Perfect Book Companion for the Tour de France 

Perfect Book Companion for the Tour de France 

The Rider – Tim Krabbe

Courir c’est mourir un peu
Shortly after last year’s Tour de Yorkshire I happened across The Rider by Tim Krabbe. A great little book, no wider than a racing wheel, in which Krabbe describes his own participation in the Tour de Mont Aigoual – a race of 138Km which he covers in almost as many pages.

This pared back book describes a much more spartan race than that which viewers of the televised Tour will be familiar. There are no support cars, no fancy sponsors and to my disappointment – no domestiques (the team riders who constantly buzz around their team’s top rider – his bitches who spend the race protecting, feeding, sheltering and pacing him to the win). In Krabbe’s book the competitors drive themselves to the start and park their cars, get changed at the side of the road and toss car keys to a friend before starting the race.  
I am only a fair-weather cyclist, but I loved reading this book. It is fast paced and yet still manages to pack in some beautiful descriptive writing giving a good sense of place, with realistic dialogue fleshing out the tautly sketched racing companions. Krabbe brings us into the heart of a racing mind, showing how that mind wanders, focusses and fixates throughout the course of a long race. He begins reminiscing about his previous races, and other famous races, like the time the weather turned so cold during the Giro d’Italia that riders were scared to answer a call of nature incase they were bolted to the ground by a parabola of frozen piss. He notices a rival whom he suspects of shitting himself and offers some philosphical words – ‘Courir c’est mourir un peu’ (to race is to die a little). He falls in love with his own wrists and constantly wonders about his choice of gear – ‘forty two – nineteen, the gear of champions’.
The complex nature of the psychology of endurance racing, the question of why people push themselves to the limit to run, ride, climb, race is not answered in this book; its not even questioned; it just is. Life is the race and the race is life.
Even if you’re not a cyclist – anyone who has taken on a sporting challenge and pushed hard to achieve it will find much of themselves in this little book.


Reading challenge 2015 – I finished The Goldfinch at last!

…. But  I have been reading other books alongside this, Terry Pratchet and Robert Louis Stephenson… Interesting mix.

Next week is Samuel Pepys The Unequalled Self, in a (TV &  WiFi -less…. Gulp!) 16c. cottage in North Wales.

Goldfinch review – may contain spoilers…


The Goldfinch follows the story of Theo Decker, a teenager struggling to come to terms with the death of his Mother.  Written entirely in the first person, the reader experiences Theo’s grief and confusion first hand. Yet it’s not all sadness and mawkish sympathy for Theo, he is unreliable, makes bad decisions and does stupid things. Over and over again. Yet this unreliability is what makes Theo’s character so compelling – he is very human.


This is a weighty novel in both length and depth but there is a beautiful immersive quality to Donna Tartt’s writing and therefore much to lose yourself in. The tiniest and seemingly incongruent details are in fact what lend depth and completeness to her writing. Scenes are rendered tangible to the reader by description of taste, sound or touch. As an artist creates a masterpiece with layer upon layer of brush stroke, paint and pencil line; so Tartt delivers The Goldfinch as a construct of beautifully drawn, interweaving characters and scenes, together creating a whole which is both fast-paced thriller and slow heartache at the same time. 


novel spanning some 860 pages is surely vulnerable to stretches of boredom here and there. Unfortunately, I did find myself yawning through one or two repetitive or lacklustre scenes which didn’t appear to have any consequence to the plot at all. We spend many pages learning about all the different drugs Theo takes; where he buys them; how he uses them; where he keeps them; and how often he nearly OD’s. We spend a lot of time whooshing around Theo’s yellow hued, drug addled thoughts as time and again he falls ill and feverish, often in a room with urine coloured lamp-light, yellow sweat patches on his bedclothes and pools of lemony vomit. We also spend a lot of time in the tedious company of Kitsey, who seems to have no role in the story at all. I felt duped into maintaining a watchful eye on her in the brief hope that she and her lover, one of Theo’s childhood friends, might be plotting to embezzle money from him in some underhand way. But both Kitsey and her lover remained exactly the side order of bland they first appeared to be.


And yet long scenes where nothing happens are also spent with Hobie and Theo as they work silently together crafting tiny restorative amendments tpieces of furniture. We discover in great detail how the finger-tips can tell a hand-planed edge from a machined edge; or how to create an authentic patina; or the difference between real ebony and carbonised wood. And none of this boring in the slightest. It is beautiful, quiet and immersive. Theo seems to find a peace in this act of artistic creation. 

The appreciation of the labour beneath the surface of great works of art speaks to Theo. 


This is a thread that runs through the story – the space that an artist creates when he paints, or sculpts, or makes music, a space where minds can meet, even across many years. Theo sees the same beauty in the painting of The Goldfinch that his mother did, but he’s not just clinging on to the painting because it was something his mother once loved; Theo can feel his mother’s presence in that space the Fabritius created when he painted the Goldfinch.


A beautiful novel exploring the connections people make with each other when experiences, both fortunate and terrible, draw them together. Stretches of boredom, weird coincidences, pointless actions, unresolved plot-lines and beautiful moments of no consequence to the story at all – almost perfect, just exactly like real life. 



Read this if you like books with lots of well researched facts, quirky characters and elegant prose which gives a strong sense of place.  Similar to – Hillary Mantel, E Annie Proulx.




How Fifty Shades of Grey Rocked my Literary World

How Fifty Shades of Grey Rocked my Literary World

Until the summer of 2012 my reading habits were decidedly …. Well ’vanilla’.      I liked what I knew and stuck fairly rigidly to a narrow band of largely British literary fiction. My current ‘To Be Read’ pile is fairly representative of my reading habits from those days and consists of more than a few books that have been languishing on my shelves since that summer two years ago.

So what happened? E L James is what happened. As a 45 year old white, middle class mum, I was right in the middle of the demographic. My Facebook timeline was suddenly full of Fifty Shades talk ‘Who’s reading it?’ ‘Where can I get the next book?’ and then suddenly there was a link to a tattooed, bearded guy with facial piercings who was reading excerpts from the book on You Tube.

Anyone familiar with Mark Oshiro from his Mark Reads and Mark Does Stuff website will know what a genuinely funny, engaging and cleverly insightful guy Mark is. I was hugely entertained by this clip, and immediately jumped onto his website to see what else he did; and that was where I discovered the endlessly fascinating and wonderfully prolific world of sci-fi fantasy and horror writing. At that time Mark was sharing his reading of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. With a chapter by chapter analysis and predictions at the end of each book as to what would happen to each character in the next book. These predictions were hilariously naive and so wide of the mark I was done for, hook line and sinker. I downloaded the first Game of Thrones book, and continued to read all seven books more or less back to back during the rest of that summer. 


Can you believe there was a time when I’d never heard of Neil Gaiman? And, Of course I’d enjoyed reading The Bromeliad to my children, but those are children’s books right?… it never even crossed my mind to investigate Disc World…

It was like a secret door opening on a whole new world of books. It was just the injection of excitement needed to re-ignite my passion for reading, with what appears to be an endless permutation of sub-genre: LeGuin, Philip K Dick, Rothfuss, Chuck Wendig, Brandon Sanderson, Hugh Howey, H P Lovecraft, Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, G G Kay, it’s such a rich, deep and fecund seam to mine that I doubt I will ever be bored and jaded enough to feel the need to read Fifty Shades of Grey. And that’s all down to you Mark – Thank you!


TBR15 – book 1, Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

I’ve finished the first book on my To Be Read pile – Hurrah! I really enjoyed it – it is a really well written first novel by Emma Healey, and I will definitely look out for more writing from her. Here is a review:-

A book written solely from the perspective of the main character – Maud.
But Maud is an unreliable narrator, she is in her 80s and has forgotten the name of the sitting on things, and the filled breads, the stuffed and buttered breads. But there are things that she definitely does know. She knows she likes toast, she know she likes the feeling of comfort when she wears her dead husband’s shirt, and she knows that Elizabeth is missing. Maud knows she’s forgetting things, she keeps lists, she writes things down so she wont forget, and carries clues in her pockets on squares of coloured paper, that jumble up and float around in the space of her pockets and handbag, sliding to the floor when she sifts them in her fingers. Maud’s childhood jumbles up with her present life as she painstakingly pieces together the clues that not only help her find friend Elizabeth, but help her solve a 70 year old mystery. It is a very poignant book as the reader shares Maud’s shifting grip on reality, her anger and frustration as she tries to get people to understand her concerns for Elizabeth, and most of all her sense of loss, and bewilderment.

I liked this book very much, I particularly enjoy reading books that are written entirely in the first person. The narrative is very engaging and I definitely found myself empathising very strongly with Maud. Seeing events through Maud’s confusion lent a startling and often surreal tone to the slowly unfolding story.
I had expected more of a ‘murder/mystery’ format, and some of the blurb on the cover suggests that this is a ‘gripping detective yarn’. Readers who prefer a more conventional crime thriller may be disappointed with this book – it is a detective mystery which is both darkly surreal and poignantly human.


Since finishing One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez at Christmas, I have been giving a lot of thought to the way the brain creates memories. The physical and biological process the brain uses to lay down memories, and the way time’s perspective is shifted, slowed or speeded up by our memories – or is it our memories that shift our perspective of time? Anyway… I believe Marquez uses the process of creating memories in his novel which gives the reader the impression of having stored up a whole lifetime (100 yrs) of memories. So I find it fascinating now to read Elizabeth is Missing, which deals with the very end of memories, the breaking down of the fabric of our memories.

TBR15 – books on my To Be Read pile 2015

TBR15 – books on my To Be Read pile 2015

Some of these books have been on my ‘To Be Read’ (TBR) pile for, literally, years. This year I’ve decided to set myself the challenge of not buying any new books until I’ve read them. I was half way through explaining this challenge to a bookshop owner yesterday (Little Ripon Bookshop – fabulous little shop, please visit when you are in Ripon, and buy books!) when I realised it was probably not the conversation she wanted to have as an independent book seller in the doldrums of January.* Fear not – I doubt that very much time will pass before I buy another book, because…. There are ALWAYS books to be bought! but I will definitely read, and review all the following TBR books

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Samuel Pepys The Unequalled Self – Claire Tomalin

Atonement – Ian McEwan

Norwegian Wood – Murakami

The Great Gatsby – F S Fitzgerald

To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

So Much For All That – Lionel Shriver

The Piano Teacher – Janice YK Lee

The Glass Room – Simon Mawer

The Garden of Evening Mist – Tan Twan Eng

* we left with two new book purchases

40 RAK days 22 to 27 Herman, Love Letters and DIY Libraries

40 Random Acts of Kindness day. 22
Weds 6th March

Quite literally – The gift that keeps on giving!
This sourdough starter is a lovely gift – especially to a family with young children who love looking after Herman. the finished product is pretty awesome tasting too.

Herman friendship cake

Herman (or Hermann) is a friendship cake. You can’t buy him, but you can be given a gift of him…then you can give him away. He’s chock full of yeast so over 10 days he’ll grow slowly but surely…and then you can eat him!

He doesn’t need any swanky fridge style accommodation…the kitchen work surface will do. He doesn’t even need a lid…just a tea towel. Your granny’s tea towel will do – it doesn’t even have to be new. Just cover him and he’ll merrily grow at room temperature.

To spread a little friendship far and wide, just follow the instructions below and in 10 days you will have a Herman cake to eat and four mini Hermans to give to friends and bring a little Herman shaped smile to their faces.

If you wish to start a friendship chain from scratch follow the instructions below counting the day you begin as day zero.

Herman cake sour dough starter

2 cups flour
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup warm water
2 tbsp or 2 packets active dry yeast
Today is day 0. Record the date/day on calendar.

Sprinkle 1 tbsp of the sugar over the warm water. Sprinkle yeast over this and leave in a warm place for around 10 minutes so it doubles in size.

Mix the milk, remaining sugar, flour and yeast mixture in a large plastic or glass container and stir using only a wooden spoon.

Cover loosely or place plate over top of container so Herman can breathe and leave in a warm place.

The next day is Day 1 and you now proceed with the following instructions as if you’d been given a friendship cake mixture to grow. Try to stir at least once each day.

Instructions for the Herman cake

If you would like to spread a little friendship follow the instructions below and at end of 10 days you will have a cake to eat and four starter kits to pass on.

If you cannot wait to have your cake and eat it, go straight to day 10 but you will forego the opportunity to pass on the cake to friends.

Day 1: Today Herman is given to you. Put him in a big bowl (at least 4pt capacity). Cover Herman loosely so he can breathe – a tea towel or loose lid is ideal.

Days 2 & 3: Stir Herman 2-3 times a day with a wooden spoon (be lazy – stick to wooden so you can just leave it in the bowl without troublesome corrosion issues)

Day 4: Herman is hungry. Give him the following:

200mls milk
200g self-raising flour
250g sugar
Days 5, 6, 7 & 8: Stir Herman 2-3 times a day.

Day 9: Herman is hungry again. Give him the same ingredients you gave him on Day 4. Stir well then divide him into 5 equal parts. Give 4 baby Hermans away to friends or family with a copy of these instructions. Keep the 5th portion to bake, it’s yours for the eating.

Day 10: Herman is absolutely starving. He needs a holiday. He likes to go to a hot resort. The oven is his favourite. Pre-heat oven to 170ºC (150ºC fan-assisted oven) and grease a cake tin generously. Prepare him for his holiday using all of the following:

150g self-raising flour
100g finely chopped nuts/raisins/mixed fruit
100 mls oil
Half a teaspoon of baking powder to help him rise.
2 teaspoons cinnamon for extra spice.
3 eggs
2 grated apples to keep things moist
Mix everything together and pour into a very well greased loaf tin or 9” x 9“ cake tin. Bake for 1-1 ½ hours, depending on your tin. Cool in tin for 10 mins then turn out.

Random Acts of Kindness day 23
Thurs 7 th March

It’s world book day and for once we are well organised. The Boy leaves for school dressed as Alex Ryder complete with night vision goggles and a grappling iron (fashioned from a coat hanger). Another mum was not so smug, having slept in until 8.30 and then spending the rest of the day lurching from one misadventure to another and never managing to catch up with herself. Luckily I had a bar of chocolate in my bag… I hope she managed to put her feet up and enjoy it later that evening.

Random Acts of Kindness day 24
Friday 8th March
Love Letters!

I saw Hannah Brencher’s TED talk….

… And I was totally inspired…..

It’s like I’m only just finding out about all this wonderful stuff and everyone else is already doing it 🙂

i signed up as a subscriber, and started to write my own letters too. There is a link to the TED talk on there as well.

Writing letters is a dying art, and writing these love letters is a wonderful, cathartic thing to do. Thinking of places to leave the letters is cool too.
So far…
A Self help book in the library
Tucked into the pocket of a coat in a charity shop.

Random Acts of Kindness day 25
Saturday 9th March
DIY library

I donated some book shelves we no longer need to a community group in a nearby village who are setting up their own community library. What a fab idea, I hope it works well for them 🙂

Random Acts of Kindness day 26
Sunday 10th March
Mothering Sunday

Spent the day with my partner’s Mum, we arrived bearing gifts of home made Austrian coffee and walnut cake, a jar of home preserved lemons, a manic 10 year old boy, and ingredients for a Sunday roast. Jo lives in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and no visit is complete without a walk… Even if it is freezing cold and blowing a gale. conscious that I hadn’t done a specific act of kindness for the challenge I collected, and recycled some discarded drinks cans. on the walk.

Random Acts of Kindness – day 27
Monday 11 th March

More Snow!

the day has cycled several times through brilliant sunshine and whiteout blizzard conditions. A colleague takes two buses to get to work, And seeing the weather turn to blizzard yet again as we prepared to leave for home, I offered her a lift. it’s actually not that far out of my way…..

40 RAK day 21 – charity shop furtiveness – again

40 random acts of kindness
Day 21 – Tuesday 5th March 2013

left a couple of scratch cards and smiley notes in local charity shops, slipped in between the books. It was busy and I was trying to do it quickly and secretly, felt like a shoplifter! Briefly distracted by the complete 50 Shades trilogy in the Salvation Army Shop – not the sort of book one keeps handy for reference then?