Book Review: Bloody Brilliant Women.

BloodybrillwomenMark recently bought Freya the children’s book, Fantastically Great Women Who Made History, written by Kate Pankhurst.

After reading it with her I remember thinking two things ‘yay for Mark’ and ‘I wish there was something like this for adults’.

BEHOLD, Bloody Brilliant Women.

Journalist and presenter Cathy Newman has plugged a gap in the market and I, for one, am incredibly grateful.

I can’t remember learning about any women in my humanities lessons, although I’m sure there were some – it was 30ish years ago and my memory isn’t what it was.

This book goes further, though, not just highlighting already well known women in Britain but “…the pioneers, revolutionaries and geniuses your history teacher forgot to mention”.

It’s a lively book that isn’t just readable but relatable. It’s also funny in places and definitely makes you think. Suggesting the Bayeux Tapestry could be a precursor to the Daily Mail’s ‘side bar of shame’ is just one example.

It reminds me of a book version of the fantastic programmes by Lucy Worsley or Kate Williams which are as engrossing as they are engaging. In fact, I hope it can somehow be made into a tele series. We need it.

Here’s the blurb:

A fresh, opinionated history of all the brilliant women you should have learned about in school but didn’t.

In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history; women who achieved what they achieved while dismantling hostile, entrenched views about their place in society.

Their role in transforming Britain is fundamental, far greater than has generally been acknowledged, and not just in the arts or education but in fields like medicine, politics, law, engineering and the military.

While a few of the women in this book are now household names, many have faded into oblivion, their personal and collective achievements mere footnotes in history. We know of Emmeline Pankhurst, Vera Brittain, Marie Stopes and Beatrice Webb. But who remembers engineer and motorbike racer Beatrice Shilling, whose ingenious device for the Spitfires’ Rolls-Royce Merlin fixed an often-fatal flaw, allowing the RAF’s planes to beat the German in the Battle of Britain? Or Dorothy Lawrence, the journalist who achieved her ambition to become a WW1 correspondent by pretending to be a man? And developmental biologist Anne McLaren, whose work in genetics paved the way for in vitro fertilisation?

Were it not for women, significant features of modern Britain like council housing, municipal swimming pools and humane laws relating to property ownership, child custody and divorce wouldn’t exist in quite the same way. Women’s drive and talent for utopian thinking created new social and legislative agendas. The women in these pages blazed a trail from the 1918 Representation of the People Act – which allowed some women to vote – through to Margaret Thatcher’s ousting from Downing Street.

Blending meticulous research with information gleaned from memoirs, diaries, letters, novels and other secondary sources, Bloody Brilliant Women uses the stories of some extraordinary lives to tell the tale of 20th and 21st century Britain. It is a history for women and men. A history for our times.

Maybe, because I had been reading Freya’s book, I assumed it would take a similar format; an extended look at one woman at a time. That’s not the case. The eight chapters are on broad themes such as education, women between the wars and a final one bringing things up to the present.

Once I had worked out that I wasn’t just reading a really long introduction, it was fine, possibly even better because it features many, many more bloody brilliant women – although it did require a higher level of concentration than the hour before bed afforded.

As I was reading this book, I felt the might of their power behind me and, as a result, I felt empowered. I definitely think this should be required reading for high school students, of both sexes.

I will be getting a paper copy for Freya’s book shelf because, even if history lessons have improved since my day, I think it will be essential reading when she’s older.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £9.99.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

With thanks to Harper Collins UK/William Collins for the ARC (via NetGalley) in return for an honest review.

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A Trip Down Memory Lane at Ipswich Museum.

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I drove by my grandad’s old house, simply because I could.

Usually when we go back to my home town of Ipswich it’s just for a couple of hours to visit my parents or, even when we go back for several days, we have plans. There’s normally no time for a trip down memory lane but this occasion was different. I had time between dropping my mum off at the hospital to visit my poorly dad and picking her up again, so I went the long way home.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. The same deep purple window ledges, the name ‘Sorrento’ engraved on a wooden plaque above the front door, colourful prize-winning dahlias peeping over the garden fence.

What I saw was almost unrecognisable. Aside from the structure of the house everything was different. The windows had been replaced, the colour-scheme gone. They’d even taken down the porch on the side of the house.

To be fair, it has been more than 20 years since he died so perhaps some change is inevitable but nothing seemed to be the same anymore – and not just his house.

Old friends have left, their parents moved from houses once as familiar as my own, my high school has been demolished, even my childhood bedroom has been replaced by an en suite (not that I’m bitter, much). With my previously indestructible dad in hospital, I was looking for something familiar to cling on to but it all seemed to have drifted off on the tide of time.

Until we went to Ipswich Museum. (Please excuse the quality of the photos, I only had my phone and wasn’t really thinking about blogging so was just randomly snapping things.)

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I dropped my mum at the hospital at 10am (Freya was too young to visit so my mum went up a couple of times in the day and then I went to see him at night while she watched Freya) and drove straight into town with a couple of hours to play with.

Having visited another childhood haunt, Christchurch Mansion, on a previous trip, I had always planned to take Freya to Ipswich Museum but had never found the time. My mum tells me she used to take me to the museum almost every week when I was small and I do have a strong memories, particularly of this fellow who seemed even bigger than I remember.

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Yes, he is a wooly mammoth! Or a life-size model, anyway. The species is believed to have lived in the area a long, LONG time ago. Freya was just as in awe as I used to be (ok, as I still was).

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Seeing him seemed to set something off inside me. I gleefully roamed the museum, pointing out things I remembered.

History.
Founded in 1846 at a property in Museum Street, its aim was to ‘educate the working classes in natural history’. It was originally run by a committee on behalf of subscribers but, after financial troubles in 1852, it was adopted by the Corporation in 1853. When the original building became too small, it moved to its current location in the High Street, opening in 1881. For a more detailed history visit the Wiki entry here.

It takes you on a “journey through Suffolk’s past from Iron Age to Romans and Saxons” and beyond.

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Galleries include Victorian Natural History, the Ogilvie British Bird Gallery, Suffolk Wildlife Gallery, British Mammal Gallery and the Suffolk Geology Gallery.

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I’d say the Victorian Gallery, with its exotic animals, was Freya’s favourite. She didn’t like the stuffed birds but we both enjoyed seeing the huge whale skull hanging above our heads, which was frankly mind-blowing, and the fascinating fossils. She spent some time looking at the human skeleton and also seemed to enjoy the treasures from abroad.

For me, it was more about the feeling I was left with. In stormy seas, it felt like an anchor. A very enjoyable anchor too.

It’s free to visit (although we left a donation). For opening times please click here.

My Sunday Photo – March 18th, 2018.

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Elm Hill.

Even though I have lived in Norwich for more than a decade, there is still so much I don’t know about the city.

For example, I had always assumed that Tombland was named for some macabre reason that was undoubtedly to do with death. I found out yesterday, while taking part in a free City of Centuries walking tour, run as part of English Tourism Week, that is not the case. In fact, our lovely guide, Paul, revealed it is from an old Scandinavian word meaning open space and was once the site of an Anglo-Saxon market place.

It was really enjoyable (although very, VERY cold) to wander the city with someone so knowledgeable. It also allowed me time to stop and actually look at the different buildings (and notice little details I hadn’t seen before) as well as hearing about their history. It wasn’t the best of days to take photos – not least because I couldn’t feel my fingers after a while.

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Norfolk knapped flint wall.
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Looking over the market to the castle.
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The Royal Arcade.

There are several other free tours taking place in Norwich during English Tourism Week, which runs until March 24th. You can find out more here. I highly recommend them.

To see what other people have submitted for their My Sunday Photo this week, please click on the camera below.

Wishing you a great week.

Photalife