Saturday, 21 November 2015

La Basilique de Saint Denis

Saint Denis has been in the news this week, for all the wrong reasons. It is never good to be reduced to a hashtag. #SaintDenis. Thankfully I have happier memories of Saint Denis in 2013.

The area of Saint Denis is not really on the tourist trail. It is a northern suburb of Paris, easily accessible on the Metro, and the draw for me was a visit to the rather amazing Basilique de Saint Denis, an incredible gothic cathedral which serves as the Royal Necropolis for France. Fascinating stuff. I meant to do this post way back in 2013, but well I didn't, and so I've forgotten some details.

A side view

Poor old Saint Denis always without his head

The front was undergoing restoration
when I visited in 2013

Joan is never far away at any French church as there is usually a statue of her,
but Joan actually visited here for a blessing in 1429.

Extraordinary robes and crowns used in
anniversary services for the death of

I always love a rose window

François 1er and Claude de France

Tomb of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Their feet were most often resting on animals, often lions,
sometimes dogs or other animals. 

Henry II and Catherine de Médicis

The crypt was amazing. I still remember how cool and eerie it was on this rather hot Paris summer afternoon. 

The tomb of Saint Denis

Poor old Saint Denis again.
I think they could have left out the spurting and dripping. 
The heart of Louis XVII
(son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette)

I felt sad for Louis XVII that his heart was in a jar centuries after his death. He saw his parents beheaded, the monarchy overthrown and he was to die just a few years later himself in 1795, still only a boy of 10. I'm not sure how it came to be that his heart was in a jar, but it was given to the Basilica in 1975 and after authentication it has been on display since 2004.

I read the marvellous Paris to the Past (see my review) as preparation for my visit to the basilica and I certainly appreciated it all the more because of it.

I spent a fabulous few hours in Saint Denis Basilica, the admission of 7,50 € is definitely a bargain. As ever I would suggest you get the audio tour if you're lucky enough to visit.

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Thursday, 19 November 2015

10 Children's Books You Should Read As An Adult

I always like a new list of classic children's books. This one suggests 10 books we should reread as adults, which of course presumes we read them initially as a child. I don't think I read any of these as a child.

1. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

2. Love You Forever - Robert Munsch, Shelia McGraw

3. Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown, Clement Hurd

4. Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

5. The Little Engine that Could - Watty Piper

6. Oh, The Places You'll Go! - Dr Seuss

7. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst, Ray Cruz

8. A Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicket (well, I've read the first one)

9. The Giver - Lois Lowry (see my review)

10. Winnie-the-Pooh - A.A. Milne


I really need to get those other two read. They're on every classic list.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Pig the Fibber

Last year we had the sensational Pig the Pug, a very fun book about a very naughty pug called Pig. (See my review). This year Pig is back, being naughtier than ever. And poor Trevor is copping the brunt of it again. Pig likes to do naughty things and then lie about it and blame Trevor.

Of course Pig learns that lying is naughty in the end, but in the meanwhile there is lots of pug naughtiness and even some pug fart jokes.

Sadly my photo doesn't capture the full
malevolence of the cloud of green fug
Wonderful rhyme make Pig the Fibber a perfect read aloud book.

Aaron Blabey is one of the big names of Aussie picture books. Somehow he has managed to publish seven books this year! 7. I can't keep up.

This week I've fallen in love with another pug too. Loca lives in Belfast, and has a particular problem with running. So funny, you can't watch her just once.

AusReading Month 2015 at Brona's Books

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Lucy Family Alphabet

I've been keen to read The Lucy Family Alphabet since it came out way back in 2008 but I'd never managed it, so I was thrilled to find the audiobook sitting on the shelves of my local library a few weeks ago. It seemed a perfect antidote to my recent harrowing experience of driving around listening to Les Miserables (see my review).

In fact I've been meaning to read memoirs written by comedians for some time. It seems a genre worth pursuing. It stands to reason that they're a funny and insightful group of people and so their books should be funny and insightful too.

Presented as an alphabet, the book starts with A for Adoption, and the rather harrowing story of how Judith came to know at age 25 that she was adopted during the Worst Christmas Ever. Which is a big call given the average Lucy family Christmas. Judith describes the most common reaction from her friends. 

"Oh my God, you must be so relieved."

Judith had a rather unconventional childhood in suburban Perth with her adoptive Irish Catholic parents so that we end up with fun chapters like M is for Maggots followed by M is for Makeup.  

Our view of normal wasn't everyone else's.

Judith clearly sees her family in their warts and all state, but her genuine love and affection for them all shines through. It was sad to hear about her brother Niall's shrine to smoking in C is for Cigarettes knowing that Niall would later die of lung cancer. Judith deals with the deaths of her parents in her inimitable style. 

You know you're having a good day when you're relieved when a hearse arrives.

My respect and admiration for Judith grew when she recounted under P is for Pets how she longed for a Siamese cat after reading The Incredible Journey (see my review) when she was 8, and then named her new kitty Tao after the cat in the book. Of course Judith's Tao is nothing like the one in the book...

Listening to The Lucy Family Alphabet was a bit like driving around with Judith delivering a soliloquy in my car. It was fabulous. And indeed a great change from Les Mis. I was able to drive around chortling, and possibly snorting at times instead of crying. Highly recommended.

AusReading Month 2015 at Brona's Books

Sunday, 8 November 2015


I went through quite a John Wyndham phase as a young reader, and think that I read most if not all of his books. So I think that I probably read Chocky back then, but I had no specific  memories of the story. However it all did feel vaguely familiar as I was reading.

Chocky is an unusual book. The story of 11 year old Matthew Gore, who is an ordinary boy, living with his adoptive parents and his younger sister Polly. Matthew starts talking to himself in odd ways and asking even more unusual questions than 11 year old boys normally ask, like "Where is Earth?" and "Why aren't there eight days in a week instead of seven?". His parents worry about him and fear that it's more than an imaginary friend, and consult some psychiatrists, who aren't on the whole that helpful. Our narrator is Matthew's father, which is quite an unusual approach in itself.

I found the "action" of Chocky a bit of a slow simmer really. I'm still not quite sure what I thought of it. It feels much older than the 1968 publication date would suggest. It has much more of a 1950s cold war feel. Mrs Gore is always knitting, being worried, and drinking sherry of an evening. Mr Gore has "his club". I found the writing a bit aloof. Wyndham is often damned with faint praise- his friend Brian Aldiss, a big name in science fiction himself, refers to his stories as cozy catastrophes. Which I think is a little harsh for a man who wrote some of the classics of mid 20th century science fiction- The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Kraken Wakes.

There is a fascinating BBC documentary, John Wyndham: The Invisible Man of Science Fiction that discusses Wyndham's major works (although sadly not Chocky) in the context of his life and the political and scientific thoughts of the cold war. It's available on youtube in 6 parts. It's well worth watching.

I'm not sure that Chocky was written for children, none of John Wyndham's other works were- although in the BBC documentary I think it's is nun friend who says that he didn't want to put anything overtly sexual in any of his books- he wanted anyone to be able to read them. Perhaps it is this chaste approach and the domestic setting that leads to the rather dismissive "cozy catastrophe" term.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Top 10 Australian Children's Picture Books

 An Australian list to kick off Brona's AusReading Month, this most excellent list is a few years old now, but still relevant. These books were all favourites of the list author's daughters, and these girls certainly had good taste. Nicholas Reece in his introduction says that Australia punches above its weight in children's entertainment. That is certainly true of children's books- our picture book creators, middle grade (there I am using that term, I wish there was another) and YA authors are all rather amazing.

1. Fox - Margaret Wild, Ron Brooks (2000)

2. The Hero of Little Street - Gregory Rogers (2010)

3. Animalia - Graeme Base (1986)

4. Possum Magic - Mem Fox, Julie Vivas (1983)

5. Amy and Louis - Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood (2006)

6. Tiddalick The Frog Who Caused A Flood - Robert Roennfeldt (1980)

7. Imagine - Alison Lester (1989)

8. Where Is The Green Sheep? - Mem Fox, Judy Horacek (2006)

9. Stanley Paste - Aaron Blabey (2009)

10. Diary of a Wombat - Jackie French, Bruce Whatley (2003)


Any child would benefit from these books, and like all great books, there is much there for adults to enjoy too. Interesting that most of them are quite recent. My favourites would be Where is the Green Sheep? and Diary of a Wombat I think.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Coco Chanel

Don't judge a book by it's cover they say. Then why do publishers work so hard on creating delectable covers and silver edged pages? To tempt impulsive people like me, that's why. I saw this pretty little thing in the shops recently and snaffled it immediately. Given that I think I've never seen a single episode of Sex and the City, nor read the books and clearly live under some kind of unfashionable rock I had no idea who Megan Hess was (hint she's a very talented Australian fashion illustrator). Of course even I have heard of Coco Chanel but sadly I have never bought a single Chanel item- although perhaps I need to fix that oversight now? I think I just might.

Coco Chanel is presented in three sections. The Woman. The Brand. The Icon. There is a definite air of legend about the woman of course. It's fascinating to read her back story, and incredible that an illegitimate girl born in 19th century rural France would become such an icon of fashion and elegance redefining the 20th century and having a lasting legacy even now. Is it true that the beige, black and white of the nun's habits of the orphanage where she lived after her mother died when she was twelve would become the cornerstones of the "simple palate" that would define the Chanel look? Actually I didn't know that Chanel used a rather restricted palate of black, white, beige, gold and red. Although I guess that's how you get to be classy.

And Coco Chanel was classy. She liked to pop round to Angelina's each day for a chocolat chaud. Well, why wouldn't you? And as there was no bed in her private apartment above her studio at 31 rue Cambon she maintained a suite at the Ritz. Where she would die in 1971. Stylish to the end really.

I learnt so much about Coco the woman and Chanel the brand. The iconic quilted handbag, recognisable even to me is called a 2.55. Rather annoyingly the book didn't tell me why it had such an odd name, but an easy google search tells me it was because it was released in February 1955. Ah. So obvious when you know. The linked C logo was created in 1921 for Chanel No 5, and camellias have been associated with Chanel since 1933. And that instantly recognisable tweed suit worn by everyone including Marge Simpson dates from 1925.

Most fascinating was that Coco Chanel closed up shop for 14 years! She closed her business with the declaration of war in 1939. "This is no time for fashion". She toughed out the war at the Ritz with her German officer lover. She then fled to Switzerland when Paris was liberated in 1944. She wasn't to resume her fashion activities for another decade.

Chanel never sketched her clothing like other designers, instead she cut straight into them. She would simply throw cloth onto a mannequin, cutting the shapeless mass of fabric until her desired silhouette emerged. Even into her old age, a pair of silver-plated scissors permanently dangled from Chanel's neck so she could make alterations as she made her way around the cutting-room floor. 

While Chanel's story is interesting the standout is Megan Hess's wondrous illustrations. Megan has an iconic style all of her own.

All apparently created with a bespoke Mont Blanc pen called Monty. I have serious case of house envy too.

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French Bingo 2015