Friday, 24 March 2017

#Review: Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord

Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord by Louis de Bernières

Incredibly, I first read this book 19 years ago. The main reason I felt the need to revisit Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord is because I was recently asked who my favourite literary couple is. Anica Morena and Dionisio Vivo instantly came to mind. The first time I read this book I vividly remember reading a particularly dramatic moment while on the bus and bursting into tears. A man came over to console me and was thoroughly disgusted that my outburst was related to fictional characters. I didn’t call him a Philistine, but I thought about it.


It’s funny this book. The humour jumps out at you through the dialogue and descriptions of ridiculous situations at the highest levels of government. The book overflows with deep insights about human nature but more particularly, the mind-set of the villain. But lurking beneath the humour is the weight of governmental corruption and how its collusion with the villains infests every aspect of the personal including the well-being of communities.

I was devastated all over again when I saw Anica battling with her love for Dionisio against the certain knowledge that her family were in danger while she remained with him. Because I came to the book with foreknowledge I was expecting the shock and horror of the episode which changes our main character Dionisio Vivo’s naïve attitude so completely. When I first read the book the surprise of the event hit me like a bullet ripping through flesh. Now I see the mastery of the writing style – lulling the reader into a false sense of security as Dionisio unwittingly outmanoeuvres his opponent’s every move. But de Bernières slams home the point that life is not a fairy tale where our hero always beats the villain. This second reading of that one earth-shattering event in Dionisio’s life was as heartrending as it was on the first reading.  The power of it lies in the matter of fact account of what happens alongside the dramatic irony of Dionisio’s lack of knowledge.

My favourite descriptions in the book are those about daily life in the fabled city of Cochadebajo de los Gatos. I find myself wanting to move here so I can spend my days doing exactly what I love while having the opportunity to stroke the amazing black jaguars whenever I like.

During the reading of Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord I was reminded of how much I loved reading several of de Bernières’ novels so I’m planning on rereading yet another – Corelli’s Mandolin. If you have as yet not read one of Louis de Bernières’ books, I recommend that you start with this.

Friday, 17 March 2017

#Review: The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic is just that – light. The reading journey is an easy one with plenty of laughs along the way.  We are back with our unlikely hero Rincewind and his task of keeping the tourist Twoflower alive. As in the first book (The Colour of Magic), Twoflower makes this job an arduous one for Rincewind as he regularly finds himself in DEATH’s company. Rincewind, though shy of DEATH, often passes closer to HIM than he would like.

The Luggage, another favourite of mine, continues to feature heavily and gives excellent value for money. But now other characters enter the story to delight and entertain in a manner so very appropriate to Pratchett. I can now add Cohen The Barbarian to my list of favourite Pratchett characters. His toothless wisdom had me rolling so much in my bus seat on one particular journey that I missed my stop.

As the ‘event’ which gives this book its title gets ever closer, Pratchett intersperses paragraphs about Great A’Tuin between the action sequences. This can be a little disconcerting at first. But it serves as a reminder to the reader that something momentous is about to happen. And it does.

As I closed the cover I was left with a sense of satisfaction combined with a great need to know what else the Discworld has to offer. So I’m very glad there are 39 more books to go. Onward.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

An antique Coliseum arch
Frames the scene
Of this long forgotten crime

Your toga rising at the shoulder
You lift your arm
Muscles tensing

In flagrante delicto
Paparazzi snap the shot
Your guilt for all to see

The dagger sits between his blades
And Caesar’s lips
Gasp one last breath

Reflected in his eyes
The shock of your betrayal
His whispered words
Echo down the corridors of centuries
Et tu…
A bubble of blood
Emerges on the blue tinged lips
… Brute

His final words
No-one records
But you see them
Written out in blood
Stains no remover
Can ever clear

Mio amico…
He sighs inside his silence
His disappointment
Ringing loudly in your ears
Clanging on
And on

And on

Written in 2007 but edited more recently

Friday, 10 March 2017

#Review: The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Every once in a while I feel compelled to reread a book I read years ago. This was indeed so in this instance as I’ve had to read Of Mice and Men so many times during my teaching career that I may possibly know passages off by heart. I’ve also read The Pearl for work.  But The Grapes of Wrath is one I myself read when I was at school. It touched me so deeply that I painted a picture relating to it in my after-school Art workshop.  I believe I still have that painting knocking about somewhere. Now a book which inspires in that way surely deserves a reread even if it isn’t considered a classic.


The Grapes of Wrath is as compelling as when I first read it as a teenager.  So many quotes kept jumping out at me because they were apt and brilliantly expressed a salient point. To see these please look at this blog’s #amreading page.

What I find even more interesting is how relevant the writing is right now, particularly in view of what’s happening in the States. This often happens to me – I find I’m reading something which relates directly to a political situation or topic which is uppermost in people’s minds.

It took me a little while to get into the rhythms of the American voices but they were soon ringing in my ear with familiarity as I read the dialogue. One of the aspects I’d forgotten about is that Steinbeck intersperses the Joad family’s tale with a narrative which is about the more general state of the nation at the time the book is set. I found this a little jarring at times but understand the need for Steinbeck’s political commentary within these chapters. The further into the story I went, the less jarring this became.

My favourite character is most definitely the preacher, Casey. In my mind’s eye I see him as a lean figure who makes me think of my dad. Then there’s all that wisdom Casey spouts. His words make sense to me in our turbulent times as much as they do for the Joads and other transient people he encounters along their exodus. His significance as a shepherd of men is a thread which runs all the way through the book and it is no surprise that Tom Joad finally feels the need to follow in Casey’s footsteps.

When I first read this book as a teenager, I remember how annoying I found Rose of Sharon’s character.  So the book’s ending made a massive impact on me and stayed central in my mind. I suspect this is one of the reasons my teenage-self ended up creating a piece of art related to the book.

Now that I’m older and know more about the writing process I see that Steinbeck deliberately creates Rose of Sharon’s character to be one some readers may have little sympathy for. The impact of her actions at the end of the book are made more powerful because of this.

I can safely say that The Grapes of Wrath has not lost its power for me. It is a book about the cruel lessons life has to offer and yet it still manages to suggest there is hope.

John Steinbeck

Friday, 3 March 2017

#Review: A Storm of Swords II

A Storm of Swords II by George R R Martin

After starting on the set in September last year, I’m getting through the Game of Thrones series at quite a clip now. This is no doubt due to their intriguing nature and Martin’s writing style which makes reading this collection of books so easy.

So far, my favourite character in every one of the books in this series is Tyrion Lannister. I find myself rooting for him at every step on his life journey.  He works so hard to be a better man despite people’s preconceptions. When he was made The Hand in the previous book I was not at all surprised that he did a good job of it. Tyrion reminds me of some of the talented yet underrated children I’ve taught in the past. Once they were given a task which excited and involved them they relished the challenge and surpassed all expectations. Unlike my students though, Tyrion receives no praise for his efforts and achievements.

Perhaps I like him so much because he almost always has his now severely damaged nose stuck in a book. I can identify with this side of his character completely. But I also cannot bear it when someone is wrongly accused of deeds heinous or otherwise and poor Tyrion is accused by several people on various occasions. Of course, he doesn’t help his situation because he can’t stop his smart mouth.

I am enjoying the writing in Martin’s set of books as much as I do the interpretation for the small screen. I find myself hankering to move ahead on the reading as I want to be ahead of what I’ve seen on the screen. I’ve been give the box set of seasons 1-6 by Sheffield BF but am reluctant to watch any of it till I’ve read more. Of course, I could watch earlier episodes and stop before I find out too much. But I know too well that once I slip one of those discs into the DVD a binge of monumental proportions will occur. So instead I’m going to save the binge fest for a rainy day or when I’m feeling the particular need of a Fantasy boost.


This second Storm of Swords book contains a great deal of tissue requiring moments such as when Dany banished Ser Jorah and when Tyrion valiantly tried to be a good husband to Sansa. I was most angered by the injustice of the accusation made against Tyrion when Joffrey was poisoned.

When I was about 40% through the book I found myself impatient to move on to the next book as most of the events I was reading about I knew from the television series. I wanted to know about that which I had not seen as yet.  I did however very much like the more detailed insight I gained into each individual character’s thoughts and feelings. This is the one aspect which a film will always find difficult to portray to its full extent and why I love reading so much.

There were so very many cliff-hanger moments in this book that if I didn’t already know certain outcomes I’d have bitten my finger nails down to the quick regularly and ended up with bloody stumps as a result. It is why I believe the story lends itself so well to the TV series format.

I read the dramatic end of this book on the bus and was suitably impressed as it was something I was not expecting in the slightest. I can’t wait to read what comes next. My excitement levels are building now as I know without a doubt that the next book in the series, is one in which many of the details will be unknown to me. Game on!

Friday, 24 February 2017

#Review: The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

So, as most of you know, I’ve possibly made another crazy decision this year. I’m going to attempt to read every single book Terry Pratchett wrote in his lifetime.  I was kindly given four Pratchetts by Sheffield BF’s son for my birthday. I’ve started with the Disc World series after buying the first two books for my Kindle using another birthday gift – an Amazon voucher.

When I was younger I often read Fantasy because it was a way for me to deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life. To some degree I think I chose to hide too deep within the covers of these books, using them to ignore issues I needed to address. Now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser) I choose to read a wider variety of genre rather than wallow too deep inside one. There are however occasions when I revert to my younger self and read Fantasy for pure comfort. With Pratchett’s work, I read them for pure enjoyment and the certain knowledge that at some point in my reading I am going to laugh out loud and possibly guffaw.


As with most of Pratchett’s books The Colour of Money [TCM] had me chuckling out loud on the bus again. I’ve seen the television adaptation of this and while the casting of David Jason as the unlikely hero Rincewind, is perfect in my view, I still prefer to read the book every time.  I remember reading this quite a few years ago and I’m always thrilled that whenever I pick up a Pratchett I enjoy it as much in the second or third reading as I did in the first.  The stories endure.

This is undoubtedly due to their universality and the cultural insights which run through them. For instance, TCM looks at several themes which were prevalent when Pratchett first wrote the book and are still very much in the forefront of people’s minds today; the desire to acquire, honour amongst thieves, the lure of money and so forth.

This book, like all Pratchett’s books, highlights a particular flaw in society with humour and great insight. I love this about Pratchett’s books. Another aspect of his books I absolutely adore is his inventiveness and how he turns ideas upside down. I also love how he emphasises that the imagination can get one out of some truly sticky circumstances as long as one remains conscious during the creative process.

My favourite characters in this first book of the Disc World series are DEATH and The Luggage.  DEATH primarily because Pratchett’s way of writing all his dialogue in capital letters is so very fitting and right. The Luggage is a favourite because it is so relentlessly loyal. I could certainly do with A Luggage of my very own.

The cliff hanger ending pulls me towards the second book in the series and I’m very happy to follow where it leads. So onwards to The Light Fantastic.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Refuge for Ruskin Readers

11 Months ago Ruskin Readers, along with several other community groups, were ousted from Carnegie Library by Lambeth Council.  The council had made little effort to engage with the groups to ensure they would be safely housed and accommodated elsewhere. It was left to the community group leaders to find new premises and endure the agony of how they would do that with limited funding or none at all.

As a Ruskin Readers tutor I found myself in the midst of the anxiety faced by our Lead Tutor (Caroline Knapp).  I was angry and astounded at Lambeth for their lack of thought regarding this matter.  And you know from my Private Protest post in January how I went about dealing with my anger.  But the fact still remained that Ruskin Readers was effectively homeless.

At The Cambria

For a while we had to split the club into two with the Monday night group putting up shop at The Cambria and the Wednesday group parcelled off to Norwood Library.  Our resources (two cupboards worth of games, dictionaries and teaching materials as well as hundreds of easy readers) languished behind the locked grill of The Carnegie Library. 

Caroline was forced to keep a selection of hastily gathered necessary resources stored in boxes and bags in the front room of her home. This involved her carting books, reading lamps and stationery to and from The Cambria.  She will not mind me telling you what an arduous task that was as she doesn’t own a car and is also a disabled pensioner.

It was always obvious The Cambria could only ever be a very temporary solution.  Caroline was scouring the internet, calling contacts and posting desperate messages on Facebook to secure us a new home.  St Faith’s was suggested and we were warmly welcomed by Reverend Susan Height who offered us the use of the main church. 

The Monday group in St Faith's

She was very happy for us to install our now parred down, retrieved resources, in a cupboard and book shelf. Unfortunately not long after settling we began to think our stay there was becoming precarious as it was difficult to heat the large space sufficiently for our small group. Once more Caroline agonised over what to do.

Moving our cupboard from the church
to the upstairs room of the community centre
But St Faith’s came to the rescue yet again.  It turned out they had a community space on the top floor of their community centre.  We investigated to see if it could work and were wildly excited to discover it would. Ruskin Readers has finally found a more permanent state of refuge.  We’re settling into the top room of St Faith’s community centre and relishing the warmth, easy access to resources and integrated kitchen where we can prepare goodies for the crucial tea break.  Now all that remains is for us to find a suitable cupboard or bookshelf to house our stock of books and we’ll be all set.

A jubilant smile from Caroline
as the cupboard reaches its new home

And where has Lambeth Council been in all of this?  The funding for rehousing of the evicted community groups which was promised is still to materialise.  I cannot speak for the other homeless groups but Ruskin Readers has received the most significant help from private donations, an outside agency grant and the kind generosity of a church in a neighbouring borough.  Lambeth Council – this is what we call Community Spirit – something which seems decided lacking at #mylambeth Council.