“A Secret Sisterhood” talk at Hungerford Bookshop


Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney talk about their book which explores the friendships between famous female authors.

Writing tends to be a solitary activity. When you think of literary greats such as Jane Austen and George Eliot, it’s often a mental image of them writing industriously in splendid isolation.


However, a new book A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney has uncovered the hidden literary friendships of the world’s most respected female authors. Inspired by their own friendship and encouragement for each other, Sweeney and Midorkikawa embarked on research into previously unpublished letters and diaries, proving that everyone needs support and someone to bounce ideas around with.

The pair talked to a full Hungerford Bookshop on Thursday evening about their new book and why these female friendships are not as well-known as male ones such as Byron and Shelley or Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

The talk revealed Jane Austen’s bond with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp and why the Austen family were keen to keep this quiet. Sharp was the governess of Jane Austen’s niece but does not appear in any biographies even though she was one of a select list of first people to receive presentation copies of her novels.

The pair also explored the friendships of Charlotte Bronte, who was a friend of feminist writer Mary Taylor despite their first meeting when Taylor announced that she found Bronte “very ugly” at boarding school. However, they were brought together by the love of a good political argument and their differing views helped each other see the world from opposing standpoints. They encouraged each other to make a living from their writing and Mary’s feedback on Jane Eyre was that it was not radical enough and gave such frank advice that her next novel Shirley was more openly political.

Midorikawa and Sweeney also spoke on the transatlantic relationship between George Eliot and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who never actually met in real life. Their correspondence had never been published to date and Sweeney and Midorikawa found a number of letters that showed a unique insight between the two who were the most famous writers of their time on either side of the Atlantic.

Lastly, they discussed the relationship between Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, a fantastically complex relationship which Sweeney and Midorikawa nearly dismissed believing them to be enemies. Woolf accused Mansfield of ‘stinking like a civet cat that has taken to street walking’ which doesn’t sound like the language of close friends but belied a ‘robust’ friendship that was so strong that Woolf struggled to continue writing when Mansfield died at the age of 33.

With these literary heroines’ achievements and relationships downplayed in the past, it’s reassuring to know that women have always sought strength and support from others throughout history. Sweeney summed up saying: “The truth is that intelligent, creative women have always collaborated and we feel that this is surely the moment to pass that on to our daughters.”





Festival must-haves -the Wash Wizard

We’ve just had this intriguing parcel arrive through the post – a Wash Wizard!

Wash Wizard.jpgAs avid festival goers, the showering situation is always something at the forefront of our minds, particularly with a small son who is permanently sticky. At the festivals we’ve been to, there’s either no showers, or a massive queue to use them. We usually have a kind of blanket bath using a bowl, soap and a microfibre cloth.

So I was fascinated by The Wash Wizard. It’s a complete body wash sponge to which you just add a drop of water. This activates the aloe vera foam, and  the natural ingredients mean you can just air dry!

The young founders of the company say: “No more queuing at grim public showers with 500 other people, or, worse, discovering there are no showers.  Liberate yourself from soap, towels and the need for running water, simply pack your Wash Wizard, safe in the knowledge that you can be shower fresh within minutes, wherever you are. So, if you’re working out in the wilderness, off to a festival, camping, or travelling to the middle of nowhere with just a rucksack, wave goodbye to soap, towels and running water and say hello to Wash Wizard, the new way to shower without actually showering.”

Wash Wizard is hypoallergenic and fragrance free, and completely green and recyclable. RRP £7.99 is for five sponges, with a percentage of the profits going to charities for the homeless.  Available from amazon.co.uk

 For more information go to www.wash-wizard.co.uk


We missed the beginning but saw an unusual balletic performance at Greenham Business Park yesterday courtesy of 101 Outdoor Arts.

Fortunately it was a beautiful hot day as the audience moved with the cast who used the outdoor and indoor spaces on the business park to create a remarkable piece about belongings, belonging and the transient nature of everything that surrounds us. Awesome stuff.


National Fudge Day (16th June 2017)

Happy National Fudge Day!

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There are all kind of weird and wonderful awareness days out there – so what’s different about National Fudge Day?  Well, as well as a day created for you to indulge guilt-free in a fantastic treat, there’s a lot to love about fudge – there are flavours of all kinds. You can buy it here or you can make your own. It’s a great gift and it is bound to put a smile on someone’s face just by mentioning it.

On a slightly more serious note, it also tends to be handmade and companies that make it stick to the traditional recipes and methods.  Buttermilk Fudge in Cornwall uses a recipe created way back that uses copper pans and ingredients are sourced locally where possible. When you think about manufacturing in this country, you tend to think of steel and consumer products, but don’t forget that there is a base devoted to this fabulous treat!



The world’s biggest tunnel slide

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“It’s not scary”, said the woman who helped me get into the mat/sleeping bag as the woman in front of me shrieked her way down.

To mark another successful journey around the sun (in other words, my birthday) I thought I’d celebrate by having a go on the world’s biggest slide at the Arcelor Mittal Orbit at London’s Olympic Park. Having worked on a project that meant I saw the slide being built had whetted my appetite and was also strangely reassuring when it came to the safety and solidity aspect!

So the day of the slide came and I turned up at Stratford East station, realising that for some reason I was wearing a skirt. I tried to nip into one of the clothes shops to get some trousers, but either everyone had the same problem as me, or it was a standard Saturday and it was crazily busy.

Time was ticking by and I now needed to run to the tower to get to my turn at 5pm. You have your bags searched, naturally, and then the receptionist explains that you can put your stuff in a locker and go straight up, or you can get the lift to the top floor, have a look round and then come back down before heading back up again. Makes sense?


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I recommend that you do have a look at the top, with phone in hand, as the views extend about 20 miles and you get a good view of Canary Wharf, central London and of the aquatics centre and Olympic stadium.  You can also see people begin their descent – either by slide or abseil!

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You then queue up and there’s an expectant chatter while you wait, punctuated every minute or so by someone screaming their way down the slide.  It’s pretty much how I imagine a labour ward to be.

You get a helmet (Not sure you need one of these on a labour ward)  which will make you look like Ron Weasley off to play Quidditch, plus arm protectors if you are so absorbed with forgetting to wear trousers that you forget to wear long sleeves. (I might need help with getting dressed).

You inch to the top of the slide, and there’s a screen showing happy people emerge at the bottom of the chute (I said it was like a labour ward, didn’t I?). But for now, you have to prepare yourself for the descent. You get into what looks like the tray leading up to the airport luggage scanner where the staff unfurl a mat that has a pocket for your feet. You grab the handles, scooch into position and then get pushed!


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I congratulated myself on not screaming, but the speed is immense and as I whizzed and careered round corners in and out of the dark, I did let out some involuntary squeals. It’s over in just 34 seconds, but it’s such an adrenaline ride. I’ll be back soon, but sadly for a very excited small son, you need to be 8 years old to ride.


Video here: http://arcelormittalorbit.com/whats-on/the-slide/


Newbury lido opening for 2017!


In a week of rubbish news, I’m cheered (and literally cheering!) to see that Newbury’s fine 75m lido is opening on Friday for the season!

I honestly thought we had weeks, if not months, to wait, so this is great news. This is a great facility and apparently the biggest lido in Berkshire (it may even be the only lido in Berkshire!).

See you on Friday at 7.15!


World Pooh Sticks Championships

“And that was the beginning of the game called Poohsticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest.  But they played with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark.”
The House at Pooh Corner



Wouldn’t it be great to be world champion at something by the age of five? This was what I was thinking as we arrived at the World Pooh Sticks Championships on Sunday having done no training whatsoever.


Held annually to raise money for the Rotary Club of Oxford Spires, the event was held this year in Witney, a stone’s throw from the town centre. With the team event taking place first, we watched for a while before signing up small son for the individual event and helping him choose a coloured stick.

Husband’s tip was to go for the heaviest, but small son completely ignored him as he was too busy asking if he could splat the rat or go on the bouncy castle. There was live music too and a beer tent, but we were not to be distracted!  We were in the first event and our yellow stick lined up against purple, blue, white and others.  Small son dropped the stick and we dashed to the other side to peer into the water.  We got there before our stick, to watch it dawdle out and cross the finish line in third place.


So our dreams were quashed, but we’re looking to the future and have our sights now set on the World Nettle Eating Championships in Dorset. These usually take place in June, but are likely to be held in July or August this year, giving us plenty of time to get training!

All was not lost at Pooh Sticks as small son did  finally get his go on the bouncy castle and also got to meet one of his heroes, Ben Fogle, who also failed to qualify for round 2 of Pooh Sticks!  (Ben pictured below in the blue top!)