Monday, 30 May 2011

Nella Last's Peace

Just in time to meet my three-books-a-month deadline, I finished my third book for May.

As I previously mentioned, Nella Last's Peace had been on my shelf for the past two years and although I'd read the first chapter a number of times, I'd never gone beyond it.

The book contains Nella's diaries of life in an austere post-war Barrow. She eloquently describes the increasing rations and the adjustments to life after the wartime years, particularly her frustration at feeling like she no longer has a real purpose after the wartime causes she helped with are wound down. Nella tells the stories of her neighbours' and family's lives in an interesting and often highly amusing manner. Although you get the impression that Nella thought she was not a snob or as gossipy as the other women she knew, you occasionally get the feeling that she likes to hear the tittle-tattle and feels overly proud and almost boastful when others rely on her for capabilities and common sense.

I did enjoy reading the book, especially as it gives real insight into how difficult life in post-war Britain was. So often I have read books which finish in the summer of 1945 which give the idea that  life immediately returned to pre-war normality. Nella also wrote with great precision, focus on detail and seems to have tried to always create a balanced account of each with both facts and feelings.

However, I did feel that the book was rather overlong and could have been about 50-80 pages shorter. The constant drudge did become wearing and I was longing for something happy and exciting to happen. Yet, possibly this is why this collection of diaries is so good. It was not written to be widely read but as a part of a sociological exercise. Indeed, we write our blogs with the knowledge that they are to be read and therefore generally omit the boring things from every day life. I know I would not have the patience to ever read about my daily routine again and again!

Nevertheless, this was a good read and I highly recommend it if you want to get a reliable insight into life in Britain during the late 1940s. It is possibly not as good as Nella Last's War (which Victoria Wood turned into the interesting drama Housewife 49) but this is merely because it lacks some of the action and focus around key wartime events. Another book has been published containing Nella's diaries from the 1950s. I won't rush to read it but if I do see it in the library I may borrow it to see if her life regained any of it's colour and excitement.

For June's three reads, I'll now have a two-day head start. I'm going to read Penelope Lively's Family Album, another title which has been on my bookshelf for a while. I shall let you know on Wednesday what the other two books for June will be.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Not Quite The End Of May - Sunny & Breezy

Washing on the line, quickly drying.
Cold nearly gone, but left with a cough.
Mexican Lasagne for dinner last night, leftover Mexican Lasagne for dinner tonight.
Lavender and Veronica need to be planted tonight.
Too warm to wear jeans, too cold to wear a skirt.
40 pages into my new reading book.
Need to read another 10 pages tonight if I'm too keep to my 25 pages a day plan.
Almost at the end of my first half term in my new job.
Making plans for the half term holiday.

Monday, 23 May 2011

8 Songs, 1 Book & A Luxury

I am a huge Radio Four fan. I wake up to Today (serious morning news programme), I have always listened to The Archers (a very long running soap opera set in an English country village) and just love pottering around the house listening to its dulcet tones all day. I like getting whisked away to another world while listening to a play and being fascinated by a documentary on a subject that I never knew that I wanted to know about. Radio Four is a great British institution!

One of my favourite programmes is Desert Island Discs in which well-known people are interviewed about their lives whilst sharing the eight pieces of music that they would like to take to a desert island. They also get a choice of book (they already have the Complete Works of Shakespeare and a Bible or other religious text) and a luxury.

Picking your choices has been a popular dinner party game for years and I was delighted to hear that the BBC are now compiling a list of the nation's Desert Island Discs via their website and was quick to enter my selection. 

I thought I would my eight pieces of music with you. Perhaps it tells you lots about me and who I am or on the other hand it could suggest very little.

Take That - Shine
Ralph Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending
Gustav Holst - A Somerset Rhapsody
Randy Newman - You've Got A Friend In Me
Harold Darke - In The Bleak Midwinter
Harry Connick Junior - Just The Way You Look Tonight
Claude Debussy - Clair De Lune
Sonny Rollins - Alfie's Theme

Book - The Complete Dales Series by Gervase Phinn 
(If could have two I'd pick I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith 
- I find it very difficult to pick an absolute favourite)
Luxury - My Photograph Albums

My choices are a mixture of favourite and sentimental pieces of music but all remind me of special people and places. I suppose the most obscure choice is the Randy Newman track which is the theme tune from Toy Story, yet it is possibly the most meaningful song as it was Mr P's and my first dance at our wedding last year. We met while working in a toy shop and loved the words and sentiment of the song. It is very 'us'.

Both my book(s) and luxury are not particularly profound choices but they mean a lot to me. They would mentally take me back to family and friends, to the English countryside and to working in a school. I don't think I could tire of either.

As much as I love hearing the selections of celebrities, I also enjoy hearing about other people's choices and would like to pass this list-making activity onto the following people (eight people, like the eight pieces of music they need to pick) should they wish to accept the challenge and then pass it on:

I hope you have as much fun pondering your list and putting it together as I have. I can't wait to read your choices.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

I Have A Cold But...

...I am amazed at how happy and content a person I've become.

Picture Source -

Usually if I had a cold I'd stay in my pyjamas and use it as a god-given excuse to mope around but today I got out of bed, dressed, picked up a parcel, did some shopping and then pottered around the house. Despite feeling all snotty and headachy, I somehow found the energy within me to keep going. It was only when I sat down to relax and watch a film that I fell fast asleep.

For months if not years, I'd been feeling so gloomy and fed up with life. Yet now I'm full of joy and excitement about everything that is to come. It sounds contrived but I feel like my 'old self' able to organise my life, have fun and laugh at so many things. 

I'm sure much of this joy is due to the happiness I've found in my new job. I love the excitement of not knowing what each day will bring and reacting to new challenges every day. Even all this week when I've was feeling slightly unwell with a sore throat, the children gave me something to smile about each day and the motivation to keep going.

Not only are things going well for me at work, but the plans for our home are slowly coming together and becoming reality. I'm sleeping much better at night and I'm waking up early in the mornings, even at weekends - I can now seize the day, every day. I've also got into a routine when I arrive home from work and keep myself busy chores, reading, blogging and pottering until Mr P arrives home. My garden has started to come into bloom and I'm enjoying seeing my bulbs grow and seedlings spring up.

I have everything to smile about today. I hope you do too.

PS - Don't you think that happy cat picture could be my cat as a kitten? Spooky!

Friday, 20 May 2011

May Contain Nuts, But Must Consume

In my last bookish post I said that I was going to read a particular book but actually have ended up reading something completely different.

May Contain Nuts by John O'Farrell was a Christmas present from a very dear friend. It has been on my 'must read' shelf since then and one morning, when I knew I was taking our class swimming and I would have 30 minutes spare while they had their lesson, I grabbed it from the shelf and shoved it in my bag for later.

The book proved to be a really witty read. It tells the story of Alice, an over-anxious middle-class mother who desperately wants to do the best for her children. In particular it focuses on the efforts and lengths that she and her husband go to whilst trying to get their eldest child Molly into a public school in Chelsea.

From the opening chapter, as Alice causes a car crash after ambushing an unsuspecting speeding driver with a mannequin dressed as Tony Blair in school uniform, this is a real laugh-out-loud novel. However, the measure of comedy and sarcasm has been well-judged by Farrell and the happy yet politically correct ending rounds of the book nicely.

The only real fault with the book was the just a little over idealised tone towards the end. It had a very warm conclusion and I had gone from being rather annoyed with the central character Alice at the beginning to liking her at the end.  However, the mood in the final chapters suggests that inner-city state schools are great places to attend and are environments where everyone gets on together. From experience, I know this not to necessarily be the case.

Nevertheless I would really recommend this book to anyone who wants an interesting easy read and a good giggle. I'm sure that many parents coming towards the secondary school application period or those with teenage children would find this very amusing.

For my third and likely final read in May, I've just begun reading Nella Last's Peace. This has been on my 'must read' shelf for over two years which is a real surprised as I loved reading Nella Last's wartime diaries when I was at university. I shall let you know how this one as soon as I've finished it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Piano by Aidan Gibbons

We are studying this short animated film in Year 5 (nine and ten year olds) at the moment.

Still taken from the final scene of The Piano by Aidan Gibbons
It is an incredibly moving piece. I have watched it at least ten times and it never fails to bring a lump to my throat.

The children have offered so many explanations and interesting thoughts about the short film. It only shows that young children are very aware of emotions and are capable of having all sorts of feelings.

I will be amazed if you watch it and don't feel sad.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Mid May - Cold And Cloudy

Ne'ver Cast A Clout Till May Be Out 
It is cold in London today. So cold that I've just put the central heating on, I have the cat snuggled beside me and I'm contemplating having a mug of hot blackcurrant squash once I finish writing this. It also keeps looking like it's going to rain but nothing actually ever happens. I'm hoping it will rain as my lovely new pyracanthas need a good drink.
What's the weather like where you are?

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness
Last night I cleaned the fridge out. It's not a particularly time-consuming task but it is a boring one. At least, that's what I think. However once done it did look really sparkly and it was good to easily see all the contents. I always say I'll clean the fridge after I've done the weekly shop but never get round to it as I'm usually exhausted when I get back from the supermarket and want to get everything in the cupboard as quickly as possible. Yet I was so impressed with it yesterday, just before the veg box goods go into it today, that I think I'll change the order I do things in future.  
Do you have a set time when you attempt this boring chore?

Polo Princess
Today I had an email which said that I've won four tickets to the Polo In The Park event at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, London on the first weekend in June. I didn't actually enter for myself, it was my Dad who sent in my email address but I have to say I'm quite looking forward to it. I think it will probably be quite fancy and proper and even though I know nothing of the sport it will be lovely to see the horses. It'll be a good occasion to get glammed up and pretend that I'm Kate Middleton for the day!
Do you know anything about Polo, if so please share some wisdom? 

Silly SATs
I'm sending you my thoughts and good luck wishes if you have a Year 2 child doing their SATs this week. I have been invigilating a maths exam this afternoon and I really do find the papers so frustrating. If I find them so badly worded and difficult to understand, I can't imagine what it is like for a six to seven year old. I hope things are going ok for your children and exam stresses aren't getting to them and the rest of the family.

Monday, 16 May 2011

If I Ever Have A Son

If I ever have a son I will dress him in velcro shoes until he is 18 and I no longer have full responsibility for him.

Or I will have to buy him one of these.


I am amazed at the number of children (mainly boys, I hate to say) at school who can't tie their own shoelaces with a secure knot so their shoelaces aren't tripping them up or their shoes aren't flying off every five minutes.

I think my phrase for this week will be '(Child's name)...Feet...SHOELACES!' while I menacingly stare downwards at the child's evil shoes!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

I Didn't...I Do...

I didn't intend to...

be silent for almost a week

not write my Tuesday Thoughts

delete all the photos from my camera of London Town in the sunshine

go to sleep after school on Wednesday and sleep through the allocated slot for my OU telephone tutorial

to go to the pub two evenings running this week

just browse blogs this week and not leave any messages

have a good three days of a diet and then slip up more than slightly 

to start tidying our wardrobes and leave it all on the living room floor and just work round it

still have to send off my passport application

forget to water the garden on a couple of occasions this week

get to Friday and wonder where the week has gone and why we've reached 15th May already. 

I do intend to...

write my own posts 

take some interesting photos

not sleep after school

read blogs properly and leave comments

stick to my diet and start some exercise

tidy those clothes away

get myself sorted out after school and stick to a routine

get my photos taken and send the passport application off

get myself sorted out (especially after school) and stick to a routine

water the garden when it needs it (every day at the moment!)

use my time wisely for the rest of the month and be able to tick things off that list!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Things I Am Learning

Here are some things about teaching that I have learnt in the past two weeks...

There are many 'frequently used phrases'. 
My one for last week was 'Abdul, CHAIR!' - used to get an 11 year old to use all four chair legs and not swing back and forth on it.

Parents don't consider the following when buying a birthday cake for their child to share with the class:
1) A square cake is easier to cut than a round one.
2) It is difficult to cut 30 slices from a cake intended for 20 people.
3) Chocolate Cake with butter icing goes everywhere.
4) Teachers and T.A.'s time is better spent teaching than cutting up cake. Individual cakes are a far better option.

Photocopiers are essential...and generally unreliable.

Biff, Chip and Kipper are very stupid names.

The child who tells you he didn't do his homework with his best friend but they happen to get the same (incorrect) answers and (wrong) spellings is probably lying.

Children always have something funny to say:
10 year old: 'What's that game the Victorians used to play? 
10 year old thinks and looks through text book.
10 year old: 'I remember...Gobsmacker!' - pointing to a picture of hopscotch!

There is never a dull moment at school!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

No Comfort, No Joy

On Sunday I said that I wanted to read three books this month. Amazingly (given my recent track record for reading), I have already finished the first.

Comfort and Joy by India Knight was on my Christmas Wish List last year. I didn't receive it  then but found it in the library last week. It did feel a little odd to read a book about Christmas just after Easter but I thought that if I didn't borrow it then, I wasn't likely to see it there nearer the festive season.

The book is about Clara - a middle aged mother, wife, ex-wife, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, friend - who lives in London. It tells the story of three consecutive Christmases and what happenings at their family celebrations.

I have to say that I think this book is the most tedious, two hundred pages of nonsense that I've read in a long time. It was a very painful experience and I just wanted to get to the end and shut the book. I despised the snooty characters and the way in which it described separation, divorce and the effects on children as though it was always very straightforward and amicable. 

This book was complete drivel. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone and that's saying something. If you've read it, I'd be really interested to know what you thought of it.

So after that disappointment, I'm going to try some non-fiction instead and read Rosie Boycott's Our Farm which Mr P received as a Christmas present from my parents in 2009 and has been sitting on our bookshelf for a good while waiting for me to read it. 

This will be interesting as I have read some good and bad reviews of the book and already know the overall outcome of the farm saga. I'm just hoping that it will be better than my last read. After Comfort And Joy, I think anything will be bearable!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Early May - Sunny Breeze

Tuesday already? All these Bank Holidays are nice but very confusing!

Back To School
It is funny to think that I've already been in my new job for just over a week, even though I've only actually worked four days. It was nice to go back to school today and see everyone after the long weekend. The teachers continue to be really friendly and helpful and the children are starting to warm to me. I'm hoping they'll soon start to hang off my arm in the playground. It will only be then that I know that they've really accepted me as part of the school.

Asparagus Season
Have you tried some new season asparagus yet? We had some in our veg box last week and it was delicious. Sadly we rarely get 'treat' vegetables (lots of carrots and onions) but in a certain supermarket whose name starts with the letter 'T' (the big evil one!) they are two large bundles for £3. I'm looking for some nice recipes to use them in this week. I do love to eat it just dipped into Hollandaise sauce, but I think I should be a little more daring.

A Visit To The Abbey
Yesterday Mum and I visited Westminster Abbey to see the flowers from Kate and William's wedding. It was a popular Bank Holiday outing - we had to queue for over two hours to get in the door and were walking round the abbey for over four hours.

The flowers were beautiful. The extraordinary trees looked impressive in the abbey and didn't feel at all out of place. The smell from lots of Lily of the Valley blooms was lovely. The scent must have been even stronger on Friday when they had been newly planted and had just come into flower.

We also saw Kate's wedding bouquet. It looked so tiny on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior but it was lovely. It had started to dry out and you could see all the wires that it had been put together with.

It was my first visit to Westminster Abbey even though it has been somewhere I've wanted to visit ever since I can remember. It was such an interesting building and there was so much to see. The construction and architecture is amazing and the stone and wood carvings are very impressive. It was fascinating to see the tombs of famous Britons and centuries old monarchs - it was a real 'who's who' of British history. I was particularly interested in the effigies of monarchs from the 11th century through to the mid-19th century that are displayed in the museum. As many effigies were created using the death masks of the subject, they possibly provide the only true likeness of these people.

Henry VII - a miserly monarch?

If you are in London and have an afternoon to spare, I would really recommend you visit the Abbey. It's not cheap to visit (£16 for adults) but you will have a really enjoyable and absorbing time. You will be taken right the way back to the abbey's origins in the 11th century and hear all about its history right up to the present day. After all, how often do you get the opportunity to step inside something so old?

Sunday, 1 May 2011


May is the month when I realise that a quarter of a year has gone by and I wonder where the year is disappearing to.

This month I thought I'd reflect on April and see if I completed everything I planned/needed/wanted to do last month...

Time to dry clean my thick winter coat and put it back in the wardrobe to hibernate for the summer - Almost done, I still have to collect it from the dry cleaners.

Time to write the first essay for my Open University course - Done, awaiting result.

Time to get out in the garden to dig and plant - 2 new plants added, more to be done now there is no chance of another spell of very cold weather.

Time to sit down with the manual for my new camera and properly work out how to use it - I still need to find the manual!

Time to look forward to a long spring and summer and put events and meet ups in the diary - In progress.

Time for the new bed to arrive and finish decorating our bedroom - Done, must blog this!

Time to relax, sort myself out and prepare for the next term(!) during a 10 day holiday - Done and enjoyed!

Time to cook healthier meals and make time time to exercise to avoid looking like a dumpling in summer clothes - Getting there: start exercise class and diet regime this Wednesday, signed up for a 5k charity run in September.

To add for May... 

Get into an after-school routine. Having two to three extra hours before Mr P comes home should not be wasted! 

Finish my 2nd Open University module and write essay.

Sort out our wedding photographs, print and display.

Read three books from cover to cover.

Get the sewing machine out and make some napkins and place mats for summer dining al fresco.

Make sure I get my passport changed into my married name for my trip to Madrid or else I won't be going anywhere.

Start running.

Plan some nice things for my half term break at the end of the month! 

What did you plan to do at the start of the year and have not done yet?*
* Don't panic, no pressure - there are still 8 months to get things done! x