Wednesday, 24 July 2013

My June Reads

I thoroughly enjoyed the four books I read this month ( makes a change!), must be the summer sun making me a little less critical!

My lovely friend Jo lent me her copy of 'The Book of Human Skin' by Michelle Lovric and I could not put the book down. The action is set in the late eighteenth century Venice and Peru, with the dastardly Minguillo Fasan plotting terrible things against his sister, Marcella, who is set to inherit his beloved palazzo. Some of the action is definitely not for the squeamish, in many ways it reminded me of 'Perfume' in its graphic details. The portrayal of the mad nun, Sor Loreta, is excellent, she and Minguillo are equally depraved and you are gripped with the hope they will receive their retribution. The story is told from various character's points of view and I highly recommend it.

I haven't read any of Michael Frayn's novels before and as 'Skios' was a Booker long-lister and in Oxfam, I thought I'd give it a whirl. Oliver Fox arrives on the Greek island of Skios and on a whim, decides to pose as a visiting academic, Dr Norman Wilfred. The absurd plot had me chuckling away and Frayn certainly is a master of farce. His depiction of those attending 'self-improvement' holidays with the exceedingly bored guest speakers going through the motions, is very funny as is the pseudo intellectual rubbish spouted by Oliver being lapped up by the unsuspecting audiences. The action zipped along, was very well written and I now have 'Spies' by Michael Frayn on my 'to be read' pile.

Our book club book this month was ' The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' by Rachel Joyce. Harold receives a letter from an old friend who is dying in a hospice in Berwick on Tweed. He goes to post a reply from his home in Hampshire on the south coast, but decides that by walking to Berwick, he can delay her death. What could have been rather a twee idea, is nothing of the sort. It is poignant but also gritty and funny. As his walk continues, he attracts followers and the input of social media and the once well-intentioned 'followers' of Harold almost manage to de-rail the whole journey. I loved the ending, as it was beautifully under-stated and 'real', not a Hollywood-style reunion and denouement. The last few chapters had me in tears, and it was Rachel Joyce's lightness of touch, that made it so moving.

Finally, you MUST read 'Heft' by Liz Moore, one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Arthur Opp is a housebound recluse in Brooklyn, who is terribly over weight and socially awkward. He receives a phone call off a former student, this sets off a train of events that has life-changing consequences for Arthur and Kel, a seventeen year old boy who may or may not be Arthur's son. This was an utter delight from beginning to beautiful end, I truly cared about the characters as Liz Moore has written them so wonderfully. Again, the book moved me so much, it is a tale of being an outsider, of rejection, of trying to find your place in the world. I loved the ending and wished I hadn't read it, so I could discover it again for the first time.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Masque of Anarchy

Manchester International Festival is in full swing, I did try to get tickets for Kenneth Branagh's "Macbeth" but I was in hospital when they went on sale, so I wasn't successful. I was luckier in getting hold of tickets to see Maxine Peake perform "The Masque of Anarchy" and I am so glad I did.
The poem was penned by Percy Shelly in response to the Peterloo Massacre, the events in 1819 where the militia charged on a peaceful gathering in Peter's Field, Manchester. The crowd of over 60,000, listening to calls for democratic reform, were charged upon by Hussars on horse back after the local yeomanry had tried to arrest the speakers. Fifteen men, women and children died and many more were injured. Shelly was in Italy when he heard of the appalling events and, outraged, he wrote the response that was banned from being published for twelve years.
The recital of the poem by Maxine Peake took place in the Albert Hall, very close to the site of the massacre. Above a bar area, currently being renovated, is an old Methodist chapel which has been closed to the public since 1969. Hundreds of candles flickered as Peake took to the platform in a ghostly white dress.
The recital was mesmeric, Peake perfectly captured the outrage, the pathos and the hope the poem brings. The final lines...

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number-
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many - they are few'

..echo across the centuries and are as fresh today as they were in 1819. It was a truly spine-tingling night and I felt privileged to have been there.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Tales From The Tearooms: A Right Royal Tea Party

I went to visit my friend Sue in the fantastic town of Rawtenstall. The high street has many great independent shops, including the excellent "Sunday Best" boutique, as recommended by Mary Portas!
Tucked away in a side street is " A Right Royal Tea Party" a lovely little tea room that serves the best value afternoon tea I've ever had. For two people at £10.95 there is a huge pot of tea, two choices of sandwich filling, crisps, salad and a delicious coleslaw, scones with jam and clotted cream, plus two scrumptious cupcakes baked on the premises. That's all for £5.47 each, amazing!
The shop has very recently been redecorated, it's very vintage-y, a lot of Cath Kidston prints, and has an area for toddler tea parties in the rear of the shop.
I will definitely return here and if you find yourself at the end of the M66 or at the last stop on the East Lancs steam railway, do give " A Right Royal Tea Party" a twirl.


Bel's boyfriend was one of fifty brave souls who cycled from Geneva to Venice in aid of Kidney Research. Not being so brave, indeed being rather lazy, we flew to Venice to meet him. 
Alex had no idea that Bel would be at the finishing line and it was a very touching reunion!
So, what about Venice? 
Bellinis at Harry's Bar, sublime pasta at a hidden away trattoria, circumnavigating the island on a vaporetto, gelati and Camparis at the Lido, walking the warren of streets and alleys, St Marks's Byzantine splendour, an exhilarating water taxi ride to the airport and more. I loved it.