Mummy, what’s your favourite song? …

… asked daughter Juliet, who since her Dad bought some noise cancelling headphones has been glued to the family iPod. Well, where to start? I couldn’t possibly choose just one song, so in time-honoured Desert Island Discs fashion will try to limit it to eight! Here they are, in no particular order:

Everybody knows by Leonard Cohen from I’m your man which features some incredible poetry along with the ‘Angel Chorus':

Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Dance the Night Away by The Mavericks from Trampoline. This is my ultimate good-time get up and dance track.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Andy Williams. Perhaps my ultimate sing-along track.

Raindogs, the title track from the album by Tom Waits. My favourite artist ever.

Rain Song from Houses of the Holy by Led Zep which is quiet and lovely and features the most amazing jazzy chord sequence (A flat 9 on the fifth fret slides into G9 – I bought the sheet music book so I could play it).

Afterglow by Genesis from Wind and Wuthering. I know it’s from the Phil Collins era, and I know it’s one of their most soppy songs, but it means a lot OK!

Vincent Black Lightning 1952 by Richard Thompson from Rumor and Sigh. I was a biker chick for a few years (with red leathers) and this narrative song about a man, his bike and his girl is magnificent, especially live!

But, I couldn’t do it in eight because there’s some classical bits I just had to have …

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gerschwin – This Andre Previn version used to be my favourite – lush and romantic. Then I found the Bournemouth Symphony Orch version with Andrew Litton (appears to be unavailable now) which follows the original orchestration closely.

The Tallis Fantasia by Vaughan Williams. This version by the Academy of St.Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner is superb – the Academy’s strings are always beautiful, and suit this lovely, lovely music so well.

And lastly for some sheer romantic indulgence (as if the two above aren’t enough) – Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2. I couldn’t pick just one movement, I have to have it all! You can’t go far wrong with Ashkenazy playing Rach.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Victory for the little guy over bureaucracy!

This was one of those books that once spotted, had to be purchased. A new author to me with an intriguing name and equally interesting book title, a great cover, plus it was an American import that shouted ‘quirky’ at me. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a novel with a bit of quirk in it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin is a delightful novel about the triumph of the little guy over bureaucracy.

It’s set in NYC, where each street seems to have it’s own set of parking rules like alternate side parking on various days to allow street cleaning. You mustn’t park too close to a fire hydrant, or re-feed meters once parked. So you can imagine that finding an overnight parking space that is ‘good for tomorrow’ is a real challenge. Add to that the Mayor (who is crazy) is obsessed by the city’s parking problems – he seems to think that if he can control parking, the rest will follow.

So meet Murray Tepper, an ageing, mild-mannered businessman, partner in a direct mail targeting company, who likes nothing more than to find a metered parking spot, legally park, then sit in his car reading his newspaper until the meter is about to run out. This exasperates many New Yorkers who think if he’s in his car, he must be ‘going out’ and freeing up the space.

One Sunday, while parked (legally) in one of his favourite spots, a worker from the deli who has spotted him before, pops out for a chat and ends up telling Tepper his problems. Tepper gives him some straight-forward advice which does the trick. Next week, when he parks, there is a queue waiting to talk to him … and as you might guess, word spreads and it starts to get out of hand, especially once the Mayor gets involved for getting his arrested for causing a disturbance when all he wanted to do was legally park and read his paper. The whole situation escalates, but throughout Tepper remains unphazed and convinced that it’ll all work out.

We never find out why Tepper likes to park and read … but it’s an immensely amusing and enjoyable book, written with a journalist’s eye (Trillin is a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker), with some light satire about stupid Mayors, lawyers and stupid local ordnances. Best of all, it celebrates the little guy who doesn’t give in.

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin, Random House 2003, paperback, 224 pages.

5 days left to enter my Christmas comp …

Dear Readers,
Don’t forget my Christmas competition – enter my small book quiz and you could win yourself a selection of my hand-sewn Christmas decorations. I’m happy to send worldwide. Email me with the answers by Nov 30, I will make the draw on Dec 1st so I can beat the last date for airmail from the UK.

You could win a selection of these:


Now for the questions:

1. Which broadcaster’s current Christmas book is subtitled: ‘Food, Family, Friends, Festivities’?
2. In which book by the author of ‘Sophie’s World’ does Joachim discover things going on behind the windows of his advent calendar?
3. Whose ‘Father Christmas’ is bald, always grumpy and moaning about ‘Blooming snow’?
4. What is the name of Ebenezer Scrooge’s downtrodden clerk in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’?
5. Who wrote a hilarious book of school nativity play anecdotes called ‘A Wayne in a Manger’?

Good Luck!

It’s a beautiful day

I’m sitting looking out over school playing fields, the early morning frost has melted leaving the grass glistening. A few trees stubbornly hang onto their last leaves, and the church spire points heav’nward, contrasting against a hazy blue and cloudless sky. All is perfect except for just one thing …

Blooming leaf blowers!!! I can hear at least two going and it’s spoiling my contemplation of this lovely late autumn day. Heaven forbid anyone should have to look where they’re going and risk slipping on a wet leaf. And how many times have you seen leaf blowers in action, carefully manouevring all the leaves into a neat pile – then they don’t pick them up and they just blow back.

A giant beech tree on our neighbour’s plot sheds its leafy load all over our garden annually. About four years ago, we bought a leaf blower/vacuum, but only used it for that one autumn – it’s just so noisy and awkward to use (and we’re still using the leafmould from that year’s collection). Instead, I’ve gone back to the quiet but energetic method of brush and a pair of those giant plastic leaf-picking up hands – but then I do need the exercise.

Aah! They’ve stopped. Just in time to go back to work – oh well!

The Sonnets by Warwick Collins

This is an ambitious novel. The author has taken Shakespeare’s sonnets and created a novel around them, selecting those that fit this narrative – 32 in all, reproduced in full within the text.

Although I love Shakespeare’s plays, I’ve never read the sonnets, just knowing a couple of the famous quotes. This novel was a great way of getting to know them, and importantly, understanding them for they are full of coded messages and allusions which need interpretation. I must say he’s done a pretty good job.

Plague has shut London’s theatres, so young Shakespeare is staying with his patron, the Earl of Southampton who is an art-lover and encourages Will in his endeavours. Thus the poetry flows, full of fraternal love. Enter two women on the scene and Shakespeare falls in love with the dark lady of whom many of the sonnets are written about. There has been much speculation over her identity over the ages, and the author goes with the current thinking that she was the wife of the Earl’s tutor Lucia Florio. Politics is also to the fore in Tudor England, and Shakespeare has to write carefully lest he be found out.

This is a novel full of romance and passion, and of course it is brimming with poetry. The characters are vivid including a cameo from Marlowe, and I couldn’t help falling for the Earl a bit myself! Collins has also had some fun with certain lines from Shakespeare, and manages to get many of the titles of his plays into the text – which lighten the serious emotions on display throughout the rest.

Although I may not actually go as far as reading the rest of the sonnets, I’m glad to understand and enjoy those I read here. You don’t have to be a Shakespeare lover to enjoy this novel, but it has definitely inspired me to revisit some other Bardic stuff.

It’s currently available as a limited edition of 1000 hardbacks all signed by the author. You can read John Self’s review here and more from the publisher Scott Pack here.

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Sonnets by Warwick Collins, pub The Friday Project.

Alan Coren – 69 for 1

In spare moments after lunch for the past couple of months, I’ve been dipping into the humorist Alan Coren’s last book of columns. I can’t believe it’s over a year since he died, but reading these mini-masterpieces of wit, I can hear his voice, in turns mocking and exasperated, but always with tongue firmly in cheek.

Coren is at his best ranting about his favourite targets – ‘elf ‘n’ safety and bureaucracy, and this collection contains some classics. From why children no longer fall out of trees – they’re not allowed to climb them, to binge drinking and what abolishing happy hour would do to pub conversation.

There was a great column about celebs moving out of Notting Hill to Primrose Hill. This included a fabulous pun – I quote:

… Kate, the neighbourhood’s rolling Moss who, though she may not as yet have gathered any Stones, has certainly come tumbling down Primrose Hill…

But I have two real favourites. The first is entitled Rhinestones are forever, and is a hilarious cut-price Bond spoof inspired by the announcement that MI5 would be placing job ads in the papers; and the second is about Einstein’s depressed parrot. Apparently Einstein called his parrot ‘Bibo’ and was disappointed that it couldn’t learn to say its name – we’re informed that parrots can’t say the letter B. Coren’s Einstein is no Attenborough and resorts to telling it bad jokes – no wonder it was depressed!

These nuggets were gems to read, and he wrote plenty more – there’s a new anthology out for Christmas called Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks: The Essential Alan Coren.

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Source: Own copy. To explore Amazon UK, please click below:
69 for 1 by Alan Coren, JR Books, paperback.
Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks: The Essential Alan Coren by Alan Coren, Canongate paperback.

By Dickens! …

… I’m enjoying the Beeb’s Little Dorrit. I watched three episodes back to back last night and loved every minute. I have to admit I nearly shed a tear when Little Dorrit left the Marshalsea looking back to lovely, nice Mr Clennam.

Talking of Mr Clennam, I definitely prefer Matthew MacFadyen here to his turn as Mr D’Arcy in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, (and of course he was the original hero in the first couple of series of BBC spy drama Spooks). I’m still not quite sure where Gollum and his Italian ex-cellmate have to do with it entirely, but love Andy Sirkis’ superb overacting as the nasty Frenchman. I also love young Russell Tovey (The History Boys), his anguish after Amy turned him down was hard to bear. In fact, the entire cast is magnificent and it’s yet another hit adaptation from the pen of Andrew Davies. I note you can already pre-order the DVD, but you will have to wait until the end of January for it.

Meanwhile, the plot thickens … how long can Amy last without her ‘friendship’ with Mr Clennam? What power does the evil Frenchman have over Clennam-mere? Who is the mysterious Miss Wade? How long can Mr Merdle survive living with such a nasty piece of work as his wife (and parrot)? I’ll have to wait ’til next Wednesday now!

Desert Island Books #2

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Some may consider choosing an encyclopaedic dictionary a bit of a cheat, but I maintain that if you were on a desert island with no internet – there is no better book than Brewer’s for frequent dipping into for little nuggets of information. It is simply the original and most quirky dictionary of the origins of words and phrases, idioms, names and words with a story behind them, and it is completely compulsive.

It covers all the major myths and legends, Greek, Roman, Norse, Arthurian, Biblical and more. It has lists of the names of famous horses and swords, an extensive list of patron saints, nicknames aplenty, folk customs and all those thousands of words and phrases. The emphasis is largely on the historical though, not many modern era things get in.

At one stage they did produce a companion Brewers 20th Century Dictionary but this appears to be out of print; you could also buy Brewer’s Myths and Brewer’s Names volumes. I’ve got them all, but none is so useful as the original. Having said that, I don’t use reference books so much in these wiki driven times – except for my weekend tussle with the large GK crossword in the Telegraph, which I find is best solved on the dining room table surrounded by reference books!

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Source: Own copy. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ed Susie Dent. 19th Edition, August 2012. Hardback.

Synchronicity & Serendipity

Sometimes in the book blogosphere we’re all looking at books of the moment – several reviews will be posted about a new book or a title in the news – there’s a synchronicity about it all …

The Sonnets by Warwick CollinsTake the book I’m reading now for instance – Warwick Collins new novel The Sonnets which puts Shakespeare’s poems into a novel setting to explain the context of their writing. It’s published by Scott Pack’s the Friday Project and he’s been active in pushing it – I was lucky enough to get a freebie. My review will follow next week, but meanwhile you can read John Self’s on his blog here Asylum.

Then there are cases which display both synchronicity and serendipity …

Take the book Blindness by Portuguese author Jose Saramago. Now Emilia in our book group chose this for us to read weeks ago – I’ve just finished it, loved it – but will wait until our book group has discussed it to post my review. However you can read Teresa’s over on Shelf Love. While that may appear to be a totally serendipitous choice for us, it turns out that the film of the book, starring the rather fab Julianne Moore is due out soon and looks well worth seeing. Maybe we were all subconsciously influenced by this?

Lastly there are books that appear to be purely serendipitous choices that we just pick at the same time without any other influences …

The recent one I’m thinking of is Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. A few weeks ago I promoted this to my bedside pile – the ones which will get read next, and lo and behold someone else has recently read it and posted! It’s that man John Self again … you can read his review here on Asylum.

Or is it pure serendipity? Yesterday on the radio, I heard there is loads of buzz about Nabokov’s original story he based Lolita on!

Moviewatch – Stardust

One of the best films I’ve seen recently on DVD was Stardust.

It’s a truly magical comic fantasy adventure for all the family. Neil Gaiman’s fairy tale has been realised beautifully for the screen and features an all-star cast that goes all the way down into some of the smallest parts. The only one who jars for me is Ricky Gervais, but Mark Williamson as a goat turned into a man is a piece of genius, Mark Strong is a brooding and murderous prince, and it is a delight to see Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer having such fun playing against type. Claire Danes is an unconventional leading lady, but has that look of big-eyed wonder that wins you over as she did in Baz Luhrman’s marvellous Romeo + Juliet.

The story is an episodic fantasy quest that has laughs, both belly and more subtle chuckles, aplenty and some great running gags. There are great fights and there is also enough darkness and romance to suit everyone. The look of the film is sumptuous and fully realised in a way that the recent Pratchett adaptations for the telly could only long for from afar. A lovely, lovely film – for me it was even better than The Princess Bride, and that’s saying something!