James Bowen found Bob curled up in the stairwell of his sheltered accommodation and nursed the animal back to health. James was a busker and former heroin addict but could not resist helping the ailing street cat.
Bowen spent more than he could afford paying the vet’s bills to heal the abscesses on Bob’s legs, and his plan was then to release the cat.
However, it was Bob who decided that they should stick together. They were soon a familiar sight with Bob sitting on Bowen’s shoulder as he strummed his guitar.
The account of how both Bob and James Bowen rose from the state they had fallen into and mutually helped each other to live successfully is an inspiring account that will appeal to any age of animal lover.
There have been lots of books about teaching, for example, The Blackboard Jungle and Goodbye Mr Chips, and, of course there was that unforgettable film, Dead Poets Society. For me, Frank McCourt‘s Teacher Man is the most amusing. Every chapter, even those not aiming at being entirely amusing, raised a laugh.
McCourt explains that he qualified as a teacher owing to the programme that allowed him to study on leaving the US army, but hesitated to launch himself into the teaching world and took ‘a real job’ on the New York waterfront before facing 175 disenchanted Manhattan teenagers every day in five classes daily for over thirty years. They didn’t want to learn grammar or spelling (which students do?) and persuaded him to tell stories – the thing he does best of all.
One critic says ‘I wish I could have been in one of his classes’ and I have to agree. Even his occasional brushes with the authorities are hilarious and he was clearly a most successful teacher. He recounts, for example, the time that he gave back to the students a sheet compiled of their own (student-written) excuse notes – always far more entertaining than the genuine ones occasionally written by parents, and managed to rouse immense enthusiasm, with the entire class passionately writing excuses for Al Capone, Judas, even Adam and Eve. This is a great read!
Fawzia Zoofi was her father’s nineteenth child and the unwanted seventh child of her mother. She was left out in the sun to die for several hours after her birth but her mother had a change of heart and Fawzia became her loved child in the harsh political situation of Afghanistan.
The Favored Daughter is written for her own two daughters and each chapter opens with a brief letter to them. Fawzia recounts her life; the loss of her dearly loved mother, the loss of her father, brother and husband, and her own good fortune in being able to receive an education and progress to work with UNICEF and become the first female politician in Afghanistan.
We hear Fawzia’s own voice, frequently speaking in clichés and somtimes in flawed English but always with fervour and belief in her mission to improve the difficult lot of her fellow Afghanis. She is addressing her daughters in her short letters as there are daily attempts on her life and she hopes they will be inspired to believe in themselves and have a better life than she has had with her struggle against injustice and brutality.
Nelson is part of our heritage and everyone knows of his astonishing career, his affair with Lady Hamilton, the loss of his eye and his arm, and the loss of his life at Trafalgar. Books about him abound, yet this one, written by the poet Laureate of the early years of the nineteenth century, Robert Southey, has the advantage of being written by a contemporary who had relatives who had served under Nelson.
Southey was 31 at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar and had, of course, access to society gossip and newspapers. His frequent references to Lady Emma Hamilton are generally hostile, since he borrowed from two critical sources. When she, dying of dropsy in a debtors’ prison at the age of 52, heard of his falsehoods about her involvement in an Italian skirmish, she declared that, had her health permitted, she would have challenged him.
However, the battles with the French and Nelson‘s involvement in Quebec, Syracuse, Egypt, Sardinia and Naples take on new life when they are recounted by the voice of a passionate patriot, living at the time of the troubled period.
Southey’s account takes us from Nelson’s birth to his death and the honours posthumously heaped upon him. Although the work is almost two centuries old, it is frequently reissued and is eminently readable.
How often we say to somebody who is reminiscing about the war years or about their childhood experiences, “You should write it down.” I was delighted to receive a birthday present of a book written by someone who has not only ‘written it down’ in flawless and evocative language, but also recalled my childhood in a remote corner of Yorkshire in the north of England.
Rosalind Tallett moved into the little village of Ingleton, at the foot of Ingleborough, from Leeds when she was a tiny child and her mother coped with rearing six little girls in one of the houses of the Model Village (as we called it then), the double circle of miners’ dwellings built on the outskirts of the ancient Yorkshire village in 1913.
She was five years older than me and remembers giving me a piggy back when I was crying in the infant school playground on my first day in the school she recalls in such detail.
Hers is an enchanting story of an industrious and loving mother coping through the war years with hardship and shortages and the loss of one small daughter. Rosie recalls each class in the local school, the vagraries of the teachers, the canteen, the harsh winters and children with only clogs and cut down clothes of older siblings. She became a real Dales child, using the dialect terms of the village that still echo the Norse that was spoken up the Dale.
She brings alive for us the areas village children played in; the tailings from the old open cast coal mines (forbidden territory and our favourite place for dens, battles and games), the open air swimming pool and the woods, becks and valleys of this ‘Beauty Spot of the North’.
Times were hard in the forties and fifties but Rosie paints a vivid portrait of a happy childhood and we feel with her when the idyll is brought to an end with a move to Lancashire.
This is the third and last of a gloomy series. Last week I talked of ‘Fear of the Collar’, an account of the misery of small boys in the Artane industrial School in Ireland in the middle of the last century. it wasn’t just the boys!
Frances Reilly was abandoned at the age of two by her mother, together with her sister Loretta and the baby Sinnead outside Nazareth House Convent, an orphanage in Belfast run by nuns, the Poor Sisters of Nazareth. Her account of the misery she suffered, beatings, hard labour, appalling food, abuse and emotional destruction, is harrowing.
In particular, she was the victim of a sadistic nun, Sister Thomas, and the treatment she received at this woman’s hands shocks the reader.
Even the farming family who claimed that they were providing a haven for the child, molested her sexually.
Frances resisted and, when she took to absconding from the convent, was ultimately placed in a remand home which was, if anything, worse than the original convent.
There was no escape for these tortured children as the police had faith in the convent and returned the escapees to yet another beating after each sortie.
Frances Reilly’s spirit never died and years later, she faced the perpetrators of the injustice in court. This is a dramatic account of the dreadful situation of thousands of children.
Last week I wrote about The Auschwitz Violin. The concentration camps of the middle of the last century still have the power to shock. However, I didn’t think that I would be feeling a similar reaction as I write about the Artane Industrial School of Patrick Touher’s account.
In Fear of the Collar, he tells us how, as an orphan, a few days short of his eighth birthday, he was admitted to the Industrial School. He left a country paradise and an adoptive family that he loved, to be incarcerated in one of the immense industrial schools that were set up by the Christian Brothers in Ireland.
It isn’t just the inhumanity of a dormitory with 180 beds, head to toe, lined up, (and that was just one of five, the older boys had 200 in a dormitory), the hard labour and the ferocious discipline that shock, it is the physical and sexual abuse that the small boys suffered at the hands of their ‘carers’.
The boys stayed in the school until their sixteenth birthday and were then launched into the world, ill prepared, with minimal qualifications or education. Touher tells us of his own struggles, despite his skill as a baker, acquired in the school. The horrors recounted in this text have been the subject of a subsequent enquiry. The reader wonders how such inhumanity could have been the norm for orphaned children.
Hilary Mantel‘s 2009 Man Booker Prize-winning historical novel is just as gripping as all the critics said. We are all familiar with the Thomas Cromwell who appears in Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons. Hilary Mantel gives us a different Cromwell.
In Wolf Hall we first meet Tom when he is being brutally assaulted by his blacksmith father. He runs away and we encounter him twenty-seven years later as the confidant of Cardinal Wolsey. He is a loving family man, a gentle father and a wise politician.
We follow his career and his relationship with the court of Henry VIII through the divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the marriage to Anne Boleyn. We see the break with Rome and the fall of Sir Thomas More.
A different Thomas More appears in Mantel’s pages and a cruel and violent England that is nevertheless vibrant and richly portrayed. This is a superbly researched and recounted stretch of history and a worth prize winner. This one really is a number one best seller (that term that appears on so many books!)
However, Louis was by no means the most productive of the Stevenson family. His father intended him to continue the family tradition of lighthouse construction and was disappointed when he chose his literary path.
Bella Bathurst, in The Lighthouse Stevensons, tells the story of the four generations of this visionary family whose lives were devoted to building lighthouses around the dangerous coasts of Scotland.
Between 1700 and 1940, eight members of the Stevenson family planned, designed and constructed ninety-seven manned lighthouses on remote rocks in the Atlantic ocean and on bleak headlands right around the Scottish coast. They were also responsible for harbours, roads, railways, docks and canals all over Scotland.
These feats of engineering took place when there were no modern transporters, cranes or tools to perform the fearsome engineering feats of building walls nine-feet thick to withstand the ferocious storms that sweep the Scottish coasts.
In The Lighthouse Stevensons, Bella Bathurst’s illustrated and detailed text makes this astonishingly dedicated family live again for us.