Monthly Archives: September 2014

One Summer : America 1927 by Bill Bryson

One Summer by Bill BrysonCandice: Months ago, Phil wrote a post about bringing a book that was too thick to read on his trip. That book was ‘One summer: America 1927’ by Bill Bryson. I subsequently bought it for my holiday in June, forgetting that he’d already got it (though mine was paper back).

I’ve finally just finished it, but that has nothing to do with a) the quality of the read or b) the thickness of the book. I really enjoyed it but it was so thick it took me ages to read over lots of nights before bed.

So what is it about ? In 1927 lots of things happened. The main thing was Charles Lindbergh being the first man to fly across the Atlantic. Then there was Babe Ruth’s home run record, some quite bizarre murders and convictions which mean a trip to the ‘old sparky’, prohibition, Al Capone etc etc. I can see why he picked this era, there was a lot going on.

In its self it doesn’t sound that interesting. I’m not really a historian and American history just makes me laugh as it’s so short. One of the things that was commissioned in 1927 was Mount Rushmore. Now I though that was really old, ie it was done in the 1700’s, not the 1920’s. If it was the UK, it would have been. But what do I expect? I fight my way through lots of Americans every day as they are wetting themselves over William Shakespeare.

But the way it is written is in the usual Bryson style, with a wry smile to what is going on. For example; at that time everyone wanted to crack the crossing on the Atlantic by air. So many people died in the process it borders on lemming mentality. But Bill just lists them all as another one who disappears after giving his wife a goodbye peck and saying don’t wait up and is then never to be seen again. It’s so everyday that it almost funny but actually it shows just how hard it was and how it took all these souls to make air travel as easy as it is today.

The same can be said for many other things in the book where companies rose and died in a short period of time, mainly due to their mad pursuit of one goal or another. But their failure led to a new car design or TV being created.

I loved the book, it was really interesting, informative but also fun. I now know a lot about one period in America’s history, but actually I know a lot more about how some things came about, and it’s something we have to thank them for. Just don’t ask Logie Baird who really invented T V.

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Disposable books

2booksPhil: Next week I’m going to be enduring a long, and hopefully boring*, flight. To pass the time I realised I needed some reading material.

This should be a fantastic opportunity to grab a book I’ve always wanted to read and have a proper wallow within the pages. To me there is something wonderfully decadent about reading a book in one sitting. It’s as though I really ought to be doing something useful, like curing terrible disease or composing a grand concerto or washing up, but instead I’ve chosen to lounge around and read – an activity that has no better outcome than enjoyment.

Sadly, there is nothing sitting in the “to read” pile that fits the bill. If I wanted to read it and I own it, it’s been read. I’ve had a bit of a stressful time recently and dipping in to a story helps take my mind off things for a few minutes.

The other problem is that while I plan to take the books on the aeroplane, I don’t have any intention of lugging them around with me or bringing them back home. Thus they have to be “disposable”. Obviously I’ll be aiming to drop them off somewhere where another reader can enjoy them but if that fails, it’s paper recycling time.

Searching charity shops has unearthed a couple of possibles. World War Z by Max Brooks has been on my list to read for a while, since someone at work read it and I was fascinated by the idea of a zombie war thing. Presumably the recent (and apparently not very good) film has seen a re-print making this relatively rare book available on the second-hand market.  It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen it on the shelf.

The other, The Excursion Train by Edward Marston is more of a leap into the unknown. OK, I picked it because there is a steam train on the cover and a whodunnit is perfect for a single sitting reading as I might remember what is going on when I reach the end.

I’m sure neither author wanted envisaged their words being read in quite this way but then we all choose books for different reasons. I’ll let you know how I get on.

*Boring flights are good. No-one on a passenger plane wants an exciting trip in the same way we prefer uninteresting trips to the dentist.

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We all love a recommendation

Candice:  I’ve just come back from a very messy girl’s weekend in Brussels.  Why Brussels, well that was the only other place we could get to on the Eurostar as the organiser had already been to Paris.  It was actually great fun and I’d definitely go again to see a bit more of the sights and a bit less of the beer and bars.  I’ve still got a headache now!

But, when I mentioned I was going to Phil the other week he said he’d circled Brussels a few times when on a road trip (I daren’t ask) and had seen this place that he’d wanted to go to but couldn’t.  It was called Atomium.  Well, I sent it to the organiser as as suggestion and left it there.

On Sunday, hangover in full flow, the group of us toddled off to check it out.  I’d literally had a quick look on the website and didn’t really know what I was looking for.  Well there is was, this bonkers building that looked a bit like a molecule. I wasnt really sure what it was about but I’d had it recommended, so I had to take a look.  It was actually quite interesting and I ended up spending an hour there on my own as the girls went off to see some paintings instead.

We all love some advice to make the most of our trips, well I certainly do.  If I can find out some local tips it makes for a more interesting trip and often puts you on track to find things you wouldn’t find.  You can say the same about books. Recommended reads always come highly in my ‘must read’ pile as it helps you to make a decision, especially if they come from someone who’s opinion you trust.  I trust my friend’s opinion of books or films much more than a critic as they often have a different criteria.

These days you can get recommendations on anything – holidays, music, products and they are always good to have.  But if in doubt, trust a friend.

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Is there such a thing as fiction?

Douglas Adams: Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space. 

Phil: I’m not sure why this occurred to me but Adams is right. Space is massive. Infinite in fact. On that basis, there are an infinite number of planets.

If there are an infinite number of planets, as long as your story doesn’t include magic or breaks the laws of physics, then somewhere out there, it must be being played out for real.

Which means if team NolanParker build a space ship and gets a move on with some intergalactic exploration, we will find a world where Kate, Dave and all the other characters actually exist and are living what we think of as our story. We won’t need to write book 2 as we’ll just be able to watch them and jot down what happens. If that isn’t funny enough, then there must be another world where they also live and do things slightly differently.

There will even be a world where Kate and Dave site down to write a book about someone called Candice and her friend Phil. Maybe they have exciting adventures or perhaps they are writing a book about a woman called Kate and her potential beau, Dave.

This is making my head hurt.

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Wouldn’t reading help?

Candice: I was going to write a blog today about all the terrible killings that have happened recently, the British aid worker and the two British tourists in Thailand.  But I got half way down and thought, ‘I’m not really sure where this is going.’  The point of it would be to discuss that there surely is more to life than this and I don’t think any death is justified.

I’ve traveled and have been in some hairy situations but thank god I’ve never been close to something like this.  I have friend who was mugged in South Africa but even she admits she went walking in the dark and probably shouldn’t have done.  However, I’ll like my daughter to grow up in a world where she can take a few chances, as every one I’ve ever done (where I’ve looked back and though OMG did I really do that) has paid off and made me the person I am.  But I don’t want to not ever to be able to travel, on her own, because the world isn’t safe.

I take solace in the fact that these are isolated incidents and don’t happen to every one but they still happen.  What can we do about it, well not that much as some people are programmed wrong, but in other cases good education must help.  As a part of that escapism and reading a good story must be key.  I’ve read a lot about murder over the years, but it doesn’t mean I want to kill someone (well only at certain times of the month :)) but that release, the escape of a story has certainly helped relax the mind and soothe the soul.

I’m going away soon and I’m looking forward to some unadulterated time with a good book.  The time where I can concentrate for a few hours and finish a book in a few days rather than the weeks or months it takes me at the moment.  And part of that will come the escape from everyone and everything.

I’m not going to be patronising and say these people wouldn’t kill if they read a good book. But for the rest of us its a good place to start if you need to relax.


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How to be… Bored

how to be good

Phil: I’ll be honest that when you see, “I loved this book” Julie Burchill, Mail on Sunday, in the front of a book, it’s probably not for me. On the other hand, it pretty much sums this book up.

“How to be Good” is a million copy (presumably copies sold, although the odd phrasing makes me wonder) book by Nick Hornby. The plot revolves around London GP Katie Carr who starts the story by telling he husband she wants a divorce. After this, he has an epiphany and transforms from a pain in the backside to over-good. Which annoys Katie.

Well, that’s what the back of the book says. I’ll be honest that I got bored and gave up two chapters in.

This is unusual for me. I can normally stick it out but this time, no.

For a start, I didn’t like or care about any of the characters. Kate is annoyingly smug. Her husband is a wa****r. If they’d died in a head on collision with a rotary snow plough it would have been both a great relief and an excellent opening for an episode of Casualty.

Worse, they exist in that special part of London where media types live in a bubble. Everyone earns loads, lives in nice houses, find as much time as they need to hold down a job yet lunch with a wide variety of cliché friends. The job doesn’t have to be the sort of thing that in the real world pays enough to exist in this special world either. Thus, hubby can knock out a weekly opinion column for the local paper and none of the children are sent out to clean chimneys to keep the family afloat.

The beauty of setting your story in the London bubble is it will garner plenty of good reviews from critics like Birchill (OK, she live in Brighton but that’s London-on-Sea) who exist in the same world. I bet the café bars of Hoxton were full of people reading this on their iKindles. I just hope the pubs of Solihull are as kind when our book appears.

In case you are thinking I should have given the book a bit more of a chance by the way, I did. I read the last 6 pages before abandoning it. With some books you do this and think, I want to know how we got here.”. Not this time.

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Shoehorning it all in

Candice: I’ve jus2014-09-08 13.30.14t had a day off to look after my daughter.  She’s normally looked after by the in laws on a Monday but they had the audacity to decide to go on holiday for a week!  It was actually nice as I don’t get to spend much time with her so I thought we’d have a jolly day doing the kind of things Richard has been doing for the last 6 months.

I had a plan, with a long list of things to get done, shoehorned around her naps and a trip to Leamington to meet Phil.  By the time I left at 11am to meet him I was already behind but got to the cafe in good time.  We had a jolly lunch the three of us and then a wander round the shops.  However, by the time I’d picked up a parcel and driven back to my house I was behind again as the olds had already arrived. 

My parents had indicated they wanted to see Erin as they hadn’t for a week so I said pop round but I have got things to do.  I had a haircut booked for 5pm and then needed to get some company stuff done before Rich got home.

By the time he did get home I was frazzled as I’d been trying to fit this all in.  Then of course I have my blog post to write too.

Its now 9pm on Monday night and I haven’t stopped all day.  I’ll be going back to work tomorrow for a rest.

My problem is I see a day off or a weekend as an opportunity to get a lot of things done.  But then probably plan too much.  Its also been awhile since I’ve looked after the little person and I’ve forgotten how time constraining it is.  With feeds every four hours you’ve got to get the most in in the mean time. I bet K Middy doesn’t feel like this, with a 13 month old and one on the way the army of nannies most definitely helps!

People always say to me, “I don’t know how you manage to do so much”.  With that they mean regular gym sessions, work, writing, socialising.  Well I think today was an example why I do, but I probably didn’t give myself or anyone else a decent amount of time.

I’m off to chill and watch Doctor Who with a glass of wine, I need it!

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These things are sent to try us

The leg bones connected to the... Candice The other week I posted that I’d had a fall while running. It wasn’t great but mainly cuts and bruises that I could easily get over. The main thing hurt was my pride.

However I found out earlier this week that it was more serious than I thought, when they spotted I had a hairline fracture to my fibula, the small bone that runs next to your shin bone in your lower leg.

The prognosis, no running (or in fact any impact exercise) for 4 weeks.

This is a bit of a blow to me as I love my exercise as well as having a plan for 2014. When I gave birth to my daughter in January I had a strict recovery plan. Back in my old jeans as soon as possible, loose baby weight in 6 months and run a half marathon.

For years I’d said I’d run the Birmingham half, it’s in October and I’m usually on holiday when it’s on. I’ve run a half before but this was my realistic plan to get it all back in shape, especially as I need a focus to really up my motivation. It’s also a good way to end my running season, as I’m really not up for running when it’s dark and cold.

So it felt like they’d pulled the rug out from underneath me when I went to the fracture clinic on Monday and he said, no exercise. Initially when I told Phil he made a joke of it, saying I was the only person he knew who would be upset about not being able to exercise. But when I challenged him he started to understand that it’s more than just the exercise part.

Running, swimming any of the things I do regularly are more than just a calorie burn. They are my relaxation, my opportunity to take a step back from the day to day and really think. I’m not good at slobbing In front of the TV I need something else at the end of the day to turn my brain off. Reading is good but the only time I really relax to do that is on holiday. I also need the endorphins as I’m not so good at producing my own.

Monday I was not a happy woman but now I’ve decided to put a new focus on it. I’m going to exercise the only part of my body I can without injuring my knee, my stomach. I’ve got a holiday soon so I’m going to work on having the best abs I can instead.

Every day something gets in the way of us being able to do what we really want to, be that work, child or money. We’ d all like a career which pays well and we love but we can’t all have it. However, if you can make the little things better then the big things are easier to cope with. I will get to run my half marathon, ideally this year to hit my goal but if not, I’ll just find another goal.

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Home to Roost

Home to RoostPhil: Conventional theory says that a book needs a good, strong plot to succeed. Well, convention is wrong as Home to Roost by Tessa Hainsworth is the third book in a series and yet is completely devoid of any storyline at all. On the basis that her publishers aren’t doing this for fun, we have to assume that people are buying the books.

Instead of a plot, we have a year in the life of the author as she struggles to make a life for herself away from the rat-race in Cornwall. Along the way we meet various characters and enjoy a little window in to their lives. Some of the stories are funny, some very poignant. Reading the book takes the reader in to the heart of a rural community. Cornwall is a place that many would like to live but it’s not all beaches and ice cream and this becomes very obvious. If you can afford somewhere to live, and you’ll have to compete with Londoners buying second homes to do so, you’ll need to find a job in an area of high unemployment and low wages.

What’s fascinating about this book is it appears to be based on real life.

Tessa Hainsworth used to be the UK marketing director for Body Shop. After 20 years of work, she described her life, “I brought in an executive salary and Ben, an out-of-work actor, was doing a brilliant job as house-husband. The downside was that we lived in a faceless commuter suburb in a house that seemed less a home than a hotel, where I crashed out after incredibly long days at work. I went from one extreme to the other, either revved up from the stresses of the job or totally limp and exhausted. The previous Christmas, I had missed my children’s school play because I was working abroad.”

So after a Cornish holiday, she decided to quit the rat-race and move the entire family to the south-west. There she struggled to find a job, eventually ending up delivering the post, a far cry from her previous work. Along the way she managed to bag a book deal describing all of it in the two previous volumes.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure what everyone is getting from this. I read the book, it was pleasant enough, but like a mouthful of candyfloss, I didn’t feel there was very much substance. The earlier books probably had more jeopardy as the author struggled to settle in to her new life with the ever-present possibility of failure. This time she’s got it sorted and so the characters she meets have to provide the narrative. We have a couple who retire at a young age from London but don’t want to be part of the community. Older people who Tessa meets on her rounds fall in love, younger ones find jobs. Trees don’t get chopped down.

One thought did cross my mind. Are the characters real people? After all, the author is apparently describing her life but has she invented the other people? How would you feel if you read a book written by someone you knew and found yourself in the pages? As an author, would that inhibit your writing?

Home to Roost at Amazon



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