Grave Stones by Priscilla Masters.

Grave Stones by Priscilla Masters

Grave Stones by Priscilla Masters

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The last few days I have been caught up in the goings on in Leek, Queen of the Moorlands. A farmer was murdered, the wife might, or might not have met a grisly end, a daughter is quite frankly totally unlikeable! In fact few of the characters are very likeable. Farmland versus suburbia. Cleverly plotted and an easy read, a cosy-type crime that kept me amused for a while.



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Carols from Kings 2020

The Christmas Eve Carol Service from Kings College Cambridge was a bit different for 2020. There was no congregation and recorded in advance it was beautiful nonetheless.

Click on the link below for the poignant In the Bleak Mid-Winter, music by Gustav Holst and arranged by Mack Wilberg, especially apt for this 2020 winter.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pTzqMi2AQF8

The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Elliot.

I love this poem. The nitty, gritty of the journey to see Mary and Joseph’s baby. The feeling of ‘I could be somewhere else other than on this damn journey’:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.

A Christmas favourite. After a night of heavy snowfall, a boy plays in the snow, eventually building a large snowman. At the stroke of midnight, he sneaks downstairs to find the snowman magically comes to life.

They play in the snow and then take flight, flying over the South Downs towards the coast, seeing the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Palace Pier and north along the coast of Norway. They continue through an arctic landscape and into the aurora borealis. They land in a snow-covered forest where they join a party of snowmen. They eventually meet Father Christmas along with his reindeer.The snowman returns home with James before the sun rises and the two bid farewell for the night.

The film is as magical as the book with an emotive score. The first page of the original score of The Snowman, signed by composer Howard Blake, is due to go to auction in aid of the Journalists’ Charity.

I will never tire of this timeless book and film. I am Sussex born and bred and the fact that both Briggs and Blake have Sussex Connections and the book a Sussex backdrop, is what makes it even more delightful.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti.

Well who knew?

I have only discovered today that my favourite Christmas Carol was written by a favourite poet of mine.

In the Bleak Midwinter was published originally under the title “A Christmas Carol “and was first collected in book form in Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems(Macmillan, 1875).

Then in 1906, the composer Gustav Holst composed a setting of Rossetti’s words (titled “Cranham”) in The English Hymnal, which is sung throughout the world. Gustav Holst drew inspiration from walks in his native Gloucestershire: the tune for Rossetti’s poem. The tune was named after the small Cotswold village where his grandparents lived.

Goblin Market, as readers of myblog will know, is a favourite of mine too.

Christmas by Sir John Betjeman.

A Christmas treasure by Betjeman, describing the traditions of Christmas compared to the story of the birth of Christ.

‘The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ?  For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.’

Weather by Jenny Offill.

Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather by Jenny Offill

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I was expecting a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. It wasn’t. I nearly gave up and then I settled in and accepted it for what it was. It was a book for a voice- Lizzie Benson’s. Her life, job, family, her affair- her stream of consciousness. Like living someone’s day to day life with them.



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John le Carre. Master of the spy novel.

John le Carre, whose novels include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Little Drummer Girl and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy died on Saturday 12 December. For his novels he drew on his experience working for the British Intelligence Services, including MI6 during the Cold War. Born in 1931 he studied at Bern and Oxford universities and taught at Eton. He then became a Junior Diplomat at the British Embassy, thus starting his Intelligence career. 

The publication of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold brought him worldwide literary acclaim, when he left the Service to persue his literary career.

Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj.

This is a book about war- about Palestine; about the divisions between the Jewish and Arab communities; about divisive families within those communities; it is about love and loss. Ishmael’s Oranges follows the story of two families spanning the crossroad events of modern times. In the swinging sixties Jude (Jewish) and Salim (Arab) fight against the legacy of their difference. They promise to each other that, unlike their parents, they can conquer the differences between their religions and cultures. Only they can’t and their children, in turn, inherit the same legacy of hatred.

It was a thought provoking and a brilliant take on age old issues that will never go away. I was hooked from page one.