Sunday, 5 May 2019


A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella - James Joyce

UmbrellaUmbrella by Will Self
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to say about this. It takes your breath away and twists your brain, delights, frustrates, amazes and baffles in pretty equal measure. But you soon get into an easy rhythm of not letting anything, any of the abundant details, get too distracting, of simply absorbing the text, absorbing the tale, soaking up the story until you realise you're in another world and the world is very much like your own but at the same time, totally different. Reading this book is a bit like having a dream: you know it's not real but it still feels real and you react as if everything was real. Writing my own book about the Great War I was so immersed in some of the research I did that it sometimes leeched into my dreams, with facts and images reflected in the sort of distorting mirrors you used to get at fairs. Umbrella is in some ways like one of those dreams, the machine-gun Stanley Death operates is "their new love – Vicky. Death and his section were taught to dash forward when the whistle blew, release the ratchet that secured her front legs so they could be swung open and then fixed by tightening it again. Sitting there, as Death, Stanley removed the pins from her raven hair, and the Number Two ran up and placed her body on top of her legs, her body – her death-dealing body, her 28-pound body"; with Vicky Stanley Death is "raining down death on a Daimler he cannot see but which he is busily disassembling, his bullets methodically shearing off one mudguard, then the next, drilling out the spokes from the wheels, unbolting those wheels from their axles, hammering the chassis into scrap, and finally pulverising its engine into all its component parts". In a way it's all Craig Raine's Martian and his postcards home, but what a Martian. What a series of successive observations of war, time, memory, family, mental illness, society. Umbrella isn't billed as a war book because it's so much more than that. But it is a war book and as good a book about the Great War as has probably been written.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Get Your Kids to Eat Anything

Yes, anything. Well, not exactly anything. But stuff you want them to eat, stuff that's good for them, stuff that does them good.

That's the premiss of this excellent book from Emily Leary and that's what it (she) promises. Follow the 5-Phase Programme set out by Emily in this new book and mealtimes will ultimately cease to be battlegrounds and instead become a haven of healthy options where 'new is the new norm.'

In spite of having regular, round-the-table, family meals and trying my best to vary the menu, I've begun to find my children expressing some frustrating preferences. We've always gone for a 'try it first' approach and kept our part of the bargain. After all, that's given us a table of avid olive eaters (I'm sure they thought they were grapes at first) along with other exotica so it can't be classed a total failure.

But stuff they liked, stuff I cooked and stuff that was good for them has begun to be rejected. Broccoli, for instance. Now I know it's not everyone's cup-of-tea (President George Bush Snr being just one) but it was a quick and simple, healthy vegetable accompaniment to almost anything. One I could rely on. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I did (rely on it, that is) too often.

So Emily's book has arrived at a good time and we're about to embark on the five-phase programme and get our kids to 'Eat Anything'.

Well, almost anything.

I don't think they'll be asking for broccoli anytime soon, but who knows?

Watch this space!

Monday, 22 April 2019

How now, brown cow?

Some time ago I wrote an article for the literary magazine Boundless. It was about accents, dialect, vernacular and speech. It still is And it's been published today.

So why dunt thee 'ave a neb?

Monday, 1 April 2019

A Thousand Blended Notes

Some poems for the start of April, read by Robin Holmes. Holmes - who was an announcer on BBC Radio 3 for many years - used to select and recite a small group of seasonal poems each month and they were broadcast to fill the off five-minutes air-time:during the interval of a concert, say (now they just play a CD).

I wrote to the BBC a few years ago to see if they still had the tapes. They haven't. They were wiped. But then I found a couple lurking on recordings I'd made on cassette off-air of concerts I was in. (I used to sing with the Liverpool Phil.)

Here's one of them.

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