Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Tent, the Bucket and Me

by Emma Kennedy

The Tent, The Bucket and MeSubtitled “My Family’s Disastrous Attempts to go Campaign in the 70s”, Emma Kennedy’s memoir of her family holidays in the 1970s is as hilarious as it is nostalgic.

The 70s were a decade of social and economic change. It was the decade that gave us disco, punk, strikes and Margaret Thatcher. It also opened up the world with package holidays becoming more affordable. But for the Kennedy’s holidays were under canvass and thoughts of flights to the sun drenched Spanish beaches were definitely off the agenda. 

Using her own memories and those of her parents, Emma Kennedy’s stories of disaster and embarrassment are a kind of moral tale. There but for the grace of God…

As you move from one holiday to the next, from floods and gales on the Welsh coast to food poisoning and man-eating toilets in France, the reader is left under no illusion about the tricks that the malevolent holiday gods have played on this poor unfortunate family. Basically, if it can go wrong, it will, and most probably has!

The Tent, the Bucket Me is a very appropriate title for this hilarious, slapstick account of a family who really should have stayed at home. As a comedian, Emma knows what it takes to take her audience with her. I think most of us can find at least one parallel with our own holiday experiences in this book. Whilst not all of us can claim to have fallen into a French toilet or watched as a caravan is blown over a cliff, we can all relate to the feelings of doom and despair as we watch a family take once disastrous turn or another. From broken down vehicles tro ghosts in the attic, the Tent, the Bucket and Me, is a tour-de-force of wit and farce. Reading it whilst away just made me appreciate my own holiday even more.

Whilst I can’t claim to be too familiar with her act or TV appearances, this book has proven Emma Kennedy to have the observational skills and genuine wit that make this one of the funniest books I have read for a while. The TV adaptation does not do it justice. 

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s, this book also offers a reminder of a world of change and ambition, where anything was possible. Who will ever forget the impact of the original Star Wars movie, or the girls breaking out into floods of tears over Donny Osmond’s marriage? Ah, the memories…

A Far Cry from Kensington

A Far Cry from Kensingtonby Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark is probably best known for her novel The Prime Of Miss Jean Brody. It was made into a TV series, and is considered in some circles to be a modern classic. I must admit that when I purchased this particular book I hadn’t made the connection.

A Far Cry From Kensington displays great wit and charm. It is a relatively short (190 pages) and uncomplicated story about life in the world of 1950s publishing. By uncomplicated I mean it has an easy flow with no sudden swerves or change of direction. As far as the characters are concerned, it is far from uncomplicated.

The book has a friendly and at times informal style as its narrator, Mrs Hawkins, looks back at a year in which her life changed dramatically. It is 1954 and London is still scarred by war.With rationing only just coming to an end, Mrs Hawkins, a 28-year-old war widow, is living frugally but conformably in a furnished room in a quiet corner of Kensington. The tenants each have their own eccentricities but there is an air of companionship between them that makes it sound homelier that might otherwise be the case when a group of strangers find themselves living under one roof.

Mrs Hawkins has respectable job working for a publisher, but all is not well and there is an uncertainty in the air about the company’s future. Then, on her way into work one morning she has an unexpected meeting with one Hector Bartlett that will change everything. In fact, this meeting costs her two jobs and makes the obnoxious would-be writer a thorn in Mrs Hawkins’ side for many years to come.

The book has some wonderful characters and the vagueness of some of Mrs Hawkins’ memories is actually quite refreshing. I have never been a fan of first-person narratives, due mainly, I think, to the certain knowledge that I could never recall past events with such clarity. It is a light-hearted look at life during a period of profound change. Britain was on the cusp of a revolution in music, social attitudes and economic prosperity, but the characters and situations portrayed in this story are comfortingly old-fashioned. 

I found the style of the narrative refreshingly honest and just loved the character of Mrs Hawkins. A good, unchallenging holiday read.