Thursday, 30 September 2010

Audio books in bed

I had other things that I was thinking about writing about this week, but just as most of my plans for this week, workwise and at home, have gone by the wayside due to my cold, it seemed appropriate to write about something bookish that helped me get through Monday, which was spent lying in bed, staring dismally at my work emails on my ipod touch, but too ill to actually do anything about any of them. My fiance could tell that I was really ill, because I stopped being my usual demanding self, and just lay there...

I had a bad patch of insomnia last week, perhaps due to the adrenalin flying around my body in preparation for the swim, and had happened on the website where you can download audio books. There's quite a good selection available, certainly of relaxing things, like children's books, and I downloaded The naughtiest girl in the school by Enid Blyton, and I finally got around to listening to it on Monday morning. It was an abridged version, which was good, as my attention wouldn't have coped with anything any longer, and beautifully read, I'm not sure who by, but it entertained me perfectly for an hour. I then listened to The naughtiest girl again, which was part of the same download, another hour down, and THEN having plaintatively wondered if my fiance might be able to download me something else, I discovered that I could download books via i-tunes, straight onto my ipod, and cheaper than from So, I downloaded The naughtiest girl is a monitor, and then Sleepovers by Jacqueline Wilson. I did already have a Famous Five audio book on my ipod, but frankly, the Famous Five were far too energetic for how I was feeling. Perfect - it was 7pm by the time I had finished listening to all of that, time to get up and sit on the sofa and watch a video, and nearly time to go back to bed again. I have Over the gate by Miss Read also downloaded, and as my body seems a bit screwed up by the day in bed and lack of exercise when I had been exercising so much recently, I could well be listening to that tonight.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

My swim

I apologise for the delay in letting you know how my swim went, perhaps unsurprisingly, since I set out with a sore throat on Sunday morning, I came down with a truly horrible cold and spent all of Monday in bed listening to Enid Blyton audiobooks. I have just about dried out now, but am still sneezing and coughing profusely!

I did survive the swim, but it was one of the most challenging things that I have ever done. Having trained to swim a mile, having to do 2.25 miles was a bit like suddenly taking on a marathon rather than a 10K, and the lateness of the date meant that it was far colder at Dorney Lake than it would have been at Lake Winderemere – the water was 15C and the air temperature 10C with a strong northerly wind which created quite a current. The Aqua Sphere “Long Swim”s are really aimed at the serious athlete, so I had to contend with swimming most of the course without any other swimmers in sight – most of them were getting out, just as I was about to embark on my third and final lap, by which time my hands, feet and face were completely numb. I am very proud of the fact that I was able to persevere to the end, and whilst I finished 121st out of 130 swimmers, we think nearly 50 people did not complete the swim as it was so cold. Goodness knows how an Ironman triathlete then goes on to complete a long bike ride and a marathon after that - I was grateful for a sit down and warm up!

Thank you very much to those of you who sponsored me, especially those of you who didn't leave your email address for me to thank. With your help, I've raised £1,157.27 online for Mind - The Mental Health Charity so far (plus more money offline, to take me to a total of £1244.27), in memory of my dear friend Emily Riall. I'm hoping that as more people hear about my swim (and how gruelling it was!), I may be able to raise even more - so please do send my JustGiving page on to anyone else who might like to donate - , and if you haven't donated, please consider doing so, as Mind is an extremely important charity and I absolutely definitely earned every penny of sponsorship that I raised and more...

Next year, the obvious thing to do is swim the Channel, but I’m not quite sure I’m up for that yet – I might do all four of the Aqua Sphere Long Swims, or I may just hold a tea afternoon instead…

Hope to resume blogging service soon but head is a bit stuffy so think posts on comfort reading may be coming up...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Damaris Dances (Oxenham)

E.J. Oxenham is one of those writers who those in the know rave about a bit like Elinor M Brent Dyer. Her prolific collection of school stories is now out of print so inaccessible to all apart from collectors. I have to say that I've had mixed feelings about her books; she is most famous for the Abbey School series, but previously I have found them dated and difficult to get into, perhaps because I came to them as an adult, whereas, with Angela Brazil, another slightly dated school story writer, I read as a child when I probably looked beyond that and concentrated on the story.

But I had several reasons for being interested in Damaris Dances. Firstly, it is set in part in the Lake District, so it was another appropriate holiday read. But more importantly was the title character Damaris. I wrote a little while ago about my pleasure at reading a book in which the principle character was called Verity; one of my two middle names is Damaris, and it is extremely rare to ever come across another Damaris. Damaris is a biblical name, she is mentioned in the book of The Acts of the Apostles as being one of the early Christians. My father chose it as my middle name because my Great Aunt, and two ancestors preceding her, also had that name, and there is a little cup, over 100 years old, which has been passed down the "Damaris line" (unfortunately my father is in the process of moving house so I wasn't able to go and take a picture of it).

Onto the book itself - the dancing theme makes it somewhat reminiscent of Lorna Hill, particularly with the juxtaposition of the lakeland countryside and the cities where Damaris is learning to dance. it's a fairly gentle but still gripping story, although I was a bit upset that Damaris changes her name to Damayris as being a better stage name for a ballerina. The book is out of print these days, sadly, and very pricey on Amazon, so I am very lucky that Geraldine who I have made friends with through this blog extremely kindly passed on a spare copy that she had of it when she heard that my middle name was Damaris. And thank you to her for suggesting it!

(PS: My other middle name is Jane, which is also my mother's middle name. There are a lot more Janes around so it is far less of a novelty encountering a fictional Jane, but perhaps sometime I will do a post on Janes in fiction).

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Love it!

A quick break from my week of Lake District posts to bring you this poster which Amazon recommended that I buy this morning...

There's nothing more to say is there?!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Haweswater (Sarah Hall)

I only read two books that were set (or as in the case of the other partly set) in the Lake District whilst on holiday, apart from a reread of Captain Flint's Trunk, mainly because many of the books, particularly children's books that I came across, were very difficult to get hold of. I did manage to get hold of Haweswater by Sarah Hall - the author leapt out at me as she wrote the wonderful Orange-listed The electric Michelangelo, which was on the list one of the very first years that I started reading the Orange books. Haweswater was her first novel, and what a wonderful read it was.

Based on the true story of the construction of the Haweswater Dam in the 1930s, the book tells of the two villages, Measand and Marsdale Green, and their inhabitants which were affected by its creation. Or in the case of the villages, not just affected, but totally destroyed, for the building of the dam involved the evacuation of the villages, and their flooding, in order to build a reservoir that would meet the huge demand for water as industrialisation progressed in the North.

The book centres around the characters of Sam and Ella Lightburn and their grown up daughter Janet and younger son Isaac whose life is concentrated in the countryside that surrounds their home. Janet works in the school, Ella cleans the church. But there lives are irrevocably changed when Jack Liggett, sent by the Manchester City Waterworks, comes to make arrangements for the dam. Janet falls in love with the man who wants to destroy what she is desperate to preserve.

This was one of the most beautiful books that I have read for a while; the characters are wonderfully drawn and the story from start to finish is absolutely gripping. Hall does a fantastic job of demonstrating the emotional impact of the dam on those most affected by it. I wouldn't have heard about this novel had I not been looking for books set in the lakes, so if you come across it, please do read it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Some scenes from Arthur Ransome

As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to share some literary photographs from our holidays. We spent a week in Coniston, in the Lake District. Having only been once to the Lakes before, when we did a bit of a Beatrix Potter tour, it didn't take long for me to decide that we should stay at Coniston, purely on the basis that Arthur Ransome went there and based his Swallows and Amazons around the area.

On our first day we took a boat trip on the lake, the highlight of which was the commentary pointing out landmarks from Swallows and Amazons.

We saw Peel Island or rather "Wild Cat Island", to which we later donned our wetsuits and swam out to...

Although we could see elements of Wild Cat Island in it, it was really too small. If you're a big Swallows and Amazon's fan, then you may have read Christina Hardyment's book, Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's trunk, and she posits that Ransome combined Peel Island with another larger island in his head. I agree with her.

We saw the house that was used as Beckfoot in the film of the book, which I watched when we got home last week.

...and the Swallows and Amazon's boathouse.
We later drove round to see Holly How, which the boatman had pointed out at the end of the trip and which it transpired we could see from our cottage.

Ransome wasn't the only literary figure associated with Coniston. We also visited the fascinating Brantwell, where the Victorian artist, social idealist, writer and general polymath John Ruskin spent the latter part of his life. It had breathtaking views over the lake:

As well as beautiful gardens. Here is my fiance sitting on John Ruskin's seat (I asked him to do a John Ruskin pose, so here he strokes an imaginery beard).

All in all a wonderful break!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Back again

It's been a bit more of a break from my blog than I intended; going back to work after a holiday is always busy, and last week was only a short week owing to a hospital appointment and a final hurray of the summer with two nights at the seaside to celebrate my fiance's birthday.

Here's the cake I made for his birthday - it's the gilded chocolate cake with ganache from Fiona Cairn's Bake and Decorate. Fiance was suitably shocked at the extravagance; it is quite expensive and some of my sheets arrived slightly crushed, the combination of reasons why the cake features an abstract design rather than being covered completely.

I've also been doing an awful lot of swimming. Unfortunately the Great North Swim was cancelled due to poisonous blue-green algae which developed just before the swim. As regular readers will know, I had been raising money for Mind, the mental health charity, so I needed to do something to fulfil the challenge that I had asked people to sponsor me. Not being one to do things lightly, in recompense I've signed up for a challenge that requires me to swim 125% further...I won't be swimming a mile, I'll be swimming 2.25 miles, which will take me about an hour and a half. That's quite a challenge! As such I've been putting huge miles (literally, one before work each day) in to try to get my stamina up. If you'd like to sponsor me, then please do here...and thanks to the extremely kind people who read this blog who have already donated money to this fantastic cause. If it won't bore you, I'll let you know how I get on after 27th September.

I have been popping into some other people's blogs, but now it's time to do a bit more blogging of my own. Tomorrow I'm going to share some literary pictures from our holiday, as I was able to visit the locations of one of my favourite children's books. I only purchased one book on holiday which was a little pamphlet of Favourite Lakeland Recipes, and I look forward to baking a couple of things from that in due course (maybe not the Kendal Mint Cake which I tried whilst we were away and which I thought tasted like toothpaste, but perhaps the Lakeland Sand Cake (although the Lakes aren't too full of sand...) or the Windemere Spice Biscuits or one of two sorts of gingerbread.

I'm on a bit of a book buying, in fact, anything buying hiatus, from here until Christmas, and probably beyond, as I try to save up so we can meet the rest of our wedding costs. It'll be fun (!) to see if I can wear out some of my clothes and really beat the TBR into oblivion (I did quite a good job on my break and finally read White Tiger - it was good!). Less fun drinking instant coffee in the staff common room than having a nice decaff Americano in Pret but I shall try to view it stoically.