Book review – Shaun Bythell – “Confessions of a Bookseller” @SerpentsTail #NetGalley


first of all I just want to apologise to all the people whose blogs I follow whose posts I have ignored and whose replies to my comments I haven’t read. Real life got on top of me (I’m not going to share information on here as it’s so public, but please don’t be worried; we’re all OK) and I’ve had to go to Blog Zero. I think I’ve replied to all the comments on here, but I’ve started saving posts to read and comment on from today and missed a load. If there’s something on your blog you think I simply MUST see, drop me a line using whatever means you have, or my contact form. I’ve also reviewed my reading commitments and will NOT be doing 20 books of summer, but will just see how I do there. Running bloggers, if you’re read this far, I will pick up your posts from today.

Right, I had to get back to picking off some NetGalley reads as I realised my review rate was at exactly 80%, which is what they recommend you have – or above. Eeps. But this was the perfect light read, made up of short sections, so ideal in a tiring time.

If you’ve read Bythell’s “Diary of a Bookseller” then you’ll have the idea (my review here). We get tallies of customers and takings, numbers of online orders received and located, trips to buy books and philosophising thereon, and day-to-day tales of the Bookshop, Wigtown and the inhabitants.

There are a few plot points and I won’t give them away, but we do lose two regular characters from Bythell’s life alongside the usual losses and arrivals of small town life. The bookshop cat still prevails. I still wouldn’t dare to go in there, in case I enraged Bythell, but I was very cheered to read in the epilogue that things are going better for the shop now as people realise they need to support “real” bookshops.

A nice comfortable read, even when he’s railing against modern life, methods and Kindles. As with that one about the man who eschewed technology, I feel a bit ironic and uneasy having read this ON my Kindle …

Thank you to Serpent’s Tail for approving me for this book: I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

Sedate lady running 05-11 August 2019 #amrunning #running


A good week back to my running almost as normal, with a massive weekend of officiating fun.

Monday – I went for a lovely run with Claire – although I did struggle a bit, at least I was struggling around 7 miles rather than around 4 (and I promise I wasn’t pushing it, I just walked a lot). We did a  bit more of the canals than we have been recently and spotted this excellent heron.

Heron plus reflection

I went for another of my weird buffs:

I thought it was just a nice blue and orange pattern but no: Fish Heads In Circles!

7.1 miles, 13:13 mins per mile

Tuesday – I needed to fit in all my miles on weekdays as I had a weekend of officiating, so went to club run. Ran up there the long (ish) way round, not as long as I’d hoped: the nights are starting to draw in a touch so there were long shadows in the park at 6.45pm

I met up with Ruth and jeffed most of it (we did 1 min run, 30 sec walk except on down and uphills!) and then run home with Trudie. A lovely evening.

1.25 miles, 11:28 mins per mile / 4.8 miles, 13:08 mins per mile

Wednesday – went to Dave yoga and did everything fine except I tried to go up into a shoulder stand but came back down again (in a controlled manner).

Thursday – A pre-breakfast run with a section with Jenny in the middle. I’d hoped to do more before I met her as was time constrained on my return home, but events conspired. THEN I thought I’d take a special detour to make up my miles to 5 but it gave me more extra than I’d thought (d’oh!). Lovely to catch up with Jenny and I got another burst of controlled speed (all being relative of course) in the first and last miles.  Again, the dawns are getting later so there was still something pretty to catch when I left home about 6.45 am.

Dawn over my road

5.3 miles, 12:30 mins per mile

Saturday – Off to Alexander Stadium on two buses for the Masters’ Track and Field Championships. I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to do Field officiating today and Track tomorrow, giving me two different experiences for my qualifications from the same championships.

The old city council logo on the old sign

It was pretty rainy and I was glad I’d packed my Sealskinz hat AND worn the waterproof socks!

Alexander Stadium track in the rain from the officials’ room.

I picked up my duty sheet: this had 30 different competitions (some of which included more than one age group, for example I had a long jump competition which was for Men 50-54 and 55-59. I had six competitions, each with a certain number of officials and each with a leader (none of whom was me, as I’m not qualified enough for that, yet). This is what I did:

  • Mens 35/40/45 Long Jump – spiked for the EDM and raked the sand. We used an Electronic Distance Measuring machine which looks like this (used later in the field):  the EDM operator focuses it on a prism at the end of a spike held by the spiker, presses a button and it measures the distance for the EDM operator to call out and write down.

EDM machine from the operator’s side

Spiking involved standing the spike up with the prism facing the EDM, held upright (it’s longer than a normal spike or screwdriver and has a little bubble to show when it’s upright) with my legs behind it to help the operator find the prism. Then if needed I would rake away the footsteps I’d made.

  • Men’s 50 and then 55/65 Long Jump – for both of these I was the EDM operator. I hadn’t actually done this since last August but I was firmly encouraged to give it a go and it worked fine once I’d got my eye back in.
  • Men’s 60/65 Javelin – spiking for the EDM but on a much longer distance and a green field. We were out of the stadium on a special field behind it and the wind was so strong, all the javelins were flying to the right!
  • Women’s 50/55 and then 60+ Weight. Weight is a special event used only in Master’s competitions here – it’s a heavier ball than the hammer but on a much shorter handle. Pretty impressive to see women in their 70s and 80s wielding it and they were a lovely, jolly lot, all celebrating when one of them did well. I did retrieving for both competitions – the 50/55 weight was pretty heavy!

This was a very busy and physical day and I was pretty tired at the end, but I enjoyed learning a new discipline. I’d hoped to get a Report at this match (when you have a higher-level person write a report on how you did, especially around the safety involved in Long Throws) but I learnt enough new things in the javelin (how to block the run-up when running a warm-up, what to indicate when you’re in the field and a throw goes wide) that I realised I wasn’t ready for my report yet.

Sunday – Track today and on a team with one person I know well from Endurance officiating and one (our ref) I’d worked with before. We worked around the track but centred on the Track Officials’ Stand, seen here (just in front of the high jump bed, close to the finish line) from the officials’ room.

Track judges’ stand

And this was the view of the dear old stand, soon to be demolished to make way for the new Commonwealth Games stand, from the top of the Track judges’ stand:

Dear old Alexander Stadium

Another duty sheet, this time with 44 races, some of which were split into heats (and some which were a final instead of having heats, meaning a final further down the sheet would not need to be run), and some of which were for more than one category at a time. I moved around the track doing various jobs for one long or a few shorter races, including:

  • Judging a steeplechase hurdle to make sure there were no infringements
  • Judging the bend on the 200m
  • Judging a section of a 5000m race
  • Judging the break line on the 800m and removing the tiny cones used for that on the inside lanes
  • Recording the final three finishers’ numbers in a race
  • Recording all the finishers’ numbers in a race
  • Taking down lap charts for 5000m race walk and running races
  • Operating the lap board (seen by the runners) and lap bell – which is less scary than it sounds as your assistant tells you which runners are on the bell and which ones have been lapped
  • Operating a wind gauge and reporting the result to Photo Finish
  • Taking down results in number order on a duplicating sheet and running them over to Timekeeping to have the times added

We did of course get breaks but it was pretty full-on and, as it was only my second track experience and my first independent one, without shadowing someone, there was a lot to learn! It was good fun though and quite a few of the athletes gave us a personal thank you.

Weekly total 18.5 miles. Total this year 649.3 (I need 666.67 at the end of this month to be on track for my 1,000 miles in a year total)

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 – Verily Anderson – “Spam Tomorrow” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow


It’s time to veer away from All Virago / All August and 20 Books of Summer to enjoy and celebrate another mid-century wonder, very kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. Furrowed Middlebrow (also a blog) is a lovely celebration of women’s mid-century writing, picking up unusual and out-of-print books that haven’t been reprinted by Persephone or Virago, often slimmer volumes, and they have such an attractive cover style, with the house frame and then an original cover or print.

Verily Anderson – “Spam Tomorrow”

(17 June 2019)

You’ll have to read the book to find out why the author was called Verily and why her siblings also had unusual names – although this is primarily a WW2 memoir, we are taken back through her lifetime up until her wedding day before moving forward again.

Elizabeth Bowen apparently praised this 1956 volume for being one of the first to explore women’s lives in wartime. We’re more used now to all the social history that’s come out, all those Mass Observation diaries and books about the Home Front, but this would have been very revolutionary in its day, and we’re not spared the details of pregnancy, birth, babies, housekeeping and anxious care of one’s own and one’s family’s health at the time just before antibiotics came in. It’s a vivid (but never graphic, although bomb damage and upset children are described) account of life on the home front, told with a humorous and light touch overall, but with depth.

Anderson writes with a slightly flat and detached tone, almost naive – if you like Barbara Comyns, Dodie Smith, Elizabeth Eliot et al. then you’re going to love this. Although it’s very funny in places, there are some real struggles, some glossed over (being too ill to attend her first child’s christening party) and an awareness that

At any moment might come a fork in the road.

– with her path either leading to quiet domesticity or the very real prospect of invasion. At one point, she’s so low that she feels “There was no place for spring” but there’s always a friend or family member or an incident to cheer, and she also draws solace from nature. Her family is a comfort, even though pretty eccentric: this description of a sister and her trousseau:

Clothed for comfort in a square Greek tunic, she sat with her farrowing sow, while my mother and I stood by trying to wring some preference out of her for pleats or gathers.

wouldn’t be out of place in a Mitford sister or Comyns novel. While the events, privations and constant moving around are common to many accounts of wartime life, it’s fresh and lovely to read.

Hugely atmospheric, delightful and impossible to put down, thank you to Dean Street Press both for publishing this and for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Book review – Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom” plus Stephen Rutt – “The Seafarers” @ShinyNewBooks #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


It’s book review central here as I carve out more reading time and get to grips with my 20 books of summer and review books. How lucky I am to have such a wide variety to read!

First off, I need to report on one extra book I read in July – Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers”, which I’ve reviewed for Shiny New Books. This was a wonderful book about the (oddly hard to define) seabirds of Britain, taking in locations from the Shetlands in the North to the Scillies in the South, with beautiful, artistically written descriptions of land, sea and bird life. Although this has been talked about as being about the help nature can give to mental health, this isn’t a huge part of the story – while I know some readers like a lot of memoir in their nature writing, I like a book to be about the nature and the person’s reaction to that.

I also liked the respect the author paid to previous nature writers who have gone before him, bringing back memories of those older volumes sitting in bird hides and the hotels you stay in on birding trips. Altogether a lovely book and highly recommended. You can read my full review here and I know the lovely editors at Shiny will appreciate you popping over and having a read (you can follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts, too).

Now for #20 books of summer, another slimmer volume in the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of the project.  Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me this one in November via Heaven-Ali, just like “The Eye of Love” (except I’m afraid I’ll probably be putting “Maurice Guest” to one side as it looks a bit turgid and Germaine Greer thinks it’s not as good as this one. Do I do everything Greer says? No: for a start, I am still fully underclothed at all times, however much I read “The Female Eunuch” as a teenager. Anyway, this was an interesting read, especially for its Australian setting.

Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

The getting of wisdom is of course nothing to do with the rote-learning at the boarding school where this book is set: it’s all about how to get on with people, something our heroine never quite grasps. Like “The Eye of Love” this is another book about convention: however, here, convention stifles and squashes Laura Rambotham’s spirit and natural ebulliance, making her by turns over shy but over confident, mendacious, smarmy and over religious as she works her way unsuccessfully through a couple of years of boarding school. Her mother classifies her as disobedient and self-willed and she heart-breakingly never works out how to get on with people, missing the point generally all the way along, although a hint of her future near the end suggests that she might get what she wants eventually, unlike her friends.

We feel for Laura’s poor mother, keen on needlework but mocked for her garish designs, and having to support herself and her family, eschewing stays but trying to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. There’s a great feeling for a veneer of imposed and strict ‘culture’ over the chaos of life in Australia, and the backdrop means Laura gets to rest from school by the thundering ocean, not something that features much in British school stories except as a source of danger for rescues!

There are some good, sharp comments about how to write, and how writing allows to lie as if something was true, much easier than keeping things straight in life. There’s not a huge amount of plot but as Greer says in the introduction, it’s about someone who is “ordinary, and therefore deeply important”.

This was Book 9 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

Still reading “Spam Tomorrow” (not Jam, which I claimed yesterday!) by Verily Anderson; still enjoying it very much. How are your 20 books going??

Book review – Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love” #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


Well I’m onto the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of my 20 Books of Summer project now, and starting off with a modern reprint which the ever-lovely Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me in November via Heaven-Ali. It’s not quite that I was picking off the slim volumes first, honestly, but this was a quick read and an easy win. And charming: just charming!

Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

A funny peculiar story about an odd woman, not in her first flush of youth and in a perilous financial position, her stolid yet hugely artistic niece and her lost love, forced to marry someone else for the sake of his business. Infinitely mockable (and indeed mocked by people in the book) yet infinitely touching, Miss Diver and her Harry are seen to be a sweet couple who should not have been parted, and there’s something very bittersweet about these people who are middle-aged at best but romantic and poor like a young couple in a garret. And Martha is just a delight, with her artist’s eye and her collection of odd friends.

Martha and Miss Diver are uncompromisingly themselves, and it’s only when Miss Diver changes that she is in danger. In a world that favours convention, they do as they wish to a large extent, and we hope that Martha will never change. I loved the detailed descriptions of her art, too. And who can argue with her as she finds a lodger for Miss Diver?

‘What’s the weekly rate?’

‘I don’t know. I’m only a child,’ pointed out Martha severely. (p. 63)

Mr Joyce is a great character and I love how he links bits of the story together, his daughter too manipulative to be pitied, although Sharp has something to say about the plight of the unmarried woman. The novel is somehow merciless but with a heart (unless I’ve read it wrong and it’s really a political satire or something) and I believe there’s a sequel, which I will have to look out for.

This was Book 8 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’ve read another Virago by the time of reviewing (review up tomorrow) and am currently reading “Jam Tomorrow” by Verily Anderson, which is one of the new Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press. It’s very good and I suspect I will have a review for you on Friday of that one!

And in booky post, I received this lovely tote bag in the post from Round Table Books today. This is an independent, inclusive children’s bookshop in Brixton, South London – they appear to be pretty active on Twitter, so do have a look and a follow. They started off as a pop-up and I supported a crowdfunder to get them their own premises, and it’s all very exciting!

Sedate lady running 29 July – 04 August 2019 #amrunning #running


An odd week this week with more officiating and volunteering than running.

Monday – a warm run with Claire, we did our 4 mile route which gives us a bit of shady canal and nice boats and some paths behind the rugby club. It was quite hot so I did my buff in shade-your-neck style.

Shading my neck

However what that pic doesn’t show is that this buff has a seriously weird print. It’s one of a pack of six I bought a while ago.

OK, right.

A load of sheep and the outline of a house, for the win. I didn’t run again until Saturday because life got in the way. Nothing too serious and nothing to talk about in public, but a few bits and bobs going on. Situation has eased now.

4 miles, 12:54 minutes per mile

Wednesday – made it to Dave yoga in the morning, then my running club friend James gave me a lift to Worcester, where we were two of Sparkhill Harriers’ contributed officials for their last Veterans’ Track and Field League match of the season. We ran shot put first, which was a reminder for me as I haven’t done that since my first ever experience, then long jump for over-60s men and over-70s women (I know: how brave???). All went well and I’ve learned to be more forthright in controlling the roster of athletes so we get things done efficiently.

Photo by James

I actually ended up calling up, measuring and working out the results, but I had a bit of a rake, which I’ve never actually done before, even though seeing people doing that at close quarters was what inspired me to take up track and field officiating!

Saturday – I was rostered to lead the club beginners’ session and had run fast for me the long way round to get there, but had no beginners. As the woman who was leading the half-marathon training was new to leading, I led the warmup then came with them, especially as there were two people I knew would be running a bit slower. We used my route from last year with an extra bit, and it was lucky I went because the poor leader tripped and had a nasty fall. Thank you to the lovely man whose door we knocked on for some water and to Sara for doing the nursing bit. She ended up going to a walk-in centre then going to A&E to have stitches, poor thing. I rounded up the half of the runners who were still with us and finished the run with them, the faster ones had looped back to find us, but not quite far enough but we all met up at the end and I led them in a stretch before wobbling home. Do wear an ICE tag if you run, especially solo, with your next of kin phone number and allergies!

1.8 miles, 11:30 mins per mile / 7.2 miles, 13:47 mins per mile

Sunday – I worked at the Midland League Division Two Track and Field meet on behalf of BRAT (Birmingham Running and Triathlon Club) as a field official this time (last time I worked on the track). I had a great day, they, like Sparkhill, have been very welcoming of their non-club contributed official. We worked in a team of five, all from the club.

I worked on women’s pole vault first, which was very exciting, as that’s the one Field discipline I’ve not done before. I learned how to move the uprights back and forward and the bar supports up and down and had a go at replacing the bar with the supporting poles (each with a C-shaped piece at the end to hold the bar with).

Then we were on the men’s javelin and I was pulling through, after trying to do collecting the javelins but finding I wasn’t strong enough to stick them in the ground for the athletes to use (most don’t have their own so use the stadium’s). So then I was standing to the side of the run-up, holding the reel of tape, playing out enough tape for the person spiking to reach where the javelin had landed, and putting the tape down on the ground so it ran through the middle of the run-up and could be measured accurately at the throwing line. Lots of squatting basically. This and the triple jump had six rounds: three for everyone then three more for those who reached a certain distance.

Last we had triple jump and I got to fulfil my lifetime’s ambition of raking the sandpit! When I attended the Team Trials last summer we were sitting near the pits and I got to see the officials doing this and really fancied it, but I’d never done it. See pic above for an idea, although it was hotter and I was in my polo shirt and cap. Hard work but I learned what to do and got the idea of it.

Addersley Stadium, Wolverhampton

The stadium had a bike track running round the outside of the track, which made it interesting to get off the track in some places! A good day out and I even got to watch some of the track competition in the breaks between officiating. I’ll definitely be back to help them next year!

Weekly total 13 miles. Total this year 630.8 (I need 666.67 at the end of this month to be on track for my 1,000 miles in a year total)

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 – Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work” #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


I’m using my July TBR picture as this book was in that one. Pressing on with my 20 Books of Summer, this represents book number 7, so I’m probably not going to complete the challenge this year but I’m going to have a nice booky time trying! I bought this book during my May 2018 book token rounding up bonanza – see the whole pile here and it’s interesting that I obviously do NOT read my books in acquisition order as I claim, as I read the Zephaniah almost immediately (OK, reviewing it for Shiny New Books) and took “The Sparsholt Affair” on holiday in March. Ah well!

Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work”

(22 May 2018)

An excellent autobiography, very inclusive and team-orientated, with great insights into her beliefs and how she got where she got and did what she did. Harman explains in the Acknowledgements that she’d denounced men’s political memoirs as vanity projects and claimed she was never going to write one, but then she realised that none of those described the changes in women’s lives over the last 30 years, or mentioned the women who were instrumental in legislating for many of these changes. This is the result, putting that right.

And she certainly does, taking pains to give massive credit to her staff, friends, family, political peers and forebears and colleagues and constituents for her triumphs and wins, but remaining clear-headed about her own mistakes, for example not standing up for herself when she wasn’t made Deputy Prime Minister when she became Deputy Leader of the party, or being unprepared for government and basically messing things up and getting sacked.

From the introduction, which draws parallels between her and others’ experiences of sexual harrassment in their early working lives and the issues women face now, the discussion of the women’s movement’s different strands and where she fits in to them and her stories of her life as an MP, Harman shows herself to have remained resolutely woman-centric and concerned with pushing women’s rights and opportunities, working on massive reports in government and opposition. She even has a woman-centric attitude when Ed and David Milliband are fighting for the leadership: “What would happen to the one who won? And to the one who lost? And what must their mother be feeling about it?” (p. 327)

I hadn’t quite realised how ground-breaking she was, being the first woman to be pregnant in Parliament, at a time when there were more MPs called John than there were women MPs, at that! She admits she made mistakes about which conventions to obey and which to flout but it’s also fascinating to read about how she pushed forward relationships with women journalists in the press lobby and even mentored new Tory women MPs in this century – while never losing her Labour and feminist principles, of course. I loved the story of how she shielded her new baby from Margaret Thatcher’s gaze (while not taking him through the voting lobby as she was accused of doing).

A lot of this book is sadly relevant today – the 1980s divisions in Labour that they took such pains to heal and the feelings of the people that Labour wasn’t to be trusted to govern then. She lays out principles for moving forward near to the end of the book (in I think a new section added for the paperback) and bemoans missed opportunities, saying quite rightly that getting the full Equalities Act (the final act of the last Labour Government) through would have helped mitigate working-class people’s resentment of the Labour as well as Tory political elite.

A generous, warm and clear-headed account of an extraordinary life in politics of the woman who was briefly my MP (and a good friend and ally of my later MP, Joan Ruddock).

This was Book 7 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’ve moved on to Margery Sharp’s excellent-so-far “The Eye of Love” as my first Virago of All August / All Virago and Book 8 although I hope to fill in the other three non-Viragoes at some point!


Older Entries Newer Entries