Red Sauce Brown Sauce by Felicity Cloake is a travel memoir which documents the Guardian food writer’s “British breakfast odyssey” cycling around the UK in search of all the components of breakfast food from sausages in Glamorgan to potato bread in Northern Ireland to jam in Tiptree. Hampered by persistent hamstring injuries and COVID-19 restrictions which were still in place in the summer of 2021 when Cloake embarked on the trip, it’s a shame that some of her plans had to be abandoned, but a publisher’s deadline is clearly something that can’t be pushed back. As well as the usual everyday suspects such as eggs, bacon and Weetabix, I learned a lot about more esoteric regional delicacies such as laverbread, stotties, soda farls and pikelets. At the end of each chapter, Cloake poses the “red sauce or brown sauce” question to everyone she meets along the way on her journey… for me, it will always be ketchup. I will certainly seek out Cloake’s book ‘One More Croissant for the Road’ about her culinary travels in France.
Ghost Signs by Stu Hennigan documents the poverty and deprivation he witnessed in Leeds during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hennigan’s usual job working in the city’s libraries came to an abrupt halt during the first lockdown in March 2020, so he volunteered to deliver food parcels. What was initially meant to be a service to drop off deliveries to those who were self-isolating and unable to leave their properties became widely used by the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. The pattern of Hennigan’s visits becomes somewhat repetitive, but necessarily so in order to hit home just how widespread the problems are in one of the richest economies in the world. Hennigan’s writing is very understated, and his eyewitness reporting clearly sets out the failures of austerity policies.
Show Me The Bodies by Peter Apps is a harrowing account of the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London on 14 June 2017 which killed 72 people. The book starts with a description of an electrical fire in a tower block which spread to recently installed panels on external walls. However, it turns out that Apps is referring to the Lakanal House fire in 2009 rather than Grenfell, and it is clear that the Government and others did not learn lessons from it. ‘Show Me The Bodies’ alternates between the story behind the political and commercial decisions leading up to the disaster and an hour-by-hour account of the night of the fire itself. Apps is deputy editor of Inside Housing magazine and has been reporting on the inquiry for five years. He is equally adept at explaining the technical details about complex building regulations and the combustion of cladding as well as sensitively recounting the painful stories of the victims and survivors of the fire.
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is the first book in the author’s Manawaka sequence of novels set in a Canadian prairie town. I’ve had a copy for ages, having heard that it is considered to be a modern classic admired by Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields, two other Canadian authors whose work I enjoy. Published in 1964, it tells the story of Hagar Shipley, a 90-year-old woman who looks back on the tragedies and disappointments in her life as her health starts to fail. Her son and daughter-in-law are at the end of their tether with Hagar’s increasing senility, but Hagar is often more confused than she realises, hates being dependent on others and gets frustrated at being treated like a small child. The flashbacks gradually reveal why Hagar had such different relationships with her two sons and I found Hagar’s abrasiveness to be brilliantly depicted and reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge. I have copies of two other books by Laurence, ‘A Jest in God’ and ‘The Fire Dwellers’, and I look forward to reading them.