Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Book Review: Big promises, bigger let downs. Apron Strings by Mary Morony.

I had been enjoying the story of "Apron Strings "very much, hoping it would turn into a book similar to To Kill A Mockingbird  or The  Help. There were glimmers of something wonderful to come in the first few chapters, but  it never materialised  everything that might have been interesting just stagnated.

Plot, character development, everything  just ground to a halt and it just meandered  aimlessly along retreading the same ground over until it came to a stop. I had little to no empathy with any of the characters after the first quarter and even the smallest areas that could have brought some resolution or explanation to plot points were woefully skirted.

Issues such Inter Racial relationships ,Alcoholism, Child Abuse  and Miscarriage were all touched upon and yet never really explored and seemed shoe horned in to season what was a meandering plot that never seemed to go anywhere at all. The motivations of the characters were poorly illustrated and so I was left leaving the book knowing little more than when I started.

Not ultimately, an enjoyable read.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Ships, Swords and vendettas in part one of The Last Kingdom on BBC2

The Last Kingdom, the new BBC adaptation of Bernard Cornwell's book looks to be a sprawling epic.

Young boy in Anglo Saxon times sees the oncoming Longboats arrive as the Danes set out to conquer Northumbria. His hard and almost emotionless Father, played by Wonderful Matthew Macfadyen prepares the troops. One of three three kings of the North country he sends eldest son out to scout the landing, but in his youthful exuberance he is too conspicuous and so the Danes make an example of him by presenting his head to his father at the Fort gates.

Re- christening his younger son Uhtred with his lost Son's name  and making him heir he  leaves him with his uncle as he goes into battle. Sadly the Uncle played by Joseph Millson in typically dastardly characterisation is power hungry and warns his henchman that should his brother fall, the child is to be despatched.

Instigating better warfare techniques and strategy the Danes easily win and after a skirmish with the bereaved child, he is picked up as a slave for being a little scrapper.

The Danes treat him well unlike the cold father and uncle who made him feel isolated, led by kindly Blind Rutger Hauer,patriarch and wiseman. He is adopted by the family after he saves the daughter of the warrior leader Lord Ragnor the indignity of a rape and his uncle come to ransom him.

As a young man he is away from the village when his Uncle attacks and his adopted family are killed in fire and so he declares his intention to bring down fiery retribution upon him. He is left with his fellow slave Brida and adopted sister to look after, the former kidnapped by a rival tribe.

Ian Hart is the priest come guardian who warns the child of his uncle's treachery and I presume will feature in future episodes.

Both actors playing Uthred are brilliant and I am certain that many female viewers will be attracted by Alexander Dreymon who might not seek out this kind of drama when they see him emerge from the river as an adult. 

It is a real shame that some of the big hitters have already gone to see Odin or the Lord God almighty, but this was a really good start to what I hope will be an absorbing saga.

Friday, 23 October 2015

A Beautiful Family, hit by tragedy find a home fit for a hero. DIY SOS

The second Episode of the DIY SOS special "Homes for Veterans"  was focused predominantly on Lamin and his family.

Lamin and his wife moved to the UK from The Gambia and to give back to the country who gave them a Home, he joined the British Army, becoming one of The Irish Guards and served in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban. 

Three months into his tour, Lamin was clearing mines so his comrades could be at the command post safely, suddenly there was a massive explosion and he felt something in his chest and heard his "mates" telling him he would be okay. After Seven days in a coma it was Binta who had the awful job to tell him he had lost three of four limbs, both legs and one arm. He said he could still feel them under the sheet and he breaks down, devastated by his children's sadness and fear and thought he was done. Nowhere is healed,  he feels he cannot provide protection or security for his  family.  Binta does not agree, she says the look after each other.

Lamin now suffers from Phantom limb pain, but cannot even get into the bath as he is afraid of slipping and breaking bones and he refuses to need rehabilitation for any other part of his body. The home they live in i is not greatly accessible and if activities are not carried out downstairs, he cannot  participate. The kitchen is  totally impractical.  He wishes for  the ability read to and put his kids to bed, but just cannot get up the stairs.

Mussa is the oldest child and says if he had three wishes, they would be that his Dad was not injured,that he could  walk around on his own, and that he could come to football matches to watch him play. Forced to face some awful realities as his father recovered and shouldering responsibilities for his younger siblings, he is so proud of his Dad and it is interesting he remembers him as a Tall man, which his  pre injury pictures  seem to confirm. The prosthetic legs are from necessity fitted for balance not height, so even this tiny part of his personal identity has been robbed from him by the Taliban.

This is terrible loss is separating him from his family,  his injuries forced him out of the job he loved.The army was a support system and family in itself, where you always had someone willing to help you with your problems, people who understood what living through the monstrosity of war in Afghanistan is like. That empathy is missing in civilian life so veterans and their families end up feeling isolated.

The SOS team are doing a wonderful thing, not only have they built homes for PTSD sufferers Jack and John ( check out their stories on the blog from last week), and creating a family home for Lamin, but are also building a Support Centre where veterans can go for advice and support, for Veterans to help support themselves, giving a place for assistance for homeless and injured Veterans in the wider local area. The charity Walking With the Wounded is running it and helping with outreach to assist veterans and the local community with health and wellbeing as well as legal aid.

The whole project was a tangible way for people to show they appreciate who the Veterans are and what they have done, helping them become independent and self sufficient in society key for not only financial but mental and spiritual , it is also something quintessentially British that when the chips are down that neighbour's help each other. 

We forget that in our Grandparent's lifetimes every Street in Britain would have given someone away to war and many never came back or or if they did, returned changed forever. The Blitz spirit is something we should all model today, keeping an eye out for and on neighbours, giving back to those who sacrifice so much.

The team are also rejuvenating the street itself, while many of the properties in the street  had been condemned, people still  live in other properties in the cul de sac so the team are giving every property new Windows, new doors and rendering each frontage and resurfacing the road too. One of the masses of people working on site was caught in a blast himself but escaped unscathed due to being in an armoured vehicle, Lamin was on foot, so just tragically unlucky.

They have their work cut out,the two terraced houses being knocked into one for Lamin and his family were a Cannabis factory. When Lamin comes to site, he is upbeat despite the carnage , he giggles that it is in the "Development Stages" and he is genuinely excited to see the finished home. 

 To maintain a strong Core and keep his weight down, Lamin has to keep physically active to continue using his prosthetic limbs. The sheer effort of motion must be so hard , but he is not downhearted, adapting he has found a sport that suits his predicament and he challenges Nick to a game of Sitting Volleyball and his laughter during the game is infectious. He says being part of a team brings back the comrade spirit that he misses from Army Life.

 Lamin laughs often, his disposition is invariably cheerful. His credo is to help others and his family is vital to his moods. He is a man so vital even with his difficulties that it saddens you more that another human being inflicted such life changing injury upon him.

Lamin meets the Royal  VIPs.The  Princes tell him the existing residents are very welcoming of the Veterans and Lamin says he and his family cannot wait to embrace his new neighbours in return. 

He tells William and Harry that every Big city should follow Manchester's lead , create a community again to provide opportunity  and support. He is certain more schemes like this would bring the Veteran suicide rate down. When they ask him how he stays so positive, he says he has his family, has full use of his mind, and still capable of so much despite his limitations. He is a Ray of light that will be a beacon for the other residents in the street.

When the time comes for Lamin to see his New Home, the emotion of the moment becomes too much for him as he contemplates the work done for him and his family and he sobs uncontrollably onto lovely dependable, Solid Nick Knowles. He is so overcome that people had done so much for him and his family. Life has been very tough for him, but it has also been very tough on Binta and the Children too. It seems that Binta is afraid to be alone at the old house because local children had been throwing stones at her and the Children and their incessant bullying has left Binta Fearful of going outside.

I think this is utterly appalling that after giving so much to his community that the children of neighbours should be so disrespectful to a sweet family, whose humility and goodness shine out of them. 

This safe haven amongst welcoming locals and the potential for many more veterans moving I and around to comfort and support each other will be a massive blessing and will make Binta and the kids feel at peace again.

The house is beautifully finished and he is visibly humbled by the work to make the kitchen accessible for all the family, thanks to the sink and work tops that can be lowered to allow him to work comfortably and more importantly safely! (The sight of him trying to cut an onion in his old house had left me wincing.)

The bedroom is welcoming and cosy and he is sure Binta will adore it. There is a lovely room for the girls and one for the younger boys with a private room and study for Mussa. 

The ground floor bathroom contains a bath with hydraulic seat lift so that he can finally have a good warm soak to ease his pain in a bath that is safe. He has not been able to Bathe for five years, he tells Nick with his trademark giggle he will run a new bath every five minutes! 

A lift to the the floor where the kids have their bedrooms is a real blessing for him, he will be able to be part of bedtime, giving cuddles and stories and tucking in and being a real part in that precious night time routine that the old house and his limitations have denied him for far too long .

Binta and the children love their new home

The garden is perfect to relax in and to watch the boys play football on their Astro turf pitch.

When the family go out to Thank the workforce, everyone is crying... Including me!

 The build is completed....

In two weeks, Victorian Brick Shells have been transformed by  600 Tradespeople.
30,000 man hours worked, 10,000 cups of tea served by army caterers, and millions of pounds in Goods and Services donated with time given for free by tradespeople, many of them ex Services , ably assisted by the Local Council and Two Royal Princes.

The legacy continues.

Seventeen homes will be handed to Haig Housing for renovation for Veterans in the next year.