A Proper Place

We are currently thinking about and talking about refugees and immigrants more than we have for a long time, which means that the story belonging to Joan Lingard’s Sadie and Kevin feels more pertinent than ever. But rather as with the Jewish refugees in the 1930s, so it has become with the Irish who came thirty or forty years later. They are considered mainstream, in light of our most recent immigrants or asylum seekers.

They are, aren’t they? It can’t be just me? And if people have mostly got used to and accepted these older arrivals, then it is fair to assume that we will one day feel like this about whoever we worry about today; be they Syrians or Afghans, or even these ridiculous EU citizens from the Netherlands or Spain who were under the impression they belonged.

At least Kevin and Sadie were allowed to come and live in England. They were poor and not always accepted, and they had to make do with the worst accommodation and look grateful, while working hard to get somewhere. The scenario is one we’ve seen countless times. What I find fascinating is how hard Kevin works at whatever jobs he can find, while Sadie does the wifely tasks expected of females back then, and equally hard. They are no lazy layabouts.

In the fourth book, A Proper Place, they have left London and are living in Liverpool with their baby son. Sadie is learning that she can get to know people and make friends in every new place she comes to. She needs friends, and people to chat to.

Family is at the heart of everything here too. Sadie’s mother comes to visit, and no sooner have they survived this ordeal but Kevin’s ‘bad’ brother Gerald turns up. I was all set to see him on the IRA front line, but there are surprises everywhere.

Needing to look for a new job, Kevin moves the little family to a farm in Cheshire, and after initial teething problems, they are happy there. Sadie continues to learn to get on with just about everybody she meets, both through her friendliness and her hard work for what matters to her.

Behind their successes lie normal problems such as married life, belonging to two opposing religions, being hard up and always being the newcomers. Gerald and the rest of the McCoy clan in Tyrone don’t exactly help smooth things.

You have to love these two for how they cope. Wonderfully inspirational!

Beyond the Wall

Most of the major newspapers have been reviewing Tanya Landman’s new novel, Beyond the Wall, in the last few days, so why should Bookwitch do any different?

This is a fantastic book! It deals with the less common period of Roman Britain, as seen from the perspective of the slaves. Now, slaves are a bit of a speciality for Tanya, and this book does not disappoint. We’re on homeground, so to speak, and although it might seem to have been a long time ago, there’s a surprising number of situations for our heroes that could almost be today.

Tanya Landman, Beyond the Wall

Female slaves were often sexually abused by their masters, and it seems that many babies who were the result of this kind of behaviour, never had a chance of surviving, because they were not needed by the master. It is an absolute agony to think about.

Cassia is one such baby, with the difference that she’s permitted to live. In her mid teens she’s chosen to do for her master what her mother did before her, but somehow she escapes, with her master’s dogs giving chase and soon with a prize on her head.

She believes she must get to the north, past the wall, outside which people live free. And the person who ends up helping her is a young, good-looking Roman. She knows she should probably not trust Marcus, but she has no choice.

This could have been merely an exciting adventure story of how to escape an enraged slave owner, but it soon becomes so much more. You gasp as the tale takes – several – unexpected turns, and you fear for all your favourite characters. And you wonder if, or when, Marcus will show his true colours.

Beyond the Wall becomes a story about the Roman Empire, and not just a British runaway. It’s one of these all too rare unputdownable books.

Off the Page 2017

If there is one thing that I have against Stirling’s Off the Page libraries book festival, it’s that it’s so hard to find the information I want online. I follow links to pages that aren’t the right ones, and then I swear a bit. Luckily the Resident IT Consultant brought home the printed programme for me, so I have finally been able to catch up with what will be on.

And things are on, so that’s good. Some of them not terribly convenient, at the further away libraries, which just proves what a large catchment area it is for Stirling. But there is good stuff.

Teri Terry is back (I mean, will be back, as this is in early May), but only for a school event. I’m guessing they like her there.

Alex Scarrow is coming, as is Ross Collins and Chae Strathie, whereas Craig Robertson is already here, being local. James Oswald is semi-local.

The names above are the ones I’ve highlighted for my personal interest, but there are many more. The Grandmother’s pal Crawford Logan is appearing at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, for instance.

My track record for attendance isn’t terribly good, I must admit. I’ll have to see what calamities will prevent me from seeking these various libraries out next month. I hope none.

Paint it black

It wasn’t an entirely traditional Easter Saturday, but I suppose it was all right.

The Resident IT Consultant drove across half of Central Scotland searching for black spray paint, and as soon as he brought some home I went outside and sprayed it all over the dining table. After enough cans had been used up, the table looks sort of finished. And black.

The [formerly green] grass is also slightly black.

And my arms hurt. Who knew paint-spraying was so tiring?

I also sprayed some tomato all over myself, causing a red-orange streak down my front. As we didn’t have a bonfire to grill sausages on, we made do with the grill pan in the kitchen. And I didn’t fly over the cooker on my broom, partly because of lack of space and partly because a witch needs a proper bonfire to be sent on her way. Daughter bought one of those foil barbecue things, but I absolutely refuse to broom over that as well.

In-between the countless black layers I read Tanya Landman’s new book. It’s so good I didn’t always want to put it down to attend to my painting.

Daughter decided to stretch Lent as far as she could, so made us Lent buns to have with our afternoon cup of tea. I reckon as long as it was before Easter Sunday it’s probably almost legal.

We watched Doctor Who, which we liked, and then we played The Great Penguin Bookchase, which we also liked, and which I lost.

The Beautiful Game

I remember the Liverpool fans returning home on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, travelling past where we used to live. Not that I was out there watching, but there was this horrible awareness of what had just happened.

Today it’s exactly 28 years since 96 people died at Hillsborough, and football crazy Alan Gibbons has written a book for Barrington Stoke about that day, as well as some other football disasters and soccer related incidents.

Alan Gibbons, The Beautiful Game

If this sounds dismal; it isn’t. Alan tells the short story of young [black] football fan Lennie who’s come to Manchester to see his beloved Liverpool play United, with his dad and grandad, when there is an altercation between the two teams’ fans, over Hillsborough and Munich.

Alan provides brief but full information about what happened, and why, as well as listing a few other football facts. He doesn’t mince words over the actions of the police or his hatred of The Sun newspaper.

Lennie learns that you must behave fairly and decently even if provoked, and why. His dad and grandad were at Hillsborough that day, and Lennie’s grandad has memories of what it was like to be black in Liverpool in the 1960s, when you couldn’t really go to soccer games.

Finally, Lennie is forced to come face-to-face with some real Man United fans, and discovers they are also people and perfectly normal. Sometimes even better at football…

(Illustrations by Chris Chalik)

Bunnies

Here are two lovely little picture books with Easter vibes. The covers are certainly lovely and spring-like. And there are bunnies.

And, erm, a fox.

Ellie Sandall, Everybunny Dance!

Ellie Sandall sends her little bunnies out into a clearing in the woods in Everybunny Dance! and they decide to make the most of being alone and unwatched. They will dance, and sing. So they dance, and sing. And then they discover the fox watching them, and…

Oh help.

But are all foxes bad? What if this one is lonely and needing friends?

Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Alison Friend, My Hand to Hold

In Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ story My Hand to Hold, with illustrations by Alison Friend, we meet a young bunny and his or her adult; probably a parent. The mother – or is it the father? – keeps saying how they will always love the little bunny, through mud and shouting and all kinds of weather. In short, they will always love them and offer a Hand To Hold.

Both books show us that we all need someone. Mostly we need a bunny, or several. And sunny meadows with flowers are never wrong.

Easter?

I mourn my Easters. Some years ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that it made no sense for me to expect the other three family members to celebrate something that didn’t come natural to them. It was easier for me to go Easter-less.

(By comparison, I have always ‘insisted’ that we celebrate Christmas my way. But that’s OK, because the rest of the world also has some kind of Christmas happening, even if it’s different.)

Whereas Easter is virtually only chocolate eggs.

Don’t get me started on those eggs! I grew up on cardboard eggs with pretty pictures of Eastery things, or colourful aluminium foil, filled with simple sweets. Whereas Offspring’s friends down the road had a couple of picnic tables set up in their dining room, with row upon row of chocolate eggs; maybe ten each for the three children…

And then there are the feathers. Coloured feathers attached to thin branches of [generally] birch, displayed in some sort of large vase. Although that is for Lent. But I/we think of it as being for Easter, too.

I miss all this! Doesn’t matter that I can have all of it in the house, when I somehow can’t share the (totally non-religious) sentiments with my family. So imagine my pleasure the other week when finding that my friend in Lund had decorated her house in just the right Eastery way! It was so beautiful! And as with Christmas, it wasn’t exactly the same as mine, but you could tell we were on the same wavelength.

Easter witches

In protest I got out more decorations than usual a few days ago. I wanted to do my solitary Easter appreciation surrounded by more chickens and witches than I normally do. I’m puzzling over what to do foodwise, as not all the potential Easter type food will suit all the eaters.

Eggs. Real ones. What else?

We’d grill hot dogs on the Easter bonfires. I suppose an induction hob would do..? Not sure what the reaction to raw egg with lots of sugar would be. Yum?

I’ve still got a few hours to work something out.