I Came, I Saw – Norman Lewis

After reading the excellent Naples ’44, I was eager to read more by Norman Lewis. So when I was exploring my mum’s bookshelves the other day, I was pleased to find a dusty copy of I Came, I Saw, which I quickly saved from a life of being hidden behind many other dusty books. Naples ’44 means a lot to me because it was written about a time and place that was significant for my family. It is well written and honest. I’m glad to say that Lewis hadn’t lost his writing skills when he sat down to create this autobiography. (NOTE: I Came, I Saw is a republication of Jackdaw Cake, published in 1985 – I Came, I Saw has an extra fifty pages about Lewis’ time in South Italy in the 1960s and 1970s). Continue reading

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson seems to be able to take any relatively uninteresting subject and turn it into an anecdote. It is especially apparent in Notes from a Small Island, which simply gushes with facts, figures and obscure details about things which you would never have even thought of (or cared about). This is what makes his writing so enjoyable, even if it is a bit tedious at times.

Notes from a Small Island is all about Bryson’s last trip around Britain before going to live back in The States with his family. Starting off in Dover, where he set foot in Britain for the very first time, back in 1973, Bryson revisits old favourites, explores new places and takes a few accidental detours to unexpected areas. Travelling mostly by public transport and staying in modest hotels and Bed and Breakfasts, Bryson learns about Britain at its best and worst. Continue reading

A Year in the Merde – Stephen Clarke

I read this over a very busy week and it was just what I needed; a quick read that didn’t need much concentration. It’s almost exactly what I was expecting after looking at the front cover and reading the back. Full of clichés,  predictable jokes and lots of sexual innuendos.

Paul West, a young English business man in France, is working on a project to introduce typically English tea rooms across the capital. He works with a small, incompetent team and has a corrupt boss, who of course has a sexy assistant. And that is not the only time a sexy French lady is mentioned. In fact the majority of the book is about Paul goggling at sexy French women and trying to think up ways of negotiating himself into their sexy French knickers. Continue reading

Our Betty – Liz Smith

The first time I saw Liz Smith, she was dressed as a swashbuckling grandma in the CBBC series, Pirates, about a family of pirates who decide to settle on dry land in a normal family house. The series was fun and the characters were always getting into trouble. The second time I saw her, was when she walked past me at her local shops near Hampstead Heath. As a child I was so excited that I had just seen Grandma Pirate in the flesh, but was much too nervous to speak to her.

Since then, she has been hard to miss. She pops up everywhere with either quite small parts or much larger roles, such as Nana in The Royale Family, who managed to capture the heart of a nation. Continue reading

Naples ’44 – Norman Lewis

My Neapolitan grandmother (or ‘nonna’ as the Italians would say) married a British officer posted in Naples in 1944. It is quite likely that Norman Lewis, an Intelligence Officer also there at that time, would have had to interview both of my grandparents to judge the suitability of the match. Marriage with Italian civilians was discouraged and lots of officers who applied for permission were turned down and sent away from Naples. So really, my grandparents were lucky.

I have always been interested in my grandmother’s home country and after her death a couple of years ago, I have only ever become more curious about the city she grew up in. After marrying my grandfather, she moved to England and only returned to Naples for holidays a couple of times a year. So when she told stories about Naples, it was always about the ‘old days’ before and during the Second World War. Continue reading