Thursday, 5 December 2019

The Moon is Always Round by Jonathon Gibson; illustrated by Joe Hox

This lovely picture book uses a natural occurrence, the phases of the moon, to illustrate the goodness of God. There are times when we can’t see the whole moon as it orbits the earth, but the moon is always round, regardless of whether we can see it in its entirety or not.
There are times in our lives when things happen to us that make us question or doubt God’s goodness, but although we may not see God’s goodness during hard times this doesn’t mean that God is not good in those times. God is always good, just like the moon is always round, even when we can’t see all of it.

Ben was about three years old when his Dad held him up to the window one evening and Ben pointed out the moon which was a crescent shape that night. His Dad explained that while the moon can appear in different shapes, it is always round.
From that little episode, his Dad developed a simple catechism for Ben which went like this:

Q. Ben, what shape is the moon tonight?

A. The moon is a crescent moon, or a half-moon, or a gibbous moon, or a full moon.

Q. What shape is the moon always?

A. The moon is always round.

Q. What does that mean?

A. God is always good.

One day Ben’s Dad told him that he was going to get a little sister. That night the moon looked like a banana, but his Dad reminded him that, ‘The moon is always round.’ Later on it looked like a slice of apple, then a shrivelled orange, and always his Dad would say, ‘The moon is always round.’ Even when Ben was told that his little sister wasn’t coming to live with them after all their waiting and Ben wanted to know why, his Dad said, ‘I don’t know, but the moon is always round.’

Ben’s little sister was stillborn at 39 weeks and his Dad’s simple liturgy opened up a way to talk to him about God’s goodness.
The author also points to the events of Good Friday as a concrete example for teaching children about God’s goodness in difficult times:

‘On Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross, he experienced the most difficult of times. That day, the sun was blanked out and the whole world went dark - the darkest it has ever been. No stars twinkled. There was not even a sliver of the moon in the sky to give Jesus some light. And yet in the darkness, God showed the whole world that he was still good. Because in that moment, Jesus died for our sins, so that we could be forgiven. It’s why the day is called “Good Friday,” because even though Jesus died in the darkness, God was still good - just like the moon was still round, even though no one could see it.’

When I saw that this book had been released this year by New Growth Press, I approached the company and requested a review copy, which they kindly sent me.

I think there’s a real need of good books for children that address the grief and sense of loss that occurs when a baby is miscarried or stillborn. In my own experience, each child can be quite different in their reaction to loss. Some ask lots of questions while others don’t or aren’t able to articulate them.
I would have appreciated a resource like this to read to my children, the older ones and the younger ones. When you are dealing with your own pain it can be hard to initiate a conversation but I think that reading a book like this aloud would have helped me.

I appreciate the author’s use of a natural event with its certainty and regularity to reflect a spiritual reality, for addressing a difficult topic with clarity and tenderness, and for sharing his own story of loss in order to help others who are grieving.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Back to the Classics 2019: Wrap-up Post

This year I'm stopping at 10 books for this challenge which was hosted by Karen @ books & chocolate. I skipped the 'Comic Classic' and 'Classic Play.' I did read All Things Bright & Beautiful by James Herriot book aloud to my daughter which was a great laugh in places but it didn't qualify for this challenge as it was written in the 1970's.

These were my original ideas and the books below are what I ended up reading:

19th century Classic:
Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

20th Century Classic: In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Classic by a Woman: Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Classic in Translation: On the Incarnation by Athanasius

Classic Tragic Novel: Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute

Very Long Classic: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Classic Novella: Chocky by John Wyndham

Classic From the Americas or Caribbean: The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Classic From Asia, Africa, or Oceania: The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

Classic From a Place You've Lived: Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh

I'd be hard put to try and choose a favourite but a few I'd highly recommend are The Homemaker, Requiem for a Wren, & Ruth. Followed closely by The Makioka Sisters & In This House of Brede.

The most difficult were On the Incarnation, not because of the author's style, which was lucid and inviting, but the subject matter; and Daniel Deronda, because George Eliot was a very intellectual & articulate woman and you almost need an art and history degree to get all her references.

Three books that had me in tears: The Homemaker, Requiem for a Wren, and Ruth.

New authors for me: Athanasius, Junichiro Tanizaki.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)

John Wyndham is known for his ‘logical fantasies’ which have been described as modified science fiction. I’ve previously read his The Day of the Triffids and enjoyed that. Chocky is quite a different story. It has a slower pace and doesn’t have much action to speak of but it has plenty of thoughtful and interesting ideas.

Matthew is an ordinary eleven year old boy whose parents begin to get concerned when he starts talking to an imaginary friend. His younger sister, Polly, when she was around the age of five, disrupted the family for some time with her invisible friend, Piff. A family outing for a meal required a mystified waitress to add an extra chair for Piff or Polly would disturb her Dad at a critical moment in a movie by calling out from her room that Piff was in desperate need of a drink of water.
The problem was that Matthew wasn’t a five year old. He was eleven and his imaginary friend, Chocky, was asking him some very complicated questions and causing him to say some startling things.
The situation came to a head when Matthew inexplicably performed a feat that was beyond him and the media got word of it. Reporters started turning up at the family home or waylaid Matthew on his way home from school. Matthew also began to draw attention to himself by the unusual art work he was producing, something he’d never shown talent for previously. His maths teacher quizzed his parents about who was the mathematician in the family who had been teaching Matthew advanced concepts. Matthew had been getting muddled with some teaching on the binary code but when his parents showed their lack of mathematical ability the teacher was perplexed and expressed his concern that this 'new-found knowledge' was confusing Matthew.

Matthew's parents decided to take Matthew to a psychiatrist. This worthy doctor's opinion (or so he made them believe) was that there was nothing to worry about and he tried to relieve their anxiety by telling them that the fantasy would break up of itself and disperse.
However, the psychiatrist had found the problem fascinating and became excited at what he discovered when he put Matthew under hypnosis (without his parent’s knowledge or consent!). The implications to him were like finding gold.

The little blurb on the front cover of my book stars that the story is ‘disturbing in an entirely unexpected way.’ 
Chocky was first published in 1968 and it has a slightly dated feel in some ways so the part I found most disturbing was the behaviour of the psychiatrist!
Matthew’s father is the narrator and he’s quite matter-of-fact so the story stays on an even keel. I really liked the author's handling of the dynamics between father and son and the interplay between the very ordinary and the bizarre in the story.
There is some suspense, more so towards the end, but there’s also some light relief in the form of family dynamics. I think if the book had been written a few decades later, or if it was made into a movie now, it could really be quite sinister.
The ending was very science fiction-ish and unbelievable but I don’t know that it could have ended any other way. Overall it was a good read with some interesting ideas to ponder.

Chocky was a book I became aware of when I visited the Armitt Museum in Ambleside a couple of months ago and looked at some of the PNEU (Parent's National Education Union) material that had been used for students in Years 9/10.

Back to the Classics 2019: Classic Novella (153 pgs)

Sunday, 24 November 2019

On the Incarnation by Athanasius (c.296-373) - A Classic in Translation

On the Incarnation was written over sixteen hundred years ago by Athanasius, a Patriarch and Saint of Alexander, Egypt. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, Greek became the most common written language due to its widespread use in government, education and literature and On the Incarnation was originally written in that language.

Bishop of Alexandria for forty-five years, Athanasius opposed Arius and his followers, who denied the divinity of Christ, in the most intense debate of the 4th century. He was banished for the position he took by both Constantine the Great and his successor.

‘Athanasius stood contra mundum ("against the world") in defense of the biblical doctrine of Christ. He opposed Arius when it seemed all the world would follow Arius's heresy. Athanasius's work remains even today the definitive statement of orthodox Trinitarianism.’

Athanasius was only about twenty-one years of age when he wrote this way back in the early 300’s AD. Maybe it was his youthful exuberance that lends a freshness to the book so that it feels as if it was written recently but it's also witty, logical, and in the words of C.S. Lewis, (who wrote the introduction to the 1946 English translation of the book that is a must read!) it is ‘a masterpiece.’

My edition of the book is only just over a hundred pages long but it is a challenging read so I’ve been reading short sections at a time over the course of this year. It’s an unusual and compelling book as the author wrote simply and lucidly while still maintaining a logical and thorough approach to his subject.

Athanasius starts off with a discussion of the origin of men, the Creation and the Fall because, ‘ as our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us.’
He then goes on to speak about the Divine Dilemma where man, who was created in God’s image, was in the process of destruction, and the rescue of mankind from corruption ‘was the proper part only of Him Who made them in the beginning.’

The Incarnation, the Resurrection, and Christ’s victory over death are discussed and then Athanasius deals with the unbelief and ridicule of the Jews and the Gentiles (non-Jews) respectively. He raises instances of signs and miracles documented in the Old Testament but points out that up until Christ there were certain things that had never occurred:

‘And the Jews who saw (the miracles) themselves testified to the fact that such things had never occurred before. “Since the world began,” they said, “it has never been heard of that anyone should open the eyes of a mam born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”’

He poses questions as if he were a lawyer speaking to a jury and then proceeds to provide answers showing the reasoning behind them. He asks why it is that the worship of the Greek gods such as Zeus and Chronos and Apollo has died out; why the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress and that which used to be is disappearing, and why demons, ‘so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try.’

He uses the example of a king who stays in his house and doesn’t let himself be seen. Some insubordinate fellows take advantage of this and proclaim themselves as kings, fooling the simple who, because they cannot enter the palace and see the real king, are led astray. However, when the real king emerges, the impostors are shown up for who they really are and those who had followed them now forsake them.
‘When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer.’

The translator, who is not mentioned by name in the book, was Penelope Lawson. There are more details here.
A PDF of the book is here but it doesn't include Lewis's Introduction - you can read that here.

This book was my choice for the 2019 Christian Greats Challenge: 1)  A Book on Early Church History (up to about 500 A.D) or a book written by a key figure who lived during that time, or a biography about that person.
Back to the Classics: A Classic in Translation

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Ambleside Online Year 10: an Australian Biography - Flynn of the Inland by Ion L. Idriess (1932)

Flynn of the Inland by Ion (Jack) Idriess is a book I've used in the past for high school. I'll be using it again next year as an Australian Biography substitute in Ambleside Online Year 10.  This book reflects views on race that were acceptable for the time in which it was written but would be offensive now so I've saved it for Year 10 but it would be suitable as a read aloud for around age 13  years and up with some editing.
The book has 306 pages and contains black and white photographs and also maps in the front and back - I love a book with maps!

Ion L. Idriess (1890-1979) was Australia’s best selling author during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. A prolific and popular writer, he drew upon his diverse life experiences which included his familiarity with the Australian bush and active service during WWI  to craft his narratives. His books were so popular that they sold in the millions even during the Great Depression. Unfortunately his work is overlooked by modern critics and his contributions to Australian literature largely ignored.
Idriess was a man who obviously knew the bush and this knowledge adds authenticity to this book.
Flynn of the Inland is drama, romance, and history; a real adventure filled with wonderful characters and an unconventional protagonist who not only refused to let go of his dream but inspired others to help him make his ‘impossible’ dream a reality.

John Flynn (1880-1951) was an Australian Presbyterian minister who founded the Australian Inland Mission (somewhat of a misnomer as it included large areas around the coast) and pioneered the world's first aerial medical service (aerial ambulance) now known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service. A visionary, but also a very practical man, he pursued his dream against all odds - and the odds were indeed significant!

Idriess wrote Flynn of the Inland in order that the people of Australia could learn about the work of the Australian Inland Mission. His purpose was not to write a history of the work but to tell ‘a true story.’
There is a certain quality to his writing that allows the reader to feel an emotional attachment to the book’s characters. We travel with John Flynn on his solitary camel rides into the harsh and unforgiving outback, where he often went a fortnight without seeing a single soul.

He meets the isolated residents and hears the stories of hardship and tragedy - injuries that could have been treated easily enough with medical assistance but proved fatal from lack of earlier intervention; a young child who dies in his mother’s arms before she reaches help; women having to travel great distances to give birth.

One harrowing situation Flynn hears about is that of young Darcy who was thrown from his horse while mustering in the heart of the Kimberleys. Seriously injured, his friends harnessed up a buggy and the young man endured a dreadful ride to Hall’s Creek three hundred miles away to Mr Tuckett, the nearest person possessing some medical knowledge. But Darcy’s injuries were beyond his skill.
The nearest doctor was two hundred miles away and the patient wouldn’t have stood the drive. The only option was for Tuckett to operate under instructions via telegraph. He had no instruments or anaesthetic but it was Darcy’s only chance. Incredibly, the operation proved successful but complications set in and it became obvious that he would die unless he received specialist medical attention. Darcy’s two brothers performed an incredible feat by racing to Derby to pick up the specialist who was arriving by steamer. After over twelve days of travel the doctor arrived at Hall’s Creek only to find his patient had died the day before.

Flynn was the type of man who could befriend hardened bushmen. They were attracted to Flynn's 'muscular Christianity' and were surprised when he turned up out of nowhere to relay a message, deliver quinine to a feverish man, or conduct a christening. 

"It was a giant project, Flynn’s dream. Nothing less than to establish help, communication, and transport throughout two-thirds of a continent, two million square miles peopled by an isolated few having no political voice...His dream hinged on the cradle. First ensure that every inland woman could have her baby and her own life with it. Then educate those children, annihilate loneliness, and bring a feeling of security to the fathers, and see that all had that spiritual companionship which smooths the path of life.”

It took twelve years of travelling and planning for Flynn’s dream to take shape. His friends often exclaimed in exasperation that he was ten, twenty, fifty years before the times but he never gave up. He fired the first shot and his dream awakened the sympathetic interest of a few people in two Australian cities and then his ideas were embraced by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. His dreams began to take on flesh.

“From his very first dream right through the years Flynn fought a long flight, a dogged fight; but no one, in bush or city, ever saw him without a smile. There were times when he knew weariness of body and bitterness of heart. No one else knew."

It wasn’t only medical services that were required. A means of reliable communication also needed to be provided and the sheer technical challenges involved were enormous. There’s a story within a story here - the invention of a ‘baby transmitter.’

“The machine could be easily carried, easily installed: it could be easily mastered by the bush mother. It was worked by pedal. The generator was simplicity itself and a marvel of efficiency. It could be phoned up from any mother station, but transmitted its own messages by Morse.”

Radio Rescue is a beautiful picture book that tells this story and explores the relationship between the John Flynn and Alf Traeger as they worked together on the idea of providing a form of communication for people in isolated areas. Enjoyable for both children and adults.

John Flynn is commemorated on the Australian $20 banknote:

Places of interest:

Information about Ion Idriess.

Timeline of the life of John Flynn

The Royal Flying Doctor Service

My choice for #6 in the Christian Greats Challenge: A Missionary Biography or A Biography of a Prominent Christian who lived any time between 1500 A.D to 1950 A.D

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Slow-Cooker Homeschool

From the time she was first able to hold a pencil my youngest child has being drawing. I used to always carry around small notebooks, mostly for my own use, whenever we went anywhere but inevitably I let her 'draw' in them when she was little to keep her occupied when we were waiting for her older siblings to finish swimming or music lessons or whatever. She filled up countless numbers of these or whatever else she found that had a blank space.
She went through phases of drawing figures that looked like something out of Ancient Egypt to focussing on legs, noses, eyes, lips, was quite weird looking through some of them. Apart from being surprised at the prolific quantity she produced, I didn't really consider she had an artistic 'gift.'

I noticed she had definite ideas about which artists she liked - Degas is one of her favourites and she has always liked to draw anything ballet related - but I made sure she also had exposure to a wide range of artists.
One day, just over a year ago, she was sitting at the kitchen bench with some music playing in the background,  drawing in her nature notebook. I noticed she was taking time, concentrating, and when she had finished and showed me what she had done I was stunned. She'd been getting more skilful with her art in recent times, but this was a step up.

I've discovered that this seems to generally be the way of things. Home education is essentially a slow movement; especially so if you follow the Charlotte Mason approach, where the focus is not on filling in the blanks or completing worksheets that have the appearance of learning.

About a month ago I sowed nineteen little punnets with a variety of seeds. The cress seeds were the first to sprout and then gradually some of the others appeared. The other day some sprouts appeared in another punnet. I'm still waiting for some signs of action in the others but I can only water them and wait.

Charlotte Mason wrote in A Philosophy of Education (Pg. 39) that "Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen."

We don't see what is happening beneath the soil when we sow seeds just as we don't see the internal process of a child's educational growth. We sow the seeds, provide the appropriate atmosphere, and let patience have her perfect work.

"Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give..."

This is slow-cooker home education but slow is so anachronistic to our culture!
There is a very real temptation to meddle. We want quick results, instant feedback, affirmation.
The premise of a slow-cooker is that food is cooked over an extended period of time at a low temperature. As the cooking is in process, steam condenses on the inside of the lid forming a seal which helps to retain heat. Generally, you keep the lid on during the cooking process, but in my house there's usually someone who is tempted to meddle & lift the lid to have a peek at what's inside.
You're not going to ruin a meal by lifting the lid but you may need to cook things for a bit longer if heat is lost.
If you meddled with seeds in a punnet to check out their progress you'd probably do some damage.
I think there's enough evidence of children being 'meddled with' by being unduly pushed, labelled, scrutinized, or having excessive expectations placed upon them too early to assume that it can be harmful.

Karen Andreola shares some wise advice in her book, 'A Charlotte Mason Companion' that is helpful for focussing on the things that matter when we're struggling with the slow cooking aspect of eduation:

"Be sure that your children each day have:

*  Something or someone to love
*  Something (worthwhile) to do
*  Something to think about"

My husband and I met and married while we were going to a church in a different part of the city. Our children were born while we were part of that community and we had long-term friendships, some of them going back twenty years and more. We re-located and moved to another church when our eldest was ready to start university and our youngest was only two years of age. Within a short time I was  frustrated that I hadn't made any real friends and felt isolated. We met up with some friends who had gone through a similar experience a few years before we did and one of them said a wise thing that I took to heart:

"A twenty year relationship takes twenty years to develop. You won't find it in six months" Simple and true and something I needed to remind myself of again and again.

Education, that "…series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits" doesn't happen overnight.

Years of listening to a shrieking violin and then all of a sudden it begins to sound like music. Good music!

Watching a child flounder from one end of the pool to another and then overnight, or so it seems, they are a pleasure to behold as they skim through the water in style. 

Talking to your child about controlling his temper, yet again...and one day, many years later you see the fruit of self-control playing out in his life. Something you thought you would never see.

Listening to 'a' 'a...m' 'am' interminably or a child tripping over every second word while internally you fret that they will continue through life illiterate. None of mine are illiterate despite my earlier fears. 

This is where your educational philosophy really matters. It should help to focus our direction and assure us we're on the right track or direct us back to where we should be. (For an example of applied philosophy see A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason. A brief summary of how the philosophy works is here.)

God moves in a mysterious way
  His wonders to perform:
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
  And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
  Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
  And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
  The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
  In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
  But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
  He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
  Unfolding every hour:
The bud may have a bitter taste,
  But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
  And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
  And He will make it plain.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

'Nature will not give up her secrets to the man in a hurry.'

We have this tree at the bottom of our long driveway. I pass it at least once a day when I check the mailbox and I've noticed it had some deep pink/crimson flowers on it from time to time and that it was evergreen. And that was it.
Not long ago Moozle was looking around the garden and cut off a small section from it to draw in her nature notebook. She asked me if I knew what it was but I didn't have a clue. That wasn't good enough so I went searching and to cut a long story short, I found out that it was a Port Wine Magnolia. I was a bit disgusted with myself because I'd seen this plant before and should have recognised it. It's position on our driveway obscures it a little and keeps it in shade but it has flowers that I didn't think to smell. Port Wine Magnolia flowers smell like a fruity chewing gum or banana paddlepops. So there are many different ways to help identify plants if you're not always hurrying past them.

Moozle's drawing of a Wedge-tailed Eagle. We saw one standing by the edge of the road on a trip we did inland a few years ago. I think the word 'awesome' is so often misused but it fits the description of this Australian bird. It certainly takes your breath away to see it in real life in the open. It has such iconic legs but Moozle decided to concentrate on the head with this drawing...

My Husband and I had our 32nd Wedding Anniversary  nearly 2 weeks ago so we went out for breakfast together and then had a walk through some gardens nearby where some beautiful Australian natives were in flower.

Grevillea - Australian native as is the yellow grevillea below but I think both are cultivars

My neglected nature notebook... I decided after looking through some student's work at the Armitt Museum last month that I'd make a regular effort to journal my nature sightings and thoughts but leave drawing/painting until I get the opportunity and time. Today I drew the brown cuckoo dove that flew up to our verandah a couple of weeks ago to visit me when I was having a quiet moment all on my ownsome.

A Superb Lyrebird next to our house - I'd heard what I thought was numerous birds carrying on in the bush but it wasn't until I caught sight of this one that I realised I'd been duped. I'm not sure if this is a female lyrebird because we saw it later (unless there's another one) displaying its long filmy tail and dancing around so presumed it was the male. I wish we'd caught it on video!


In Nature Studies in Australia, William Gillies gives us this advice: 'To enable the student who has been absorbed with the investigation of a corner of Nature to bring his pet subjects into relation with other parts of Nature, and all the parts into relation with the whole, the poets who deal with nature should be read and re-read.'

He uses an example from Botany where a student might study the details of a dandelion. He suggests that afterwards the student reads a poem such as James Russell Lowell's To the Dandelion. Here is the last verse of the poem, which I think contains a powerful image:

How like a prodigal doth nature seem
When thou, for all thy gold, so common art!
Thou teachest me to deem
More sacredly of every human heart,
Since each reflects in joy its scanty gleam
Of heaven, and could some wondrous secret show,
Did we but pay the love we owe,
And with a child’s undoubting wisdom look
On all these living pages of God’s book.

Flannel Flowers

Saturday, 19 October 2019

A Bookish Catch-up

Our recent overseas trip afforded me some good opportunities for lighter reading. With very long flights from here to the U.K and back and a about six hours of train travel in between I managed to get through a few books that I took with me plus some others I picked up on our travels.
Light reading for me tends to lean towards detective/spy novels so I’ll start with those.

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie (1970)

This was a strange one. It often felt more like a half-baked John Buchan story than an Agatha Christie novel with its international intrigue and bizarre characters. It was promising to start off with at first  when an unknown woman approached Sir Stafford Nye, a British diplomat, at Frankfurt airport with a tale that she would be killed if she didn't get to London. She persuaded Nye to give her his cloak and take his place on the flight. Unfortunately, Christie lost the plot a little later which was unfortunate as it could have been a good story if she had stuck to what she was good at.
There was no detective in this story and no crime as such, but there were double identities, spies, fake officials, an assassination, and a romance to top it all off.

An underlying theme was a resurgence of Nazism based on an event which came to light in this story:
As WWII progressed and Hitler was facing defeat, a plan was concocted to get him out of Germany to safety elsewhere.
Towards the end of the war, a German psychiatrist who dealt with megalomaniacs had a visit from a government official and the Führer. The psychiatrist was treating twenty-four ‘Adolf Hitlers’ at the time (as well as fifteen Napoleon’s, ten Mussolini’s, and five reincarnations of Julius Caesar!)
The psychiatrist arranged for the two men to meet and mingle with the most amiable of the Führer  patients and retired from the room. The meeting over, the two visitors left hurriedly.

Not long after this visit one of the psychiatrist’s ‘Hitler’ patients started showing signs of agitation, demanding to go immediately to Berlin. His behaviour was so fierce and unlike his usual self that the psychiatrist was relieved when a couple of days later his family took him home and said they would arrange private treatment there for him.

A clandestine investigation in the years after the war resulted in the belief that the real Führer was left in the asylum by his own consent and was not long after smuggled to Argentina, had a son by a ‘beautiful Aryan girl of good family,’ and died insane, believing he was commanding his armies in the field.
The fake Führer supposedly left the psychiatric clinic with the government official and it was his body that was found in the bunker.
At the time of this story a ‘young Siegfried’ arises, supposedly Hitler’s son, but actually a rank impostor. With backing from powerful people in high places, this young man was harnessing the youth of his country to bring about a new world order by means of violence, anarchy, drugs and what not.

It was a rather convoluted story with an equally baffling ending that seemed to come out of nowhere.
This is definitely not a standard Christie novel and I nearly didn’t finish it, but it did have its interesting bits so I carried on. Not one I’d ever bother reading again and definitely not one I’d recommend for anyone new to Agatha Christie. She should have left this sort of story to authors who knew how to write spy/espionage novels - such as John Buchan or Helen Macinnes.

Speaking of Helen Macinnes, I picked up this title from the gift and secondhand shop at the Armitt Museum in Ambleside for £1:

The Snare of the Hunter by Helen Macinnes (1974)

Helen Macinnes was born in Scotland and went to live in the USA in 1937. Her books are usually set during WWII and the Cold War period. Both she and her husband, Gilbert Highet, a classicist who worked at one time for British Intelligence, travelled widely and this is reflected in Macinnes’ books.

The Snare of the Hunter has its beginnings in Czechoslovakia when Irina Hradek, the former wife of Jiri Hradek, a high ranking official in the Czech secret police, leaves the country to make her way to the west. She is astonished that her former husband, an ambitious and ruthless man, doesn’t hinder her defection but it becomes obvious that something sinister is afoot when those who are involved in helping her get to the west die in curious circumstances.

Irina’s father, a famous author living in secrecy after defecting to the west years before has friends who are helping Irina escape. They enlist the help of David Mennery, an American journalist who had lived in Czechoslovakia years before and had known Irina then.
Mennery had wanted to marry Irina but her mother, a Communist offical, had done everything to prevent the marriage. He left the country and put Irina out of his mind.
Now all these years later he again meets the woman he once loved, learns the circumstances of her life since then, and as he desperately tries to get her to safety, his love is rekindled. But Irina is now her ex-husband’s prime target. She cannot be allowed to reveal incriminating evidence about Hradek and his ambitious designs; evidence he discovers that she is carrying with her.

There’s a good bit of suspense in this story although Macinnes is an old school spy/espionage author who places more emphasis on character, place, and ideals than on the action that modern writers in this genre tend to concentrate on.

And now on to the detective novel. Bookshops in the U.K are wonderful repositories of crime classics and detective fiction. Not just the odd one or two but all the Josephine Tey books were to be found on the shelves in shops such as Waterstones and Blackwell Books. I usually have to order these books online and rarely find them at secondhand book sales. They also had the whole series of the British Library Crime Classics that I haven’t seen here at all. Glasgow, Oxford and London especially, are a book lover’s paradise.

I bought this Tey title in Bloomsbury in London and read it while I was away.

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey (1929)

This is the first in Tey’s Inspector Grant series of which there are only six, which is unfortunate because Alan Grant one of the most likeable detectives in fiction. Now that I’ve read The Man in the Queue I only have one more book in this series to read: ‘A Shilling for Candles.’

The Man in the Queue is a mystery surrounding the stabbing murder of a man who was lined up outside a London theatre waiting to be admitted to the last performance of a popular musical. No one had witnessed his murder and the press of people around him kept him upright until the doors to the theatre opened and he fell forwards.
He had nothing upon his person to reveal his identity and a loaded revolver was found in his pocket.
Inspector Grant is brought in to cover the investigation and by a painstaking process and some good luck, he manages to identify the victim and from there, the prime suspect.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book was the exploration of circumstantial evidence: how facts, evidence, and motives come together to pinpoint a suspect. In Grant’s mind there was a clear case to incriminate his suspect, but something felt wrong. What if all this was merely a series of accidents that were completely unrelated? What if he had arrested the wrong man?

‘Was the man by any remotest possibility telling the truth? If not, he was the most cold-blooded wretch Grant had ever had the unhappy lot to meet. But the man appeared unconscious of Grant’s scrutiny; he seemed wholly absorbed in his story. If this was acting, it was the best Grant had ever seen, and he deemed himself a connoisseur.’

Josephine Tey’s books are always satisfying reads and I enjoyed this one as much as her others. Being the first book in the series I thought it would lack some finesse but she didn’t disappoint.
The only quibble I have, if you could really call it that, is that her description of Detective Alan Grant in her first book didn’t match another description that stayed in my mind after reading The Daughter of Time. In The Daughter of Time Grant is confined to a hospital bed after an accident on the job and was wincing at the indignity of being thrown around by a small nurse he nicknamed the midget.

‘...she dealt with his six-feet-odd with an off-hand ease that Grant found humiliating.’

For years I pictured Grant as a tall, solid, garrulous type of fellow and then I read this in The Man in the Queue, which didn’t sit with the picture I had in my mind after reading The Daughter of Time:

‘If Grant had an asset beyond the usual ones of devotion to duty and a good supply of brains and courage, it was that the last thing he looked like was a police officer. He was of medium height and slight in build, and he was - now, if I say dapper, of course you will immediately think of something like a tailor’s dummy, something perfected out of all individuality, and Grant is most certainly not that; but if you can visualize a dapperness that is not of the tailor’s dummy type, then that is Grant.’

The resolution of this mystery came out of the blue and was as unpredictable as it was clever. Once again Tey has Grant romping around the Scottish Highlands which is always a treat.
Tey's books are available free for Kindle @ebooks Adelaide.

Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding (1931)

Francis Beeding is the pseudonym for the writers Hilary St George Saunders and John Palmer who wrote over thirty crime and thriller novels together from the 1920’s up to the 1940’s.
This book is an Inspector Wilkins’ mystery and is set in a quiet English seaside resort and was once called one of the ten greatest detective novels of all time.
The plot is quite complex but I actually had an inkling later in the book about the identity of the murderer, which is so unlike me! I’m usually hopeless at predicting things like and this was probably a first for me.

At its roots, this is a story of unbridled ambition and festering resentment and the lengths such a person in their pride will go to achieve their aims. The Eastrepps Evil, as the real murderer came to be called, framed a man for the murder of a number of people before he was finally caught but it was too late for the accused...

A good old page turner published by Arcturus Crime Classics who publish unjustly neglected works from the 1930’s (the golden age of crime writing) to the 1970’s.

The Lakes District Murder by John Bude (1935)

This is a book I found on the shelf at a place where we stayed while in the Lakes District. I’d never heard of the author before but when I saw the title and that the book was published by the British Library I got stuck into I so I could finish it before we moved on.

Bude’s detective is Inspector Meredith, a well-respected and hardworking policeman with a quiet domestic life that includes a teenage son who helps his dad out with some sleuthing and a wife who doesn’t want their son to go down the same path as his father. Apart from a couple of mentions, Meredith’s family life is kept in the background and gives him no trouble.

The story begins with the apparent suicide of a young man who is part owner of a garage and petrol station situated in an isolated location. What at first appears to be a fairly straight forward investigation turns into a complex puzzle as Meredith finds that there are things that don’t add up: there is no apparent motive; the young man was happily engaged to a young woman and had no financial difficulties. The circumstances surrounding the death suggested an elaborate pre-meditation, but the man had made his dinner, set the table and left the kettle on the stove just before his death occurred which just didn’t fit in with the suicide theory.

What follow is a fairly complex and technical investigation which unearths a possible fraud. Some of this went over my head as it involved mathematical and mechanical calculations but I took a liking to Inspector Meredith and was interested enough to try another of his books.

A great aspect of a book like this is the insight it gives into the life of a policeman in the days before mobile phones, the Internet, and decent transportation. Meredith could use a landline if it happened to be available but otherwise he had to send someone off on a bike with a message. He relied mostly on a motor bike or the train to get around. In a place like the Lakes District, travel was slow and only the larger towns such as Carlisle were accessible by train.
Police work was a difficult occupation and sleuthing required a steady mind, a dogged persistence, and lots of leg work.
A good read if you like mental gymnastics but don’t let me put you off trying another of his books because this next one is a cracker:

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude (1947)

A visit to a Waterstones bookstore in London presented me with a dilemma: a wonderful display of neglected old British Crime Classics recently reprinted. I think in all there are about seventy-four books by a variety of authors including Freeman Wills Croft, George Bellairs, E.C.R. Lorac, John Bude and others, but I had to limit myself to one as I already had other books earmarked and the exchange rate between the Aussie Dollar & the U.K Pound leaves us decidedly worse off.

I decided in the end to try another John Bude title and thought this one looked promising. I didn’t regret my pick and thoroughly enjoyed this droll, and at times a little dark, crime novel.
The Children of Osiris was a cult created and led by the High Prophet, Eustace K. Mildmann, a widower with an only son, Terence, who was twenty-one years of age at the time of this story.
The cult, adopting the initials of their full title, referred to their doctrine as the Cult of Coo, or Cooism. Their dogmas included a mixture of Ancient Egyptian beliefs and bits and pieces of lesser known religions with a modern twist.

The Cult of Coo believed in ‘magic numbers, astrology, auras, astral bodies, humility, meditation, vegetarianism, immortality, hand-woven tweeds and brotherly love.’

Mildmann was a sincere, dreamy man who believed Cooism was the key to all life’s mysteries.

‘His best ideas had always come to him when sunk in a self-imposed trance, or, as he pithily expressed it, “during a phase of Yogi-like non-being.” (“Non-being” figured as a very important factor in the Cult of Coo, though nobody seemed able to define its exact significance.)’

When he moved to the trendy Welworth Garden City in the 1940’s he found the right soil for his ideas and before long a group of intellectuals ripe for the picking. When the Hon. Mrs. Hagge-Smith came on the scene she totally embraced Cooism and became Mildmann’s patron and financial backer.

The author spends the first half of the book building the scene for a murder by introducing the various characters associated with the cult; their backgrounds, quirks, ambitions and petty jealousies. The second half of the book is more serious, although it still has some sparks of humour, and it's here that Inspector Meredith makes his first appearance.
There are some bizarre and baffling circumstances for Meredith to untangle. This book was quite different to The Lakes District Murder, mostly because of the humourous aspects that Bude scattered throughout, but also because the plot didn’t go into intricate details about things that I knew nothing about.
Some of my favourite parts are those that deal with Terence. Here was an athletic, practical young man with the appetite of a horse and the physique of a boxer. He was the very antithesis of his father who ‘had done everything to undermine his normality.' From clamping down on his tremendous appetite with a strict vegetarian diet, giving him a very small allowance of sixpence a week, requiring him to wear ‘rational clothing’ which included shorts in the middle of winter, and making him a Symbol-bearer in the Temple.

One day Terence met Denise, Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s secretary and immediately fell in love with her. She didn't mind him either.

‘Terence...shot a quick glance at the miracle in his midst and asked abruptly:
“I say, don’t think this is rude of me, but do you have manifestations?"

It sounded as if he were referring to insects or pimples.

“Yes, you know - astral visions and all that sort of thing. Spirit shapes.”

“No - I cant say that I do. I dream rather a lot after a late supper. But I’m not at all psychic, if that’s what you mean.”

“I am,” announced Terence, to Denise’s surprise. “I’m always having astral manifestations. I get quite a kick out of it.” His eyes assumed a dreamy expression and then suddenly narrowed, as if he were trying, there and then, to penetrate the Veil. “Its marvellous sometimes how clearly I see things. They’re so terribly realistic.”

“Things?” enquired Denise. “What things?”

“Steaks mostly. But sometimes its mutton-chops or steak and kidney pudding. I just have to close my eyes, relax my mind and body, and there they are...You think it’s blasphemous of me to see things like that, don’t you? I know it’s not very high-minded, but -

“I don’t think anything of the sort. I think its very clever of you to see anything at all.

Terence just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for peanut cutlets and raw cabbage and he confessed to his new-found friend that he went on the binge the week before and spent ten-weeks pocket money on a good feed.

Inspector Meredith always considered this investigation involving the Children of Osiris to be one of the most interesting, bizarre and exacting of all his cases.

At the same time I was getting my first introduction to John Bude, Sharon @Gently Mad was getting hers. She has written a review of another of his titles, The Cheltenham Square Murder, which sounds good.

And lastly, I read my first western:

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (1913)

Apparently this book was a bestseller when it was published and has never been out of print. It made the author famous and created the new Western genre.
Set among the canyons and sage plains of Utah in the early 1870’s, this book has a strong romantic element and plenty of action.

A long running feud between Gentiles and Mormons comes to a head when Jane Withersteen, the daughter of the man who founded the Mormon settlement at Cottonwood, ignores the dispute and offers hospitality to an outsider.
A Mormon elder who plans to make Jane one of his wives threatens vengeance but he underestimates her courage and determination.
One day a lone rider of the plains comes to her house and with the help of the man who experienced hospitality at Jane’s hands, they try to help her hold out against those who seek her ruin.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Western and was surprised it had such a strong romantic element. I thought it was a bit melodramatic at times and ‘Lassiter,’ the lone rider who comes to Jane’s assistance was a little larger than life in his shooting and fighting abilities.

A fairly enjoyable read but I can’t say that I love the Western genre. I’d have to read some more of them to determine that.
Free online at Gutenberg.

What would you choose if you wanted a light read? I probably wouldn’t have picked up a book like Riders of the Purple Sage to read at home but I appreciated a book that wasn’t too demanding while we were travelling. I did contemplate taking a doorstopping epic like Les Mis or War & Peace for the plane trip but I’m glad now that I didn’t.