Book Review: The Queen’s Fool

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

Dates Read: 16/03/2021-02/04/2021

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, hands up from the outset. I’m an absolute sucker for anything Tudor (or Plantagenet for that matter). Blame the history teaching at Northfield Junior School back in the 70s. Somehow they made it real and interesting and alive and I’ve now accepted that I’m always going to be seduced by any book set in this era.

I’ve read quite a few (as you can imagine) different authors writing historical fiction, but for some years now, Philippa Gregory has been my favourite. I really enjoy her prose style and that her protagonists tend to be the women, often not the central players but always portayed as influential to the powerful men of the era – as mothers, sisters, wives or even, as in this instance, the imagined Fool.

Actually, two of the powerful characters in the Queen’s Fool are women – Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, both queens and the last two monarchs of the dynasty. The Queen of the title is Mary, and we see her rise to her peak and then fall as she is overshadowed by Elizabeth. The Fool has the confidence and ear of both of them and provides a good medium for us to hear the voice of both sides.

The full horror of the Spanish Inquisition is brought to England and to life because of the Fool’s Jewish heritage – we learn that she’s fled from Spain to England as her mother has been burned at stake as a heritic very early in the novel, and consequently the smell and smuts of fire accompany her throughout. The horror of the consequences of not conforming to state approved norms actually resonates pretty well in 2021, as the Fool’s world is driven to not publicly question or defy those norms. Hope exists in those who question the narratives – from flat earth to geocentricity to witchcraft and medicine.

I’m no expert but Ms Gregory’s work always feels well researched and while, undoubtedly embellished by imagination, true to real events. I almost always enjoy her work and this is no different. It’s another lengthy read (why do I seem to have picked so many of them this year?) but compelling, at least to me. So it’ll be a while before I read another of her works, I’ve only got a limited number unread now so I tend to ration them and give her chance to catch up with writing new material!


Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Like many people, I’ve been a little fed up with being in lockdown. Lockdown 1 felt like we were all in it together, it was novel and we were finding fun and creative ways to make use of all this time we suddenly had. Oooh! Let’s do stuff on Zoom! What a novelty! What fun! But by Lockdown 3, we were all more than over it. It’s not so much that we want to do something, but that we can’t do it. So I decided Lockdown 3.0 was going to be the ‘F*ck it’ version. I’m lucky, I’ve been working all through so I’ve not had to resort to late nights, long lie ins and PJ days, but that not drinking in the week thing? Out the window. Eat only good food? I don’t think so. Show me the crisps and chocolate…

But for a while now I’ve been missing music in my life. Not the stuff you listen to – got loads of that and it’s on all the time. But the creating of music. I normally sing in a choir so at least once a week, get to go out and sing (but not well) my heart out. But Covid has put paid to that, and though we do meet religiously online, it really isn’t the same when we are all on mute and singing to ourselves. I learned to play piano when I was kid, but you know what it’s like. You get to 16 and know everything so give it up, not considering that 30 years later you’ll be chastising your younger self. For a short while, I also, somewhat unbelievably, played double bass. I even made it into the Derbyshire County Youth Orchestra! But I think that was more a result of so few kids actually playing the bass. Goodness, it was difficult. They’re so big and the strings were so hard to hold down when you’re only a 1m54cm 14 year old! And of course, it was the school’s instrument to so inevitably that also went by the wayside. So, for a while now, I’ve been thinking how good it would be to be able to play a musical instrument again.

Well, me and Mr R live in a two bedroomed flat, so have limited space. It’s on the first floor. We have neighbours above and below, and to one side on our lounge wall. Resurrecting the piano wasn’t going to be an option then. And I guess saxophone, clarinet and drums are also non-starters. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money but it had been my birthday in early February and my lovely family had given me some vouchers which were unspent.

Long and short – I bought a ukulele!

I’d read up a bit and discovered they’re a) relatively inexpensive; b) supposedly easy to pick up; c) small and not too noisy and d) lots of fun!

My uke is an Eastrock Concert Ukulele, and already I love it! I love it!

Obviously, at present, having ukulele lessons is a non-starter so I’m having to be a bit more creative.

I always need to understand the theory of what I’m doing so I armed myself with a copy of Ukulele for Dummies (easily useable in ebook format on my tablet), which I’ve found really useful to help teach me some of the basics. I also have some music theory and reading knowledge from my piano, bass and schooldays, but definitely need more practical help., Goodness me, there isn’t half a lot of free content on YouTube! Just search for ukulele, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Of course, a lot of the content is from the US, but I’ve settled on AndyGuitar – a bloke in Leeds, where I was at university many years ago, as he’s engaging and makes it easy to understand on his Free 10 Days Ukulele Starter Course. I’m steadily working my way through – not trying to do it in 10 days straight! That would be insane! I’m confident already with days 1-4 which means I now have a pretty good repertoire of 4 chord songs, and I’m currently working hard to practice adding two new chords with lesson 5. It’s great that he provides this course for free, but I will, of course, make sure I donate to his site. I feel pretty strongly about creatives getting properly rewarded for what they do, actually.

I met my goal of being able to play (very badly) Happy Birthday to my nephew on his 8th birthday recently, which is why I’d kept it quiet till now.

I’ve barely even put a toe in the water of the online ukulele community but it seems that everyone who loves playing the uke also loves to share it and they’re a jolly friendly bunch!

My strumming needs some work and I don’t always necessarily get all the notes cleanly first time, but boy, is playing the ukulele a lot of fun! Maybe you can teach that old dog some new tricks!

Book Review: Six Tudor Queens

Six Tudor Queens – Writing a New Story by Alison Weir

Dates Read: 16/03/2021-16/03/2021

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a very quick read over a cuppa – more of a precis of the lives of Henry’s wives than an insight into the author’s research methods and writing process which is what I expected. Still, an entertaining few minutes and definitely worth a read if you’re not especially familiar with our Tudor history. Plus it’s a free ebook so excellent value for money!