Thursday, 28 April 2016


My friend the Upstartwren has got me thinking again as she blogged recently about books and mental health. I found myself nodding along to a lot of the points that she made, especially about self-help books being big business. From my former life in retail I can say that it isn’t just mental health that is big business however – it is all forms of health and diet.  All you have to do is look in a book shop each and every January with the plethora of “New Year, New You” displays.

Mindfulness is the buzz word at the moment, along with colouring for grownups.  I can’t really comment on either of these as I’ve not tried them therapeutically, I will confess to being quite happy siting down and stealing borrowing my nephew’s colouring pens!

I very much like the idea of the teen “Shelf-Help” promotion that I think the Upstartwren was referring to.  My first port of call for information about anything is generally a book, and I like the mix of fiction and non-fiction books that are recommended for all manner of issues that might be bothering a person – and I don’t think that this list should be limited to just young people, the titles are relevant for all ages. 

I do hope that the books are discretely marked rather than in-your-face-front-and-centre. If you are feeling delicate in anyway then announcing this as you browse the books might not be ideal.
(The library where I work has had the adult books on prescription scheme running for a while and with these people can come in and ask for the book or just come across them on the shelf, they also have a longer loan period than other books.)

Think about these promotions then lead me, like the Upstartwren, to think about how I use books as a form of personal self-help…

When I feel poorly I tend to turn to books I know well, old friends, they are often books from the Girls Own genre published before 1960, they are very much of their time, and pure escapism but I find them comforting.

When I am on holiday, and relaxed, I am far more experimental with my reading. I’ll try lots of new things, and from all sorts of genres.

However there are books that I know however many times I read them they will make me cry and there are always times when this is cathartic. There are other books that will cheer me up regardless of how many times I read them. Unlike the Upstartwren I haven’t yet found a poetry book that has spoken to me on the same level as prose.

However the main way that I use books as self-help is by always having one to hand.

The times I am most miserable are when I am trapped with nothing to read. The worst punishment as a child was not being sent to my room but having to sit in a quiet room with all my books taken away from me. Without a book to read I become quite twitchy:  when we travel I always have an eBook, a physical book, and eBook apps on my phone/iPod to hand. Anyone who travels with me trembles when I announce I’ve finished my book.

Hmm reading this, and looking at self-help books, I think I diagnose myself as an addict – I’ll just go and find a book to help me!

I didn’t mean to end this on a flippant note, I know I am very lucky that I haven’t needed any of the books prescribed for anything more than curiosity but knowing that should I need them there are titles out there is very comforting to me.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Failure really wasn't an option

Space Lectures' Spring 2016 Event: General Tom Stafford.

Months and months ago the brilliant Space Lectures team in Pontefract announced that their guest in April 2016 would be a moon walker. In the autumn it was revealed that the guest was in fact Gene Cernan - the last man to have walked on the moon.  Mr Norfolkbookworm and I had booked seats long before the name was announced and were looking forward to our next trip up north.

On the Wednesday before the event I checked twitter on my lunch break to read that Captain Cernan was unwell and unable to travel.  One tweet later I saw that the team had managed the incredible...

With just 2 days before the first event they had secured another Gemini/Apollo era astronaut to travel from the USA to talk to us - General Tom Stafford.  These gentlemen are all in their eighties at least so this was incredible reading.

If I am brutally honest I was more excited to meet/hear General Stafford that I was Captain Cernan. There is a new film out all about the latter and after previous visits to the Kennedy Space Center where he was prominently featured on lots of the films I felt I knew more about him but General Stafford was more of an unknown.

When we got to Pontefract we heard that the woes with this event had continued as Stafford's plane had been delayed due to bad weather and he's made the Friday event with only an hour or so to spare. shades of Apollo 13 or what?

The compere (one day I will catch his name!) explained this, read a message from Capt. Cernan and then explained the format of the event.  We were going to see a film about Gen. Stafford's career, he'd talk for a little while, there would be a break, a raffle, an auction and then a q&a before the signing session.

Again it didn't quite go that way but this time very much in our favour. We watched the film and then Gen. Stafford talked about his four missions and subsequent career for an hour and forty spellbinding minutes!

Much to Mr Norfolkbookworm's delight much of the talk covered the often over looked Gemini program with much emphasis on how important these flights were. Having read a lot about the manned space program from this era I have come to appreciate this but it was nice to hear Gen. Stafford admit that without these flights (and all that was learnt on them) there is no way that the Apollo missions would have succeeded, especially within the time frame laid down by President Kennedy.

After the insights into Gemini 6A and 9A we then heard about Apollo 10 - the flight that did everything Apollo 11 did *except* land on the moon. Interestingly he didn't seem at all bothered that he wasn't a moon-walker, I wonder if the thrill of flying and testing new things was enough?

Gen. Stafford also flew on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, this was another overlooked mission that saw the Soviets and the Americans meet, dock and visit each others spaceships while on orbit.  Again this is a mission that fascinates me, not least because I have had the chance to meet Stafford's opposite Alexei Leonov.

Unlike many of the early astronauts Gen. Stafford continued his military and NASA career after leaving the astronaut corps and his subsequent postings remind you that the early space pioneers really were military men. I did find it interesting to hear about this side of Stafford and it reminded me that the space program only came about because of the Cold War.

It wasn't all serious stuff however, Stafford has a wicked sense of humour, and wasn't afraid to show it even when well behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s.  I'm not sure I'd have the courage even now to set off fireworks anywhere near the UK police let alone the Soviet ones, 4th of July or not!

You got the feeling that given half a chance General Stafford would have talked quite happily for another hour or two and to be honest I'd have sat there rapt. I think the thing I will remember the most from this talk is Stafford's humour, self-deprecation and his obvious deep friendship with Alexei Leonov - all delivered in Oklahomski!

After the talk over ran it was decided to skip the q&a in favour of starting the signing, I was a little disappointed as I had two questions I would have liked to ask but I'd not have cut his talk short just to ask them!

There was still a raffle and I won a new book - oral histories from all sorts of people involved in the space program - and General Stafford kindly signed both a copy of his autobiography for us and my rocket.

I say this every time we go to a Space Lectures event but this really was the best yet and I feel really lucky that the team managed the impossible and got a true legend to come at such short notice but as this event finished with this clip from the International Space Station all I can do is look forward to the autumn with growing excitement!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Graphically speaking

Graphic Novels / Travel Writing from Guy Delisle

While I am renowned for reading anything and everything (cereal packets if there are no books) I don't often read graphic novels.  Superheroes leave me cold and have done since I was a child and never moved on from Super Ted and Banana Man so I have tended to avoid this area in bookshops and libraries as I perceive them to be full of this sort of story.

There have been exceptions, I enjoyed the historical and allegorical Maus books and was fascinated by Peresopolis for instance and so when Guy Delisle's books came up as suggestions on Goodreads I thought they might appeal to me.

So far I've raced though Burma Chronicles, Jerusalem, Pyongyang and I have just started Shenzen. They are a mix of autobiography, travelogue and cultural guide to some of the most interesting or restrictive places on the planet.

In some of the books Guy is alone and travelling as part of his job as a animator and in others he accompanies his wife, who works for Medicins Sans Frontieres, on her postings. All of the books give you some insight into the counties visited but personally I prefer the ones where Guy is with his family and trying to adjust to both a non traditional role (he is a house husband) and life in strange surroundings.

The illustrations are deceptively simple but convey so much, Guy manages to tell all sides of the story where he can and it does seem that he tries to get behind the public facade of the places he lives - perhaps it is being a Canadian (who is married to a French woman) that allows him to be both an objective observer as well as expressing his own opinions in a non-confrontational way.

The books I've read so far have all been translated from the original French but whether it is the style of the books or the quality of the translation I'd never have known. (I would credit the translator of them all as being Helge Dascher but I have returned some of the books to the library already and as is so often the case the translator is not credited on Wikipedia or Amazon for quick reference.)

I'm still not sure that I'm ever going to love graphic novels as genre as a whole but I will keep trying them as just occasionally I am going to hit gold like I did with these! If anyone can suggest more books like these I'd be grateful.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Fourteen

Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London. March 2013.

This was my final trip to this season at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre and Rebecca and I were introducing the venue to the Upstart Wren, after such a great season I was nervous that my luck couldn't hold and I hate to say I was right, but...

To be honest many of the problems I (and the others) had with this play could be put down to the script.  Although classed as a 'Late Play' it is so mad and contains so many aspects of other great plays that I wonder if it was in fact a very early play before Mr Shakespeare learned that less is more... There are girls dressed as boys, mistaken tokens, drugs that mimic death and that is before we even get to lines that are certainly recycled.
I knew it was a crazy play - let's face it, any play that needs Jupiter to descend from the ceiling to sort out the mess gets you wondering what the author was smoking - and I hoped that the Globe venue would really play on this.

Sadly what we got was a really anodyne production, it all seemed to be stuck in one gear and never took off.

The truly creepy scene was played so flat that people were laughing - and we're not talking "I feel really uncomfortable so I giggled." The scene could have been played for laughs but it wasn't here and so I found it very odd indeed.
The truly bizarre unraveling of the plot at the end was greeted by gales of laughter too - it was funny but by this time we were all looking for *any* emotional release that it got far more laughs than it deserved (and often ahead of the text).

Unlike the rest of the season the theatre also felt very close and uncomfortable - I hope that the Upstart Wren will try the venue again as this season I have seen 3 outstanding plays, and one very good one in the Playhouse and this was a disappointment.  I'm pleased that I had the chance to see this play but I wish that The Tempest  had been my final show of the Dominic Dromgoole era.