The Pavee and the Buffer Girl

You can’t read and review a truly divine story too many times. Siobhan Dowd’s short story The Pavee and the Buffer Girl has just been published as a book in its own right, by Barrington Stoke, illustrated by Emma Shoard, and you want to buy it purely for those pictures! They are stunning, and the whole book is so beautiful.

Siobhan Dowd and Emma Shoard, The Pavee and the Buffer Girl

(Here is the link to when I first reviewed it, many years ago. I can’t believe time has passed so quickly.)

It’s a story about Irish travellers, and if I didn’t know that Siobhan could turn her hand to anything, I’d ask how she could know what it’s like for people like Jim and his extended family. It’s as though she had been there. Maybe she was.

More poignant than ever, this brief tale about outsiders unwanted by a community is very touching. Jim and his cousins have to go to school when they stop to live in a new town. They are not welcomed, and Jim’s younger cousin is severely bullied, and eventually the group of travellers decide they will be better off somewhere else and they leave.

Before that, Jim has made friends with a girl in his class at school, another outsider who doesn’t quite fit in, and whose home life is dreary.

In the current climate where reading and libraries are so threatened, it’s humbling to learn that none of the travellers know how to read, but would love to be able to. Jim’s mum is so hopeful when she asks if he will teach her, if he learns anything. It makes you want to cry.

Siobhan Dowd and Emma Shoard, The Pavee and the Buffer Girl

Gifts, and offering support

As well as returning ‘home’ Daughter was kind enough to bring gifts. We really didn’t need anything, but there you are.

Dictionary with grape

She gave me a book, apologising for the fact that it’s not the sort of thing I’m in desperate need of. But it’s so reasonably sized I forgive her.

Carrier bag

The Resident IT Consultant seemed surprisingly happy with his plastic carrier bag, with the names of the countries of Latin America adorning it.


She felt a little guilty over the lack of a proper present for her father, so before leaving again (she had a conference to attend) Daughter offered him a small stone as well.

So it’s all good.

Spending these weeks on the top of a mountain in a country where she doesn’t speak the language (the girl can’t even pronunce the name Jorge!) brought home to her that she has now picked up a bit of French in her daily life, after all.

Whereas with my past Spanish experience I can not only say Jorge properly, but helped with the odd other thing. We had to come up with a note for the cleaner to explain that she rather wanted them to remove the towel with the dead spider inside. And preferably replace it with a clean towel. (They did.)

Speaking of clean, they do the laundry for the visiting scientists, where you complete a list of what you hand over, with quaint descriptions like ‘under drawers’ and the like. However, it might have been International Day of Women and Girls in Science last month, but up on that mountain they haven’t allowed for a commonly worn female support garment on their laundry list. We had to Google it, as I must admit to not having any memory of learning about corpiños at school.

Off the mountain

La Silla in the distance

The last thing I expected back in 1973, after the first 11th of September, was that one day one of my children would travel to Chile, to be bussed up a mountain in order to sit every night for two weeks operating a telescope. Or that to get to her telescope – one of several – she’d have to drive a car in the dark (and I do mean in the dark, as otherwise the night sky would be lit up), avoiding hitting donkeys or falling off the side.

La Silla

As someone on facebook remarked, it looked very sci-fi up there. It really did.

There were tremors and – possibly – deadly spiders. Donkeys, as I said, and some rabbity/squirrelly creatures. Humidity was a problem (if it’s too high you have to close the dome and put a little hat on the telescope, in the dark). And powercuts weren’t helpful either.

La Silla

So, that was my last few weeks, that was. (I’d say the killing of the – possibly – deadly spider with a handtowel was the highlight, as experienced from my end.)

Whereas 43 years ago I went on marches and attended support concerts, all in the company of the Chilean refugees who came to Sweden, along with our ambassador who made himself persona non grata. Those were the days. But as I said, I could not see Daughter doing the driving in the dark, or the donkeys. Well, who could?

She’s back ‘home’ now, after a three hour bus journey, 16 hours on three planes and a night’s rest in Santiago, where it’s hot. That’s summer for you.

La Silla

The Scarecrow Queen

Starting with the third book in a trilogy is not something I often do. If only one book from a trilogy is to be read, I tend to prefer the first, while also risking ‘having to’ continue, because once started you will want to finish.

Melinda Salisbury, The Scarecrow Queen

I only came across Melinda Salisbury a few months ago, when I heard much good about her first book, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I was aware there was a second, but before I knew where I was, I found the third one, The Scarecrow Queen in the post, and after some agonising over time, I decided to jump straight in and begin at the end.

Which is not always a bad thing. It took me a while to learn who’s who (especially as Melinda doesn’t go in for the sometimes so tiresome explanations to help new – or forgetful – readers), but from then on it was almost as if I’d not skipped the first two.

A very bad Prince has ousted a good King and is now busy killing and controlling the people around him. This is fantasy, and he has golems and clay dolls at his disposal. He holds some of the good characters prisoner, while others are busy picking up the pieces from a devastating attack elsewhere. Twylla is the sin eater’s daughter and she is trying to get back to free her friend Errin, who is an apothecary, so that they can attempt to stop the Sleeping Prince.

This is a perfect fantasy for teenagers, with some strong female role models among the main characters. There is fighting and there is romance, and a lot of backstabbing as you hope you know who is on your side, while discovering who can’t be trusted.

Melinda avoids a too sugar-sweet ending, having kept the reader guessing throughout. I suspect the future will bring many more great books for her fans to enjoy.


Unbranded sounds simple and wholesome, doesn’t it?

For a few years I actually boycotted Waterstones, but gave it up because I grew more sensible, and I also gained another bookshop to boycott in its place. A Bookwitch needs to have some kind of enemy at all times.

I mention this because I’m about to say I am in favour of the new, small, unbranded bookshops Waterstones have started up in smaller towns. Yes, it can be seen as sneaky not to use the Waterstones name, but if the shop is smaller, and thereby a little different from your usual High Street stores, then maybe a separate name is more suitable. And it’s not as if it’s a secret, since they have a small sign saying it’s really them.

As long as they don’t descend on a small town with an existing bookshop, this development can only be a good thing. Maybe the town lost its bookshop because someone retired? Or they didn’t have enough funds to keep going. Waterstones are obviously in a stronger position, having a big and successful organisation behind them, as they aim to become Small Town Books.

There can be drawbacks with large commercial bodies – although it seems as if Waterstones have become more sensible in recent years (rather like me…) – and I would much prefer that a small town has a bookshop than not. Hopefully there won’t be any of the daft stuff you occasionally get with small indies, however much I like them.

As as the Resident IT Consultant said, we can only hope Waterstones staff and their unbranded colleagues now have permission to recommend books (unlike when Son had to resort to advising customers in secret).


‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Swiss Lady, sounding confused. So I tried again, describing the – occasional – advantages of invisibility. Not so much when you are trying to order at the bar, but the ability to walk down the street and not be noticed, is useful. Unless a car runs you over.

I tried spelling it out, saying that when you reach that old, grey, uninteresting and unimportant stage, this can be a blessing. Pushing a toddler in a pushchair was my last encounter with ‘not really being there’ and it was all right. If necessary you can always accidentally shove the pushchair into people’s shins.

But no, Swiss Lady had never come across this phenomenon. She is older than I am, but better looking and so vivacious that invisibility has obviously not set in.

It’s not just me, though. A well known crime writer described her recent wine buying experience, where the young shop assistant stopped halfway through checking her bottles out to chat to someone equally young, but not spending money. When our author inquired if he’d prefer for her to come back later, he managed to return to the task at hand. Before leaving she told him what happened in ‘the episode in Frankie and Grace where Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda get so annoyed at being invisible in the liquor store that they steal what they want — and even then the clerk doesn’t notice them.’

Ignore us at your peril.

The quiz that matters

Somehow this book has taken the fun out of quiz books. Or so it seems right now.

Quizzes have provided the Bookwitch family with some much appreciated relaxation, even when the questions have been on the silly side. You can show off or despair, and you can always complain about how silly the selection of facts is. Especially the facts that date so fast they probably never really belonged anywhere.

But now, the Resident IT Consultant brought home from the library (one doesn’t want to commit by buying) Life in the UK Test, the essential study guide for the British citizenship test. It’s not the book’s fault that it is depressing. It can only advise on what someone else has decided are pertinent facts for life in the best country in the world (I assume that’s the way they look at this ‘get the password to Britain right’ disaster.)

I tried a sample test in a newspaper once and did pretty well, totally untutored and unprepared. But these questions are tough, when they are not laughable, or downright wrong, or merely ambivalent. It doesn’t help having your future jeopardised by picking a correct answer when it’s the wrong correct answer.

It has not currently come to this, though. I am not about to change my allegiance or anything, unless forced to. But you want to be forewarned.

I have no interest in some of the topics covered. And that would be quite all right for anyone not needing to persuade a faceless tester that they could become one of them. I am very ignorant when it comes to certain Swedish facts, especially ancient history and sport. Here I need to know about rugby and what two professions Margaret Thatcher trained as before she did her bit for this country. I also need to understand how very open minded the British are about people of different religions.

‘What did the Roman army do in AD 410?’ Lots of things, one imagines.

I am a fan of Clarice Cliff’s, but I don’t reckon knowledge of what she’s famous for matters. I’d much rather feel that the immigrant/new British citizen down the road is the kind who will come to the rescue if my house is on fire. Rather than deport them.

‘The ideas of the Enlightenment.’ ‘Blood and organ donation.’ “National horse racing museum.’

As a source for information the study guide is fine. That’s what we do with lots of things in life; look them up when we need to know. But not to cram to pass a test. And don’t they understand that people from other countries know about donating blood? We also learned about Emmeline Pankhurst at school. However, Richard Arkwright was new to me. Not what he did, but his name. Bet you don’t know who invented the potato, though?

If the selection was more sensibly done and the questions asked not so ridiculous I’d feel happier about a test like this. But to decide the future of a human being on where the first tennis club was founded?

Perhaps just invite the hopefuls to tea and see what they do when you pour the carefully warmed milk into their cup? And have a nice chat?