Brilliant Barry will Warm your Heart

Barry Cairns

Take a few moments to watch this video about the volunteer work of Barry Cairns, who has Down’s Syndrome, as he enjoys his working activities at Durham Police HQ.

He really enjoys what he does and he obviously makes a valuable contribution.

Barry certainly put a Monday morning smile on MY face. Thanks Barry!

Original article on BBC News: How volunteer Barry ‘shreds it’ for police

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Book Review: The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

The Book of Human SkinThe Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Difficult to put out of my mind

Michelle Lovric has obviously put a huge effort into the research that she weaves into a carpet upon which the story can walk and play. This story is shocking, yet, in places, amusing. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that any reader would agree that the conclusions are satisfying.

This story is so cleverly written, and the publishers have helped the author to present a unique style. There are five, very different narrators. The author gives them their individual voices, and the publisher has added to the effect by giving each of them a different font.

The narrators include Minguillo Fasan, who suffers from persecution mania and spends his vengeful life making the lives of all those around him as miserable as possible. He is also a collector of books bound in human skin. Yes, it is true that these repulsive objects actually existed, and may still. His sister, Marcella, the second narrator, is consequently much persecuted, and is forced to leave what should be a comfortable, aristocratic life in Venice to eventually arrive in a convent in the Andes of Peru.

The third narrator is a self-made doctor, who makes skin his speciality, and perhaps his obsession. Amongst others, he has the questionable privilege of treating Napoleon Bonaparte, even through the infamous Russian campaign.

The fourth is Minguillo’s valet, Gianni, who is almost, but not quite, illiterate. That assumption costs his master dear, as his loyalties lie elsewhere. Who could ever be loyal to such a despicable character, anyway?

The final narrator is the craziest nun you could ever imagine. I won’t say much more about her, but you will discover for yourself just how crazy she is, before you have waded more than ten pages into this book.

The pace seemed to slow down a bit in the middle, which almost had me awarding a mere three stars, but I am so glad I persevered as it soon picked up again. By the time I closed the book, I was feeling a little harsh when I awarded four stars. However, I think that this is a genuine rating.

Read it for yourself, and I will look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.

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Book Review: The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie

The Light BearerThe Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a long time to read this book, because it is a long book. It is way, way, way, way, WAY too long!

The story is great, but there were many times when I found myself wanting to shout a the words in front of my eyes, for page after page, “Just get on with it!” There was a long period during which reading this book reminded me of my marathon running days. I thoroughly enjoyed the overall experience, but it was sometimes a labour of love: between the 21 and 25 mile points. I suppose that equates to about pages 600-720.

Also, I knew what was going to happen. Most of the storylines are predictable. And the underlying love story is pretty dire.

Having said all of that, this is a great work of historical fiction. My benchmark is always to ask myself if the characters and dialogue and actions bring the history to life for me. In this case, they certainly did that job extraordinarily well. Clearly, a huge amount of research has gone into this book, and the detail comes shining through.

But, as I said at the top of my review, it is far too long. Donna Gillespie would have made a much better job of it if she had condensed the story to, at most, half of its final length. The strength and power of her story-telling would have been much more compelling, and it would have gripped my attention until I had finished.

If you are interested in this period of European history, and want some colourful, graphic descriptions, and you have stamina, pick up this book and read it.

In my opinion Gladiatrix and Roma Victrix are much better reads than The Light Bearer. These two books are just about right in length, and the are fast-paced and dynamic. There are a lot of shocks and surprises in both stories, and Russell Whitfield‘s writing certainly stirs the emotions. I am still grieving for some of his characters now!

I agonised over my rating for The Light Bearer. If ever a book deserved exactly 3.5 stars, in my opinion, this was the one. Do I like it (3 stars), or do I really like it (four stars)? In the end, I decided that the quality of the writing, the detailed descriptions, and the excellent research could persuade me to round my rating up to four stars.

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My Adoring Gardener

Oh, when can you come?
To prune these sagging branches.
To take away these drooping petals.
To remove this browning foliage.
Yet to leave these living buds,
From which my honeyed bouquet
Still exudes, sweetly into the air.

Will you hold, till I expire,
My badly bruised body?
As I devote my sundown years,
To you, my adoring gardener.

Never regret our brief encounter,
Or the years of our entwined breathing lives.
Paint my life, with broad black brush strokes.
Add the splashes of the colour that you brought to me.

My heart is flickering now.
It will soon stop.
Let us not sleep until
You have told me all.

Those foreign lands,
Those rugged highlands and streams,
Those dawns and sunsets,
And the people that you met.

I will love you forever.
And as I fall asleep,
I will love you again.
I am at peace. I have no guilt.

Oh, when can you come?
To prune these sagging branches.
To take away these drooping petals.
To remove this browning foliage.
Yet to leave these living buds,
From which my honeyed bouquet
Still exudes, sweetly into the air.

Originally posted in February 2015. See my Titbits page
I just felt the need to re-share it this evening.

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Book Review: The Pocket Statistician by Shirley Coleman and Tony Greenfield

The Pocket Statistician: A Practical Guide To Quality ImprovementThe Pocket Statistician: A Practical Guide To Quality Improvement by Shirley Coleman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are an engineer, or an operations manager in a manufacturing plant, or anyone else who does not have an academic grounding in statistical methods but would like to use such methods for quality improvement, then this could well be the perfect book for you. It explains, in simple language, how you can use statistical process control and design of experiments to make rapid, significant, measurable improvements to whatever processes underpin your business.

The data that you need to work through the examples is provided on an accompanying CD. Once you have worked your way through the book, it is great to keep on your desk as a handbook as you implement your improvement programme.

A small book, as the title implies, but packed with useful information.

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Flutter Away

Originally, I wrote this for my BFF when the spirit of her mother, whom she called her ‘Little Bird’, finally rose from her frail, Earthly body and flew off into the universe, joyfully free.

For some inexplicable reason, I awoke this morning with this poem swirling around inside my head. I just had to re-share it with you.

Write to Inspire

A tribute to a little bird, who became weaker, and smaller, until eventually, she fluttered away to grace the universe with her beauty.

I found you at the bottom of my garden.
You were very weak.
You tiny little bird.
Did you fall from your nest?

I took you indoors,
And put you in a shoebox.
You would not eat the worms that I caught,
But you took a few drops of milk.

You grew stronger.
Day by day,
You grew stronger.
But your wings were broken.

I hoped that you’d survive,
But I knew that you would die.
Your eyes sparkled at me,
But I knew that you would die.

Your spirit grew stronger,
But your body became weaker.
Even the milk dribbled onto your feathers.
I knew that you would die.

I watched as your spirit rose
From your failing body.
You fluttered away, joyfully free,
Into the…

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Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The MiniaturistThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This must be the saddest book that I have read for a very long time. The writing is superb. The prose is exquisite and the research adds great authenticity to the characters and to the scenes, which are set in seventeenth century Amsterdam. The atmosphere is palpable and the action is intense.

I became immersed in the characters and quite attached to some of them.

The cruelty and brutality of the protestant religious leaders of the Dutch Republic is appalling. They flex their man-made power in the name of God and they wallow in the satisfaction that the get from their unchallengeable authority. Even the wealth of the merchants is trumped by the pastors.

I loved the mystery that surrounded the wonderful craftmanship of the miniaturist who supplies tiny replicas of people and objects which predict actual events. She is seldom seen and is a prophet of reality. That is rather scary at times.

The story is gripping. This book kept me awake until well after one in the morning on several occasions.

For me, because of the background, the scene-setting, the religious undertones, the character-building and the starkness of society, The Miniaturist struck echoes of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I mean that as a huge complement to the writing of Jessie Burton.

For a while, I wavered between awarding four stars or five stars because I became irritated by the number of missing inverted commas and apostrophes. However, it would have been very unfair to award less than five stars to a book that gripped me from beginning to end and stirred my emotions so much that I wept many tears for the tragedy.

You must read this book.

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