Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More on you get what you pay for

A couple of weeks ago the Financial Times ran an article on amazon's employment practices, The Guardian picked it up a few days later and had a comment on it and then last week The Guardian also ran a piece about 1701 people chasing 8 barista in a Nottingham Costa the slant being that people apply for barista jobs because they're perceived as cool and not because they need any work they can get, or need to be seen to be applying for any work they can get. The sad truth is that two or three hundred people chasing a single, quite crappy, job is by no means unusual anymore. It's another sad truth that a lot of people, especially if they work part time, earn less than the U.K living wage - apparently £7.45 outside of London - which is a good pound above the minimum wage. 

More iniquitous than the continuous squeeze put on the low paid to always be doing a little bit more for the bare minimum is the practice of employing people on very short term contracts or through agencies - no holiday, no sick pay, no benefits at all really and certainly no security. Much is made of this in the FT article - amazon , it seems, employ a lot of people on this basis though what I find depressing about it is the vague air of surprise about the whole thing. This kind of contracting has been common for years and I imagine that plenty of FT readers employ people on just this basis.

Amazon have had a bit of bad press recently, mostly for (perfectly legal) tax dodging and now a little for being mean to the work force, but I will admit that my biggest problem with them is that they sometimes use couriers rather than the Royal Mail. Until the tax dodging is actually illegal I don't really have much of an opinion on it apart from that those loopholes need to be closed. As for their employment practices - they're legal too and by no means unusual, it makes me angry that we don't treat each other rather better but there's a but...

I wouldn't want to go back to a pre amazon world. It's pretty much the only on-line retailer I use and I only buy books but that's enough. It's transformed my reading life - so many titles available at a click; all those amazing second hand books... How many booksellers are still in business because they can sell through amazon I wonder? I also here they're good at paying their bills on time which also makes all the difference to small independent publishers, and then there's the whole self publishing ebook thing where I'm a little out of my depth, but is certainly opening rather than closing doors for a whole lot of writers. 

I like to shop on the high street when I can, but I also expect retailers to work as hard for my money as I do, certainly as hard as my customers make me work. I need to make my money go as far as I can but another depressing thing that the current horse meat scandal has neatly demonstrated, and retail generally keeps demonstrating, is that if the price is right we don't ask enough questions and when the veil is lifted it turns out that we don't care as much as you might hope. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I had meant to write about Diana Henry's 'Food From Plenty' tonight - actually I've been meaning to write about it for weeks but other things keep pushing in and today is no exception which is a shame because it's excellent and doesn't deserve to be sidelined. It's moment will come soon. Meanwhile a trip out to buy milk and glare at the 'G' section in Waterstones fiction department because they still don't have those Rumer Godden books (how I spend my weekends maybe needs re-addressing) led to bargains - bunches of daffodils for 10p each (I've never had so many daffodils in the house before, and as I type I can hear them popping open; it's very disconcerting) and cheap English rhubarb. 

Rhubarb is always a favourite, forced rhubarb even more so, and what could be better than supporting a home grown industry? Absolutely nothing could be better if it involves rhubarb. Anyway I managed to come home with about 2 kilos and the question of what to do with it all. I also got a very decent litre of vodka at a knock down price so schnapps was an obvious choice. Nigella has a recipe, so does Diana Henry in Salt Sugar Smoke, and so does Mary Prior in 'Rhubarbaria'. I've gone with Diana Henry's but basically it's rhubarb, sugar, and vodka, I'm guessing quantities don't matter very much - you fill a jar with rhubarb, add sugar, let it melt and get all juicy over night, and then top up with vodka before letting it mature for a month. 

I also went with Diana Henry's rhubarb jelly recipe because it uses apples as well which meant I had enough rhubarb left to make the rhubarb muffins from Mary Prior's book. The apple rhubarb mix is draining into a bowl at the moment but it doesn't look like it's going to produce a whole lot of juice, if the jelly is as good as I hope it will be I'll try making more before the season ends.

juices beginning to macerate; very exciting!
As for the muffins - I've never had much luck with muffins in the past, they've been okay but a little bit underwhelming but these are brilliant. Fruity, not to sweet, moist - generally delicious (I've eaten 2 already)... One of the things I love about 'Rhubarbaria' is that each recipe comes with a provenance, these muffins come from Canada with a charming story attached.

Mix 150g plain flour with 1 and a 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, 100g of sugar, 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 120 mls of milk, 60mls of sunflower oil, and 1 egg. When just combined throw in a cup and a half of  rhubarb chopped into small squares (that's about 4 small stalks) stir in and divide into muffin cases. Sprinkle the tops with caster sugar and bake for about 30 minutes at 190 C/ gas mark 5. Very enjoyable.

I've written about 'Rhubarbaria' before, it's a terrific little book, and should be indispensable to anybody who likes rhubarb even a little bit. It's far more than a cookbook, I get lost in it every time I consult it; it's the sort of book that begs to have cuttings added to it (I have) and invites you to imagine something of the lives of all the very many people who are the source for it's recipes.    

Rumer Godden

Over the last couple of weeks I've acquired a pile of fantastic books - a mix of some good charity shop finds, review copies, moments of weakness in Waterstones, and a last ditch amazon order. There's a lot of great reading to look forward to but nothing I'm as excited by at the moment as these Virago reprints of Rumer Godden's novels.

Long before I knew about Godden as a writer 'Black Narcissus' was one of my favourite films, it's terrific if you haven't seen it, and one of those rare occasions when the film is as good as the book. Can you imagine the excitement of discovering it was a book too? Unfortunately not long after that happy moment Godden's books promptly fell out of print - but now they're back. My manky old second hand copies have gone back to the charity shop for somebody else to discover (they have a treat in store) and I have shiny lovely new books.

Virago very kindly sent me 'Black Narcissus', 'Breakfast With The Nikolides' and 'Kingfishers Catch Fire', the rest came from amazon because in a rare-these-days-fail none of my local Waterstones are stocking them which is disappointing because they're great books (and on a totally selfish level because it meant dealing with a courier and a bizarre argument about how many times said courier had called - he contended twice, but I hold that if you don't leave a note to say you called you can't expect to be contacted). 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Summer Moonshine - P G Wodehouse

After reading 'The Adventures of Sally' I really wanted to get better acquainted with Wodehouse again so was very pleased to find a pile of seemingly unread books in a charity shop - I bought 3, including 'Summer Moonshine', and leaving a few behind for somebody else to discover.

It's hard to find much to say about 'Summer Moonshine' specifically, in the nicest possible way Wodehouse isn't about plot as such, or characterisation - he has a set of stock characters - the vague parent, determined and pretty young women, formidable aunts, dithering young men, a cad, and a hero who may dither a bit, or may be the square jawed determined type - and then there will be romance and misunderstanding until everything ends up happily ever after. It's a time honoured formula and none the worse for that, the joy of his books is in the way he weaves words together; everything is a lovely joke - complicated, labyrinthine jokes spun out of seemingly nothing.

I first found Wodehouse when I was in my teens which with hindsight feels appropriate. So many of the characters are young and intent on enjoying it, problems are of the sort that will obviously be easily sorted - and never needed to be complicated in the first place - and everything will end happily which when I wasn't complaining about how unfair things were was pretty much how I saw life when I was rather younger. One thing I clearly remember about being 17 was the assumption that I could probably work out just about anything and that everything would naturally fall into place. Some of that confidence has ebbed away over the years - when I was twenty I had yet to be confronted with a leaking washing machine, or a leaking boiler, or a leaking water pipe (there's a theme emerging here, nature did not mean me for a plumber). 

Reading Wodehouse again now is comforting - there may well be an element of nostalgia in there for me, but his humour more than stands up to my slightly more sophisticated reading habits and expectations. If anything a better appreciation of how things are put together makes me respect Wodehouse more; he makes it all look so effortless when it clearly isn't - something that becomes very clear when I look for a quote to illustrate just why I find him so funny. The quotes get longer and longer in an effort to pin down the charm until eventually I gave it up as a bad job - all I can say is pick up a book and see for yourself, there are plenty of cheap second hand copies around and a few on project Gutenberg so there's no excuse not to. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Orkney - Amy Sackville

I missed Amy Sackville's first novel (lovely cover but the subject didn't quite grab me) I could not however resist something titled 'Orkney', especially as it's also set in Orkney and promised allusions to selkie myths. George Mackay Brown is probably the best known Orkney writer but he's by no means alone either in terms of being home grown talent or an inspired visitor - Orkney is rich in stories and history. When you visit the history is close to the surface be it in the form of the Italian Chapel, Maeshowe, or any and everything in-between - it's an invitation to story telling and myth making as is the sea - George Mackay Brown's 'ocean of time'.

Richard is an ageing professor; at 60 he's not quite elderly, but the signs are all over his body - joints ache, skin is papery, hair greying, toe nails horned and monstrous, and now there's a very young woman in his life. A brilliant student who seems to be interested in him. She has silver hair, pale skin, and slightly webbed hands and feet. Richard is quickly obsessed, trailing around in search of this creature who appears and disappears without seemingly without warning. Perhaps in an effort to pin her down he asks her to marry him and she agrees to it.    

Richard is also a Tennyson scholar, well aware of the poetic irony of falling for a woman 40 years his junior, and the folly of old men blinded by lust - but he remains powerless against his wife's charms - and so at her request they set off for a frequently in Orkney where she - we never learn her name - spends her days on the beach looking out to sea and he sits at the window watching her. 

Initially Richard's narration put me broadly in sympathy with him, he's so aware of his ageing, and how open to ridicule the situation makes him, but also so hopelessly infatuated that he seems just as hopelessly vulnerable. Slowly though his behaviour becomes more menacing, possessive, maybe even violent. There are odd moments as when for example he holds his wife under the water of her bath at her request, or a night when the sex sounds suspicously close to rape. Richard rather gloats over the sex and that again erodes sympathy. 

Word play is an integral part in this novel, Richard and his wife exchange strings of adjectives as a kind of game - some reviews see it as overwriting but I think it works in this context. It feels like a natural way for people who immerse themselves in literature to communicate, and also a natural way to describe a landscape like Orkney where sea, sky, and light are forever shifting - transforming a landscape which itself frequently melts into the rain or mist. Something else that I only really noticed about half way through is that when his wife speaks it's punctuated with inverted commas, Richards speech isn't marked at all which adds to a sense of dislocation from reality already created by the girls physical oddities and the couples relative isolation. 

It's possible that she is entirely a figment of his imagination - we only see her through his eyes but even so she constantly throws doubt on his reliability as a narrator. As Richard tries to tell back the story of their relationship she keeps correcting him. He describes first seeing her on an autumn day in a 'purple sweater, the colour of heather on the heath...' she denies ever owning a purple jumper but also states heather blooms in spring - which Richard accepts - but heather is a late summer flower. I don't think this is a mistake; neither character is reliable. 

I also think this is a book open to being the story you want it to be. This mysterious girl with a fascination for the sea could be a selkie child or more mermaid than woman; something otherworldly intent on seducing a human creature, equally she might be the victim of an older man's obsession, or again, and just as likely she might not exist at all and this is Richards reworking of all the stories he's worked with over his career. Or perhaps as in Edith Olivier's 'The Love Child' Richard has conjured a physical being from fantasy. 

The reviews I've read of 'Orkney' are mixed. I think it works, and would go as far as to say it's a remarkable achievement - but you'll have to judge for yourself what you make of it...   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

You get what you pay for...

It's been a long, tiring, and often tiresome, week at work (which is why no posts have appeared). Valentines day played it's part in this - there's a crazy uplift in sales for the day with a corresponding uplift of short tempered customers spitting bile when they couldn't have exactly what they wanted. Nothing puts you in the mood for romance like a middle aged man swearing at you because he can't get a cake Right This Moment. 

I work in a supermarket - it's not the best job I've ever had but it is, if nothing else, an eye opener. My role is specific to wine and spirits where the majority of customers are less confident and generally quite pleasant - there are exceptions - but I'm not subject to the regular bullying that frequently reduces my colleagues in the cafe to tears. It really isn't okay to call a young girl a stupid whore because your coffee has taken longer to arrive than you would like, nor in the greater scheme of things is it a f*****g disgrace. I could go on reeling out these kind of examples - which is depressing - it's bullying; the person being shouted at isn't allowed to shout back, and minimum wage isn't really enough to make you philosophical about that kind of treatment.

Working on the high street in a mid sized chain (Oddbins) we regarded supermarkets as impossible competition, working for independent wine merchants taught me that they weren't, working in a supermarket makes me wonder how long we can continue consuming as we are. Supermarkets turn over a huge amount of money surprisingly little of which is profit, and it's worth remembering that like any business they're there specifically to make money - not to cater to our needs; that's just how they make money. Anything on the shelf has to earn it's place - sometimes it does that because the supplier pays for it to be there, but equally enough units have to shift at a profit to make it worthwhile. I know it sounds obvious but I don't think we always remember it and we should. It's a highly competitive sector, how we spend our money matters, thinking about how we spend it can make a huge difference.

After fourteen years in retail the one thing I'm really clear about is how much more responsibility the consumer needs to take for the way things are. It's appalling that dairy farmers are going under because they can't sell milk at a price that lets ends meet, worse that we don't understand what the cost of what we eat and drink actually is and should be. My income is strictly limited, I resent price hikes which outstrip my wages and which I feel cause me real difficulty yet I still have more than I need, still throw food away because I've not found a use for it before it's gone off.

Happily we aren't so far affected by the current horse meat scandal - I do after all work for a particularly nice supermarket, but it does feel like the inevitable outcome of our relationship with food in this country. Shelter have been running a campaign highlighting what food would cost if prices had risen in line with property values - a chicken would be about £51 - which (and I appreciate that this is missing the point of the campaign) made me wonder what a chicken should cost; would £8.47 really be outrageous for a bunch of bananas that have had to travel the world to get to us? Supermarkets squeeze the producer for low prices but equally customers squeeze the supermarkets, by accepting those very low prices without question customers are as culpable as retailers in this fraud, labelling issues aside, we all need to take more responsibility for what, and how, we buy - whatever it is. 

I had meant to talk about the FT article regarding working conditions in amazon warehouses too but feel I've gone on long enough for one night.  


Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux translated by David Coward

At the end of his introduction to this translation David Coward points out that "Erik has joined the likes of the Lady of the Camellias, Tarzan, and James Bond in the ranks of iconic heroes of popular culture who have escaped the limits of fiction and embedded themselves in the collective psyche. The Phantom of The Opera is no longer a French possession: it has become part of the world's cultural heritage." I'm not entirely sure about his choice of iconic heroes - I had to look up the Lady of the Camellias to be sure I had the right character in mind (I did), nor am I sure if Tarzan is still the icon he was. For me The Phantom is up there with Dracula and Frankenstein, particularly Frankenstein, but either way he has a life far beyond the covers of his book.    

I went to see the Lloyd Webber take on 'The Phantom of the Opera' back in the 80's - we had to get tickets 6 months in advance and it was amazing (I was quite young and it was an entirely new experience) so since then my idea of The Phantom has been of a tortured soul more sinned against than sinning. Really a read of the book was long overdue and neither Leroux or David Coward disappointed.

The best thing about reading classics is getting all of a story that you think you already know (and by you I mostly mean me) and reading it in your own way. It surprised me how much humour there is in 'The Phantom of the Opera' - just when the tension is really piling up Leroux throws in something to lighten the mood and deflate the melodrama. Like The Phantom he's a master of misdirection and manipulation. 

The story is ostensibly narrated by GL but skips between the 'memoirs' of different characters all of whom see The Phantom in a different light. There is GL who seems to be broadly sympathetic, the opera managers who think he's a practical joke, the Persian who knew him as Erik, and knows more of his past than anybody else. Christine the singer he teaches and loves imagines at first that he's the Angel of Music, later a monster, and eventually perhaps a man, Raoul who also loves Christine sees a rival and a monster, Madam Giry the box attendant knows a generous patron, and who knows what some of the other mysterious inhabitants of the opera think... The reader has to decide for themselves what they think.

It's certain that there is a 'Phantom' and that he's a man rather than a ghost; he has fallen for Christine and  abducts her in an attempt to force her to marry him - if she doesn't he will blow up the opera house but everything else is hazy. Once there is a rumour of a ghost everything is attributed to him and his legend grows. Leroux delights in describing some terrifying seemingly supernatural episode and then revealing the perfectly logical explanation for it - sometimes he just states that there is a rational explanation without going to the trouble of thinking of one, and when Raoul and the Persian descend into the lower depths to try and rescue Christine some very odd, and very frightening, things happen that have nothing to do with Erik. 

In the end it's the opera house that takes centre stage - it never reveals all it's secrets, and never will. It's a constant brooding presence. Massive and labyrinthine it's virtually a city in itself as well as a prison. The drama of the stage spills into all it's corners making anything seem probable even when we know it's all smoke and mirrors. It's a terrific read. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Kitchen Day

A kitchen day with a little bit of shopping - I had meant to have a serious tidy up on my day off but whilst it's not quite as big a mess in the kitchen as when I started out it's not much better (though not as bad as my mother's - she's been making truffles but seemingly there was some sort of chocolate fuelled explosion; it sounds like there's no part of her kitchen unscathed, she even got cocoa up her nose). The mess in my kitchen is the normal sort that results from not putting things away or keeping on top of the washing up. 

I did start to tidy but got distracted by the final Christmas cake making leftovers - marzipan and icing - and as I still had a little fruit cake left from a couple of weeks ago I thought it would be more fun to decorate it than wash the floor (procrastination at its sweetest) I was right. 

I really love the leafy stamp things you get for icing and couldn't wait until December to try these out (sale purchase) which is good because the icing was drying out a bit and lumpy (sounds appealing doesn't it) so I stuck leaves everywhere it looked especially ropey. Had the icing been rather smoother it would have looked great as a white cake, but it wasn't so I used some green lustre as well (again, much more enjoyable than scrubbing the floor, also easier on the knees). Anyway I'm pleased enough with the results to want to share them before heading off to finish 'The Phantom Of The Opera' even if the camera has been cruel and really concentrated on the flaws rather than the pretty bits.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett - Compton Mackenzie

Book one: Sylvia and Philip. I'm really not in the mood for long books at the moment and 'The Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett' is quite a long book with quite small print - happily it's broken down into three parts so I thought if I tackled it a book at a time with breaks in-between it would be more manageable. So far the plan is working, I enjoyed the first section and am looking forward to more - maybe in a week or two.

The initial chapters are scene setters - Sylvia comes from a line of women with colourful pasts - something that she's mostly unaware of but will more than live up to. Sylvia's early childhood is a poor but respectable one in provincial France - until her mother dies. Her father is a weak willed gambler with fairly low moral standards - not the ideal make up for a clerk - after 'borrowing' some money he decides it might be better to return to his native England. Sylvia goes with him disguised as a boy. Life in England proves eventful, they flit from place to place leaving a trail of bills and failed scams behind them. By this time they've teamed up with another altogether more plausible con man - one who starts to take quite an interest in Sylvia as she grows up.

It's only a matter of time before Sylvia is orphaned but by the time she is she has realised that men seem to find her attractive enough for her to always have options. What follows are a series of running's away - men might want Sylvia but at 15 she doesn't really want them - and proves to be well able to take care of herself. Eventually she finds an old girlfriend of her fathers who helps her get a job in an exhibition selling Turkish delight (as you do) and it's at this point she meets Philip. Sylvia is taking a walk through a cemetery when she falls into conversation with him and he soon becomes obsessed with her. Eventually he proposes but suggests first that she spend a year at school to learn how to become an English lady - so off to school she goes. 

Sylvia is an engaging creation - a lot of this first part of the book ought to be slightly tedious but it's not. Mackenzie is smart to make her uninterested in the men who pursue her - she effectively deals with a would be rapist by biting a hole in his lip, and Philip's attraction for her is based around his education and conversation. She understands that he wants more than conversation but again it's with a certain lack of enthusiasm. At school she becomes her age - 16 - and embraces life as a schoolgirl along with the female friends she makes there. Philip who's posing as her guardian becomes a somewhat more sinister figure as Sylvia turns back into a child but despite misgivings she goes ahead with the marriage which is predictably disastrous until she runs away again - this time into prostitution.

It's not as salacious as it sounds (and the gist of this is on the back blurb too if you think I'm being spoiler heavy) the last page has a killer close and it's going to be fascinating to see what Mackenzie does with Sylvia next...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Richard III, is it or isn't it?

Interest in Richard the third is basically at fever pitch in Leicester today - and plenty of other places too judging by twitter. I missed the press conference this morning - I was working, but have been watching a channel 4 documentary about it this evening. It wasn't a great documentary about Richard III, but was an interesting insight into how obsessed people get. 

From my own point of view I want Leicester to get a boost, it's the city I'm obliged to live in, it's had a rough time over the last decade and needs both money and interest at the moment. This might just do it. If nothing else it's given academics something juicy to have a spat over. It does look a lot like it might be Richard's body that was under the car park/ grammar school playground which makes it an amazing find - first body they dug up and under a spot marked 'R' it seems - what were the chances? Despite having some very feminine features the age seems to be about right, it probably was a man, it had a curvy spine and the appropriate injuries and for what its worth the DNA results (something else Leicester is famous for) tally as well - so naturally there are already plenty of hoax theories and nay sayers out there already.

On the whole it's fun, I'd like to think it was Richard because it's by far the most satisfying end to the story and there seems to be enough evidence to say it's so. Now let's wait and see what happens next. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cheerful Weather For The Wedding - Julia Strachey

It occurs to me that it will probably take me longer to write this blog post than it did to read the actual book - it's a very short book but my reaction to it is quite confused, sorting out my thoughts is taking a while. This was a re-read prompted by Stuck In A Book's read along of a book I first read just before I started blogging - it's one of those books that I vividly remember buying and reading - in Carlisle and then on the train back to Leicester on a warm and sunny June day - which I mention because I think the weather on each reading very much altered my perception of the book.

Last time, on a day which would have been cheerful weather for a wedding, my memory was of a mostly funny book, I thought it a bit uneven, but I don't recall picking up quite so much cruelty in the humour as I did this time round. The weather today has been bright, but perishing cold with a stiff wind blowing - very much as described in the book (very much, as the difference between the 2nd of February and the 5th of March is more noticeable in the hours of daylight than the degree of warmth) it's not the kind of weather that promotes ease. 

The opening paragraph doesn't really promote ease either but it does set the tone: "On March 5th Mrs. Thatcham, a middle-class widow, married her eldest daughter, Dolly, who was twenty-three years old, to the Hon. Owen Bigham. He was eight years older than she was, and in the Diplomatic Service." That 'middle-class' has a sting in it - the couple are being married from Mrs Thatcham's country house (or as Strachey has it - house in the country - there is a difference) she has parlour maids, a sewing maid, a cook, a gardener, a ladies maid, and help in from the village - there are likely more staff (I suspect a chauffeur) all of which feels quite lavish for a middle class household in 1932. I assume the inference is that Mrs Thatcham would be insulted by the label, that her daughter is marrying 'up', and that the absolute desirability of a well off young man with a title as a son in law to a middle class mother is distinctly non-U. 

The bride herself is more harassed than anything else - her wedding preparations seem to mostly consist of downing the best part of a bottle of rum. There are regrets for a boyfriend of the previous summer - Joseph - and the suggestion that they loved each other rather more than Dolly loves Owen. Joseph is sitting downstairs wondering of he can stop the wedding without seeing to what end - he doesn't want to marry Dolly, and he's easily the most likeable character in the book, she clearly wants a husband - probably as a way of escaping her mother in a conventionally acceptable manner which also marks her as 'middle class' in the most damning way. A point underlined when Strachey describes her as being a touch vulgar in her going away outfit. 

Mrs Thatcham - modelled on Strachey's own mother in law - is a monster. Dull, narrow minded, waspish, critical, forever changing her mind and orders then blaming the servants for their extraordinary mistakes, and unkind to small boys in the matter of chocolates she bustles through the book an enervating, irritating, presence wherever she appears. It's funny but also appalling, the more so for realising she's a portrait as Strachey shows her no compassion whatsoever. 

The redeeming element of  'Cheerful Weather For The Wedding' for me though is the running battle between two brothers - Robert and Tom. Robert is wearing emerald green socks and his brother is in anguish over it. He's desperate for Robert to divest himself of those bounders socks before someone else notices them and just can't let it go. He tries every form of blackmail he can think of - all to no avail - and it'll clearly end in tears. I wish all the book were as perfect as the sock episodes. It's funny because it's so recognisable - both the agony and anger you feel when a sibling looks likely to cause you embarrassment (and how out of proportion it gets), and the distress of being bullied.

I doubt I'll get the chance to see the filmed version of this - and doubt how well it will have been adapted - at it's heart this is a bleak little book full of snobbery and meanness for which I rather admire it, but I suspect that it will have been sweetened up for a film audience and that some of the claustrophobic feeling of a house full of family will be lost. I would however travel a distance to see a stage version...