Category Archives: Book Group

The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett

I have been somewhat berating myself of late over the fact that I seem to be reading more shiny new books than I do the backlists of authors that I am either big fans of or think I could be big fans of. (I have mentioned my thoughts on an author binge of late who I have been meaning to read much more of.) I was therefore delighted when my lovely friend Barbs chose Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van, both as it was short and I have been prize judging (she’s very considerate) and because Bennett is a writer I love who I haven’t read enough of. Shockingly though I have read it twice I don’t have a review of The Uncommon Reader on the blog which is a HUGE favourite here as it is with most readers. Anyway, I was excited to read this and chat about it with three ladies in a restaurant…

Profile Books, paperback, 1989 (1999 edition), non fiction, 96 pages, bought by myself for myself

‘I ran into a snake this afternoon,’ Miss Shepherd said. ‘It was coming up Parkway. It was a long, grey snake – a boa constrictor possibly. It looked poisonous. It was keeping close to the wall and seemed to know its way. I’ve a feeling it may have been heading for the van.’ I was relieved that on this occasion she didn’t demand that I ring the police, as she regularly did if anything out of the ordinary occurred. Perhaps this was too out of the ordinary (though it turned out the pet shop in Parkway had been broken into the previous night so she may have seen a snake). She brought her mug over and I made her a drink, which she took back to the van. ‘I thought I’d better tell you,’ she said, ‘just to be on the safe side. I’ve had some close shaves with snakes.’

And so The Lady in the Van starts as it means to go on and throws us straight into the (very much true) story of Alan Bennett and his neighbour Miss Shepherd. Well, when I say neighbour, I actually mean the woman who lived in a van on his road until some people complained to the council and Bennett kindly offered her the space on his drive/front garden in front of the garage. What Mr Bennett didn’t realise was that the invite to stay there for a couple of weeks turned into the small time of a mere fifteen years. Through short sharp diary entries he lets the reader into a relationship and friendship of sorts which he never expected.

It is almost too obvious to say that what I loved most about The Lady in the Van was Alan Bennett’s writing, yet it is true – I just love his writing. The way he captures people’s characteristics is wonderful and Miss Shepherd’s full (or full on) personality comes loud and clear, what a character she was. Some people might have made me more of a figure of fun, some might have made her a tragic case, Bennett brings all of her sides and intricacies to life; at times she is witty, difficult, frustrating, upsetting, a villain and a victim. Bennett is also very good at writing honestly (or as honestly as one can) about himself. He isn’t some hero in shining armour who befriended an old lady and made her life wonderful, he is a man who did something very kind and sometimes wondered why on earth he had bothered yet at the same time he made as much a difference to her life as she did to his. It is deftly done.

October 1984. Some new staircarpet fitted today. Spotting the old carpet being thrown out, Miss S. says it would be just the thing to put on the roof of the van to deaden the sound of rain. This exchange comes just as I am leaving for work, but I say that I do not want the van festooned with bits of old carpet – it looks bad enough as it is. When I come back in the evening I find half the carpet remnants slung over the roof. I ask Miss S. who has put them there, as she can’t have done it herself. ‘A friend,’ she says mysteriously. ‘A well wisher.’ Enraged, I pull down a token piece but the majority stays put.

As much as it made me laugh at times, especially when Miss S decides to become a member of parliament or hints at moving in or pretends the utter mess she lives in is merely blown from all over the road, I was also very much moved by The Lady in the Van. As whilst it is a tale of a crazy lady who ended up in Bennett’s garden, it is also the story of a woman with no family or friends to speak of who has been spending the most of her last decades alone and seen as ‘a character’ which may be the case on the outside but what about on the inside and why she ended up surrounded by cake crumbs, papers and a spotless cutlery set in a van and clothes in a robin reliant. You chuckle, then you think a little deeper.

Through Alan’s observations and thoughts we ponder old age and how no matter how old we get there is still the same person and personality within that body that looks somewhat different than it once did. It also looks at care for the elderly and the benefits (and pitalls) that independence can bring. It also highlights the fact that we tend to forget that elderly people have lived a full life, possibly full of all sorts of secrets and lessons we could learn, yet all we see is the result of those years and sadly sometimes judge them. In fact I would say judging people is probably one of the biggest themes of the book along with kindness, after all how many of us would have done what Bennett did if we found ourselves in that position?

So for me Alan Bennett triumphed once again with The Lady in the Van. As with his fictional writings such as Smut, The Uncommon Reader and his Talking Heads series (which I used to have on tape and listened to religiously before bed in my teens) and with memoir like A Life Like Other People’s he hits us just at the spot where humour and poignancy meet. He is a lover of character and characters and celebrates them with their flaws and all. I must read more of his work and I must see this when the movie comes out in November…

What about all of you? Have you read, or seen the play of, The Lady in the Van? Which of Alan Bennett’s other works have you seen or read and should I head to Untold Stories, Writing Home or Telling Tales next?

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Filed under Alan Bennett, Book Group, Books of 2015, Non Fiction, Profile Books, Review

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

There are many, many books out there that are on my periphery ‘to read one day’ yet that often need a nudge to actually get them into my hands. Sophie’s World, has been one such book – as is Sophie’s Choice which I often confuse one for the other. Not now though, as after the lovely Rita chose Sophie’s World for book club and so, after initially having been very excited and run to the bookshop to buy it, I have read it. All I can say initially was that it was definitely a reading experience unlike any other I have had.

Phoenix Books, 1991 (1996 edition), paperback, 448 pages, bought by myself for book group

Fourteen year old Sophie Amundsen never gets any post. However one day on the way back from school she finds something for her when she collects the latest items from the mail box. She has two notes, one which asks her ‘Who are you?’ and another which asks ‘Where does the world come from?’ This creates several puzzles for Sophie, firstly who on earth is suddenly sending her post and secondly what on earth are the answers to all of these questions which in turn create even more questions. Soon enough more parcels arrive and it seems someone wants to teach Sophie all about philosophy and its history. Yet why suddenly is she also receiving postcards addresses to Hilde care of her? Who is this Hilde girl and how are all these mysteries linked?

There are a lot of questions there before we even really come to any of the actually philosophy that is intertwined within the book. I have been known, on a good day, to be sat looking at the sky and suddenly realising/remembering that I am on a big spinning piece of rock that is spinning through space and time and really we have no idea why it does this or what the point of it all is. I will think about it, possibly contemplating what it might be like to visit the moon, see the earth from space or if there may be aliens out there, and then my head hurts or feels it may implode and so I have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and pick up a book. This book was making my head hurt a little bit by page eight…

Where does the world come from?
She hadn’t the faintest idea. Sophie knew that the world was only a small planet in space. But where did space come from?
It was possible that space had always existed, in which case she would not need to figure out where it came from. But could something have always existed? Something deep down inside her protested the idea. Surely everything that exists must have a beginning? So space must sometime have been created out of something else.
But if space had come from something else, then that something else must also have come from something. Sophie felt she was only deferring the problem. At some point, something must have come from nothing. But was that possible? Wasn’t that just as impossible as the idea that the world has always existed?

I have no issue with a book making me think hard, or about things I have never thought about before. Indeed this is what I often really like about books. Nor do I have issues with books informing me of things that I might not have known before. From the premise of the book I thought I was going to find a really clever twisting and turning mystery, a sort of tale of adventure that would also teach/inform me of philosophy, its ideas and the philosophers behind it at the same time. Instead, overall, I got a book which was a rather clumsily and clunkily (is that a word?) written text book of the history of philosophy which was padded out by an initially rather repetitive and thinly constructed story. A very thinly veiled text book too.

You see for the first hundred or so pages all we get is Sophie walking to and from the letterbox to her house, or two and from the letterbox to some bushes where she has her hide out. In between this riveting (yes, that’s sarcasm) storyline we get chunks of text book like quotes (I actually thought these were either from a very dry text book or that Gaarder had written a text book which was turned away from publishers so added a sprinkling of story and kerching) about philosophers since the beginning of time. Here, had it not been a book club choice, I would have easily given up. Bad prose, dull academic non-fiction, no thank you very much.

Interestingly the book did then take on a very strange and unexpected twist which did in fact save it for me, albeit briefly. I can’t say what the twist is as there may be many of you mad people out there who want to give Sophie’s World a try. What I can say is that it made me think about fiction, writing, books and characters plus the boundaries between the real and the imaginary that was for a while rather fascinating and diverting. Then the book goes all out bonkers, seriously the comparison to Alice in Wonderland is slightly understandable as Gaarder seems to suddenly go off on some ‘trip’ into the utterly bizarre. Ruining the good, if short lived, high point of the book. Well for me at least, though most of the people at book group (who actually managed to finish it, several didn’t) agreed.

Odd then that by the end of it, though I had pretty much loathed or been bored to tears by 80% of it, I was quite pleased I had conquered Sophie’s World, even if only because it was over and I could say I had indeed managed to survive it. It did also do what I guess all philosophical books aim for, it made me ask lots of questions. Sadly these were; how on earth was this a classic, how can people say it is a novel, how would I ever get that time spent reading it back again, how on earth was it a book for teenagers and young adults and could I ever believe anyone who said they ‘loved it when I was 12/13’, how did they even understand it or not get bored out their minds? Food for thought though, ha – and at least I can laugh about it now.

Note – I am joking about people who loved it when they were younger. You are just cleverer than me and I am bitter! Ha!

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Filed under Book Group, Jostein Gaarder, Orion Publishing, Review

May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Homes

A while back I asked you about the Great American novel and how I would like to read more of them be they classic or modern (indeed so much so I asked you about them not once but twice, oops). One of the reasons for this was that I had been discussing it on The Readers, with my new guest American co-host, and also because I had not long finished May We Be Forgiven, A. M. Homes Women’s Prize winning novel, as October’s book club choice. I have taken this long to write about it because I have had to really mull over my rather mixed thoughts on it. Plus as the book starts and finishes on a thanksgiving I thought it might be apt to discuss today, after yesterday.

Granta Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

May We Be Forgiven takes place from one thanksgiving to another as Harry Silver’s life is turned completely upside down in the space of a single year. All it takes is a single kiss to set the ‘chaos ball’ rolling in Harry’s life after his sister-in-law Jane kisses him between washing up the remains of the turkey dinner. A few weeks later when his brother, George, is arrested after a fatal motor incident and promptly has a breakdown (that seems may have been looming for a while) and Harry and Jane start an affair. This is soon followed by a murder, a divorce and suddenly Harry is left as the guardian of his brother’s children. You are left feeling rather breathless after just fifty pages, yes that is right we are only fifty pages in here and all this has already happened, what could possibly follow?

Drenched in her scent, but too shaken to shower or fall asleep in their bed, I wait until she is asleep and then go downstairs, to the kitchen, and wash myself with dish soap. I am in my brother’s kitchen at three in the morning, soaping my cock in his sink, drying myself with a towel that says “Home Sweet Home.” It happens again in the morning, when she finds me on the sofa, and then again in the afternoon, after we visit George. “What’s the story with your hand?” George asks Jane the next day, noticing her bandages. He’s back in his room, with no memory of the night before.
Jane starts to cry.

That was the question I found myself asking as I read on, where on earth will Homes take me next? The answer is that, pretty much, anything you could think imaginable may well be on the cards. We watch as Harry tries to cope with enforced parenthood, divorce, becoming addicted to random sexual encounters through the internet with frustrated (and occasionally crazy) housewives, children with disabilities, even American’s political past via Harry’s obsession with Nixon. Anything it seems that Homes can use to create a satire of the American dream and how delicate it really is and how easily it can all fall apart.

There are some wonderful set pieces here; an unwanted dog who doesn’t want to be walked for good reason, the bumping into a previous casual sexual encounter who now wants to date, a holiday away with three children who aren’t yours and all get violently ill. I could go on, in fact on occasion I was thinking this was a series of short stories (which is how this book started in Granta in 2007) that had all been interlinked to make a tapestry of American life. The problem for me with this was that it what held it together seemed to be less tightly knitted as I went on and the loose threads started to show. There is almost too much going on and too much happening to one man, and the background and fibre of the piece seems to be missing.

As Harry’s ‘new life’ developed the less I started to believe in him. How could so much stuff happen to one man? Seriously, Harry can barely garden without some tool almost decapitating him of inadvertently getting cat poo in his eye. He is really rather an ineffectual character, everything happens to him and he began to feel less and less like a character and more and more like a plot device and one which was simply there to hold the story together and give us some belly laughs along the way. Yet as with all good things – yes, even doughnuts – too much of a good thing can leave you feeling a little queasy. I wanted less of Harry’s antics (I also wanted the whole Nixon stuff to be taken out; I didn’t see the need for it personally) and more of a look at why Harry and his brother George were the way they were which is only ever hinted at on the odd occasion.

The soup warms me, reminding me that I’ve not eaten since last night. A man with two black eyes passes, lunch tray in hand, and I think of how my father once knocked my brother out, flattened him, for not much of a reason. “Don’t be confused who’s the boss.”  

The thing that vexed me the most was that I loved (and I mean really loved) Homes’ writing. I think she is a genius. Every paragraph has some form of genius in it or simply ‘a moment’, every character has some essence of the familiar and real whilst flawed. Every dark moment has some light and laughter to it. Brilliant. Yet it gets too much. A book which is constantly on ‘max power’ doesn’t seem to know where to stop. The clever satire becomes an overdone farce, as I read on I started to find I was getting annoyed by how brilliant it was, because I felt it knew how brilliant it was and was showing off. Not the intention I am sure but there was something in the delivery (and a big edit/shortening would have helped) that jarred and it lost me through the middle. Like with Zoe Venditozzi’s  Anywhere’s Better Than Here after it changed tempo in the second half, I found myself wanting to say to Homes too as the author ‘it’s alright you have me, I think you are a genius, just stop with all the bells and whistles you don’t need it’.

However May We Be Forgiven’s main theme was what won me round again towards the end as it is less a book about the American dream and how it can crack and actually all about what the word ‘family’ means and what a family is. At the start we have the stereotypical ‘blood linked’ family which is clearly fractured and falling apart, quite probably because of the generation above, unwittingly. By the end of the novel we have a very different family, one by no means ‘the norm’ yet one that feels like a true family all the same and I think that is what is at the heart of May We Be Forgiven and is what resonated with me and so its soul saved it. I am certainly left wanting to read much more of Homes work because as I mention, she is a stunning writer.

Who else has read May We Be Forgiven and what did you make of it? I am expecting some interesting mixed responses as we had quite the debate at book group (over whether it depicted a real true America or was a farce, I was in the latter camp), with some of the Green Carnation judges and also recently on the phone to my mother! Have any of you ever found a book where the authors writing is so brilliant and so full on that as it doesn’t let up you find you struggle, or is that just me? Which of Homes’ previous novels should I give a whirl?

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Filed under A. M. Homes, Book Group, Granta Books, Review

The Quiet Savidge…

There are a lot of should have’s going through my mind today. I should have responded to all the lovely comments you have left. I should have written lots of reviews, one of which should have been of ‘The Quiet American’, and scheduled lots of posts. Shoulda, woulda, coulda… I haven’t! Sorry.

In fact I have been struggling to get through ‘The Quiet American’ as I have been reading it on my e-reader which I have noticed I zone out of quite a lot, possibly because I am spending too many hours staring at a screen at the moment. It has now arrived, along with the other three Greene For Gran titles, so I can get back to the ‘actual’ book. Two copies actually arrived so I will do a giveaway when I review it, finally.

Greene For Gran

Things have been c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-razy with work as we get to the last week before Liverpool International Music Festival launches and I have been spending most of my time sat in front of a computer and so to then sit and type anything has seemed like the last thing I have wanted to be doing. In fact my reading has slowed down again because I am spending most of my free time either running (don’t laugh, I am training for a marathon – more on that soon) or just chilling out in front of some appallingly trashy telly that I simply won’t mention because even if you swore you wouldn’t you would judge me.

One of the other things I have been also been doing is going to book groups. Not one book group, but two! One of which I mentioned earlier in the week because it meant I had the utter joy of reading ‘The Princess Bride’ for the first time, I have seen the film umpteen times (it is one of my mother’s favourites) but never touched the book. It was an interesting, and rather large, group though the book didn’t get that much air time. I think most of the people felt it was a fairly entertaining romp but nothing more, which made me stay quiet from declaring my love for it. They are reading a lot of books I have read already, which is not their fault, so I will probably go back and see how they discuss ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and decide if I stay or go. Does that make me sound like a bit of a pompous/fussy/arrogant twat? I don’t mean it to.

I went to another one today (Gran would be so proud being a book group addict herself) where they were discussing ‘Little Hands Clapping’, by one of my favourite authors Dan Rhodes. It is an LGBT group and much smaller than the other one but blow me down we were nattering about the book over a coffee for 2 hours (well with several tangents) which flew by. They meet less regularly but the books they have read are lots I have missed, including the next one which is ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes which I came home to dig out and discovered this…

AM Holmes

Yes another book I have two copies of! I think I am going to keep the hardback over the paperback, it’s heavier but the type is bigger and it’s a first edition – oh and I like hardback cover sooooo much. It has reminded me though that I am in dire need of a book sort out, and I need to be ruthless, really ruthless. I am going to start on the shelves below soon and really ask myself ‘did I buy it or ever ask for it, do I think I might read it anytime soon, would someone probably like a copy more than me, etc.’

ShelvesI am going to really go for it tomorrow and I shall report back. What is news with you? What have you been reading? How are you getting on with your Graham Greene’s if you have been reading them? What else do you have to report?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Back into Book Groups…

Thank you for all your nice thoughts when you popped round for tea and biscuits last week , lovely to catch up with some of you, even though I proceeded to vanish again I did read all your comments. Now that I have actually managed to be at home for a few days on the trot, though I am back off to Derbyshire to see Gran this weekend, and have actually managed a few days of no work and just ‘being’ I have to say I am feeling slightly more normal and caught up with myself a bit – not quite fully but not far off.

Anyway, today I am going to talk to you about book groups because back at the end of last year I said that I wasn’t going to join any more. In fact I think I said I would just stick to doing The Readers Book Club with the lovely Gavin every month, and we have. Oddly we had to have a small crisis meeting about this the other week as over the last few months we’ve been having a bit of a nightmare. Authors have vanished meaning we couldn’t record with them, three publishers promised us books then withdrew last minute making us look a bit stoopid and we thought ‘right, let’s sort this out’. So, we have decided to go seasonal and from now on every three months we will announce three books in advance so people have more of a change to read along and get involved. The summer selection was announced yesterday and here they are…

  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (14th of June 2013)
  • Snake Ropes by Jess Richards (12th of July 2013)
  • The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (8th of August 2013)

So hopefully this will entice some of you to read along, have discussions on our blogs on the same day and even (fingers crossed) get questions to us and possibly appear on the shows when they go live. What say you?

Thinking about book groups then made me realise how much I have actually missed being in one. To be fair when Gran has been lucid we are still talking about books but as she can’t read I haven’t been able to introduce the idea of an ‘End of Your Life Book Club’ ala Will Schwalbe which we had thought to, though as we are listening to the same audiobooks when together maybe that counts? Regardless of that I decided it might be nice to join one, something I am actually rather nervous about as I have tended to start (and then leave the city within months/a year) book groups in the past rather than join one with friendships already running through it.

Yet the lovely Rosario lives in Liverpool and had invited me to join the book group she is in when I moved over here and I initially said yes but then got too busy with everything. However now, after a slightly humble email from me, I have asked to rejoin and if I can get a copy of ‘Watchmen’ from the library in time I will be joining them next week. If not I will be joining the month after for ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. From Alan Moore to Agatha Christie, that sounds like my kind of book group! I also caught up with one of my best friends from secondary school, who I hadn’t seen for sixteen – yes SIXTEEN – years but now live two miles from, yesterday and we joked about one on the Wirral. Could I handle two? Well Gran was in three, so maybe it is in the genes?

So what are your thoughts on the Readers Book Club Summer Selection 2013? Have you read any and what did you think? Also do you have any tips for me as someone joining a book group that has been going a while? Are you in a book group and how are you finding it, and what are you reading, what have been your groups highlight reads? Any of you love books but can’t think of anything worse than a book club, just out of interest?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Can a Book Group Be Bad For a Book?

Both whilst recording the latest episode of The Readers Summer Book Club and then compiling my post on the book, ‘Bleakly Hall’ by Emlaine Di Rollo, itself afterwards has raised a question in my head… Can a book group be a bad thing for certain books and the reading experience around them?

One of the things I love most about a book group is the discussion, the gossip; chatting and wine afterwards is all a bonus. I have found with book groups in the past that discussing a book I didn’t like and hearing everyone else’s thoughts on it can sometimes make me d a complete 180 with my opinion. It can also be an utter joy, and rather bonding as I found with ‘Mary Barton’, if you all loathe a book and can sit and pick it apart. Yet what if you really enjoyed reading a book and others pick it apart, can it kill it for you?

This has very rarely happened to me before in any book groups that I can think of. Why is this so? Well I think it is because I tend to be more critical about books I am reading with my ‘book group’ brain on, yes even more so than when I am reading a book to review. With reviews I analyse the way a book made me feel and the questions it raises itself of makes me ask myself, yet with a book group book I tend to pick it apart all the more. Or maybe I do this all the time and yet am only aware of it when prepping for a book club – yes indeed, I prep.

It is this very reason why I have never suggested reading a Daphne Du Maurier book as a choice of my own to any group I have been part of, other members have and I have always been quite fearful that my favourite authors work will be picked to death and my love of Daphers altered. Fortunately Daphne tends to be so wonderful that this rarely happens.

Yet for the first time ever recently as I read a book I was thoroughly enjoying, the aforementioned ‘Bleakly Hall’, I found that as I knew I would be discussing it in detail I started to pick it apart as I read not afterwards. Normally I always do this afterwards, not during, and I am not sure why it changed with this book but I ended up almost sabotaging reading it because I was pre-empting the questions/reactions/subjects that the book would raise. It had a house of cards effect/loose thread effect and I started picking.

This then made me wonder if some books are just not book group books. For example, and I am not comparing ‘Bleakly Hall’ to this series it is just an example, I would never take an Agatha Raisin mystery to a book group. It and I would be annihilated and those, for me, are just books I read for pleasure, no more no less and there is nothing wrong with books that you simply read and are entertained by the whole way through. I think ‘Bleakly Hall’ would have been just such a book if I wasn’t reading it in the context I did.

So I wondered if any of you had found that there are some books that simply should be avoided as book group choices. Obviously with book group books the idea is no one has read them and so there is always the risk it won’t work I suppose but maybe some experiences/titles stick out in particular? Do you agree some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not picked apart or should all books be treated with the same analytical internal eye of a reader?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

The Day I Infiltrated The W.I.

Seeing as the last few days have been all about the Queen in the UK, and of course in various other parts of the world, I thought I would carry on with the quintessentially British theme by talking about the W.I. If any of you are wondering just what the W.I. is, it is the Women’s Institute and having run since 1914, when it was formed “to revitalize rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War”, it has become something of a British Institution, but also something of a mystery to many. Well thanks to books, and indeed this blog, I got invited to a meeting, so I thought I would report back…

How did books get me, with my beard too, sneaked into a Women’s Institute meeting? Well, since you asked so nicely, it was actually an invite from Louise (one of the lovely new members of The Manchester Book Group – who I will not be seeing at the meeting tonight as I am still ill with this stomach thing, made all the more vexing by the fact tonight is my blinking choice too) who wanted myself and Lucy of Literary Relish to come and talk as “book experts”, which we both thought was debatable, and as people who have set up a book group or two and might have advice. Plus there was the offer of a grand old building to roam around and lots of tea and cake. I was sold on the simple idea of seeing just what happened at a meeting, the cake was just an added bonus. How could we refuse?

So a few weeks ago, a little nervous but very eager, myself and Lucy rocked up at Chetham’s School of Music which is a wonderful old building in the heart of Manchester where the new Manchester W.I. group has been set up.

The lovely Lucy outside Chatham’s School of Music

Well it wasn’t what I expected at all. I thought it would be a) filled soley with some very old ladies who would look at us over their glasses with utter disdain b) filled with a few Kirsty Allsop wannabes c) possibly a group of women chanting how much they hated their husbands. Instead was a wonderfully eclectic group of women of all ages and walks of life (though with a common passion for a floral design on their personage, lovely) who were all very welcoming, though I think the sixth time someone came up and winked ‘you shouldn’t be here should you’ at me it started to lose its charm. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming and excited to be there, it was most contagious.

Lovely ladies of Manchester’s W.I.

 The meeting was designed to set up some sub groups for people within the Manchester W.I. for members who also had the same interests to join. Each one was introduced; there was a ‘fine dining group’, a fitness group, a charity group, a baking group and many more which of course included the book, cinema and theatre group (which was run by Louise and which myself and Lucy were there to offer tips and bookish recommendations too)…

Manchester Women’s Institute Book, Cinema and Theatre Group

 Frankly I wanted to join them all. Particularly the ones involving books, chocolate, tea, cake or all four combined – the fitness one I might possibly not even have looked at. People seemed to mill about and have a gander at everything and then suddenly it was time for tea (in a wonderfully old room)…

The tea-room…

Followed by homemade cakes…

Cakes; please note one of these was for Lucy, they weren’t both for me…

 And then we were all deluged suddenly by people wanting to know how a book group should be set up, what books people should recommend for a group read, what had we loved and read lately etc? It was ace! I don’t think Lucy will mind me saying we were rather in our element. Louise too seemed to have lots and lots of people signing up for the sub-group and people wanting to join her book group AND ours, who says the love of a good book is dead?

The lovely Louise getting deluged in requests for her W.I. sub-group

Well it was lovely. Did I learn any of their secret rituals, well yes I did, but if I told you I would have to hunt you down, if that is ok with you all, do you all agree? (Members will know why that is so apt.)

On a serious note am quite jealous I am not allowed to join one. I was talking to my Gran about this and I can’t even use the gay card, apparently someone tried at the one local to her, which she isn’t a part of, and they said no. In fairness I am not a woman, I think it might be the beard that gives it away, but I would so love to find a group of men and women near me who like books, baking and the like and who I could meet up with at random times to indulge in it all with. I guess I will have to make do with The Beard for now, though I think he may have over exaggerated his love of books in the early days, that’s by the by though (and he has started building a library and getting bookshelves sorted here there and everywhere – swings and roundabouts, you can’t have everything hahaha) back to today’s post…

Do any of you know, or have started and so could give tips, groups of both sexes who bake and the like together anywhere? Is there an online directory you might have heard of? Should, when I am a little better, I start my own? Are any of you members of the W.I. or something similar?

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