29 July, 2012

Another lovely review for "A Matter of Degree"

My novel "A Matter of Degree" has just received another lovely review on Amazon: http://amzn.to/LWzmTL.

"Mingling mystery, romance, the odd guilty secret...this first novel by Beckie Henderson is a great Summer read."

"Events move along at a good pace, the plot keeps you entertained and intrigued throughout..."

Thank you!

28 July, 2012

Government procurement cards rant #2

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the limitations now placed on the use of government procurement cards. To cut a long story short, this means that my department is now forced to buy text books via an online purchasing system which is much more long winded and much more expensive than using Amazon.

Just to hammer home the ridiculousness of this system, I though you might be interested in an update to the original post. In the end, I received the book that I had ordered a full calendar month after I finally managed to place the order. And this was after having chased the supplier via our purchasing team no less than three times.

To recap:

Under the old government procurement card system I could have purchased this book immediately and received it within three to five working days with no additional delivery charge.

But under the new system, it took a total of seven weeks (from me requesting long on details for the online purchasing system) for the book to be delivered, and the book cost £10 more than on Amazon. Not to mention the cost of my time spent chasing the delivery at various points over those seven weeks...

See what I mean?

21 July, 2012

End of term!

Finally, we've reached the end of term! But, my goodness, what a busy week it's been. Here's the detailed breakdown:

1. Oldest daughter running after-school cake stall in the playground, which meant I had to help set up/serve/take down.

2. Youngest daughter spending the afternoon at a friend's house, which meant I had to pack home clothes and sort out pick up arrangements with friend's mum.

3. Evening music concert at school (6 until 8.30pm), which meant I had to cook an early supper and ferry everyone to and from school.

4. Oldest daughter spending the afternoon at a friend's house -- see (2) above.

5. School sports day. This was cancelled (hurrah!) due to wet weather, but still...

6. Youngest daughter performing in music assembly before school finished for the day, which meant I had to leave work early.

7. Early evening school discos. Both daughters attending, but at different times, mind, as they're in different year groups, which meant I had to cook an early supper and go to and from school six times in total...

8. Nothing out of the ordinary. YAY!

9. Last day of term, ending at 1.30pm, which meant I had to ask a friend to pick my children up from school. I was at a work away day and so couldn't leave early.

Phew, I'm exhausted!

None of this was helped by the fact that my other half was away in another continent all week on business, which meant I had to cover his share of the school runs as well as my own. But hey, I'm a mother, I can cope!

19 July, 2012

Have the Olympic Games lost touch with their roots?

I, like so many others in my home town, turned out last week to see the Olympic torch passing through my neighbourhood. What really stuck me was not the spectacle, but the commerciality of it all, in particular the myriad sponsorship vans at the head of the cavalcade. Visa, Coca-Cola, McDonalds. You can pay for Olympic tickets with a Visa card (no other credit cards allowed), and if you don’t currently use Visa, then “your bank will be able to help you select and apply for the Visa product that best suits your needs”, according to the London 2012 website. Food can be bought at the Olympic stadium from the biggest McDonalds outlet in the world. And while we were waiting for the flame to pass, my daughters were gifted a bottle of sparkling brown nectar by the nice people from Coca-Cola.

Something strikes me as wrong in all of this. Why is a global sporting event being part-sponsored by a fizzy drinks manufacturer and a chain of junk food restaurants? OK, so they can afford to provide sponsorship, but surely it would be more fitting for companies who at least make a nod towards healthy eating to be sponsoring? How about PrĂȘt a Manger, for example? Perhaps they weren’t asked. But in the end it all comes down to what the consumer wants and what will sell, I suppose. And what the people want are burgers and fizzy drinks, evidently. Good health be damned.

Is this what it was like in Ancient Greece, I wonder? No one can really answer that question, of course. Global brands, in the sense that we experience them, wouldn’t have existed, so perhaps it’s an unfair comparison. But my gut feeling tells me that the modern approach is out of kilter and fails to reflect the true (original) nature and spirit of the Games.

14 July, 2012

Night Waking by Sarah Moss

I have just finished reading Sarah Moss' "Night Waking" and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's very well written, very funny and there's a lot of material in there that I can empathise with.

The basic plot involves an academic couple with two young children who are spending several months on a remote island off the coast of Scotland so that the husband of the couple can pursue his research into puffins. His historian wife, meanwhile, is struggling to complete her book on the history of childhood while looking after her two children pretty much single handedly.

The book covers some serious questions such as the challenge of combining career and motherhood, the role of a father in the care of his children, and the strain that these kinds of issues can put on a relationship. The seriousness is tempered with lots of humour, though -- the seemingly unendless stream of letters arriving from the Child Tax Credit people, the complete irrationality of small children, the culinary disasters that can arise from trying to prepare a meal out of the remnants lingering in a near-empty larder... The peculiarities of family life, in short.

If you have kids I'm sure you'll recognise many of the scenarios painted by Moss -- and enjoy reading the book too, I imagine.

12 July, 2012

Another 5 stars for A Matter of Degree!

My novel "A Matter of Degree" has received another five star review on Amazon.

According to Holiday Girl it is: "absorbing, relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable...full of intrigue and romance, I was hooked from the first page!" Full text of review here.

Thank you, Holiday Girl!

07 July, 2012

National Trust tea rooms

It’s that time of year again—spring and summer—which means that my family and I spend quite a bit of our spare time mooching around National Trust houses. Yes, I know, we’re suckers for anything musty and ancient...

Seriously, though, I have a lot of admiration for the NT—its staff are truly knowledgeable and its properties are really well displayed to the public. It also makes a huge effort to engage children via appropriately historic activities, dressing up, etc., which is great.

However, my one complaint is with its tea rooms. In my book, no visit to a stately home is complete without a visit to the tea room.  You would hope that this would be a pleasant and stress-free event, but in my experience, it’s anything but. The queues are often huge and poorly managed by far too few staff; the food frequently runs out; and the tables can be dirty and uncleared. This seems a pity—surely the NT brings in enough money (the food is expensive enough!) that it can employ sufficient catering staff. You would also think that its staff might be sufficiently experienced to make better predictions about the volume of visitors to their sites.

Perhaps the NT is simply a victim of its own success? Has a hugely successful advertising campaign resulted in more visitors than it can cope with? I recall visiting NT properties as a child back in the 70s, when visitor numbers were pitiful...

Incidentally, the NT isn’t the only relevant player here. There are also some wonderful privately-owned stately homes which tend to be much quieter than their NT equivalents. One such example is Sulgrave Manor—a fantastic Tudor manor house, which isn’t nearly as well visited as it ought to be...