Sunday, 1 June 2014

Irene - Pierre LeMaitre

Following on in the UK is this translation from the original French by Frank Wynne and it's a good one.

The first section of the book gives detail of the difference to the French judicial system to the English. In France a judge can be allocated as part of the investigating team to a particular crime. When the case gets to court the judge is part of the prosecuting team rather than on the bench. After being part of a team against a defendant the judge is not allowed to act as judge at any time in the future against this person.

Despite th fact that this is the second book in the UK it is the predecessor to Alex which proved amazingly popular.
This means that those people that have read Alex have an idea of the ending. I was one of them. I did skip straight to the end to confirm and also to get what was likely to be extreme gruesomeness out of the way.
Then it was back to the beginning retaining the uncomfortable knowledge of the ending. Or so I thought.
The police team consists of the diminutive Commandant Camille VerHoeven (male) and his subordinates, Louis- extremely rich and Armand, extremely frugal, embarassingly so and Maleval, the gambler. All of them overseen by LeGuen.
Someone is killing women. they're leaving behind a clue in the form of a fingerprint and sending messages to VerHoeven to taunt him. As well as investigating he has to deal with the press who are ahead of the press releases somehow. Commandant is spending more time than is ideal batting away press hassle and his boss demanding answers.
At the same time he's trying to keep his family situation sane as his wife prepares to give birth to their first child.
Clues accumulate on the murders and gain attention of locals who are able to help. This all muddies the waters as far as suspects are concerned.
Multiple murders and multiple strands to the investigation alongside the main players relationships make a very entertaining book and a book well worth reading even if you've read Alex.
All of this culminates in one humdinger of an ending which hits the reader full on towards the end. I can definitely see this one as an excellent film. Tom Cruise would make a perfect VerHoeven :)
Buy it here

Publisher - MacLehose

The Skeleton Cupboard - Tanya Byron

A travel through the evolution of a clinical psychologist, from initial wonder as to how the brain works to years of experience.

Tanya Byron has taken cases from each step of her progress to illustrate the case, her dealing with it and, in the earlier cases, her mentor's assessment of the case and her reactions.

Put together these aspects make an educational and, at times, heart-rending read. Despite being about health it is nowhere near similar to the misery literature clogging up bookshelves at the moment.

The reader can feel the frustration of investing such a large amount of emotional commitment and time into a career only to find the mentor appears to be disinterested as Byron struggles to believe in her own ability and searches for affirmation of her skill. You get no impression of the author having written only for the purposes of blowing her own trumpet. Reading may mean that you are able to be a bit more generous in your perception but not necessarily that you'll be able to jump in and help in any given situation. Unless you're already a health professional.

Empathy with the new psychologist comes into it when there's a case that is doomed fom the start and unusually for this type of book not all of the cases are out and out successes. Across the seven chapters they range from a married pensioner couple whose story is simply heartbreaking and beautiful to transgender individuals to drug addicts.

The book has the same readability of  Tori Hayden without the congratulatory self-patting on the back. I predict this one will fly higher and soar longer than Hayden.

All in all it's a must read- especially if you think dementia is as simple as forgetting things when you're older.

Publisher - MacMillan

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Tropical Wings Zoo - South Woodham Ferrers

When you're running in a slightly aged campervan it's a good idea to stay close to home. So off I went to a fairly local Britstop at Battlesbridge.

There's a whole village load of antiques, a pub, several cafes and a tea room at the very top of a 5 storey mill 
but even better than that there's a zoo within 3 miles.
And it's a humdinger of a zoo called Tropical Wings.
It's relatively small, the wolves haven't arrived let alone escaped and there's no big cat in sight. Not even a Clacton big cat.
But there are experiences to be had meeting these creatures....

Feeding them...

Watching them hatch....

Seeing them fly (or sit in front of you if your camera's not fast enough).....

Have a wander in with the lemurs. Meet the other animals, creatures, get steamy in the tropical house with it's free flying birds and butterflies before seeing the truly yellow, orange and blue poison frogs.
All included in the entrance price. A magical, magical day out in an environment not completely jam packed that goes out of it's way to make sure you go away feeling you've had true value for money. At £10.95 per adult with family tickets available. Spend it, you'll be pleased you did.

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - George Moore Films

You heard correctly.
At last.
Listen again....
Free film.

Perfect - Rachel Joyce

I admit to loving Harold Fry. I loved the tweeness, the sentimentality and it made a welcome change from the crime thriller that graces my bookshelves and infiltrates my reading time. I even passed it on.
So Perfect was a book I was wary of. How would an author follow a book as different as Harold with something equally leftfield and yet so different as to be beyond compare. Difficult to do.
Rachel Joyce introduces us to Byron at a time when he's in his youthful element, full of what ifs and whys.
When 2 seconds are added to a day he's not slow in realising that anything could happen in that space of time that until then would have been denied it's opportunity. And it does.
With no official notification of when the 2 seconds are added Byron nevertheless notices and registers the events with dismay.
Can he be the only one aware? Should he stay that way or tell?
With a mother desperate to keep up with the neighbours and a father who pops back home now and then to check that she is Byron resorts to his best friend James. Despite previous impressions of Byron James is the nerdy one!
Alongside events unfolding in the 70s (+2 seconds) we are told the story of Jim who is employed in a local cafe and struggling with OCD. The only smile in his life comes from a rebellious colleague who ignores his differences and gives him a semblance of confidence.
How do the two lives relate? Do they overlap, crash, imitate?
Whilst very different from Harold the book is written in the same gentle style. In Harold the point of the tale could not be missed, with Perfect the nuances are much more subtle.
Personally I preferred Harold but I'm honest, that's because I don't necessarily want to overanalyse a book, I simply want to read it.
Which was your preference and why?

Jumbo Tower - Colchester


On 29th May 2014 Jumbo Tower in Colchester was sold to local ex? poultry farmer Paul Flatman.
Despite brave and impressive efforts from Balkerne Tower Trust who managed to raise £40,000 or thereabouts in the space of 4 weeks simply by asking they were beaten easily. They are still accepting donations towards the general aims of the Trust.
It will be interesting to see the ideas Mr Flatman puts forward for the tower. Hopefully they will involve some maintenance to safeguard the building while his ideas are progressed.

Best of luck!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Highfield Hotel - Idle, Bradford

Two sides to the same hotel. Is it bad or is it great? That depends on which type of guest party you're with....
A weekend trip up to the Haworth 40s weekend with Diamond Holidays called for an overnight stop. For 28 people and their coach driver.

The party ranged in age from early 20s to mid 70s and comprised couples, birthday groups of friends and a mother and son duo.

So quite a range.
We'd checked out the the Highfield Hotel beforehand so we knew it had American sized rooms, a well rated restaurant, a gym for hotel guests and a swimming pool. It is also only 8 miles away from our final destination of Haworth.
Not bad for a coach trip weekend we thought.

On arrival we were greeted by two young girls who appeared to have no experience of working on a hotel reception. We all had to fill in a form including our car number plate? So a slow process. Then it was up to the huge rooms for an hour before dinner in the hotel restaurant rather than the well rated one. Rooms are massive. American sized. And you could easily imagine a large American spinning around just because the space is there. Coffee and tea tray with 3 Bourbon biscuits, shower gel, shampoo, bubble bath, soap, body lotion all provided in a bathroom with shower and bath. 
 Large alcove with table and mirror, double bed, wardrobe and a flat screen tv on the wall opposite the bed. Binoculars needed.
This time there were 4 inexperienced youngsters. They told us this was their first shift. It may well have been the hotel's first coach booking as well. Service was with a smile, they tried their best but they were on a loser from the start. Beef and carrots arrived. 5 minutes later potatoes arrived. Another 5 mins and peas. Another 5 and gravy. In Yorkshire and no Yorkshire pudding. 5 minutes and mustard. That equated to one person with a meal. The routine was repeated.
Pudding meant a waiter holding one plate walking the width of the room to ask at every table until the owner if the plate was found.
The following morning we were told by one youngster that not only was it the first shift but it was a 14 hour one as well.
Breakfast was, for the coach party, a fry up and an excellent one too.
The buffet bar, we were told, was for 'hotel guests'. Or not us. Coffee and tea however were in the breakfast buffet area. Go figure.
Overall as a coach venue this didn't work well. But. And its a big but...
If I travel to Yorkshire again (and I do regularly) this is a great place to stay. The room rate including self service breakfast bar is £55 for a 'king' sized room.
Breakfast bar covers porridge, fruit, yoghurts, cereal, muffins, toast, French pastries, juice, coffee, tea and I may well have missed some things. There's also the pool and gym and it's own car park. Conveniently located for the jewel that is the World Heritage Location at Saltaire Village, Shipley, Bradfrod itself and Bronte country it's a great spot for touring.
Hopefully the staff there this weekend will stay on and progress, they certainly were keen enough and smart enough. The hotel seems to have accepted a contract it wasn't ready for but it has the ingredients ready to make the grade. Possibly if coach companies didn't barter them down to nothing we'd all end up better off.
Worth a visit.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Colchester Jumbo Water Tower

This week I climbed the 155 steps to the top of the tower.
It's a bit more than grim inside, it's been graffitied and disresprected in other ways and the pigeons have moved in. It's dark in places on the way up and the bannister rope runs out intermittently.
So why did I do it?

Simply because it may turn out to be my only chance. It's been in the hands of a developer for the last few years and has had several planning applications made. They've failed. But then the idea of a restaurant, a couple of floors of flats and a token museum is a bit much for this building to have squashed in. It has listed building status and occupies a prime spot in the town, visible from miles around. Currently the only occupants are the homeless who take shelter in the feet of Jumbo and the pigeons.

Now it's up for auction again. The owner has ploughed enough of his money into architect fees for failed applications. Clearly any planning application can only fail if it doesn't conform to planning guidelines so it's not an issue of people being precious with their landmarks.
A realistic business plan, one that doesn't alter the structure but does allow everyone to enjoy the building has been put forward time and again by Balkerne Tower Trust. It will mean restoring the tower to it's former glory. It won't mean a  penthouse pad with no parking and a million pound price tag. It won't mean a restaurant in the sky but it will mean access to the top (nearly). Initially there won't be access to the top for disabled people but that's the case with a fair few listed buildings. It's a shame but they simply weren't built in a time when access had to be there.

Jumbo is up for auction on 29th May 2014. Balkerne Tower Trust are trying to raise as much as possible beforehand. It is a very real case of David vs Goliath and they need help. Any donations are returnable should they not succeed with their bid.
If you'd like a chance to visit in the future to see the view almost across Essex, to have a look at the proposed museum or just simply because you can, like I did, then please do wander over to the website and donate anything from £2 upwards to help them buy it.
I'll see you up there!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Alex - Pierre LeMaitre

I admit I'm late to the party with this one. I missed the speeches, the drunken uncle and had the room to myself to enjoy the atmosphere.
Nearly to myself. I was joined by a very short detective, a very suave, very rich, almost savant detective, an amazingly frugal detective and their avuncular boss.

The case revolves around the search for Alex (female) who's been kidnapped. No-one knows who she is, no-one's reported her missing. A witness saw her taken so it's the job of Camille (male) and his two sidekicks to try and find her before it's too late.
It's been translated from the original French and I knew before starting that their crime fiction can be particularly graphic. It is here as well, but no more so than some of our homegrown writers.
The book's in three parts and is a roller coaster of a ride, good enough to send me to the shop for the second in the series, Irene.
The three detectives read in an interwoven way, feeding lines from each other, tolerating each other and being frustrated. A particular favourite theme of mine in the book is the character of Armand. You can almost see the incredulity on the faces of those that don't know him, the forbearance of those who work closely with him and the hidden anger of those he gently cons.
The only downside was when some digital photographs were found and still no-one knew a location. Is that still possible on digital? I thought the image data gave the game away on every amateur thanks to google.
Aside from that, stuck with it, loved it and am definitely taking my place at the pre-launch party next time!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Scarthin Books Cromford

It's impossible for me to head north up this side of the country without planning a stop at Scarthin Books in Cromford. So a stopover was arranged at Stone Lodge Bed and breakfast in Matlock.
From wandering up the slope to see the quirky exterior of Scarthins the adventures begin.
A quick check to see that the restaurant is open for the book browse/buy interval and we're off.
First stop a look in the children's section, stuffed to the brim and I didn't bring my extremely tall Dad with me to get the voucher. Do they move the bar up an inch every time someone claims it?

Then a wander up the stairs past the house on the window to have a search around the new age section. Apparently that's where a book on town regeneration would be found. Who knew?
No luck finding the book so it's downstairs for very healthy lunch...
In a fantastic cafe
Before finishing up with book purchases. If you're going here don't worry too much  about planning to 'nip in' it's the nipping out again that presents a problem!

Stone lodge bed and breakfast Matlock Bath

A stopover on our way up to Hull.
Another adventure with bed and breakfast thanks to too much watching Four in a bed!
Having booked online hours before we were due to stay it took half an hour ish for me to receive a jolly phone call from Roger, the owner, confirming my booking and giving checking in advice. Very reassuring.
On arrival it's a sit down in his neighbouring b&b, The Cables, to get the breakfast order timings and requirements taken and then a wander through to our room for the night.
A double bed and a single in a pristine room with ensuite bathroom including a bidet. Shower gel etc is provided.
The tea tray included a jar of coffee, lots of tea bags and milk, hot chocolate and good biscuits. Wifi access code provided.

Beautifully presented wih fresh fruit salad, orange juice on crystal jugs, yogurts, cornflakes an muesli for starters followed by your selection from the previous night of cooked breakfast. Bacon that doesn't make you feel you have to drink water for the rest of the day and wonderful golden eggs. Mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread are other options alongside more I can't remember! Toast, brown or white, with refill options and a cafetiere of fresh coffee or teapot or herbal tea.
Marmalade that's thick wih orange, jam, peanut butter and.....galaxy hazelnut spread!

Top place to stay, both Roger and Margaret make you very welcome.

If you choose to stay in Matlock Bath the bed and breakfast is on the main road but away from most of the noisy people. Matlock Bath is a very popular place for bikers to congregate and can be lively but not troublesome. It's also minutes from Cromford, home of Scarthin Books.
Stone Lodge is owned alongside Cables next door so there's a hot tub to be rented on an hourly basis if you so wish.
It's also licensed so a glass or bottle of wine is available.
Parking is off road which is quite valuable in this spot.
The downside......
If you can't sleep through traffic noise, ask for a room at the back, this is one of the main thoroughfares.

Matlock Bath has been a tourist destination since Victorian times and has a lively community with a central theatre with an extensive programme. It also has Matlock lights with decorated, illuminated boats travelling up and down the river in September. Having seen this show I can't help feeling the Victorians probably did it better with their ingenuity. Nowadays it's reliant on electricity. It still brings in the tourists in large numbers though.
Whilst I will visit again I would urge the council to spend some money. Especially on the loos which are foul! The town gives the impression that the vibrancy is generated by the community alone. While this is impressive infrastructure needs to be in place as well  and this should be funded by central finance. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Ashleigh Guest House Coventry

As a recommendation from Coventry Cathedral's tourist information centre Ashleigh Guest House was our first bed and breakfast stop for years.
A Saturday night at 2 hour notice was a straight £17 cheaper than the local purple branded chain hotel. That's for a room that would happily sleep three, with 1 double and a single bed, and breakfast.

Spotlessly clean, free car parking and near enough to the beautiful city centre to make it a reasonable walk Ashleigh Guest House is an excellent place to stay. 

A welcome with orange juice followed by cereal or muesli if you wanted it and them onto full English. Sausage, two bacon, fried egg and baked beans. Toast alongside with butter and marmalade. All washed down with copious amounts of fresh coffee or tea.

The downside......

Tiny bathroom but fully functional and a copy of the purple one with two tea bags, two coffee sachets.
Only one bedside lamp.
Not much of a downside really.

Coventry has to be one of my favourite UK cities. It has a friendly vibe, great architecture, both old and new, and, for me, is almost a visual definition of regeneration. The new architecture and sculptures are inclusive, featuring happy skateboarders directly outside the cathedral in the new water and boulder designs, alongside highly effective iron marker points for Bayley Lane. Teenagers, tourists and pensioners intermingle contentedly.
That may be a visitor's view. But it's a money spinning view for Coventry. This is my third visit in the last 2 years. It won't be my last and despite the fact that the purple hotel is in a stunning revamped Art Deco theatre I will be staying at Ashleigh Guest House.
Good call Coventry Tourist Information.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Influence Robert Caldini and camper vans

Ok. An odd title but bear with me the two are connected.
A while ago there was a radio 4 programme which featured a book called Influence by Robert Caldini. An example given was an increase in Big Issue sales by the very act of the vendor 'giving something' to his potential buyer thus creating a sense of obligation.
In this case the gift was simply opening the door of the shop the buyer was trying to enter. This made it much more difficult to ignore the vendor on the way out gain. Increased sales.
So off to buy the book. 
That month purchases included this book and the other was supposed to be a campervan.
Reading through and there's a chapter covering desirability of a product and how to make it more desirable. Here the example is of a student who paid his way though college by buying cars and reselling them. Rather than arrange individual appointments for viewing everyone got given the same time. So the first person looked it over, considered their offer but then person two arrived. At this point the vehicle became desirable. After all, someone else wanted it. And the second person on seeing the first also decided it was desirable so the mental fight for ownership began. And the student realised his asking price every time!
Since we were looking for a campervan and there was one in Norwich (not this one) we went in eyes wide open even when we were told Sunday was 'open day' for buyers.
We got there second after a two hour drive. The vendor knew how far we were coming and had promised to let us know if it got sold on our way there. Having shaken our hands (also in Influence as a ploy to make buyers feel connected to vendors and more likely to agree to a purchase) and checked that we had had a good journey he stood back to allow us to view.
Number one buyers were a young couple with a nine? year old child. They were carefully  looking the van over when we arrived and started looking around and inside. We'd decided there was no way we were going to fall for the desirability ploy (thank you Mr Caldini) but were interested to see it in action.
Sure enough within 10 minutes the couple had gone into the house with the vendor leaving us and group number three to look around. By now we were
bemused and prepared to sit it out. Within minutes the vendor came out and said it was sold.
Number three group were not happy in the way only the British can be and bemoaned their early exit from their bed on a Sunday morning.
We ambled away happy not to have paid over money to a person capable of the trick and hoping for group one that they hadn't been psychologically conned into a bad buy.
Ultimately we knew what was likely to happen. We thought we were mentally prepared.
We weren't.
We came away with that feeling of almost being conned by a person with a dishonourable way of treating others.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with the sale method. 
It just didn't taste nice :(
Thank you Mr Caldini for the warning.
Buy the book, there is going to be something in it somewhere that relates to  your life or that can be applied in your work.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Express cafe Tiptree

Independent living

Express cafe/restaurant Tiptree

This weekend's escapades took me into Feering for the phine box library and then a trip to Tiptree for a visit to the ingeniously named Cheap Shop.
Despite not being as cheap as a pound shop and stocking haberdashery and craft things the shop was stuffed with customers and I was advised 'This isn't busy'
Good to see in the days of supermarkets and thank you Great British Sewing Bee for reviving existing outlets and encouraging many more new ones to open.
Minimal purchases later and it was time in this very small village to find a lunch spot open on a bank holiday weekend.
Choice was limited to one newly opened deli like cafe touting for business outside and Express Cafe with a reasonable amount of people inside.
The Express is an apparently unambitious cafe with the most adventurous main meal being lasagne and on the dessert side some imaginatively named ice cream concoctions.
We sat down and waited for a menu to arrive next to an uncleared table and another table with a couple deciding from their menu.
A waitress arrived to take the couple's menu and then disappeared. Another waitress cleared the table next to usand disappeared. After a ten minute wait a menu was delivered and we were asked if we would like to order drinks before the waitress returned to take our order. Tea and coffee rapidly appeared and our (boring) order for two traditional breakfasts was taken at 12.20 having checked it was still available at this time.
By now the restaurant was busier but still a fair few tables remained empty.
As time passed and tea and coffee disappeared we began to be a bit agitated. On the next table the lady had waited around half an hour for a jacket potato, which was delivered with an apology for tardiness.
Coffee now cold we discussed the possibility of obtaining a top up rather than paying an additional £2 for coffee to go with the food when it did eventually arrive.
12.45 and 2 standard breakfasts arrived with no explanation as to the delay. So we asked if the coffee cup could simply be topped up?
A flummoxed waitress went away to ask her boss. We could have a new coffee at £2 because the one on the table was nearly finished. But we've waited all that time so it has now gone cold and isn't great to go with the breakfast. Away she went again only to return and advise us that if we wanted the drinks to go with the food we should have said so in the first place.
Ultimately the food was fine, the waitress was just doing her job with no prior experience of people asking for top ups. The management did not come over to explain or determine our issues.
It wouldn't have been an issue if there was a note to say there was a delay, a jote to say order your drinks with your food or a friendly 'oops we're slow, we'll top up the cup'
Would we visit again?
No, we're off to the new deli restaurant next time.
Anybody else had similar experiences? Timing with drinks and food seems to be an issue in several places, is it just to get the additional couple of pounds? 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Jacqueline's Tea Rooms Colchester

Beautifully set out 30s 40s tea rooms

newly opened in the town centre. So why visit?
There's a great atmosphere here even though it's new. It's like sitting in your oldest female relatives living room. There's tartan carpet, Bakelite radio, the correct music discreetly playing and a few tastefully arranged knock knacks. As an added bonus the staff are all in period costume.
But none of us go to tea rooms to look around.
The food has to match the ambience. 
It's called tea rooms and lives up to it's name.
There are 20 varieties of tea and flowering tea alongside it. (other drinks are available). 
While it's relatively basic food it is also extremely good quality and they don't stint on portions. Also lots of the food is labelled 'available as gluten free'
The menu consists of sandwiches and cakes in the main with a few specials.
Salmon and cream cheese highly recommended and the ham is top notch.

Afternoon and high tea are available at £9.95 per person.
A place I would return to.
In fact I did-later on the same day to sample the continental chocolate cake and passion fruit cupcake together with flowering tea.
This is one tea rooms that I don't think will need a loyalty card.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The collected works of A J Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

A fun book!

The last one I read was Mr Penumbra's 24 hour bookstore and that was last year.
Not because I deliberately avoid them but because they lurk in plain clothes on bookshelves.
As an avid reader and nerdy booklover I enjoy books about books so The collected works of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was going to end up in my sticky mitts at some point.
The snag being that when I went to Red Lion Books I could only remember from the blurb that "it's about a bookseller who has a baby dropped on his doorstep with a funny name, possibly Filkry" "author?" "no, sorry, I don't know that either"
Due credit to them, an excited young bookseller exclaimed "I know that one" and almost leaped across the shop to get it from the shelf it had sat on for a whole day.
Fikry it is then.
That's why I love bookshops.
Home with the purchase and it's a book that grabs you immediately and lets go around 4 hours later. So not a long book, not a complicated read, but fun.
Widower A J Fikry owns a bookstore on Alice Island USA.
The shop is open but he's lost enthusiasm.
He's got family support and local support but not his important person anymore.
Great characters surround him, a local divorced police officer, a sister in law married to a man who has trouble with zips, particularly those of the trouser variety and one day a baby is added to his circle. The baby has a letter attached asking him to care for it. Shortly afterwards the mother is found drowned.
He has no idea what to do with one of those but Google has its uses.
When he finds that the baby is due to be farmed out to any foster family he decides that a specific request from the mother gives him a certain obligation.
Life gradually changes.
So far so women's lit with a pink cover.
But that is underselling this one.
It has excerts from great books, it has a sub-story, mystery, a bit of crime, some romance, teenage angst, bookselling trials and tribulations.
Excellent, great one for a book club as well because nobody won't have time to read it.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

What makes you buy a book?

It could be a respected clipping on the cover.

It could be another author's blurb on the cover.

It could be twitter.
It could be the author.
It could be the cover picture.
The collected works of A J Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin
For me:
The respected review is not likely to work. Especially if it's Booker.
The author's name may well work but clearly not on a debut.
The alternative author blurb is either
A. Taken with a pinch of salt if I like the author or
B. stops me buying a book if it's an author I don't like.
Either way I'm under the impression it's a paid for opinion. Let me know if I'm wrong.
The cover picture may work but some books simply have the wrong cover on. IMHO.
Twitter usually works. If enough bloggers love it and tweet about it. Even the pr people on twitter may work.
Unless it's self published.
More recently there have been gimmicks included in books. I'm a sucker for these. So "S" nearly got me with it's PR and games but the content didn't appeal.
The 15 lives of Harry August has a gimmick. Postcards. And, yes, it got me. The book is good as well though:)
What works for you?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014



Please do comment and let me know what I have missed on the lists in this post. I'd be very interested to get other takes on the area.

It's a great way to improve your CV and sometimes leads to a job offer. So lots of people are doing it. It's no longer the domain of blue rinse ladies who've retired.

I volunteer because I have a lucky life and am able to. I can get involved in a completely different role from my day job, maybe one I might have chosen if I'd been more knowledgeable at 16.

Volunteers nowadays could be anyone, students partway through degrees looking to improve their language skills, unemployed professionals who really don't want to watch Jeremy Kyle, community service people, life skills students and still the older ladies.
In amongst that mix is a high level of intelligence on occasion.
So why is it that volunteering doesn't seem to be respected?
I've volunteered and turned up on my given day having paid my car park fees to be told I wasn't needed that day.
Someone else I know was issued with a name badge only to have it taken away and then replaced with a badge reading 'volunteer' presumably at some stage this would save them around 50p.
Neither of these examples are things that you would expect to happen to you as a paid employee.
I'd like to see volunteers treated as employees whose pay is £0.
IE given the same respect as paid employees.

After all:
A volunteer 
Is there  (usually) because that's the organisation they've decided to donate their skills to and they have an emotional connection
They work because it's a choice
Their mortgage payment at the end of the month is not dependent on it
If they go off sick it makes no difference financially
Often they have high level skills
They save an organisation money purely by being there

An employee
Can take time off and still get paid
Has no emotional connection
They are there (often) for the mortgage money
If a higher paid job was on offer they would move
It takes a lot to remove an employee from post so they needn't be hugely productive

If a volunteer was treated as an equal member of a team the value of the whole team would increase.

Nb the examples used are from a shop and a homelessness charity. In the first case the salary saved was around £40 a week and in the second case £80 a week (1 day worked in each case)
First case volunteer qualified accountancy technician with web and pr skills. Second case IT ubernerd.

I can't imagine that Medicins sans Frontiers volunteers have the same issues. I hope not.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Waste recycling Colchester style

Colchester thoughts

In Colchester, UK we have the luxury of having waste collected from our doorsteps.
Not the end of the road and, no, we don't have to take it to the tip.
We have a selection of collections:
Non-recyclable, every week
Paper, every two weeks
Glass, every two weeks
Tin, every two weeks
Food waste, I'll be honest I don't know how often it's collected, I have a composter and I eat what I buy, but there is a special bin provided
Plastic, every two weeks
Garden waste, every two weeks in a heavy duty reusable bag
Paper, glass and plastic goes in bags supplied by the council.
They're plastic bags.
Glass and tins go in a plastic, reusable crate supplied by the council.
So far, so good, so lucky.
The food containers are supposed to be used with biodegradable bags which residents have to buy at a cost of about £1.
The bags, crate, garden bags and food container are all delivered free.
The recyclable items bags and non-recyclable are delivered into our front gardens regularly.
Whether we need them or not.
Now it's time for councils to cut back on costs and waste is one of the areas they're looking at.

I emailed a suggestion that the clear printed bags used for paper and plastics could have the last but one bag printed in red so that the binmen were aware that a new roll of bags was needed. To me this would indicate a need and reduce the amount delivered simply by the calendar.
The simple fact is that people don't use them for recycling. So they're giving bags to houses where there are already three rolls.
Apparently a feasibility study decided that this would encourage people to waste more.
I don't know how.
Maybe someone who reads this could let me know what I'm missing here - please :)

Today's newspaper shows a local Councillor bemoaning the introduction of a charge for replacing garden bags when they're worn out.
Mr Will Quince says that charging for them at £3.64 will affect recycling rates.
He states that the fact that they are free at the moment means that those without gardens are subsidising those without.
I agree but frankly am surprised that they are only delivered to those with gardens. Quite insightful of our council.
He does let us know what happens to the waste, sort of. Apparently Colchester Council gets "compost credits" for every tonne recycled. I don't know about you but I have no idea what I could do with a "compost credit"? Would it be anything useful or would I need 10? 100? 1000?
He suggests that the bags are worn out by being dragged to the dustcart by the workers. Maybe, maybe not.

Surely the bags that are worn out are simply those that are being used. Correctly or incorrectly.

So the people who are recycling are effectively being penalised for doing so.
How about having a garden bag amnesty.
Not the most sexy of ideas but there must be loads of them lying around not being used.
Hey Colchester Council- recycle them!
Whatever is done I know I'm not the only one looking forward to the discount on my council tax bill caused by the savings.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Keep your friends close - Paula Daly

Following a quiet success with What kind of a mother are you? is Paula Daly's latest outing into the world of thrillers.
This one's better.
Natty has been married forever it seems and has got to the stage of marriage where everything is work and she's the one keeping all the balls in the air.
So her husband is ripe for the picking.
When her long standing best friend, Eve, arrives she's only pleased to see her and catch up on her news. Since Natty owns a hotel her friend is able to simply stay over when Natty's youngest daughter is taken ill on a school trip to France.
Sean, Natty's  husband is beside himself being left behind when Natty takes the last place on a flight to France so Natty is relieved to leave her family in Eve's capable hands. Quite literally in Sean's case.
When she gets home it's to an unrecognisable Sean who claims to be in love with Eve despite having only been in a relationship with her for a matter of days.
So far, so relatively simple.
But is Eve everything she appears to be to everyone?
The book raises the question of just how much do you know about people supposedly close to you?
If you don't see them for years and they say they've passed high level exams do you have any reason to disbelieve them?
Been married and divorced?
Their mother has died?
How would you react if maybe some of it wasn't true? And if you were the only one that knew? Would you be paranoid or enlightened?
So much in life we take for granted and Paula Daly flips all this on it's head.
And then slam dunks the finale home.
Brilliant ending. If you're one of those people who reads the last page to see if you'll like the book, don't. Just don't.

Publisher - Bantam Press

Freda's Voice Friday 56
"Eve's not being a bossy-wife substitute is she?" I say, laughing"

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Accident - C L Taylor

The Accident - C L Taylor

This is what domestic abuse is. This is how it plays on your mind. This is how it spoils years afterwards even if you manage to get away.
This is extreme.
How powerful is emotional abuse and can it even change the shape of your body?
This is a psychological thriller with a vengeance.
A daughter lies in a coma and a mother is convinced there's a reason behind here accident. She sets out to confirm her suspicions but she's generally regarded as unstable by those around her who have no comprehension of the long lasting effects of the ordeal she suffered much earlier on in life.
Surely her abuser would have given up and it's therefore all in her mind?
Past and present run parallel.
This is one for fans of Elizabeth Haynes' Into the darkest corner.

The book of you - Claire Kendal

My pick for this year's surprise crime thriller.
A young girl is stalked but at the same time she's a jury member. She's keeping a diary of everything her stalker does and trying to get enough evidence together to go to the police.
What constitutes enough?
Would you know?
What's a paranoid reaction and what's a real event? Whose perspective would you use to decide?
There's a nice guy on the jury with her but current events cloud her judgement completely.
Running through the book are the day to day events alongside her diary entries and the trial taking place.
It's a good book but I'm not sure about the ending, it seemed weirdly contrived and let down the rest of the story.
That said it's a great new writer and I would happily read the next book.

Page 56
"at least I know she's safe.........You've got what you wanted. You've got as much of me as she can give you"

Freda's Voice Friday 56