Book review – Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrNow, this is why I don’t do my Top 10 Books of the Year until the actual end of the year (I am aware that I need to do a Books Received for Christmas post, a round-up of the challenges and reading I’ve done this year and fit in my State of the TBR and plans for challenges for 2017 …). Because if I’d already put my Top 10 together, this book wouldn’t have gone onto it. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be up there.

Bob Stanley – “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop”

(19 February 2016)

I’ve been reading this hefty tome as my Downstairs Book (at the kitchen table and for chunks of time after lunch during the week) for quite a while now, but as the chapters are short, it’s felt like I’ve been making progress all the time. It’s the story of the modern pop era from the first singles in the 1950s to the dawn of a time when singles no longer came out on 7″ vinyl, although individual threads reach further forward and back. And pop is defined as anything popular – rap, country, r’n’b, bubblegum, doowop, shoegazing, etc., etc.).

It takes things chronologically but in short, thematic chapters – on an artist, a label, a genre – which by necessity jump around a bit, but the narrative is as coherent as it can be under these circumstances. Stanley’s amazing at pulling out tiny details and links and making connections across the whole of pop, and his footnotes are epic, amusing and human. He’s human all through it – waspish at times, with opinions: he has his likes and inexplicable dislikes, and I don’t agree with him on Erasure, but you have to be human and show your own feelings, I think, if a book like this is going to be great, and it speaks volumes that I cheerfully read chapters on bands or people I really do not care for.

The author is so perceptive on monolithic stars like Dylan, picking up on how he created his backstory and soaked up the coolness of the Greenwich Village vibe like a sponge, and he admits defeat on someone like Mickie Most, not able to give him more room because he can’t pull his story into a coherent whole. He’s great on the workings of the music business, whether it’s the Motown / Brill Building / other such song writing structures or the effect that the closing down of the pirate radio stations had on what music people heard, with The Who being lost for a while, or pointing out with a subtle reference to intoxicant of choice and hairstyle that reducing Jamaican pop to reggae and Bob Marley is like reducing British pop to blues rock and Rod Stewart.

There are Easter Egg references to Smiths lyrics and some great puns, and he doesn’t rush things towards the end, but he’s at his best when making those connections: how UK punk emerged years later in US hardcore; how the slow-mo sound of 1990s Bristol had wide-ranging routes in the 1980s and beyond; how there’s been a strand of “big men on the brink, tough guys choking back the tears” that reaches all the way back from Kurt Cobain to Frankie Laine and Del Shannon.

Masterful, amazing, a brilliant read and highly recommended.

I’ve got myself on to Iris Murdoch’s collected letters now, and am also going to try to give Woolf’s “The Years” a go, as I have a few more reading days left in the year. I might even finish the Hard Book about Dorothy Richardson I’m trying to read … watch this space for a few more reviews before the Top Ten. How are you all doing in this middly-bit of the holiday season?

Book review – The Waves #Woolfalong #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrWell, what can you say about such an iconic and rather daunting book? I’ve so enjoyed taking part in #Woolfalong this year and was determined to fit some reads into the last section, Woolfalong Phase 6, in which we are asked to read any or all of “Jacob’s Room”, “The Waves” and “The Years”. So I started this a few days ago and finished it having woken early on Christmas Day with nothing particular to do (we were off to extended family, bearing gifts of Schloer, so got away without too much prep). I hope this review does it justice!

Virginia Woolf – “The Waves”

(4 January 1992)

This examination of six lives from childhood to middle age starts off with short sentences said by each of them, which feels like a clever word game such as the Bloomsbury Set would play, until you realise that it’s their internal monologues at work. Although the “Susan said,” etc. could feel a bit forced, it does make sure you know who’s talking and what they’re likely to be on about, so anchors you in this experimental world.

As the characters progress through life, their memories echo down the years, some fading, some becoming more insistent, and their preoccupations may change on the surface but their essential beings don’t seem to. They reflect on each other and particular episodes – hinging on two gatherings in youth and later years – in a way that seems almost Cubist, from different and sometimes surprising angles. As in Richardson’s “Pilgrimage”, the most important events occur off-stage and are referred to and reacted to rather than seen. I found Bernard, the writer, and his soliloquy that forms the end of the book, quite moving.

The book feels in part like a critique of gender roles, with the options for women in particular pretty limited (lover, wife, eccentric), and Susan in particular seeming to be lost in her role as matriarch, even though she longed and planned for it. To be fair, the men also seem to be set inside their suits and limited by their schooldays, and does Bernard actually ever produce anything apart from his interminable notebooks?

I felt a bit daunted approaching this one, obviously last read as a student, but was pleased I picked up on the echoes of T.S. Eliot that were mentioned in the Introduction to my World’s Classics edition. I did very much enjoy the beautiful evocations of the sun rising, moving and setting above the eternal waves in the interludes, and making my way through the characters’ stories.

I did actually receive a copy of “The Years” (in an omnibus with “Between the Acts”, very pleasingly, as I read that in an e-book edition) for my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa, so might be able to squeeze that in before the end of the year. I’m still working my way through “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and have reached the 80s and times I experienced myself, so that book just gets better and better. I’m reading a Reykjavik Murder Mystery for a bit of light relief and you will NOT get my books of the year post until 31 December or 1 January, depending on when I finish my last book of the year! Who knows what gems will leap out at me!

I hope you’re all getting some nice reading time and opened lots of book-shaped parcels yesterday. Including my BookCrossing Secret Santa opened earlier in the month, I have acquired 11 new books, which seems doable and not stressful to the TBR …

Book review – London War Notes (Persephone)

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dec-2016-tbrAnother book finished and this was a really good one. A 2015 Christmas present from fellow book blogger and BookCrosser, Ali, this was a lovely treat and very different to other books I’ve read on the Second World War. I do love Persephone books and have almost half of what they’ve published now – do have a peek at their website for some more treats. I have one volume of this author’s short stories (the non-war ones, “Minnie’s Room”) which was also an excellent read, so she’s highly recommended.

Mollie Panter-Downes – “London War Notes”

(25 December 2015 – from Ali)

A set of edited Letters from Abroad sent back from London to America during the Second World War, this is very different from other books I’ve read on the subject or written at the same time. It’s full of information and follows events in order as histories do, and has accounts of the general mood of the people and the effect of bombings and rationing as the diaries to, but it falls between the two (in a good way) and offers a different and fascinating reading experience.

It’s cool and calm, reporting on what’s actually happening when people know, of the effect of not knowing what’s happening when they don’t, commenting on overheard and reported conversation, speaking of the general mood, but in an objective and slightly distanced way. It does get a bit more involved and nuanced as the war wears on (David Kynaston makes this point in his excellent Introduction but I’d noticed it, too) and people’s responses are perhaps a bit more complex, but it retains this essential objectivity, also staying away from descriptions of horrors or details of targets.

This all serves to make it a highly differentiated and very valuable resource, written for information then and there rather than private introspection or later history. It’s fascinating to think that these letters to New York were where a lot of Americans must have got their information on the war – and, later, their countryfolks’ reception in Britain – from.

The writing is impeccable, with a novelist’s touch on the dialogue and description, and those well-known events, figures and attitudes are seen freshly again. Important and interesting – a great combination.

So on Christmas Eve in Iceland there’s a tradition called Jólabókaflóðið or Christmas Book Flood, where people give each other books then curl up and read them. I and my husband Matthew will be doing that soon (well, I’ll be continuing with “The Waves” – he might have a new book under the Christmas tree, shhhhh) and so Happy Christmas to all you readers (and readers) and I’ll be back with new reviews soon xx

Book review – Silas Marner

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dec-2016-tbrAfter that brief foray into tourism in my own city, it’s back to the normal run of book reviews. I’ve finally managed to grab some reading time as work diminishes for Christmas so be prepared for a few reviews over the  next few days (might skip Sunday …). I’ve also updated my Century of Reading list with books I’ve bought recently – I now only have 31 years to find (I’ll be doing an update on that and all other challenges on January 1). Let’s start with a classic …

George Eliot – “Silas Marner”

(11 July 2016, charity shop, Bridlington)

I really have gone from a book acquired at Christmas 2015 to one picked up in July, but only because I picked this one off the shelf to go in my handbag for some bus journeys (I’m also reading a slim volume about Dorothy Richardson but that wasn’t brought out of the handbag quite so readily …)

Now, the thing I thought I knew about this book, along with everyone else, is that it’s about a crotchety old man who’s redeemed by adopting a small child. Well, actually, it’s about an awful lot more than that, and said child doesn’t even appear until two-thirds of the way through the book!

The hero, the weaver, Silas, is battered down by the conservatism of religion, shunned by his own chapel community after being betrayed by a friend and then a loner in his new community partly because he’s not a churchgoer. The aristocracy doesn’t come out well, either, with the local squire half-cut most of the time and producing sons who are either weak or bad. Goodness seems to be embodied in both people who are true to themselves, honest and look out for their fellow villagers, like good-hearted Dolly Winthrop, and in the web of rural society itself.

The theme of consequences is handled very cleverly. When you think Eppie is going to be spoiled by Silas not being able to bring himself to punish her, she’s clearly not, villains have an undignified rather than evil end and when lies are found out and discussion had about what would have happened if the lies hadn’t been told, all is not as the liar or the lied-to assume.

One point that really amused me was a character being compared to a guinea pig. Now, this book was published in 1861 and I have no real view on when guinea pigs were introduced as pets in the UK, but I’d somehow assumed later than this. But …

Mrs Crackenthorp – a small blinking woman who fidgeted incessantly with her lace, ribbons and gold chain, turning her head about and making subdued noises, very much like a guinea-pig, that twitches its nose and soliloquises in all company indiscriminately – now blinked and fidgeted towards the Squire

Isn’t that marvellous. Another great read from Eliot, and I am so enjoying gradually making my way through her works. I only have Scenes from Clerical Life, Romola and Felix Holt to go now.

I’ve also finished Mollie Panter-Downes’ “London War Notes” and hope to review that tomorrow. I’m working steadily through “Yeah Yeah Yeah” – which is marvellous, a real treat and sure to be one of my top ten books of the year if I can finish it in time – and I think it’s time for “The Waves” for my upstairs read. I do have some Kindle books to get on with, as those that I won on NetGalley are coming up for publication time now (I’m obeying the review embargoes even though some reviewers have posted reviews already). And I need to read a Reykjavik Murder Mystery soon, as I have been acquiring Ragnar Jónasson’s “Snowblind” series on Kindle, too. What are you reading at the tail-end of the year?

The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Pavement Trails 2 – The Charm Bracelet Trail

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Jewellery quarter pavement trail charm braceletIn my first post, I talked about the basics of the Jewellery Quarter Pavement Trails and shared photos of all (but one! Noooo) of the Findings Trail. That made for a long old article, so I decided to pop this one into another post. So, here we have the Charm Bracelet Trail. My best friend Emma and I decided to walk both Jewellery Quarter trails, clutching a camera (Emma) and a damp leaflet (me) in the drizzle – a perfect British Day Out as I’m sure you’ll agree. It was great fun being tourists in my city, and doing something you wouldn’t necessarily do (I have been to the Pen Museum, and that’s very good, too).

We actually did half of the Findings Trail, then up and down the Charm Bracelet trail in the wrong order, then the rest of the Findings Trail. I’ve posted these in the order in which they appear in the leaflet, starting at the bottom of Newhall Hill, intersecting with the other trail at the junction with Graham Street, but then continuing up Frederick Street into the heart of the Jewellery Quarter.

The Charm Bracelet Trail

This trail was designed by artists Mick Thacker and Mark Renn. Where the Findings Trail has squares let into the square-paved pavement, this one has a rather charming (aha) brick shape which fits in with these pavements. The designs are flatter and they all feature some chain links at the top that would form a chain joining all of the charms.

You start this one at the bottom of Newhall Hill and it takes you all the way to the top of Frederick Street on the right-hand side as you walk up. The pieces aren’t numbered or lettered but they are quite easy to spot.

The key, is, of course, the start of the trail, and this one also includes the thanks to the funders.

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Then we have the Silent Boot, which refers to an 1890s design of police boot designed to help catch wrongdoers. In the photo at the start of this article, you’ll witness our delight at my Doc Marten’s shoe fitting into the design: here’s the unadorned version:

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Did you know that Washington Irving, who wrote Rip Van Winkle, stayed in the Jewellery Quarter and wrote his book there in 1818? I will admit that I didn’t know this.

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Hooray for the reforming Chartists – a huge crowd gathered here working towards reform in 1832 and this one celebrates them:

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I also didn’t know that the FA Cup was made here but it was, and here it is, looking a little damp.

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The whistles for the Titanic were made by J. Hudson Limited – they still make the same whistles and they’re called Acme Whistles, which is pleasing (they also make the Acme Thunderer, which is a football thing). We loved the little whistles on the chain.

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Matthew Boulton, our famous industrialist, is commemorated next. That’s a file profile, isn’t it.

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As well as a pen nib manufacturer, there was a Turkish Steam Bath near to the Argent Centre.

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This anchor commemorates the Assay Office, the anchor being the hallmark symbol for Birmingham. This is commemorated in the beer bottle plaque in the Findings Trail, too.

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I love these nib displays – they have ones like this in the Pen Museum, which is fab and well worth a visit. You can make a nib from scratch and play around with quill and dip pens. This commemorates Joseph Gillot, another overlap with the Findings Trail, but it’s lovely to have these names mentioned and remembered.

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The Hockley Flyer is the quarter’s trade magazine and is still going strong and making interesting reading:

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We get into World War Two and the Jewellery Quarter now, with this piece commemorating a badge-making firm targeted by bombers during the war …

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… and this absolutely lovely Bits For Spitfires piece, celebrating the fact that both commemorative medals and parts for the planes were made here. Emma and I liked the way it looks like an Airfix model.

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The famous School of Jewellery is celebrated on Frederick Street:

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We also really liked this piece commemorating the Vittoria Restaurant, which apparently featured “peas like emeralds” – as we’d just had our lunch when Emma photographed this one, we decided to feature our toes (and Emma’s skirt) in the photo.

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The last piece in this trail is the Chamberlain Clock, the famous landmark celebrating Joseph Chamberlain which was erected in 1903. Not sure why we added ourselves into this one, too, but it was a lovely ending, within sight of the clock itself.

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We managed not to photograph the clock or the rest of the JQ, marching back down Frederick Street with a plan to get round the rest of it before tea time. A quick mention should be made of The Button Factory, which is a great pub on Frederick Street, in an old button factory and keeping a lot of its detailing. We had a lovely lunch there, and they do all their frying in rapeseed oil, which is brilliant for any of us on low-cholesterol diets. I do like chips. It was really quiet on a December Monday but friendly and warm.

The Button Factory Birmingham Jewellery Quarter

Do pop and read all about the rest of our exploits that day taking in the Findings Trail as well!

All photos taken by Emma Volante, all food and drink paid for ourselves. More info about the Pavement Trails and a link to the leaflet can be found here.

The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Pavement Trails 1 The Findings Trail

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Jewellery Quarter pavement trailWorking from home, which some of this blog is still about, can mean flexibility, and that flexibility can mean taking random best-friend-days off work – hooray! Last Monday, Emma, who I’ve known for over half my life, came up from London for the day. She’s been part of the Project 365 photography group I’m in this year, and has been busily photographing the Spitalfields Roundels for that, so suggested we had a go at the Jewellery Quarter Pavement Trails on our day together. I’d seen a few of these in the pavement and I’m always up for a slightly geeky challenge, so off we went.

In true British Days Out fashion, we did this in a light drizzle, clutching a damp leaflet! Hooray! Emma Volante took all the photos and agreed to me sharing them in this post. I was in charge of damp leaflet holding and peering at blurring print.

Having posted all the photos of the Findings Trail, I’m going to split this into two posts. Read about the Charm Bracelet Trail here.

What are the Jewellery Quarter Pavement Trails?

The Pavement Trails are two sets of artwork, set into the city streets; the Charm Bracelet ones are brick shaped (see above photo) and the Findings ones are metal in stone set in a square. They were commissioned by the City Council and various funds and organisations and give an insight into the history of the Jewellery Quarter, which is all about pen nibs and other steel stuff as well as jewellery, and has had some very interesting inhabitants.  You can find more information and a link to the PDF listing them all here.

Note: we did the trails in a funny order: we started off  doing half of the Findings Trail on Newhall Street and Graham Street, then went down and back up Newhall Hill and up Frederick Street (to do the Charm Bracelet Trail), then back down to Graham Street and down the other side of Graham Street and Newhall Street to finish the Findings Trail.

The Findings Trail – Newhall Street and Graham Street

The Findings Trail runs up Newhall Street (from further up than you think – you need to get across Great Charles Street Queensway before you start finding them. The first Heart and then A are on the right-hand side of the road as you walk towards the Jewellery Quarter and the trail runs up Newhall Street and along Graham Street, turns at the junction with Frederick Street/Newhall Hill and runs back down the other side of the road.

The plates are all designed by Laura Potter, a graduate of the School of Jewellery.

It all starts with a heart – you’ll see this one a few times …

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A – the tunnel, refers to the network of tunnels to support the telecommunications network

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Note that these are handily labelled with their letter, which is very helpful. B shows hallmarks for precious metal symbols:

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We liked the beer bottle tops for C – this is to commemorate a pub where, apparently, Birmingham and Sheffield chose their respective hallmark signs:

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D is the symbol for a church, and we dutifully popped down a side road and walked around St Paul’s Square.

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We were a little confused by the slippery road sign on E which commemorates a roller coaster which used to be on the site (??)

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Moving on, these empty paint tubes at F caused us a little consternation when we saw them from the side and below, but they were, in fact, empty paint tubes.

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And then G got all odd, too, with some rubber teats to commemorate the fact that nannies walked their charges down Brook St to St Paul’s Square … (this one was squashed into a corner so a bit hard to see)

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H is back to normality with an inkwell celebrating the steel pen nib making of the area:

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And we learned about borax at I (it’s used as a base for soldering). Sorry about the cigarette butts in that pic, it was again in a corner and we weren’t going to go grubbing around cleaning it out!

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J is a casting tree, which was used by jewellers when they were working on multiple objects at the same time. I think this might be the one we had to ask someone to move away from as they were (innocently) standing on it (at a bus stop). What we do for art / photography / weird projects, eh!

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We liked the bricks on K, on the corner of Vittoria Street, where the School of Jewellery can be found, and took a photo of our feet for little reason (we both tend to stand pigeon-toed in photographs and we were conscious of getting our photo-of-the-day while doing this).

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L commemorates Flag House, another pen nib factory:

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M was a good one – the signature of Joseph Gillot, who owned the Victoria Works, one of the major steel pen nib factories.

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This is the last one on the right-hand side of the road. We then encountered an X to mark the place where the two trails meet …

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… and then crossed the road over to the left-hand pavement, turned round, and started off again with … another heart:

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So, off we go again with … where were we? Ah yes, N – the running man, representing the errand boys who took things around the Quarter:

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I loved the notes about O, as I hadn’t realised any of this. We knew there was a Sikh Gurdwara on Graham Street as it’s quite a noticeable landmark with its orange flags and square, blue building. I had wondered if it had had a previous use, and yes, apparently the building has previously been used by the Congregationalists, the Methodists and the Elim Tabernacle. Not quite as varied as the place on Brick Lane that has been a Chapel, Synagogue and Mosque, but reminiscent of it. The O design is the steel bangle sacred to the Sikh religion:

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On down the road to P and we find farthings to commemorate the mint (there are also Farthing House and Sovereign House blocks of flats nearby!).

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I like buses, so I liked Q, celebrating the fact that the West Midland Transport head office was once here:

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R is a curb chain, commemorating the chain-making done in the area. We’re working our way down the hill of Newhall Street again now.

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T is … yes. T. There is no S. THERE IS NO S. S is supposed to be a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate. The street was long and empty of too much street furniture. We looked under cars and behind bicycles. We avoided a somewhat inebriated gentleman SEVERAL TIMES as we marched up and down getting cross. There is no S. I even asked a Birmingham Guide and he thought it should be there … but it is not. Anyone with any info on this, please let me know. This upset us.

T, we found rather sadly, is some taps to mark it being near Severn Trent’s offices. Actually the taps were quite sweet and restored us a little.

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U, and we’re getting close to a cuppa and a sit-down now (we did this section last) is a bench peg used by jewellers.

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Electroplating was invented around here, and so V celebrates this with a plated sample which looks a bit like the new library building.

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Celluloid was also invented in Birmingham (who knew?) and so here’s a film projector to celebrate that at W.

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This is a great trail and very varied but I think the artist might have been casting around for inspiration here, because here’s the heart again, this time representing the network of canals, the heart of the city, I suppose, and used for transportation in and out of the area, at X:

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Y is a stamped letter, because we’re on Newhall Street, the hub of telecommunications (the PO Tower has been decommissioned but I think the Peregrine Falcons still nest there).

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and to carry on the theme, Z is an Actual Telephone!

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Ah – we’re done, we sighed. Em put her camera away and I stowed the damp paper … but no, there’s one more, just past the telephone hub box.

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This one thanks all the funders – a nice touch. So that’s the Findings Trail done … the Charm Bracelet one is shorter, but perhaps best left for another post.

Oh, we did get a cuppa and a sit down back at Grand Central …

emma-and-liz

A Year in First Lines

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hand-writingLots of people have been doing this and so I thought I would, too. The idea is to take the first line of the first blog post of each month and put them all in one post. Because my actual first post of the month is always a State of the TBR one, I’ve included that for the picture of my waxing and waning (OK, waxing) TBR and then the first sentence of my first review post. So the month name links to the blog post and you get a photo of the TBR for that month (watch that big Kynaston book move up the list as the months wear on …).

January

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Two in the “popular non-fiction” genre to start the year off – both started last year, which was a bit untidy, but never mind.

February

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Two sets of rather contrasting books today – and also two from last month and two from this.

March

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Two books for two challenges today, although I will admit here that I heard about Reading Ireland Month, thought I didn’t have anything on the TBR for it, then looked down at the book I was reading at the time and caught the word “Waterford” and thought, “Oh, yes!”

April

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Well, it’s Mary Hocking Reading Week, hosted as usual by Heaven-Ali, and of course this year we have the excitement of the fact that Bello Books have been busy reissuing Hocking’s novels, half in February and out already and half to come in July (read more about that here).

May

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Two very unlike books today, I’m afraid – wanted to get the Woolf reviewed as near to the end of Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong Phase 2: Beginnings and Endings project as I could, and then I picked a tiny one off the beginning of the shelf to read in scraps of time.

June

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Two books, one about books, one about the alphabet – you can’t get more booky or a more appropriate start for me for my #20BooksofSummer project, can you?

July

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I seem to have been working, eating, sleeping and running and not really reading very much – argh!

August

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Today I’m thrilled to review an excellent new novel by Katharine d’Souza.

September

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On Saturday, I had a lovely trip to Astley Book Farm, near Bedworth, with three booky friends.

October

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This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

November

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Well, a novel and a book about novels – I’m already feeling twitchy enough about leaving my last October book hanging around until this far into November.

December

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Well, I have finished Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” sequence and right on time, too. The 13 volumes have taken me 13 months to read, and I could not have done it without having the other lovely bloggers and LibraryThing Virago Group members to see me through.

I’m not sure how wholly illuminating this is, but it does show the TBR in all its glory and encapsulates the Woolfalong, 20 Books of Summer and Dorothy Richardson challenges I’ve been doing, plus the fact that sometimes people kindly send me books and sometimes I go on book-buying trips.

If you’ve done one of these posts or plan to, do link to it in the comments below: it does give quite a good snapshot, doesn’t it!

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