“The Sea, The Sea” round-up and “Nuns and Soldiers” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


I thoroughly enjoyed my re-reading of “The Sea, The Sea” and caught a tiny new “Easter Egg” in the mention of someone who surely MUST be related to a character in a previous novel – read my review to find out more! I have been a little bit lax in replying to all the comments on the post but we’ve had a good discussion as ever, so far (with a few regulars missing thus far, but we know, don’t we, that I’m only worried about seeing discussion and what everyone else thought of it, and am not much bothered about when people post).

There’s another Goodreads review from stalwart first-timer Jo and she has some fascinating things to say, too. Brona has shared her review from far away. I’ve also been keeping this review by the very lovely Stuck-in-a-Book since TWO THOUSAND AND THIRTEEN for when I went through them all again. For the sake of balance, and a reminder that not everyone shares our obsession, and you can kind of see his point were we not a bunch of rabid IM fans! Do pop your comments on the review post even if you’re coming to this a bit late – I’d love this project to live on and be something people decide to undertake in the future!

Peter Rivenberg has done his usual sterling work sending me his covers of this month’s read. I love this first US paperback edition, beautifully battered as it’s lived with him since it came out, and a quote from Anne Tyler of all people!

He also added his standard 1980s Penguin – I have about a third of my original set in this edition (see below) and yes, that is a good sea monster:

“Nuns and Soldiers”

So moving on, we have another really good one that features a Polish exile, an ex-nun, Jesus Himself, some rackety artists in pubs and a terrifying sluice. What more could you ask for?

I have the usual three copies, noting that the first edition has a £6.50 price tag and cost me £10.00 39 years later (but it was a darn sight more expensive in between).

The cover of the first ed is a bit dull, isn’t it, although does indicate something of the topic. I also have the 1981 Penguin (I bought it on 30 December 1994, when I was 21, presumably with a Christmas book token) and the modern Vintage. The painting on the Penguin is “The Small Fish” by Max Beckmann although it looks more like a mussel to me.

The first edition blurb is the most informative and useful:

… and the other two are very similar, even going for the same Martin Amis quote!

I do love how Daisy goes from mistress to eccentric mistress to punk!

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “Nuns and Soldiers” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?

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

Book review – Balli Kaur Jaswal – “The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters” #TheShergillSisters @HarperFiction #NetGalley


I was really excited and fortunate to be offered this book to read by the publishers because I’d read and reviewed this author’s last book, “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” when it came out. I thought because of the number of non-fiction books I’ve got to review I was at risk of missing the publication date of 13 June, but actually this turned out to be the completely perfect book to read on my travels to and from and rest periods around my marathon this last weekend. An intelligent page-turner with great characters and an author with good technical writing skills made this book a must-read, and I sat and devoured the last few chapters when I got home!

Balli Kaur Jaswal – “The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters”

(21 May 2019)

Like the author’s last book, this novel is set in the second-generation South Asian community in London, but now moving further afield to explore their roots. Fresh, funny and moving, you’ll get to know some great and diverse characters in this fantastic read.

We open with Sita Kaur Shergill, dying in hospital, overhearing a woman dictating a letter to her children to read after she’s passed away, and getting an idea which will finally pull her three daughters together into one unit (maybe). Rajni, the eldest, has always been the good girl (or has she?), a second mother to submissive Shirina and overdramatic Jezmeen. Now she’s facing a family bombshell, while Shirina is suffering in the  marriage she arranged online, and Jezmeen has just lost her job for accidentally attacking an exotic fish (yes, really, no gratuitous violence, though). The sisters were never close, and now they’re separated by time, place and events, until Sita’s final wishes force them to do a pilgrimage together through India to various important locations for Sikhism.

While Sita’s single motherhood then cancer diagnosis moved her towards religion and ritual, the three girls are more sceptical. Each has their own worries and they revert very quickly back to their old relationships, as adult siblings so often do. The two who are married have whispered phone conversations with their husbands, and Shirina appears to be holding something back.

Jaswal is also holding something back and she does this very skilfully, taking the book up a level from the chick-litty read the above might imply. We know something’s happened at Sita’s deathbead early on, and we also know something happened when she and Rajni went to India last, but these events are only revealed very slowly to the reader and/or whichever sister isn’t party to whichever pieces of information. It’s cleverly done and leaves you wanting to read on, but everything comes together convincingly and without annoying plot holes. As the book moves forward, we have a few flashbacks and understand everything, and then the epilogue is very satisfying.

The book doesn’t hesitate to cover serious issues – rape culture in India, protests, #MeToo as it applies to South Asia, infertility, arranged marriages and multi-generational living, children defying their parents AND bad grammar (the last leads to a hilarious and heart-warming scene near the end of the novel which I absolutely loved). Both white Europeans and those of Asian origin finding themselves in India are gently skewered but there’s nothing mean about the book, which is very warm and often very funny, too.

A great read which is for you if you like reading about families and siblings, about moving continents and finding your home, and about support and togetherness when things get tough.

Thank you to HarperCollins for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon race report


On Sunday 26 May 2019 I completed the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. This is quite a hard race report to write because I didn’t hugely enjoy it, but I don’t want to come across bitter or as a failed slow runner who wasn’t prepared. I worked hard at my training but on the day was disappointed both by the race and by what I was able to do with my training.

*** EDIT I have received confirmation from the organisers that there was no 10 mile 13:00 per mile cut-off time that was told to me by at least two other runners. What would you have done, though? Taken them at their word.

The training

I’d had a good training campaign although it did change quite a bit. As usual, I plotted out my long runs by weekend, then added in two runs or two plus recovery to get a total of 20 per week, with the occasional tempo run or speed work in there. I also did yoga once or twice a week and unfortunately missed strength training as was under the physio for a glute issue for a chunk of the middle and trying to do my exercises for that. I had a light cold and missed my last long run so did a 20 two weeks before the marathon, meaning I’d done one 18, two 20s and a 22, all at below 6 hour marathon pace. I’d tapered carefully and had one bad run on Thursday but was happy overall.

It’s worth noting that I’m also preparing for Race to the Stones Day 2 in July, so needed this to be my B race, and not to flog myself so hard I need too long in recovery before continuing my training.

Travelling up, expo, pant purchase

We got the train up with a few other people from club then I left Matthew at the train station and walked down to the Expo. I already had my number but wanted to pick up my tshirt in case my size wasn’t left at the end of the race. I saw the Gu stand and found they had chocolate mint available but didn’t buy anything. Ran into Nick from club but was on my own going out, so neglected to have a picture in front of one of the Beatles or RnR themed backdrops. Oh well.

The stage is set

Collected Matthew then we walked the extra mile to our apartment – perfectly fine but quite sparse if you wanted to actually cook (we requested a can opener and a hair dryer and made do with the rest). Went to the amazingly cheap Jack’s supermarket for any supplies we hadn’t brought (I had tuna and a bag of my cereal for the morning all measured out) and having come back and unpacked realised I hadn’t brought enough (under)pants so walked to Matalan and got some chocolate milk in Iceland, too.

Matthew cooked tuna pasta and reserved some tomato sauce and mushrooms for a recovery meal. We had a reasonably early night and amazingly slept really well!

Pre race

The race started at 10 so I had my pre-measured breakfast at 7 and was quite calm and relaxed until I found the pen I’d brought wouldn’t write on the back of my number! I managed to scribble Matthew’s number and Penicillin on it and hoped if I did collapse they’d find my parkrun ICE cards on me!

Kit lay. Black top as it was due to be cool and damp.

I’d brought two sets of kit and worn my elderly Guide 9s in case I lost anything but went for black and shorter shorts and left the hat. Wore a pacamac down and gave it to Matthew. We walked the 2 miles to the start and found Ruth (centre) and Bernice, who were both running the half.

We got a place near the start with Bernice’s husband, son and cousin and managed to see both of them through, as well as Afshin from club, plus two Bournville runners and some other local club folk.

Then it was time to meet the other marathon runners from club (all fast boys) plus Sedate Lady Trudie and club captain Barbara, both of whose husbands were running. We missed Colin out of our group pic but managed to find him later.

Nick, Dave, Paul R, Paul G, Liz, Steve, Tim (by Matthew)

Paul R was doing his 300th marathon so they gave him number 300! This was announced over the tannoy to much excitement (and I got a lot of worth out of mentioning this on the way round).

A quick wee (portaloo queues not too bad) and I went to get in my pen, way back at corrall 10. The lads were ahead of me of course. I ran into Jo Yarnall from Aldridge at this point, she knows my friend Dave (that always happens) and had spotted my running top. I’d planned to be in the front of the pen as the 6 hour cut-off started when the last person crossed the line. But when I got there, although I had number 10163 and had assumed numbers were sequential, they basically started with a 10 if you were in pen 10 (afterwards I discovered just over 3,000 people started the whole marathon). So there were about 60 people at most in my pen. I found the 5:30 pacer and told her I planned to stick with her for 6 miles to front-load myself against the sweeper vans with some 12:30 minute miles then drop back.

Off we started and here’s the course

Liverpool Rock n Roll marathon course

The half marathoners had gone to the south while we went off north for 9 miles, so there was no clash. I saw blogger Renee at 2 miles, such a cheering sight, hooray! I wanted to see the lads on the out and back but they were in the park at the top as we passed it. I was running with an amazing chap called Andy from Guernsey for most of the race on and off, a real showboater and ham, which I love. I also started with a very nice lady from Wales, who I saw on and off all the way round.

Because there was no crowd to feed off. Nothing really at all. The odd person and some people near the music stages. But very very low support, which was not what I had been led to expect.

Up to 10 miles – panic and horror

Trotting along under some illuminated underpasses and round football grounds, I kept ahead of the 5:30 pacer. But then some women who had done it last year told me there was a 10-mile cut-off at 13:00 minute mile pace (bearing in mind that the advertised 6 hour cut-ff is about 13:45 minute mile pace) and that last year they’d been threatened with sweeping and had to push back. This really scared me, and I had to make the horrible decision to push the pace to avoid this, knowing full well that I could not sustain that pace comfortably and would pay for it later on. It’s one thing to make a mistake with pacing, but doing this knowing the consequences was a bit heart-breaking, but not as much as being swept.

*** Note the organisers have told me and confirmed it was not the case that there was an extra cut-off

Miles 1 to 10 were between 11:50 and 12:43 for each mile (only one under 12). I tried to keep around 12:30 to protect myself but I did know this was likely not to be sustainable. I hit 10 miles at 2:04:34 – phew. But not to help matters, the mile markers were all out by about 0.2 of a mile (under) and the 10k mat was about a mile askew – I got a split of 1:02:00 for that but my watch says 1:18:00! I’m glad I wasn’t that much too fast as that would have been a 6-minute 10k PB … At some point we went through town by the Cavern Club and it was very very unclear where we were going, and I asked a marshal to go back down the course to help direct. I also had to ask someone to move out of the way as I was trying to run the marathon!

I did have a nice time seeing Liz from Malvern, Andy and various others, with Jo appearing from time to time. And at mile 9 Trudie and Barbara had popped out of their hotel at just the right moment to cheer me on! I took a lucozade sport and put a load of it in in my softflask of raspberry tailwind to top it up I had a gel at 1:15 and then every hour.

Miles 10-13

As soon as I hit 10 I started to drop my pace, so over 12 mins per mile and some power walking up hills. There were cobbles and hard paving and I slowed to help a lady and her friend, one sobbing, one consoling and tried to help Hannah get cheered up and on. We then approached Sefton Park where Matthew was, but not where I was, so I missed him (the route was confusing here). I slowed to phone him but hit 13.1 at 2:43:?? which is faster than a few of my half-marathon races. Let’s see it all drop off …

Boom. Not in a good way.

Miles 13-22

Park park park more park, I saw Matthew twice at an obelisk and had two bites of banana at 3:15 run time. We went up and back to Penny Lane where a stereo system in a van was playing just that song over and over! I ran into Jo there and she kindly took my photo (I took one for her, too). My only photo en route as I was concentrating on pushing then hanging on. As we ran up this longish out and back I saw my friend from the photo a day group Tanya’s sister in law, Salome, we’d tried to meet in the pen then there she was and a HUG!

Penny Lane

I saw a lot of different folk as we worked our way down to the river bank again. Jo, Andy, Hannah, some ladies from Sittingbourne and one from Ashford (go Kent), a couple of blokes, a lovely lady in a Harry Potter tshirt, and some power walkers in bras raising money for a breast cancer charity. It was  grind – I was OK but tired and walk breaks got more frequent – when I did run I was a bit brisker than normal which shows up in my time being a few minutes outside Birmingham where I ran almost continuously.

Kudos to the bands, marshals and water/gel stations, all still going as we went past in dribs and drabs. It was pretty lonely when I wasn’t trying to drag myself along with others.

Miles 22-end – wheels fall OFF

Oh, my goodness. We turned onto the waterfront and the headwind was horrendous. It was buffeting us and while I could probably have run more if this was my only race and I could destroy myself but it was SO disheartening. I had running in my legs, but then it was concrete paving with cobbled inserts running across, too.

It was here I came across Graham Lewis from Liverpool originally but living in Crewe. He’d done the race five times before and confirmed this was awful. We stuck together along the last few miles, which saved me really and helped him, too. I had a hug from the bra ladies when I broke down crying and saw Jo and Andy was there, too. Love the back of the pack for this. Graham’s girlfriend who had done the mile appeared near the end and ran alongside us.

We could see the finish. And there were Bernice and family, Trudie and husband Dave who got a big PB at 3:26, and Barbara and Matthew. Yes!

Graham Lewis and Liz finish the marathon. Picture by Trudie.

See how lonely, but running strong, actually. As promised, I got our folk to shout for Graham, too, which spurred him on and we crossed the line together. Had our medals put round our necks, which was a lovely touch, and there was no goody bag but bananas, water, haribo and bars you could pick up as you wanted, which I think was better and greener than that deodorant and leaflets you usually get. Andy from Guernsey had waited to see us through and I managed to hug a chap from Run Birmingham and see some other people I’d been running with, which was lovely as anything.

Slightly stunned Liz saying all the says so she doesn’t just stand and cry. (by Bernice)

Liz and Bernice with our cool medals

Chip time 5:55:28

Overall 3047 / 3116

Age category 198 / 208

Gender 1026 / 1073

Bernice had smashed her half and finished really strong – I’m so proud of her as she’s had some tricky times recently with her running. Ruth had had to leave but had had a good race and finished a year of 17 half-marathons in aid of the Alzheimer’s Charity.

Home and food

I had the rest of my nana and a choc milk and we walked slowly home – good to have a stretch. I missed the club get together as needed to feed and rest. Two weetabix when we got in, a shower and owwwww a new rub on my right-hand lower back presumably from my shorts. Then grazed and went to bed at 8. Set an alarm and got up at 11pm to have a proper meal, as I’d finished at 4.10 and knew I’d have to eat properly. I did pasta with the left over sauce, spinach and some cheese then sat up for an hour then back to bed. Slept till 6 and then 8.30, really well again and not too sore.

Recovery day

We walked down to the docks very slowly, taking some photos as we went, including visiting 62 Falkner Street, the scene of the first A House In Time TV series by David Olusoga, which was very exciting.

Then we went to a lovely cafe to meet Renee, her husband Ron and two York runners she knew from a Facebook group, all lovely people and there was much chat about the support etc which made me feel a bit better about being disappointed.

Ron, Nikki, Renee, Liz, Charlotte by Matthew

We went and found the Beatles statue we’d run past on Sunday

and to cut a long story short, went for a Pizza Express then a look round the docks and ran into my running club friend Suki and his wife and whole family (not up for the races, just random) and Renee and Ron again and then I had a cuppa and saw some people with Remix medals we’d seen at the Beatles statue. As you do.


Organisation was good, the pens worked and there were no pinch points. It was much smaller in numbers than expected, leaving me feeling lost and exposed. The 10 mile cut-off was cruel, if it was true (I have asked the organisers to confirm: I did meet someone who’d been made to take a short cut and didn’t know how long her race was going to be). If it wasn’t true, I bust a gut for nothing. If the wind had been less terrible I’d have PB’d but it wasn’t and I didn’t. Bands, water stations and marshals stayed to the end THANK YOU and the camaraderie was amazing but I would not do it again.


Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Sea, The Sea” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


Gosh, it becomes hard sometimes to review these books, so well-known, even Booker Prize winners in this case. The writer of the introduction doesn’t help in this case, having drawn out the thread of the poet Milarepa, mentioned by James Arrowby in his ‘confession’. I am trying to just write about my reactions, the themes, the connections to other books and my feelings as I re-read – quite complicated and different feelings again in this book’s case. I’m so honoured that so many folk are still along for the ride with me and look forward to your comments and links as ever.

If you’re doing the readalong or even selected books along with me, or of course some time afterwards, do share how you’re getting on and which have been your favourites so far.

Iris Murdoch – “The Sea, The Sea”

(31 December 2018)

I think this book has the best CLOSING paragraph in Murdoch, doesn’t it?

My God, that bloody casket has fallen on the floor! Some people were hammering in the next flat and it fell of its bracket. The lid has come off and whatever was inside it has certainly got out. Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of human life, what next I wonder? (p. 538)

And really, even though the last section seems disjointed and jerky, messy and contingent, the whole book does seem to have been leading up to this point. Will Charles have learned any truths as he approaches whatever comes next?

My main and abiding thought about this book this time round (well, there are two: the other will come later) is that, as we read the ‘diaries’ and ‘notes’ of a retired theatre director who has come to the sea for peace and quiet, away from the theatre and its people, comes across his first love, tries and fails to rescue her and almost slips into oblivion, rescued by his cousin and his Tibetan ‘tricks’, it’s an amazing tour de force of getting inside one person’s head and detailing in fine and precise lines the exact way in which he fools himself, slips away from reality and bends everything he senses round to the theories he holds in his mind. Time and again, he will see something perfectly obvious and think and think over it until he’s bent it out of all recognition and convinced himself that his interpretation is correct, from the lack of post over a couple of days to the matter of who pushed him into the sea.

The other impression I have is of how horrible marriage is constantly, wearingly, described as being. No marriage is happy (even the ‘perfect’ one collapses) and the only way to be happy appears to be to shack up with someone you can never have more than a friendship relationship with, due to different orientations. This hadn’t struck me quite so forcefully before (but it’s there in a lot of the novels, isn’t it?) and this is presumably part of my long-running and rather frustrating problem with reading about marriage breakups and unhappinesses since I myself got married (which is five years ago now: come on, brain!). The worst thing that happens, though, is when Charles listens to Hartley and Ben arguing and then tells Hartley. Who of us who are paired would want someone to base their whole opinion of our marriage on some private bickering?! I really feel her pain when she finds out.

Anyway, there is also a lot more in this book. You want water themes, you’ve got water themes, with the ever-changing sea, its attendant monsters and cauldrons, its monsters and forgiving seals (what do you think the monster is? Expanded worm or acid flash-back, or just his psyche come to haunt him?). I know I don’t like to relate the author to the work too much but IM’s love of wild swimming does inform the descriptions. There’s not only the sea of course but all sorts of mists and rains going on, adding to the atmosphere in that special Murdochian way.

Stones are another theme throughout. Charles is collecting them from the start and gives important ones to Hartley (who abandons hers) and James (who keeps his, having asked for it). Charles puts them round the edge of the lawn, James creates a complex mandala which gets trampled (life getting in the way of a higher consciousness?). Hair is suitably fuzzy, frizzy and hyacinthine.  Rosina has a hairdo that comes out as “a rounded segmented composition which looked both complex and casual” (p. 335-6) which is so Murdochian you’d recognise it as such anywhere, wouldn’t you?

Talking of appearances, I note again that IM is very cruel to the ageing woman, or is so through her narrator, with everyone coming in for it, from Lizzie (“She is still quite good-looking, though she has allowed herself to become untidy and out of condition” (p. 45) through Clement’s death mask and Rosina’s ageing to Hartley, the “bearded lady” with her messy lipstick, and a face that’s “haggard and curiously soft and dry” (p. 122).

Of course we have to have someone in a garden, peering through the curtains, and Charles gives us that scene, even adding the farce of sitting on a rose bush. He also spies on his own house and James is found outside in his garden. We don’t have many siblings, but we do have the dual couples of Charles and James and their respective parents as a centrepiece, and there is doubling and echoing around them, even to the fact that both cause deaths specifically out of vanity.

Portents come throughout the book – the chimneypiece at Shruff End is full of demons and can’t be dusted, and the sea is pretty well always dangerous, so we know it’s going to get somebody (the locals act as a mournful chorus in that respect). When he’s got Hartley in the house (later in the book than I remembered), “I had wakened some sleeping demon, set going some deadly machine; and what would be would be” (p. 334). Buddhism is a big theme for James and his jade animals make it through to the end, always a sign of someone of interest.

But there’s humour too, in Charles’ dealings with the locals (“‘Dog kennel?’ I said to the Post Office lady” (p. 43), his meals, as mentioned, and the good-humoured fun poked at those who like to sing. There are asides, too: “as I could hwardly suppose that Rosina had arranged for me to be haunted by a sea monster I decided not to mention it” (p. 112). “Si biscuitus disintegrat … that’s the way the cookie crumbles” (p. 365) is small enough to forget then be cheered by every read. There’s also the shock of the phone ringing, and of the phone engineer arriving, and the laundry man.

The food is a special theme of this book, although unpleasant meals have been had before – they add a good note of humour to the book and there is in fact a cook book based on them. I love how the shop woman chases Charles down the street with news of fresh apricots late in the narrative.

Who is the saint and who the enchanter? Charles, director and serial marriage wrecker appears to be the enchanter of the piece, and is described as a demon. Gilbert even says, “You’ve always been a magnet to me” (p. 259). There are two contenders for saint in his father and James. His father has the advantage in saints of being less fortunate than his brother, and maybe James has sought to counteract that as he seems to have worked on his own enlightenment and makes more of an effort in his goodness than his uncle Adam. He’s learned Tibetan ‘tricks’ and makes an effort to tell the truth at all times, whereas Adam has retreated from the world and been mild, although he is described as having “… a positive moral quality of gentleness” (p. 30) and being “something quite else, something special” (p. 64). I actually found James a more attractive character this time round, perhaps because of his failings, especially in his friendship with Lizzie, and with his loss of his servant. Of course Charles in his desperate jealousy thinks of James as an enchanter: “James, who seemed to be a centre of magnetic attraction to the other three” (p. 353). I think they’re drawn to him in a different way, however (although he does exert fascination over people AND has a very tidy house …). But he does get in a “muddle” over Lizzie, which disappoints Charles greatly: “… this sort of squalid muddle. It’s a kind of ordinary sly human stupidity which I was foolish enough to imagine you didn’t suffer from” (p. 440). But James prevails with his slightly drunken sermon:

Goodness is giving up power and acting upon the world negatively. The good are unimaginable. (p. 478)

In addition to this stuff of demons and saints, there’s a strong theme around passing on or absorbing pain, the idea of ‘Ate’ which comes through in so much of IM’s work. Charles is the only person Hartley can inflict her ruined life on (therefore making her not the saint, just someone who is treated extraordinarily horribly). James talks persuasively about “Letting the poor ghost go” and not inflicting himself on Hartley any more (p. 379). Charles clearly states that while he believed it was Ben who attacked him, “Ben had carried my guilt” over Titus (p. 431). But then Titus carries away Hartley’s guilt: “Titus was the redeemer, he had vanished, taking her guilt with him” (p. 461). One important point here is made by Ben, and seems to pop the balloon of the entire book: “‘It’s no use talking,’ said Ben. ‘Like in the war, Something happens, you go on. You got to, eh?'” (p. 452)

As well as the saints and demons there is a strong thread about happiness running through the book:

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats. (p. 9)

I love the small nods to other books found in this one. Will and Adelaide Boase from “Bruno’s Dream” are mentioned early on and then near the end, too. Rosina is said to have never been able to play Honor Klein, a nod to the play of “A Severed Head”. And then, one point I hadn’t noticed before, there’s an actor called Erasmus Blick. Could he be Calvin’s son? Given the names, it seems plausible. As my husband said, she does like to leave “Easter Eggs” for the discerning and careful reader! Peregrine’s step-daughter Angela is a near-copy of Julian from “The Black Prince” and makes a big effort to become Charles’ version of Julian – to his credit he does resist this. James has left the army under a cloud, which is a little theme which does crop up a good few times, if not in every book, harking back to other slightly ambiguous figures. The telephone engineer may have been reassigned from London, where he bothered Hilary Burde! When James is fussing over returning to London and doesn’t get round to phoning James or the taxi man and considers getting the later train, we’re back with Bradley Pearson, stuck in his flat out of indecision in “The Black Prince”.

I think a big point of why this narrator, unreliable and horrible as he is, comes out better than Bradley from “The Black Prince” might be this fact that he tries to resist the temptation of Angela and has actually learned and changed by the end of the book, hasn’t he? In History Chapter 4 he even addresses the fact that we might see him as an unreliable narrator, not something I recall Bradley doing: “(though, as James would say, what indeed are facts?)” (p. 257).  Looking back at my re-reading of this book, it’s more horrible than I remembered, but James is a more satisfying character, so I think it balances out, and it’s certainly a worthy and understandable Booker-winner.

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 13-19 May 2019 #amrunning #running


A good taper week apart from the NOT ENOUGH SLEEP. My husband was away for work from early Monday morning (setting off at 3am from home!) and back late Thursday night and while I saw “real” people every day and kept to an OK routine, I had trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep (not helped by accidentally putting Morgan the cat on half-rations, so he was upset and hungry!).

Monday – Recovery run from my 20-miler on Sunday, I had to fit this in to a busy day and managed during my solo run to pop some cards in the letterbox on my road and end up at the Iceland shop where I bought the things I can’t buy in the normal supermarket (particular low-fat ice cream and half-and-half bread) and dripped a bit in the shop (oops).

I took this lovely photo in a local park

3 miles, 11:48 mins per mile

Tuesday – walked up to running club to deliver the Tabard of Volunteering Joy back to the next volunteer, had a chat with friends and walked home via Lidl. I didn’t want to run three days in a row but it was good to get out for a march around.

Wednesday – Dave Easy Yoga and my friend Elaine was back so had a good catch up before class.

Thursday – A super early evening run with Trudie, Mary Ellen and Sonya. We decided to catch some canal fun so did the club’s summer 10k route but starting from the end of my road so coming up a bit shorter.

Canal at Bournville Station – cyclist, canal boats, railway station and us turning round to run under the road bridge. Yes, Bournville as in Cadbury’s chocolate. Painted purple and smelling of chocolate!

Trudie took this amusing photo of us all which I had to share!

Trudie, Liz, Sonya and Mary Ellen. What ARE we doing?

A really lovely run, nice weather, lots of birds on the canal and river including an egret in flight.

6.2 miles, 13:05 mins per mile

Friday – Matthew was home yay and got to work from home so he could have a lie-in. I went to Easy Claire yoga and enjoyed some strange hip stretches.

Saturday – Officiating at the National Masters’ Road Relays in Sutton Park (an hour and a bit’s journey from here on public transport). I was quite nervous about this as it was my first national event officiating (I did Sector Marshal at the Inter-Counties but was on the sharp end here), and only my second time timekeeping. I took my new stopwatch with me and was gently encouraged to use it rather than just validate it, to get used to it. All went fine, the team were very kind and I managed just fine and now understand how you deal with things like overlapping races and mass starts (you have lots of people with lots of watches).

What did I have to do? There were three races, two with several categories and two starts 5 minutes apart. You had to be near enough the starter to see his gun at the start, and start the watch as the gun went off (this is tricky to see as there’s no raising the arm and ready, steady go, just bring them forward to the line and bang!). Then have a cuppa and a biscuit as you have around 15 minutes before the runners start to appear. Our chief had checked last year’s times on this. There were five of us, and two doing calling (looking at their watch and shouting out the NEXT second (because 15.15 will be 15.15.something so counts as 15.16) to the scribe, who has sheets to fill in. The scribe is also looking out for bib numbers and writing those by the times as a belt and braces approach (they are also being recorded in order as they cross the line). The caller will typically go “Minute is 16, 03, 11, 46, minute is 17, 14, 59” and I’d write down 16.03, .11, .46, etc.). The chief collects the sheets as we finish them (and we number them) and they are run to the results person. Quite labour-intensive but misses out on the expense of chip timing. We had some small mass starts (so all runners who’ve not yet had their previous relay-mate come in are set off together) – the chief timed those on his watch.

It was a good one to work on as there weren’t tooooo many runners and they got quite spread out (although in the men’s 4-stage 35+ race, 1st and 2nd and then 3rd and 4th came in within seconds of each other!). I saw my friends from Bournville Harriers and various other chums from parkrun and blogging (hi, Shaun!) and my friend Jort was lead bike, riding around the route 18 times and getting a shout-out and round of applause at the end. I would definitely do this again, but really appreciated the support and encouragement from my fellow-officials.

Sunday – Last weekend run and I made it an 8.3-miler to make up a round figure for the week. Lovely Claire came out for 5 miles of it, which I hugely appreciated, and had her phone with her for a picture!

Liz and Claire, marathon training buddies (photo by Claire)

We ran through Cannon Hill Park where a Race for Life was going on – all very emotional over the loudspeaker but in a great cause for Cancer Research. And somehow during my run I drew some kind of weird animal strava art …

Cari says it’s a unicorn donkey …

Notable for a few PRs including finally beating that time I belted down my own road to my house because I was desperate for the toilet IN SEPTEMBER 2016! I’ve got a 2nd best a few times, always knowing that one beat me …

8.3 miles, 12:04 mins per mile

I’ve had a much more active taper than I usually do – it was a few weeks of quiet before Iceland and a couple of weeks before Birmingham, three weeks of almost no activity before the DIY one last year. I’ll be interested to see the effect on this race.

This week I plan to SLEEP MORE and just do two gentle runs (probably down to the print shop to get a LIZ added to my club t-shirt). Then the Liverpool Rock’n’Roll Marathon next Sunday!

Miles this week: 17.5 Miles this year: 433.6 (for 1,000 miles in the year I needed 416.6 by the end of this month)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – Caroline Criado Perez – “Invisible Women” @ShinyNewBooks


Invisible WomenI read this one in April but my review is up on Shiny New Books today. This was a HARD book to review – so much in it (so much, SO MUCH) and also it seems to have been written and chatted about and reviewed everywhere (but mostly by women, hmmm …)

Here’s an excerpt from my review – do click over and read the whole thing because it took me aaaaages to put together and because Shiny New Books is a brilliant resource and we want it to keep going and sharing all these wonderful books, don’t we.

We all know the premise of this book by now, right? Because the world is designed for men, women end up in, variously, ill-fitting protective clothing, taking drugs that don’t work the same for them, running the risk of worse accidents because most crash-test dummies are male, and having heart attacks that no one notices because they’re not like men’s heart attacks. Oh, and there’s something about snow clearance in Scandinavia. In fact, a lot of the book is fascinatingly about urban planning and other more prosaic aspects, and all the more rich and meaningful for that. You’ll also be relieved to note that the author does offer suggestions for changes, and highlights where good work is at least being done, rather than just wailing into the abyss about the current situation. Read more.

Book reviews – Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind” and Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses” plus books in #amreading #bookconfessions


Lots of lovely work, lots of running, officiating and preparing to officiate and a bit of learning Spanish have cut into my reading time and also my reviewing time. Here are two books I read while I had a cold the weekend before last (I appear to have only been reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” since then!) and then some lovely new books in for review. Well, I say lovely, and they are, but where am I going to put them??

Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind”

(23 April 2019)

One of my most recent acquisitions, bought when I went to meet up with my friend Linda in Shirley and couldn’t leave the charity shops alone, this was an idea poorly read. It’s a well-done novel set during a competition to find the next Mrs Eaden, housewife and home baker extraordinaire (and just passed away, thus avoiding any Mary Berry comparisons!) run by the supermarket that still bears her (husband’s) name. Bake-Off gets a mention: it’s not a Bake-Off novel but lovers of the show are sure to like it.

Life has happened, away from a preheated oven and a greased baking tray. (p. 111)

We get the stories of the five contestants plus extracts from Mrs Eaden’s own life story and recipes/handy hints, which were well pastiched. Note that all human and family life is here, so there need to be trigger warnings for fertility issues and loss and also eating disorders (both well sign-posted but done in a bit of detail, although carefully handled and resolved). There’s also an amusing MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) in the form of one contestant’s very annoying marathon running husband – I loved the description of his daughter’s growing discomfort as she supports his marathon and his wife and daughter’s reactions to his self-obsessed silliness (while of course hoping I’m not the equivalent MAWIL!).  Nuclear options are faced up to, mothers and daughters might be reconciled, and it’s all done really nicely with some good set  pieces and characters, showing different types of bravery.

Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses”

(14 July 2018)

Picked off the middle of the shelf for cold-day comfort, neither the title story nor the accompanying novella were unfortunately DM’s strongest work. I suspect that “Rainy Day Kisses” with its handy modern-day frame is a re-do of an older story (she does this quite a lot, and fair play, her books are a brand that are consumed in great numbers by many) and it’s a slightly annoying tale of an undomesticated woman and the man who saves her. Yes, she’s an ambitious businesswoman, but …  “The First Man You Kiss” is a silly but amusing tale of a lucky wedding dress: slight but fun. That’s all I have to say about those two!

Books in

I continue to receive lovely parcels for my attention at Shiny New Books – I’m very grateful to Harriet and Annabel for allowing me to be one of their reviewers and the publishers for sending me such lovely books to read.

The first to arrive were the other two I’d requested (any of) from Thames & Hudson’s superb catalogue. Michael J. Benton’s “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” looks at the last couple of decades of dinosaur research and how things have come on both in the technology and the facts it reveals.

“Chromatopia” by David Coles is a lovely wallow through the history, attributes and mixing of colour – it has various sections but I was immediately attracted by the series of pages with a delicious illustration and then text about the colour, covering the whole palette:

You expect beautiful books from Thames & Hudson and this is no exception: stunning images and clear, fascinating text. And hooray, I’ve noted down all the publication dates and this is first up!

Then a couple of days ago, Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds” arrived, which details the author’s travels around the British coast examining the lives of the birds found there. What a treat!

It’s nearly time for #20BooksOfSummer again and I have to work out whether to put whatever I have left of these on June 03 onto my Pile or keep it just for the TBR itself. Hm.

Sedate lady running 06-12 May 2019 #amrunning #running


This week for your delight: a swift recovery, club volunteering, a first post-mara run for Claire, some intense officiating and ensuing DOMS and a long run …

Volunteering tabard of glory

Tuesday – I felt like I’d kicked the Dreaded Cold I’d developed last Thursday evening and was rotaed to tail-run for our running club’s weekly four-mile run. I knew I had support and a swap if I found I couldn’t manage, so I ran up to test the waters – all OK – and then tail ran on our Summer Route Left. I had to let our runners out in batches (we go in pace groups) so we were safe on the roads and for other road-users, and then joined in at the back. I’d thought I’d escaped the Tabard of Glory as it is light out (which is why we’re meeting in the park and doing Summer routes) but it is a good idea as identifies the club volunteers. There was no one to pass it to when I came in after a lovely run with the party pack at the back, so I took it home, posed for a hammy photo then put it through the wash. I’ll run it up to club on Tuesday although might not do the four-miler.
Ran there, round and back all in one go so no splits for there and round and back.

5.4 miles, 12:52 mins per mile

Wednesday – All congestion gone so I risked going to Easy Dave yoga today and it was all fine. Nice to get stretched out (need to do more of that now!).

Thursday – I fancied a daytime run after getting my hair cut and Claire was free, hooray! I persuaded her to run me through the rugby club and down to the canal and back so I could work out how to get back again after actually paying attention. It was her first run after her London Marathon triumph and it was great to hear a blow-by-blow account of her weekend (esp where she got new shorts from after forgetting to pack hers originally!).

Claire and Liz, by Claire. Matching VLM 2019 ballot failure jackets and Claire’s in her VLM t-shirt

4 miles, 12:42 mins per mile

Saturday – I had the excitement of my first experience of being a Starter’s Assistant, at the Warwickshire County track and field championships, held in Nuneaton. I reviewed my training notes (although there were some odd things in the kit list), bought safety pins in Birmingham and a Sharpie pen in Nuneaton, and walked from the station to the Pingles Stadium through a really nice park and a sweetly decorated tunnel.

Tunnel to Pingles Stadium

I was working in a nice team headed by Ray the starter: there were only four of us including him, and about 30 races to look after! Our job was to check the runners for a race (heat, time trial or final) in and tell them their lane allocations, check their numbers front and back (4 safety pins, not folded or obscured), check they had a club top on, tell them the qualifications if it was a heat, or where they were to break if it was 800m plus, place them in their lanes or order along their line for the 1500m etc, get them to step back and alert the starter all was OK. Then they told them “On your marks, get set” and we had to check (one or more of us if it was a staggered start) all fingers or toes were behind the line, the gun fired and we were ready to give cards if the race was stopped (green for an issue no disqualification, yellow and black for a conduct warning, red and black for a disqualification: we only had to do two cards and I let the others do them). Then we had to pick up the stadium’s blocks (which are heavier than you think) and put them to the side or wheel them in a trolley to the next start if it was somewhere else, and move personal blocks aside. We had to let the Track Referee know if there were any DNS in a final as that’s a serious matter if you haven’t told someone about it (I think they pretty well all had withdrawn correctly). Nuneaton track has a rail around it very close to the track so there was a lot of bending to duck under it.

Track from the back straight

I managed to catch the sun and get soggy but it was a great day and I learned SO MUCH. I’d definitely do it again and have one experience for my Level 1 licence. We got a break while the 3000m steeplechase and 3000m were running and had lunch in a tent, as you do (lunch was provided).

Sunday – Woke up with DOMS from Saturday – sore elbows and shoulders and knees/sides of thighs/glutes from all the lifting, pushing and ducking under. But my cold had completely gone (by Tuesday) and I’d arranged to do a long run, so I did!

I was due to meet Trudie and Mary Ellen at 9am but woke early so was able to pop out at 8.30 and get 2.5 miles done first, effectively taking those miles off the bit at the end where I’d be alone. We started off down the number 11 bus route, as it’s so nice and safe – if you’re worried or grind to a halt, there’s a bus stop home within 5 minutes’ walk, and this also meant the other two could join me for a bit then go back. I felt OK although a bit sore of leg and I did get a bit whiny later for a while until I remembered I’d told everyone on here I was going to do 20 miles today if I was well enough!

We got to Swan Island and I thought I’d capture some urban beauty for you all, to show it’s not all canals and parks and blossom!

This was my photo of the day today. Swan Island,

This is a big roundabout with shopping centre and office block.

And here we are at the Island. Weirdly, the 100-mile Velo cycle ride should have been going along the road we were going over, but we saw no sign of it!

Liz, Trudie and Mary Ellen at the Swan

We then continued on round a very large semicircle. Trudie had plans and left us at about seven miles, taking this great strong picture in Stechford:

Liz and Mary Ellen run on

Yes, I was wearing SHORTS and my shortest ones. I needed to practise with them on a long run as I will be wearing them on the mara and ultra. No issues apart from some rubbing of the back waist seam when I had a full bottle in my back pocket of my belt, but no massive effect it seems.

Mary Ellen and I continued on, I’d done a calculation that I needed to get to 11.25 miles before turning around to give me 20 back at the house. But we made it to the M6 motorway at 11.30!

Under the M6! Urban glory!

Mary Ellen and Liz under the motorway

Just look at the places I take my American friend for kicks and glamour! Then we turned around and ran back. I did get a bit tired and achy, all down to the DOMS from Saturday, but pushed on. It’s more uphill on the way back (which I hadn’t warned Mary Ellen about! see course profile lower down). Mary Ellen finished at a very respectable 13.1 miles even though she’d been doing a dawn chorus charity walk in London on Saturday. I left her at a bus stop and pushed on, really pleased to be past the Swan again (and we didn’t get lost in Tesco’s car park as has happened the two or three other times I’ve done this route, including my DIY marathon last year) and on familiar territory – and then her bus took ages to pass me and I played cat and mouse with it for almost a mile as it kept stopping to make up time. Thank you to Mary Ellen for taking these fab pictures of me from the bus!

I had some lovely encounters including a man offering me water as I leaned on his wall. Pretty well everyone was really kind and supportive, cheering us on in various ways. It’s always nice to have things as way points – the motorway, Stechford Cascades, where Meg lives, The Swan, where Linda lives, local MP’s office, where Ali lives, where Linda used to live, that really helps.

See that profile??? up up up

I was really chuffed with my time, well under 6 hour marathon time (the cut-off for Liverpool Rock N Roll is 6 hours after the last person crosses the start line). We did stop for photos / stretching / (my) whining but it’s easier to keep going in a race where there are no crossings or indeed kerbs. AND I won’t have squatted, ducked and lifted the day before. So I’m pretty confident I’ll be OK – I’d have had 1 hr 40 to do the last 6.2 miles based on this which feels OK. I was pleased with my mile splits from 15 onwards, all under 13:00 apart from one where I had to walk and stretch.

20 miles, 13:01 minutes per mile

Now, it’s time for a proper taper – sleep, gentle running, sleep, rest, um, sleep … I always get quite a lot of reading done in taper time – so watch out for some book reviews on here!

Miles this week: 29.4 Miles this year: 416.1 (for 1,000 miles in the year I need 416.6 by the end of this month)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – Mark Boyle – “The Way Home” #amreading @NetGalley


A NetGalley book I fancied the look of when they emailed me about which I didn’t seem to feel the same as other people.

The blurb:

No running water, no car, no electricity or any of the things it powers: the internet, phone, washing machine, radio or light bulb. Just a wooden cabin, on a smallholding, by the edge of a stand of spruce.

In this honest and lyrical account of a remarkable life without modern technology, Mark Boyle, author of THE MONEYLESS MAN, explores the hard won joys of building a home with his bare hands, learning to make fire, collecting water from the stream, foraging and fishing.

What he finds is an elemental life, one governed by the rhythms of the sun and seasons, where life and death dance in a primal landscape of blood, wood, muck, water, and fire – much the same life we have lived for most of our time on earth. Revisiting it brings a deep insight into what it means to be human at a time when the boundaries between man and machine are blurring.”

Mark Boyle – “The Way Home”

(12 March 2019, NetGalley)

I’ve shared the blurb because it is entirely accurate,  however I think Boyle must be a “marmite” writer and I didn’t take to him myself, which did colour my reading of it. He decides to give up all technology and live on a smallholding in rural Ireland. I hadn’t realised he’d previously given up money, and written about that, but quickly realised he does go all in on things. I’m not sure what else this book could have been, as you couldn’t survive the modern urban world without tech, whereas you can just about live on a smallholding.

The stories of his current adventure are interspersed with the tale of how he came to this point and details of a visit he makes to the Blasket Islands, a place in Ireland that has moved from being a self-sufficient community to being a tourist location (and he really doesn’t like tourists or tourism, admonishing the reader in the introduction for having a propensity to want to visit the places they’ve read about – this put my back up, even though I understand his intention). This breaks up the hard labour and deer-skinning but there’s always the presence of his, reading between the lines, girlfriend Kirsty, caught between making nettle tea and doing all the plain cooking (he does the exciting bits) and wanting to live the authentic life she wants to have lived, running off with some ponies.

There is lots to value and interest here. The detail is fascinating, not least his agonising over where to draw the line: he eschews time (yet manages to know what day and time to go to the traditional music evenings in the pub) and contemplates making his own mushroom paper and ink for a feather pen, although we don’t get told if that happens. I did like the bits about the oddness of writing with a pencil not a computer. There are plenty of yucky descriptions of respectfully slaughtering fish and eating them raw and dealing with a road-kill deer, so no one looking for the blood and muck of it will be disappointed: there is also information on farming and foraging. No pet that is mentioned meets a sticky end and the musing on the nature of dogs is nicely done. He does also check his privilege, both of birth and of being able to choose to live in this way, but I did find him irritating, I’m afraid. No other reviewer seems to have done that so maybe I’m just struggling with my need for technology and envy of his way of life (he doesn’t have a toilet. So no).

Thank you to NetGalley and Oneworld Publications for allowing me to read this book in return for an honest review.


Book review – Simon Armitage – “Gig” plus MORE confessions! #amreading #bookconfessions


I’m a bit behind with my reviewing, as I was making myself work on my review of “Invisible Women” for Shiny New Books (what more can you say about this much-reviewed book? I will share what I’ve said when it’s out) before I did the books I’ve finished. I ended April with two books on the go, which I’d started on my travels to London last weekend, and I was a bit under the weather this weekend, hence picked some easy reads off the TBR. So be prepared for an influx.

In other influx news, on Friday and then unexpectedly early on Saturday, I have received two books from the publishers, one on a subscription model that I was more than happy to lend a helping hand to, one from the publisher from a selection I expressed interest in earlier in the year! See below for a pic of these absolute beauties that I am privileged to have in the house.

Simon Armitage – “Gig”

(10 April 2018, Oxfam Books)

I bought this on the day I started using my new hairdresser, so precious memories and all that!

A book of loosely connected anecdotes about his own poetry ‘gigs’, music gigs he’s been to and his forays into band membership, imagined and real, and fandom/subculture membership (it’s hard to be a punk in a northern village with a scathing dad, it turns out). Funny and poignant as usual, we get a lot about his mum and dad (I love the long piece about the family’s amateur dramatic tradition) and his wife and daughter. Good to see his Iceland trip referenced and there are some great comparisons, including this on Mark E. Smith, who he says is like

the owner of a family-run furniture manufacturer in provincial northern England, bullying his staff and mocking his customers.

There’s some birdwatching (he’s the one in the back of the car with the silly comments and biscuits) and family jokes (Alan Bennett mode is a corker!) and I laughed out loud at his list of band names and why they got rejected. A great read.

So a while ago I joined an Unbound campaign for a book about the mental health benefits of birdwatching (and being in nature in general). Unbound works like the old subscription model, or crowdfunding, where you pay in advance to help a book get published, and there are various levels (I chose to receive one hardback book of “Bird Therapy” and have my name in the list of supporters, which pleased me mightily when I spotted myself, but you could also have a special edition or various birdwatching treats for more of a pledge). A quote from the publisher’s page:

In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves.

You can buy it on Amazon from next month and I will try to review it very soon. I found Unbound easy to work with: one book I was supporting failed and I had a refund I could apply easily to anything else.

Bird Therapy and Futurekind books

“Futurekind” by Robert Phillips, kindly sent to me by Thames & Hudson and out next week, is a wonderful, beautifully illustrated book about community-led design projects. I’ll let the blurb do the talking:

Structured into eight areas of application, from healthcare to education, this book showcases over sixty projects – not the kind you see in glossy magazines or online, but the ones that have made a genuine difference to communities and lives around the world. Rather than being client-driven, as commercial design often is, each project here is the result of designers who reach out, communities who get involved and the technologies that helping people to realize ideas together. From a playground-powered water pump in South Africa to a DIY budget cellphone, each of these groundbreaking projects is presented through fascinating and life-affirming stories, diagrams that reveal the mechanisms and motivations behind each design approach, and photography that celebrates the humanity of the endeavour.

It looks absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

I’m currently reading “The Sea, The Sea” by Iris Murdoch, for what must be the fifth time at least, and I’m still drawn in, excited, by that first page. What are you reading that’s exciting you?

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