Thursday, June 25, 2015

Stained Glass From Welsh Churches

Stained Glass From Welsh Churches

By Martin Crampin

Published by Y Lolfa, 2014

This is an absolutely joy of a book, perfect for anyone who enjoys looking at churches in general or more specifically at stained glass windows in particular. It is the culmination of many years of research and dedicated church visiting and photography by Martin Crampin, and the fruits of his labours can be seen in the almost 800 colour photographs which lavishly illustrate this large and heavy hard-backed book.

The best and most notable extant stained glass windows from the Middle Ages right up to the present day are shown, from the smallest, most humble churches right up to spectacular large churches and cathedrals. Church windows from hamlets and towns, villages and cities are all well covered both in the text and the illustrations, and I particularly liked the the thematic nature of each chapter, making it easy to find representative windows from each time period/artistic movement. The very informative introduction describes the technicalities of creating stained glass and mentions the "Imaging The Bible In Wales" project (which is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to find stained glass by artist, church or place, and can be searched at ) which inspired Martin Crampin to produce this volume.

I don't wish to impinge upon any copyrights, so I am including a link which shows page spreads from the book so you can judge for yourselves how stunning a book this actually is.

The only way I can see that this volume could ever be improved upon would be the inclusion of maps and Ordinance Survey map references/GPS locations for what can often be very difficult to find rural churches. With a book whose scope is as huge as this, there will inevitably be some amendments and corrections, and there is a regularly updated document file which can be downloaded here to keep the book as correct as possible.

At only £29.95, this is an absolute steal of a book and well worth every single penny; I have spent many delighted hours poring over it and will no doubt spend many, many more too, as well as toting the book around with me to various churches to visit the windows illustrated so beautifully :-)

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

The C-Word

The C-Word:
Just Your Average 28 Year Old....Friends, Family, Facebook, Cancer
By Lisa Lynch
Published by Arrow Books, 2010 and also 23rd April  2015

Admin note: this book has since been re-issued with a new cover and updated to reflect later events, so I would *strongly* recommend getting the newer edition.

This book made me giggle, and also just about broke my heart.
Lisa Lynch has everything going for her, it seems - bubbly, funny, clever, in a dream publishing job, happily married and hoping to start a family. In her late twenties, busily living her life to the full, she and her husband discover a lump in her left breast. With no family history of cancer and her young age, everyone - including her GP - was naturally convinced it must just be a cyst. But it wasn't, and so began Lisa's experience of invasive  breast cancer.

It sounds a grim topic, and the feelings and treatments she undergoes are certainly distressing, traumatic and extremely sobering, but the book is remarkably uplifting, filled with love, laughter, friendship, relationships and family, underpinned throughout with dark humour as she nicknames her disease "Bullshit". The blog Lisa began to chronicle her thoughts, feelings and experience of breast cancer, called "Alright Tit", is very well worth visiting.  I had read about a third of the book, was avidly cheering her on and wondered what had subsequently happened in her life. I almost wish I hadn't, as after a quick Google search, I discovered that her cancer had returned with a vengeance a few years later  :-(

Lisa's story has, I subsequently discovered, been made into a BBC TV  drama which met with much acclaim, and is a tribute to a remarkable young woman, her husband, family and friends.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blue Skies And Black Olives

Blue Skies & Black Olives:

A survivor's tale of housebuilding and peacock chasing in Greece

By John Humphrys & Christopher Humphrys

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2009

This was a serendipitous find in a charity shop recently. I'm always a sucker for books about Brits who end up in Mediterranean countries.

John Humphrys is well-known to many Brits as a reporting journalist, newsreader, presenter and Radio 4 broadcaster. His son, Christopher, is a musician who auditioned for a post in a Greek orchestra and ended up making his home in Athens and marrying a nice Greek girl.

John has had many madcap ideas, including an unsuccessful stint as a dairy farmer in Wales, and buying a derelict house in a remote yet stunning part of mainland Greece was to prove the most madcap of them all. Absolutely nothing is straightforward, nothing goes according to plan and the positively Byzantine level of intrigue, bribery and threats needed to get even the simplest task done is hilarious to read about but most definitely would not be fun to have to endure. Chris deals with the flak both from the workmen he has to deal with and from an increasingly irate father who provides the funds to deal with unexpected problems while spending long periods away in Britain.

Yes, there are olives and olive trees - but not their olive trees even if on their land. There is a renegade peacock who adopts them, blue skies and blue seas galore. There are also broken-hearted neighbours, illegal Albanian workers, Greek bureaucrats, rats and planning laws to contend with...

Alternating between sections written by John then Chris, giving both sides of the story behind their Greek adventure and giving much insight into their relationship, this book had me laughing out loud in places. An enjoyable read.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Shepherd's Life

The Shepherd's Life

A Tale of the Lake District

By James Rebanks

Published by Allen Lane, April 2015

I first heard about James Rebanks via his Twitter handle, @herdyshepherd1, and greatly admired the gorgeous photos he takes of his beloved sheep and the Lake District where he farms.  Anyone looking to find lots of glossy photos in this book might well be disappointed by the relatively small number of black and white photos, but the book itself is quite remarkable.

James Rebanks struggled at school and was glad to leave with a mere scraping of qualifications. A very bright lad and a typical teenager, he was glad to be working on his family's farm in the wild yet lovely, tranquil yet sometimes brutal Lake District of England. After several run-ins with his father and a brilliant episode where he wrote an essay for his clever sister and it got more marks than she normally achieved, he decided to see if he could do this academic stuff for himself. Enrolling at evening classes, it was quickly apparent that yes, he certainly could do this academic stuff quite easily and he ended up being accepted to study at Oxford, all the while coming back home to help with the sheep.

After graduating, he returned home to the Lake District to throw himself into sheep farming, but being pragmatic, found other, more well-paying jobs which he could fit in around his farm tasks and hours to help support himself. His relationship with the land, his family, his beloved sheep, his friends and fellow shepherds and farmers as well as the visitors and tourists who flock in turn to the area are all described, examined and analysed as he takes the reader through a typical year on his farm and weaves into it stories from his childhood, his family's history over hundreds of years in the Lakes, memorable people and events and so much more.

Just how much his farming means to him cannot be under-estimated and the horrors of the  Foot and Mouth outbreak which ravaged the area  and his own family farm in 2001 are mercifully skipped over  quite quickly. The loss of sixty years of dedicated care and work by his family to build up a stunning breeding herd in a matter of days is a grief too deep to be laid bare for public consumption for very long.

A tough, gritty, touching and enlightening book about families, relationships, the countryside, farming and most of all, sheep.
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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Welcome To The Orthodox Church

Welcome To The Orthodox Church:

An Introduction to Eastern Christianity

By Frederica Mathewes-Green

Published in the US by Paraclete Press, May 13th 2015

Publication date for the UK: Jan 1st, 2016

I really liked this book very much indeed. Instead of starting off with basic theological concepts which can still  be really overwhelming to the average reader as well as pretty hard-going, the book starts with describing a fictitious but very typical Orthodox church which is dedicated to St Felicity.

From the first moment of entering the lobby- or Narthex - of an Orthodox church, it will be very unlike most other churches. Icons, sandboxes, beeswax taper candles, books in English and often Church Slavonic or Greek too! make a confusing visual introduction, which is carefully explained, introducing the Sign of the Cross, veneration of icons and prayer before entering the main part of the Church, in a quiet moment when it is empty, to explore further.

We find out how and why Orthodox churches are built the way they are, look at the visually striking iconostasis, examine the lovely icons and learn about the life of St Felicity the Martyr amongst many other things. Everything is explained in a lively, conversational and reassuring manner, gently and gradually leading deeper and deeper into the mystery that is Eastern Orthodoxy.

Eventually we get to visit the Church when there are services in full swing and meet Orthodox liturgy in action, which requires even more detailed explanation of concepts mentioned earlier, especially through the Hymnody of the Vigils and Liturgy where incredibly complex and profound theology can be packed into a a hymn only a few lines long - but the study of which could occupy a lifetime of prayer and meditation.

Finally, in the last section of the book, we learn about living the Orthodox life  through events such as house blessings, the Sacraments, life events including death and and burial, fasting customs and prayer.

What had seemed impossibly complicated at the beginning of the book seems logical and workable by the end, and has been an enjoyable and informative read throughout. Deceptively simple but remarkably thorough, this is an excellent introductory book about Orthodoxy.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

A Bookshop Of Wonders And Delights

I recently went with my daughter to one of the Bath Universities' (yes, there are two!) Open Days, and as luck and good planning would have it, we had time for a nice wander through the streets of a very busy Bath.

The best part of our day, without any shadow of a doubt, was discovering this amazingly wonderful independent bookshop; needless to say, we emerged with four books. If funds and our weary arms would have allowed, we would have brought home many, many more books....

                                  Welcome to "Mr B's Emporium Of Reading Delights"!

A very nice selection indeed of children's and Young Adult books,
 nicely laid out.....

Always plenty of places to sit and read, 
and some wonderfully quirky plays on words!

We saw several people having fun 
with the magnetic letters :-)

Not only one floor of books - there is a tantalising 
sign showing the way upstairs!

And on the way up, oodles of Tintin comic strips!

Hints, suggestions, laminated sheaves of book reviews
to give you ideas of what you  might enjoy reading next.

Comfortable chairs and complimentary tea and coffee
to make your browsing experience even more enjoyable.


The walk downstairs holds poetry galore.
Downstairs itself holds history, politics, religion, 
philosophy, current affairs, economics, 
health, psychology and more delights.

And a fun ceiling, which I only noticed when 
Dear Daughter pointed it out to me. 
I blame that on the fact that I am waiting for my new 
glasses to be delivered to the Optician's next week!

Friendly, welcoming, helpful and extremely
 knowledgeable staff made this the perfect bookshop experience. 
They were very happy to allow me to take 
these photographs of their super shop.

Do go and visit them at 
14/15 John Street, Bath BA1  2JL 
if you get the chance - you won't regret it!

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Been Busy....

Just in case you have been wondering why I have been so quiet over the last few weeks, we now have a cat :-)

I am in the process of reading several books which will be reviewed soon, I promise!
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