Category Archives: Family stuff

My 6 year old does her first review

It’s half term, so here’s something a bit different.


Sometime before Christmas my 6 year old (due to turn 7 this week) was dragged along to her brother’s swimming training session.  Normally she doesn’t have to go, which is a good job, because it is boring for her sitting in the stifflingly hot spectator area.  If she does have to go, we normally take books and she reads to me and I read to her.  On this occasion we got talking about a book we’d recently finished reading together and discussed the new book we’d just started.  It was such a lovely conversation I took out my notebook and scribbled some of what she said promising to write it up as a review interview for my blog.  She has asked me several times “Am I on there yet Mummy?” and have felt awful every time I’ve said “Not yet”.  So as it is half term this week, I thought I’d finally write up our conversation.  The books we discussed were Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed by Madhvi Ramani and Daisy and the Trouble with Kittens by Kes Gray.  


Me: So tell me a bit about the Nina book we’ve just finished.  What’s it about, do you remember?

D: Well, Nina is late for school and she has to choose a country to do as a school project and because she’s late she is stuck with India. She is cross about this and visits her auntie after school who sends her to the shed for some turmeric, but the shed turns out to be magic and takes Nina to a place in the mountains of India.

Me: That’s right, it was quite good that bit wasn’t it, she didn’t know what was happening did she?

D: No but she meets a wise man who tells her how to find fresh turmeric and what it looks like.  Next the shed takes her to that place you and Daddy went that time. (I remind her it is Mumbai).  She gets to dance in a film then she goes to a park where she nearly gets got by a Bengal tiger, then she goes home.

Me: Nina learnt a lot of things while she was travelling in India, do you remember some of them?

D: She learns about that Indian festival with all the colours (Holi), how to do Indian dancing and all about Indian tigers and how there are not that many left.

Me: Do you remember how it ends?

D: Yes

Me: Do you want to tell me?

D: You know though

Me: I know, but for this review, do you want to tell me for that?

D: No it will spoil it for others

Me: Ok, but does it have a good ending do you think?

D: Oh yes, the ending is happy for Nina.

Me: So now we’ve finished it, what did you think of it?

D: I thought it was quite exciting and a lot of fun, I hope the writer had fun writing it.

After talking about Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed we discussed more generally Daisy and the Trouble with Kittens which we had only just started, but we’d read Daisy books before ,so sort of knew what to expect.


Me: Right, now we’ve started Daisy and the Trouble with Kittens.  What do you think of that so far?

D: Oh my word, Mummy, it is just so funny, especially when Daddy reads it

Me: I know, somehow he makes it so much funnier

D: There’s this really funny bit when Daisy is in the airport and her and her mum are late for their plane and the police come, it really made me laugh.  I love the way she’s always so excited (goes on to quote several bits) “I am going to ACTUAL Spain, on an ACTUAL plane..ACTUAL palm trees”  oh and I’m learning Spanish.

Me: Oh really?

D: In Spain a kitten is called “gatitos” (said in a very Spanish voice!)

Me: Do you think you will enjoy this one then?

D: Definitely, I wish I had some more (Daddy has since bought her 3 more as a reward for doing brilliantly in a recent ballet exam).

There you go – a couple of recommendations for 6-8 year olds that don’t involve fairies. Later this week my 9 year old does his first review interview.  I suspect it might involve magic, vampires, and skeleton detectives!

On My Local Library

I can’t really put my finger on the exact time, but at some point a few years ago I fell out of love with my local library.  It wasn’t an instant loss of affection, it was definitely a more gradual realisation of our differences.  It wasn’t completely the library’s fault, it was mostly me.

When my children were really little we used to spend hours at the library.  We would read our way through the bins of picture books, then walk along the river that runs behind the library to feed the ducks and end up at the playground.  The children always borrowed their maximum entitlement every time we went, sometimes they would borrow a dvd and I would often pick up a few things for myself too.

Then as the children got older, they were happy reading the books we owned, over and over again (you know – like when you read Room on a Broom twice a night for 3 weeks) and they built up their own collections.  Books are frequent presents for birthdays, Christmas and other occasions, actually often we just buy them because we feel like it.  The other day I popped into Waterstones to check out a few things, with no intention of spending any money, but the children mugged me for a book each, the cheeky blighters. Let’s face it though, books are not expensive.  I can buy a brand new book for slightly more than a crap magazine and a bar of chocolate, and quite honestly, a book is a lot more satisfying.  That says nothing for all the second-hand books we’ve accumulated for pennies (I’ve talked about this before, so won’t go on about my used book fetish).  So, all said, we visited the library less.  When I did go there for something, it felt a bit dowdy, untidy, it didn’t seem to have much stock, in short, I felt it had nothing to offer me.

Then this year, two things happened.

First, I became aware via local media that my county council was planning to force 10 libraries in the county to become Community Partnered Libraries (i.e. volunteer run).  My local library isn’t one of the 10, but I followed the action group working to reverse this plan.  SLAM (Surrey Libraries Action Movement) has done its best to question Surrey’s plans for the 10 libraries and has tried to prevent the plan from being rolled out to other libraries.  Their commitment to the cause made me think about how important libraries are as a public provision.  For my family the library has been about borrowing books and dvds.  There are plenty of people, (yes, even in Surrey), who can’t afford to buy books and their best option is the library.  But it also provides essential services such as internet access, newspapers, journals, local research facilities (came in very handy when I was writing Reading Around My Area), a vast audiobook choice, author events and more.  I remembered back to my childhood, when it felt like we spent every Saturday morning at the library with my Dad while my Mum was doing the grocery shop.  I loved it down there, browsing and agonising over what to borrow.  My children are now at a similar age to the age I must have been at the beginning of my affections for libraries.  I realised that to save these services, people like me need to use them.

So, then the second thing happened, or more accurately, a realisation set in.  Our house is overflowing with books, both adult and children’s.  We have simply run out of room to store our beloved reading material.  I can be ruthless to an extent and cull our collection, but there comes a point where I just can’t do it, I can’t part with them, even though I know I might not read them again – I think it’s an illness.

Anyway, all this waffle leads me to the purpose of the post.  To reduce the number of books we own in the house and to support an essential public service, we have started to use the library again.

This summer the children took part in Story Lab, the national summer reading scheme.  Both read the allotted 6 books and today the local librarians visited the older one’s school and awarded his medal during assembly.  The younger one is hoping for hers later this week.  It was really lovely to see them engaged in the books they were reading and excited to tell the librarians about them.

I have been using the library from home.  I check the catalogue online for books I want to borrow, reserve them and then collect them once I’ve had the email to tell me they are there.  I think that’s quite cool.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is plenty the library service could do better.  For example, they never take advantage of events such as prize shortlists or special anniversaries to push certain books and create inviting displays.  Their catalogue doesn’t include newer books or books from smaller presses (I wanted to borrow Rook by Jane Rusbridge, but they don’t have it) Also, although Surrey have several author events, very few come to my local library, which is a shame.

Just because I am in the first throes of crushing on my library again doesn’t mean I will stop buying books, but I will try to borrow more so my purse and shelves don’t suffer. Here’s a little plea then; please support your local library.  If you don’t have a library card, get yourself down there and sort it out.  Big up local libraries!

My watery and “I Capture the Castle” type weekend

We’ve just spent the weekend away in Dartmoor.  The main purpose of the visit was for Mr FH to take part in the sort of  life-affirming event that only a forty-year old can.  We were lucky enough for this event to take place close to some old friends who have settled on the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park.  Our friends are a successful painter and a writer/internet marketing expert and this place provides them with the haven they need to be creative and take part in the outdoor lifestyle they so love.

If you’ve ever been to that part of the world you will know the roads are narrow, windy and often steep.  The house they rent is a vast, old, Hardy-esque stone farmhouse with views over the valley and the beginnings of the moor in the background – stunning.  It is surrounded by derelict outbuildings and stores, few of which are in use and mainly provide lodgings for local wildlife (we saw a barn-owl!).  The over-grown kitchen-garden has been converted into a small vegetable patch, pig pen and chicken coop.  Our children loved going out to feed and pet the animals, an experience a world away from what they are used to!  Inside, the farmhouse has large rooms, long dark halls, thick curtains hanging over door-ways to keep out the cold.   The enormous kitchen is dominated by the Aga, there are basic, thrown together units and shelving, plumbing open to the eye, all a bit shabby but so welcoming, comfortable and right for its situation that its shabbiness becomes its charm.  There were several bikes in the hall, one blocking the entrance to my friend’s huge study/library, where books are stacked neatly in handmade shelves and piled on almost every part of the large desk, leaving a small space for working on.  Walking, riding and welly boots scatter the corridors.  The house is cold and with the first bite of autumn in the air we spent the weekend in the kitchen where the Aga warmed us, wearing a couple of layers.  It was a fabulous weekend.  As soon as I walked through the kitchen door on Friday evening, I had a feeling I might see Cassandra curled up on the window seat, pen and notebook in hand.  It was a weekend of living like the Mortmains and I loved it!

Seeing and spending time with our friends was a lovely aside to our real reason for being there.  On Saturday Mr FH took part in a 10k swim along the river Dart from Totnes to Dittisham, where the Dart widens before curving round the headland to become the estuary mouth.  Swimming 10k is the equivalent of running a marathon, but in quite rough conditions.  This swim was the culmination of months of hard work and training.  It was great to see him so up for the swim on Saturday and we were so excited and proud to watch him emerge from the water about 2 and a half hours later, that I forgot to take any pictures!  To find out yesterday that he was in the top 17% of swimmers that finished (651 finished), makes us even prouder of what he achieved (he also raised a lot of money for his chosen charity).  Although I am particularly in awe of  Mr FH, I am blown away by all the swimmers who took part for their determination to push their bodies to the extreme.  The water was cold, current quite strong, the wetsuit chaffed and it took him 10 minutes to stop shaking with the cold, but he had a smile on his face.  Watching him at that moment, I was reminded of a line in Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running  “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”  Well done, darling!

Pictures courtesy of the Open Water Swimming Society website