blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: In Sat Nav We Trust – Jack Barrow*

In SatNav We Trust – a search for meaning through the Historic Counties of England is a journey through ideas of science and belief, all the while searching for meaning and a bed for the night. Or was that the other way around?

On May 1st 2013 I set off from Oxford on the trip of a lifetime. It wasn’t a trip around the world or up the Himalayas, I set off to visit every one of England’s 39 historic counties. These are the counties that used to exist before all the boundary changes that chopped Yorkshire into bits, got rid of evocative sounding names such as Westmorland, and designated the big cities as metropolitan boroughs. I wanted to visit England as it used to be, although that’s not quite how it turned out.

In SatNav We Trust started out as a travelogue exploring all the usual suspects, spectacular landscapes, architectural or engineering wonders, historic towns with their cathedrals and castles. However, it soon developed into a journey through ideas and beliefs, an exploration of how the rational and the apparently irrational jostle for position in human experience. The book discusses our fundamental scientific understanding of the universe when, deep inside us, we might be as irrational as a box of frogs. This context, the exploration of England—the places stumbled across with no day to day plan, created the backdrop for these ideas.

The book takes the form of a journey through one English county a day. Rather than having a plan, other than a rough anticlockwise direction of travel, the trip was largely spontaneous. This unplanned nature is what drives the narrative, similar to the way a MacGuffin drives a story, and opens the possibility of stumbling across unintended experiences.

The journey is taken in a fifteen-year-old 4×4 referred to throughout as The Truck, along with a sat nav referred to as Kathy (actually the voice of Kathy Clugston from Radio 4). Rather than paying for hotels this was a camping trip to keep the costs down. The logistics of finding somewhere to camp each night provided further challenges. All of these inconveniences, and the unexpected solutions that followed, provided useful metaphors for concepts that arose in the philosophical exploration.

The result of this unplanned approach is that the story only covers the areas of the counties passed through. There are no descriptions of the obvious locations in each county because the journey simply didn’t pass that way. However, this means that there were unplanned encounters with places such as a village falling into the sea, the wonderfully mad Tees Transporter Bridge, or accidentally driving a speedboat with two drunk blokes without any consideration about how to get ashore.

Jack Barrow is a writer of books and blogs about ideas based on popular philosophy in modern life. He is a critical thinker but not a pedant. He has an interest in spiritual perspectives having been brought up as both a Mormon and a Jehovah’s Witness. He’s not sure, but he believes this particular ecclesifringical upbringing makes him a member of a pretty exclusive club. He is also fascinated by science. At the same age as his parents were taking him to church services, he was also watching Horizon documentaries and Tomorrow’s World, becoming fascinated about science and technology. Perhaps around the time of the moon landings, when he was six or seven, he came to the conclusion that, sooner or later, people would realise that the sky was full of planets and stars, science explained the universe, and that there was no God looking down. He really thought that religion’s days were numbered. Declining congregations seemed to back that up, but since then there has been a growth in grass roots movements that seem to indicate people are looking for something to fill the void left by organised religion. He now has a particular interest in the way people are creating their own spiritual perspectives (whatever spiritual means) from the bottom up using ideas sourced from history, folkloric sources and imagination. Rather ironically it was members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who first introduced him to the landscape of Wiltshire, with its stone circles and ancient monuments, which later kindled his interest in spiritual beliefs taken from more ancient perspectives.

He has also written a novel; The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is a story of a group of magicians who discover a plot to build casinos in Blackpool and so turn the resort into a seedy, tacky, and depraved town. During this hard-drinking occult adventure, with gambling and frivolous trousers, Nigel, Wayne and Clint travel north on Friday night but they need to save the world by Sunday evening because they have to be back at work on Monday morning.

Jack lives in Hertfordshire, England, where he earns a living writing about things in engineering; this usually means photocopiers and bits of aeroplanes. He shares his home with R2D2 and C3PO, occasionally mentioned in his blog posts. People used to say he should get out more. At the time of writing he is currently shielding from the apocalypse, having been of a sickly disposition as a child, and wondering if he will be able to go to a live music pub ever again.

My thoughts:

An interesting wander around England’s counties, including ones like Rutland and Westmorland, that don’t technically exist anymore. My own county of Middlesex only exists as a postal county, having been swallowed up by London over the years.

I got a bit cross with the lack of organisation at times – not having investigated campsites in advance horrifies me, I would need to know where I was sleeping before I arrived. But that’s just me. There was a very freewheeling, take it as it comes feel to the narrative.

Dipping into his own past and that of the land around him for stories and anecdotes as he travels, Jack seems a little like a travelling storyteller, someone perhaps unfamiliar in our modern age, but perfectly common in the past.

Reading this in the post-lockdown days of 2020 was slightly jarring, you certainly can’t just travel freely around the UK anymore so there was an extra edge of nostalgia there, that I don’t imagine the author thought of.

It was fun to stop places I’ve been to, and interesting to learn a little about places I haven’t, and I certainly know which campsites are best avoided!


*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Rhubarb Rhubarb – Mary Jane Paterson & Jo Thompson*


Rhubarb Rhubarb collects the witty, wide-ranging correspondence between Leiths-trained cook Mary Jane Paterson and award-winning gardener Jo Thompson. Two good friends who found themselves in a perfect world of cupcakes and centrepieces, they decided to demystify their own skills for one another: the results are sometimes self-deprecating, often funny, and always enlightening.
Jo would find herself one day panicking about what to cook for Easter lunch: a couple of emails with Mary Jane and the fear subsided, and sure enough, a delicious meal appeared on the table. Meanwhile, Jo helped Mary Jane combat her irrational fear of planting bulbs by showing how straightforward the process can be.
The book is full of sane, practical advice for the general reader: it provides uncomplicated, seasonal recipes that people can make in the midst of their busy lives, just as the gardening tips are interesting, quick and helpful for beginners. Mary Jane shares secrets and knowledge gathered over a lifetime of providing fabulous food for friends and family, while Jo’s expertise in beautiful planting enables the reader to have a go at simple schemes with delightful results.

Mary Jane Paterson trained at Leith’s Cookery School where she completed the one-year diploma. She worked at various places including at the English Gardening School at Stoneacre in Kent creating feasts for trainee gardeners. Since then she has taken on various culinary projects including hosting cooking days at her house in Sussex, most notably with CJ Jackson who runs Billingsgate fish school. In the last few years she fulfilled a life long wish to go to drama school. She ended up with a certificate and a little more stage fright than when she started. Her love of food is legendary, her fare is fabulous and everyone looks forward to going to her dinners. Her first rather sad culinary adventure was documented in her mother’s novel, Yadav-A Roadside Love Affair.

Jo Thompson is one of the UK’s leading garden designers, which came as much as a surprise to her as it does to everyone who knows her. She is renowned for her exquisite planting and innate sense of place. Jo’s Wedgwood Garden won a gold medal at the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show, and she has won numerous other awards including a smattering of Chelsea golds. Apart from being a full time designer, she lectures and writes for the Sunday Times.

My thoughts:

This is a delightful epistolary year long guide to delicious food and beautiful plants exchanged between two friends, both very knowledgeable in their respective fields. Full of recipes and illustrations of plants, this book is both enjoyable to read and useful in both the kitchen and the garden.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Hidden Wyndham – Amy Binns*

New biography explores the secret love life of celebrated author John Wyndham

Hidden Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters includes previously unpublished love letters from The Day of the Triffids author

The first biography of the life of science fiction author John Wyndham is now available. It includes the first publication of a collection of love letters to his long-term partner and later wife, Grace Wilson.

Hidden Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters, by Dr Amy Binns, author and senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), explores Wyndham’s wealthy but traumatic childhood. This was transformed by a spell at the first mixed-sex public school Bedales from 1915 to 1918, the source of the strange but fervent feminism of Consider Her Ways and Trouble with Lichen.

The biography covers his formative years as a pulp fiction writer, his experiences as a censor during the Blitz and his part in the Normandy landings. He described his struggles with his conscience in a moving series of letters to Grace, the teacher with whom he had a 36 year love affair.

After the war, he transformed the searing experiences of wartime London, France and Germany into a series of bestselling novels: The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Kraken Wakes. But he remained intensely private, shunning fame and finally retiring to live anonymously with Grace in the countryside he loved.

With a decade of experience in news reporting, Dr Amy Binns is now a writer, researcher and journalism lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire.

Her PhD was on solutions to difficult behaviour on social media and other online communities, and she has contributed to a report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life on the intimidation of parliamentary candidates. She regularly speaks on Radio Five Live on social media issues.

Hidden Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters, is Dr Binns’ second book. She has also written about local history in the book “Valley of a Hundred Chapels”, also available on Amazon. She has also published papers and chapters on interwar feminism and social history. Dr Binns lives in Yorkshire with her husband and two children.

My thoughts:

This was certainly an interesting book, like most people I knew little of John Wyndham beyond his famous books; The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids foremost, but the reclusive author led a long and interesting life.

His wartime experiences are recalled in verbatim reproduction of the letters he and his great love, Grace, exchanged, while other details come from Grace’s diaries and Wyndham’s brother Viv’s writing.

I found the section on his publishing career and his works most interesting, he founded a science fiction magazine with several contemporaries as well as producing the novels for which he is most well known.

His early feminism was also very interesting, perhaps stemming from witnessing his parents unhappy marriage and his father’s treatment of women in particular.

Throughout it all it is his relationship with Grace that sustains him, and although very few people were even aware of their love, and they only married later in life, Binns posits that all of his female heroines were versions of Grace, a love letter in every story he wrote.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: First in the Fight – Helen Antrobus & Andrew Simcock*

Emmeline Pankhurst stands proudly in St Peter’s Square, but she stands for so many more…

First in the Fight tells the compelling stories of the twenty women featured on the Our Emmeline statue long-list. Author Helen Antrobus brings to life the achievements of these radical Manchester women alongside beautiful illustrations by the Women in Print collective.

Be part of the legacy of the 20 Manchester women who changed the world.

The women of Greater Manchester have long stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight for equality and social change. The unveiling of the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square, strove to represent the contributions that Manchester women had made not only to the city, but also to the rest of the world.

Sitting alongside stunning illustrations from the ‘Women in Print’ collective, First in the Fight brings to life the stories of a range of inspiring women, from suffragettes, to botanists and mathematicians. The efforts of these pioneering women have shaped the world we live in and have helped pave the way for the voices of the next generation of women to be heard.

My thoughts:

This was a really interesting read, showcasing some incredible women from the past whose campaigning work has changed history and still affects us today. As well as the Pankhursts and other well known names, this book also showcases some women you may not be so familiar with. All of them connected to Manchester in some way, where a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst was erected not so long ago.

I was interested to learn about the women whose names were less familiar, history still mainly teaches about the men of influence and it is hard sometimes to find out about the women who changed history. I wrote my A Level History coursework on Mrs Pankhurst, and was told I should have chosen a man. That wasn’t that long ago.

Books like this, stories like these women’s, are so important in reshaping the discourse around our history and the place of women in it. I hope every school buys several copies and adds these women (and others) to their curriculum as our lives today would be very different without them and their hard won successes.

 

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.