A Bit of Bookish Rambling and Up-Cycling: Bookish Tote to Bookish Cushion in 30 minutes.

Pelican book tote/ cushion conversion.


‘Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first of September was crisp and golden as an apple.’ J.K. Rowling. The Deathly Hallows.


It’s the first day of a new term. I’ve got that enthusiastic, excited and slightly apprehensive feeling that comes with new copies, fresh pencils and the proverbial clean slate. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The air is chill and redolent with the intoxicating aroma of freshly-laid tarmacadam. Ah yes, the Cork County Council workers are working untypically industriously on the other side of our garden fence and, with the windows open, I am getting a fairly decent high on the fumes. Be warned: this post could go off-piste.

I’m starting myself off gently with an easy post, equivalent to the ‘My Summer Holidays’ or, as gaeilge, ‘Mo Laethanta Saoire’ compositions that my two youngest children are doubtless working on as I write. Consider this Part One of what will likely be a long-winded account of the MASSIVE project Husband and I undertook over the summer to turn our dinky front room into something approximating my fantasy of a library/bookroom/reading room. This cushion was a tiny side project that gave me an excuse to take a break from sanding/painting/holding things over my head.

The first task was to take my paint be-speckled self into Waterstone’s bookshop. I have been longing to buy one of these gorgeous Penguin/Pelican bags for ages but couldn’t, until now, justify it. They are quite pricey but utterly gorgeous. I brought my fabric swatches with me and enjoyed an intense debate with the two lovely ladies behind the counter (it was quiet day) on whether The Great Gatsby in Penguin orange was unacceptably garish (it was), whether the purple of A Room of One’s Own clashed too much to outweigh the perfection of the title (it did, such a pity) and whether it was alright to choose the best colour even though the only book available in Pelican Turquoise is one I’ve never even heard of, let alone read (they assured me it was fine although they may, by this point, have simply been desperate to get me out of the shop).

Anyway, you need a tote bag of your choosing, ideally one with sides and a bottom as opposed to one with just a front and a back, and you need a zip which is an inch or so shorter than the width of the bag. Also, a seam-ripper is tremendously helpful.IMG_8642

Carefully rip the seams holding the handles to the bag and then rip the handles open lengthwise to give you two new strips of fabric. This is the slowest part of the job.

By the way, I subsequently managed to track down a vintage copy of Eustace Chesser’s Grow Up and Live. It turns out to be a ‘birds and the bees’ handbook for adolescents dating from 1949.  Dr. Chesser was a font of common sense.

‘Real good manners,’ he tells us, ‘are not so much a matter of convention as of grace.’

And later, in a chapter on The First Love Affair:

‘This question of ‘good manners’, both practical and spiritual, will overlap very closely with your first friendships and love affairs.’ IMG_8645

Now, insert the zip between the two strips of fabric you have liberated from the tote handles. Mine may well be an example of precisely how not to insert a zip as I was too lazy to even look it up on YouTube. I guessed. It zips. What more do we need?

An aside: In my searches through virtual stacks of vintage Pelican books I found a sociology handbook called The Nature of Mass Poverty by J.K. Galbraith which led me to wonder if that was where Joanne Rowling found inspiration for her pseudonym. Anyone know anything on that score?


Next, trim this newly formed, zipped, panel to fit the top of the bag, leaving a 1cm seam allowance. Stitch it in. Ta-dah! You’re done!IMG_8649

My fuss-pot preference is for feather-filled cushions so I had to trawl the shops for a feather-filler. IMG_8651 (2)

Finally, from Dr. Chesser, from a chapter entitled On Becoming a Man or Woman:

‘1. You are You.
2. There are Other People besides You with equal right to live and be happy.
3. There is a fascinating world around You to be explored.
4. This world contains the accumulated knowledge of many centuries which is interesting to examine.
5. There are friendship and love in the world to be given and taken.’

And now, my friends, already, it is time for the school collection…more anon.

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Harry Potter, The Cursed Dad?

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, review, J.K. Rowling, Lego Harry Potter, Lego Draco Malfoy, Scorpius Malfoy, Albus Potter,

Here be spoilers (but not big ones ).



Has ever a book had such a build up? In this household we’ve had seven books, eight  movies, badges, games, colouring books and pencils beyond count, at least five dressing-up costumes (including homemade wands and hand-knit Gryffindor scarves) and one very serious obsession with Alan Rickman. Let’s just say expectations were high. Click here to continue reading…


Middlemarch. George Eliot.

I had a near miss with Middlemarch. I mean that I nearly missed it. This book has been hanging around the house for well over a decade but there was always another book more appealing.IMG_9632

The language is flowery, the sentences long and the print miniscule. Mr. Casaubon mentions that he feels it necessary to take the utmost caution with his eyesight. Feeling the same, and unwilling to marry a teenage bride for the sake of having her read to me, I came very close to giving up on it somewhere around page 100. Only pride brought perseverance.

I mentioned a few days ago (here) that I felt as though I had moved in to a small town where the locals were reluctant to talk to me.

Then Husband went away for a week on business. I made dire threats to teenagers about Christmas test results and thus confined them to their rooms. I lit the fire, curled up with the dog on my toes and made a determined effort to get through this book before it defeated me.

I was well rewarded. The denizens of Middlemarch began to spill the beans. Page 208 was the first that I marked. I read a line that made me smirk and think, ‘that’s clever’.

From that point on, my poor book is ravished with dog-ears and scribbles.

I don’t usually write on my books. I suppose the nature of this one brought me back to the habits of my school days.

I marked lines that made me laugh out loud. There’s nothing quite like the laugh that comes at the end of a really difficult paragraph. Only the very best teachers master this method of reward for concentration.

I marked lines that I want to tell friends about;

‘I still think that the greater part of the world is mistaken about many things. Surely one may be sane and yet think so, since the greater part of the world has often had to come round from it’s opinion.’

I marked lines that I wish I could use for myself;

‘The troublesome ones in a family are usually either the wits or the idiots.’


‘The wit of a family is usually best received among strangers.’

Lines that build characters in the most meaningful ways;

‘She was knitting, and could either look at Fred or not, as she chose- always an advantage when one is bent on loading speech with salutary meaning’.

Witty lines;

‘Husbands are an inferior class of men who require keeping in order’.

And, ohhh, the most romantic line;

‘I want to make the happiness of her life’.


I clearly have a soft spot for a tragic hero and unrequited love.

Admittedly, this is a slow-burner but the plot thickens at the mid-point and the final third is a rollicking good read. Bizarrely, I was reminded in turns of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Love Actually and Breaking Bad.

I’m a convert and, as such, I shall be evangelical in my recommendation of this book.

Middlemarch is a parable albeit a long one. George Eliot describes how each of our paths may cross, entangle, cause detours and clear the way for others. There is a good deal of religious reference but I found it added layers of depth.

This heavy tome is an encyclopedia of human characters. Everyone you know is in it. Everyone you will ever meet is in it.

You could read Middlemarch as a self-help book which will teach you to understand those characters when you come across them. Perhaps you are married to Rosamund, maybe you are living next door to Mr. Bulstrode. Read here to discover the inner workings of their minds!

If you are honest enough to recognise yourself, this book will help you to understand you better too. It was interesting to compare who I think I am most like with who I would most wish to be like.


We tell ourselves a story about who we are. We worry about the opinion of others because we need to be backed up in our own opinion of ourselves.

The worst that can happen to us is to lose faith in our own story.

We need someone to believe in us. Is that love? A mutual believing in each other?

Middlemarch is a masterpiece. It could change the way you live…

…if you believe in it.




Go Set A Watchman. Harper Lee.

IMG_5364I have tried to maintain a media blackout while I read this. To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Just one comment scrolled by on Facebook and I gave it a wide berth. I’ve opted to write this before I google.

I am no scholar; I can only tell you whether I enjoy a book and how it makes me feel. Right, here goes.

Through the first half of the book I was convinced that Go Set A Watchman was a phony. I’ve read my fair share of Pride And Prejudice fan fiction. There’s a certain, lazy pleasure in having someone else imagine a future for your favourite characters. Methadone for Darcy addicts. Of course it’s not as good as the original but it’s a bit of fun. It works for Pride and Prejudice because Jane Austen’s writing is all about having fun.IMG_5366 Anyway, I thought Go Set A Watchman was reading a lot like Mockingbird fan fiction. We are transported back to Maycomb, all our favourite characters get a mention and Atticus Finch is a Gregory Peck shaped super hero. The problem is that nobody wants to read Harper Lee fan fiction. They want to read more Harper Lee.

I read the second half in one sitting and I have to say, I started to roll with it a little. I chuckled through chapter 12 (falsies) which was, for me, the highlight of the book. I think that Chapter 12 could stand alone in a way that the book, as a whole, can’t.  I was saddened by Scout’s disillusionment with her father (sad for Atticus, not Jean-Louise). I almost cheered when Uncle Jack, the hero, informs Scout that she is an ordinary turnip-sized bigot ( not really a spoiler).

I thought that grown-up Scout was a self-righteous whine. Hank, the Southern gentleman, is adorable. Uncle Jack is so similar to Professor Snape that I think J.K. Rowling was lucky to have had her book published first (surely the role should go to Alan Rickman). The wonderful Calpurnia doesn’t get a whole lot of lovin’, for all the talk of colour blindness.

I have only a sketchy idea of the story behind this book. It is, quite clearly, unfinished. It is also clear that Harper Lee was not happy to publish it, as it stood, for over half a century. Why didn’t she polish it up and cash in?

My guess would be that the author of To Kill A Mockingbird could see that Go Set A Watchman doesn’t add anything of value. This one doesn’t match and certainly doesn’t complete the other.

And as for Atticus, I hated everything that this book did to Atticus Finch. Let’s just dust him off, put him back up on his pedestal and leave him there.wpid-wp-1434120724351.jpeg

Wishing The Harry Potter Movies Had Never Been Made.

‘Fred’s dead’, announced Middle Girl as she flopped into the car after school yesterday. Feelings of maternal inadequacy threatened as I searched my mental catalogue for the names of classroom goldfish and terrapins. The penny dropped when I spotted her book in the rear-view mirror and I genuinely felt her pain.IMG_4949

Middle Girl (aged 10) is currently (as I write) reading the last chapter of the last book in the Harry Potter series. Adding up to 4,224 pages, surely that is a milestone worth marking.IMG_4946My older children (aged 16 and 14) were lucky enough to read each of the books ahead of the movies. They read without knowing whether Harry would prevail or even survive, or who Harry would marry, or what he would name his first child. They read without knowing that Fred would die. They read without appreciating what a precious thing that not knowing was.

Before Middle Girl even started the books she had seen the movies thrice over (at least), built the Lego Knight Bus, played the Wii game and dressed up as Hermione for Halloween. Harry Potter isn’t just a book around here; it’s a lifestyle.
IMG_4944Middle Girl has been working through the books for a little over two years now. She claims that the movies didn’t spoil the books at all. She thinks that she would have found the books too scary if she hadn’t seen the movies first. There is no doubt that she was enthralled by the books. For weeks on end I discovered her asleep, the light still on and her heavy book propped on her lap. She lugged the books to school everyday so that she could read in the car and during quiet time. Nevertheless, I feel that she didn’t read with quite the same level of urgency as the others did. She was lacking the suspense, the ‘just need to know what happens’ factor. It seems a pity.IMG_4948My youngest sister is twenty-two which puts her in the original Harry Potter generation. She is a voracious reader who thinks nothing of tackling, not just big books but, huge series of giant books. I think that’s the Harry Potter legacy; a generation of avid readers.

When I was a young adult, there was no such thing as a Young Adult section in any bookshop near me. I graduated from Judy Blume to Maeve Binchy. I think it was J.K. Rowling who generated this huge market of young adults hungry for more books. The tough part is that a lot of those readers are disillusioned by the fruitless search for something that can match Harry Potter. Twilight, Divergent and Mockingjay have all been devoured by the Harry Potter generation but they just don’t cut the mustard.

Our poor, battered books have been through five readers now. Each of us, in our turn, held captive by the magic between the covers of these books. To have read them is a rite of passage within the family and Middle Girl can now count herself a fully-fledged Avid Reader. I am proud of her.

Only Small Girl (aged 3) is left. She has already watched the movies when we did the marathon last Christmas. But, I wonder, if I were to hide all the DVDs now and issue a ban on the movies, could I protect her from seeing them again until she is old enough to read the books? Is it worth trying?

What do you think?

What would J.K. Rowling think?