This May I Have…

  

…read some books.

Well, only two books, but two fairly big ones. 

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell was my Classics Club Spin book.

In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies was recommended by a friend and proved to be an interesting, if disturbing read.

…met Elizabeth Speller

I follow Elizabeth Speller (author of The Return of Captain John Emmett, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, At Break of Day) on Twitter and I have found her an interesting person to follow, not just because of her posts but also the fact that she engages with her followers.  At the start of the month I saw that she was giving a talk at my local library, so I tweeted a colleague – who also followers Elizabeth Speller – and we tweeted her and made plans to go and see her.  Speller’s three novels are based during the First World War, a topic which followers of my blog will know I love and focused on for my MA dissertations, and it was fascinating to hear Speller talk about this area of history.  She was a fantastic speaker and I learnt some really interesting facts about the First World War, such as how drug laws came into place due to the amount of soldiers doped up, that all soldiers were given a book on poetry upon signing up and how hairstyles changed due to the rats fondness for hair lacquer. I had a really enjoyable evening and if you ever get the chance to see Elizabeth Speller I highly recommend it.

…treated myself.

In recent months I have not really had much spare cash to treat myself, obviously I have Australia to look forward so I’m hardly all woe is me, but sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself, so that’s what I have done this May and I have added a few new pieces to my wardrobe.  I absolutely love a patterned trouser and I mean love to the extreme, it’s an obsession. However I have branched out slightly buying this jumpsuit

 
I’m never too sure if I’m a tad too tall for jumpsuits, but I’m happy with this one.  My favourite item of clothing bought this month is this gorgeous coat; I did umm and ahh as I thought it was a bit out there, but I LOVE it.

  
…been back to Devon.

The past two summers I have been down to Devon with my mum and the dogs and I have had an amazing time.  We walked lots, explored Devon and visited Agatha Christie’s holiday home, Greenway.  Because of my love for the place, I was eager to return so boyfriend and I went down to Dartmouth for a few days in the May half term.  It was lovely, we had beautiful weather and it was great to just mosey about, and as I’m a little bit of a brat and boyf doesn’t like planning, we went to the zoo and back to Greenway (yay) so I could lust after these first editions

  
As well as travelling around Devon doing some of the things I love, we relaxed a little bit and spent a good few hours with our legs dangling over the edge of the dock crabbing.  I have never been crabbing before but the idea is beautifully simple; take a bucket with water, a net or little netted bag with meat in and chuck it off the dock and wait.  I cheated a little bit and had a net, but we caught lots of crabbies and discovered they love ham…and some of them are a tad cannibalistic and liked some crab flavoured sea food sticks ha! This is the first crab I ever captured…

 
Hopefully June will be as lovely as May!  

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In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile

  

Title: In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile.                                                                                                Author: Dan Davies.                                                                                                                                                      Published: 2014.                                                                                                                                                                      Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

When he died in 2011, Sir Jimmy Savile was arguably one of Great Britain’s longest standing famous entertainer.  His career spanned over half a century and included pioneering parts in the development of DJ-ing, the launch of music shows/radio stations such as Top of the Pops and Radio One and his infamous dream come true style show Jim’ll Fix It.  Alongside this he played a pivotal role in raising money for so many charities through fund raising, his own sporting endeavours and his links to those high up in British politics and the Royal family. Over decades he had established a wholesome and almost caring image and on his death large parts of the population were devastated to lose such a high profile name.  And then the truth came out. 

Throughout his career Jimmy Savile had access to some of the most vulnerable in our society and he abused this power at every given opportunity.  Not only did he abuse young girls, he created a whole facade to hide behind, so that the image of him with young girls, or his comments about teenagers in particular were seen as part of his jokey personality. Through friendships with those in high places he was able to hide this abuse and ensure that he always had the upper hand.  Dan Davies met Jimmy Savile many times over the last decade of his life and it is these meetings, the stories that Savile told him and the subsequent police investigation that form the basis of this book. 

My Thoughts

When my aunty asked me what I was reading and I replied with “a book about Jimmy Savile” she pulled a face and asked me why.  I didn’t grow up watching Savile on the television – Jim’ll Fix It was cancelled when I was 6/7 – yet he was still someone I had vague recollections of before his death and the revelations that have quite rightly tarnished his name since.  He was clearly a huge part of British popular culture in the late twentieth century; in fact some of the information about his early career is quite interesting, so why not read a book about him?  It’s the knowledge of his secret life that prompted my aunty’s look of disgust.  It is fair to say that Jimmy Savile is one of the most, if not the most, prolific celebrity sex offender Britian has ever had the misfortune to nourish.  

I can remember shortly after Savile died and all the revelations started appearing in newspapers and the general attitude of ‘of course they are saying that now, he’s dead and can’t answer back.’  I’m as guilty as the next person for feeling a little bit like that, for thinking ‘oh I thought it was like that in the 1960s/1970s and men occasionally groped girls’ arses’, I’ve been in nightclubs before and guys have grabbed my arse and I’ve just let it pass me by (or given them a swift elbow depending on my mood), so I didn’t really think much of it.  I’m almost ashamed to be so blas√©  about my original opinions, but I try to be as honest as possible on here so I’m not going to start screaming ‘I knew he was a wrong ‘un’ when I didn’t have a clue what was being revealed.  

Before I read In Plain Sight I was aware that this wasn’t the case and that Jimmy Savile’s abuse was much more serious than a pinch on the bum, but I’m not quite sure how prepared I was for how depraved and disgusting his actions were.  There were passages in the book that were disturbing and simply horrific to read about, however I felt Davies dealt with them in a sensitive and truthful tone.  There wasn’t a long, dramatic build up to such descriptions; they were very matter of fact, which made them all the more shocking.  It is unbelievable to discover that a man renowned for his charitable fund raising had the sheer audacity to abuse so many young people and to blatantly flaunt the fact he liked young girls.  As payment for an appearance he was given six local teenage girls to show him around and care for him.  He was 50!  And people did it. They accepted his terms and gave him whatever he wanted, in awe of his celebrity status they felt he could do no wrong.  

All of this is horrific to read about and worse when you remember that this is a non-fiction book, but one of the most bizarre things is the reaction of the BBC to investigative journalists who were working on an expose of Savile’s crimes.  Those high up in the BBC claim they were working on an investigation into why Surrey police didn’t press charges against an 80 year old Savile and dropped the TV feature because of this.  They failed to mention the huge influx of witnesses accusing Savile of abuse, why? Because some of the abuse took place on BBC property and They wanted to run a Christmas tribute show.  You almost can’t believe it! 

I feel as though I’m rambling now as I have so much I want to say about this book and the sheer depravity of the man, but I’ll stop.  This is a fascinating and at times horrifying read, but for someone who rarely reads non-fiction and who knew little about the man and his crimes it was also an interesting read and one I would recommend.  It has certainly opened my eyes and moved away from the over sensationalised reporting in some tabloid newspapers.  The one thing Davies readily admits he wasn’t able to do was reveal the real Jimmy Savile, but after reading this book it is clear to see that would have been a bloody impossible mission to achieve. 

Booked Australian Tours

According to an Internet countdown timer I created it is just over 9 weeks until I get on that plane at Heathrow and start a 24 hour trip to Sydney, Australia.  This is both incredibly exciting, a tad surreal and also a bit scary as I currently have nowhere to stay when I am out there.  My Australian friend, who conveniently works for Australian Youth Hostels assures me that he will organise all accommodation for me in June as it needs to be within a certain time period for the best prices, so I’m not panicking just yet.  Instead I’m choosing to focus on what organised trips I would like to do when I am out there.  I have a rough plan of how long I am staying in each place and what I would like to do there and this includes some day trips organised by various companies.  I have booked one already and I’m debating booking the second one soon.  

Blue Mountains

  

As I look at some of the google images for The Blue Mountains now I’m definitely starting to feel more excited about my trip.  I booked my trip pretty much as soon as I started planning my holiday as my friend said I absolutely had to go to The Blue Mountains.  As with any good trip planning, with the assistance of a friend who is amazing at planning, I did some research into the types of trips available, relying pretty heavily on my Lonely Planet Guide Book and their website and it was through them that I found the following aviator trip

There were various trip options available but I decided to pay slightly more as I know this will be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity (such a cliche, I know) and in a very geeky way, I love a train ride and the scenery looks amazing.   So I’m off to The Blue Mountains and whilst I’m there I will be going on a Scenic railway, skywalk, cable car and tree top walk; I’m going to get all the views.

 
Although the sky rail does look slightly scary.  I’m pretty certain a wildlife park is thrown in there as well, to be honest my trip around Australia is basically just going to be me visiting zoos and wildlife parks.  My friends and family are going to love looking at my trip photos. 

Kuranda Railway Trip

Im planning to move north from Sydney, stopping in Newcastle, Brisbane and Cairns and the trip that has most caught my eye is this one to Kuranda near Cairns.  Again,I’m going to opt for the more expensive trip which includes a trip to a wildlife park to see – and hold – koalas and a one way trip on a scenic railway there and then another skyrail back. 

 

  

The trip includes stops at a local market and walks on a broadwalk to enjoy the rainforest from the ground too.  The best thing about starting to write about Australia is that I am becoming more excited at the though of my whole trip and whilst it might be boring to read about for anyone else, it is making me want to start properly planning and getting a move on.  

So I’m off to look at more Austraila information and I haven’t even thought about the 19 hours I’ll be spending in South Korea on the way home…eek! 

North and South

 
Title: North and South.                                                                                                                                                   Author: Elizabeth Gaskell.                                                                                                                                            Published: 1854.                                                                                                                                                                Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.                                                                                                                                             Challenges: The Classics Club

Synopsis

Margaret Hale is living a lovely life in the South; having spent some years in London with her charming, if somewhat shallow cousin, Edith, she returns to her parents in the Hampshire village where her father is the Reverend.  Life continues in this bliss until the day her father decides he can no longer honourably serve the church and so he uproots his family to the Northern town of Milton in the fictional county of Darkshire.  Margaret and her mother are both unwilling to go and make this perfectly clear from the moment they arrive in Milton. They are disgusted by the busy, noisy and smoky atmosphere of Milton and even more put out by the locals.  However, Margaret soon comes to feel passionate about the lives and struggles of these Northerners and seems determined to make life better for those she grows to love, this bridging the North/South divide that forms a prominent theme throughout the novel. 

My Thoughts

I was supposed to read North and South at university.  In fact, I got a fair way through the novel but something invariably came up, whether it was my inability to read more than one book at a time or my tendancy for a few too many nights out who knows, although I suspect the latter.  I added it to my Classics Club list in the hope that one day I would finish it and as it was my Spin number for the most recent Classics Club Spin, now seemed to be the time.  I found it hard work.  I had very little interest in the characters if I’m honest and needed a slightly jucier story to keep me gripped throughout. There were parts I enjoyed, such as the descriptions of the settings and the hustle and bustle of Milton, but equally there were parts I had to force myself to read.  I can fully appreciate how Gaskell aimed to raise the plight of the poor in the social consciousness of Victorian Britain, but I prefer Dickens’ slightly more melodramatic way of doing this.  I did enjoy her efforts to highlight the vast difference in lifestyle between the North and the South and as someone who has family in both parts of the country, I certainly agree with some of her more astute observations.  

A slightly mixed experience of reading, but I’m glad I finally finished North and South and I think I would happily read more of Gaskell’s work. 

 

A Hardy Bank Holiday

Last weekend was the first May bank holiday of the year.  I had grand plans involving a local village fair and a cider tent and then my body decided to punish me and I ended up on antibiotics (which I am still taking now which means I will have to be the bloody driver at one of my best friend’s birthday/engagement party tomorrow, but ‘nothing is more important that being healthy’ and I scowl as I type that).  So I came home in a crying sulk instead and to cheer me up Mum and I made plans to visit Dorchester and have a Thomas Hardy style day.  

Our first stop – after a long walk from the car park – was Max Gate, the house Hardy designed for himself and where he wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure…and died.  A lot of the furniture in the property is replica, however this was pure genius in my mind as it meant there were no ‘do not sit here’ signs and I have a slight obsession with chairs.  This helped to create a really relaxed and chilled atmosphere in the house; you could make a cup of tea in the kitchen and go and sit in the garden, the conservatory or in front of the open fire and read one of the many copies of Hardy’s novels or collections of poems dotted about the place.  The staff were really helpful and knew their stuff about Hardy and it was just a pleasant and laid back environment and I loved that.

  
On the way there I promised I would only buy one book and I had my eye on Jude the Obscure as it is on my Classics Club list.  I had every intention of sticking to this rule, especially having just moved a tonne of books, but they were only ¬£3 each so I picked up Under the Greenwood Tree too.  

 
The garden at Max Gate has a pet cemetery and as we were looking at it Mum told me that this dog (Wessex) was battered to death by a tramp, so I had to take a photo of his tombstone. 

The main reason we went to Dorchester was to go to the cinema, especially as Dorchester cinema is much cheaper than the other local one and our film of choice was Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Do you see where this Hardy theme is going? I read the novel a few years ago and had a vague recollection of what happened but it was lovely to return to the world of Hardy and the beautiful West Country scenery.  The setting throughout the film was gorgeous and it was fun to spot places I knew well.  

The narrative follows the life of Bathsheba Everdeen who comes into an inheritance of a farm and decides to run her own business and become an independent woman. Of course there is a love story element, with three potential suitors: one who is the strong and silent type; one who is an untrustworthy soldier and one who is just a bit too serious to be honest.  But Bathsheba is adamant that she doesn’t want to get married and that she doesn’t need a husband to succeed in life.  It is a lovely film and one I would definitely watch again.  In fact, I feel the need to reread the novel now.  You can see the trailer here

 

Mariana

 
Title: Mariana

Author: Monica Dickens

First Published: 1940

Challenges: Reading the Twentieth Century, TBR Pile 2015 and Reading England

Synopsis

Mariana is a novel following the life of Mary Shannon as she moves from childhood to young adulthood (for some reason I remember reading that they didn’t have teenagers until the 1950s?) to marriage.  It opens at the start of the War and with her new husband away fighting Mary takes off with her dog to a secluded cottage to escape from her worries.  It is here on the wireless that she hears some terrible news and, due to storms cutting off communication lines, she must wait until morning to discover if her worst fears are to be realised.  

The narrative then moves to Mary’s childhood and her love for her Grandparents’ Somerset home, Charbury and her cousin, Denys who Mary is infatuated by.  Her whole childhood and time at school is spent in awe of Denys, keeping a secret engagement and doing anything he asks, such as jumping off a garden wall.  It is not until she visits him at Oxford that Mary realises how silly her girlhood dreams were.  Her life then takes her to acting school (a dismal affair) to Paris and a more public engagement to a Parisian who cares rather too much for the showy and finer things in life and then back to London to meet the perfect man.  And then the War begins.

My Thoughts

I knew I would like Mariana as soon as I read the following lines in the Introduction:

  
I couldn’t think of a better way to sum up England if I tried and just to make it clear I love living in England.  That being said I feel as though it has taken me a long time to read a relatively short book, well 370+ pages.  I’m completely blaming this on moving and I promise that will be the last time for a few months that I blame anything on this…well apart from when I can’t find a certain book because it’s packed in a box somewhere.  In places Dickens’ description is lyrically beautiful; there is a fantastic passage detailing two young men strolling across a sunlit lawn that just instantly brought that image to my mind and made me wish for those hot, lazy summer days.  

In places I laughed and in places I cringed as I was reminded of a young me and all the silly infatuations your teenage years brings.  One particular quotation I snapped on my phone was Granny’s response when Mary asked if her school friend could visit Charbury: ‘Of course, Darling. Bring the whole school if you like.’  I found Mary such an endearing protagonist; she was such an ordinary, young woman, in fact I think she is even described as ‘not a beauty.’  She goes through all the dramas and dilemmas anyone growing up faces, from finding your career path to being fooled by the superficial facade of some people.  Who amoung us hasn’t fallen madly in love with some handsome guy only to find that actually there isn’t that much going on behind the eyes?  

Mariana can successfully be added to the list of Persephone Book I have thoroughly enjoyed.  For me it is the romantic simplicity of the narratives that I truly love and I know I will always be transported to a beautiful world.  

Challenges

Mariana ticks off a book in three lists: 1940 in my Reading the Twentieth Century; book 6 in my TBR Pile 2015 and Somerset in Reading England.