“The Black Prince” roundup and “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


Oh dear, it’s only a couple of days since I posted my review of “The Black Prince” – I promise I’ll be starting the next read tomorrow! Fortunately, my lovely fellow Readalongers held onto their thoughts and shared them as soon as it was up, so there’s already a discussion going on on the review – do add your thoughts to that post, even if you’re coming to the book after January 2019, as I always love to hear what people think.

As well as the discussion on the review, Jo has done another of her excellent Goodreads reviews so do pop and read that here. I particularly enjoyed the quotes she shared at the end of the review.

Peter Rivenberg has come up proper trumps with his covers for this one – he has the Penguin edition after mine, a great US paperback (the very one that was thrown across a room, not by him!) and a collected edition (but when was that published and when did it go up to? Here we go …

The Warner Paperback Library first – who is the chap, and why is Julian meditating with a funny vase? Is it the vase that Bradley breaks bringing back from Bristol? But then how …

As Peter says, the back of the book shows what an event this was:

I have to say I have never seen footnotes on a blurb before – marvellous!

Here’s the Penguin Modern Classic

… and the promises of sex and violence on the back. OK, there is sex and violence, but this is a bit odd, isn’t it?

In fact there’s rather too much violence for my liking!

And the lovely colours of that collected edition

and it’s own blurb:

“The Sacred and Profane Love Machine”

I’m not sure what it is about this book, but although I’ve read it at least three times, and probably one more as I have a 1980s copy, I can only ever remember an awful lot of standing on lawns, looking into windows (which hardly distinguishes it from all the other novels) and the shocking thing near the end. So I’m interested to see what I make of it this time round. I did draw a relationship diagram in my notebook last time round which I will try to remember to share.

I have three copies of this: the first edition by Chatto and Windus, a Penguin reprinted in 1984 (so probably bought in about 1986 in my first rush of Murdoch reading) and the Vintage before last, as this is one they didn’t reprint with the red spines (it does at least have an introduction).

I find it interesting that they all have very similar looking and rather fussy cover images – I wonder what other people’s editions show.

A bit of blurb recycling going on as ever, too. Here’s the first edition’s flap:

Then the Penguin:

and then Vintage have read the first edition, I feel …

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up)? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite?

You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Black Prince” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


I’m so sorry this is so late – life and work have got in the way, I only finished this yesterday morning and here I am, trying to get the review in by the end of the month. I am enjoying the project and I massively welcome and appreciate everyone’s input: sorry if you’ve been waiting, poised with your amazing comments and reviews!

I’m going to start the next one on Friday, and that’s a promise!

Iris Murdoch – “The Black Prince”

(October 2018)

This is really one of those books that changes as you re-read it, I think – and I’ll be interested to hear other people’s experiences if they’re doing a re-read. I must have read it first in 1995, as that’s when my oldest copy is dated, although maybe I’d read my friend Mary’s copy before then. I remember then, at age 23, identifying with Julian and thinking she was great, and feeling it was all a bit Lolita-y. Now of course I’m nearer Bradley’s age than Julian’s and I see that actually it’s a book about menopausal women and the horrors of marriage!

I can see this in the context of a phase of IM’s experimenting with form. This story of eccentric loner retired tax man failed author Bradley and his violent falling in love with his rival, Arnold Baffin’s, daughter, alongside a backdrop of his sister’s arrival fresh from her failed marriage and his ex-wife’s return to London as a widow, with her weird brother. Although the scene moves from London to the coast, it’s quite one of her “closed” novels in that there’s a small group of characters and not much of the outside world – apart from Bradley’s colleague, who himself is pulled into the fold rather amusingly by the end. Where “An Accidental Man” worked through party chatter and chapters of letters, this narrative is nested within layers of editorial and commentary, something IM didn’t return to in the other novels as far as I can think. I will find it interesting to read “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” in light of these experiments.

I had forgotten about what is pretty much a rape scene, when Bradley falls upon Julian having seen her dressed as a schoolgirl Hamlet. I really don’t understand how I’ve missed this stuff in two books now: I’ve always been a feminist, a domestic violence campaigner, alive to the assaults women experience day in, day out. It’s not like I was awakened by #MeToo and can suddenly see this stuff. I’m not saying IM condones it (although she talks here and there about people wanting to be forced, etc.) but it’s pretty horrible. I’m also not saying Bradley is a nice or attractive character, so he’s even more rapey than almost-forgiveably horrified by himself Garth in the last novel.

This novel is unusual in my mind in not really having a saint or an enchanter. Bradley is obsessed with Arnold and in love with Julian in some way, and induces a slavish secretarial following in Francis Marloe, but not really in an enchanter way. He’s also “a failed person” but “a trouble maker” (p. 43) – although he’s messy and weepy and contingent, being seen as an active stirrer makes him unsaintly, plus he’s into psychoanalysis, not something that’s often a positive in the novels. Bradley achieves some kind of unselfing when he becomes a void on loving Julian (p. 232) but this is soon lost in control and ego. Maybe Shakespeare is Bradley’s enchanter. Various men are described as demonic, but in a sort of more general way, somehow.

It’s really a musing on art, isn’t it – or a musing on musings on art, maybe, which follows the metafictional form of the novel. I had to both smile at this and wonder if it’s IM’s description of her own work in Arnold’s:

“he lives in a sort of rosy haze with Jesus and Mary and Buddha and Shiva and the Fisher King all chasing round and round dressed up as people in Chelsea. (p. 137)

I also liked the aside about critics, which would have been a nice epigraph for my book on IM and the Common Reader:

‘So the critics are just stupid?’

‘It needs no theory to ell us this! One should simply try to like as much as one can.’ (p. 240)

We do have our usual themes. The Civil Service is there, with Bradley’s ex-job as a tax inspector. Thinking of siblings, we only have Bradley and Priscilla and Christian and Francis. There’s plenty of hair: Rachel’s is gingery and wiry, while Julian has a weird crest which turns into those familiar flat metallic locks we’ve had before. There’s a heck of a lot of water – lots and lots of women’s ugly crying for a start, and then the sea in the Patara sequence, bringing calm but emphasising Julian and Bradley’s differences, she cavorting in the waves, he unable to swim. And a mist comes over the sea and over them as they try to live in their little bubble of love for a few days. Christian has a face like “a grotesque ancient mask” (p. 93), another small theme we notice again and again. Bradley stares in the windows of the Baffin house and happily we are back chasing a pale thing through the night, except this time it’s a balloon!

Doubling: we have two locations, two ended marriages bring people into Bradley’s life, and scenes at the Baffin household of mayhem and violence at both ends of the novel, even before P. Loxias’ intro and outro. Rachel and Priscilla both cry, half-dressed, in bed. Roger and Bradley both have relationships with very much younger women, Roger being successful with his. There are stones on the beach which are brought back to the bungalow and arranged. The buffalo woman is a strange symbol, usually accompanying someone of great wisdom, but broken until Francis mends it …

There is humour – Bradley failing to catch his train over and over again, his identification with the Post Office Tower and his horror at using the simile of a red-hot needle through the liver which he has picked up from Priscilla. Much of the novel is too horrific, though, for a smile to be raised.

Links with the other novels do abound. I’ve always felt this had a lot in common with “The Sea, The Sea” in terms of the unreliable and egocentric narrator, but this time round he also reminded me of Hilary in “A Word Child”, possibly because of the brother-sister relationship and back story. As in “An Accidental Man”, at least Rachel and also to an extent Priscilla are shown to have been diminished by their marriages in what could be brought round to a feminist tone. There’s also a lot about “women of a certain age” becoming hysterical and basically menopausal, which is not something I associated IM for writing about until I remembered all those faded and drying women, from “A Severed Head” through “The Nice and the Good” and onwards. Bradley not wanting to be “a nebulous bit of ectoplasm swaying around in other people’s lives” (p. 49) reminds us of is it Willy Kost who uses the same metaphor? Broken china features, as in “An Accidental Man” and a set of books are torn up, as Rupert’s book is in “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”. Rachel, suddenly naked to the waist, recalls Annette in “Flight from the Enchanter” and “The Italian Girl”. Julian climbs over a suburban fence (and her mother fails to), recalling so many fence climbers, from “Bruno’s Dream” maybe particularly. At the end Julian goes off to Italy in a car with her father – “The Flight from the Enchanter” springs to mind there, and another one? The theme of an ordeal which Bradley mentions he has in relation to Julian is going to come up in “The Green Night” and “A Good Apprentice”.

One last point: I was thrilled to notice a quotation from Njal’s Saga, one of my favourite Icelandic sagas:

There was even a sort of perfection about it. She had taken such a perfect revenge upon the two men in her life. Some women never forgive. ‘I would not give him my hair for a bowstring at the end. I would not raise a finger to save him dying’ (p. 382)

Those last two sentences are said by Gunnar’s wife as she fails to help him survive an attack on their homestead. How lovely to find that cropping up in an IM novel!

So a magnificent work that’s uncomfortable to read. Do we ALL know someone who threw it across a room and refused to finish it?

Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

Sedate lady running 21-27 January 2019 #amrunning #running


After last week’s short week of running (9.5 miles in the week; I was at the running show then working at the weekend), Monday’s run really “belonged” to last week, but then I ended up only running on Wednesday and today so that made three for this week. Does it really matter? No. Does it matter I won’t make 83.3 miles for January and be on the way to 1,000 in 2019? No, not really. Anyway, I continue to do RED January, the Mind (UK mental health charity) initiative to get people exercising and feeling well. So there’s a report for each day, but not a long one.

But first, a lovely long run report!

Monday – BIRTHDAY LONG RUN!!! It was my 47th birthday, so what better to do than run 12 miles? Lovely Claire with her useful Mondays off was on hand, although she was a  bit nervous as she had planned a route to include the bit I fell over on with her in June last year. She was especially nervous about breaking me on my birthday – but we managed OK!

This is the main part of the route that took in so many canal paths, riverside paths (not a big river, we don’t have those in Birmingham) and parks or greenways between them. Claire’s always good for an interesting route and there was off-road business and even some mud! I took some pics along the way …

I’ve taken this photo before but from on the bridge. I love the old signpost.

Kings Norton Junction from another angle

We ran into Bournville and stopped to take a view of the Carillon – this is a musical instrument (inside) that plays a tune on the bells in the tower. It’s lovely at Christmas and it chimed the quarter-hour as we passed it.

Bournville Carillon

And I couldn’t resist a quick pic of the Cadbury chocolate factory.

Chocolate factory!

And what I was doing it all for – my Red January Tshirt was worn proudly on this run. No pics of me and Claire as it was quite damp down by the canal and I had a red nose!

Having those days on the back of the t-shirt has really motivated me to do activity every day.

12 miles, 12:41 mins per mile (I was very pleased with that pace esp as we walked up some hills)

Tuesday – I did 30 minutes of stretches, spread through the day – very good after the long run the day before.

Wednesday – Oh dear – it was REALLY cold and very icy. I wanted a run that wasn’t too late so met Mary Ellen and off we set – lots of the pavements were covered in ice or black ice and we did a weird route based on pavements we found that weren’t too bad. Mary Ellen had to use her “mom voice” to encourage me (I’m notoriously feeble on ice and there was nothing thick enough to wear yak trax etc – she grew up in Chicago so was more OK with it; she was great with a “let’s just power-walk this bit”). And Mary Ellen’s gloves, borrowed from her children (and yes, two for the same hand) we e excellent: I could NOT work out what they were as she ran up the road when we met!

Mary Ellen and her gloves

3.2 miles, 14:02 mins per mile

Thursday – 60 squats, 60 calf raises/heel drops, 40 sit-ups.

Friday – 100 squats and 80 crunches, some housework and some DIY that involved streeeeeeeeeetching (putting draught excluder round the front and inner lobby doors and securing it with extra sticky stuff).

Saturday – Officiating time! Third shift this month: I do have a weekend off coming up. I was in the Start Team for the Midlands Cross-Country Championships in Newbold Comyn, Leamington Spa. This place is famous for its ditch – more a mud hollow this time, but I have actually jumped in it in the past! I got the train to Leamington and had a lovely 1.5 mile walk to the venue alongside a great park. Got there, helped hang up route maps, had a briefing then off we went to start 10 races, from under-13 girls and boys to Senior women and men. My job was to help control the entrance to the start pen, making sure everyone who came in had no parent with them / training tops and joggers off and number visible / number not folded or otherwise obscured / timing chip around their ankle / was ready to start, not intending to warm up (and wipe our lovely white lines off the grass!). Everyone was well-behaved and of course I saw lots of people I knew from local clubs once the Seniors were starting.

Once we’d started the men off our job was done, so I stood down and went to watch the racing with my friend Dave, who had been a “runner” taking results sheets back to HQ, and Allie, who was cheering her husband Tim on. We stood by the ditch for a bit and shouted for everyone we knew, then went back to the tent. I’d spotted a legend among parkrunners and a transform your running group I’m in (it hasn’t, because I’ve never done the exercises properly, but it’s a good group), Imran Ali, who LOVES to do a selfie – so I plucked up the courage to “offer” him a selfie with an actual race official.

Thanks to Imran Ali for the pic and permission to use it

Note my new flouro jacket (a big success) and cowl in club colours crocheted by Allie as a birthday present (thanks again!). Oh, and the people behind us are rolling up a club tent, not performing CPR! A good day and I got a lift home. Not seen: my new wind-resistant, rain-resistant FUZZY INSIDED trousers that kept me toasty warm with only woolly tights underneath.

Oh, and I walked 5.3 miles in total.

Sunday – A medium long run with Trudie and Caroline. Man, it was WINDY! So windy. I did a little run up and down the road first, oh, lovely easy running up the road, then on the way back, oh, it’s windy. I felt like I looked like a dog with its head out of a car window, jowls flapping in the breeze! We had a lovely run round some familiar paths, we stopped for photos and a loo visit in Cannon Hill Park and spotted club coach Lee with his Intervals session and waved and cheered everyone on (I failed to capture them on my phone).

Cannon Hill Park boating lake

Running up Salisbury Road we did one of Trudie’s “balance the phone on something” selfies, this time on a salt bin!

Liz, Trudie, Caroline (I’m managing to obscure the RED January logo on my t-shirt). Thanks Trudie for pic and permission to use.

We then ran up into Moseley and did a detour to capture St Agnes’ Church, as I know my readers, esp the overseas ones, like a nice English picture.

It started to do some freezing rain just after this but we took Caroline back near her road then Trudie and I finished our 8 miles. I did try to capture the t-shirt on at home, but mirrors …

Really pleased with the pace here, and I think all those squats are paying off as I managed to run, however slowly, up all the hills, and end up with an under-12 minute mile for Mile 8.

8 miles, 12:18 mins per mile

Miles this week: 23.2 Miles this year: 66.6 (oo-er)

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

Sedate lady running 14-20 January 2019 #amrunning #running


Not much running activity this week (I’m going to be doing my long run for the weekend tomorrow), but still doing RED January, the Mind (UK mental health charity) initiative to get people exercising and feeling well. I’m also not back to yoga yet, as I am still coughing a little when I lie flat or bend forwards!

Monday – 60 calf raise / heel drops, 60 squats, 60 lunges each side (10 return to base, 10 walking each time).

Tuesday – As I knew I was running in the evening on Thursday, I treated myself to a daytime solo run once some post had come – went out late morning. I kitted myself out in my RUN January t-shirt and my 401 buff (more on 401 later), proud to be carrying the MIND logo on my arm.

I did a circular route around the area on familiar roads. There was a bit of stopping to cough, and also to take my photo of the day, which was the Wake Green Road Prefabs (I know how my international readers liked my ford last week, so another treat).


These were supposed to be temporary after WWII and there are quite a few still around – I have the odd distinction of having lived about this far away from three lots of them! You can read about prefabs on Wikipedia here.

There was a hard hill in this and my mile splits were varied to reflect that, but I was really pleased to at last be able to pick up the pace a little to a usual pace on a shorter run.

5 miles, 11:18 mins per mile

Wednesday – I met up with my best friend, Emma, who lives in London (we’re in our 27th year of friendship) and after a lovely lunch and catch-up, we did quite a lot of the Digbeth Graffiti Walk.  Em had a train to catch and we spent time photographing different places, so we’ll finish it another time.

We have a lot of great street art, much in this area, and it’s constantly changing – when my husband photographed the little men on the pipe in December, there was no lobster lady! 3.9 miles walked in total.

Thursday – I had the great pleasure of helping support the running club’s To 5k and Beyond group in their second week, so it was run 90 seconds, walk 90 seconds x 7. I set my watch to walk-run intervals and accompanied the lovely Kerry round. Always a privilege to help this group – I’ll have another session later on in their progression and hope to do or marshal their graduating parkrun, too.

On brand

I ran there a little long and back the long, wiggly way round to make up some mileage, even though it was really cold and there were ice patches on the pavements!

1 mile / 11:34 mins per mile, 1.6 miles / 16:06 mins per mile, 2.2 miles / 11:42 mins per mile

Friday – spaced out during the day again: 40 calf raises, 60 heel drops and 80 squats; 20 bicep curls and 20 straight arm lifts with hand weights.

Saturday – A lovely day at the National Running Show at the local exhibition centre. I was lucky to get a lift with Dave and we and Ursula watched the first few speakers, then Ursula and I had a look around the stands, I met up with Bernice and some friends of hers from her personal training group who she’d met up with there, and saw a bit of Trudie and various Bournville Harriers friends. All good stuff. Best of all, the wonderful Ben Smith from the 401 Challenge was there. I met Ben when he was running 401 marathons in 401 days in aid of Kidscape and Stonewall: he ran with the running club two days, I did a half-marathon with him and he told me he’d run the Reykjavik Marathon and encouraged me to sign up – which I did. So he started me on my marathon career and has been a huge inspiration. He’s a lovely chap – bounded over for a hug first thing then took to the stage with Susie Chan, amazing ultra runner, to co-host the event.

Susie and Ben take the stage

Jordan Wylie spoke about starting running while raising money for charity – his first marathon was in Afghanistan! Jo Pavey seemed a bit nervous but was completely charming, talking about her running journey, being defined by her age (grrr) and getting her running in as a mum. Roger Black was equally charming and obviously a very practised speaker, revisiting his 4x400m triumphs and what on earth you do next.

Roger Black

I missed Iwan Thomas and Mara Yamauchi as was looking for and finding Bernice, and caught Brendan Rendall (on running through Africa) and Claire Maxted (on not being afraid to DNF though she did it in an 8-day ultra). Before Brendan came on I grabbed the opportunity for a selfie with Ben to keep as inspiration for my next adventures.

He is my hero on a running and personal level, having overcome bullying and depression to do massive work and fundraising, all the while remaining connected to people and humble, and making sure everyone feels included. There’s more about him and my encounters with him on this review of his book from last year.

I walked 1.5 miles at the show and talked and learned a lot about running, so I counted that as my activity, as I was shattered when I got home!

Sunday – I worked today to make up for running tomorrow. Took the long way round and back to my usual cafe meetup with Gill to make a 2-mile walk and did 20 squats.

Miles this week:  9.5 miles (the rest to come tomorrow) Miles this year: 43.4

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

Book review – Chrissie Wellington – “A Life Without Limits” plus some unseasonal confessions


Having committed to a slightly unusual way of reading my TBR, I picked off the NEWEST book that had come in at the time to read next.* This was one given to me at the county cross-country championships by my friend Kate from the running club, after I’d asked to read the copy she was offering to people.

I also had a walk up the high street in the week which ended up with me somehow buying three Christmas books. But they’re set somewhere lovely, so that’s fine, right? Read on to find out about those …

Chrissie Wellington – “A Life Without Limits”

(05 January 2019, from Kate)

Several people have touted this as the best running/sport book they’ve read (it’s actually a triathlon book, and she came to the sport from the swimming side, but there’s plenty about running in it). Unfortunately, I can’t quite agree – I really didn’t find her relatable, although there’s a huge amount about her to admire of course, and I had difficulty reading about some of the issues she faced.

It’s clear that Wellington has always been incredibly driven, and this is why she managed to excel in a sport she only took up relatively late.  She’s stubborn and she admits she rushes into things, leading her to injure herself often and not get on well with her teammates in her first professional set-up. More importantly for me, in the early part of the book she details falling into two different eating disorders, with rather too much information about how this happened: I find it difficult to read about such things and although she does explain how she climbed out of them and acknowledges the help she had, it does feel rather that she swapped one compulsion for another, having previously enjoyed sport for the social side and then become driven to the point of, for example, swimming with a broken wrist inadequately waterproofed and getting an infection.

The book does open well with a description of her first Ironman World Championships with some visceral writing. A good word there: runners are usually very open about their toileting issues, etc., among themselves, and I’ve certainly read some other very “open” accounts, but she takes the discussion of GI issues and antics to a whole new level, which shocked even me (and I’ve been to the (staff) toilet in a tile shop during a DIY marathon, so very little shocks me!). This sentence, although a bit different from her other experiences, sums up the book for me:

The big day dawned, and I was encouraged by an unusual steadiness in my bowels. (p. 253)

Okaaaaay! I liked her race reports and enjoyment of racing with amateurs (she even has a chapter dealing with various charity fundraising, adversity overcoming and brave amateurs she admires). She mentions her mum taking an exam in swimming timekeeping and judging, which is the first mention of this kind of thing I’ve seen in a book (though she fires a gun to start a race in the book so must have done some exams herself!).

An unusual and late-developing talent is still torn down then built up again by a first coach who is very harsh indeed, and while this was interesting to read about, it was so alien to my experience or anything I’d want to experience that it was very hard to read (I know people have different ways and we can’t all be the same, but it was just alienating to read it).

So a decent and interesting book but not the best book on sport I’ve ever read. I was glad to have the chance to read it, though!

Those naughty books – so we have “Confetti at the Cornish Cafe” by Phillipa Ashley, about a cafe holding a wedding (no, you don’t say); “Christmas at the Little Wedding Shop” by Jane Linfoot, and “Christmas on the Little Cornish Isles” by Phillipa Ashley again – this one set on the Isles of Scilly! I rather suspect these are all some way through series, as they were all out on The Works’ Christmas themed shelves (and now reduced to £1 each) so I might be forced to look for the others or might save them for my next trip to Cornwall or Christmas and read them all then. Anyone familiar with the series?

And how do you read YOUR books?

Next up, Iris Murdoch’s “The Black Prince”. I’m a bit late starting it already …

* Because Grab the Lapels does something similar but not exactly the same, she has asked me to share her link about her way of doing it, which I share gladly here.

Sedate lady running 07-13 January 2019 #amrunning #running


A quick review today as I appear to have taken very few photographs this week. However, lots of entries as I’m doing RED January, which is a Mind (UK mental health charity) initiative to get people exercising and feeling well. RED stands for Run Every Day but I’ve been sticking to doing something active every day, as I don’t find running every day very helpful. A good week this week where as I speak, I finally feel a lot better. Phew!

Before I start, a quick explanation of the volunteering and officiating I do as I think it might be a bit confusing. parkrun is a free, timed 5k run in parks, and I often volunteer as a marshal or a barcode scanner. This is completely outside the British Athletics licensed official roles and is its own thing. I am also an official in training for British Athletics; I’ve got my Level 1 Licence for Endurance (out of arena, so cross-country and road races) and am working towards my Level 2 Licence. This will for example allow me to referee at cross-country races up to 300 runners as well as take on other roles at various levels. Then I’ve also done the courses to be a Track, Field and Starter’s Assistant official (in-arena) and have some experience in Field roles I hope to take to gaining my Level 1 Licence in the summer. The events I work on as an official are county, regional and sometimes national events that are part of the British Athletics roster of events. I hope that makes more sense!

Monday – I was really tired but I walked 1.7 miles to meet my husband off his bus and walk home with him (he walks part of each bus journey every day and walks more miles than I run every year!)

Tuesday – Tail running for the running club run; I managed to miss the second turning and have a few of us going the wrong way but after we’d run back down the route until there was no one left to slot in behind, I gave them the 4 miles they needed, anyway! I got a lift home as it’s a bit dark and lonely getting home from club in these weeks although I had run up to increase the mileage total.

4.7 miles, 13:12 mins per mile.

Wednesday – I was still coughing too much to go to yoga – grr – but I had to pop up the high street to get my cousin a wedding anniversary card. I did 0.6 miles doing that, and then made it up to 1 mile by marching up and down my stairs 11 times for 330 steps up and 330 steps down, double steps up for the first 5 times. Certainly got my heart rate up so I’m calling that a win for the day. I got this idea from Kimberly although I can’t reach up to do triple steps!

Thursday – I helped lead a “jeffing” (walk-run strategy) session for club, which I’m doing with Ruth once a month. I ran up to the meeting point and then took the group round one, two or three laps without major mishaps (I managed to run into a hedge and bruise/scrape my arm). A lovely lady who was part of the group and enjoyed her introduction to jeffing gave me a lift home – thanks, Tara!

0.7 miles, 12:06 mins per mile / 4.6 miles, 13:42 mins per mile.

Friday – Two hours of heavy cleaning was enough for me today to count as active

Saturday – Today was quite a big deal, as I was given the opportunity to be assistant referee at the women’s cross-country league 2 match. I was well-supported by the referee, Terry (who also gave me a lift) and Mary, the manager of the league, who was looking after the officials. After doing the course walk with the referee and the race manager, we checked the start and finish were OK and I learned more about how they should be organised. I was in charge of distributing recording sheets and briefing the judge recorders and timekeeping recorders, checking all was OK, assisting the odd runner down the funnel and keeping an eye on the funnel, and checking that the recording sheets matched, working out what was awry if it was, and giving them to the person in charge of sending them to the results processor. I learned a lot, building on skills I’d learned at previous events. I did OK apparently, and got some nice pics as I walked up to see how the men’s match was doing (I know some of my overseas readers like my pics of the English landscape).

A field full of prancing ponies!

Pylon and trees – tiny runners at the bottom of the pic

I managed to walk 4.3 miles during the event, including the course walk, popping back and forth between the HQ and start and running up and down the funnel!

Sunday – A lovely long run with some of the girls – we headed over Tracie’s way to run in Acock’s Green and Olton, which was a fun change (I haven’t run round there since my disastrous last long run before the Manchester Marathon last year!). On the way there, Mary Ellen, Trudie and I ran into Trudie’s mom, which was exciting (and gave us a break and a rest while we nobly allowed Trudie time to chat to her mom). Then we met Tracie and set off on her planned route.

Mary Ellen, Liz, Tracie, Trudie (thanks to Trudie for taking and sending me the photo!)

We said goodbye to Trudie part way round (she got 8 miles in, hooray) and wandered along the Old Warwick Road, where this cool old clock can be found (I’ve chosen the view where you can see the rather eccentric time being shown as well as the suburban (and hilly) context):

Olton clock

Mary Ellen and I said goodby to Tracie (7 miles done, hooray!) and made our way back home – I rounded my run up to 10.1 just in case I hadn’t really done 10 in the week, and was really pleased at a) my pace in general b) the fact that my last mile was the quickest, and was uphill and c) I finally got my cadence up by one step a minute to 165 (it is ALWAYS 164). I put Paul’s lessons into use at the end and it did speed me along.

A really great run and I felt I could enjoy it for its own sake rather than just fighting my cough and feeling tired. And my first 20 mile week of the year: I feel like I’m back on it.

10.1 miles, 12:36 mins per mile

Miles this week: 20.1 Miles this year: 33.9

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Kim’s (standing in for Holly) is here.

Book review – D.E. Stevenson – “Mrs Tim Carries On” @DeanStPress #amreading


As regular readers know by now, I’ve been very fortunate to have been sent some lovely books published by Dean Street Press in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint: I’ve already reviewed “Spring Magic” and “Alice” and here’s the third one, and what a treat it was. This is the follow-up to “Mrs Tim of the Regiment” which was republished by Bloomsbury and which I read last year (just after I’d had an operation: no wonder I didn’t remember much about it when I was reading Heaven-Ali’s review of the same book!). This was published in e-book and print form on Monday and I feel bad for not getting my review out more promptly, but the lovely people at Dean Street Press are very forgiving so I hope they don’t mind.

D. E. Stevenson – “Mrs Tim Carries On”

(12 November 2018)

The lovely first sequel to “Mrs Tim of the Regiment”, detailing the life and surroundings of a British Army wife from the 1930s onwards, this one is both written and set during the Second World War, a circumstance I always find very moving and poignant.

Although the upbeat and funny “Provincial Lady” tone prevails, Mrs Tim is careful to explain to her friend Grace exactly how it is she carries on and doesn’t become unnerved or hysterical, in a passage which describes so accurately SO MANY books and diaries from the period:

None of us could bear the war if we allowed ourselves to brood upon the wickedness of it and the misery it has entailed, so the only thing to do is not to allow oneself to think about it seriously, but just to skitter about on the surface of life like a water beetle. In this way one can carry on and do one’s bit and remain moderately cheerful.

Faced with crises on the home front, including an exciting interlude while out in the countryside and a lack of gloves to send the men at the front, but also a more serious concern about Tim himself, she passes the test with flying colours, smoothing over skittish servants and dealing with her two precocious and amusing children,  plus her statuesque house guest, Pinkie (I do love the portrayal of female friendships in the book) and her complex affairs, friends far and near and characters from the first novel and even an influx of Polish airmen with whom she has to communicate in her schoolgirl French.

A trip to London to see her brother before he goes to war and then on to Essex to visit Tim’s uncle and aunt (brother and sister) contrasts with the fairly quiet time they have been having at the army base in Scotland, with the London blackout and a bomb crater being converted into a rockery respectively. Uncle Joe’s speech about his reaction to the threat of invasion is very moving and the book captures very well the spirit of carrying on and not complaining, but with many funny scenes and set pieces.

Although this book itself seems to come to an interesting and settled idea for a conclusion to their vagabond lifestyle, there are two more books to come in the series, and I’ve already put a paper copy of this one and the two sequels on my birthday list!

Thank you to Dean Street Press for sending me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Book review – Anne Tyler – “Vinegar Girl” #amreading


I pulled this off the TBR a little out of order because it was the first smaller book on the shelf which would bear rattling around in my rucksack for a day out officiating at cross-country: I knew I’d have a bit of reading time while my friend Dave zipped round parkrun on the way. My lovely friend Laura bought this for me when we met up last year as a birthday present – how lovely to march round the charity shops of Stafford demanding books!

I have a new plan for reading my TBR which might happen and might not: the oldest, the newest and one from the Kindle, in rotation (apart from my Murdoch a month and any review books that are in). Might work, and will let me get to my latest acquisition sooner (see more on that below).

Anne Tyler – “Vinegar Girl”

(15 February 2018 – from Laura)

Not a standard Anne Tyler (and I thought it would be her last when I got it, as she’d announced that she would stop writing: I will be getting the paperback of her new one as soon as it comes out …) as it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”. Now, while I remember the main characters and their characteristics, and the vague outline of the story, I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow comparison. I love Tyler and I found myself just reading it for that aspect, as a novel by a favourite author. The retelling is in there, though, and cleverly done, although her characters are always quirky and you can’t think that just any woman would behave as Kate does.

So it worked as a novel on its own and was entertaining and a good read. Kate was believably mardy, as she is supposed to be, but her home set-up with her dad and his systems and her very different sister was completely Tylerian. The family and their relationships, including with aunts and uncles, are as beautifully done as you would expect, and the overseas characters are drawn carefully and their accents got across through their grammar, which we’re however reminded is not the only thing about them, but is used to show Kate’s thinking and noticing (I’ve just been reading a blog post from Louise Harnby about how to express accents in fiction (here) which is why this struck me, I think). A good read.

I did mention this on my running round-up post on Sunday, but for anyone who skips those, a new acquisition. I have to mention that only I could be officiating at a county cross-country match and STILL manage to acquire a book – my friend Kate from running club had offered to pass it to me but we’d not coincided until now, so she managed to get it to me in a gap between a race starting and me timing it through at the finish, after her own race. Good work! “A Life Without Limits” is meant to be one of the best sporting autobiographies ever and I can’t wait to dive into it: I know I really enjoyed her book on how to do triathlons even though I have absolutely zero interest in doing a triathlon!


Book review – Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield” @PersephoneBooks #amreading #Persephone


The last of my lovely Christmas 2017 books and a fabulous Persephone given to me by Ali (we have a great tradition of exchanging Persephone books and I love going to the shop in the late autumn to do the book-buy). Although I know Eric Ravilious’ work I wasn’t that familiar with all the other artists mentioned, or indeed, with Tirzah’s work, but that doesn’t matter as what does matter is the lovely engaging tone that makes the pages fly by.

Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield”

The autobiography of the wood engraver and painter Tirzah Garwood, wife of Eric Ravilious, who lived in a succession of challenging houses around Essex for the most productive and family orientated parts of their lives, both sadly dying young. It’s told in a rather flat, naive and artless style with many non-sequitors which reminds me a bit of Dodie Smith, Barbara Comyns and new favourite Elizabeth Eliot, it’s a charming and absorbing read, even though it’s quite a long book. Lovely examples include the way in which she uses her netball skills in later life – “I can nearly always get things in [the bin] from right across the kitchen” (p. 67), but the most wonderful sentence, wholly encapsulating her attitude to life, animals and people, and which wouldn’t be out of place in a Comyns novel, comes in the middle of the book:

I had bought the tortoises from Woolworth’s to save them from death in the same spirit that we [later] offered our home to German refugees. (p. 315; brackets, editor’s)

Tirzah maintains this matter-of-fact tone throughout the book, from descriptions of early family rows and odd neighbours through domestic disasters to upsetting love affairs conducted by both her and Eric, but it’s curiously sweet and intimate. Her openness leads her to discuss her lovers and the complicated affairs of the  group of friends but also her struggles with her periods, something not often discussed so openly. She’s relatively breezy and lighthearted on most subjects and is aware of this and not being “put out by misfortunes as much as most people” (p. 280): she puts this down to her ability to be absorbed in her art. She states late on that she wants to write her autobiography while she’s happy because that’s the kind of book she prefers to read.

A lot of artists and other characters come in and out of the narrative and are seen by Tirzah’s beady eye: she’s great at seeing the continuity in someone’s behaviour through the years and I loved her portrait of Edith Sitwell in particular.

She wrote the main body of the book in hospital in 1942, recovering from a mastectomy; the rest of her story and a missing part caused by lost notebooks is deftly told by her editor (her daughter), who interweaves letters and notes from other characters in the story, including letters from Eric, to complete the picture. Lovely illustrations by Eric and Tirzah complement the text in this Persephone edition.

A lovely book which would merit a re-read, and a great addition to my Persephone shelf. You can read Ali’s own review here.


Sedate lady running 31 December 2018 – 06 January 2019 #amrunning #running


Happy new year and welcome to 2019 everyone! I’ve so enjoyed taking part in Holly and Wendy’s weekly wrap and have “met” so many lovely women runners via their blogs, so I’m really pleased to be continuing with the link-up this year.

This January I’m doing RED January, which is a Mind (UK mental health charity) initiative to get people exercising and feeling well. RED stands for Run Every Day but I thought, as a Mental Health Champion in our running club, I’d try to model moderation and looking after oneself – actually all of us are doing that really well in our little group. It does mean I’ve done something every day, but my runs have not been epic due to my having this cold still, so not toooooo much to wade through, I hope.

Tuesday – I travelled to Brueton parkrun with Claire from up the road (she of the off-roading), her sister, and Mary Ellen from round the corner. But I was going to meet up with a lovely lady called Joan who I met through her cakes and two of her friends. Much nervousness (especially as Joan’s little Facebook group is called Tag a Pair of Trainers, to stop competitiveness or angst over appearance or kit, so we had to hastily share pictures of ourselves and our outfits!) but we met up OK and set off with a walk-run technique (jeffing) which was new to the others, but appreciated. Neither Tracy nor Ermine had run parkrun before, and Ermine had a cold, too, so we took it gently and I was SO proud of them for getting round and enjoying themselves – there were some damp eyes at the end!

Liz Tracey Ermine Joan

What a superb way to start the running year – I was honoured to accompany these ladies on their parkrun journey. I also liked the Brueton route, nice and flat and with out and backs and laps so you can cheer people on. Lovely volunteers, of course.

3.18 miles, 14:00 mins per mile

Wednesday – I incorporated a set of static and dynamic stretches into my morning routine, e.g. doing heel drops on the step in the hall just before you reach the bathroom, calf raises while brushing my teeth, hamstring stretches and squats while drying my hair. Ten different activities with at least 20 repeats of each or 30 seconds holding.

Running down that hill (thank you Sara for the photo)

Thursday – Met Jenny at my house and we ran up to Kings Heath Park where we met Sara and Caroline – Caroline had to go home but we continued looping the park with Sara then ran back to mine. A few bits of walking on uphill sections and still coughing (I promise it has NOT gone to my chest and I’m being careful). It was really chilly today so I wrapped up warm – a long-sleeved thin top under a long-sleeved fuzzy-inside top, winter leggings, a buff round my neck and a hat! Today I also studied the first module in the Learning I have to do for my Level 2 licence, on Judging and Recording, and wrote down the answers to the questions at the end. Two more of those two do, one mandatory and one optional.

4 miles / 12:32 mins per mile

Friday – I did a set of 20 x situps (I will admit not all of these were with my arms folded across my chest), 20 x squats and 20 x heel drops / calf raises on the step, three times at various points during the day, making a total of 30 minutes and 60 of each exercise. I would not have done this without the RED January so it was good to get this kind of training in (I’m still coughing too much when lying down to do yoga – bah!)

Saturday – Exercise of a different kind. My friend Dave picked me up early and we drove to Daventry, where he ran parkrun and I found a toilet then sat in his car with my book (I didn’t want to do parkrun and he could do it quickly enough to get round and finish in time for the next bit). We then drove to Newbold Revel Prison Training College to officiate at the County Cross-Country Championships (Warwickshire and Worcestershire). My running club were competing in the seniors matches but there were four juniors to look after first, so we arrived at 10 for the briefing. I was doing timekeeping, a role I’ve not taken on before. I was a bit apprehensive but as usual had a great team leader and team around me who taught me what to do (two roles taken on in pairs, starting the watch and calling out times as runners crossed the line / writing down times and also spot checks of numbers next to times – it’s all quite labour-intensive and analogue). We swapped between who was doing which role and working with whom, and it all went pretty smoothly, although high concentration and fast writing down was required!

Club and officials’ tents on the left, funnel on the right (I’m standing near the finish)

I was pleased one of my clubmates got a photo of me in action, waiting for Graham to fire the gun to send a load of runners off, at which point I had to simultaneously start my stopwatch.

Liz timing, weather writer with recording sheet tucked under one arm (thank you Claire/Mark for the photo)

As you can see, I was well wrapped up: it’s cold business, standing concentrating. I wore woolly tights, warm running socks, thermal footless tights, fuzzy inside tracksuit bottoms and waterproof overtrousers with walking boots on my bottom half, long-sleeved running top, long-sleeved fuzzy inside running top, running fleece that’s two warm to run in, and a coat, a buff and a scarf and a woolly hat, and leather gloves with fleece-lined wool mitts over them (just seen clutched in my left hand). A good day and number 4 out of my 6 experiences needed to gain my Level 2 Endurance Official licence.

By the way, only I, with my twin running and reading obsessions, would manage to acquire a book while officiating at a cross-country championships. Kate from running club (to whom I passed “Run Like Duck” at Awards Night) had offered Chrissie Wellington’s “A Life Without Limits” and I’d heard very good things about it, so I asked if I could have it. After missing each other at Christmas Day parkrun etc., she worked out that I’d be officiating and she’d be running today, so she caught me as I waited between gun time and first senior man appearing after running 10k and passed it over to me!

I walked 2.2 miles in total and was out in the fresh air from 10.00-15.30 so that counted for my RED January.

Sunday – I wasn’t sure how I would be today and considered bailing when I was woken by the alarm at 6:00! But I womanned up and got my breakfast and a read in, then met Mary Ellen, Claire and Trudie at the corner of the road. We took a fairly rural route, a bit of canal and some foresty trails (including the notorious half-mile with that plastic matrix stuff on the ground to stop it getting slippy that I like to trip over). It was a lovely day and Trudie kindly kept me company as I had to take it gently.

Path through the woods (The Dingle)

We went through the Shire County Park for some of the run, and I loved this signpost – very Tolkien-y, as it is indeed his Shire!

Here we are ready for our close-up and I’m concentrating hard …

Mary Ellen, Liz, Trudie, Claire

Trudie’s in her RED January top as she was organised to sign up before the last day of December (mine’s in the post). And not only is she organised, she’s worked out how to do a timer selfie and wedged her phone in a small tree so we could capture ourselves in the woods, full-length!

Mary Ellen, Liz, Claire, Trudie (thanks Trudie for the photo)

Such pretty places to run in urban Birmingham. And I thought this would please my American readers (Mary Ellen had never seen one of these; she’s from Chicago. Do you have fords in the US?) – an actual ford, with a car going through it. These are designated stream / small river crossings: they do have warnings if the river is in flood or particularly high and cars do get stuck.

A ford!

Trudie and I separated from the others here and ran home, they got their 10 miles in. I managed 6.5 in total which I was surprised and pleased by given how unwell I’ve been. There was walking on hills and that is fine.

6.5 miles / 13.01 mins per mile

Miles this week: 13.7

Miles this year: 13.7

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

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