly in their locations. I find her books difficult to put down and they stay in my mind long after I’ve finished reading. This one is no exception.

Whenever I read historical fiction I always want to know how much is fact and how much is fiction, how accurate it is. And so this novel intrigued me because Kate Grenville’s book begins with an editor’s note about ‘the ‘incredible discovery of Elizabeth Macarthur’s secret memoirs’ in a tin box containing old papers, revealing the real person behind the few letters she wrote home to her family and friends and a lot of ‘dull correspondence with her adult children’. Was this true, I wondered. So I turned to the back of the book to read Grenville’s Author’s Note and in that she clarifies that this is not history and, although the extracts from Elizabeth’s letters are from the letters of the real Elizabeth Macarthur, she has ‘taken some liberties in order to shape this work of fiction’. The old documents were Grenville’s ‘inspiration and guide’. In other words you have to bear in mind the epigraph, an actual quotation from one of Elizabeth’s letters: Believe not too quickly, a reminder that this is fiction.

It made me want to know more about the Macarthurs, and what was indeed their history, so I was delighted to find out that Kate Grenville references Michelle Scott Tucker’s biography: Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World as the standard biography in her Acknowledgements and I was even more delighted to see that it’s available as a ebook. So it is now in my Kindle and I’m keen to read it as soon as possible. I want to see what Michelle Scott Tucker has made of the same historical sources – history, after all, is an interpretation of the facts from the records, trying to explain what happened and why, dependent on available evidence. Fiction is more flexible and can fill in the gaps where the documentary evidence is lacking.