Reading is a luxury for those who are not only toddler-free, but also working reduced hours.
Being in neither of those categories, together with a promotion to chief cook and bottle washer, gardener and DIY amateur during lockdown, it is a wonder I managed to read anything at all, let alone actual books. But actual books have indeed been read.
The past few years my mother and I have been competing to see who can buy each other the most random volume and it seems she won this round, with two of the books outlined below. She’s elderly, so for Christmas I’m getting her a book on Harold Shipman as revenge.
Firstly then, a book called Painted Faces: A Colourful History of Cosmetics. This is, my mother said, “because you wear make-up”.
This book, by Susan Stewart, could have – and should have – been written in a much better structure, rather than taking each individual period of human history and then repeating pretty much the same things in each chapter.
I’d have structured it into themes: ingredients, alchemy, misogyny, wealth and so forth. But nevertheless, the book is a palette of interesting anecdotes from human history – Egypt and Mesopotamia, through to the measly Middle Ages, and up to the heyday of Flapper style. And it helped me get an answer on University Challenge about the anal scent glands of the European Beaver, so that’s good knowledge.
The next book is more up my street – quite literally, as it’s a historical foray into the development of Regent’s Park over several hundred years. Paul Rabbitts’ Regent’s Park: From Tudor Hunting Ground to the Present is a fascinating literary perambulation through the origins of London’s famous green space.
Who knew that the otherwise turbulent, highly taxed reign of George IV, when the world’s attention was turned to the Napoleonic Wars, was the one in which the parks of London were finally “thrown open for the gratification and enjoyment of the public”?
At the time this was probably considered a cynical political move. Haven’t we all been there during lockdown life, when we are told the parks remain open despite the turbulent times in which we find ourselves, and take ourselves off for a barely socially distanced walk while we worry about the possibility of tax takes further down the line?
Finally, I’ve read every children’s book known to mankind since lockdown. The child is a bookworm. And so I come to Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Charles loves this, grabbing it from his downstairs bookcase and squealing ‘Tea! Tea!’ as I start it again, using various regional accents to maintain some element of newness.
The book was written before I was born but retains a timeless charm. The illustrations are delightful and the story itself is sweet and compelling.