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Grow Bag Gardening by Kevin Espiritu

Goodness, my head is reeling! There is so much information packed into this book.

Author Kevin Espiritu is obviously passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about gardening in general and grow bag gardening in particular, and his enthusiasm shows on every page. It’s only to be expected that the reader absorbs this fervour too, along with all the information.

Anyone, anywhere can do grow bag gardening, whether you only have a balcony or are blessed with a good-sized garden. Grow bag gardening means you can create a small, dedicated environment for a particular plant. If your soil type has hitherto limited what plants you can grow, well, that’s no longer the case. You can create a patch of sandy, well-draining soil in the midst of your heavy clay, or vice versa. You can grow everything from microgreens to a tree in a grow bag. The author gives you the ‘how’ for every scenario. He also throws in the where (indoors and outdoors), when (seasonal or pretty much all year round depending on the plant involved and where it’s being grown), what (everything) and why (too many reasons to list here!) for good measure. And don’t forget the who – everyone can grow-bag garden.

I learnt a truckload, and not just about how to choose or make the ideal grow bag for whatever project is in mind. I’ve been gardening for years but hadn’t come across air-pruning before, nor such detailed guidance concerning creating your own potting mixes and fertilisers. I love to discover new concepts, approaches and ideas and I’m already putting them into practice.
The book is well written in that everything is clearly explained and demonstrated, and the accompanying photographs are relevant and instructive.

It’s without a doubt one of the best gardening books I’ve ever read. And in nearly six decades I’ve read a heck of a lot!

I could go on for days about this book, but you’ll have to excuse me now as I have to go and do some grow bag gardening!

Revolutionary, inspiring, absolutely to recommend.

 

Published by Cool Springs Press. Available from 23 February 2021.

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Let’s Talk About Cats. Conversations On Feline Behaviour by Anita Kelsey

Let’s Talk About Cats: Conversations on Feline Behaviour features 16 unique in-depth conversations with devoted feline experts, each chapter answering a question about our cats. An abundance of catty conversation points which provide many useful takeaways for cat owners to improve their own every-day connection with their cats.

This book, the first of its kind, presents the combined wisdom of experts from all over the world on the psychology, behaviour, diet and training of cats, in a relaxed and conversational style. Contributors include Jackson Galaxy, star of My Cat From Hell, and composer David Teie, whose ground-breaking album, Music for Cats, was released by the Universal Music Group.

Each illuminating chapter exudes a love for cats and a wealth of fascinating insights.

This book is packed with helpful advice, guidance and true stories from the author’s own professional experience of cat care topics, explaining the most important cat concepts, giving food for thought and expanding on all the most important issues and debates in the cat world.

 

My review

This book does exactly what it says on the cover: it talks about cats. It consists of a collection of interviews with a range of experts in the feline field. It’s absolutely fascinating!

It’s a book that will appeal predominantly to cat lovers, but anyone interested in animals in general is sure to find it a rewarding read.

Cats are looked at from all angles – from how similar their behaviour is to that of wild cats, to whether they like music, to how to communicate using both language and telepathy with them, to keeping them happy, well groomed, properly fed and cared for. It’s a positive wealth of information and gives you lots to think about.

Some of the interviewees are every bit as fascinating as the feline subject matter of this book.

I learnt an awful lot from ‘Let’s Talk About Cats’ and I’m sure our six cats, all waifs and strays collected over the years, will benefit from my new knowledge and understanding of these intelligent and complex creatures.

I now have a much better idea what our Treacle (pictured left) is thinking about… Gigi (pictured below), who loves to sit in the dustpan, may, however, be a tougher nut to crack!

Absolutely one to read.

 

 

Purchase Links:

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lets-Talk-About-Cats-Conversations-ebook/dp/B08HKNXBFT

US – https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Talk-About-Cats-Conversations-ebook/dp/B08HKNXBFT

 

If anyone would like the chance to win a free copy of Let’s Talk About Cats plus some fun cat toys from Purrs In Our Hearts and 4Cats then join the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/letstalkaboutcats

There will be 5 fun cat photo competitions posted on 23rd Nov With the entries closing 4th Dec. Rules and how to enter on the page.

Author Bio –

Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita, a strong advocate of a vegan lifestyle, is based in London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza.

Her debut book ‘Claws. Confessions Of A Professional Cat Groomer‘ was published by John Blakes in 2018 and her second book Let’s Talk About Cats, Conversation On Feline Behaviour is due out November 28th 2020.

Visit http://www.catbehaviourist.com.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/catbehaviourist

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cat_behaviourist/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/catbehaviourist/

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Quickie review: Ingredients by George Zaidan

Blurb

Cheese puffs. Coffee. Sunscreen. Vapes. George Zaidan reveals what will kill you, what won’t, and why—explained with high-octane hilarity, hysterical hijinks, and other things that don’t begin with the letter H.

Ingredients offers the perspective of a chemist on the stuff we eat, drink, inhale, and smear on ourselves. Apart from the burning question of whether you should eat that Cheeto, Zaidan explores a range of topics. Here’s a helpful guide:

Stuff in this book:
– How bad is processed food? How sure are we?
– Is sunscreen safe? Should you use it?
– Is coffee good or bad for you?
– What’s your disease horoscope?
– What is that public pool smell made of?
– What happens when you overdose on fentanyl in the sun?
– What do cassava plants and Soviet spies have in common?
– When will you die?

Zaidan, an MIT-trained chemist who cohosted CNBC’s hit Make Me a Millionaire Inventor and wrote and voiced several TED-Ed viral videos, makes chemistry more fun than Hogwarts as he reveals exactly what science can (and can’t) tell us about the packaged ingredients sold to us every day. Sugar, spinach, formaldehyde, cyanide, the ingredients of life and death, and how we know if something is good or bad for us—as well as the genius of aphids and their butts—are all discussed in exquisite detail at breakneck speed.

My review

This book is absolutely fascinating, and written in such an enjoyable way. Think mad professor, eccentric genius, and that’s the author, and I mean that as a massive compliment. He brings such life and fun to a rather serious subject.

We cover a huge variety of ingredients in the three parts of this mine of information. The first part focusses on processed food, plants and microbes. Part Two is intriguingly named ‘how bad is bad’ and weighs up certainty versus uncertainty, and Part Three, Should you eat that Cheese Puff or not, takes a level-headed but joyous look at the alleged evils of many familiar items, edible and otherwise. It finishes with the chapter ‘So what do I do’?’
I’ll tell you what to do – read this book and you’ll come away much better informed and more able to assess for yourself all the food warnings and/or enthusiastic promotions that bombard us practically all the time.
And you’ll know what some of the 950+ chemicals in roasted coffee are.

Writing this review – rather longer after reading the book than intended – has reminded me of exactly how informative and entertaining it was. I’m going to have to read it again now.
I hope we’ll see more from this author.

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Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord

Synopsis

Get ready to learn what really happens behind closed doors.

Landlords have become one of the most hated groups in society. Parasites, they’re often called. And there’s a lot of them. The Treasury estimates there are almost 2.6 million landlords in the UK with around 5.45 million rental properties.

But the real life of a professional landlord is very different from what most people think. From burglaries and break-ins to drug raids, police warrants, crazy tenant antics, bailiffs, squatters, lawsuits, wrecked properties, interfering council officers, game-playing freeholders to moments of heartfelt joy and happiness, the life of a landlord is never dull. Especially when the government keeps moving the goalposts.

This explosive front-line exposé blows the lid off what it’s really like to be a landlord and the shocking reality of renting out a property. Hovering close to a nervous breakdown and likely suffering PTSD, the Secret Landlord exposes truths rarely shared. Stories that will grip you, move you and smack you in the face.

 

My review

As someone who rents out a holiday cottage I had an inkling of what to expect. It came as no surprise to find remarks such as how giving an inch means the tenant then proceeds to take a mile, and how from being a trusting person the author has turned into someone who will only trust people as far as they can throw them!

However, even as a pre-cynicalised landlord I was truly shocked by some of the events that came the author’s way. What seemed the worst was the council’s attitude. Councils need private landlords to help home disadvantaged persons yet seem to delight in making life as difficult as possible for the owners of the properties that they so desperately need. It emerges clearly in this book how much things are actually stacked against landlords: how easy it is for tenants to make unjustified trouble for them through official channels. It’s a true eye-opener. Yes, absolutely tenants need protection too, but responsibilities must be faced on both sides.

The author, who deserves a medal, ploughs her lonely and besieged furrow with determination, energy and, where it can be found, humour. And restraint. If I were to write my similar diary there’d be a whole lot more swearing going on!

It’s a lively, sensitive read, clearly presented without becoming too technical regarding the various legal issues that crop up, and engaging throughout. If you’re a landlord, considering becoming one, or simply fancy a different sort of book for a change then make straight for this one.

 

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parasite-Secret-Diary-Landlord-ebook/dp/B08DTPYVFZ/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Parasite-Secret-Diary-Landlord-ebook/dp/B08DTPYVFZ/

Author bio

The Secret Landlord has been renting, refurbishing and selling properties across the UK for almost two decades. An award winning landlord, as judged by the National Landlords Association, The Secret Landlord has provided accommodation for hundreds of tenants from all walks of life.

Social Media Links –

www.thesecretlandlord.com

@landlord_secret

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Act 3: the art of growing older by Judy Reith and Adrian Reith

We re living longer, in better health, with higher expectations than any generation in human history. With an extra adult chapter to look forward to, what will you do? Who else could you be? How will you evolve the best plan for your life between 50 and 80?

Judy and Adrian Reith have decades of experience in helping people see hidden possibilities, clarify their goals and achieve life-changing results. In Act 3 they suggest practical steps to make your life more fulfilling as you age. From the ground up this book will help you identify and strengthen the four roots you ll need for a happy and successful third act. It illustrates how your attitude, purpose, relationships and values are keystones to a life without regret.

Act 3 gives tools and tips to help you focus on what matters, with chapters on Work, Home, Money, Health, Play, the World and Friends. You ll be inspired by original stories of those who have changed their lives after 50 and be able to re-imagine your future, and so get the life you want . . . at last.

 

My review

The synopsis above gives a very good summary of what the book is about, so all that remains is for me to assure you that this book is very well-written, informative and motivational. I’m in this particular Act of our lives so it’s all extremely relevant, as it will be for anyone who is 50 and upwards.

The tone is upbeat and encouraging. Straddling that 50 mark can be daunting, especially for women when it insists on dragging all the drama of menopause with it. Also around this time, frequently children are teetering on the edge of the nest if they haven’t already jumped, so you really do start to feel that your useful, productive phase is over and it’s going to be downhill all the way from here. Well, as this book joyously and emphatically tells us, the good news is that it isn’t. In fact, it may even prove to be the most rewarding time of your life. With the pressures removed of having to earn a living and putting children and/or other family members first, you can start to blossom, even if it’s unusual for a tree to bloom in autumn! The authors use the image of tree to work through various elements such as managing work, play and home.

Whilst being positive and cheering, the book does touch on the less appealing elements of aging such as death and depression, the former of which is definitely going to crop up at some point and the latter, whilst not quite as inevitable, will usually show its face from time to to time. The authors discuss these negatives in a business-like and reassuring way and then move on to positive coping strategies. The key thing to bring away is their advice of ‘forget regret’ by moving on and making plans to make the best of this most precious of limited resources: life.

Throughout this excellent, affirmative book there are little exercises to do, anecdotes to enjoy, advice to absorb and short summaries to emphasise the important issues raised.

I definitely feel more upbeat and inspired having read it. Like the rest of us, I don’t know how much time I’ve got left, but bring it on! I feel much more empowered now about living it to the full.

About the authors

Judy Reith has been a coach and parenting expert for twenty years. She draws on her professional training in child development, coaching and parent education to help thousands of parents, some of whom are also entering Act 3. She is the author of 7 Secrets of Raising Girls Every Parent Must Know; Be a Great Mum and Transform Living with Teenagers. Adrian Reith ditched a successful career as a writer and director in advertising to help people unscramble their mental spaghetti. Having re-trained as a coach he works with business and organisational leaders and individuals to help them make the most of life and work. He and Judy live together in Cambridge. @Act3Life

 

Buy the book here: www.amazon.co.uk/Act-3-Art-Growing-Older/dp/1783526998

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Frankie: the woman who saved millions from thalidomide by James Essinger and Sandra Koutzenko

Frankie: The Woman Who Saved Millions from Thalidomide

Thalidomide: patented in Germany as a non-toxic cure-all for sleeplessness and morning sickness. A wonder drug with no side-effects.

We know differently now.

Today, thalidomide is a byword for tragedy and drug reform – a sign of what happens when things aren’t done ‘the right way’. But when it was released in the 1950s, it was the best thing since penicillin – something that doctors were encouraged to prescribe to all of their patients. Nobody could anticipate what it actually did: induce sleeping, prevent morning sickness, and drastically harm unborn children.

But, whilst thalidomide rampaged and ravaged throughout most of the West, it never reached the United States. It landed on the desk of Dr Frances Kelsey, and there it stayed as she battled hierarchy, patriarchy, and the Establishment in an effort to prove that it was dangerous. Frankie is her story.

 

My review

This book will astonish you – and for many reasons.

What makes a particularly strong impression is the powerful yet non-sensational style in which it’s been written. It’s that very fact that makes the book more impactful. There are interviews with adults who were affected devastatingly in vitro by thalidomide, a detailed depiction of the general background to the thalidomide scandal as a whole – the way drug trials were conducted, the god-like status granted to doctors and the powerlessness of most women at the time – and a study and assessment of the long-term impact of the whole affair. The authors have clearly conducted a lot of research and used it to produce an informative, shocking and compelling book.

Frankie, the central figure of the book, emerges from this background as the book proceeds. She’s the lone voice in the wilderness for a long time, actively pressured by the drug company to stop holding things up. Her power, emanating from her position in the FDA and her unstinting devotion to doing what was the right thing, contrasts sharply with the role women generally played in the period, as mentioned earlier. She’s one of the pioneers in demonstrating that women are up to doing any task. Her courage and stance saved up to a million babies around the world from the destructive impact of thalidomide.

Dr Frances Kelsey’s story is inspiring and positive. It shows what one person can achieve, and that’s an important lesson to take out of the book. Stand up and be counted.

 

Purchase Links

https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/frankie/9780750991919/

https://www.amazon.com/Frankie-Woman-Saved-Millions-Thalidomide-ebook/dp/B07PQV547Y

Author Bio –

JAMES ESSINGER is the author of non-fiction books that focus on STEM subjects and personalities, including Charles and Ada (The History Press) and Ada’s Algorithm (Gibson Square), the latter of which has been optioned for a film. He lives in Canterbury.

 

 

SANDRA KOUTZENKO is a bilingual writer whose work spans a variety of categories and topics, ranging from French poetry to English non-fiction, focusing on human nature and the conflict between its potential for greatness and its propensity for destruction.

 

Social Media Links –

Twitter @TheHistoryPress

Instagram @TheHistoryPressUK

https://www.facebook.com/james.essinger  

https://twitter.com/jamesessinger

 

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‘Devon and Hell: Four Seasons by the Sea’ by Karen Wheeler: disasters, triumphs and an indomitable spirit

Blurb

One woman, one dog and a disastrous move to Devon. Throw in an estranged mother who has just been diagnosed with dementia and the result is a brilliantly written comic memoir with more ups and downs than the South West Coastal Path.

This is not your usual tale of ‘I moved to a chocolate-box cottage by the sea and lived happily ever after’. Instead, it is a powerful and gripping story of relocation – and a maternal relationship – gone wrong.

Ultimately this is an uplifting, feel-good story as Karen triumphs over adversity and finds new peace following the death of her mother.

 

My review

I’m a sucker for books with witty titles, and for ones by this wonderful author, so how could I resist Devon and Hell.

In this memoir Karen Wheeler leaves France behind after living there for eight years and buys the idyllic sounding Plum Tree Cottage on the Devon coast. Unfortunately, she discovers that there’s more to the cottage than meets the eye – lots of little eyes glistening in the darkness. Thus begins a difficult time when instead of moving in and making her new home, she has to tackle lawyers and various trade professionals to sort out the potential problem.

While she’s doing so, there’s more bad news. Her difficult mother, with whom the author has never had an easy relationship, becomes seriously mentally ill. Together with her brothers they deal with the wide-spreading fall-out of this.

Poor Karen begins to feel that the cottage is unlucky and one or two happenings seem to confirm that it is. However, she determinedly continues her work on it, and dealing with her mother, until momentous events bring her closure on her unhappy childhood and new hope for her future.

What you take away from this book is Karen Wheeler’s indomitable spirit. She never gives up, even when right up against the ropes. She retains a sense of humour and a pragmatic approach. She details her experiences in an enjoyable, accessible, honest way, able to present her own foibles as well as her many strengths.

She recreates the beautiful scenery of Devon in wonderful detail, making us feel like we’re walking along the sandy beaches with her.

It’s challenging in that we accompany the author through a difficult time of her life but we learn to respect and admire her, and rejoice that so much that’s positive emerges.

 

Author Bio

Karen Wheeler is a former journalist and national newspaper fashion editor who has successfully published five comic travel memoirs about her life in France, starting with Tout Sweet: Hanging up my High Heels for a New Life in France, which made it to #1 in Amazon’s travel writing book chart.

She wrote for the Financial Times for over fifteen years and is a former fashion editor of the Mail on Sunday. She studied Modern History at Kings College, London University and worked briefly at Sotheby’s art auctioneers before embarking on a career in fashion journalism.

During her career she has interviewed many of fashion’s top names including Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein. Her work has also appeared frequently in Vogue Japan, You magazine, the Daily Mail and Sunday Times Style.

Originally hailing from the north of England, Karen is one of the many ex-pats now returning to the UK – as she points out the food is much better here. She has run holiday cottages, knows the Farrow and Ball colour chart inside out, never turns down a glass of pink champagne and lives near Budleigh Salterton in East Devon with her boyfriend and her dog Biff.

You can read more about her life at www.toutsweet.net – the blog she started while living in rural France; and follow her on Twitter at @mimipompom1

 

Devon and Hell will appeal to fans of Eleanor Oliphant, as well as the armchair renovators who enjoy watching Grand Designs, Homes by the? Sea and Amazing Spaces and to the large number of Brits who are moving to the coast or taking ‘staycations’ in the UK. Devon and Hell is set in Lympstone, an aspirational and newly fashionable area of Devon, which was recently shortlisted in Penelope Keith’s C4 series, Britain’s Best Villages: Village of the Year 2017 and recently saw ?the opening of Lympstone Manor, by Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines.

 

Devon and Hell: Four Seasons by the Sea will be released in e-book format on 28th October 2019, £9.99, by Sweet Pea Publishing. The print version will be published in October 2020.

Purchase Link


 

 

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Charles and Ada by James Essinger

Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership

The partnership of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace was one that would change science forever.

 

They were an unlikely pair – one the professor son of a banker, the other the only child of an acclaimed poet and a social-reforming mathematician – but perhaps that is why their work is so revolutionary.

 

They were the pioneers of computer science, creating plans for what could have been the first computer. They each saw things the other did not; it may have been Charles who designed the machines, but it was Ada who could see their potential.

 

But what were they like? And how did they work together? Using previously unpublished correspondence between them , Charles and Ada explores the relationship between two remarkable people who shared dreams far ahead of their time.

 

My review

I’ve only recently discovered this talented author so it’s a real pleasure to review another of his books.

Most people have probably heard of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in relation to computing but perhaps don’t know about their collaboration. Both are fascinating, gifted people, and in Ada’s case definitely flamboyant, so writing about these two innovators is a huge undertaking. However, James Essinger is easily up to the task. He gives an engrossing insight into their lives, how their paths crossed, how their interests coincided, and how and why they formed such a ground-breaking partnership.

The author has done an immense amount of research which, coupled with his obvious admiration of and enthusiasm about Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, makes for a captivating read.

 

Purchase Links

Author bio

James Essinger was born in Leicester in 1957 and has lived in Canterbury in Kent since 1986. He was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, Leicester, and at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read English Language and Literature. He spent much of his time between 1981 and 1983 teaching English in Finland before working in public relations in London and then in Canterbury. Since 1988, James has been a professional writer.

His non-fiction books include Jacquard’s Web (2004), Ada’s Algorithm (2013), which is to be filmed by Monumental Pictures, and Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership (2019) His novels include The Mating Game (2016) with Jovanka Houska, the film rights of which have been optioned, Rollercoaster (2019) and The Ada Lovelace Project (forthcoming in 2020).

Social Media Links – https://www.facebook.com/james.essinger  

https://twitter.com/jamesessinger

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Writing Fiction by James Essinger: stimulating and thorough

Writing Fiction – a user-friendly guide

‘Writing Fiction is a little pot of gold… Screenplay by Syd Field for film, Writing Fiction by James Essinger for fiction. It’s that simple.’

William Osborne, novelist and screenwriter

Writing Fiction – a user-friendly guide is a must-read if you want to write stories to a professional standard.

It draws on the author’s more than thirty years of experience as a professional writer, and on the work and ideas of writers including:

  • Anthony Burgess
  • Joseph Conrad
  • George Eliot
  • Ken Follett
  • Frederick Forsyth
  • Dan Harmon
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • David Lodge
  • Norman Mailer
  • John Milton
  • Ben Parker
  • K. Rowling
  • William Shakespeare
  • Martin Cruz Smith
  • R.R. Tolkien

 

The twenty-four chapters cover every important matter you need to know about, including: devising a compelling story, creating and developing characters, plotting, ‘plants’, backstory, suspense, dialogue, ‘show’ and ‘tell’, and how to make your novel more real than reality.

Also featuring special guest advice from legendary screenwriter Bob Gale, who wrote the three immortal Back to the Future movies (1985, 1989 and 1990), and novelist and screenwriter William Osborne, whose many screen credits include the co-writing of the blockbuster Twins (1988), this highly entertaining book gives you all the advice and practical guidance you need to make your dream of becoming a published fiction writer come true.

 

My review

This is a very positive, stimulating book for anyone who loves to write, even if they’re still only in the dreaming stage.

The author takes us through all the aspects of writing that we need to know about – everything from what fiction actually is, to how to create rounded characters, show versus tell, devising an interesting story line and so on. If you can think of something you want to know about, then you can be sure of finding it dealt with in this book.

The author refers to fifteen famous writers, from Shakespeare to J K Rowling, and not just novelists but also dramatists and screenwriters, to illustrate the points he’s making and to act as inspiration. James Essinger is an established author himself and he’s really speaking from the heart and genuinely sharing his mastery of the craft of writing with us.

The style is modest, lively and witty. He hooks the reader’s interest from the very start and keeps your attention all the way through. There’s a very useful summing-up section and some enlightening appendices. This book a breath of fresh and very informative air in its genre.

Purchase Links



Author Bio –

James Essinger has been a professional writer since 1988. His non-fiction books include Jacquard’s Web (2004), Ada’s Algorithm (2013), which is to be filmed by Monumental Pictures, and Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership (2019). His novels include The Mating Game (2016) and The Ada Lovelace Project (2019).

Social Media Links – https://www.facebook.com/james.essinger  

https://twitter.com/jamesessinger

 

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The Last Landlady by Laura Thompson: a serving of social commentary, history and memoir to be lingered over

Summary

Award-winning biographer Laura Thompson pays homage to the English pub through the remarkable story of her grandmother, the first woman in England to be given a publican’s licence in her own name

Laura Thompson’s grandmother Violet was one of the great landladies. Born in a London pub, she became the first woman to be given a publican’s licence in her own name and, just as pubs defined her life, she seemed in many ways to embody their essence. Laura spent part of her childhood in Violet’s Home Counties establishment, mesmerised by her gift for cultivating the mix of cosiness and glamour that defined the pub’s atmosphere, making it a unique reflection of the national character. Her memories of this time are just as intoxicating: beer and ash on the carpets in the morning, the deepening rhythms of mirth at night, the magical brightness of glass behind the bar… Through them Laura traces the story of the English pub, asking why it has occupied such a treasured position in our culture. But even Violet, as she grew older, recognised that places like hers were a dying breed, and Laura also considers the precarious future they face. Part memoir, part social history, part elegy, The Last Landlady pays tribute to an extraordinary woman and the world she epitomised.

 

My review

This book is a beguiling mix of social commentary, history and memoir. The figure of the author’s landlady grandmother provides the central figure around whom the gentle decline of the English pub in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The book begins with the landlady, Violet, and pubs in their heyday. Pubs were busy, welcoming, friendly places. As a child during that era I went to pubs with my parents and had lemonade and a pack of pork scratchings and happily soaked up the noise and smoke of my surroundings. As a teen I was in clubs and organisations that met in pubs, and the same as a student. Back home on Christmas Eves back home we’d all pack into a pub for a drink to mark the occasion.

During this time our landlady in the book struggled to get a grip with decimal money and dreadfully undercharged her customers, which is both touching and generous. She is somehow an emblem of timelessness, of continuity and dependence in a changing world.

Because it was changing. The large pub chains barged in and started doing food. When I was in my twenties on Friday lunchtime the whole office I worked in, and everyone else’s, went to the pub. Pubs now did ploughman’s lunches and other basic food. Some, anyway. Our landlady resisted the change for as long as she could, as did many others. Pubs were there for drinks, not food. Things slowly morphed into pubs becoming pretty much restaurants with a bar attached. I remember feeling quite sad at how our local pubs at home changed with this development. The atmosphere was different. From not going too far wrong with serving a drink, suddenly the proprietors had more to worry about. Would people complain about the food, the service, the length of time it took to cook it, the décor? An air of subservience emerged that these days has run riot with endless feedback and over-entitlement on the part of consumers.

We see our landlady slowly diminishing, yet never losing her dignity, along with the pub but she fights it all the way. She’s a fascinating figure, who eventually accepts that times are changing and so moves grudgingly but gracefully with them.

I enjoyed this book not just because of the superb writing and interesting subject, but also because I’ve witnessed this sanitising, character-destroying evolution of the pub. This book brings back lovely memories of a more honest, down-to-earth times, of genuineness, which the landlady personifies. It’s a wonderful read.     

The author

Laura Thompson won the Somerset Maugham award with her first book, The Dogs , and wrote two books about horse racing while living in Newmarket. Her biographical study of Nancy Mitford, Life in a Cold Climate, appeared in 2003 (re-issued 2015) and was followed by a major biography of Agatha Christie. A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan was published in 2014, and 2015’s Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters was recently sold to television. She lives in Richmond.