Spark (Alice Broadway): I’ve previously blogged (separately) about this book – daughter Alice’s second book in the ‘Skin Trilogy’. In this world of power and control/ haves and have-nots/ morality and corruption/ manipulation and duplicity/ judgement and risk/ belief and unbelief/ integrity and hope, this is a wonderful, thought-provoking, wise and powerful book. It might be labelled as ‘Young Adult’ (YA) novel, but it has a message for young and old alike. I absolutely loved it. A brilliant ‘page-turner’ if ever there was one.
Travelling To Infinity (Jane
Hawking): I bought
this remarkable book on the day Stephen Hawking died (from the £3 Bookshop!).
It tells the story of Jane and Stephen Hawking’s extraordinary life together. They
were married for over 25 years and had three children. They met in January
1963, shortly after Stephen had begun research in cosmology in Cambridge.
Within a matter of months Stephen was diagnosed with a strain of multiple
sclerosis (later confirmed as motor neurone disease) and given a ‘couple of
years to live’ but, despite this, they married in July 1965. The story tells of
Stephen’s celebrated achievements in physics, astrophysics, cosmology (and
beyond!); the huge list of awards, medals and titles that were bestowed on him
from governments and famous institutions; his amazing capacity for sitting for
hours working out incredibly complicated theorems in his head; his love of
being the star attraction at conferences throughout the world. But behind this
frenzied lifestyle came the unrelenting, pivotal, 24/7 support he required to
sustain things. Jane was clearly the person who enabled Stephen to achieve so
much of what he did (providing the 24/7 care in the early years of their
marriage - and a good deal beyond that; juggling family life; making necessary
travel and complicated accommodation arrangements; organising suppers and
receptions for distinguished visiting scholars and the like; accompanying him
on his numerous engagements and providing constant ‘nursing’ support; and later
co-ordinating his ‘external’ nursing support and balancing his escalating needs).
Stephen and Jane divorced in 1995 (his second marriage to his nurse ended in
divorce in 2006 and Jane remarried in 1997), but, since 2006, they were “able
to associate freely again and enjoy many a family occasion together”. The book
makes compelling reading. It’s a brave, honest, painful account of their lives
– with all the triumphs and excitement, together with all hardships and
sacrifices. I still haven’t seen the film (“The Theory of Everything”), but I
suspect that it begins to tell the story of Jane’s vital role in Stephen’s life
– something about which, in this world that concentrates so much on celebrity
and success, I suspect that most of us never knew. It’s a long and complicated
story – Jane is an excellent writer and she tells the story in a tender,
non-vindictive and respectful way. I urge you to read the book for yourself.
Morality For Beautiful Girls (Alexander
McCall Smith): I
needed some gentle light reading after the in-depth account of the Hawking
family! Another gentle, joyful, humourous book of African wisdom.
The Making Of Modern Britain (Andrew
Marr): Marr is a
brilliant communicator (I’ve also watched both the “Making of” and the “History
of” versions on TV). In this book, he covers a lot of ground (from Queen
Victoria to VE Day), but is particularly adept and entertaining at telling the
stories behind the stories. Here are just a handful of the obscure bits that
absolutely fascinated/appalled me:
a) Unsurprisingly (although still
depressing), the late 19th/early 20th century Britain saw
rigid class distinctions (and these were only emphasised in parliament).
Indeed, scientist Francis Galton (in 1901) was keen to introduce what he called
“The Possible Improvement of the Human Breed under the Existing Conditions of
Law and Sentiment” – endeavouring to classify people by their ‘civic worth’. I
won’t shock you with the details but, essentially, “Society should stop the
lower sort from breeding so enthusiastically, and encourage the elite to breed
more”! Frighteningly, many powerful and influential individuals (including
Churchill!) were supportive. The messages were also “well heard” in Germany
where, in 1905, an organisation called the Race Hygiene Society was formed.
b) Medicals from WW1 recruitment
underlined the huge nutritional and health differences between the classes: “on
average serving soldiers were five inches shorter than officers”!!
c) “Failure in Flanders had led
Kitchener to make one of his most chilling remarks of the war, complaining that
the British commander Sir John French had wasted shells, rather than men. The
men could easily be replaced, he said; the shells could not”.
d) I was struck by how
powerful/influential the press barons (eg. Northcliffe and Harmsworth) of the
early 20th century were… and how it mirrors the present-day world of
Murdoch and his like.
e) Similarly, in some strange way,
between Lloyd George and Trump (although the latter continues to appal me!):
referring to Lloyd George: “He believed in himself, and in doing. He was
increasingly drawn to self-made and
‘go-ahead’ business people, rather than party loyalists or other MPs. His power
came from his actorly self-projection…”.
f) I certainly wasn’t aware that, at the
outbreak of WW1, there were more than a thousand suffragettes in prison and
that the leaders of the WSPU (Women’s Social+Political Union) were “either in
jail or on the run”.
g) I found Britain’s attitude towards
and actions in the Middle East (c 1917) thoroughly depressing (“Arab
humiliation”). As Marr says: “We have made-up countries with imported puppet
rulers; Arab nationalism first encouraged and then mocked; extremist forms of
Islam left to flourish; and the old Caliphate abolished, leading to a debate
about what should replace it in the Muslim world. The consequences of the First
World War amount to more than paper poppies once a year; they are all around us
before the end of WW1! I could add far, far more examples but, hopefully, you
‘get’ my enthusiasm! Marr writes engagingly, even-handedly and knowledgeably in
great detail (and with frankness and much humour). I found it an utterly
Follow On (EW Swanton): This book was first published in
1977. Swanton was, primarily for me, a very well-loved cricket journalist and
broadcaster (he died in 2000 at the age of 92) whose observations on the game
were usually intelligent and sensible (although, for some, perhaps just a
little too measured and dry?). He was a traditionalist and VERY much a figure
of the establishment (conservative with upper and lower case ‘C’!) and this
autobiographical book has constant references to players and committee men
(sadly, women don’t seem to exist in his world… and, for goodness, don’t even
whisper the possibility of ordained women in the Church: “to give countenance
to the idea of admitting women to the priesthood… would seem to be lunacy”!!) who,
it seems, were primarily from Eton, Harrow (and one or two other prominent public
schools) and Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Swanton was certainly not given
to romantic descriptions of the game (like Neville Cardus) and, frankly, he
frequently comes across as quite a serious, almost pompous, man in this book… which
is perhaps a little unfair (albeit that he’d grown up in a different age).
Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed reading his thoughts on the game… and, if he
was alive today, I suspect that his views on demise of County Cricket would
echo my own!
abide with me
3 months ago