Friday, 20 October 2017

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (1948)

Josephine Tey has just shot to the top of the list of my favourite authors. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard was already up there as the most humane and likeable literary detective of my reading to date, but although he does play a (very minor) role in this novel, it is an unqualified, unlikely, middle-aged conservative bachelor by the name of Robert Blair who does the detecting in this mystery.

Robert Blair, solicitor of the business Blair, Hayward, & Bennet, has his tea-tray brought to him at exactly 3:50pm every working day, with a continuity that has remained unchanged for as long as he can remember. This had never bothered him - until recently. On this particular afternoon, a totally foreign thought entered his head, unbidden, as he looked at the empty tea-tray on his desk:

'This is all you are ever going to have.'

This thought was accompanied by a sudden constricting sensation in his chest. Both the thought and the feeling were extremely puzzling to him as he was quite happy with his life and had no wish to change anything.
He was getting ready to go home that evening when the phone rang and a woman by the name of Marion Sharpe asked if he would help her with some legal backing. When the woman told him her circumstances and that Scotland Yard was already involved, he tried to pass her on to someone else who dealt with criminal cases as he had no experience in this area at all.

'I don't want a criminal lawyer. I want a don't need a training in crime for that, do you?'

'No, but you would be much better served by a firm who were used to police cases. A firm that - 'What you are trying to tell me is that this is not 'your cup of tea?; that's it, isn't it?'
'No, if course not, Robert said hastily. 'I quite honestly feel that you would be wiser -'

'You know what I feel like?' she broke in. 'I feel like someone drowning in a river because she can't drag herself up the bank, and instead of giving me a hand you point out that the other bank is much better to crawl out on.'

Miss Marion Sharpe lived with her elderly, outspoken mother (imagine Maggie Smith of Downtown Abbey in reduced circumstances) in a house known as The Franchise that they inherited about three or four years previously. Blair made his way to the house after agreeing to 'watch out for Miss Sharpe's interests' while Scotland Yard was on the premises, with the understanding that he was not obliged to assist her any further if he decided he did not want to be involved.
The detectives from Scotland Yard had arrived that day with Betty Kane, a teenaged girl who said that she had been picked up in a car and detained by two women who wanted to make a servant of her; that they kept her locked up when she refused, and had beaten and starved her before she eventually escaped. The girl described The Franchise and the women in great detail and bore signs of having been beaten. The Sharpes denied the charges and insisted that they had never laid eyes on the girl before.

The Franchise Affair was a splendid mystery and an irresistible read. The characters were wonderfully drawn, the plot original, and the ending unguessable. Tey's psychological observations are first class, especially those concerning the criminal mind:

'Your true criminal...has two unvarying characteristics, and it is these two characteristics that make him a criminal. Monstrous vanity and colossal selfishness...
The criminal is a person who makes the satisfaction of his own immediate personal wants the mainspring of his actions. You can't cure him of his egotism, but you can  make the indulgence of it not worth his while.'

My two favourite characters were Robert Blair - self-deprecating and dependable:

'Your friend is a charmer, isn't he,? (Marion) said...

'It's the Irish,' Robert said, gloomily. 'It comes as natural to them as breathing. Us poor Saxons plod along our brutish ways and wonder how they do it.'

She had turned to give him the tray to carry, and so was facing him with their hands almost touching. 'The Saxons have the two qualities that I value most in this world. Two qualities that explain why they have inherited the earth. Kindness and dependability...Two qualities the Celt never had; which is why the Irish have inherited nothing but squabbles.'

And old Mrs Sharpe...

'This is Mr. Blair, of Blair, Hayward, and Bennet - the firm who have that lovely house at the top of the High Street.”
As Robert bowed the old woman fixed him with her seagull’s eye.

'Needs re-tiling,' she said.
It did, but it was not the greeting he had expected.
It comforted him a little that her greeting to Grant was even more unorthodox. Far from being impressed or agitated by the presence of Scotland Yard in her drawing-room of a spring afternoon, she merely said in her dry voice: 'You should not be sitting in that chair; you are much too heavy for it.'

For his money, old Mrs Sharpe was quite capable of beating seven different people between breakfast and lunch, any day of the week.

All in all, an original, stimulating and satisfying read. But set aside some time to lose yourself in Tey's masterful writing. It's just so hard to put this book down once you start.
278 pages.

Monday, 16 October 2017

A New Zealand Living Book for Children: The Hole in the Hill by Ruth Park (1917-2010)

Ruth Park was born and educated in New Zealand and moved to Australia in 1942 where she married D'Arcy Francis Niland, also an author, and best known for his novel, The Shiralee (1955).

The Hole in the Hill was Ruth Parks' first children's book and was published in 1961. It was published in the USA as Secret of the Maori Cave and is partly the story of the meeting of two cultures, and partly just a good old adventure.

Fourteen year old Brownie Mackenzie and her twelve year old brother, Dunk, travel with their father from New South Wales to New Zealand after their Great Uncle died. The eccentric old man left his run-down New Zealand farm, Three-Mile, to their father in his will with a letter stating that some day the place might be more valuable than gold.
Mr. Mackenzie had laughed at this as his uncle had a reputation of being quite strange but Dunk was excited at the prospect that they might come across some sort of treasure.

Arriving in Auckland, the two children quickly became bored and homesick as they waited while their father discussed the affair with a solicitor. Impatient with the two of them, Mr Mackenzie suggested they travel on ahead to the farm and do some exploring and camping for a couple of days and when he had finished his business he would join them.
So off they went the eighty miles on the train to Te Taniwha, the closest town to the farm where adventure, mystery and danger awaited them.

She looked disconsolately around the landscape. How different it was from New South Wales, where at this hour the galahs would be whirling down in clouds to drink at the lagoons, rose pink on one turn, Pearl grey on the next, making their funny squeaking noise like a cork rubbing on a bottle. The rally eucalypts would be standing frail and black against a ruby-bright Australian sunset, and the big bogong moths would be coming in to boom and bumble against the lamps.

Ruth Park has created a very real sense of time and place in this, her first book for children. The New Zealand setting with the description of caves is excellent:

They peered through stalactites at the cave beyond. The light of the torch was swallowed up by the enormous darkness, but it showed a chamber unimaginably huge sculptures from icy-white marble, with a roof scalloped and fringed and dew-dropped with glittering folds and loops and pinnacles. The floor was peaked and drawn up into mighty blunt pillars, here and there prickling and gleaming as though it were carpeted with polar-bear skin. Only the gentle, speaking roar of falling water filled the cave, steady and awesome. Brownie felt tears in her eyes at the strangeness of it, that this magical, other-world beauty should be hidden away like this, in a hole in the hill.

When we took some of our children through the glow-worm caves in New Zealand, we couldn't find anything at the time that explained these creatures in a non-technical, living way, so I was really pleased to find this little descriptive passage in The Hole in the Hill:

In spite of her natural-history lessons, Brownie did not know that the New Zealand glow-worm is creature unique in its class, a shabby little grub, the larva of a mosquito-like insect with a wing-span of less than an inch; she knew, however, that his primitive fairy speck if life, living its life darkness and silence, fished for food by means of a dangling necklace of minute diamonds, a sticky finger of cold fire which lured and trapped tiny flying midges.

Between frightening noises in the night, being chased by 'Captain Cookers' (feral pigs introduced when Captain Cook first visited New Zealand), dangerous underground caverns and a troubling mystery, the book moves along apace and keeps the reader interested.

I think the ideal age for children to read this book on their own is about 10 years of age but the interest level is fairly broad so it would make a good family read aloud for around ages 12 years and under. It is out of print but available secondhand, especially under its alternative USA title.
HB 144 pages.

Information on the author:

Ruth Park's Obituary

A letter the author wrote to children

Friday, 13 October 2017

Education and Life

Something I both love and am frustrated by at times is when 'Education' get sidelined by 'Life.' The past few weeks have been rather crazy and frustrating, because my well-laid plans didn't work out the way I wanted. 'Life' intervened. Enter Charlotte Mason's motto:

Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline and a Life

It started off with a few of us sick with a flu-type illness, and of course, when you have a houseful, everyone gets sick one after the other so you feel like you're running an infirmary. I hardly ever get sick but I did this time. I'd already arranged to look after my Mum for 10 days while my sister was interstate and she wasn't too well either when I picked her up. Between the two of us we were a bit miserable for a couple of days.
We didn't get any book work done in those ten days but my daughter spent time with her Nanna, who she doesn't get to see very often. She gave up her bed for those ten nights and slept on the lounge chair downstairs; she helped me get my Mum to take her medications, which was a herculean effort at times; she took her for a short stroll around the house most days and talked about the plants we have in the garden, made her cups of tea and sat and read House & Garden magazines with her.
I thought at the time that we were creating an atmosphere for Mum by encouraging her to get outside, which she never does any more, and to take an interest in the garden, which used to be so pleasurable for her. Getting her to read again was something I was really happy about as she used to be an avid reader but has neglected that in recent years.

The worst part of not being well was that I had to keep away from my eldest daughter who is expecting her first baby in about four weeks. I was also trying to plan a baby shower at the same time and ended up having to do most of the preparation at the last minute.

We had the baby shower last weekend and the night before we had been to see a performance of Giselle. I wrote about some books we've used that are great to read before you head off to a live performance, here. Despite the last minute rush, everything turned out well, including having perfect, slightly overcast weather for the afternoon on our upstairs balcony.

A recipe for the Carob Balls pictured above:

3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sultanas/raisins
1/4 cup carob powder (cocoa or cacao may be used instead)
1'2 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup skim milk powder

Put peanut butter, honey, water and sultanas into a saucepan & bring to the boil for about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring all the time.
Remove from stove, add carob and coconut and when cooled, skim milk powder.
At this stage I usually put the mixture in the freezer for about 1/2 an hour and then take it out; roll into balls of desired size & roll in coconut.
Store in fridge or freeze ahead of time.

Moozle made her specialty lemonade scones - only three ingredients!

Below is an old recipe a friend gave me when I was first married - it is always a hit so maybe you may like to try it out (let me know if you do!). I've often omitted the chopped almonds and this time I used some almond meal instead. A great recipe to freeze ahead of time:

Some of my helpers setting things up...

Other happenings in the past two weeks included a visit from our niece who lives in Northern NSW. She was chosen as a student representative to travel to the battlefields in Belgium and we caught up with her for breakfast on her return trip as she came through Sydney.

Our eldest son and his wife returned to Australia after six weeks in Finland, the Scottish Highlands, Croatia, Spain and Portugal. The highlights for them were the Highlands & Spain, especially Barcelona.


My mother-in-law came down from Queensland for the weekend of the baby shower and spent some time doing Origami with Moozle and listening to her practicing the cello.

I watched this film again with my Mum. I didn't enjoy the book as much as I did the movie, but I have to admit, I did rush through reading it while I was visiting family interstate one year. I haven't got around to re-reading it yet but I just love the scenery in this film and the sparse narrative:


Me - I just finished 'My Love Must Wait' by Ernestine Hill. An excellent Aussie classic on the life of Matthew Flinders.
I recently started Life Under Compulsion by Anthony Esolen. I've read his previous book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and thought it was very good:

My Husband - he's been reading David Baldacci's Camel Club series. You can read about them here.
He likes Vince Flynn's books but has read them all and Baldacci's books are a similar type. I haven't read any of them but they are all spy/espionage/thriller books.

My Mum used to read a lot but has got out of the habit in recent years so I gave her an Agatha Christie book to read while she was staying with us. She'd read it years ago and enjoyed re-reading it.

Moozle is on another Biggles splurge.

Benj is reading and enjoying 'Worship' by Graham Kendrick, which was written in 1984 and that we bought around the time it came out. Out of print.

Education is a Discipline

I started Latin Alive 1, published by Classical Academic Press with Moozle this week. I'll be posting a review about it in early to mid November and will be hosting a couple of giveaways here and on some other blogs.

Moozle is now swimming six hours a week - squad/competition training. The lessons are either early morning (very early) or late afternoon. She was swimming one afternoon per week during this past year and wanted to do more, but I was reluctant to add any more afternoon lessons as it is right on dinnertime & I have three hungry young lads and their Dad arriving home. So I reluctantly added two early mornings. I thought I'd die and I didn't think my young lady would be wakeable at that early hour but we've surprised ourselves. We'll see how long we last...

Getting back to well-laid plans getting saboutaged - I think when you decide to educate your own children you do need to count the cost, which my husband and I did nearly 25 years ago. There will be seasons that will be difficult because of sickness, pregnancy, and unexpected interruptions & there is also the aspect of constant change as your children grow, but in spite of these things, it's important to have a peaceful heart and to trust God that what we sow will bear fruit in time to come.

To the faithful He shows Himself faithful. Psalm 18:25

Linking up with Finishing Strong and Weekly Wrap-up

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

An Australian Classic & a Living Book - My Love Must Wait: The Story of Matthew Flinders by Ernestine Hill (1941)

'If the plan of a voyage of discovery were to be read over my grave, 
I would rise up, awakened from the dead.'
Matthew Flinders (1774-1814)

My Love Must Wait is a book I've known about for years and if it had been published under a more auspicious title I might have read it long before now. The title just doesn't represent the contents well enough. Yes, it is a poignant love story and this thread is woven throughout but it is so much more than that. It is also a wonderful account of the early life and influences of Matthew Flinders, the man who circumnavigated, mapped and named Australia, the fifth continent, and it details his driving ambition, his engaging personality and his great navigational skill. It is an account of a great tragedy, where a young man's life's work was cut short, his achievements forgotten for a century. A young man who gave his all and lost everything.

In the early 1930's, Ernestine Hill's knowledge of Matthew Flinders was on par with the average Australian. Everyone knew that Bass and Flinders sailed along the coast of New South Wales in a little tub boat called Tom Thumb, that Bass discovered Bass Strait and that Flinders made other explorations that were important but vague, but that was about the extent of common knowledge.
In the 1930's, the author sailed a thousand miles in a lugger from Thursday Island to Arnhem Land with a Torres Strait Islander as skipper, and was amazed to discover that the chart Matthew Flinders made of the area in 1802 was still in use.
Poring over that chart by the light of a hurricane lamp in the evenings, and later in library research, Ernestine Hill came to know Matthew Flinders as a friend as she pieced together fragments of his life. One day she hoped to write his forgotten story, a living book, that would speak to Australians and bring this 'most exact and accomplished of the cartographers of all time, a genius in navigation' to life.
The author certainly did this. My Love Must Wait is a superb achievement using scenes and situations created from written records: logs, journals, letters and private diaries, to present an accurate portrayal of the man, the lover, and his considerable accomplishments.
Flinders left an immense amount of detail about his work, his friends, his impressions, the surroundings he found himself in, and his associations, but it was in his passionate, poetic letters to his wife, Ann, that he revealed his heart.
Matthew and Ann had known each other from childhood, and were married in 1801. Ann had been prepared to travel to Australia with Matthew and stay with friends in Sydney while he did his explorations of the coast, but this was the era of Napoleon and Nelson, and the Admiralty had recently clamped down on women aboard ship due to Lord Nelson's indiscretions which had made the Navy a laughing stock.
Matthew was forced to choose to sail without Ann, or forfeit his voyage of discovery.
Ann was supportive of his going even though he would be away for four years and he was willing to leave her to undertake his great task. He told Sir Joseph Banks:

'I will give up the wife for the voyage of discovery.'

Pretty harsh! Although Ann was severely disappointed she made no complaint. She must have been an unusually selfless type of woman to have done this as graciously as she did. It wouldn't have been my response!
Matthew completed his work but a cruel twist of fate made him a prisoner on the Ilse-de-France (now known as Mauritius) for over six years as he was on his way back to England. By the time he returned home he was a broken man, almost destitute, and forgotten, or worse, pitied.
He had been separated from his wife for nearly ten years and was to die only four years after his return to England, a direct result of the conditions he endured in captivity. Only forty years of age, he died just a day after the book he wrote about his explorations was published, leaving behind his faithful and loving wife and an infant daughter they had named Anne.

 Flinders chose to title his book 'A Voyage to Australia,' but Sir Joseph Banks changed it to 'A Voyage to Terra Australis. However, Flinders' choice was later vindicated: 


Although Matthew Flinders only lived for forty years, he accomplished so much and lived through a time of great upheaval and change. My Love Must Wait reflects this and so the book encompasses a significant amount of history, culture and geography.
There is a lively account of Flinders' early life and influences and his developing love for the sea and exploration. We see his friendship with George Bass, a surgeon, who was to go exploring with Flinders later on; his budding relationship with Ann, his childhood friend; his father's opposition to his going to sea and his later acquiescence.
Matthew joined the Navy at a time of national fervour but he chose exploration over war and one of his first journeys was with Captain Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) to Terra Australis. This was a lively account of life at sea and displays Flinders' personality so well. He was a skilful communicator and showed wisdom and humour in his encounters with the Aboriginal people, once diffusing a potentially explosive situation by giving the natives haircuts.
Their return to England coincided with England's war with France and Flinders took part in what was to become known as the the Glorious First of June, the first great naval engagement of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought between the French and the British in the Atlantic.
After this Flinders departed on a voyage to the new colony at Sydney with Captain John Hunter and while there he and Bass did their exploring in Tom Thumb. This was a very enjoyable and interesting part of the book. It was upon his return to England after this trip that he and Ann were married.
About a quarter of the book details Flinders' stay on the Ile-de-France where he was held on house arrest and it has quite a different feel from the rest of the book, sombre and introspective with less action. His six and a half years on this island gave him much time for reflection and he was tortured with thoughts of his wife, wondering if she were still alive, and whether others such as Nicolas Baudin, the French explorer, would take credit for the work he had done.
Later when the war between England and France ended, he was released by the French and was reunited with Ann in England:

The woman covered her face with her hands.
He went forward swiftly, and put his arms about her - sombre brown against the faded blue. With cold hands he lifted her face to his.
This sober little body his lovely, laughing Ann. They kissed, and the kiss seemed formal, empty.
Then in long shivering sobs she clung to him, the helpless tears staining the shoulder of his frayed uniform coat. Haggard eyes looking out on the grey, he might gave been a man of fifty years.

All through that dreary forenoon they sat there, clasped in their joy and sorrow, now and again to find dear remembered caresses of reawakening love, telling the sad litany of their loneliness, feeling their way, as a blind man feels, back across the years.

This is a warm, lively, enjoyable, but an ultimately sad look at the life of Matthew Flinders and Ernestine Hill's writing style is lyrical and descriptive. There are so many connections with historical figures and the early days of colonial life in Australia, such a broad sweep of characters: Sir Joseph Banks, Captain William Bligh, Captain Hunter, John Macarthur (the pioneer of the Australian wool industry), Lord Nelson, and Nicholas Baudin, for example. I learnt so much about Australian History and what was happening elsewhere at the time.
The only disappointing part of this book is that it didn't contain any maps! I used the maps in a book we used in Year 4 to follow along with Flinders' journeys but there are online maps showing the places he navigated and charted.

I  highly recommend this book for high school history and geography or as a biography for about ages 14 and up, even if you're not Australian, as it features worldwide events and high profile characters. Chronologically it fits well into AmblesideOnline Year 9 (1800's) and would be enjoyed by both boys and girls. Flinders is certainly someone a young person could admire.

'All the time Matthew could spare from his nautical  and mathematical studies he spent in reading discovery, "peering in maps and charts", chasing the evolution of exploration from Ptolemy again down to Cook. He took the soundings, in fancy, of a myriad islands sprawled in seas of unruffled blue. He kept imaginary journals with scrupulous exactness, assimilated the various styles of the great English navigators, and grieved that he did not know Dutch.

For light relief, propped beside him at mess, or beneath a ship's lamp in his hammock at night, he read Dampier's Voyages...finding within those yellowed pages entertainment and inspiration.
This William Dampier was a man after his own heart, a farmer's boy who loved he blue furrows of the sea better than the brown of earth, and became a pilgrim of the winds and high adventure.'

Matthew Flinders was honourable, a man of his word, and he had an ability to get on with crusty personalities such as William Bligh. Here he comments to a fellow-midshipman as they were going to report to 'Bully Bligh' for duty on his ship:

'"I think we need have no fear. Lightening never strikes in the same place twice. Bligh knows that all England is watching him this time. To please him may be impossible, but a record of no complaints with such a man is worth more than the praise of others. Our commanders hold our future in their hands. Let's try, Bob, just for the fun of it, to see if we can make him smile upon us. Let's draw the old serpent's fangs, and tame the lion."

After they met Bligh he said to his friend, "I think I like him...A lot of pepper, but good red meat beneath." He was to like old Bligh, with the usual reservations, to the end of his days.'

My Love Must Wait is my choice for the Back to the Classics 2017, Romance Classic. It was re-printed by Angus & Robertson in 2013; the copy pictured above is an out of print hardback I've had for some time. The cover is taken from a painting "The Battle of the Glorious First of June," 1794 by P.J. de Loutherbourg. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Books for Lovers of Ballet

We went to see a live performance of Giselle on the weekend. My knowledge of this particular ballet was rather sketchy but Moozle gave me a general synopsis as we were driving to the theatre. She's read a few books over the years that have given her a good general knowledge of dance in general and classical ballet in particular, so I thought I'd share some of them here for those of you who have children who are interested or are interested in expanding your own knowledge.
A ballet performance can be very bewildering if you have no idea of the story and although the ballet itself is charming, it won't be fully enjoyed if the storyline is obscured. Looking through the brief synopsis provided on the theatre programme is helpful to a certain extent, but these stories are fairly complex tales and a child won't pick up much of the detail with a only a cursory overview just before the performance.
This is where stories of the individual ballets are so helpful, and not just for chlidren. They allow you to really know the storyline and to understand the pantomine with its various expressions that the dancers use to demonstrate emotions or events, such as a broken heart. There are so many details and quick action in a live peformance and time spent poring over a story before its actual performance helps in the appreciation, and therefore the pleasure, once you are there.

Dance Me a Story by Jane Rosenberg - this is a collection of twelve titles from classical ballet in story form and includes Cinderella, Coppelia, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Giselle, for example takes up eleven pages, two of those pages are watercolour illustrations of scenes from the ballet and the story is divided into two acts.

This book is delightfully illustrated by Merrill Ashley and complements the authors' text, which together help to clarify the mysterious elements of the different ballets. Inclusions of dialogue shed light on the pantomine and descriptions of the music assist in creating the atmosphere behind the ballet. A great book for around ages 10 years and up. 128 pages.

A Child's Introduction to Ballet by Laura Lee

This book is a light-hearted look at the history of ballet, its most famous dancers, composers and choreographers, plus stories of various ballets. It covers twenty ballets but only in about two to three pages and not the same depth as the above book. The book comes with a CD that includes selections of music from some of the ballets and instructions on when to play certain pieces that match up with the stories. Suitable for around ages 8 to 12 years.

Ballet Class

This is a simple colouring-in book that Moozle loved when she was about seven or thereabouts...

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1895-1986)

Noel Streatfeild had a background in the Dramatic Arts and wrote a number of books for children that reflected her interest in this area. Ballet Shoes, written in 1936, was an immediate best seller and continues to be popular with children. It is the story of three children adopted by an eccentric explorer who join the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. My girls loved her books around the age of 9 years.

Young Person's Guide to the Ballet by Noel Streatfeild (1976)

This is out of print but available at reasonable prices secondhand. A dance teacher explains ballet techniques to her young pupils and includes in the lessons the history of ballet, stories of the great dancers, and discussions of famous ballets.
This is a black and white, no frills book, but it has plenty to interest a young person who loves ballet. One of my girls' favourite books on ballet. 112 pages; illustrated.

These are some of our favourites. How about you? Any recommendations?

Sunday, 1 October 2017

By the Pricking of my Thumbs by Agatha Christie (1968)

By the pricking of my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes.


By the Pricking of My Thumbs is the fourth in a series of five books which make up Agatha Christie's Tommy & Tuppence crime novels.
Tommy and Tuppence are first introduced as young friends in The Secret Adversary (a great story, by the way) and by the end of the book they realise they love each other and decide to be married. Throughout the series, the very English Tommy and Tuppence (also known as Mr. & Mrs. Beresford) age and get on with their lives and in By the Pricking of My Thumbs they are in their fifties or thereabouts, still happily married, with two adult children and the same man-servant (Albert) they've had all along. By the last book in the series, the couple are in their seventies, and are still sleuthing. This is an unusual and appealing little ploy of Christie's not found in her other books where Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple remain in the state we first find them in.

By the Pricking of my Thumbs, while still containing the brisk, chatty feel of the Tommy & Tuppence books, has an almost Gothic and sinister feel to it in places. The action starts when Tommy & Tuppence pay a visit to a disagreeable aunt in a nursing home. Out of this unlikely beginning a macabre history is unearthed and Tuppence unwittingly becomes ensnared in a killer's latest plans when she decides to check up on a previous inmate of the nursing home who has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The problem is, that Tommy has no idea of the danger his adventurous wife is in, so when Tuppence doesn't return  from a short car trip in his absence, it takes a while before Tommy begins to feel that perhaps something is amiss.
This was quite an enjoyable read but it was a little weird in places and there were a few loose ends that left me guessing. One example of this was the case of Mr Eccles, a lawyer who was suspected of being involved in criminal activities. At one minute it looks as if all will be revealed, but at the end, all is not. I don't know where that was meant to go, and it always annoys me when I'm left with questions!
I read this in the middle of a miserable week of a flu bug - a light read with plenty of guessing and conjecture, but not really the resolution I was expecting. Maybe my lack of head space was responsible for the feeling that somehow the story didn't add up in the end, but there was also the sense that Christie decided to get it all over with and bring everything to a screeching halt without giving the reader time to come along with her. Besides that little complaint, the Tommy & Tuppence characters are just delightful and Christie captures a cosy couple and their household with warmth and humour.

Mr. and Mrs. Beresford were sitting at the breakfast table. They were an ordinary couple. Hundreds of elderly couples just like them were having breakfast all over England at that particular moment...
An elderly couple having breakfast together. A pleasant couple, but nothing remarkable about them. So an onlooker would have said. If the onlooker had been young he or she would have added, "Oh yes, quite pleasant, but deadly dull, of course, like all old people."
However, Mr. and Mrs. beresford had not yet arrived at the time of life when they thought of themselves as old. And they had no dea that they and many others were automatically pronounced deadly dull solely on that account. Only by the young of course, but then, they would have thought indulgently, young people knew nothing about life.

I've mentioned in previous posts that The Secret Adversary was a good introduction to Agatha Christie for kids about age 12 years and up, but this title, with its inclusion of infant deaths, and a couple of creepy characters, definitely isn't.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Written Work in a Charlotte Mason Curriculum

This is a week's worth of written work done by my 12 year old daughter who is doing AmblesideOnline Year 7. Each week is a little different, depending on what else is happening, but essentially after each reading she is required to do an oral narration or some sort of written account, which could be a notebook entry, a composition or creative narration or just a retelling. I sometimes leave this up to her to decide or ask her to do something specific if I think she needs more variety.
Besides this her written work includes weekly dictation (we don't always get to this) & daily (or at least a few times a week) copywork.


We've been reading through the Oxford Book of Poetry as well as doing lessons from the Grammar of Poetry. This week I chose a poem, The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, read it aloud, and had my daughter tell me its rhyme scheme (AAAABCCCB). Then I asked her to write a poem of her own following the same rhyme scheme, which she almost did: 

 The War of Words

Once upon a time,
In a faraway clime,
In the season of springtime,
A princess sublime,

Was held prisoner by a knight.

Many a gallant knight
Offered for her to fight
 But their offers ended in flight,

And the evil knight still held the princess.

Her father did beg,
And he offered an arm and a leg,
And he did not renege,
But the evil knight was a prig,

And at the end of a year, he still held the princess.

Then one day,
The princess cried, ‘Hooray!’
For on the road, heading her way,

Came a tall knight, in silver armour.

He rode up to the door,
And kicked it on the floor,
‘Hi, evil knight,’ he said. ‘I’m here for war!’
And down he sat on a bucket of tar,

And waited for the evil knight to speak.

The evil knight drew forth his sword,
And they went out upon the sward,
‘But stop,’ said the tall knight, ‘I’m bored.

Why not have a battle of insults instead?’

To be finished...she's been sick and laid up with a fever and didn't get back to daughter, not the princess.

Architecture Notebook

An entry is done in her notebook once a week.


Shakespeare and Plutarch have often provided some fruitful ideas for narrations with their rich language and drama. I used this suggestion from the Cambridge School Shakespeare as a base for my daughter's narration below:
Imagine you are Caesar's intelligence agents who have shadowed Brutus and Cassius (in Act 1, Scene 2) and bugged their converstion in order to make a report on them to their master.

She typed this one & I copied it here unedited, except for the dialogue, where I used a different colour to make it easier to read:

Description of Brutus
Brutus is of middling height, with a stern gaze upon his countenance, and Rome in his heart.

Description of Cassius
Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much, therefore he must forthwith be dangerous.


Brutus and Cassius standeth together, talking in low tones, glancing this way, and that way, making certain that no one doth intrudeth forth into their conversion.


‘How now, Cassius: what brings thee to converse with me?’


‘Oh, my dear Brutus, ‘tis nought but friendly talk.’

There arises a shout from the populace, in the direction of Caesar’s whereabouts


“Alack, alack, I fear me that honour hath been given Caesar. Alas for Rome! Ah me! We sinketh thus to the depths of d…. I mean, harrumph, ah, hooray!’


‘Thou needst not fear me, Brutus, I am one of those excellent and most trustworthy people, who . . .’
Cassius’s words fade unto the air, as in the distance they heareth the voice of Caesar, who sayeth unto Antony,
‘I want fat men about me, Antonius. That Cassius hath a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Sniff. Such men are dangerous.’


‘Ah, excuse me. . . now, as I was uttering, when so rudely interrupted, cough, cough, thou canst trust me, Brutus. Thou dost not approve of honours given unto Caesar?’


‘Aye, Cassius. Methinks, thee also . . .?’ 

Cassius (drawing Brutus aside)

‘Oh, the day, when men fall down in front of men, made up as gods, when once they were as equals! I, fearless before foes, the terror of mine enemies, reduced to this! I, who once had to draggeth Caesar out of the Tiber!’


‘Out upon thee! Explain thine self, eh?!’


‘Why, my dear Brutus, upon the banks of Tiber I stood with Caesar, who turned unto me, and spake, ‘Cassius, wouldst thou jump into that flood with?’ I up and spake, ‘Aye Caesar, that would I,’ and forthwith I jumped straightway into that roaring flood, and Caesar jumped in with me. I had reached the farther bank, when whereupon Caesar cried unto me, ‘Help, o noble Cassius!’ (see what opinion he had of me!’) I turning around, with all the goodness of my heart, jumped into that flood once more, and dragged him upon the bank, for, he was too weak, forsooth, to do it himself! And now, I ask thee, Caesar holdeth the laurels?!’

Brutus (impressed)

‘Oh dear, Cassius. Of a truth, methinks thou art more fitted to hold the laurels than Caesar! I bear him no ill will, but the bettering of Rome is in my thoughts, O Cassius.'


‘I agree, Brutus. And, moreover, when Caesar had a fever, he asked for water.’

Brutus (horrified)

‘Oh horror! What a calamity. Oh justice, thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.’


‘Yea, Brutus, I hear the trumpets this way come. Thine self I shall meet on the morrow.’


‘Aye. Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night ‘til it be morrow.’


A handwritten narration from Churchill's Birth of Britain. She is quite neat when she does her copywork and dictation but more haphazard when doing a hand-written narration.


This is from her Anatomy & Physiology book (see here & here for the books we're using for Year 7)