Ladybird: A Cover Story

This book was a Christmas present from one of the honorary nephews who knows I collect Ladybird books…and also knows I am trying not to go mad and buy a full set of them!

This book contains almost no text, just a short explanation of the book and the concept behind it.

What the book does contain, in colourful abundance, is copies of some of the Ladybird cover pictures. These date from the early 1940s ones up to the later 1980s ones. The covers were chosen by a mix of people who worked for Ladybird and public choice.

I loved the nostalgia-fest of leafing through this book. I enjoyed spotting old favourites that are still on my shelf. I was sad when I found covers from books I had as a child but lost or let go…and had to strongly resist the temptation to make a list of them to rebuy! I was also tempted to start a list of the books I’d like to own: I really don’t have the space to have a proper Ladybird collection.

And that was the downside of this book: knowing that I only own 45 of the books in here and I really want to rush out and buy the ones I used to own as well as the ones I’d like to own.

In summary, a lovely Christmas present and one calculated to wind me up as well as give pleasure! Good choice Tom and Sophie.

Gripped – Silas K Hocking

A murder mystery written in 1902!

A woman’s body is found thrown into a well in the sleepy town of Brunton. The woman was the vicar’s housekeeper and he was known to have argued with her and given her notice to leave.

The vicar protests his innocence but is arrested and found guilty. His sentence to hang is reprieved at the last minute and commuted to life imprisonment. The rest of the story follows his attempts to prove his innocence amid many trials and tribulations.

I enjoyed this story. I liked that it was both different from and similar to more modern detective novels. I enjoyed it even though, as an aficionado of murder mysteries, I could spot the plot from early on.

I liked the fact that the heroine of the plot didn’t just hang around languishing but got on and did her best to help solve the mystery. Quite racy for 1902 I suspect!

I enjoyed the dilemmas of the local police force who are faced with arresting someone they respect because of the evidence they uncover. It feels like a modern understanding of the ambiguity of the factual and a person’s gut instinct about another human being.

It was inevitable I suppose that with the central character being a vicar, and the author being a Methodist minister, there would a “God will take care of his flock” angle to the book. That also comes with the age of the book as well. It isn’t my thing but in this instance it wasn’t too obtrusive or distracting from the story.

Overall, this was a good afternoon’s read and I’m looking for other crime writers of the period to read. All suggestions welcome.

Click here to find out more about Silas K Hocking

The Tempest performed by The Handlebards

Another week, another theatre production. This week’s was a much more informal event at the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall in York.

We first discovered The Handlebards last year when some friends invited us to join them on a “picnic in the park” type event at Howsham Mill. This year the same friends organised a larger group of us and it was an indoor event.

The Handlebards describe themselves as an outdoor touring theatre company. I’d describe them as two slightly bonkers groups of actors who cycle round the UK delivering Shakespeare in small venues. All their props and costumes have to be carried on the bikes so most are improvised and rely on the imagination.

This version of The Tempest, delivered by the girls, was unlike any other version I’ve seen. I’d describe it as anarchic and funny without losing the essentials of the plot.

I enjoyed this performance but not quite as much as last year’s Twelfth Night. This was down to 2 main factors. Firstly, I spent the day driving to Coventry, sitting down in a forum for 6 hours and then driving back up to York. Way too much sitting down to be followed comfortably by another 3-ish hours of sitting on not very padded seats. It would be fair to say I had a numb bum and the fidgets from about mid-way through the first half.

Secondly, whilst the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall is a wonderful medieval guild hall it has a lot of pillars supporting the roof and these have a tendency to get in the way. And doesn’t it always seem that a critical bit of action happens at the point you can’t see what’s going on!

The venue though did give me a strong sense of belonging to, and being a small link in, the chain of history. People must have been gathering in this place to watch strolling bands of players, possibly playing The Tempest, for centuries.

In terms of the acting the group are competent and funny. If I paid to see a staged, theatre production I might have been disappointed but in this context it worked well. And I take my hat off to those people who were foolish enough, or were seeing Handlebards for the first time, and sat in the front row. Several of them were co-opted as extras, including 3 brave souls who ended up on stage, and several of them had wine/G&T/olives nicked.

In summary, not great theatre but a great, fun night out with friends.

Click here to find out more about the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall

Click here to ind out more about The Handlebards


The Autobiography – Johnnie Walker

I’ve had this book on my selves for ages and somehow never got round to reading it. I used to enjoy Johnnie Walker’s Drivetime show on Radio 2, particularly when he and Sally Traffic got the giggles, and I enjoyed going to see him speak about his life and work when he came to a venue local to me.

This book does what it says in the title, goes through Walker’s life from childhood, pirate radio, Radio 1, USA and back to UK.

Some of what’s in it I already knew from the talk I saw but there was a lot that was new about his personal life and the work he did in USA.

I liked finding out more about what it was like working for pirate radio and then making the transition to the Beeb. It was interesting finding out about Walker’s time in USA. Somehow I was under the impression he’d been a really successful DJ over there when the reality seems to be that he struggled.

I also like finding out more about what happened with the drugs bust and cancer treatments whilst on Radio 2 Drivetime. I heard it on air as a listener and it was interesting to find out what went on behind the scenes.

Like all autobiographies though, I think this book has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Johnnie Walker writes a lot about being a spiritual person. Maybe he is. But what comes across in the book is that he is very much a self-centred and selfish man who generally finds a way of convincing himself that what is right for him is the right thing to do.

Reading the book doesn’t put me off enjoying Johnnie Walker’s radio shows but it doesn’t make him endearing not does it put him on my fantasy dinner party list.

Aida performed by Opera North

I haven’t written a theatre review for ages. Not because we haven’t been to anything but, I think, because we went to see something and I just didn’t know what to write so I lost confidence in my opinions. Which is odd because I’m seldom unable to voice my opinions!

Then last week Ian McMillan’s Yorkshire Post column said something along the lines of “Don’t wait for inspiration. It won’t happen. Just sit down and get into the habit of writing”. So, here goes!

I haven’t ever seen Aida performed on stage in its entirety. I’ve seen bits of it live and I know the opera from listening to records as it was one of my Dad’s favourites.

This production was a concert performance by Opera North in Leeds Town Hall and I went with friends who are far more knowledgeable about opera than I am.

I actually prefer concert performances of operas. Generally, as a play goer more than an opera goer, I find the not great acting from most opera singings a distraction from what’s going on. In a concert performance no-one is trying to act beyond their capabilities and it matters less that the young general is being played by someone in his mid-50s.

The orchestra of Opera North were great, as always, and I enjoyed watching them play. I loved the fact the trumpet players came to the front of the stage with proper heralding trumpets for the Grand March.

I thought the singing was great and my friend, who is seriously into opera, said it was sung well, which I consider high praise from her.

The costumes were modern and, on the whole, effective. The only one that didn’t work was the King of Egypt’s. It wasn’t clear that he was King unless you happened to know the story. And I have no idea why he walked on eating a sandwich!

There was very little in the way of props; a few stools, a doorway and an odd cushion. The scenery was a small backcloth, high-ish up that had scenes projected onto it. This became a bit of a distraction. I understood when scenes of destruction from the 20th & 21st century conflicts around the Middle East were being shown; Aida is set in war time period and they remind us of what war looks like from within. The hands removing plaster of paris from each other and the moving feet were unnecessary distractions and I don’t think added any texture to the performance.

Overall though I am so pleased I went. It reminded me how much I love the music and how wonderful it is to come out of a live music event wrapped in the warm blanket of shared enjoyment.


A Knight of Today – T L Meade

This book was part of a lot I bought at auction. A beautifully bound Sunday School prize from 1904.

The plot borrows from others – a few bits that could come from Charles Dickens, bits from children’s stories like Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – but it trots along at a nice pace.

The essence of the story is that 2 girls are orphaned and left to the care of their miser uncle who, as well as having a legitimate job also has an illicit career as a money lender. One girl is plain and good, the other seemingly empty headed and frivolous.

One of their father’s former colleagues end up teaching the girls and ends up being hated for his goodness by the uncle. The uncle implicates the teacher in a fraud, leading to imprisonment, but repents on his death bed and it all ends happily ever after.

This is generally a predictable story but the social commentary is interesting. There are a lot of references to God and doing God’s work/will, but I guess you’d expect that from an early 20th century Sunday School prize.

Despite the God-bothering I think the book has a moral that is still relevant today – be kind to others, do what you can to help those in need and help them to help themselves.

I wouldn’t pass this book to any of my honorary great-nieces or nephews to read. I think it would bore them. But I’m glad I read it.