Absolutely India: Mancs in Mumbai – ITV


Now there’s something I missed doing when I went to India – teaching a class of very cute primary school kids, all in smart uniforms, to say “Hello, our kid”.  Why did I not think of that?!  This half-hour programme, the first in a series of six, was a strange combination of Who Do You Think You Are?, Long Lost Family, The Jeremy Kyle Show and a travel programme, but it worked pretty well, probably because the three lads and their dad all came across as such likeable characters.  I’m extremely sad that none of us will be travelling to Mumbai, or even to Muncaster, Malham, Matlock or Morecambe, any time soon, and am actually still struggling to take that in; but we can look at film of the Gateway of India, which I’ve always wanted to see, and of wonderful, colourful, crowded Indian food markets, and hope that better times come again soon.  Meanwhile, this programme was genuinely entertaining.

The idea of this programme was that the three lookalike Thomas brothers, Ryan (Jason from Coronation Street), Adam (Adam from Emmerdale and Donte from Waterloo Road) and Scott (who was in Love Island), along with their dad Dougie (whom they all look like!) were visiting Mumbai, where Dougie’s dad Nolan came from.  Nolan Thomas moved to Manchester around the time of Indian independence, and seemed to have lost touch with his family back in Bombay/Mumbai.

None of the three lads had ever been to India before, and they didn’t really seem to know much about it, so it was partly a connecting-with-your-heritage trip.  Inevitably, there were a load of jokes about not being able to cope with the hot curries, but they also enjoyed seeing the sights, especially the gorgeous markets.  It was also partly a family bonding trip.  Dougie had split from the boys’ mother when they were young, and had very little contact with them for several years after that, and they were very open about the fact that they’d effectively grown up without a dad, and that Ryan had been more like a dad to his younger brothers than Dougie had.  They all seemed to be getting on pretty well, but there were obviously some wounds that ran deep there.

However, the main aim was to try to find out more about Nolan Thomas, who’d been very close to Dougie but had died when the three lads were very small, and to see if they could find any relatives still living in Mumbai.  I’d really like to have known more about the family background, and am hoping that that’s coming in the later episodes.  It was clear from what they said that he was ethnically Indian, but “Nolan Thomas” is hardly a typical Mumbai name, and (being nosy!) I’m hoping we’ll find out more about his family history.

They found out that he’d worked at the Times of India, which sounded exciting.  And they found out which school he’d gone to, and that one of the teachers there had known his brother.  So they went to visit the school … and that was where the lesson in Mancunian dialect came in!   They also met a little girl there whose surname was also Thomas, and whom they assumed was a relative.  But they didn’t go into how they might be related, and we haven’t yet really found out very much about Nolan Thomas and his Mumbai family at all …  but, with five more episodes to come, hopefully we will.

This was really good fun.  I didn’t know if it might end up being a bit too stag party-ish or Jeremy Kyle-ish, but they all came across very well and it was genuinely entertaining.  I’m hoping we learn more about both Mumbai and the family history in the episodes to come, and I’ll certainly be tuning in to find out.



Three Royal documentaries – Our Queen At War (ITV), Prince Philip (Channel 5), Princess Anne (Channel 5)


Three Royal documentaries – Our Queen At War (ITV), Philip: the King without a Crown (Channel 5) and Anne: the Daughter who should be Queen (Channel 5).  None of them said anything we haven’t heard umpteen times before, but they were all quite interesting, especially so as I think they must have been filmed after lockdown – the first “lockdown era” documentaries I’ve seen which haven’t actually been about coronavirus issues.  The opinions of the “experts” were either just given by voiceover or else given over video links from their homes.  I think ITV had tarted theirs up a bit, but the Channel 5 ones were clearly home videos made on Zoom or Tik Tok or something similar.  And the ITV one used animated graphics, which was something different.   I’m not sure how the Queen’d feel about her teenage self being shown as an animated graphic, but I’d like to think she’d be quite amused by it!

With no live sport, soaps on ration, and no way of filming new episodes of most programmes until the end of lockdown, TV channels couldn’t be blamed too much if they just showed a lot of repeats – but they’d gone to the trouble of making these new programmes, and they deserve some kudos for that.

The one about Prince Philip was on first, and this really was largely just recycling old stuff.  Out came the video clips of Charles and Diana’s wedding, Diana’s funeral, etc etc, for the umpteenth time!  I’d really have liked to hear more about Philip’s early years, which aren’t discussed nearly as much – but, to be fair, the title of the programme made clear that it was about his role as consort.  The family stuff, whilst interesting, had been said a million times before, as had the sorry tale of his having to give up his naval career, but I enjoyed the discussions about his work, especially the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.  It was an hour’s decent watching, anyway.

The one about the Queen’s wartime experiences followed a few days later.  Again, a lot of this was, whilst interesting, same old same old – the speech that she made from Windsor in 1940, and the bombing of Buckingham Palace, and she and Princess Margaret mingling with the crowds on VE Day.  I rather enjoyed all the romantic bits, though.  One of these days, history will see the Queen and Prince Philip’s relationship as one of the greatest royal romances of all time.  Walking round the grounds at Windsor hand-in-hand when he was on leave from the Navy.  Bless!   And, as the programme said, having a boyfriend (for lack of a better word) who was on active service gave the then Princess Elizabeth a greater understanding of what so many other women at the time were going through.

The general point of the programme was to emphasise the fact that the Queen, despite her privileged position, shared many of the wartime experiences that other people did, and how the war years shaped her; and it did a good job of that.  For one thing, we were reminded that she and Princess Margaret actually saw a flying bomb going overhead, before it landed very close by, at Windsor Racecourse. There were even some bits I don’t think I’d ever seen before, such as shots of evacuees from Glasgow on the Balmoral estate.  And I loved seeing the film clips of the Queen driving a truck whilst she was in the ATS!   Those clips aren’t often seen.  This was a very good hour’s TV, especially at the moment with the wartime generation proving such an inspiration during the coronavirus crisis.

Just as a slight aside, though, the fact that they’re now the oldest members of society means that the wartime generation have been hit very hard by this horrible virus.  It’s very sad to read about war veterans or Holocaust survivors, who’d come through so much, having their lives finally ended by this awful, awful thing.

Finally, we had the programme about Princess Anne.  I don’t know whether the title was just meant to attract attention or whether someone genuinely thought it was a valid statement.  I can’t imagine for one second that Princess Anne even wants to be Queen, and there’s certainly no “should” about it: she’s not the eldest.  And, whilst I think she’s amazing, it’s probably a job for someone a bit more tactful!  She is great, though!

One of the “experts” mispronounced everything from “primogeniture” to “governess” which was rather annoying, but it was a very good programme otherwise.  We went back through Anne’s early years, and how the media were quite negative about her in the early 1980s, and she was overshadowed by Diana and Fergie as well as by Charles, but how she earned huge respect because of her work with Save The Children and other charities.  There was also quite a lot about her equestrian career.  It didn’t mention A Question of Sport 🙂 , but it did mention her being Sports Personality of the Year in 1971, and competing at the Olympics on 1976.  It also emphasised the fact that she’s often been the first British Royal to make overseas tours to places which are sensitive for one reason or another, notably the Soviet Union – a very good point.

I remember the negative press she used to get, and was very pleased that this programme was almost entirely complimentary about her hard work and no-nonsense attitude.

She does a sterling job!   As do all the other senior royals – and they’ve been doing what they can in these difficult times.  Thank you to them, and thank you to ITV and Channel 5 for taking the trouble to make these new programmes.  I enjoyed all three of them.

Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally


This book, about the experiences of a group of Australian nurses during the First World War, is superb.  It’s not for the squeamish, because it doesn’t pull any punches in getting across the horrors of working in military hospitals in wartime – first in Egypt and on the Greek islands, during the Dardanelles campaign, and then in France -, nor of the Spanish flu with which the book ends, but it doesn’t half get the message across.

Today is, of course, Gallipoli Day, Anzac Day.  The usual commemorations in Australia and New Zealand will not be taking place this year, and the march through the centre of Bury, headquarters of the Lancashire Fusiliers who were so heavily involved in the campaign, will not be taking place either.  I know that it’s a very, very important day for our friends in Australia and New Zealand, and that alternative ways are being made to mark it during this strange time.

The book sees two sisters, daughters of a “cow cocky” (small dairy farmer) in a rural part of New South Wales, leave their jobs in Australian hospitals to become Army nurses.  We follow them and their friends/comrades as they work in different places.  We also see them narrowly escape with their lives after their ship is torpedoed –  based on the real life sinking of the SS Marquette, in which 10 nurses, from New Zealand, were amongst the 167 people who lost their lives – and again when the field hospitals come under fire.

There are also several sub-plots involving religious and ethical issues – possibly reflecting the fact that the author was at one time intending to become a Catholic priest.  Is it OK to use excess morphine to ease the passing of someone who’s not going to survive anyway?  Should the Quaker fiancé of one of the sisters, who volunteered for the Medical Corps, be obliged to move into a combatant role when ordered to do so?

And, whilst the descriptions of wounds and treatment are in many ways specific to war, and in particular to the Great War, there’s a lot of talk about the importance of washing hands and of wearing clean scrubs, and of whether or not wearing face masks can help to prevent infection.  There are also bizarre rumours that the Spanish flu was created in a German laboratory.  Does this sound familiar?

The style of writing takes some getting used to – there’s an awful lot of speech with no speech marks, which I found quite annoying – but it really is an excellent read.

The two sisters, Naomi and Sally, have recently lost their mother.  Sally had a stash of morphine, and thought that Naomi used it to help their mother, who was terminally ill, to die.  It later turns out that she didn’t, but Sally feels guilty that the issue arose.  They both answer the call for nurses to join up, and sail initially to Egypt, working first in Cairo and then in Alexandria.  In Alexandria, they’re based for most of the time on board hospital ships, moving between there and the Greek island of Lemnos.  Initially, they’re mainly treating syphilis cases, but then the Dardanelles campaign starts … and the descriptions of the war wounds and the desperate attempts to treat them are harrowing but fascinating, and very well-written.  Later, they work on the Western Front.

It’s not all blood and gore.  They’re able to do plenty of sightseeing in Egypt, in Lemnos, and at the ports where they stop en route to and from (Naomi at one point returns to Australia, accompanying soldiers who’ve been invalided out), and later in Britain and France.  The Pyramids, Rouen Cathedral and Table Mountain are amongst the trips described.  There’s also a lot of flirtation and romance – all the nurses seem to get umpteen marriage proposals!   Sadly, not all the men are romantic: there’s one very distressing sub-plot in which one of the sisters’ friends is raped by a hospital orderly.

Another friend becomes engaged to a soldier, but he’s then killed in action.  Another suffers serious injuries when the ship sinks, then contracts TB, and is then killed in a road traffic accident.  And … well, the book ends with the devastating effects of the Spanish flu.

There’s a lot to take in.  A considerable amount of emphasis is put on the rivalry between the different Australian states, reminding us that this was still very soon after federation and that people were still getting used to it.  There’s also a lot about religion – I’m not sure why, but we’re told what religion practically every character is.  Maybe it’s just to emphasise that those who served came from many different backgrounds.  Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Jews, Anglicans and Quakers all feature.

In particular, there’s quite a lot about the dilemmas faced by Quakers in relation to active service, as already mentioned.  Another of the Quaker characters is a woman from Manchester (hooray!!) who’s married to a viscount and is using his money to fund a private nursing initiative – many of which existed during the Great War, playing an important role.  Naomi joins this voluntary hospital, whilst Sally remains in base hospitals, so we see things from both angles.

It’s also supposed to be about the relationship between the two sisters, but I’m not sure that that came across as well as it was meant to.  That’s my only criticism, though.  This is a superb book.  Highly recommended.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.





I’m catching up on my film backlog, anyway.  My front room is multi-tasking as an office and a cinema, as well as being a living room and a dining room 🙂 .  This film, starring Rachel Weisz, was about a woman who returned to the London ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where she grew up, and resumed her previous relationship with her female lover and best friend, who was married to a man.  Coronation Street and EastEnders have had storylines covering some of the issues faced by LGBT people within Christianity, Islam and, most recently, Sikhism, but there aren’t a lot of ultra-Orthodox Jewish characters on screen.  I’m not sure that it really got across the second woman’s reasons for her choices, but it was generally very well-written and very well-acted.  The introduction of diversity teaching into schools has highlighted some of the difficulties that LGBT people within strict religious communities experience, and it was interesting to see a full-length film addressing those, and also looking at how, in general, living in a fairly self-contained community works really well for some people but not for others.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) was living a secular lifestyle in New York, but had returned to the community where she’d grown up following the sudden death of her father, a well-known rabbi.  They’d fallen out several years earlier, but it wasn’t initially clear whether that was just because she’d chosen to leave or for another reason.   Two of her childhood friends, Dovid, a young rabbi expected to take over her father’s job, and Esti, were now married, and she seemed surprised by how Orthodox Esti had become.

It eventually transpired that Ronit and Esti had become romantically involved, and that Ronit’s dad had walked in on them, and that was why she’d left.  Esti had suffered some sort of nervous breakdown, and then married Dovid.  What didn’t really come across was the reason for Esti’s choices.  There was no suggestion that she’d been pushed into marriage with a man by her family or friends, nor that she felt unable to break away because she didn’t want to leave her family and friends.  Her family were barely mentioned, and she didn’t seem to have any friends!   She said that it was all for religious reasons, but we only saw her praying once, and we never saw her reading a religious book, or heard her talking about religion, or just generally seeming very concerned with religion at all.

So I think that that could have been done better.  Ronit had chosen to leave.  Dovid was completely happy with the lifestyle in which he’d been brought up.  Esti was the one who’d chosen a path that didn’t work for her … but I think her reasons could have been explained better.  I just didn’t get any sense of her fighting a difficult battle between her sexuality and the religious teachings which had been instilled into her, and maybe that was a missed opportunity because it’s something that affects a lot of people.

A nosy parker saw Ronit and Esti kissing, and made a complaint to the headmistress of the school where Esti taught, and things got difficult.   Esti eventually ran off, and Dovid and Ronit tracked her down.  She revealed that she was pregnant – after several years of trying for a baby – but said that she wanted Dovid to set her free, because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, and she wanted her baby to have the choices that she felt she hadn’t been given. Not particularly realistically, he agreed to end their marriage, and gave both her and Ronit a big hug.  It’d be nice to think that Esti and Ronit ended up living happily ever after, but I felt rather sorry for Dovid, who ended up losing his wife and the chance to be a full-time dad to the baby he’d been wanting for ages.

I think what this lacked was something like the scenes in Coronation Street in which Rana met with hostility from her mother, and tried to explain her feelings to an imam.  That would have got Esti’s situation across a lot better.  And there was a lot of talk about choices, rather than emphasising the fact Esti had not made a choice to be a lesbian: she just was one.  A bit of explanation of some of the religious practices might have been helpful, as well – some viewers wouldn’t be familiar with Orthodox Jewish practices and would probably have found bits of this quite confusing.  But, generally, it was a pretty good film, with really excellent performances in all three of the main parts.

The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s by Talbot Baines Reed (Facebook group reading challenge)


I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I hadn’t particularly expected to.  I thought that, being a Victorian (it was published in 1881) boys’ school story, it’d be full of preaching and violent bullying, but there was no preaching, and the bullying was no worse than it is in most later school stories.  It was really good fun!

There are three main characters, and three main storylines.  Oliver Greenfield, a Fifth Former, is wrongly accused of cheating in a scholarship exam, but the other boys eventually realise that they’ve got it wrong and that Oliver is actually a jolly good fellow.  Stephen Greenfield, Oliver’s little brother, is a new boy finding his way in one of the junior forms.  I love the relationship between the two brothers.  The masters barely get involved at all, even when there’s obviously something serious going on, but Oliver steps in when he sees Stephen being attacked by bullies, and Stephen rallies his crowd of juniors in Oliver’s defence when the rest of the school unjustly sends him to Coventry.  Then there’s Edward Loman, a Sixth Former, the real cheat, who lets Oliver take the blame, falls into drinking and gambling, gets into debt with a local publican, and – the end’s a bit tropey! – runs away, gets caught in a storm, and is rescued by, of course, Oliver … but sees the error of his ways, as bad boys/girls in school stories always do!

The idea of the challenge was to read a book about a pupil writing a book/play/newspaper/magazine, and, although it’s a minor storyline, one of the other Fifth Formers in this produces a newspaper called “The Dominican” – which sounds more like Punch than the usual type of school magazine, being full of sarcastic articles about other forms and other pupils!  Only one copy, so it goes in a wooden frame, and somehow survives without being torn or otherwise damaged.

Getting back to the more general storyline, there’s very little preaching.  The only time religion really comes up is in a letter from the Greenfield boys’ mother.  The morality’s all about the schoolboy code of behaviour, and school traditions are also a very big thing.  The boys in Oliver’s form all belong to one of two fraternities, the Guinea-Pigs and the Tadpoles, and the big feast they have after a cricket match is an annual tradition, not a spontaneously-planned jolly jape of the sort found in Enid Blyton books.

Sport features a lot, as you would expect.  Annoyingly, “football” is used to mean rugby (I was going to say “rugby union”, but this was pre-split!).  Proper football, which public schoolboys would call “soccer”, isn’t mentioned!  Cricket is also mentioned.  Unusually for a school story, we don’t get one of the heroes scoring the winning try or run – the big rugby match against a county side is lost, and the big cricket match is drawn.  There’s also plenty of fighting, but most of it’s more “boys will be boys” fisticuffs than actual nastiness, apart from one unpleasant incident in which Loman beats up Stephen Greenfield – who is then hailed as a hero by his classmates.

And, of course, there’s the fagging system.  As well as being asked to make tea, polish boots and the usual stuff, the younger boys are sent out on errands into the nearby town.  It’s very different to the mid-20th century girls’ boarding school stories in which no-one’s supposed to leave the premises without permission from a teacher.  The boys even go down the pub … although that’s how Loman gets into bother.  The town’s called Maltby, but I think it’s meant to be a fictional town rather than Maltby near Rotherham.

The masters are just barely involved at all.  One of them steps in when Stephen’s obviously struggling with his work in the early days, but that’s about it.  The headmaster, seeing Stephen’s bruised and battered face after Loman’s beaten him up, realises than an older boy’s attacked a younger one, but does nothing about it.  Even when the boys all show the school up in front of a load of visitors, by hissing when Oliver gets his scholarship prize at Speech Day, nothing’s done.  Nor do the captain and the monitors intervene very much in what’s going on.  It’s not the sort of public school that’s seeking to train boys to run the Empire and sees older boys bossing younger ones about as training for that.  Loman does go to Australia for a while, but it’s as a farmer rather than as an administrator.  Oliver Greenfield becomes a barrister rather than a soldier or a bigwig in the Indian Civil Service, and his best friend Wraysford becomes a Cambridge don.

And they do actually work quite hard!   Getting good marks in exams is not seen as being uncool, and boys who do well are seen as bringing credit to their forms, rather than being sneered at for being swots or geeks.  Where it goes wrong in when part of a scholarship exam paper goes missing, and Oliver, who was seen near the headmaster’s study at the time and later wins the scholarship, is wrongly suspected of taking it.  Everyone turns on Oliver, apart from Stephen and the rest of the Guinea-Pigs, which is really horrible.  OK, it’s not physical violence, but being shunned by everyone else, and accused of something you haven’t done, is probably worse than a smack in the mouth.

Oliver, a bit like Katy Carr, doesn’t seek to prove his innocence, but just lives it down – the difference being that Katy was accused by a teacher and the other girls didn’t believe any of it, whereas poor Oliver is ostracised by his classmates and by most of the other boys as well.  His behaviour’s very noble, and that and his success in another exam persuade the others that they’ve been wrong about him, but I’m not sure how realistic it is.  Even more bizarrely, when the missing paper is later found inside one of Loman’s books, by the headmaster, in front of the entire Sixth Form, nearly everyone accepts Loman’s claims that he didn’t take it and had no idea how it got there!

Loman eventually runs away, because of the financial trouble he’s got into, gets caught in a storm, is rescued by Oliver – with a bit of help from Stephen – and becomes seriously ill.  That’s all a bit tropey, as I said, but we do later learn that he’s made a full recovery and is now leading a decent life.  Oliver has become a successful barrister, and Stephen is now the school captain.  Hurrah!

Just a couple of other things.  The forms are very confusing!  Twelve-year-old Stephen is in the Fourth Junior, i.e. the Lower Fourth, which makes sense, but there only seems to be one Fifth Form and one Sixth Form, so the 12-year-olds are only two forms below the 16-year-olds.  On a totally different note, I was quite chuffed to learn that Talbot Baines Read was a cousin of Edward Baines, of History of the Cotton Manufacture fame.  And also that there was a TV adaptation of The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s in the 1960s, with the bloke who played Tom Howard in Howards’ Way playing the headmaster.

All in all, I really enjoyed this!   And it’s available either for 99p on Kindle or free on Project Gutenberg.

Ten hair disasters in fiction


Well, I’m very grateful that my lovely hairdresser fitted me in for a cut and dye four days before the UK went into lockdown, but it’s really getting to the point where it needs doing again.  I’ve got as far as acquiring some roots touch-up stuff, but I haven’t dared use it yet.  I’m scared of trying to dye my own hair.  I blame Anne Shirley.  There’ve been quite a few other hair-related disasters in fiction, as well …

Ten hair-related disasters in books/films/soap operas:

  1. Anne Shirley dyes her hair green – Anne of Green Gables.
  2. Frenchie dyes her hair pink – Grease.
  3.  Jo March burns some of her sister Meg’s hair off with curling irons – Little Women.
  4. Simone Lecoutier cuts her own hair off to try to impress Jo Bettany – The School at the Chalet.
  5. Bridget Jones tries to straighten her hair by ironing it – The Edge of Reason.
  6. Mr Brocklehurst demands that the hair of all the girls at Lowood School be cut – Jane Eyre.
  7. Maria Sutherland dyes Vera Duckworth’s hair purple – Coronation Street .
  8. Amy Ashe has all her hair cut off due to illness – What Katy Did Next.
  9. Ruey Richardson’s home perm goes wrong – Ruey Richardson, Chaletian.
  10. Maggie Tulliver cuts off her own hair – The Mill on the Floss.

But hey.  There’s always Laura Ingalls giving herself an amazing “lunatic fringe” in Little Town in the Prairie




The Pet Shop Boys concert to which I was due to go at the end of May’s just been postponed … and I keep thinking that I must play some of their music anyway, because Left To My Own Devices, Being Boring, Suburbia, Always On My Mind, It’s Alright and, perhaps most of all, Se A Vida E all fit the present situation pretty well.  It’ll be interesting to see (or indeed hear) the songs that come out of this sad, strange time, because there’ll be some.  Going back to my era, there are plenty of songs which relate to particular times and events: Wind of Change is the one which immediately springs to mind, and Right Here, Right Now and Read My Lips are another two.  Then there are all the “Madchester” songs, which belong to a “scene”, and maybe wouldn’t have worked so well as stand-alones .  But good songs have universal appeal, and work at any time … but would they work so well if sung by someone different, and out of their original context?

Well, according to this film, yes, they would.  A struggling aspiring musician (Tamwar from EastEnders) is involved in an accident during a global blackout.  When he comes round, he’s the only person who remembers The Beatles: they’ve been wiped from history.  So he becomes an international megastar by singing all their songs, and claiming that he composed them.  If the music-stealing storyline sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of Nicholas Lyndhurst’s character in Goodnight Sweetheart.  There’s also a romance with Lily James.  And quite a few shots of Liverpool.  And celebs playing themselves, which is a bit weird.

Given how many young actors fade into obscurity after leaving soap operas, all credit to Himesh Patel for playing the lead role, Jack, in this, especially as he does the singing, guitar-playing and piano-playing himself, but it’s not a particularly great film.  However, it’s quite good fun, and anything involving Beatles songs is always worth watching.  And, at the end, Himesh Patel/Tamwar/Jack says “Isn’t normal wonderful?” and sings “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, life goes on”.  Yes.  That.

Ed Sheeran has quite a big role in it, as himself, and James Corden also plays himself.  Cheryl was in Four Kids and It.  Is this a thing now?  Are celebs also going to start turning up in soap opera and TV drama series … when they can eventually start filming again?  It’s a bit strange.  Meanwhile, Lily James doesn’t want to live a celeb lifestyle, and has started going out with someone else.  Then Sarah Lancashire and a bloke doing a bad Russian accent turn up at a press conference, waving a plastic yellow submarine, tell our man Jack that they remember The Beatles too, and give him John Lennon’s address.

So he goes to see John Lennon … played by Robert Carlyle.  I’m not sure that a parallel universe in which someone who was murdered nearly four decades ago is alive and well is particularly tasteful, and Robert Carlyle could have at least tried to do a Scouse accent, but never mind.  He persuades Jack  to give up the music thing, release all the songs for free, abandon the life of stardom he’s living in Los Angeles, go back home to Lowestoft, and live happily ever after with Lily James.  So Jack ‘fesses up in front of a packed Wembley crowd, marries Ellie (Lily), and they have two kids and live happily ever after.  Sorted.

The idea that no-one else knows where the songs have come from and that someone claims them as their own isn’t original, but it is quite funny, and the main parts are all acted well.  The romance between the person who’s become a star and the boy/girl back in their home town who doesn’t want to lead the celeb life isn’t original either, but it’s rather sweet.  But the fact that The Beatles had been wiped out of history didn’t seem to have had any effect other than that no-one knew their songs, which is rather insulting to probably the most influential band of all time.

And would their songs have worked so well if sung by someone else, at a different time in history?  I feel as if I should say no, but look at all the cover versions that have worked well for different generations.  A great song’s a great song.   Jack didn’t sing the more bonkers/trippy songs, admittedly – they probably wouldn’t have worked!

Anyway, as I said, this isn’t a particularly great film, but it’s watchable.  And it might all seem like A Hard Day’s Night at the moment, but We Can Work It Out, With A Little Help From Our Friends.  We need to Come Together (but no close than six feet) and Help!, send All Our Loving to the people we can’t be with and trust that, at some point, it’ll be Here Comes The Sun and we can Get Back! to being Day Tripper(s), driving along Long and Winding Road(s) and buying Ticket(s) to Ride … and having our families and friends beside us Here, There and Everywhere.  Yes, I do know that that was completely naff, but it kept me amused for a few minutes.  If you’ve read this, thank you, and stay safe x.


The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman


I must be the only person who could manage to confuse the Bible with the Cambridge Latin Course.  I have been to Masada, where this book’s set; but I remembered doing something about it at school, and initially thought that the Siege of Masada must be described in the Bible.  It isn’t.  It is, however, described in Stage 29 of the Cambridge Latin Course (the boring bit with Salvius and Haterius), as I belatedly realised.  Then I thought I knew the “Wings of a Dove” psalm, mentioned in the fourth and final section of the book … until I realised that I was actually thinking of the Madness song.  I’ve an idea that the psalm’s mentioned in a Noel Streatfeild book, though – doesn’t Robin Robinson sing it?

Oh well.  The idea of writing about four women inside the fortress of Masada in AD 70-73 (or AD 74, seeing as most sources now set the date a year later than older ones did), their journeys there after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, and their lives there until the end of the Roman siege, was a very interesting one, and I really enjoyed the book.  I believe that there was a TV adaptation of it in the US, although it apparently wasn’t very good.  It’s written in quite a strange way, though … like Philippa Gregory, Alice Hoffman got a bit carried away with the idea of feminine magic, and I ended up feeling as if I were reading a cross between the Bible, The Red Tent, The Da Vinci Code, The Chronicles of Narnia, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The White Princess.  Quite a strange combination.

The book goes with the traditional story, that those inside the fortress committed suicide en masse rather than be captured by the Romans.  Historians aren’t convinced that that’s true, but it’s the version of events that most people will know.   A slave from Wales turns up in the middle of things, which sounded rather unlikely, but apparently archaeologists have found artefacts at Masada which show that a Welsh conscripted legionnaire was there.  On a different note, whilst I’m trying not to let the coronavirus colour everything I read, it was interesting that (in a book published in 2011), people were very concerned about covering their faces whilst treating a sick person, and washing their hands afterwards, in case a demon jumped from the sick person to them; and they also grabbed a load of stuff from the supply stores when the siege began in earnest.

It’s in four parts, about four women whose lives become intertwined as they work in the dovecotes.

Yael is the daughter and sister of Sicarii assassins, the branch of the Zealots who fought against the Romans, and perhaps the most interesting character even if she’s not very appealing.  Revka is a woman whose daughter died after being raped by Roman soldiers, who also attacked her, and whose husband was also killed by the Romans, and who’s caring for her traumatised grandsons.  Aziza is the illegitimate daughter of one of the Sicarii leaders, initially brought up as a boy to protect her from unwanted male attention, but then revealing herself as a woman and becoming involved with first Yael’s brother and then Revka’s widowed son-in-law.  Shirah “the witch of Moab” is Aziza’s mother, and it later turns out that she was also Yael’s nursemaid.  Apart from Revka, they all get involved with men they shouldn’t.

The descriptions of the environment – Jerusalem, the lands they pass through on their way to Masada, and Masada itself, are absolutely superb.  So are the descriptions of their daily life, and their work in the dovecotes, and the explanations of the different sects and their different practices.  However, some of the “magic” stuff does go a bit OTT.  The idea of goddess-worship and feminine magic, and their being suppressed by the religious authorities, which also played a big part in The Da Vinci Code, is fascinating up to a point, but talking about mysterious magical books of spells which Noah and or Moses had just sounded a lot more Bedknobs and Broomsticks than the Bible, and just went too far.  The symbolism went overboard as well.

That aside, it was really a very good read.  The passage of time came across very well – all the talk about the different months and what was associated with each one.  I’m familiar with the Hebrew term “Rosh Chodesh”, the first day of the month, but I hadn’t realised that, according to the Bible, the start of each month was supposed to be a minor holiday.  The interpretation of it here is that the coming of the new moon represents light triumphing over darkness, and reminds people that nothing stays the same and things move on, which definitely had overtones of what the Queen said in her Easter speech.  And I now gather (thank you, Wikipedia) that there was a later tradition that women didn’t work on the first day of each month.  I like that idea 😉 .

So – in summary, I’d have liked a bit more history and bit less mystery/magic, but it was still a very good book.  Thank you to BookBub and Kindle Daily Deals – you’re being very helpful as lockdown goes on!  If anyone’s read this, thanks for reading, and stay safe x.

Four Kids and It and Love, Simon


Easter weekend in lockdown – a kids’ film and a teen film, and both of them set in the present day.  Not my usual thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.  I do, however, now feel like Methuselah, because I think my childhood probably had more in common with those in school stories from the 1920s than with those in the era of mobile phones, social media and e-mail!  Are “school gossip” websites actually a thing?  Just the thought of them makes me cringe!  I haven’t read the books that either of these films are based on, so can’t comment on whether or not they’re faithful adaptations, but they’re both really lovely, feelgood films, with nice, happy endings, and I think we could probably all do with a bit of good cheer the moment.

They also both score highly in terms of diversity, which I know can still be an issue some with kids’ books/films.  We’ve got a mixed-race family in “Four Kids and It”; and, in “Love, Simon”, we’ve got a multi-racial group of friends, and Simon’s black Jewish boyfriend coming out to his dad over the Chanukah candles.  And I love the fact that one of Simon’s best mates is obsessed with David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.  American teen stuff *never* mentioned football in my day!  I also love Michael Caine doing the voiceover for the Psammead, which looks a bit like ET.  These are two genuinely delightful films, for viewers of all ages.

Just as an aside, on the subject of feeling like Methuselah, I had the Now 80s music channel on for background noise whilst reading last night.  The presenter was Timmy Mallett.  I kept expecting him to start singing the Wacaday song or smacking someone with his mallet.  Er, moving swiftly on …

Four Kids and It is based on Jacqueline Wilson’s Four Children and It, which in turn is based on E Nesbit’s legendary Five Children and It.  Instead of five Edwardian siblings, we’ve got a “blended family” – a British man and an American woman, each with two kids who aren’t very happy about their parents splitting up and have yet to learn about this new relationship, who have got together and brought their respective offspring to a holiday home in Cornwall.  The four kids find the Psammead (Sand Fairy) on the beach, and bond over various wishes which, as in the E Nesbit book, all go wrong.  One of them wants to be a pop star, and Cheryl whatever-surname-she-uses-these-days turns up and there’s a sell-out concert at the O2 Arena, although there’s no moralising about how she should have wished to be something more worthy, as there might have been in an older film.  Another one wants to meet the children from the original book, so they go back in time.  There’s also a baddie, played by Russell Brand, who kidnaps the Psammead but, thanks to the kids, ends up as the loser, with the Psammead going back under the sand to enjoy a good long rest.

This has had rather poor reviews, but I enjoyed it.  It’s hardly an all-time classic, but it’s very watchable, if you’re after something light.  And I thought that adapting the Psammead storyline as a way of helping a blended family to bond was an excellent idea.

Love, Simon is based on Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  Simon is a 17-year-old teenage boy in a well-to-do area of Atlanta, with a loving family and a group of close friends, none of whom know that he’s gay.  He starts corresponding by anonymous e-mail with another closeted gay boy at his school, but neither knows the other’s identity.  Seeing as mobile phone reception at school is bad and he can’t wait till he gets home to check his e-mails, he logs in on one of the school computers, forgets to log out … and another boy, Martin, reads the e-mails, takes screenshots of them, and starts hassling him.  Martin fancies Simon’s friend Abby, but Abby looks like she’s going to get together with a second friend, Nick, so Simon wades in and tries to get Nick together with a third friend, Leah …

… and it all gets horribly messy, as things can do with all that who-fancies-whom stuff at school. Martin is humiliated when he asks Abby out in public and she says no, and tries to divert attention from himself by posting screenshots of the e-mails online.  Simon’s friends and family are fine with him being gay, but the friends are upset that they all got dragged into it with the muddled matchmaking, and Simon ends up falling out with both his own gang and the mystery e-mail pal, his classmate Bram.

However, it all works out in the end, everyone makes up, and Simon and Bram get together.  There’s the usual romantic angst you get in teen films, plus the unpleasantness of the blackmailing storyline; but there are plenty of laughs, a lot of it’s rather sweet, especially the conversations he has with his mum and dad, and you keep rooting for Simon and Bram to find each other in real life.  As with Four Kids and It, it builds towards a happy ending and everything works out OK, and I really enjoyed it.

It’s a lovely warm, sunny, Easter weekend, and I wish I could be spending it in the Lakes, the Peaks, the Dales, Blackpool or some of the National Trust houses, but these are strange times, and we all need to do our bit.  Sky and other platforms are doing theirs by making these films available to us, some of them a lot earlier than might have been the case otherwise, so watch, enjoy, and stay safe x.


The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath


With everything that’s going on, the publication of the third “Wolf Hall” novel’s rather gone under the radar.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the first two anyway; but I did enjoy this, about Elizabeth Cromwell, nee Wykes, the wife of Thomas Cromwell.  It’s got a few sub-plots which aren’t properly developed, and it jumps about in time, both of which are annoying, but it’s generally a very interesting read.  Books about the Tudor period usually revolve around the upper-classes and their servants, so it’s good to read something about “the middling sort”, Elizabeth being the daughter and widow of cloth merchants, and Thomas the son of a cloth merchant and blacksmith.  And, whilst a lot of it’s invented because the facts aren’t known, it doesn’t take any liberties with facts that are known, unlike certain other books about the Tudor period.

Not much is actually known about Elizabeth.  She was a young widow when she married Thomas.  They had three children, but, sadly, two of them died young of the sweating sickness, and Elizabeth herself died of the sweating sickness long before Cromwell became Henry VIII’s chief minister.  He never remarried.

The book suggests – and this is all fictional – that Elizabeth took over the running of her first husband’s cloth business after he died, and did a reasonably good job of running it until it was merged with Cromwell’s business after they married.  That certainly could have happened: it wasn’t unknown for widows to run businesses at the time.  It also shows the jealousy that the Cromwells encounter as they move up the social ladder, which seems very likely to have happened, and gives some fascinating detail about the running of a “middling rank” London household during the 1510s and 1520s.  There’s also quite a bit about Cromwell’s interest in humanism and religious reform, an important reminder that there was plenty of interest in “new ideas” in England before the break with Rome, and that it was not all about Henry VIII wanting to marry Anne Boleyn.

On the negative side, there are some rather strange storylines about plots and spies, none of which are really gone into properly.  For a start, Carol McGrath’s created a storyline in which Elizabeth’s first husband is gay, and some Italian monks find out about this, and Elizabeth’s cloth warehouse is burnt down because the monks are after a servant whom they thought had been his lover.  The monks, or whoever they are, vanish into the background for a while, but then they and the servant reappear later on, and it isn’t very clear what’s happened with any of them.  Then there’s a sub-plot involving an ex-suitor who claims that he and Elizabeth had been formally betrothed and demands her dowry, but he just seems to fade out of the picture as well.  It makes for plenty of drama, but the plots should really have been resolved properly.

However, generally, it’s really not bad.  There’s some interesting information about the sumptuary laws, and there are some lovely descriptions of gardens and houses, and indeed cloth, as well as the minutiae of daily life.  And, in the time it’s taken me to write this, my brain has headed back to the 16th century and temporarily escaped the coronavirus nightmare!  Books are very important at this time, and I hope everyone’s got plenty of them!