Monthly Archives: Mar 2013

On Anticipation

My ambitious pile of reading for March's Nordic Noir theme.

My ambitious pile of reading for March’s Nordic Noir theme.

Too many books?!
This pile represents my bookshelf gleanings for March’s ‘Nordic Noir’ theme. Yes, I know the month’s almost finished, but I wanted to record my ambitious hopes for the month’s reading before the moment had passed. My Kindle’s poised on the top as I have almost ten other appropriate books on it.

A few of these titles are from our local library; some recommended by an enthusiastic librarian, others just leapt off the shelves at me. Those that I own are likely to be joining the ever-increasing pile of books awaiting their new home in Barter Books; just need to read them first.

I haven’t read much of this pile, and am aware that we’re in the last week of the month, but I am enjoying having about five of them currently on the go. Once I log off, I’m off to my reading group to discuss ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared’; not quite Nordic Noir but set in the right geographical area with a crime driving the plot. Admittedly (and rather shamefully) I’m only about half way through it and haven’t warmed to the central centenarian ‘hero’. I shall persevere with this ‘Forrest Gump’ style novel. It’s quirky, unusual and has been getting rave reviews. Let’s see how tonight’s discussion progresses.

More musings on my foray into ‘Nordic Noir’ at the end of the month; as long as I can find some more time to get stuck into this pile…


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On a Holy Hijab Day

Why was a Chaplain’s wife wearing a hijab on a Thursday in the middle of Lent? Well, I blame my friend who co-ordinates Northumbria University’s Discover Islam Week; she’d been encouraging me to experience an aspect of Islam first-hand for months and this was the first time I’d been available.

The challenge was to wear a head covering for a whole day. I didn’t have to use anything out of the ordinary; with a bit of enthusiastic wrapping and a few safety pins, I was able to use my favourite purple pashmina with an additional scarf underneath to cover my fringe and pinned up hair.

hijab2Amabel Craig ‏@BookWorm78 7 Mar

Half-hearted attempt at covering hair; can you tell I’m nervous? #hijabday #musttryharder

I was nervous. I admit, I kept my diary as clear as possible and was relieved that both children were at school that day. I avoided the morning school run for once and sheltered indoors for most of the morning. To work up to the challenge, I spent some of the morning reading a selection of pamphlets and dipping into the Quran (in English!), developing on my, frankly, school level knowledge of the Islamic faith.

I wanted to take the experiment seriously. Therefore, I wore a scarf whenever outside the house and avoided pork and alcohol for the day.  Although not entirely necessary, I felt I was representing someone else’s deeply-held religious beliefs and did not want to dishonour them while wearing such an obvious sign of their Islamic faith.

I was apprehensive throughout the morning, getting gradually more nervous as the time to leave the security of home got closer. Interestingly, I put on more make up than usual; perhaps I wanted to create a mask for myself. Although I don’t put that much importance on my hair (it’s often covered by a hat) I wanted to be proud of what was on display. I also dressed conservatively; wearing a long skirt rather than trousers; dressed as I often would for church rather than a weekday low key day at home.

As I walked down our local high street to the post office and hairdressers, I didn’t feel as confident as usual; I found myself avoiding people’s eyes. The fact that we live in an area of Gateshead in which Jewish, Muslim and (non-)Christians live side-by-side did not prevent me from feeling unusually self-conscious.

The irony of having a cut and blow dry on a day I was covering my hair wasn’t lost on me. I had more topics than usual to talk to my hairdresser about; the fact that we want to overcompensate with make up, talking, smiling when our hair is covered or not there (she’d once had her head shaved for charity) gave me more food for thought.

When I faced the afternoon school run, I was slightly relieved that the weather was so cold; I entered the playground so wrapped up that my fully covered head wasn’t too noticeable. It was also World Book Day so the children were in their pyjamas for the day (encouraging bedtime reading), so a Christian mum dressed as a Muslim for the day perhaps wasn’t too noticeable.

I noted with interest that I felt i had to explain why I was wearing a headscarf whenever I caught someone’s eye. ‘It’s only for today! I haven’t converted!’ I felt as though I had to justify my behaviour; perhaps I was justifying the experiment to myself, reassuring myself as I explained.

My son’s after-school swimming lesson was the most difficult situation. I had hoped to join the other parental spectators and have a chat without drawing attention to myself. However, not only did my son fall over at school, hurting his hip so we were late arriving, he fell over again in the changing room so had to have an ice pack administered at the side of the pool before gingerly joining in half the lesson – guess who was by his side throughout, in full view of all the spectators, sweating under two scarves and a coat to (mistakenly) lessen the impact of my head covering.

Despite this, and the increasing sense of feeling hot, bothered and closely observed, I found myself keeping my temper in check more than usual as the children got changed slowly, ran around the changing rooms and pestered me for snacks. Perhaps because wearing a head covering represented someone else’s deeply held religious beliefs, I was acting as an advocate; I didn’t want Islam to get a bad reputation by losing my temper. It’s not always so obvious which parents are Christians when it comes to herding tired, grumpy children…

I was certainly relived to take the scarves off when at home; not only did I feel hot and stifled, but it had limited my peripheral vision while driving.

‘Mummy, take it off. You look scary’ was the reaction of my four year old daughter. Although, fickle as she is, she was asking me to put it back on again a few hours later.

I travelled to the evening’s event at NorthumbriaUniversity on the Metro, bundled up against the weather, and feeling very self-aware again. I avoided other travellers’ eyes more than usual. I was relieved to join my Muslim ‘sisters’ for an upper room discussion about modesty. I certainly enjoyed the hospitality of vegetable curry, Quality Street and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Most sisters were Muslim although a few Northumbrian Uni students and a couple of other friends of the very-persuasive Marium had also worn a headscarf for part of the day.

The atmosphere reminded me of student Christian Union events; the enthusiasm, passion, zeal and conviction of the discussion leaders brought life and vibrancy to the experience. I added more pamphlets (‘tracts’) to my expanding collection but resisted the temptation to correct a few misinterpretations of Christian belief and practice.

To my surprise, I found this day a significant and moving experience to reflect upon for the rest of Lent.

Choices we make in life, of what to wear, how to speak to our children, how we deal with stressful situations, and so on, reflect our deeply held beliefs and values. I usually dress modestly and believe along with St Francis that we should ‘preach the gospel at all times, using words when necessary’. My Christian faith underpins my moral standards and I have the greatest respect for others who hold similarly deeply held beliefs.

There is much to admire in Islam: strength of family ties, the five pillars giving structure to daily behaviour and attitudes, the commitment to prayer and study, the desire to serve a living God, amongst other things. However,  there is also much to dialogue with; discussions I continue with my Muslim friend, particularly about the character and meaning of Jesus and the definition of a sacred text

If anything, my all too brief study of the basics of Islam over the past week or so has reaffirmed my faith in Jesus, as reflected in Christian orthodoxy.

I believe in Christ who was ‘crucified, died and was buried; He descended to the dead; On the third day he rose again and ascended into heaven’. I will happily reaffirm my baptismal vows this Easter Sunday: ‘I believe and trust in Christ’. The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection are central to my faith as is the personal relationship with God and the redemption through Christ, not works or obligations.

I enjoyed the hospitality and friendship offered by ‘Team Mohammad’ and will continue to read, learn and dialogue in more depth, but can reaffirm that I am firmly in ‘Team Jesus’.


Amabel Craig has lived in Gateshead with her two children and husband, Arts Chaplain and Team Vicar, for the past eight years and holds a Masters degree in Theology from Durham University.


Posted by on 21/03/2013 in Uncategorized


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Beyond Pemberley: Powder, Patches and Proposals – A Month-long Regency Romance

I don’t think I’ve fallen in love this month, but I hope I’ve made a good friend to while away a few hours over a pot of tea. (My husband of 13 years can breathe a sigh of relief)
I used to be a little (OK, very) snobbish about light, frothy, genre novels, wondering ‘why would any intelligent reader choose to waste their time reading a novel where you already knew the ending?’ But having spent February reading (mostly) romances set in Regency England, I can now understand why.

They are not especially demanding (some days you’re too tired to concentrate on complicated plots or characterisation), they can be light-hearted (because sometimes life is serious enough), they’re set in a historical era with different manners, customs and a strict social structure (a bit of escapism can be fun; it’s not too difficult to generally visualise the costumes and context if you’ve watched even just one Regency costume drama), the romances have a happy ending (because life is usually more complicated and unresolved, doesn’t always end happily and you don’t always end up with the right partner).

One of my friends who almost solely reads Mills & Boon Regency romances described them to me as ‘easy-to-read Jane Austen’. Once I would have dismissed her condescendingly; surely I would read the ‘real’ Austen and not be distracted by such frippery? But this month’s discipline has opened my eyes. Reading a number of Regency novels in quick succession has shown me a range of writing styles, and various levels of steaminess on the conjugal front. The hero (or anti-hero; the reformation of ‘a rake’ is more fun!) and heroine marry, they behave themselves (mostly) within strict moral and societal codes and there’s lots of description of costumes, material, balls, and everyone spends at least some time in Bath.
Other random things I’ve learnt, in no particular order:

  • What it means to be bon ton;
  • The importance of the look of a man’s legs in tight breeches, once memorably described as ‘shaped like a balustrade'(!);
  • What a beaver hat looks like;
  • That pregnancy or legs are inappropriate subjects for polite conversation (but of course!);
  • Lead: not just for building but used as make up;
  • That not to ride sidesaddle was considered most inappropirate for a gentlewoman;
  • That the true love of a faithful woman can transform even the worst ‘rakehell’;
  • The difference between ‘traditional regency romance’, ‘recency historical’ and ‘sensual regency historical romance’ (thanks Wikipedia).

So, what did I read? Here’s the list:

  • M.C.Beaton/Marion Chesney’s The School For Manners series (6 titles but as each one is only about 170 pages long, they were a fun evening’s read each; I loved the willful-daughter-taming chaperones for hire, the Tribble Twins; although not a pastiche, the author has a defiinite twinkle in her eye, if not her tongue in her cheek; all her novels are good, clean fun);
  • Mary Balough – A Summer to Remember (the second Bedwin prequel; very entertaining but with a few more saucy scenes than I originally expected; up a tree?!);
  • Georgette Heyer – The Black Moth (her first novel, created as an entertaining story for her younger, convalescent brother, published when she was just 19, it centres around a gentleman highwayman settling the affairs of his gambling brother – ‘terribly” exciting, I kept finding myself imagining Adam Ant in his Prince Charming mode…);
  • Baroness Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel (a ‘hangover’ from last month’s French Revolution theme, but also a romance in the same era mostly set on the other side of the Channel);
  • Victoria Connelly – The Perfect Hero (contemporary reworking of various Austen plots set in Lyme Regis as a production of Persuasion is filmed).

But there are so many more books I could have read: still to finish Persuasion (to my shame), I didn’t try out Galen Foley, Julia Quinn or Eloisa James (but now own at least one copy of each of their novels to enjoy another time). And I have 46 more Georgette Heyers to read…

Did I miss anyone else out?

It’s been a fun, February fling, but now onto more serious fare: ‘Nordic Noir’ for the month of March. Dark tales of murder and detection in northern wastelands. Any suggestions to add to my pile?

P.S. I couldn’t resist reading a few novels outside the monthly theme: The Dinner by Herman Koch for our reading group (odd, oppressive view of Danish middle-class life), Mutton by India Knight (an amusing story of a forty-something mother reflecting on ageing, and English middle-class life), My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher (for a Read Regional event, enjoyed in one evening, met author the next day; see post ‘The Joy of a Quick Read’.)

 Oh, to be a Recency woman...
Oh, to be a Recency woman…

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