Pilgrimage: the Road to Rome – BBC 2


Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the time and opportunity to get away from it all for a few weeks and travel along a historic route, dating back well over a thousand years, through the glorious Swiss Alps and beautiful Northern and Central Italy, in blessed peace and quiet?  OK, OK, I’d end up whingeing about the heat, the insects and the lack of proper sanitation, not to mention any walking uphill, but I still love the idea of it.  Like last year’s series about the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, this is following a group of minor celebs, with different backgrounds and beliefs, along a traditional pilgrimage route, this time the Via Francigena (“French/Frankish Way” – it doesn’t sound nearly as good in English!) from Martigny (near Verbier) to the Vatican City.  Featuring St Bernard dogs, thermal baths and wine.

The Via Francigena actually starts from Canterbury, but I suppose that would have taken too long!   They’re using various modes of transport, but the last 100 km (just over 60 miles), from Viterbo to Rome is being done on foot.  And the “pilgrims” involved are Stephen K Amos, Mehreen Baig, Katy Brand, Brendan Cole, Les Dennis, Lesley Joseph, Greg Rutherford and Dana Scallon.

I’ve been to various pilgrimage sites – as a holidaymaking historian, not as a pilgrim (although I think I get some sort of medieval pilgrimage gold star for having been to Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela)! – relating to various different religions/denominations, but, due to being a wage slave, it’s only ever been for the day.  I love the idea of being able to take a couple of weeks, or more, and walk the historic routes – having time out to think and to take in the experience and to see the different places along the way.

I’m not sure that I’d go for the Vatican City, though.  It’s an incredible place to visit, but there’s too much else going on there.  It’s so grand and so full of incredible artwork, and also so much an administrative centre, and it’s surrounded by Rome, the Eternal City, in all its ancient and modern glory … and it’s all just too much to feel really spiritual.  OK, all pilgrimage sites are busy and touristy, and you’d probably feel a lot more spiritual if you weren’t stood in a horrendous queue to see whatever you’d come to see, looking at your watch to see how long you’ve got before you need to be back at the coach, hoping fervently that you’ll have time to get something to eat and drink and that there won’t be a long queue for the toilets.  But I think that places that exist purely or mainly as religious sites – and it can be any religion or denomination; you don’t have to “belong” to that religion or denomination yourself to appreciate the place – maybe work better as “spiritual” places.  Having said which, the Vatican is great, and our eight celebs got to meet the Pope at the end of their journey (which will be shown in the final episode, on Good Friday)!

It’s actually the journey that’s the most interesting bit, though, more than the destination.  We don’t hear that much about pilgrimage routes – although I think that the National Trust are going to try to start promoting some of the old routes within the UK – but they are very much a “thing”. I was quite surprised to see how many pilgrims were heading into Santiago de Compostela when I went there.   It’s not necessarily a religious thing – it’s that taking time out.  It could be, say, the Inca Trail.  Or, nearer to home and with rather fewer altitude sickness issues, the Pennine Way.  Along the Via Francigena, our pilgrims – although they were using apps and Google maps! – found pilgrimage signposts, and “donativo” refreshment places and hostels primarily serving people travelling the route, and had their pilgrimage passports stamped at each stop.

And it seemed so quiet, for all that it’s a “thing”!  OK, maybe other people were just politely asked to move whilst the BBC were filming, but you often see TV programmes filmed amidst hordes of people, so I doubt it.  Peace and quiet are so, so hard to find!  Even when you’re in your own home, even if you’re not answering the phone, there are often dogs barking, kids yelling, cars and motorbikes revving their engines, or someone mowing the lawn or playing music loudly.  And there’s usually a nagging feeling that you really ought to be doing one of the seventy billion things on your To Do List (capital T, capital D, capital L!).

That seemed to be how the “pilgrims” were looking at it too – I don’t think St Peter was mentioned once, and even Rome itself was only mentioned in terms of going the right way, but there was a lot of talk about peace and “mental space” and time out.  There was some general talk about faith and religion, though.  In Viterbo, it’s traditional to go into a Catholic church and receive a pilgrims’ blessing.  Some of the group – with Lesley, who’s Jewish, and Mehreen, who’s Muslim, amongst the most enthusiastic – chose to do this, but others said they didn’t feel comfortable about it.

There was more talk on the subject at other points of the journey, as well.  Dana, a practising Catholic and the most religious member of the group, said that religion is very important to her, but alluded to the “difficult time” in the Catholic church at the moment – i.e. with the child sex abuse scandals.  Stephen said that, as a gay man, he doesn’t feel that any religion welcomes him.  Les spoke about how his mother had once been very religious, but had lost her faith after being shunned by her church when she had a child outside marriage.  Brendan Cole summed it all up very well by saying that the problems are not with particular formal/organised religious, but with some of the people in them.

It was great to see people discussing sensitive issues – faith and religion are awkward topics to discuss, because people can be very sensitive about them –  without arguing and shouting each other down.  I’m so, so sick of seeing social media posts in which people use the word “stupid” (or worse) to describe anyone whose views on a political issue differ from theirs.  Some people will be abusive towards anyone who disagrees with them over a sports event, a film, a TV series, a book … anything!  This was just nice.  It was nice TV.  And it’d be a nice thing to do.  Just given the time …



Second Serve by Renée Richards with John Ames


Taking a quick break from my usual historical novels to read a tennis-related book –  the story of Renee Richards, born Richard Raskind in a family of New York doctors, who, after transitioning from male to female, won a legal battle against the US Tennis Association to be able to compete in women’s events, reached the final of the ladies’ doubles and (partnering Ilie Nastase) the mixed doubles at the US Open, and later coached Martina Navratilova.  It’s not particularly well-written, and says disappointingly little about actual tennis history, but it makes some interesting points, including about the way in which sports players from minority groups attract a lot of press attention which other players don’t have to deal with.

There isn’t actually that much tennis in the book.  A lot of it details Richard (Dick)’s female conquests and Renee’s male conquests, which the reader probably doesn’t really want to know about, especially not in quite as much detail as it gives.  It also gives the impression of someone who was rather confused, rather than that of a transgender person who knew that they were a woman in a man’s body.  Young Dick seems to have had unhealthy relationships with both his mother and his sister, and in fact all the relationships within the family seem to have been strained.

They (I’m initially using gender-neutral pronouns because they write about Dick and Renee living inside the same body and vying with each other to get out) were a top student, who went to Yale, captained the tennis team there, qualified as a doctor and became a leading ophthalmologist, and also spent time in the US Navy, and had a lot of girlfriends.   They at one point made the decision to transition, and went as far as having hormone treatment and developing female characteristics, but then decided to go back to being a man, stopped the treatment, had surgery, and married a woman and fathered a child.   It’s very unusual to hear of someone going backwards and forwards like that.  It’s very sad: they said that they suffered periods of depression and contemplated suicide, and weren’t really able to find help despite seeing a number of very prominent psychiatrists.

Eventually, they came to the decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery, and moved from New York to California to begin a new life as a woman.  A lot of good points are made about the practical problems of passports, driving licences, certificates showing professional qualifications, etc, being in the name of a man when the person is now a woman.  These days, people would just explain, but, in the 1970s, Renee felt unable to acknowledge her previous identity as Dick in her working life, and had to try to establish her professional reputation all over again.  She was told that, as Dick had been quite well-known in the tennis world, she would probably be recognised if she took up playing tennis again, but she did so anyway – and was indeed recognised.

She was in her forties by this time, which is very late for someone to try to begin a professional tennis career, but she felt that she was playing well and had a chance of success in the big events, but was refused permission to play because of being transgender.  After various legal battles, and with the support of some big names, notably Billie Jean King and Gladys Heldman, she was allowed to compete in women’s events – although only in the US and South America, because there wasn’t a unified tour in those days and she didn’t feel that she wanted to fight any more legal battles in order to try to win the right to compete in Britain, France, etc.

The issue of transgender athletes is very much in the news now, thirty years later.  Several leading athletes have called for medical research to be done to establish whether or not a transgender woman has an advantage over a cisgender woman, but it all seems to be up in the air at the moment, and has been complicated by the separate issue of cisgender women who have naturally high testosterone levels … which seems rather an odd thing to penalise people for, as a lot of athletes have a natural advantage due to height or build, and no-one suggests that they shouldn’t be allowed to compete.

This book really isn’t very good, but, as I said, it does raise some good points.  One that’s very relevant at the moment, with the ongoing issues of a) racism in sport, very much in the news this week following the disgraceful scenes during England’s match in Montenegro, and b) why there are still no openly gay top level male footballers, is the amount of attention which players from any minority group attract, and how they’re expected to be spokespeople for the community concerned.  Hopefully most of that attention is positive and supportive, but many people may neither want nor be able to deal with that.  It would have been better to have heard more about that, and more about Dick/Renee’s personal issues and feelings, and less about all of Dick’s women and Renee’s men, but, hey, the book is what it is.  I wouldn’t spend too much money on it, but, if you happen to stumble across a cheap copy, it might be worth a read.

Victoria (series 3) – ITV 1


Oh dear. This was all very dramatic, and made for entertaining Sunday night TV; but it completely misrepresented the Chartist movement, Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria’s relationship with her half-sister, and even the sort of clothing worn by the little princes. I’m rather annoyed about the portrayal of the peaceful Chartists as a baying mob hammering on the gates of Buckingham Palace. As for Palmerston looking thirty years younger than he was, Feodora being turned into a jealous schemer in scarlet lace and the idea that the viewing public wouldn’t be able to cope with seeing little boys wearing dresses … come on, ITV, give us a break!!  Entertaining, yes; but an accurate portrayal of events and personalities would have been equally entertaining, and a lot less frustrating for historians!

According to this, Victoria resented the fact that her half-sister, Princess Feodora of Leiningen, had left Kensington Palace to get married, Feodora was jealous of Victoria’s position, and Feodora randomly turned up in London in the middle of the 1848 Revolutions, got on everyone’s nerves, and went around wearing scarlet lace dresses. Er, no. Victoria and Feodora got on extremely well, and Feodora, after her marriage, lived out her life at the Schloss Langenburg in Germany. For an accurate portrayal in fiction of their relationship, see the excellent books by Jean Plaidy and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.  Come on, ITV, this is supposed to be a programme about Queen Victoria, not Dallas or Dynasty! Oh, and we’ve also got a fictitious duchess who’s going to have an affair with a footman, but at least that won’t be misrepresenting someone who really existed!

Palmerston would probably be quite flattered at being shown as a raffish man about town in his forties, when he was actually nearly seventy at the time, but it’s hardly very accurate! In the first series, Lord Melbourne was also shown as being a lot younger than he was. Do the scriptwriters have a problem with men past a certain age? The Victorian establishment certainly didn’t: the Duke of Wellington was in charge of dealing with any unrest in London in 1848, and he was getting on for eighty. My first ever encounter with Palmerston was in the context of his nearly dragging Britain into the American Civil War, which would not have been a good idea; but I’ve got quite fond of him since then, because of his support for Greek independence, reform in Central Europe, and Don Pacifico. And there’s certainly an argument that the Crimean War might have been avoided had he been Foreign Secretary in the mid-1850s.

There was certainly controversy over his outspoken support for the 1848 revolutions, but this programme made it look as if he was saying that everyone should go around chopping off monarchs’ heads, whereas he was actually speaking in favour of self-determination. As a sensible, liberal person, he realised that the nation state was, and is, the most successful and effective form of political unit ever known.  Being trapped in “a prison of nations” leads to instability, economic disparity, and an often violent break-up.  And, OK, he might have been fond of the ladies, but there was no need to suggest that he was some sort of pervert and no woman was safe in the same room as him.  Apparently Daisy Goodwin was trying to make him seem like Boris Johnson!  He didn’t seem anything like Boris Johnson, but he didn’t seem very much like Lord Palmerston either.

There were some annoying minor inaccuracies, as well. Someone was surprised that the Duchess of Devonshire had let her footman leave. There was no Duchess of Devonshire in 1848! The Duke wasn’t married, and his mother was long since dead. The first name of Cuffay, the leader of the radical faction of the Chartists wasn’t Samuel; it was William. Uncle Leopold had written to say that he was under threat from the revolutionaries. Seeing as there wasn’t a revolution in Belgium in 1848, I don’t think so. Then there was the thing with the boys’ clothes. Affie, being much too young to have been breeched, and probably Bertie as well, would have been wearing dresses, as little boys did in 1848. Instead, they were shown wearing kilts. In London. Apparently, the scriptwriters thought that viewers would have been confused by seeing boys wearing dresses. What??!! This isn’t a debate about gender identity: it’s a simple matter of what a particular section of the population would have been wearing at the time.

Irritating as that was, what really got to me was the way that the Chartists, who – admittedly apart from the radical wing led by William Cuffay, but their plans for armed insurrection didn’t actually come to anything – were a peaceful movement, looking for reform and certainly not revolution, were shown as an angry mob hammering on the gates of Buckingham Palace and throwing bricks through the Palace windows. And, for added drama, Queen Victoria was shown as going into labour in the middle of it all! (Princess Louise was actually born several weeks before the Chartist mass meeting of 1848, which was nowhere near Buckingham Palace anyway.)

What a load of rubbish! To be fair, the programme did initially stress that Chartism was generally peaceful and sought reform through constitutional means – universal male suffrage (female suffrage, annoyingly, doesn’t seem to have come into it), the secret ballot, equal constituencies, annual Parliaments, the abolition of property qualifications for MPs, and payment for MPs to enable people who actually had to work for a living to sit in Parliament. The first People’s Charter was presented to Parliament in 1838, the year of the great Chartist meeting on Kersal Moor (I had to get that in!), the second in 1842, a year which also saw a series of strikes, especially in Lancashire and Cheshire (had to get that in as well!), and the third in 1848. A large meeting was organised in London, to form a procession, leaving from Kennington Common, to present the Charter to Parliament.

Unfortunately, it was all a bit of a damp squib in the end, not helped by the fact that some of the signatures were fake (some things never change). But it certainly wasn’t violent. Yes, there was some unrest later in the year. I like telling people that the only place in England which actually joined in with the 1848 Revolutions was Ashton-under-Lyne! But that was a fairly minor thing. There was also some talk of an uprising in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and, yes, in London. As happened after the original French Revolution in 1789, the authorities panicked and brought in legislation meant to stop public meetings and supposed plotting, and people were rightly angry about it. But to show radical Chartists attacking Buckingham Palace is completely inaccurate, and I think it was really quite wrong to do that: it gave a completely misleading impression of an organisation which played an important part in the move towards bringing democracy to our country.

I don’t think what happened abroad was portrayed accurately, either. OK, this wasn’t meant to be a documentary on European history, but it made it sound as if it was all about trying to overthrow monarchies. And, yes, Louis Philippe did take refuge in London, but he tried to keep a low profile: he certainly didn’t move into Buckingham Palace! The July Monarchy in France was overthrown, and replaced by the Second Republic. Which only lasted a few years, before the Bonapartists were brought back. Bourbons, republic, Napoleon, Bourbons again, Orleanists, Napoleon’s nephew, another republic … they never seem to be able to make up their minds in France! There were also uprisings in several German states, and in Austria. But not really in Belgium.

Reforms in Denmark and Switzerland. An uprising in Ireland, which wasn’t mentioned – although, to be fair, it wasn’t until later in the year. I’ve been doing some Hungarian history revision recently, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 went on for eighteen and a half months, before being crushed by Austrian and Russian forces. There were also uprisings in Austrian-ruled Northern Italy, Bourbon-ruled Southern Italy, German-ruled Poland, Austrian-ruled Ukrainian Galicia, Moldavia (Moldova) and Wallachia, It’s hard to think of anything comparable. The fall of communism in 1989, maybe. Or the “Arab Spring” might be a better comparison – promising a lot but sadly achieving very little.

And it wasn’t all about upheaval and violence, which was how the programme made it sound. It was liberal. It was the Springtime of Nations: it was about self-determination. To be fair, both Palmerston and Prince Albert were shown expressing some sympathy for the “revolutionaries”, but it still all came across as being about violence and chaos. Not impressed.

Sadly, most of the 1848 Revolutions were crushed. But, in Britain, the campaign for parliamentary reform went on. Now we can all, regardless of socio-economic status or gender, elect MPs. That was supposed to be the answer to everything. Many of the leaders of the 1848 Revolutions admired the British parliamentary system and wanted one like it. And look what a mess the bunch of idiots we’ve got in the House of Commons now are making of everything . But that’s beside the point. The point is that, whilst this was great entertainment, and whilst anything that gets people talking about history is welcome, it was chock-a-block with inaccuracies, and it will have given people unfamiliar with the period completely the wrong impression of what was going on. Black mark, ITV!

I was glued to every second of it, though … .

Some other posts about Queen Victoria 🙂 :

Victoria (series 1)

Queen Victoria’s Letters

Queen Victoria and her tragic family


London: 2000 years of history – Channel 5 (episode 3 – gin and sewage)


There is a vile stench in the House of Commons. It’s so bad that people are having to cover their noses. Meanwhile, the well-being of the working-classes is being completely ignored. I’m talking about 1858, obviously. I wouldn’t normally watch a programme about sewage (!), but, by talking about the railways, the “Great Stink” during the exceptionally hot summer of 1858 and the long overdue introduction of a proper sewerage system for London, this made some very good points about the importance of health and sanitation in history. I really want to write about Edwin Chadwick and James Kay Shuttleworth, and I’m having to make a huge effort to make myself write about London instead! There was also a lot of talk about gin and shopping. Not a hint of politics, and not much talk about economics. This was definitely different.

This episode actually started with the Great Fire of London, and the rebuilding of the city afterwards. This was pretty familiar stuff, but it then moved on to the growing division of London between the wealthy West End and the working-class East End, and how areas that weren’t affected by the fire lost out during the rebuilding; and then, in early Georgian times, grand houses for the well-to-do were built in the Mayfair area. Whilst the ton were living it up, the poor were turning to gin. OK, that’s a ridiculous generalisation – and it’s Channel 5’s, not mine! – but the expression about gin being the quickest road out of [any city you care to name] lasted well into the 19th century, and there was a particular increase in gin consumption in the first half of the 18th century, blamed for an increase in anti-social behaviour, until the Gin Act of 1751 made gin more difficult to obtain.

There followed some discussion of the development of the West End as a shopping area. It was also mentioned that London was full of professional criminals, and the need for security provided the impetus for the building of professional docks. So London was full of drunks and criminals. I’m not saying that: Channel 5 said it 😉 . And then on to the Industrial Revolution. I get extremely excited at any mention of the Industrial Revolution, but most people are familiar, from Bill Sikes drowning in a ditch if nothing else, of the pollution which it created, and of the appalling living conditions associated with it. I want to write about Engels now, but I’m trying hard to stick with London, seeing as that’s what the programme was about!

Then something I’d never really thought about very much – how, in the early days, the government intervened to stop railways from going right into the centre of London. So we have to get off at Euston or wherever, and get the Tube to wherever we want to go. It actually went on the technicalities of railway-building in rather a lot of detail, but, hey, some people probably found that interesting! The point was that the railways were moving out to areas beyond the city centre, meaning that people didn’t have to live close to where they worked.

Finally, the Great Stink, which I thought was probably the most interesting part of the programme. I’m not sure what that says about me! But vast numbers of people had died in a number of cholera outbreaks in the 1830s and 1840s, and it took a while for people to realise that that was because of drinking contaminated water, and not because of “miasma”. Even once doctors had provided clear evidence, the powers that be weren’t very interested. Sewage, slaughterhouse waste and industrial effluent continued to be dumped in or on the banks of the Thames. And nothing was done … until the very hot summer of 1858 created the “Great Stink”, and, with the smell in the House of Commons having become unbearable, a proper sewage system was finally built.

I feel like saying that the lesson from this is that, if we want anything done, we need to stink out the House of Commons! Seriously, though, this programme got from the 1660s to the 1850s without making even one reference to the Glorious Revolution, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Jacobites, the Seven Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Reform Act of 1842 or the Corn Laws. Instead, it talked about gin and sewage. And, do you know what? It was really interesting! Well worth a watch.

Fisherman’s Friends


All right, all right, this isn’t historical, but I’m using the excuse that most of the songs in it are traditional songs.   And everyone knows these songs.  At one point in the film, the eponymous Fisherman’s Friends start singing “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” in a crowded London bar, and all the other people in the bar join in.  What’s more, the scene would have worked just the same had it been set in Dublin or New York or Sydney.  So where do we learn these songs?   I remember being taught some folk songs and music hall songs at primary school.  Presumably not that particular one, as it’s a bit rude – although we always seemed to manage to learn slightly rude versions of some songs (Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay springs to mind) as well as the proper words.  Both my grandfathers were very big on folk songs and music hall songs, as well.   And I do often listen to songs from “the second folk revival”.  I just need to point out that Ewan MacColl was from Lower Broughton 🙂 .  And that “Where have all the flowers gone”, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1960s and by my class at primary school in the 1980s, was based on a Cossack folk song.  I have now got completely and utterly off the point, because this film is about a group singing sea shanties in Cornwall, circa 2009!

Well, it’s sort of historical!   There’s a lot of talk about being the rock and roll of the 1750s.  And a lot of sea shanties, and indeed other folk songs and music hall songs, are about wars, or political events.  Even a lot of nursery rhymes are supposed to be coded references to political events.

It’s essentially a feelgood film, more than anything else, and it really is that.  There are some gorgeous shots in and around Port Isaac.  And there’s a nice story.  Well, two nice stories, intertwined, and both with happy endings.  Three music executives from London go to Port Isaac for a stag weekend.  There are a lot of clichéd but funny jokes about outsiders who do stupid things like parking their cars where they’re likely to get caught by the tide.  They come across the Fisherman’s Friends, a local men’s group who sing Cornish sea shanties in between going fishing and saving the lives of people in trouble at sea.

Two of the executives play a prank on the third by pretending that they want to sign the group. He falls for it, and promises the band a record deal.  By the time he finds out that he’s been had, he’s fallen for the band, the rural lifestyle, and a pretty woman who’s the daughter of one of the singers.  After various problems, and the sad death of one of the band members, the band get their deal, their first release makes the top ten, and our pal gets together with the pretty Cornishwoman, buys the local pub –saving it from closure – and moves to Port Isaac.

It’s really lovely 🙂 .

And the themes are historical, as well as the music. Seriously, they are!   The links between folk music and Cornish patriotism – I could write all day about examples of folk music as an expression of roots, of heritage, of patriotism, of nationalism, of keeping an oppressed culture alive, of resistance against an oppressor, of raising spirits in difficult times … and this is something you find pretty much everywhere in the world.   Then there’s the idea of life in a rural/smalltown idyll being better for you than life in a big city, and that’s very much a 19th century Romantic idea.

I actually get really annoyed when I read things written by patronising well-to-do Southerners (I’m talking 19th century here) who claimed that industrialisation and urbanisation destroyed some sort of Garden of Eden, as if life for everyone in pre-industrial Merrie England (or Merrie anywhere else) was perfect.  It certainly was not!   But, when it’s taking you an hour to crawl two miles through horrendous traffic, or you’re crammed up against the door of a tram with your face in someone’s armpit, or you’re frantically trying to do a dozen things in your dinner hour, looking at your watch every ten seconds as you wait in queues behind other people who are also frantically trying to do a dozen things in their dinner hour, or you’re practically in tears because the repair person says that they’ll be coming “between 12 and 6” and you’re stuck in an office/factory/shop and it’ll take you at least half an hour to get home … yep, the idea of the Romantic Rural Idyll doesn’t half appeal, because we’ve still got it in our heads that it’s the answer!

The story about the music executive and the romance and him buying the pub and moving to Cornwall is fictional, but the Fisherman’s Friends are a real band, and they were “discovered” by BBC DJ Johnnie Walker whilst he was on holiday in Cornwall, in 2009, and he got them a recording contract, and they’ve had a lot of success. They’ve also, sadly, suffered great tragedy, with the death of their manager and one of their singers when they were hit by a heavy steel door which fell whilst they were preparing for a show in 2003, and this film is in part a tribute to those two men.   And they’ve won an award for keeping folk music alive and bringing it to new audiences.  This film is hopefully going to bring their music to an even wider audience, and, with music lessons in schools increasingly being cut and, especially with kids today possibly not having the same chances that we did to learn traditional songs at school, that’s very important.

The Fisherman’s Friends throat lozenges don’t actually come into it, apart from a few puns, incidentally. They remind me of primary school as well.  The headmistress’s husband, who worked in the office, always used to have them.  He was a lovely man, who sadly died young.  Fisherman’s Friend lozenges always remind me of him 🙂 .  They taste bloody awful, though!!

Back to the film – to finish off, this is such a nice film!  I don’t suppose it’s going to win any BAFTAs or Oscars, because films like this usually don’t, but go and see it if you get chance.  And, if you do, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did 🙂 .


A Very British History – BBC 4


This was a four-part series looking into the experiences in 20th century Britain of four different groups of people – “Romany gypsies” in the Home Counties, “Black Brummies”, “the Jews of Leeds”, and “Ugandan Asians” in the East Midlands.    Each programme in the series was presented by a member of the community in question, rather than the BBC pushing its own agendas, and, although there was sometimes a bit too much focus on personal family history rather than broader community history, it generally worked very well.

A BBC-led series would probably have focused largely on prejudice, in a way that attacked the wider community.   This didn’t, although obviously the issue of prejudice and how it was faced did come up.  There were old BBC films (with subtitles where people were speaking in Cockney accents!) of people making negative comments about gypsies.  I’m not entirely comfortable with using the word “gypsies”, because we’re usually told now that it’s offensive, but the presenter said that he was OK with it.  People who’d moved to Birmingham from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s spoke about struggling to get mortgages, and of the abuse suffered by couples in mixed-race relationship.  Jewish people who’d lived in Leeds during the inter-war years talked about being called “Christ killers” at school (the old religious prejudice that’s now largely been replaced by other manifestations of anti-Semitism) and of Oswald Mosley trying to whip up trouble in areas with large Jewish communities.  And we were shown photographs of notices issued by Leicester council, saying that Ugandan Asians shouldn’t move to their city.

But there was overall a fairly positive feeling, with the Jews of Leeds and the Ugandan Asians in particular speaking about their pride in being British. One of the Black Brummies said that he felt that a lot of prejudice was due to ignorance and fear of the unknown; and that’s why programmes like this are important.  I know I’m always harping on about soap operas, but I think it makes such a difference when they include characters from minority groups!  TV can do a lot.  Only the Black Brummies programme said much about the influence of the culture of different groups on British culture in general – music, food, language etc – though, although the Jews of Leeds programme did mention Michael Marks and Montague Burton and their influence on the British fashion industry and British retail in general.  I’d like to have heard more of that, but I suppose you can only fit so much into an hour.

There was a lot of talk about socio-economic issues, and how all four groups had to some extent struggled with poverty. The Ugandan Asians who came to Britain had generally lived affluent lifestyles in Uganda, and then came here and initially had to take what jobs and houses they could get, before improving their situation through hard work.  British Jews have a very diverse cultural heritage, something that’s very rarely discussed on TV; but the family of the man presenting this programme had moved to Leeds from Eastern Europe in the late 19th/early 20th century, which is perhaps typical of the majority of British Jews, coming from very little to very little, and worked their way up the socio-economic ladder from there.  I’d take issue with the historian who said that their main reason for coming here would have been economic opportunity, rather than discrimination and persecution, though.  People from the Caribbean did move to Birmingham in the hope of better economic opportunities, though – and it was interesting to see film of smiling, very smartly-dressed people disembarking from a plane … but, having come here with high hopes, many of them initially found themselves in low-paid jobs and poor accommodation, as the Jews of Leeds had before them.

The Romany gypsies were in a different position, having done the same jobs for years but then being forced to change their way of life as technological change took away many of their traditional jobs on the land, and – an issue that’s also being faced by Bedouins in the Middle East – the authorities increasingly tried to discourage nomadic/travelling lifestyles. Barbara Cartland, who was a councillor in Hertfordshire, spoke out in support of Romany people in the Home Counties, which I never knew!  This was at a time when there were major problems over agreeing on sites where Romany people living in caravans could base themselves.

Government involvement played a big role in the experiences of both Romany gypsies and Ugandan Asians. Quite a lot of the Ugandan Asian programme was about the initial arguments about whether or not Ugandan Asians, expelled from Uganda in 1972, should be allowed to settle in the UK, and the belated organisation of an airlift, followed by the organisation of camps for people to live in until they found homes and jobs.  We saw pictures of noticeboards giving the names of areas in which jobs were available, and were told that the presenter’s family had ended up in Scunthorpe because that was where her dad found a job, and that other relatives had ended up in Leicester.

It was very different from the experiences of the Jews of Leeds and Black Brummies, who’d gravitated to areas where there was work but also, except for the very first to arrive, where there were already established communities. The Windrush Generation were encouraged to come here, “pull factor”, whereas Jews in Leeds had been looking for somewhere to go, “push factor”, but in neither case had the government really got involved in where people went when they got here – which was very different from the experience of the Ugandan Asians.

This issue came up quite recently, over the question of refugees from the civil war in Syria coming to Britain. The idea was that each local council should agree to take a small number of people.  I can see the reasons for that, because large numbers of people, regardless of ethnicity or language or religion or anything else, settling in one area at once is going to put a strain on housing and public services; but it’s not the way that immigration has traditionally worked, in Britain or anywhere else.  It didn’t really work with the Ugandan Asian refugee programme, either, with the vast majority of those concerned eventually ending up in either London or Leicester.

Some of what was said did wander off the point a bit. The programme on the Jews of Leeds got as far as the Second World War and then turned into Who Do You Think You Are, with the presenter visiting Vilnius, where his great-grandmother had come from, and learning that some of her cousins had been amongst the Jews massacred in 1942 in a village, now part of modern Belarus, about 80 miles away.  It was very interesting – I’ve been to the Vilnius Jewish Museum myself, and he was able to speak to an elderly lady who’d been living in the village at the time and remembered what had happened – and of course it was an important story to tell; but the programme was supposed to be about Leeds.   And the programme on Ugandan Asians tackled the issue of whether or not Asians in Uganda might have to some extent brought their expulsion on themselves.  It was brave of the presenter to tackle her own relatives and family friends about their attitudes towards black people, but, again, the programme was supposed to be about people’s experiences in Britain.   The other two programmes did stick more to being what the series title said, with the Romany gypsy programme showing coverage of the Appleby Horse Fair, and the Black Brummies programme discussing all sorts of things from hairstyles to dominoes to language.

Quibbles aside – hey, there are always going to be some quibbles! – , all four programmes were well worth watching, and I’m hoping there’ll be a second series at some point, covering the experiences of other communities.  British Chinese people seem to be very under-represented on TV.  There’s been a lot of immigration from Poland to the UK in recent years, but it’d be interesting to see a programme about Polish immigration to the UK in the aftermath of the Second World War.   There’s a long and varied history of Somali immigration to the UK.   There’ve long been communities with Armenian, Greek or Italian heritage in Manchester and elsewhere.   I’ve just been reading about Hungarian refugees who fled the suppression of the 1956 Uprising.  And, of course, Irish immigration to Britain has had a huge influence on British society.   And that’s to mention just a few groups.

It’s not helpful when organisations omit the word “Easter” from Easter egg hunts, and it’s not helpful when people start shrieking about “cultural appropriation” because a chef has served a dish or a singer has sung a song from a culture to which they don’t have a personal genetic link. However, it is helpful when programmes like these, explaining and celebrating the culture and heritage of the different groups within the British population, are shown.  And it’s also very interesting.  Good series.

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan


I feel as if I’m back in the third year infants, with the teachers complaining that I read too many Enid Blyton books and the other kids thinking I’m weird for always, always choosing reading during “reading and drawing” sessions 🙂 .  This book was quite some nostalgia fest!  I’m just amazed that Lucy Mangan had the discipline to fit her memoir of childhood reading into 336 pages.  I’d want to include so many books, so many observations and so many anecdotes that it’d end up making War and Peace look like a Ladybird book.  How would you even start?  Every time I think about it, names of books come tumbling out of my head so quickly that I can’t even begin to keep up with them.  Did I spend my entire childhood with my nose in a book?  No wonder I was so fat and everyone thought I was odd!   You know how normal people have early childhood holiday photos of themselves frolicking in a pool or on a beach or in the countryside?  There’s one of me, in my Marks & Spencer’s swimming costume, sat on a sunbed, clutching a copy of The Secret Mountain.   It says it all, really. How wonderful to be reminded that, no, actually, it wasn’t just me.  Especially when the author’s a very similar age to me, and a lot of the books we read and loved were the same ones.

I would love to write and write about all the books that were important to me as a kid, but even just writing a list of titles would take hours.   The Chalet School books, all the zillions of different Enid Blyton books, the Little House books, the Sadlers Wells books, the Jinny books, the Noel Streatfeild Gemma books, the Chronicles of Narnia, Nancy Drew, Trebizon, the Little Women books, the What Katy Did books, the Anne of Green Gables books … and those were just my favourite series, before even starting to list all the other series and the one-off books.  I’m very impressed that Lucy managed to choose … well, I won’t say “a few books”, because she actually includes rather a lot, but that she managed to choose at all: I bet she could have included dozens more.

And all the anecdotes. Lucy Mangan includes loads of anecdotes relating to particular books, but how would you choose which ones to put in and which ones to leave out.  I’m sure no-one wants to know about how I used to know all the Noddy books off by heart and would howl with indignation if my tired mum or dad tried to miss a few pages out when reading me my bedtime story, my friend’s mum buying me Jo of the Chalet School, how the same friend and I tried to stick notes on other kids’ backs as was done to Elizabeth Allen in The Naughtiest Girl in the School or the time I reserved Dear Shrink from Whitefield Library and the person who had it out on loan was another friend.  Nor indeed about how narked I was when someone beat me to getting the Ladybird book about Florence Nightingale out of the class library in the third year infants (I’ve got no idea why we had a class library in the third year infants, when we didn’t in any other year at primary school), how I used to nick my big cousin’s Gemma and Carbonel books or how I once insisted on reading The Last Battle whilst the hairdresser was trying to cut my hair.  And definitely not – how’s this for TMI? – about how I threw up all over The Secret of Kilimanjaro on one occasion and Ella at the Wells on another.  I take travel sickness tablets before going anywhere near a plane these days.

But, if I was writing a memoir of my childhood reading, I’d have to put in all these tales, and umpteen more. Fortunately, Lucy does it in a much more interesting and amusing way than I do.  But none of her anecdotes are about having wild adventures, because bookworm kids don’t generally have wild adventures.  We read about them instead!   And that’s much more exciting.  The sort of things that happen in children’s books did not generally happen in 1980s British suburbs.

I did rather hope that Lucy, being of almost exactly the same vintage as me, clearly like-minded, and, although born and bred in London, apparently classing herself as an honorary Lancastrian (as both her parents are from Preston) would have read all the same books as me, and that I’d be shrieking with excitement all the way through this. That was a pretty stupid thing to hope.  For a kick-off, as I’ve already said, a lot of my childhood faves were not even remotely specific to my generation.  And there’s no way that everyone’s going to be into, or indeed even come across, the same books.

It’s strange how kids come across books. It could – in my day – be via bookshops, presents or loans or suggestions from relatives or friends, school libraries, public libraries, recommendations at the back of other books, or the Puffin Club (Lucy isn’t entirely sure whether or not she was a member of the Puffin Club, but I definitely was).  Often it was purely by chance.  I stumbled across a copy of Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School in the primary school library.  I mean, imagine if that hadn’t happened!  OK, there were loads of Chalet School Armadas around then, and I’d have seen one in a shop sooner or later, but … just imagine if I hadn’t.  I go hot and cold just thinking about it 😉 .

The bookshops of my bookwormish childhood! What happened to them all?  There’s only really Waterstones now.  Lucy Mangan mentions Dillons a lot – what happened to Dillons?  Ah, Wikipedia says that it was taken over by Waterstones.  And Sherratt and Hughes: I think they merged with W H Smith.  Then there was Willshaw’s, the bookshop beloved by all Manchester schoolteachers.  I’m sure it only stocked the same books as Sherratt & Hughes and Dillons, but teachers were always telling us to go there.  My primary school headmistress spoke about the place as if it were some sort of temple.  My secondary school gave book tokens as prizes, and the book tokens were always for Willshaw’s.  Good old Willshaw’s!  It’s long gone now 😦 .

We did get recommended reading lists at secondary school, and, being the sort of obsessively minded kid who absolutely has to tick things off on lists, I read practically all the stuff on the one for first years, once I’d started on it. Some of the books on there were great.  I’m so impressed that the teacher included the Sue Barton books.   Others were not.  Yes, OK, I suppose they had to put Alan Garner on there because he was an Old Boy of our brother school, but I really don’t do fantasy novels!   I don’t particularly remember the teachers recommending books when we were at primary school.  Well, apart from The (wretched) Hobbit!  I’m sure they must have done, in between telling me what not to read, but I evidently didn’t take any notice.  I gave up on the secondary school lists fairly quickly as well, and just read what I wanted.   Kids should not be driven mad about what they should and shouldn’t read.  Just be glad that they’re reading!

I’d heard of pretty much all the books Lucy read as a very young child, but, apart from Richard Scarry (and she never even name-checks Huckle the Cat!) and the Mr Men, they hadn’t been part of my life.  No mention of Chicken Licken!  And she says that she didn’t started reading Enid Blyton books until she was about six, so she’d missed the ones meant for the youngest readers.  That’s a shame.  It’s not just Noddy, it’s all the others – the Faraway Tree books, Mr Twiddle and Mr Pink Whistle, the Wishing Chair, et al, and, of course, Amelia Jane.  We had a big armchair in the hall.  I don’t know why, because no-one ever sat in the hall, but we did.  I used to pretend that it was the wishing chair.  Unfortunately, it never sprouted wings.  And I used to drive my dad mad to make up stories about Amelia Jane, because I’d read the canon ones so many times and wanted more.  My mum was also a childhood bookworm, and had read a lot of the same books that I did, but my dad was the champion at making up Amelia Jane stories!   Anyway, getting back to Lucy –  once she got a bit older, now, that was more like it!   Well, more like me, I mean.

OK, not entirely. I don’t think I’ve ever read The Phantom Tollbooth, and, whilst I remember reading Private-Keep Out! and its sequels, I can’t even remember what they were about.  She only mentions the Little House books in passing, never mentions Sadlers Wells, Heidi or Charlotte Sometimes once, doesn’t mention anything by Joan Lingard, and, worst of all, barely even mentions the Chalet School.  But so many of the books she does mention brought back so many memories!   Milly Molly Mandy. My Naughty Little Sister.  The Worst Witch.  The Borrowers.  The Blyton books, obviously.  Little Women.  The Secret Garden.  The Katy books.  The Anne books.   Pony books, even if she doesn’t actually mention Jinny.  Noel Streatfeild books, even if she doesn’t actually mention Gemma. Charlotte’s Web.  The Just Williams.  The Melendy books.   Narnia.

And even the books she wasn’t keen on. I know we’re all supposed to love Roald Dahl, but Fantastic Mr Fox made me cry, and I had nightmares about the Vermicious Knids from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. A lot of Roald Dahl’s books are just nasty!  She did rave about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I’m OK with that, but, in general, she is not keen on Roald Dahl and nor am I.  And neither of us can see the attraction of The Hobbit.  When I was in the third year juniors, the teacher read bits of The Hobbit out to us, and went on and on about how wonderful it was.  No.  I didn’t get it.  I should probably have another go at reading it some time, but I really don’t want to.  I don’t do “high fantasy”, and I don’t do sci-fi.  I can cope with Narnia, but nothing that goes much beyond that.

Am I looking at this the wrong way 🙂 ?  Should I actually have been looking for suggestions of new books to read, rather than squeeing over the fact that a published author of a book about books likes the same books as me?  There are a lot of children’s books that I didn’t read until I was an adult.  I always feel vaguely wrong about describing myself as an adult, even though I’m now over the hill and halfway down the other side; because I still feel like a kid.  And I’m always open to suggestions of new ones.  But I think I was looking for some sort of validation with this.  Hey, it was not just me!  I was not the only kid who would always choose reading if given a choice between reading and drawing during wet playtimes.  I was not the only kid who just wanted to be left in peace to read.  Strangely, kids in books never just get left alone to read.  The aforementioned Eustacia gets into all sorts of trouble for being in the library when she isn’t meant to be.  Kids in books are always off having adventures, or, at least, “joining in”.  The kids who read about them aren’t.

So, yes, I was delighted to find a lot of my own faves in this book. I’m also delighted to be able to say that Lucy’s overwhelmingly positive about them.  In the 1980s, “Girls’ Own” type books were a bit of a no-no amongst teachers; and anything written by Enid Blyton was a definite no-no.  I’m still annoyed about the fact that one of my primary school teachers told my mum and dad to stop me reading so many Enid Blytons.  Couldn’t she just have been pleased that here was a child who actually wanted to read?!   She even said that I wrote like a miniature Enid Blyton.  I wish!   Imagine having all Enid Blyton’s success!   (Anyway, I was way too fat to have been a miniature anything.) And, as Lucy says, a lot of our childhood favourite books are now, even more than they were then, being pulled to pieces for being sexist, racist, snobbish, over-moralistic and so on and so forth.

And, yes, to some extent that criticism’s justified. It’s rather unfair to criticise authors for showing girls taking traditional female roles and boys taking traditional male roles at a time when no-one would have questioned that, or for only showing white characters in an environment where there would only have been white characters, but it’s hard not to cringe when reading Enid Blyton’s comments about “gypsies” or Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s comments about how no-one learns anything much at “village schools”/”council schools”, and Elsie J Oxenham’s insistence that the evil Konrad Abrahams wasn’t intended as a Jewish stereotype doesn’t ring entirely true.  And, again as Lucy says, some of these books don’t stand up well when you re-read them as an adult.  The bullying at Malory Towers and St Clare’s is horrendous.  At the age of six or seven, I used to imagine fondly that, had I gone there, I’d have been best mates with all the in crowd.  An introverted fat kid with a Northern accent?  Best mates with all the in crowd?  Are you having a laugh?  They’d have made mincemeat of me!

But, as Lucy says, you don’t see it like that when you’re a kid, and I don’t believe that anyone turns into a sexist snob because of something that Julian Kirrin said in a Famous Five book, or a racist because of comments made by Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie.  As for all the religious stuff – well, again as Lucy says, you don’t see it when you’re a kid.  I honestly had no idea that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was some sort of religious allegory until everyone started talking about it when the 2005 film came out.  And, when I first read Little Women, I had no idea what “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was.  I think I thought it was some sort of game the March girls played, like Hide and Seek.

Having said which, I can quite see that some of the language and attitudes in older books can be offensive, and I can certainly see the need for more diversity in books. It wasn’t until I was a bit older, and reading books by Judy Blume and Paula Danziger, that I came across non-white characters being part of the main group. And the first openly gay character – as opposed to “coded gay” characters such as Nancy and Kathie in the Chalet School books, or Bill and Clarissa in the Malory Towers books – I came across in a children’s book was probably Nigel, the best friend of Adrian Mole, and those books weren’t written until the 1980s – and aren’t for younger children anyway.  There are disabled children in older books, but they inevitably get miraculously cured – think Clara in the Heidi books, Colin in The Secret Garden, or Naomi in Trials for the Chalet School.  So, yes, there’s certainly a need for more diversity.  But that doesn’t make the older books invalid, or mean that children shouldn’t read them, and I’m very glad that Lucy feels that way too.

Oh, and that awful sinking feeling you get when you first realise that some of your beloved books have been abridged, or updated. Lucy talks about it in terms of the Dimsie books.  I didn’t get any of those until I was older, and knew about the evils of abridgement and modernisation, and I was lucky enough to find second-hand hardbacks going fairly cheaply on Amazon.  But I lived from the age of 8 until the age of 29 in blissful ignorance of the fact that my childhood Chalet School Armadas had had bits of the original text missing out of them.  It was a very hard lesson to learn!

However, owt’s better ‘n nowt, and at least I had the Armadas.  They were widely available in the 1980s.  And Enid Blyton’s school stories were everywhere.  But, even then, you didn’t see Dorita Fairlie Bruce books, or my mum’s childhood favourites, the Elsie J Oxenham Abbey books, in bookshops.  Lucy says that she doesn’t think the popularity of what are generally known as Girls’ Own books will ever return.  I hope she’s wrong.  OK, it won’t be what it was in the ’50s, or even the ’80s, but there are clubs and internet fora and Facebook groups and book dealers … and, yes, some of the members are only in their 20s, and older members try to get their daughters, nieces, granddaughters, great-nieces, young cousins etc into reading the books.  So I live in hope!

And so to secondary school, and books for older children – or, as they’re now called, “Young Adult books”. I hadn’t been at secondary school for long before I also started reading ’80s blockbusters (I said “blockbusters”, not “bonkbusters”!).  Barbara Taylor Bradford.  Maeve Binchy. Half the class was obsessed with Virginia Andrews, but I never really got into her books.  And, of course, historical fiction.  Loads and loads of historical fiction.  But I was still reading children’s books as well.  OK, that included historical fiction too, but, somehow, there never seemed to be that much historical fiction for children.  More of that later, because Lucy talks about it in a footnote. But Lucy got into dystopian fiction.  I didn’t.

But then, hooray, she gets back to my world. Antonia Forest.  I must have started on the Marlow books when I was very young (only the school stories, at that point, because they were reprinted in the ’80s and the others weren’t), because I distinctly remember trying to read The Prince and the Pauper when I was seven, on the grounds that it was adapted by the Marlow twins and their friends for a school play.  It’s not really meant for seven-year-olds: I think I read it again when I was ten.  Lucy raves about the Marlow books.  I can see where she’s coming from, but they don’t hold the place in my heart that the Chalet School books do.

Then “1970s realism” books. I read some of those too.  All I can remember about A Pair of Jesus Boots is that a classmate saw me with it and thought it was some kind of religious thing, but I remember being really keen on K M Peyton’s books about Patrick Pennington … although Lucy doesn’t mention that one.  And Dicey’s Song (1980s rather than 1970s).  Lucy didn’t like that one.  My main recollection of it is that Dicey pretended to be a boy called Danny, because people would’ve fussed if they’d thought a girl was in charge, and had to use the boys’ toilets in order to keep up the pretence.  Why do I remember that?!  And then Sweet Valley High.  Despite being the right age for those, I never read them.  They just never appealed, somehow.

Trebizon did, though.  I was actually going to read a passage from a Trebizon book when everyone in the class had to read a passage from a book of their choice out to the class.  Mum persuaded me that it might not be exactly what the teacher was looking for.  So I chose No Castanets at the Wells instead.  I don’t think that was what the teacher wanted either.  Also, the bell rang in the middle of my reading, and the teacher told me to carry on until I’d finished.  We had PE next, and the PE teacher hit the roof if you were late.  All the other kids were frantically looking at their watches.  I was hideously self-conscious anyway, and having to read out loud at the front of the classroom when you know that everyone else just wants to get out of there would faze even the most confident of kids.  It was a disaster.  Oh well.

At least none of us decided to read from a Judy Blume book. But we all read them. Everyone (I should probably point out that this was an all-girls school) read them.  This was not just me!  Same at Lucy’s school. Everyone read them!

She does mention a few more books, but more interesting for me’s the footnote in which she says how little historical fiction there was for children of our generation. I was a historian from a very early age 🙂 .  I was obsessed with the Ladybird books about historical figures, and I loved books like the Little House series, which, whilst they hadn’t been written as historical fiction, were historical by my time.  But where was all the historical fiction?  I read a book called Through The Fire, set during the Great Fire of London, when I was six, and there was The Children of the New Forest, and there were a few Rosemary Sutcliffs; but not much, for a kid who was so interested in history.  I don’t count Second World War books like Carrie’s War: “historical fiction” means set in 1914 at the latest!

Lucy’s theory is that there just wasn’t much available in the 1980s, and she’s got a point. We “did” The Crown of Violet in the first year of secondary school, but I don’t remember seeing Geoffrey Trease books in shops.  Nor Joan Aiken books.  Very odd.  Oh well, I’ve made up for it since.  Nearly all the books I read now are historical fiction!

She finishes by talking about how books connect people. To the people and the worlds in books.  All the words and phrases you learn from books.  All the life lessons you learn from books.  Not to mention the history that you learn from books!   All the time you spend in the world of books – the times and places that you go to.  The escapism.  The imagination!    Lucy, like me, wasn’t a big fan of fantasy books, but even books set in the real world are actually taking you to different worlds … the worlds of ballet schools, pony riding, and, of course, boarding schools.  And most of them are set in the past.  Very little of my childhood reading was set in the 1980s, or even the 1960s or 1970s.  They were mostly set in the late 19th century, the early 20th century or just after the Second World War.  OK, that’s hardly historical, but boarding schools in the 1950s, especially if they were in Switzerland, were still a world away from a North Manchester suburb in the 1980s.

And they connect you to other readers. I’ve written way too much here, but, if you have ploughed through all this, then the chances are that you’re a fellow bookworm!  Maybe you’re one of the many lovely people whom I’ve met through book clubs and online book groups/fora.  Books – where would we be without them?  Thank you so much to Lucy Mangan for putting so much of what so many of us think and feel about reading into this book, for a glorious nostalgia fest, and for a reminding me that, no, I wasn’t the only person who spent so much of their childhood (I did do a lot of other things too, I should just point out!!) with their nose in a book.