Monthly Archives: December 2018

Satisfaction

There are different schools of thought for how to do Christmas. To do what you grew up with. Or to do anything but.

I try to relive my childhood Christmases as much as is possible, considering I am surrounded by people who didn’t share my experiences – so haven’t got a clue. And it doesn’t snow as much as it did.

Thank goodness for that.

But what strikes me when I think about this harking back to the past, is that for a generation who now wants so much from life, that what I had then can be remembered as so attractive that I feel the need to copy what we had.

We weren’t wealthy at all. Presents were fairly limited by today’s standards. Space must have been an issue when we all got together. And I’m guessing the cooking of all that food and the adults ‘having to’ get on with each other wasn’t as seamless as it appeared to us little ones.

But I was very happy with my lot. A bit frightened that time I ran to answer the door and the real Father Christmas was standing there, but he brought gifts, so I could be persuaded not to be scared after a while.

I think that’s all I wanted for Offspring too. Not an expensively magical time. Just some of our own magic.

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This and that

Churros £6. Thanks, but I don’t think so.

Daughter and I did the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens yesterday. We did it remarkably quickly, despite me hobbling slowly. There is only so much tat – even if good-looking tat – that a witch needs to buy, and for me that goal was reached years ago. Besides, it drizzled a bit, and it was too early for the pretty lights.

We were there because Daughter wanted a British style German style Christmas market, if you know what I mean? Freshly arrived from the Continent – where they supposedly have the ‘real’ thing – we discovered we only wanted some churros. I wonder how many people pay the £6? And if it is because they didn’t realise until it was too late, or because they didn’t want to disappoint little Jake/Olivia?

I had crawled out of bed early enough to be taken to the station before the Resident IT Consultant had to be at the dentist’s, so I could go and visit Son and inspect the latest changes to his home. I said hello to the old Encyclopaedia Britannica, which has now been adopted by Dodo and Son. Looking good with Christmas lights and tinsel. The Encyclopaedia, I mean. Son wore his normal t-shirt, and Dodo was in New York, presumably wearing something suitable and not tinsel.

Also admired the Grandparents’ former sofa and armchair, now residing with their new owners and having new cushions.

And I was fed coffee and a pistachio bun, and we talked about who might be behind the secret pseudonym of a book soon to be published in Sweden, when the secret apparently will be revealed. I suppose it’s as though J K Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith, all the time intending to make the big announcement when the book was released. Except on a smaller, Swedish scale.

I left Son to translate some more, going to find Daughter, whose plane had landed, having lunch at our second choice of restaurant, before that churro moment. And as it seemed to be a day for early trains, we caught an earlier one and went home.

Mare’s War

What do you know about black American women in WWII? Probably as much as I did, and that wasn’t a lot. Award-winning Mare’s War, by Tanita S Davis, is about the women of the 6888th, the only Women’s Army Corps sent to Europe.

Mare arrived aged almost 17 – you had to be 20 to join up – from her small home town in Alabama, where being coloured was to be a second class citizen. She needed to escape her mother’s abusive boyfriend, and the WAC seemed like a different planet.

Tanita S Davis, Mare's War

Much of the military training and the friendships formed, brought me straight back to Michael Grant’s Front Lines, but unlike his trilogy, these women were not armed and ‘all’ they did was deal with a serious backlog of military post, letters and parcels needed to lift morale among those fighting.

Telling her story to her two teenage granddaughters during a long drive across America, one hot summer, Mare shocks and surprises the girls with how it was, in what seems to be not all that long ago.

This is a fantastic book, which will entertain and educate at the same time. You might know more than Tali and Octavia do, and you might not find Mare as embarrassing as they do [at first], but you will love seeing what it was like for these pioneering women, and what they’ve become.

While seemingly a story about WWII, it is mostly about how far black women in America have come, even if it isn’t anywhere near far enough. At least Mare lived to see her granddaughters taking for granted a life she could never have imagined, and which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for her flight away from the farm where she grew up.

Read this and be inspired.

A thought for our time

Before we look too deeply into our mince pies, I want to share the quote Lucy Mangan shares in her Bookworm. It’s from one of her ‘older’ children’s books, Summer of my German Soldier, by Bette Greene.

Set in the American deep south, the quote comes from a [hidden] German soldier, who’s made friends with a young Jewish girl, and his explanation of ‘how Hitler succeeded is still my go-to reference as I’m reading the headlines about the rise of whichever new (or ancient) evil is dominating the news cycle that day.

“His first layer is an undeniable truth, such as: the German worker is poor. The second layer is divided equally between flattery and truth: the German worker deserves to be prosperous. The third layer is total fabrication: the Jews and the Communists have stolen what is rightfully yours.”

Evil builds in increments. Your understanding of this basic truth may grow in sophistication and detail over the years, but the earlier and harder you grasp the simple, unchanging bastard fundamental, the better off you’ll be.’

Needless to say, I want to read this book.

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

…and the Christmas tagliatelle

The Fledgling Girls booked themselves in for Christmas lunch at Corrieri’s yesterday, and they allowed me to tag along, in all my un-Fledglingness.

Moira McPartlin, Alex Nye, Bookwitch and Helen Grant

It was good. Corrieri’s used to be somewhere the Resident IT Consultant’s relatives gathered for Christmas Eve pizzas in the semi-olden days, so it has Christmassy connotations for me. And what could be more seasonal than mushrooms and tagliatelle? Fish and chips. Pizza. It was all good.

We exchanged gifts and cards.

We exchanged opinions on a lot of things, from all that stuff in the news, to literary agents, authors having large incomes (hah), second husbands, incidents with cars, art, lemon desserts, having nice offspring, 1980s music, getting on with one’s parents. You know, perfectly normal conversation.

At least I think it was…

We might have stayed longer than the restaurant expected us to, but it’s hard to stop chatting mid-gossip. If there is a next time, I’ll have Moira’s dessert.

Bookwitch’s 2018 selection

It’s that time of year again. Here are some of the books I enjoyed the most, chosen with some difficulty, because the next tier consists of really excellent books. Too.

I haven’t always felt that ‘picture books’ belong here, but the two I’ve got on my list are more literature with pictures. They make you cry. I mean, they made me cry. And that’s good. They are:

Michael Morpurgo and Barroux, In the Mouth of the Wolf

Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones (translated by Peter Graves)

And then for the more ‘regular’ children’s novels:

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

Candy Gourlay, Bone Talk

Michael Grant, Purple Hearts

Matt Killeen, Orphan Monster Spy

Hilary McKay, The Skylark’s War

Sally Nicholls, A Chase in Time

Maria Parr, Astrid the Unstoppable (translated by Guy Puzey)

Celia Rees, Glass Town Wars

Ellen Renner, Storm Witch

Books like these make everything worth while. There are a couple of ‘beginners,’ some ‘mid-career’ authors – whatever I mean by that – and some established authors with decades of great writing behind them. And, only two that I knew and loved before Bookwitch became famous for her reading, meaning that this blogging business has been responsible for many introductions, without which my life would have been the poorer.