The rest of February and all of March

Another blog (following January and a bit of February) about my latest favourite listen, book, play and walk.


Bookclub: Judith Kerr - When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit


Judith Kerr was, unsurprisingly, completely delightful on Radio 4's Bookclub. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is based on her own family's flight from Nazi Germany and the time they spent travelling around Europe as refugees. In response to James Naughtie's observation that she's still writing (and drawing - her favourite) in her nineties, Kerr replies, "Oh I don't know, everybody does everything in their nineties now, I think". At this point in the programme I decided for absolute certain, that I want to be Judith Kerr. Perhaps in 60-odd years I'll have cracked it...

You can read James Naughtie's blog about this particular Bookclub here if you aren't able to listen and he's also picked out his favourites from over 200 editions. There are some real gems amongst them, from Donna Tartt to Maya Angelou.


Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

OK, this is a bit of a cheat because I think I read it in January, but it's brilliant and I don't know why I didn't include it last time. It's a collection of letters the author wrote to her sister while working as a nanny to LRB editor Mary Kay Wilmers' sons in Camden in the 1980s, surrounded by all sorts of famous literary folk, most notably Alan Bennett, who mends bicycles and regularly joins the family for dinner, often bearing a salad or rice pudding. The dialogue is wonderful and the recipes she includes are extraordinarily eighties, involving tinned fruit and a lot of turkey mince. I hardly ever even email my sister, let alone write her incredibly witty letters. I'm on the verge of buying myself a fountain pen in the hope it will spur me on to greater things. Like almost all the best books, this one was recommended to me by Sarah of The Book Barge. I urge you to read it, you will laugh a lot.


All My Sons by Arthur Miller - Birmingham Rep

I loved Michael Buffong's production with the Black-led Talawa theatre company. I studied Death of a Salesman for A level, and the experience didn't exactly instill me with a life long love of Arthur Miller, but this production of All My Sons was wonderful. The play is beautifully staged amongst tall, leafy trees on the front porch of a clapboard house (I'm a sucker for a nice set) and begins with Kate (Doña Croll) grieving over the death of her pilot son in the war, while romance blossoms between his fiance, Ann (Kemi-Bo Jacobs), and younger brother Chris (Leemore Marrett Jr). The plot takes a much darker turn as the father, Joe (Ray Shell), a small factory owner, is forced to face up to his responsibility for the deaths of 14 airmen who flew the faulty aeroplanes he sold in an attempt to protect his business. The end scene is incredibly intense, as the family is shattered and Joe has to confront his own selfish greed, realising that the lost pilots are "all my sons".


Hartington to Beresfordale (and back again)

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This is one of my very favourite Peak District ambles. It's not very far and invariably involves shopping for cheese or a nice lunch. Last month it was the latter; we walked here for our annual Mother's Day jaunt.  Usually we'd take a picnic to eat by the river but the forecast was so dreadful we opted for the Charles Cotton Hotel in Hartington instead (delicious), with Gladys (labrador, not to be repeated, she only calmed down when I sneaked my lamb bone to her under the table). We used to go camping in Beresfordale with lots of friends and our mums when I was little and this walk was a regular feature. I once complained of a headache when we'd hardly set off and was driven to Hartington by car instead (wimp). When we arrived mum bought me a Magnum which caused ructions because the others had only been allowed lemon ice lollies. I grandly promised that when my first book was published I'd buy everyone a Magnum to make up for it - campers, I owe you.

January (and a little bit of February).

I spend most of my working day with Radio 4 playing in the background. I don't always listen properly, but there are very few things which will actually make me get up and turn it off (ahem-round-Britain-quiz-cough) and there are occasionally programmes so good they root me to the spot, unmoving until they finish). I thought I might write each month about my favourite listen and then decided to add in other recommendations too, so it's become a sort of monthly round-up. Having left it til mid-February, this is a bit of a cheat too. I'll get better.


With Great Pleasure: Sanjeev Bhaskar

I love this series, a sort of Desert Island Discs for the book lover, and this programme with Sanjeev Bhaskar of Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at no. 42 fame (42 because he's a big Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fan, I discovered while listening!) is one of the best. You should listen just to hear Adrian Lester read the line "and we're going to need your creativity or we're done for", it will send shivers down your spine. Claire Benedict also does a fantastic reading of Kipling's 'If' which I'd never imagined being spoken by a woman and is much the better for it. If you're in the UK, you'll be able to catch it on iPlayer for the next 3 days.


Love's Labours Won (Much Ado About Nothing) / Love's Labours Lost

Despite being a Midlander, I'd never been to the RSC in Stratford until a couple of weeks ago when we went to see Love's Labours Won. We loved it so much we couldn't resist going back again last Friday to see Love's Labours Lost. Much Ado is my very favourite (happy) Shakespeare and this production was completely wonderful. The best Beatrice and Benedick ever I've seen and, most surprisingly, a Dogberry who will not only make you cry with laughter but also break your heart. Both plays still have a few more performances left to run and you can catch Love's Labours Won at the live cinema broadcast on the 4th of March.


Ilam Park (The photo above is from the same walk, but in October because I didn't actually take any last week.)

This was our Valentine's day out, complete with fish and chips from Ashbourne's Market Place which have got to be the best to be found this far from the sea! Just up the road from Dovedale, Ilam looks like a gingerbread village with it's ornate, steeply roofed cottages. The hall is a National Trust hostel, complete with a tea room and a garden that offers a spectacular view of Thorpe Cloud. With your delectable jam-slathered scone in hand, you can watch the tiny people rowed up along the top ridge like the spines of a dragon. Heaven. We discovered it's just as good with a parcel of fish and chips on your knee, which handily doubled up as a hot water bottle on this particular grey February day. We opted for a gentle amble upstream along the river, where the path eventually meets a lane that leads back down into the village.