Monthly Archives: March 2014

Other People’s Bookshelves #35; Persephone Nicholas

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are heading off to Australia to meet a lady who is named after my favourite Greek mythical character and one of my favourite publishing house, ok maybe the last bit wasn’t true, Persephone Nicholas. Before I start making more things up about Persephone let’s get to know her a little bit better and have a nosey through her bookshelves…

My name’s Persephone and I’m a UK born author and freelance writer now living in Sydney. I’ve always loved books and writing, but I didn’t start writing for a living until I moved to Australia almost a decade ago. I write for newspapers, magazines and a few corporate clients. Last year my first novel, Burned, won a Random House literary award and has since been published as an eBook and in print in Australia and New Zealand. I’m now working on my second novel. I also blog about books and writing at: http://thebookorme.blogspot.com.au/ and am on twitter: @PersephoneNich.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to hold on to every single book that came my way. My dad worked in publishing, my mum was a compulsive reader and I was a very bookish kid who went on to read English at uni. So at one point I had thousands of books. When I moved to Australia almost a decade ago, I had a huge cull. I decided that unless I’d loved a book so much I wanted to read it again, I would let it go. Looking back, I think I was too ruthless – I probably got rid of 90 per cent of my books. At the time I was so stressed at the prospect of moving my family to the other side of the world, that it seemed easier to get rid of things than organise them. The upside of all that is that I’m looking forward to buying some of my old favourites again, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series for example. I don’t keep a lot of books now. I don’t have a problem with getting rid of things I haven’t especially enjoyed and I love to share good books with friends, so I often lend my favourite books. Occasionally one gets lost, but I prefer to think of books being read, rather than languishing on bookshelves.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

A casual observer might think that my bookshelves aren’t organised at all. But I know exactly where everything is. I have shelves for books I want to read, shelves for books I’ve read and want to keep and another shelf for books that I’m happy to pass on. I also have shelves of reference books; on creativity and writing; and also on interiors as I regularly write for one or two home magazines. I’ve kept a few books that my kids loved when they were younger too. I’ve always enjoyed reading to them and keeping some of those picture books brings back happy memories.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I have absolutely no idea what the first book I bought was. I must have been quite young and I absolutely loved Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series so it might have been one of either of those.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I’m always interested to read books that are hugely popular. I like to know what everyone’s talking about. That’s what made me pick up the first Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades. Only Harry Potter still has shelf room in our house though.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

The books I cherish most were given to me by my mum. She’s always been a great reader and spent hours choosing books she thought my sister and I might love when we were younger. She bought Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth for me and introduced me to The Kite Runner many years ago. She still gives me great book tips. The other special book I have is my debut novel, Burned. I was very surprised – and honoured – to receive an award from Random House for it last year and it was amazing being able to put a copy of a book I’d written on my bookshelves. I’m writing another novel now and have definitely learned a lot about the process since Burned was published, but I think the first one will always be special.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My parents were pretty liberal and let us read everything when we were growing up. I don’t remember anything ever being deemed inappropriate, so if there was something I wanted to read on their shelves (which were absolutely jam-packed), I would have just got on with it.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

If I’ve borrowed a book and loved it, I will often buy a copy. It might not go on my shelves, I might give it to someone else as a gift, but I do like to support writers whose work I’ve enjoyed.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

An Australian girlfriend recently gave me The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow. He’s widely considered to be one of Australia’s finest writers, but I hadn’t heard of this book until she told me about it. That’s what I’ll be reading next.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Their first thought would probably be that I don’t have many books. If they looked a little more closely, I hope they’d think that I enjoy intelligent writing by a wide range of authors.

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A huge thanks to Persephone for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and for taking the time to chat with us all. Anyway… Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Persephone’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike

Being one of my favourite films I have always wanted to read John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick because the general rule is that the book is always so much better than the film, so in my head this meant the book was going to be amazing. I have also meant to read Updike again ever since I read Couples which was a choice at my old book club back in 2010. So I admit that I entered into the spirit of reading this one in high hopes. I have to tell you whilst The Witches of Eastwick has some similarities to Couples it has very little similarity to the film other than the characters names, it was quite unexpected.

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1984 (2007 edition), fiction, 320 pages, bought by me

There is something in the air in the town of Eastwick that turns women into witches, generally when they leave or are left by their husbands. Alexandra, Sukie and Jane are three such witches and as they have become friends, with their Thursday nights of cocktails and gossip, they have formed rather a powerful bond and indeed a rather powerful coven. These three ‘independent’ women sleep with the married men of the town, seemingly casting a spell over them, until a stranger by the name of Darryl Van Horne arrives taking over the local Lennox Mansion and wetlands and soon the three witches are competing to vie for the attentions of one mysterious man.

What initially, and I should add pleasantly, surprised me about the novel was the fact that these three witches were just that, witches. They could cast spells on the people they didn’t like (which at various points becomes very important and quite horrifying), throw fortune in their favour, hex you, levitate, create storms and quite literally drive men mad. Yet brilliantly Updike just makes this all part and parcel of a life in a town in Rhode Island in the 1970’s with the Vietnam War making its presence felt in the background. No one in the town seems to really bat an eyelid, what they don’t like it change and Daryl Van Horne is very much change, magic they barely bat an eye to.

Alexandra counted the seconds until the thunder: five. By rough rule this made the storm she had conjured up two miles in diameter, if these strokes were at the heart. Blundering thunder rumbled and cursed. Tiny speckled sand crabs were emerging now from their holes by the dozen and scurrying sideways towards the frothing sea. The colour of their shells was so sandy they appeared transparent. Alexandra steeled herself and crunched one beneath the sole of her bare foot. Sacrifice. There must always be sacrifice. It was one of nature’s rules.

Yet these are not the sort of witches I would want in my neighbourhood because, rather surprisingly to me because of the film, these women are not that nice, more often than not they are actually quite nasty witches and quite nasty bitches. In some ways this is rather fascinating as we see these women who have become friends, though I was never quite sure why as they had slept with each other’s husbands in the past and could be quite malicious about the other, turn against each other and several people of the town.

At the same time though I found this confusing. What was Updike trying to say about women? You see initially Alexandra (in particular), Sukie and Jane seem like thriving independent women who are getting the most out of life. That I found a really positive and feminist stand. However soon enough not only do we discover they are sleeping with most of the married men around the town, as I mentioned including each other’s husbands before they ridded themselves of them. Then as Darryl turns up they turn on each other and become calculating and manipulative man eaters (especially Jane who I despised) who will trample on each other to get the man before realising they are going to have to share and so start having group sex regularly, to please their man – classy. Oh and heaven help any woman who then tries to get in on the act. Where is the sisterhood then? The book soon becomes the polar opposite of feministic as it twists and turns.

Like most good school teachers he was a tyrant, unctuous and insistent; in his dank way he wanted to sleep with everybody. Jane was sleeping with him these days. Alexandra had succumbed a few times in the past but the episode had moved her so little Sukie was perhaps unaware of its vibrations, its afterimage. Sukie herself appeared to be chaste vis-à-vis Neff, but then she had been available least long. Being a divorcee in a small town is a little like playing monopoly; eventually you land on all the properties. The two friends wanted to rescue Jane, who in a kind of indignant hurry was always selling herself short. It was the hideous wife, with her strawy dull hair cut short as if with grass clippers and her carefully pronounced malapropisms and her goggle-eyed intent way of listening to every word, whom they disapproved of. When you sleep with a married man you in a sense sleep with the wife as well, so she should not be an utter embarrassment.

As I read on I became more and more frustrated for the book as it became more and more apparent that Updike’s novel for feminists, with a little research I discovered that is what he called it, was more like an evocation of his ideals of feminism. Also known as women who will basically sleep with each other and all the men and don’t mind overall but if one puts a toe out of line then you might end up with a terminal illness hexed on you, or worse.

Updike’s prose, as with Couples which interestingly has similar themes and similarly vile characters, is wonderful. The descriptions of Eastwick and its inhabitants are marvellously created and you feel you have walked the streets, chatted to the locals and headed out to the wetlands once you have finished. He also really looks at the society of certain times and how the world was changing far faster than people wanted it to. Again, magical goings on are fine, but building a tennis court (the scene in the book is even better than the film) or changing the name of a street is an utterly heinous idea. Change is not good.

Felicia’s beady eyes furious eyes flashed. “No you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t think Shithouse Square had such a bad ring to it either. You don’t give a damn about the world we pass onto our children or the wars or the we inflict on the innocent or whether or not we poison ourselves to death, you’re poisoning yourself to death right now tho what do you care, drag the whole globe down with you ith the way you look at it.” The diction of her tirade had become thick and she carefully lifted from her tongue a small straight pin and what looked like part of an art-gum eraser.

I am torn with The Witches of Eastwick as a novel. Unusually I much preferred the film. I guess on the level of a tale of three witches in a small town who are pulled apart and against each other over a new man on the scene it is a darkly entertaining read. I also loved all the magic in such a suburban setting. Not that you have to with a book by any means, but don’t expect to like any of the characters or find any real redemption anywhere, well maybe with Sukie, maybe. As a feminist work it falls flat, really it’s a male chauvinists view of what the fantasy, or maybe even nightmare, of feminism is – the twist almost at the end really highlighting that. Puzzling indeed.

Who else has read The Witches of Eastwick and what did you make of it? Did you dislike the witches as much as I did? If you want to hear more about the book Gavin, Kate, Rob and I discuss it on the latest episode of Hear… Read This! so do have a listen. Which films have you seen that are better than the books, or give the characters and situations of a book a better context, do many of them exist?

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Filed under John Updike, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

I’ve Been…

…A little bit busy this week and haven’t had a proper chance to catch up with you all about some lovely things that have been going on. So I thought I would do a mini catch up and tease you all with a few things that I will be telling you all about soon, as is my want. First up though this has been my birthday week (though actually the celebrations carry on next week and weekend too, I am totally milking it) and I had brilliant birthday, thank you for your birthday wishes, it involved lots of pottering, sorting and the lots of cake as made by The Beard…

Birthday shot

In case you are wondering it is a lemon meringue cheesecake, which is my favourite cake as it is all sorts of amazing. The Beard being a trained chef meant it was even more amazing. Anyway that was all lovely and we had lovely friends round for the evening including my lovely mate Emma who I made a pact to get a tattoo, with a literary twist. As the date, which we booked back in early February, drew nearer I was getting more and more nervous. However, I did it…

Tattoo Teaser

Yes that is a teasing shot as I will share it all with you next week! Teaser, in fact I am a triple teaser as today has been a bonkersly brilliant day in Manchester where I got to sit and have a coffee and a long chat with Emma Donoghue about Frog Music, which is very good, for next weeks episode of You Wrote The Book, she was brilliant and so lovely. I then met my aunty Alice, who you have all been recommending books for and she says thanks, for afternoon tea. Then I went and had a (two hour) wander around the refurbished Central Library…

Library Teaser

It is stunning and needs a special post so I will do that next week as I have a few reviews and posts to schedule before packing to go off to Harrogate tomorrow with three of my bestest mates to spend time mooching, eating cream cakes, drinking tea and being tourists. Cannot wait.

What have you all been up to? What have you been reading? What’s new?

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Dead Scared – S. J. Bolton

How times flies. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I read Now You See Me, the first in S.J Bolton’s, or Sharon Bolton as she has now ‘some out as – as it were, series of DC Lacey Flint crime novels yet it is in fact two years. After having read Now You See Me I remember being desperate to read the next one but putting it off as I didn’t want it to be overkill. Pun unintended. Yet once having finished Dead Scared I was (almost) kicking myself for having not read it sooner. But sometimes the best crime novels shouldn’t be binge read and saved and savoured for the right moment, as you may have guessed from that statement Dead Scared is another bloody brilliant crime thriller. Pun fully intended.

Bantham Press, hardback, 2012, fiction, 378 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

At Cambridge University a girl has tried and failed to take her own life in an extreme and unusual way, and yet she survives. Yet psychologist and lecturer Evi Oliver thinks there is something much darker possibly going on as she looks into suicides in the university and discovers that there have been 19 cases in 5 years. DC Lacey Flint is then assigned an undercover role, from DI Mark Joesbury, as a student at the school to look into the cases and find out more about what might be going on that the clothed detectives are concerned could be a case of something much darker. Soon enough Lacey is thrown into a world of internet suicide pacts, cruel student pranks and then she starts to have nightmares and the suspicion that the scary dreams of a man coming into her room might actually not be her brains overactive imagination. Could someone genuinely be scaring these girls to death?

As with Now You See Me there is much to admire about Dead Scared. Firstly it is really gripping and incredibly chilling. I was completely hooked from the very start of Dead Scared, and actually ended up reading it in two sittings both well into the night which was most unadvised when you then have to go through the house turning all the lights off and frankly have the creeps. Fear is something that we all have and know the sensation of and just as Bolton’s killer, or killers, uses that to their advantage with their victims so does Bolton with her readers. I don’t like clowns, even though they aren’t my greatest fear, I like them even less now. This book seriously gave me the shivers.

Secondly, not only are there several red herrings and dead ends to leave the reader constantly second guessing themselves and who the killer is, there is also a clever second plot around some creepy goings on in Evi Oliver’s life which has you pondering how and if the two may or may not be interlinked. Perfect puzzling fodder for anyone who loves a good (and occasionally rather grisly; one method of supposed suicide really, really bothered me – and it wasn’t even the clown one) crime and playing detective along with the detectives.

Thirdly I love Lacey Flint. Not quite in the on/off way that DI Mark Joesbury does, but she is a really fascinating protagonist. She is likeable despite the fact she is bolshy, she is honest yet sometime all too emotion driven (which is both a good and bad thing), she is also flawed (she likes a drink and casual sex and other activities) but most interestingly is she is a mystery. Still two books into the series Bolton is revealing, or actually not revealing but teasing, us with Lacey’s back story. I think there is much more for us to find out, I won’t give it away but one thing we learn about her made me do a ‘what?’ especially as she works for the police, and as we do I think it is going to get darker and darker.

Fourth and finally, because I may just sound like a stuck record of praise, what I like so much about her novels is that yes there is a lot of crime yet there are also real issues of ‘the now’ which are dealt with in her books. In Now You See Me (which I also heartily recommend if you hadn’t guessed) we are given a Ripper copycat killer thriller, which also looks at the issues of the homeless in London and how they are treated and seen by society. In Dead Scared we have a genuinely unsettling and creepy novel which also looks at the rate of suicides in the young, some hard facts and figures are placed in the book which leaves you really thinking.

I would highly recommend Dead Scared. If you like gritty and realistic crime thrillers which will have you hooked but also look at the darker aspects of society and we human beings then you can’t go wrong with these. If the series carries on like this then Sharon is going to be up there with Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah, Susan Hill and Kate Atkinson as one of my very, very favourites. I can’t wait for the next one, and as I have discovered the 4th DC Lacey Flint book is out in May I might have to dive into Like This, For Ever (the third) ridiculously soon.

P.S From now on I will always call S.J. Bolton Sharon Bolton, this edition was just under the S.J. title.

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Filed under Bantam Press, Books of 2014, Review, S.J. Bolton, Sharon Bolton, Transworld Publishing

The Changing Taste Buds of a Reader; Is It Just a Phase?

Over the last few months I have noticed that my taste in books seems to have changed. I normally revel in a good ‘literary’ literary novel, yet oddly in the last month or so I have noticed that this is waning. I have started at least six or seven that I have then put down onto the back burner/shelf or simply passed on to someone else. It has made me wonder if my tastes in what I read had changed and if so why might that be?

Gav and I used to talk on The Readers (and interestingly Thomas and I discuss it on this week’s episode) about those most literary of books in which someone spends ninety odd pages walking to the shop and thinking about something. I was always quite a vehement defender of these books, yet I have noticed that those books simply aren’t working for me now. I lose interest, I am not really bothered about Mrs Muggings (I have just made her up, she isn’t in a real book that I know of) and the strife of her second marriage that lies in tatters and all her offspring who are all suffering in their varying ways – particularly middle class ones I have noticed.

That isn’t to say I have gone off literary books completely, far from it, I just think what I need with a literary novel is something, erm, novel or something with a different feel to it. I mean the thing is even with something like Jelly Belly (bear with this analogy, I have been eating a lot of them of late) you have your favourite flavours that you save till the end and then when you have had a few of them you think ‘ooh lovely tutti-frutti, but actually maybe I would like a tropical punch one now!’

Maybe a curry analogy, I always order chicken tikka but actually really like loads of new ones when I dare to try them, might have been better but the image wouldn’t have been so pretty. Sorry, I digress…

I haven’t given up on literary novels and just moved to ‘genre’ fiction, though I have noticed I am having a real hunger for crime, but I have noticed that I don’t want endless waffle and inner monologues and rhetorical questions for a three page paragraph. Basically flowery just isn’t working. I need hard core plot, narrative and characters. I need to be hooked in very quickly and made to want to come back. Putting a book down and forgetting about it has also happened a bit this year and it gets me and the book nowhere fast if I carry on.

Could it be that my tastes have changed for good, or is this just a phase? I am actually wondering if in fact our circumstances, and I don’t just mean mood which is really important, can change the readers we are? I can’t sit down for hours and hours reading like I did a few years ago and it was my main job. I don’t have the long commute to get slowly involved. I grab minutes in the mornings and afternoons and then have a few solid hours here and there in the evening around work, so maybe that is the change. I do find it quite unsettling though.

So I thought I would ask all of you about it? One of the many joys of social media and blogs is that you don’t feel like such a weirdo when other people feel the same. Interestingly, my mate Emma said that she thinks it can be a case of reading in cycles, she is currently having a phase of reading dark depressing books like she did in her early twenties. Could that also be the case? What do you reckon? Answers on a postcard, or preferably in the comments below. Ta!

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And Now We Are 32…

Ok, we aren’t and this blog isn’t, but today I am. Yes it is birthday day here at Savidge Reads. As this post is scheduled, so I can just have a day doing what the hoot I want all day, I am not sure what I will be up to. Though that said I do know that I am having a lovely dinner party with some of my friends. The Beard is doing all my favourite things for tea; prawn cocktails, steak pie and lemon meringue cheesecake (which is amazing, he is a chef so it should be but this is BEYOND) all followed by this…

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…Which makes me feel 12 (not just because of the popping candy that it is laced with) rather than 32 but that is a lovely thing. I have no real idea what I will be getting either apart from my lovely literary tattoo which will being etched on me for life early on Tuesday morning. I am slightly pooping myself, never a good look, yet I am oddly intrigued by how painful it will be. I have decided 32 is going to be a year of doing things I would never normally consider. More on that when I have mulled it, drunkenly discussed it and then decided on a definite plan of action.

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Saying Goodbye to Gran…

I may just have issues with letting go but I have found it very odd to think that as my reading life, and this blog too, goes on I won’t really mention Gran so much anymore. She was such a huge part of my life and my reading it doesn’t feel like it’s over. It had seemed strange to me to possibly end it all on merely the books that she has left behind that I will now go on to read; it didn’t seem like an apt ending, not quite yet.

So I thought I would share the final physical farewell we had for Gran ourselves a few weekends ago when we did her ashes, a weekend I have to say I was dreading as it loomed ever nearer. I think I am still quite raw about her death and her knot being here. I still often think of something I must ring her to tell her, even though I was with her as much as I could be after we discovered she was terminally ill, with her when she died and even though we have had the funeral. Yet we do have to move on, we have to find that dreaded cliché of a thing called ‘closure’.

It was with this in mind that we Savidge’s, just Gran’s children and me, met up for the weekend to do the final clearing of the house and of course the ashes. Well do you know what, I think Gran would have been really proud because even though it was very sad in many ways it often ended in hysterics, partly because when you are highly emotionally charged everything ends up in hysterics. For example before we had even left the house we had been in hysterics at the fact that when we went to get the remainder of my Granddad’s ashes, as Gran wanted them with hers, from the garage I discovered not one set but two, making twice the amount of Gran and leaving us all wondering if (as one had a mere post it note with his name on, the other was very professional) actually we might have someone else with us.

After much pondering we finally made a move and packed our rucksacks and off we went to an unnamed location which involved a mammoth (well for me who used to do 11 miles a day walking holiday and now walks twenty minutes to the station and back each day) hike up a hill to a spot that Gran had said was where she wanted and somewhere she could see from her house when she was poorly. The view as you can see was quite serene and quite, quite stunning.

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We did the deed and then in true Gran style we cracked open a couple of bottles of cava, raised a toast to Gran, had a bit of a cry and then (which we thought she would have liked as a bit of a techno-gadget Gran) with much laughter tried to capture a moment of all her offspring on camera, introducing one of my aunties to the concept of the ‘selfie’…

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Well, once we started we couldn’t stop and tears were falling down our faces from laughter. She would have liked that, it was oddly bonkers which seemed rather apt. We then decided it was time to head and see the house which we were all brought up in and keep the nostalgia and laughter going, a happy walk down memory lane which nicely leads to another apt selfie – I said once we started we couldn’t stop.

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Yes that really is my uncle, aunties and (on the right) my mother. No one seems to believe me, but it is true I swear. Anyway… The walk took us through the woods that we all used to often go on big family walks (I can still hear Gran saying the immortal words ‘get your boots on’) in and then at last to where we used to live.

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It was so odd going back and peering at the neighbourhood houses we played in before of course going to the house we live in itself.

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Note – we didn’t have the really tacky balcony someone has attached, I used to say I wanted to buy this house back when I was much younger (after I had cried for about a week when it was sold) strange how going back I loved it, missed it yet couldn’t imagine being in it again. No, not because I could barely make it up the hill – cheeky.

After this a well-earned pint, or three, seemed due and so we decided we would (again as Gran would have thoroughly approved of it) have a bit of a pub crawl and dinner in our old town and put the world to rights and spend time with each other without all the madness that we had last year, it was just really nice being with each other and while we missed Gran we had all the lovely memories to share. One thing that did happen, which we afterwards we found hysterical not initially, was that the pub we had dinner at got raided by the police. The sniffer dogs came in and we were all looking at our bags, which may have had traces of ashes in, with mounting panic. Would we be arrested? We thought gran would have found this a hoot. In fact all in all she would have loved the day had it not been the occasion that it obviously was.

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Even though she is no longer with us physically, she was making new funny and bonkers memories and because we are all her offspring, or her offspring’s offspring, we will continue to do so. That and all the reading ahead. By the way, I found the picture above the next day and couldn’t not share it.

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So it has been a farewell to Gran though it still doesn’t feel final, but I don’t think it ever will because she is living in me, both in the genes and in the memories and I can’t be thankful enough for that, even if I miss her like mad. So maybe we never really do say goodbye, only goodbye to the sad or difficult memories. Those we love, and the lovely memories we have of the best moments, stay with us for good.

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