Bad Hair Days

Cover of the man with messy hairYou know it’s a bad day when you stumble myopically to the bathroom, ‘cos you can’t find your glasses without the aid of glasses; open the bathroom cabinet and spray your luxuriant locks with anti-perspirant and only realise your mistake when you locate aforementioned specs and can see that you are about to apply the hairspray where it will just prove ineffectual!

Cover of 10-minute hairstylesIf you’re an optimist I suppose you would simply remark: “Well, if it gets really hot today I’ve taken appropriate action to avoid head sweat.”  If, on the other hand, you are me then you step wearily into the shower to try and rectify the damage.

Washed and blow-dried to the best of your limited capabilities, your ‘crowning glory’ is no longer glorious…  It’s at this point you decide that a radical restyle is in order; but how to achieve it?…

Cover of haircutting for dummiesThe answer lies with your library card and password / PIN.  Simply search in the catalogue for hairstyles and – voilà –  books and magazines galore devoted to the subject that are the answer to a distressed maiden’s prayer.  The 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s Look, Big Hair, Curly Hair, Long Hair, Short Hair, Fantasy, Dreadlocks, Braids, Buns, Twists, Marcelle Waves, Beading and Bows are there for the taking.  And for those who are stunningly reckless there is always the ‘cut’.

So, to all those ladies (and gents!) out there stressing about their tresses, remember, the research can be done via your local Library.

Resolving My Resolutions

I am firmly resolved not to make any New Year’s Resolutions this year.

Cover of The Calorie MythActually, I make the same statement at around this time of year every year without fail and invariably New Year’s Eve finds me trying to think of something that isn’t too ambitious so that I will not let myself down.

If these resolutions involve depriving myself of food or ramping up the ‘I don’t do any’ exercise regime, they are quickly kicked into the ‘totally undo-able’ bin. I have tried to commit to healthier eating and gentle, diligent exercise, but by about Day 5 I’m bored, bored, bored and bored with the whole idea. I need instant results with none of the hard labour!

Cover of The 100To help me feel better I thought I would see whether anyone else had the same failure rate as me. Unfortunately, typing in ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ in the library catalogue came up with Judith O’Reilly’s A Year of Doing Good. The author ’embarked on a mission to Cover of A Year of Doing Gooddo one good deed every day. Some called it a social experiment. At times she called it madness.’ My opinion is firmly anchored in the latter camp. Still, it did give me an idea… I am not making a Resolution, but I will try to read this book at some point during the year.

What ‘tried and tested’ Resolutions have proved successful for you?

Geraldine Brooks in Christchurch on 18 November – Toppling the hero…

Make sure not to miss this on Wednesday 18 November at 7.30pm – WORD Christchurch and Bookenz, in association with Hachette NZ, are proud to present an evening with Pulitzer prize-winning writer Geraldine Brooks, in conversation with Morrin Rout.

Cover of The Secret ChordHuman nature being what it is, we place certain personalities on pedestals only to vilify them on later occasions, normally when they have no right of response as they have departed the earthly world. Very rarely do we internalise why this situation arises, but usually the social barometer (public opinion) swings from left to right with alarming rapidity and then finally settles down somewhere in the ‘middle’ when a humane account i.e. their follies and their strengths make them more human.

Geraldine Brooks’ latest novel The Secret Chord based on the life of King David set 1000 BCE is a work of fiction, but reading it we have access to a creditably flawed and complex individual. His childhood is harsh but he survives it with an arrogance and self-belief system that is truly amazing. He is a tyrant and murderous despot who, having vast armies at his disposal, eventually becomes King.  He is loved as a figurehead by his subjects and his soldiers; yet his wives have reason to both love and fear him, and his children plot against him and betray him in their adulthood.

It’s a fantastic, hugely enjoyable epic story and lovers of historical fiction will probably race to get their copies.

Other works by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks can be found on our library shelves and on the library eBook and eAudiobook platforms (including our latest downloadable eAudiobook platform BorrowBox).

Pressured Viewing

Woman of the year publicity photo
Publicity photograph for the film Woman of the Year, featuring its stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Wikimedia Commons.

Once upon a time there was ‘The Movie’. I’ve never tried to work out how many hours I’ve spent watching them (the hours lost that can never be regained), but as a child/stroppy teenager I would slump down in a chair on a Saturday afternoon at around 3pm to watch the Saturday afternoon matinee.

It would greatly annoy my Dad (extra kudos for me playing the bolshy ‘teen’ card), as he had just purchased his first Colour television set and there I was making a mockery of it all by watching Black and White 1930s and 1940s classics.

Eventually a mockery of a compromise was reached – the kids got the old telly and bickered and argued between themselves for viewing rights whilst the ‘Head of the Household’ watched uninterrupted colourful sport…

Still from His girl Friday
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the 1940 film His Girl Friday. Wikimedia Commons

Edith Head fashion, sumptuous sets, orchestrated Busby Berkeley choreographed extravanzas all in Black and White!! Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Van Heflin, John Wayne, Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn (I could continue ad nauseam but will give you all a break!). It was fantastic.

Fast forward countless years and we have, yet again, ‘The Movie’ – normally taken out of the library for one week. No problem, you would think – given my amazing ability of yesteryear, I could watch the one film countless times – but NO!! Invariably I receive the email gently reminding me that the DVD has to be returned to the library in the next 2/3 days and panic ensues as I haven’t even had time to read the synopsis on the back of the DVD cover.

The number of films and TV series I have had to return without even inserting them into the DVD machine… But now, especially with regard to a TV series, I have a longer time frame to play with:

Two Whole Weeks!!

Until very recently I was watching TV series on DVD such as the Danish production of The Bridge, Shetland, Parade’s End, and Desperate Romantics under immense pressure – two or three episodes a night so that I could return them, haggard and red-eyed, back to the shelves having gone through 3, 4 or even sometimes 5 DVDs in the set.

Times they are a-changing… I’ve even been known to watch in Colour.

Horticultural ‘Grand Designs’ versus ‘Harsh Reality’

Cover of Creative Vegetable GardeningStarted gardening – albeit in a small way – about 4 years ago when I decided that I needed fresh air and to give myself permission to wear a huge floppy hat like Greta Garbo (about the only similarity between us), whilst working on making various parts of my body vigorously protest at the unaccustomed exercise.

In that time I have tried growing all sorts of vegetables and flowers with varying degrees of success. Only this morning I learned a new gardening word  ‘Chitting‘, and, as instructed, have laid my Jersey Benne seed potatoes on newspaper in the garage waiting for them to sprout so that I can plant them in September.

Cover of Grow Your Own PotatoesLast year as Christmas approached, with barely contained childish glee (not called ‘Peter Pan’ in my family for nothing),  I dug deep into my potato sacks, ferreting around for my carbohydrate treasure trove to tumble out onto the patio; the reward for all my hard work.  The end result was pitiful – Nothing; Naada; Nein; Zippo – OK, slight exaggeration but certainly just enough for a plate at most.

Where had I gone wrong? Well, obviously I hadn’t done enough research on the subject… I needed a book devoted entirely to the ‘starchy’  issue and I hadn’t even thought to look in the Children’s section!

Cover of The Artful GardenGardens come in all shapes and sizes and there is an abundance of information via our library resources whether it be non-fiction books, magazines, eMagazines and library website. Personally, my garden area is small so I concentrate on pots, containers, raised beds, trying to get as much as possible – produce-wise – as I can.  I am still working on it, but have now got sidetracked by the necessity of colour in my garden and my search  for minimal, low-cost ideas designs has proved very enlightening.

Check out all the resources available to you with simply a library card and a PIN/password – it promises to be more bountiful than my last crop of potatoes.

Belle

Cover of BelleBased on a real incident in the eighteenth-century, this beautifully crafted story is also a visual treat for those that love elaborate costumes, majestic sets and wondrous landscapes. I have yet to read the book by Paula Byrne, but the DVD was a joy to watch.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Royal Navy Admiral John Lindsay. Slavery had been operating for many years at the time of Dido’s birth and her life could have been one of life-long servitude and misery but for the fact that John Lindsay – for whatever reasons – publicly acknowledged her to his titled family.

Dido was left in the care of her father’s Uncle, Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, and was subsequently brought up in his household as his great-niece. Whilst her lineage and, later, the inheritance of her late father’s estate, gave her more freedom than most women in that period of time, the colour of her skin was a barrier to acquiring social standing. Ironically, Dido shared her childhood with a legitimate white female cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, whose own father made no financial provision for her so that Lord and Lady Mansfield were obliged to make a ‘good’ match for her.

When Dido formed a romantic attachment with the idealistic son of a local Vicar, they both embarked on a mission to abolish slavery in England through the initially reluctant auspices of Lord Mansfield.

Cover of Representing SlaveryNormally I read a book and then see the film, or just watch a film, but on this occasion the film has inspired me to find out more about both the Family and the origins of the Slave Trade in eighteenth-century Great Britain.  Fortunately there are plenty of resources available to assist me in this task at the Christchurch City Libraries.  (You can access the following resources in libraries or from home using your library card number and password/PIN.)

Anyone else out there ever been so impressed by a film that they have then wanted to delve more deeply into the history of the era?

B is for…

Cover of Care for Your BudgerigarBobby, a blue and white budgie that I remember from childhood – he could say his name, address and telephone number (presumably in case he got lost?) and ‘beak-planted’ onto the floor of the cage from his perch one lunchtime when my brother and I were listening to Listen with Mother on the radio. We buried him with great sorrow and solemnity in the garden – his casket a no longer required Berlei Bra Box.

B is for ‘Bubble & Squeak’ – several sets of gerbils that lived with us for a time that all had the same name because my brother wasn’t that creative in the name department. Any visitors to our house had to be careful where they walked in our garden as the ‘headstones’ indicating where they had been ‘finally rested’ eroded over a period of time.

B is for Brenda who hated rodents with a passion and wouldn’t enter our house unless the gerbils were either back in their cage or playing in an old yellow baby bath. Unfortunately she didn’t realise they could hop out of the bath and it invariably meant she clambered onto the nearest chair (no mean feat wearing stilettos) and screamed the place down until we found them, picked them up by their long tails and put them back in their cage. Ah, memories!!

B is for Boris the parrot. I looked after him for three long weeks when his owner went into hospital. The owner had spent a lot of time at sea in his earlier days and that bird had picked up some very salty language! Boris was a fantastic mimic – he had me dashing to my intercom several times before I realised he was making the buzzer sound. He kept me giggling with his ‘falling off a cliff’ routine. I would say ‘fall of a cliff, Boris’ and he would eagerly respond with ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggh SPLAT’ in a very deep cockney voice. The downside to our brief relationship was his affinity for profane vernacular. It wasn’t long before the other residents in the building were giving me a wide berth as they wondered what uncouth lunatic I had living with me in my flat.

Cover of Games and House Design for ParakeetsSeveral years on B is for ‘Budgie’ again… I would like another one and have been searching the non-fiction section of several libraries in my daily travels.

So if you are interested in budgerigars, parakeets, parrots, cockatiels and macaws as pets then head straight to the 636 section in the non-fiction and see what it entails. As for me, I’m going to be choosing my words very carefully with the budgerigar.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery …

Wending my way between libraries I invariably used to spend the travelling time with the radio on, listening to myself trilling a completely unnecessary accompaniment to Kenny Rogers’ Coward of the County and The Gambler (seemingly the only two songs on the radio station).

It got to the stage where, similar to the Pavlov Dogs experiment (luckily without salivation being involved), as soon as the music commenced I would be ‘lyric and intonation perfect’. Yet when it stopped I wouldn’t even remember what the lyrics were, let alone having drawled along with them convincingly.

Realising that drastic action was needed, I decided to listen (and perhaps accompany) some other form of entertainment. That’s when spoken word CDs came to my attention.

Cover of Murder in the TitleSimon Brett’s Charles Paris character has been adapted for radio with the amazing Bill Nighy playing the title role (just as I envisaged him sounding when I was reading the books).

Charles is a middle-aged jobbing actor who, when not attempting reconciliations with his ex-wife Frances and indulging in both pithy and acrimonious verbal exchanges with his long-suffering agent, appears to stumble upon ‘murders’ with more regularity than his often lamented ‘potted’ acting jobs.

My time spent with Murder in the Title and Cast, in Order of Disappearance was brief but memorable and I am looking forward to listening to the other four spoken word CDs in this series in the library collection… The contemporary settings and authentic sound effects combined with the very witty dialogue really had me feeling I was THERE experiencing the story with them.

Cover of The Inspector McLevy MysteriesSticking with my murder/mystery genre, I then embarked on David Ashton’s  The Inspector McLevy Mysteries. Again, originally a BBC radio play, but now I had a chance to relinquish my South East Counties accents and polish up my rusty Scottish accents!

Inspired by the real-life memoirs of a Victorian Inspector in Scotland, James McLevy prowls the dark streets of 1860s Edinburgh bringing criminals to justice, with the assistance of Constable Mulholland.

With dour, dogged, determination, Edinburgh’s ‘Finest’ and I foiled an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria; lamented the death of a novice team member of the Force and brought a vicious serial killer to Justice –  and all achieved whilst behind the wheel of a car with my newly acquired and authentic Scots accent! Note to Mel Gibson, should he ever decide on a sequel to Braveheart

OK, so you don’t need to ‘react’ with them like I choose to do, but they are still really good to listen to – funny, realistic, poignant. Have you tried any? Which ones would you particularly recommend?

Less is more?

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. ~George Saunders.

I have always enjoyed reading short stories, most probably because I have the attention span of a gnat coupled with a huge need to dissect and psychoanalyze given situations to their ‘bare bones’. Well, nobody’s perfect…

Cover of Summer LiesAt a recent Book Discussion Scheme Bookclub the members (including myself) were given Summer Lies by Bernhard Schlink to read – a very good example of this genre – several short stories of exceptional quality.

Schlink’s characters are all so believable that it is quite frightening at times. They have lived the majority of their lives; spun their dreams; lived through their hopes, fears and ambitions – they have a history which, given that the majority of them are in late Middle Age or the ‘Autumn’ years, naturally provides the platform for reflection in these stories. I proceeded with the last story first – just love to live my life ‘On The Edge’! – and was instantly gripped by The Journey to the South.

I could understand and – if not exactly empathize – certainly see how Nina had become disappointed in life because of the decisions she’d made at an earlier time. The wistful ‘If only’ factor is such a common human behaviour when diverse personalities start to reflect on their earlier years. Her inability to face the truth behind her earlier decisions in life now unsettle her. It is only when she forces herself to view her actions objectively that she does become happier.

Cover of Don't Panic, Head for the HillsThe library has short stories literally throwing themselves off the shelves.  Simply typing in ‘short stories’ in the catalogue search box brought up a staggering 4356 results – I was so overwhelmed I quickly started applying ‘filters’ to keep the whole exercise manageable.

I immediately relate to the catchy, pithy titles  such as Don’t Panic, Head for the Hills or Shallow Are the Smiles at the Supermarket (what a truism), but always make time tor revisit my perennial favourites  such as The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham; The Grass Harp by Truman Capote and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. What a choice!  And not only in book form – for those of you who prefer listening to reading, short stories on audiobooks in a number of different formats abound.

Who else out there in ‘reading land’ has a particular short story favourite they might want to share with others?

Sequels: fleshing out the ghosts…

Daphne Du Maurier‘s epic 1930s Cornwallian mystery Rebecca was excellent – do not care to remember how many years ago I read the original, but the subsequent movie versions and TV dramatisations have made it a classic story that transcends the media forms.Cover: Rebecca's Tale

So it was with some initial trepidation that I curled up on my squashy sofa to read the sequel Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman.

Aside from occasional forays into the kitchen in search of snacks and drinks, and my usual attack of the ‘fidgets’ when I’d spent too long in my ‘Do Not Disturb: Serious Reading Going On’ position, I couldn’t put the book down.

This got me thinking of other books that have had that effect on me and only one other novel sprang instantly to mind: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, the story of Antoinette Cosway’s formative years spent in 1830s Jamaica which culminates in a disastrous marriage with a Mr Rochester, a character we all recognise from that literary masterpiece, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Cover: "Wide Sargasso Sea"n both cases I needed to know how Rebecca De Winter and Antoinette Cosway came to be the women they were. Both women dominate the original stories, but at best they are shadowy albeit powerful ladies whose husbands desire them out of their lives.  Now, I love a good mystery as much as others, but these ladies urgently needed family backgrounds and humanising in a major way!

In Sally Beauman’s book, Rebecca’s personality is analysed and debated by, amongst others, a Colonel Julyan and his daughter Ellie – both of whom knew Rebecca before her death – and Tom Gray, a mysterious stranger on a mission to discover Rebecca’s past.  Each character’s perspective of Rebecca (including access to Rebecca’s own thoughts via a recently discovered diary) gives up a complex and compelling portrayal of the woman who had been such an enigma in her life.

Can you think of any other literary character that has been successfully ‘fleshed’ out or needs an instant treatment in that area?  My contribution: yet another character from Rebecca –  Mrs Danvers.