Friday, May 29, 2009

This charming book, The Book of Lists London by Nick Rennison is chock full of interesting facts about London past and present. There are 9 sections in the book: buildings and streets, people, crime, London past, London present, London in literature, the arts, sports (most of which was totally unfamiliar to me, i.e., "5 All London FA Cup Finals"), and my personal favorite "miscellany."

There are some basic listings of facts, such as "26 Sports to be Featured at the 2012 London Olympic Games," but most of the lists contain explanatory detail that makes the reader want to learn even more. For instance, one of the lists in the "miscellany" section, "9 London Firsts," contains the extraordinary fact that in the 1930s, a young woman named Phyllis Pearsall got up at 5:00 am every morning and walked nearly 18 miles a day compiling the first London A-Z street guide. Naturally, when the finished product was ready, no publisher was interested. Undaunted, she delivered copies herself using a wheelbarrow to W.H. Smith. And the rest is history! I am fascinated at the determination and organization it must have taken to complete the task. I just have to wonder what in the world drove her to start. Was she lost one too many times? Were there streets in opposite ends of the city with similar names to which she was always being incorrectly directed? I hope she finally was able to profit from all her hard work, since the guide is such a popular book.

The rest of the topics in the book are just as interesting and cover many aspects of London. I hope there will be a follow up guide or a new edition eventually with even more London trivia!

Final verdict for The Book of Lists London: Five Gherkins, for being a handy guide to interesting London lore

Monday, May 25, 2009

Although Wal-Mart likes to claim that it is a major supplier of products that are "made in America," it can be difficult to find products that aren't imported. A few years ago I attempted to find a small appliance that wasn't imported, even if it would have cost more than the alternatives, but it proved impossible! So I can totally sympathize with the new program Made in Britain, in which a man attempts to purchase only British-made products. This program begins next month on the British TV channel "Blighty" (sounds like my kind of channel!). I sincerely hope the program will be available on DVD here in the U.S. Here is more information about the show.

Join award-winning television comedian Dom Joly on an epic road trip around Britain in an attempt to fill his house from top to bottom with British-made products in the brand new series Made In Britain.

As part of this unique experiment, Dom will have his family home turned upside down and stripped of everything he owns that’s not made in the UK. He’s then challenged to go on a remarkable shopping trip, travelling the length and breadth of the country to try and replace all his foreign goods with British-made products.

Before the inspectors arrive, Dom’s quaint country cottage in the Cotswolds is a safe haven for foreign merchandise: the Italian coffee machine, a television manufactured in Japan and pants made in Taiwan. In no time at all the Joly family home isn’t looking quite so jolly anymore. In their bid to find out what’s British and what’s not, the experts have banished two thirds of everything they’ve looked at including his bed, laptop and, controversially, his wife’s cosmetics, and Dom is left with little more than his Savile Row suit, a pair of muddy Wellington boots and a lengthy shopping list for his trip.

Each episode of Made In Britain will see him tackling a different room in his house in a bid to replenish its contents with British-only goods and restore normality at home. Dom’s travels take him to Europe’s oldest waterbed company (turns out us Brits invented waterbeds!); a lava lamp factory in Poole where the psychedelic favourite was invented in a shed and bath products company, Lush, which is one of Britain’s global success stories.

Dom’s journey takes him to the heart of British eccentricity and ingenuity as he meets the quirky, colourful and charismatic characters who just won’t give up making products they believe in, all the while discovering what it really takes to be made in Britain.

Find out more about Made in Britain and Blighty here

Follow Blighty on Twitter and join the Made In Britain Facebook group now.

Links to clips:

Clip 1:

Clip 2:

Blighty is on Sky 534 and Virgin TV 206.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In the comments I had requests to name the books and DVDs I purchased on my recent London trip, so here are the lists.


1. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

2. Lost in Austen

3. The Other Boleyn Girl (a 2003 BBC version starring Natascha McElhone)

4. Mansfield Park (with Billie Piper)

5. The Bad Mother's Handbook (with Catherine Tate)

6. He Kills Coppers

7. and 8. Seasons 2 and 3 of The Royle Family

Most of them were "bargain priced," so it will be interesting to see how they turn out . . . well, except for The Royle Family, which I'd mostly already seen and loved!


1. The Top 10 of Britain by Russell Ash

2. The Book of Lists: London by Nick Rennison (I'm a sucker for "Books of Lists," -- thanks ever so much for the addiction, Mr. Wallechinsky!)

3. Adventures on the High Teas by Stuart Maconie (described on the cover as "The English Bill Bryson" -- how could I resist?)

4. Kings & Queens by Neil Grant (adorable little book giving details about all the kings and queens of Britain, going back to the years before the Roman invasion. I can't resist any book with info about my hero, Ethelred the Unready.)

4. London the Autobiography: 2000 Years of the Capital's History by Those Who Saw it Happen by Jon E. Lewis

5. Best British Crime, edited by Maxim Jukobowski (including stories by Colin Dexter, Anne Perry, Alexander McCall Smith, and one featuring Rumpole)

6. Best New Horror, edited by Stephen Jones (including stories by Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell and Joe Hill, among others. Also features an 80 page intro called "Horror in 2007" with tons of interesting info on things like which publishers bought others, which imprints were shut down, infighting at the World Horror Convention, and so on.)

I also noted details of books I intend to purchase as soon as my bank account recovers including London: Executioner's City, The Worst Street in London, I Never Knew That About London, Little Book of London, London: City of the Dead and Haunted London Underground. Hmmm, are we seeing a pattern here???

So many books, so few $$$ (not to mention no more room in the bookcase!).
The book Top 10 of Britain: 250 Quintessentially British Lists by Russell Ash is a wonderful compendium of facts about all aspects of Britain and British life. The book is divided into sections such as "Historic Britain" and "People of Britain" and has many interesting facts presented. Some of the lists included are:

Top 1o Most Common Place Names in Britain

10 British Cemeteries and their Famous Inhabitants

10 Britons' Famous Last Words

10 British Execution Lasts

Top 10 Dogs' Names in the UK

The 10 Ways of Being Out in Cricket

Top 10 Singles in the UK Banned by the BBC
Top 10 British TV Catchphrases

Top 10 Richest British-Born People

Top 10 Food and Drink Brands in the U.K.

As you can see, there are a large variety of topics covered in the book. Some of the lists are presented in straight list format, such as the "Top 10 Oldest Universities in the UK" while others have interesting explanations provided for each entrant on the list ("10 Sports and Games Invented in Britain").

My only criticism of the book is that it is so fascinating and readable that before you know it, you've finished it! More, please!

Final Verdict for Top 10 of Britain: Five Gherkins, for being a handy collection of fascinating facts about Britain

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One of my goals on my recent trip to London was to stock up on some books and DVDs that aren't available to us here in the U.S. (or else are extravagantly expensive). Top of my list was the DVD of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I knew it had been shown on British TV around Easter in 2008, so I was sure it would be available on DVD over there. I know the series is currently being shown on the U.S. channel HBO, but unfortunately, I don't subscribe to that channel.

I was able to find the DVD, and it turns out to be the first episode of the series. It stars the wonderful Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe, but the real scene stealer is Anika Noni Rose as the uptight secretary Mma Makutsi.

I was thrilled to see the beloved characters come to life on the screen, but as usual with film adaptations from books, there were some things which bothered me:

1. What was with the gay hairdresser whose shop was next door to the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency? He wasn't in the books, played a very minor role, and just seemed totally unnecessary.

2. I didn't like all the emphasis on Mma Ramotswe's former husband, Note Mokote. Although he did show up in a later book, he was mostly absent from the action and from Mma Ramotswe's thoughts in the rest of the books. He and his trumpet had too much screen time!

3. Mr. JBL Matekone is ALWAYS called "Mr. JLB Matekone" by EVERYONE -- so why was that changed to "Mr. Matekone" in the film? It's a minor thing, so why mess with it?

4. Why was the "tiny white van" a pickup truck???

Those were minor quibbles, but still seemed like unnecessary meddling with material that was fine to begin with! I really loved the character of Mma Makutsi, the secretary. She was just as hardworking and bewildered as she was in the books.

Final Verdict for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency film: Four Gherkins, for being a mostly accurate and endearing portrayal of the books

Friday, May 22, 2009

Well, I'm finally sufficiently recovered from my recent trip to London to get back into a normal routine. With all those steps I climbed, it would seem I would lose weight, but no such luck . . . I did, of course, do some shopping for books and DVDs. I had to restrain myself from buying more, after my last trip to London (when I arrived at the check-in counter, the agent told me my suitcase was overweight and I would have to pay a $25 fee. I said, "Fine" and tried to hand her the cash. She recoiled in horror and exclaimed, "I can't take money here!" She finally told me, "Just go on." Still, I didn't want to risk another "international incident" caused by a heavy bag . . .). I did make note of many ISBNs that are now at the top of my Amazon Wish List.

The books were all purchased because they looked very interesting, but I'm afraid my DVD choices were strictly on a "bargain" basis -- except for "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," which I had been anxious to see for some time. I'm excited to read and watch everything!

Some observations from my recent trip:

1. There doesn't seem to be any recession going on in London. I'd never seen such frantic activity -- jackhammering, scaffolding, and construction was going on all over. How much of that was "general progress" and how much was in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, I'm not sure. Still, it was reassuring to see so much improvement going on.

2. London is a multi-cultural city. Part of what makes it so vibrant and exciting is the mix of people and cultures from all over the world. However, Transport for London does have the unfortunate habit of putting people who just stepped off the boat yesterday in charge of the loudspeakers. Nearly every day, I would be waiting for an Underground train when there would be a notice that an "important announcement" was coming up. This would be followed by a volley of gibberish. Rather defeats the purpose of making an announcement when no one can understand it, wouldn't you say??

Finally, I had to comment on an amusing story that I read in the Mail on Sunday. There was an article about how the police can keep a DNA sample on file for up to 12 years, even if no charges were filed against the person in question. The article went on to say, "This doesn't happen in other countries, not even in Scotland." I thought that was hilarious, but somewhat strange. It was as if the author was searching her mind for the most barbaric, backward, out-of-touch country in the world to use for comparison, and the worst place she could come up with was Scotland. I had never heard that Scotland was such a model of depravity!

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

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