Monday, May 29, 2017

Nancy to the rescue

Seeing this is 'Whit' bank holiday I thought I'd write another shortish book review.

Following on The New Girl and Nancy, this installment is set at the start of the Autumn term with Nancy being moved to the Upper Fifth  Form with Desda (Desdemona) Blackett which is seen as being a more dull but worthy form more centred around academic work.
It is soon resolved however to do something about this not least by making a AM. group which is really an Amateur Dramatics and Arts group where they'd study to put on short productions, recitals and undertake some games.
Followers of the previous entries might recall this series started not at Maudsley Grammar school but at St. Brides and this past of Nancy's is a key theme in this edition as we are reintroduced to Althea who we learn has moved to Maudsley in somewhat distressing circumstances, her mothers ill health and given the era we are is the nineteen-twenties there is no Welfare State, they ate in a state of acute poverty where Althea and her mother at at risk of losing their rented home and from which Althea has had to leave St. Brides because of being unable pay the school fees.
Nancy's after school life involves her being in charge of ("Maid of Merit") of the Guildry where the adult Miss Knevitt, is talking about setting up a new unit and that it would involve some changes in unit leaders including Nancy.
It was coming back from a meeting where this was being discussed that Nancy hears a flute being played as it happened rather well and upon coming across her realizes this is her lost friend from St.Brides who is malnourished  and Nancy takes her to a cafe for a drink and food and soon realizes things are very bleak.
Disturbed by this, she takes a long detour to Lord Woodridge a local land owner and 'big cheese' of the town and discussed her friend and mothers plight with him suggesting with his mothers knowledge of nature that an offer of the post of Curator of a museum he is about to open soon be given to her and with it a place to stay.
Like many of her generation Althea's mother would feel they could not just accept a place out of charity, it would have to be seen as being in exchange for her services and this way is accepted by him.
Equally Althea herself needs to continue in her education but there is a stumbling block which is that while a 'scholarship' can be issued for any form it is not generally accepted for 'upper school' which is where she belongs but it is in his remit to award one he does and so Althea now goes to  Maudsley Grammar in the upper fifth like Nancy.
Unfortunately, a small rather voracious group of girls lead by Elma hold to the notion that having a Free Scholar rather lowers the tone especially one held to do something vulgar like play a flute for money even though Althea only did this to raise money where her Mom was down to her last three pence and facing eviction and make things difficult by having so they would not play games with her so she helps the Fourth and lower Fifth out instead and having made a big deal in bring her poverty stricken flute playing out so embarrasses her that an offer to join the AM. for which she has considerable talents is just too embarrassing for her to take up.
In time however Althea joins the Guildry, just at the point Nancy is pondering a change to the 2nd new unit as it's leader so she feels supported although the behaviour of those other girls is really bad.
Just before the Museum is about to open and Althea's Mom has moved in, a mysterious Japanese man comes in a demanding a Cedar tree that her Mom refused to sell, refusing to leave until he's gotten it. Nancy and Althea trap him and just by luck Lord Woodridge comes by and has him arrested. It transpires what was so desirable about the tree was a Crystal which was buried beneath it as an insurance against hard times for Althea's Mom.
Althea's new found status as an heiress impresses those who so rejected her as the Free Scholar, the shallow meanness thereof not lost on Nancy and clearly transmitted in the book to the reader.  
A area competition for the arts is held called the Rosebury Festival and Nancy's name is put forward as a soloist but Nancy feels strongly this is Althea's time and so puts forward to the Head Mistress that really a change of entry to Althea is really called for as her skills as flautist are the stronger but she'd accompany on piano.
This is accepted so the pair go in the competition judged at City Hall and Althea wins the gold medal  and Nancy awarded a special commendation for the accompanying so the pair have brought honour upon their form and school.
Although in some respects it's a relatively simple book in the series, I think it's strengths are that it tackles head on social prejudice, and poverty in a compassionate, thoughtful  way that reminds me very much of what it felt like being 14 or 15 felt like, caring deeply about issues and each other, wanting to help in the way Nancy did her friend and mother, trying to make a difference for the good.
Making a stand for decency, treating people fairly are important lessons we need to learn to keep our society holding to civilized values.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Little needs

The initiated know just how hard it has been for me this week emotionally and psychologically with Monday's tragic events in Manchester and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's struggled this week

This is for us and I hope it helps.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Teenbeat: the Mama's and the Papa's

It's almost a cliché to say the nineteen-sixties produced some of the most memorable popular music of the modern era and growing in the era afterward I was very much in that shadow cast by it cos if your folks and relations didn't have it, then often it was played on the radio.
One trend  amongst many was the fusion between folk music and the emergent rock in the middle of that decade which you see with the Byrds, Bob Dylan and naturally Simon and Garfunkel.
A popular sound often leads to others getting on on the genre and the other essential act you really need to listen to was the Mama's and Papa's who through a career that only spanned from nineteen sixty-five through nineteen sixty-eight, releasing seventeen 45's and five albums.
They comprised of John and Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty  and Cass Elliot and were signed to Dunhill records in 1965 .
The combination of close harmony singing and relatively sparse instrumentation coupled with the dreamy quality of the songs lyrics is a core reason these productions stand out among many others.
Imagine not hearing such songs as Monday Monday, California Dreamin' that summarized that era, Dedicated To The One I Love, Creeque Alley and Dream A Little Dream Of Me before they made their separate ways? To anyone around it would be unthinkable and even when I was growing up, their records were always played on oldies but goldies shows on the radio which trust me I heard a lot of being ill during my childhood and reliant on the radio to cheer me up, it was was left for me to listen to.
Their have been a number of compilation albums of their music issued over the years as while there's a bit of me that loves the original studio lp jackets, in truth their always was a bit of filler on those albums and like many sixties albums seldom run much beyond a half hour or so making a well compiled compilation a sensible option.
The strength of two thousand and five's Mama's and Papa's Gold  is it offers many of the songs from the individual albums in addition to the hit 45's on two well filled compact discs avoiding the mistake of including solo recordings that featured on the nineteen ninety-one Creeque Alley package so there's a clear focus and it can act as good alternative to a full set of albums.
Best of all, this is an inexpensive double in Universal Musics Chronicles series negating any need to consider single cd sets completely.
Recommended


Friday, May 19, 2017

Feeding the affections

Well-being is a theme that's been very much on my mind for the last week or so ago as I've posted at certain places around in differing ways but what sorts of things can lead us easily into it?
Typically very tactile experiences such as petting an animal which may be at say a petting zoo  or you own cat, dog or other creature such as a hamster  often is a way of letting go of certain feelings and emotions we are feeling.
Sometimes though it can be animal itself that initiates to doing things that makes us happy, such as sitting on your lap or climbing onto your shoulder.

I'm hardly unique in that I find human affection really helpful such as soft affectionate cuddles, an arm around a shoulder if I'm upset all helps.

Hair strangely enough is something that does too from having it brushed, washed, cut and say braided or otherwise put into a style so it's hardly surprising I feel much better from  going from the hairdressers in itself never mind how the actual appearance helps me feel, adding to my confidence.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The New Girl and Nancy

After a bit of a pause, today I have decided to write a bit about a book I have been reading this week.

The Nancy and St.Brides series of school based stories  by Dorita Fairlie Bruce is one I've been slowly making through since being presented  with one book and buying the others in a series of contemporary  high quality reprints.
We last left Nancy at Maudsley Grammar after a disastrous term at St. Brides, working on the resolving the feud between themselves and Larkistone through the Guildery movement and its ethos of moral  education and personal responsibility and the inter-school competitions.
This new term a heiress, Barbara Stephen, arrives and Nancy is involved in settling her in although the expression "two's company, three's a crowd" comes to mind as it place strains on her previous friendship with with Desda.
Things would of been so much the better if Barbara had not been so encouraged to see her role as that heiress, home taught by a Governess who very much indulged that very self centred, revolving all around her way of thinking who just wanted everything to be as it was so when she was spirited away from people who only wanted to be her parents for who she was for the Stephen's, she could not even see she had so much to be grateful for even for going to a lesser school.
An example of that defiant streak is her refusal to consider changing how she has her hair fixed as it is long and very wavy in a more grown up way while at school it would of been  a bit shorter and in pigtails or in a bob even though the signs from the other girls and even staff could not of been plainer. Nancy takes a principal stand of not ganging up on her but carefully steering her toward the values of the other girls, seeing  past all that attitude she possesses, that there was a lot of potential good and she joins the Guildery where that hair creates problems for the unit inspection although to Nancy's surprise given the problems she had in Section 6  as "Maid of Merit" with unit discipline and even fighting, Barbara does emerge with some credit for her conduct.
That three's a crowd side rears its head when Desda decides to study for a Scholarship (what I understand to be a funded place based on ability) with an examination when Barbara decides to spit her in a battle for affections to apply too even though she really has no need to  given her financial security which indeed brings an attempted kidnapping and would crush Desda's ambitions.
During this period Barbara's relationship with school, the village she moved to and her new parents come under strain as her mind battles with the emotions her past way of life and that she now is in and expected to adjust to. Indeed she even begs her Aunt to have her back and home schooled but the kidnapping puts that very much on hold as finding Nancy in who spent hours looking for her and her new friends tending to her injuries sustained from escaping the kidnapping,  she finds herself torn between her original aim and wanting to play for Maudsley in the inter school cricket match.
She finds even though she prepared for the scholarship exam revising, she struggles recalling information and understanding what the question is really requiring so she fails it. Pride isn't enough to get you through that.
Having recovered from her injuries, she plays excelling leading her team to victory, gaining acceptance from not just the other girls in the team but the whole school and soon she decides she really wants that school life as just a everyday girl part of a group than that exalted on display older girl as doll-child with all her refinery.
Indeed the end is quite moving that she decides to give away her fancy dresses for her plain girls wear and her uniform and lets Nancy cut her hair in a bob using a pudding bowl: she has given up the past, literally discarding it accepting being molded anew apologizing to Nancy for how she treated her and the others.
Reading the story really made an impression on me, seeing family fortunes aside some similarities between myself and Barbara and where we were lost in self serving bubble that did us no good.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Because we're equal...

I noticed this while doing some research for blog of mine and it kind of got me thinking actually.
I'm not big on Meme's but the point of this one connects here which is all to often everyone assumes all you do is both being a clothes horse, preferring to talk about what you're wearing rather than what you're doing and that somehow "All girls wear skirts".
Well that ain't true as a big number do wear pants and shorts (plus odd creations like culottes) as much as I love skirts and dresses for a host of reasons that may include practicality mountaineering in a frilly dress would leave you very cold and rambling in one may result in getting caught up in hedges.
While I like playing games in  a more traditional top and gym skirt, I'm not so sure playing soccer in the winter in skorts is much of an improvement over football shorts to be honest if you ever played on a muddy field!
The bigger thing is we can were what we actually prefer, what we feel comfortable in and we define ourselves our looks.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Teenbeat: The Bruce Springsteen Albums Collection

Sometimes after a while you finally get it together with a plan  and in order to make some sense of how it applies in this instance,  it's necessary to look at the history of Bruce Springsteen's music here as part of it because it was the early 80's that I  started to buy his albums out right starting originally with the pre-recorded tapes of Born To Run, The River and Born In The USA and then as my record playing equipment improved lp records of Darkness On The Edge Of Town and Tunnel Of Love.
By the time he'd released the misunderstood  Human Touch and Lucky Town albums in early 1992 that I bought on cd, I had decided to standardize on cd and replace my worn tapes at the same time.
Those cds were assembled mainly from tapes in the late 1980's and those editions until three years despite upgrades on the packaging still had that source which was thin and indistinct.

That is where this seven cd set comes in because a new process (Plangent) to restore unclear recordings  and pitch imperfections was used on the actual master tapes has been used throughout  plus they have been issued in mini lp  form.
This simply means they come in card sleeves that replicate the original lps so on Greetings from Astbury Park, N.J, it has a postcard folded over the jacket and Born To Run has a gatefold sleeve together with replica inner sleeves to house the cd(s) which where appropriate have specific art and the inserts.
Other nice touches to the set are reproductions of the lp labels on the discs themselves which does build on the tactileness of the whole set.
Having listened to the set extensively, they do sound a lot better with the first two albums (Greetings from Astbury, N.J and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle) much clearer and even the at times glary mess sonically that is The River is tamed with a number of tracks gaining better depth, more clearer sense of individual instruments and heck even some bass which is nice as that album is a all time favourite of mine for the songwriting. 
As well the much played - over played on radio at the time - Born In The U.S.A.  has better defined bass and more shimmer on the cymbals especially on tracks such as Darlington County.
Original this set was a bit expensive on release November 17th  2014 and the booklet that comes with it isn't really needed being just reproductions of posters, reviews and photographs rather than a history of Bruce and these albums so I was on the edge over buying.
Fortunately I was able track it down to just under  £30 delivered which certainly fitted my budget for replacing all seven. Recommended.

 Albums Featured:
Greetings From Astbury, New Jersey (1973)
The Wild, The Innocent and E Street  Shuffle (Nov 1973)
Born To Run (1975)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978)
The River (Nov 1980)
Nebraska (Sept 1982)
Born In The U.S.A. (June 1984)

Essential later albums:
Tunnel Of Love
Human Touch
Lucky Town
These three albums mark the more domestic and personal side of Bruce Springsteen's writing reflecting on his life and the birth of his child.

The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Centred around the Steinbeck character Tom Joad he  explores the hardships of mid nineties Mid West and also of Mexico, this marked the return to very acoustic, folk feel set after the electric density of much of Born In The U.S.A.