Book of the Week, August 11th 2018

For about a hundred days between May and August our skies are blessed with the soaring acrobatics displays of swifts. They stay long enough to rear their chicks then head back south to Africa.

They are the fastest of birds in level flight and can reach speeds of over 100 kph – in fact they have to slow down to catch insects on the wing.  With chicks to feed a pair might catch over 100,000 insects in a day. Once they leave our shores they are continually airborne, sleeping, eating and even mating in flight.

Jonathan Pomroy is an artist who fell in love with swifts as a boy and who has been painting and drawing them all his life, as well as studying their habits and behaviour. This beautiful book is packed with sketches and paintings that capture the nature of these aerial gymnasts against the ever changing colour and moods of the sky.

Numbers of these wonderful birds are now declining and the species is amber-listed by the BTO thanks to a dramatic fall in breeding numbers. It is important for us all to understand the simple needs of these birds end ensure that we don’t remove their homes from our homes. Alongside the beautiful sketches and watercolours this book provides conservation tips and essential facts about the Swift.

Mascot Media Publications, paperback £20.00

Book of the Week, August 4th 2018

It is the summertime of 1983 and a young boy, holidaying with cousins on a farm outside Coggeshall, discovers a body beside the railway line. DI Nick Lowry is sent out from Colchester to investigate but discovers not one but two bodies. In the kitchen at Fox Farm lies famous academic and TV historian, Christopher Cliff, killed by a bullet from an antique shotgun.

The police investigation uncovers a dysfunctional family with some dark secrets, a shady antiques dealer and a dodgy property speculator. Everyone seems to have something to hide and when some apparently supernatural influences start to affect the case it seems that witchcraft might still be alive and well in Essex.

Without the CCTV footage, the sophisticated DNA testing and the mobile phone records of 21st century crime solving, it is good old-fashioned police work helped by gut instinct that Nick Lowry and his team must rely on to sift through the alibis and motives of a fascinating array of characters.  Add to this the wonderfully realised period detail of 1980’s rural Essex and here is a novel to delight local fans of crime fiction.

Quercus, hardback £14.99

Book of the Week, July 28th 2018

In 1584 Elizabeth I issued a charter containing a ‘grant to the town of Colchester for the erection of a Free Grammar School’. In practice this formalised the status of an already existing school – in fact there are documents confirming the existence of a school in Colchester dating back to 1206 and possibly earlier. It is likely that this was the forerunner of CRGS giving our grammar school a history stretching back nearly 900 years!

The influence of Old Colcestrians is considerable. From William Gilbert, physician to Elizabeth 1 and the ‘father of electricity and magnetism, to Admiral Ramsey who masterminded the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Normandy landings.

This thoroughly researched book examines the long history of CRGS and its links to the changing fortunes of Colchester across the centuries. And at 600 pages it is indeed a mighty tome.

But how would today’s students fit in to the school in times gone by?  Scholars in Tudor times, we find, had to be present in school by 7 am in winter and 6 am in summer – and the schoolmaster was authorised to use ‘reasonable correction’ to discipline latecomers!

Paragon paperback, £27.99

Book of the Week, 21st July 2018

The River Stour Festival runs events and exhibitions throughout the year. Just published is a small anthology celebrating the river, its culture, people and surrounding landscape.

An essay by John Thorne examines how John Constable developed his gloriously accurate portrayal of clouds and skies by meticulous observation and recording of weather conditions as he sketched repeatedly the towering Suffolk skies.

Jules Pretty relates some of the dragon tales of the area: including how Richard the Second was given an egg in the Holy Land which hatched a dragon in the Tower of London. The dragon grew and escaped eventually swimming out of the Thames estuary and up the River Stour.

There is a piece on the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree and the Witch trials of 1645-7; observations by Ronald Blythe on new grass growing in Springtime and a wonderful description of ‘wild swimming’ in the river one chilly morning in early spring. Together with poems and photographs this is a fine little introduction to some of the writers associated with the beautiful River Stour.

River Stour Festival booklet,  £5


Book of the Week, July 14th 2018

Michael Ondaatje has this week been honoured with the ‘Golden Booker’ for his prize winning 1992 novel ‘The English Patient’.

And just released is his first new novel for 7 years. The cover is a blurred and hazy beach scene and the story seems to take place amid mist, shadows and uncertainty.

It begins in 1945 when teenagers Nathaniel and Rachel find their world turned upside down when their parents leave for Singapore. They are left in the hands of the mysterious lodger from the third floor, a man they nickname ‘The Moth’, who soon fills the house with a range of dubious characters with shadowy pasts and doubtful intentions.

Time passes and Nathaniel, now 28, moves to a country cottage in a quiet Suffolk village from where he attempts to piece together the mysteries of his troubled and fractured childhood. His mother, he discovers was really a spy. Her involvement in eastern Europe led to betrayal and sowed seeds of continuing danger adding suspense to this absorbing and powerful novel.

Jonathan Cap hardback, £16.99


Book of the Week, July 6th 2018

We regulate our lives by time. The watch on our wrist marks our daily routines. Time is something to be saved or spent; it can fly by or appear to stand still.

Our common understanding is of time flowing from a past now fixed to a future open to possibility.

But developments in physics over the last century show this to be a local and subjective view of time.  From our everyday point of view the world appears flat yet views from space show clearly it is spherical.  Similarly, our notion of time dissolves with a greater perspective.

Time actually passes faster in the mountains than at it does at sea level and it passes faster for you sitting at home reading this newspaper than it would for your neighbour reading it on the train. Time is affected by motion and by gravity. For us these differences are minute – but they can be measured.

Rovelli, a theoretical physicist explores notions of time through science, history, art and philosophy.

Penguin hardback, £12.99