Sadly, I read it my way

Diary 1985Reading regrets, I’ve got a few…

As this diary page from my “yoof” clearly illustrates. Desmond Bagley! Alistair MacLean! Gavin Lyall! And the pièce de resistance Jeffrey Archer!

To be fair I was 15 when I was reading these über macho, high-octane thrillers but shame still stings my cheeks especially regarding the naughty Lord Archer. What was I thinking?

All of these authors have completely fallen off my reading radar and I suspect with the exception of Dick Francis and the perjuring Lord Archer of Weston- super- Mare most of these scribblers are largely unread today. Fiction is indeed a fickle mistress.

Cover of The Child that books builtI do love bookish memoirs recounting formative reading experiences, I’m thinking particularly of Francis Spufford‘s The child that books built. Spufford re-read his favourite childhood books discovering “both delight and sadness”. In my case this diary has triggered both profound embarrassment and amazement that I had the audacity to study English at university! If these are the books that build the adult I am today I’d be a gun-toting, flares wearing, libidinous space-rogue. Life on Mars’s DCI Gene Hunt in a spacesuit.

If I could re-write the past I’d display a more accomplished and precocious reading list, maybe a little Proust, James Joyce or Dostoevsky.

Or maybe I just need to be satisfied that the thriller and science fiction schlock I read of yesteryear was nonetheless sufficient fodder to set me up on a longer, more accomplished reading journey.

To help ease my humiliation please feel free to share your most shameful formative reading experiences in this public forum!

Jackman & Lord : General Grocers and Provision Merchants : 1902

Image of Jackman & Lord


We have digitised a rather splendid 1902 publication Tourists’ guide to Canterbury.

Growing your own… caterpillars??!

When we bought a cheap tunnel house this year it wasn’t to grow green super worms with patterns but the best laid plans of this naive gardener…  I digress, first I went a bit mad and grew capsicums, aubergines, basil, cucumbers and flowers to attract bees, all from seed. By the time the raised beds were assembled and filled it was getting on a bit and the tomatoes had to be bought as plants.

Cover of Green Urban LivingThe basil and the toms took off. The basil plants were the size of small shrubs. I bought the pine nuts, stocked up the olive oil and parmesan and then never quite got round to pesto conversion. Got busy and ignored the tunnel house for about a week.

Imagine my horror when I next poked my head in: the basil was black and all but extinct, the tomatoes had been shredded and the peppers and aubergines looked like they too were on the menu.

But of what? Huge green caterpillars… with patterns. “Skin crawling” tomato eating hook  caterpillars, I think. I won’t give you the gory details of their dispatch, but I should have consulted some more gardening books on tunnel house growing first obviously. Lesson learned the hard way. Next year the aubergine plants go outside once sizable and putting out flowers and can get pollinated out there. No leaving the door open for all pregnant passersby.

If I had just consulted Green Urban Living by Janet Luke first I would have cut some phony white butterflies out of ice cream tub plastic and stuck them all over the garden and tunnel house. The expectant mums are territorial apparently, and would have naffed off somewhere else. Just one of the many clever tips for the urban gardener from this resourceful book. Growing food, keeping chickens, worm farming (not caterpillar) and beekeeping is  just some of knowledge passed on by one who has been there and is still wearing the t-shirt.

The mini orchard is coming along with the addition soon of a peach or nectarine, but not without consultation to the chapter on top fruit to grow in an urban garden and I hope next summer’s weather warrants the step by step instructions on the installation of a water barrel. This book is invaluable and I have borrowed it many times.

cover of Winter Harvest HandbookCurrently it’s  The Winter Harvest Handbook that I have out on loan. This promises “Year round vegetable production using Deep Organic techniques and unheated greenhouses”. I have high hopes of growing something other than future generations of the unmentionables, in an unheated tunnel house through our coldest months.

Do you grow your own? Want to but think you haven’t enough space? Another option is  Straw Bale Gardening. I’m considering having one on the go. Meantime more ‘do’ is needed and less talk, so it’s on with my wellies…

Recessive jeans

Cover of JeansMy parents shaped me way beyond my DNA. Hard as it is to believe, those two humble Scots forged my fashion destiny. To this day, my clothing choices hark back to them. Thanks Mom and Dad.

My father (normally a mild-mannered man) got in first when he forbade the wearing of denim jeans from under his roof. This was the Sixties for heaven’s sake. I did what any self respecting teen would do – developed an obsession with the faded blue fabric, hid my jeans at friends’ homes and married young.

My mother was not to be outdone. She loathed pink, thought sparkle in daywear was Common and honestly believed a nice frock was a fitting substitute for denim jeans. Bless her.

Even though fashion was such a fraught topic at home, I sewed a lot of my own stuff. Cover of 1960s Fashion PrintAnd, in what I now see as an early start in how to make life difficult for myself, I disdained Simplicity patterns and headed straight to Burda. Navigating their maze was the closest that I would ever come to Air Traffic Control. To this day I can smell the tailor’s chalk, feel the tracer’s wheel in my palm, hear Woodstock playing in the background, and see myself cutting my way round my absolute favourite fabric – Paisley.

I meet people who say they haven’t a creative bone in their bodies. They lie. Every single day, when we get up and get dressed, we make creative choices.  And you can reminisce on this in beautiful fashion books, you can even dream of featuring in The Sartorialist (the street fashion of real people). Truth is, what was everyday clothing to you all those years ago has probably attained iconic status by now.

Fast forward a few years. See that old lady in the boots, the jeans and the wildly patterned Paisley shirt?  That’s me. What will you be wearing when we meet?

Christchurch – this week in history (28 April – 4 May)

28-29 April 1983
Visit of Prince and Princess of Wales.

29 April 1974
Cr. David Caygill, aged 25, becomes the city’s youngest ever acting Mayor (for 5 days).

30 April 1971
6,000 protesters march against the war in Vietnam.

1 May 1975
Canterbury University completes its move from city to Ilam campus.

2 May 1872
New St Michael’s Anglican Church opens.

Image: St. Michael's and All Angels Church, Christchurch [ca. 1885].
St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, Christchurch [ca. 1885]. Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 12, IMG0080.
3 May 1851
George Gould opens shop in Christchurch. The business eventually became part of Pyne Gould Guinness and Co.

3 May 1985
6,000 Christchurch citizens rally against the All Black tour of South Africa.

4 May 1932
Christchurch Tramway strike. One of the bitterest in the city’s history, it lasted 16 days. There were many injuries and arrests among the strikers. The tram sheds were barricaded with barbed wire, and trams were fitted with wire mesh screens over their windows to ward off attacks.

4 May 1981
New southern arterial (Brougham Street to Curletts Road) opens.

Christchurch chronology
A timeline of Christchurch events in
chronological order from pre-European times to 1989.

More April and May events in our Christchurch chronology.

Armchair Travel: picks from our April newsletter

Some picks from our April Armchair Travel newsletter:

Cover of The Cats of EphesosCover of LatinaliciousCover of The NileCover of Explore EverythingCover of Savage HarvestCover of What Westerners Have for BreakfastCover of Day of HoneyCover of Land of EaglesCover of American Smoke

Subscribe to our newsletters and get our latest titles and best picks straight from your inbox.

Have you read any of these books? If so, we’d love your feedback!

That war – reading about World War 1

cover for Memoirs of a fox hunting manI recently sat down to make a list of recommended reads for World War 1. I was thinking of the novels and first hand accounts that I had read (and re read) and four really stood out for me.

My all time favourite would be J. L . Carr’s novella A month in the country. First published in 1980, it tells of two veterans who meet several years after wars end in a small Yorkshire village as they work as restorer and archaeologist at the village church. War is a haunting memory still affecting their lives even in a peaceful and idyllic countryside.

Somehow I stumbled over Robert Graves’ Goodbye to all that and I have read and reread this powerful account of the experiences of the front line in the Great War.

Memoirs of a fox hunting man by Siegfried Sassoon follows the life of a young man most interested in hunting and cricket who is caught up in the hysteria of the early war, before grim reality set in. His following two novels – Memoirs of an infantry officer and Sherston’s progress are autobiographical, charting disillusionment and loss as the war progresses.

Birdsong  by Sebastian Faulks is a modern novel which traces the impact of the war on a young man’s life. When it was published in 1993 I remember it being very popular in our libraries – largely due to an amazing word of mouth effect.

My list is very much a personal selection – other classics you might think of like Erich Maria Remarque’s All quiet on the Western Front is there as well as that New Zealand tale of the sufferings of conscientious objectors – Archibald Baxter’s We will not cease. I have popped in some good histories and poetry selections as well as War horse by Michael Morpurgo.

Do you have a World War 1 novel, poem or history that you would recommend?

A busker with a banjo entertaining in Cathedral Square, Christchurch: Picturing Canterbury

A busker with a banjo entertaining in Cathedral Square, Christchurch [1927] Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0060

There’s a kākāpō at a library near you!

You can imagine the joy at Central Manchester when a kākāpō  emerged from the returns bin.

Photo of kakapo replica
Central Manchester’s kākāpō

Not the real McCoy, you understand, but a beautifully sewn replica – one of several kākāpō that have been hidden around Christchurch as part of  Sayraphim Lothian’s Guerrilla Kindness for Christchurch project.

Described as “a Persian cat with feathers“, the kākāpō is one of the world’s most endangered birds. There are only 124 birds left in the wild and now there are 124 of Sayraphim’s little creations dotted around Christchurch for us to find. Sayraphim says she is: “utilising the Kakapo’s journey to recovery as a metaphor for Christchurch’s journey to rebuild“.

I don’t know about you, but I am just blown away by this. By the creativity, the heart, the conscience, the vision.

Our Manchester Library kākāpō goes by the name of Little ToiTiIti. If you spot him in the library, just remember: even though he is the largest parrot in the world, he is very shy, very solitary, actually quite smelly and may make a loud shaaaaarking noise and flap his wings if you approach.

Love this project – Go Guerrilla Kindness!

P.S. Check out photos of some of Sayraphim’s kākāpō being made at Central Library Peterborough.

Anzac weekend eBooks

We’ve got a lovely selection of New Zealand eBooks for Anzac weekend reading:

9780730443315 9780730445630 9781741159684 9781775590064
9780473215224 9780473219901 9780473221751 9780987666574
9781869406455 9781877437113 9781877568534  9781927147344
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