One of the great joys of working in a bookshop is that you are exposed to all kinds of books – you see your old favourites every day, get sneaky peaks at new authors’ work and, as you shelve, you see a lot of titles that you mentally categorise as ‘not my sort of thing’…..But moving out of your comfort zone can be a good thing. If I hadn’t tried new genres I would never have read David Barnett’s Gideon Smith novels, the fabulous Birdbox or How to be a Productivity Ninja. There are one or two experiments which were less successful (I shall name no names) but on the whole I have really enjoyed discovering new things.
Stories which veer towards the ‘chick-lit’ have usually been low on my list of priorities. When I was in my teens and twenties they didn’t really exist (although I did have a rather bad Mills & Boon habit at one point) and later I told myself that I didn’t have much in common with the typical chick-lit heroine. Claire Sandy’s What Would Mary Berry Do?, however, did catch my eye – as ever, I am easily tempted by even the thought of cake – and I am glad I gave it a chance. The heroine is a slightly older woman, happily married and comfortable with her own and her family’s imperfections; the plot is pretty straightforward but not entirely predictable or overly kooky and there is an enjoyable cast of supporting characters.
The plot follows a year in which Marie Dunwoody, a dentist with three kids and a husband who are simultaneously the best and most frustrating family imaginable, learns to bake. And along the way she finds friendship, never quite discovers how devious nine-year old twins can be and develops a working theory of personality types based on which tv chef various people have most in common with. Personally I’d like to be a Nigella but think I’m probably a bit of a Delia….I found all the characters interesting and engaging (but certainly not perfect) and the ending very satisfying. If this book were a cake it would be one of those wonderful ones which are full of fresh flavours but not so full of sugar that they set your teeth on edge (maybe our Café W Blueberry Crumble traybake fits the bill). And it has no calories at all…
Let’s get one thing clear from the start. I have a cat, Rosie. Before that I shared my home with Moth (for 18 years ) and before that the rather marvellously named Rodney (and the less imaginatively named Lucky). As a child we always had a dog but, left to my own devices, I opted for the less labour-intensive pet. I began by wanting to avoid having to go for long walks in all weathers and ended up a confirmed cat person.* (Bex has two cats, Lily and Dora, and would have more if her other half would let her – ’nuff said….)
Obviously my ‘cat person’ tendencies led me to want to read John Bradshaw’s Cat Sense – the idea that someone (and, more importantly to me, someone who has made a proper scientific study of cat behaviour for decades) could help me to understand the animals who have been living in my house for the last 25 years was appealing. I wanted all those litter-tray emptyings to have meant something! I guess what I really wanted to know was were my cats as fond of me as I was of them. Or was I just the hand that fed them….
Cats are now the most popular pet in the world – apparently outnumbering dogs by three to one – so we should have a better understanding of what makes them tick but, on reading this book, I find we have barely scratched the surface of their psychology. It seems our main error, forgivable maybe in regards to an animal with such a rounded, big-eyed, babylike face, is to treat cats as if they were small people. I don’t mean by talking to them (it’s normal to have a conversation with your cat when everyone else is out, right?) but by assuming that they have similar emotional responses to us – that they also enjoy the companionship of others for example. Bradshaw shows us, by taking us through the evolution of the domestic cat and the history of its relationship with man, that our feline companions are not yet fully domesticated – even more than dogs they are only a generation away from becoming feral – but are smart enough to live alongside mankind.
This book will not necessarily reveal every little foible which your individual cat may have but it does make sense of so many things. I personally have learned, the hard way, what a cat will do if it feels the stress of having its space invaded by a large crowd of people (including kids and dogs). If you want to avoid this kind of mess (and the rather smelly cleaning up afterwards) and to have a happier life with your cat then I can heartily recommend this book. In fact even if you don’t like cats it is worth reading – it is a fascinating and plainly written account of how two species have learned to live alongside one another.
*I do still love dogs though and enjoy walking. It is still the ‘in all weathers’ that puts me off…