Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

My second easy, cheerful purchase from the Red Cross Bookshop is Alexander McCall Smith’s Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, from his Isabel Dalhousie series. I’m right in the middle of it, so I won’t review it just yet, but I had a horrible realisation this morning.

I’ve always pictured Isabel as someone who is ever so slightly like Miss Marple, an aging spinster who wears a grey skirt when she works and has male friends, but not lovers. Imagine my horror when I discovered that she is, in fact, in her early 40s. Her early 40s??!! My age! How many women in the early 40s wear grey skirts when they’re working at home, or diamante earrings when they go out to meet a new gentleman. How many spend hours in the company of an attractive man in his mid-20s without at least imagining a wee bit of depravity? They might not act on it, but they certainly would be imagining it!

The reason why these are lovely little petit fours of books is because they’re in no way dark, but are instead gentle and cozy – gezzelig, as the Dutch say. But there’s no excuse for entirely desexualising a 40 year old woman, nor for making a real-life 40 year old woman go into semi-shock!

Just to make it clear…

Aging spinster in grey skirt and cream cardigan =  

Women in her 40s in grey = 

Can you spot the difference? Answers in an SAE please…

Far Away Park

This is one of my favourite places to come – the Cotswold Country Park, near Cirencester. From a former quarry to a beautiful lake, it is a perfect example of how the land can be reclaimed and turned into something beautiful and useful. Even on a bustling Bank Holiday weekend, there are still plenty of quiet corners to sit and listen to the birds and the sound of the water and just relax.

My son started calling it The Far Away Park years ago, when we first discovered it. To him, it was nothing more than the best ever park, with swimming and magical secret paths in the woods, but we couldn’t walk to it like we ordinarily do with parks. The Far Away Park. The name has stuck, despite the fact that he’s now more than old enough to find it on a map all by himself.

Having said this, I did like it better before it was taken over by new management. It used to be just simply the lake and paths, a couple of small playgrounds near the beaches, pedalos and a simple cafe. Now there are giant floating balls to run around in, at £5 for 5 minutes, the world’s most pathetic pitch and putt course, at £10 for a family of 4, and the annual pass has almost tripled in cost. Rather than being the place where we can get away from it all, it feels ever so slightly more like the sort of place from which we want to escape.

Yet there are still quiet corners for the family, and enough sand and water to keep the kids happily occupied for hours, and by declaring it a ‘pester-free zone’, we (mostly) avoid nagging about those stupid giant balls.

The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie

I wanted to read something light and funny while on holiday and picked up The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie, at the Red Cross Bookshop. I almost gave up on it within the first three chapters or so, because Laurie’s voice comes through very strongly (very strongly…), and it’s not entirely plausible for his main character. I’ve never met any ex-military, potential assassin types, but if I were to, I doubt very much whether ‘By golly!’ is a key part of their vocabulary. Still, I stuck with it, and I’m glad to have done so.

Despite the ‘By gollys’, the main character, Thomas Lang, is compelling – likeable, brave, honest and violent – a difficult combination to pull together, but Laurie has managed it here. The plot is big, dealing with high politics and corruption, but doing so in a way that is personal. The triumph here is that the conspiracy around which the plot rests, which I won’t go into to avoid spoilers, feels like it could actually happen in real life, and that is very scary.

Summer baking

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The weather has been truly diabolical today, not fit for man nor beast, but especially not flip flops. To make up for it, we had the oven on all afternoon. My contribution were these delectable chocolate snickerdoodles. I exchanged some of the butter for crunchy peanut butter, which gives them an additional richness, without a huge shift in calories. They’re particularly good if you replace some of the plain flour with spelt flour (say, a quarter), but I’m all out. Still, they help to ease the pain of a truly dreadful summer.

Holiday Mode

Two weeks of staycation ahead of me. I managed to clear shift my inbox to a to-do folder, submitted corrections for a book chapter and moved my in-tray to the ignore for 2 whole weeks pile. To say that I’m not yet feeling relaxed would be an understatement, despite a glass of wine and chocolate chip muffin. I hope that 2 weeks of fresh air, reading for pleasure and catching up with friends will rectify this.

I feel an addict’s itchy finger with my email though. I could just check it quickly, just to see… No!!! Step away from the iPad, hide the MacBook under a stack of novels and just relax…