Harry's Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith

HARRYS LAST STAND-B-HB.inddWhen I read this book a few weeks ago I hadn’t originally planned on reviewing it, although I’d enjoyed reading it. Then, over the weekend, with Ian Duncan Smith talking about trying to build a fairer Britain all over the news, the book kept coming back to me and I changed my mind because the messages it is trying to get across are ones I think we should be listening to.

Published in 2014, the book is a series of essays which reflect Harry’s thoughts and feelings about growing up in the Great Depression and the pride he felt in the country after the war when we created the welfare state so no one would have to suffer the indignities and inequalities he did as a child. And they show his anger and despair at the dismantling of this welfare state by the then coalition government.

It is a highly emotive but also sobering read. Harry’s sheer frustration at what he sees happening is apparent, as is how little he feels he can do about it – hence the essays. A lot cover the same ground and they follow the same format; snapshots from his childhood followed by a comparison with today’s society.  There are facts and figures woven through which, though few years out of date, are startling and saddening.

There are memories of his life as a young man, newly returned from the war, and as a young husband – a time when he was able to prosper but also lived knowing there was a safety net if things went wrong. It is a safety net he and many others hadn’t experienced as children. It is a safety net that I, as a child of the seventies, grew up expecting to be there for me – though I have been lucky enough to never need it – and my family.

Now, if I’m honest, I don’t think this would be the case. When I see people queuing at food banks on the news or here about the indignities people with disabilities go through to receive support for the necessities for living a decent life, I feel sick…and think it doesn’t take much for any of us to end up there, just one job loss or accident. It’s depressing and frightening – yet it feels like a lot of us have our heads in the sand and think it could never happen to us.

It’s why I decided to write this review after all because it made me think and wonder if I can do anything (I’m not sure what) and also slightly embarrassed I haven’t done much so far but turn out to vote.  Maybe it will do the same for a few others and we can end up with the society Harry dreamt about as a young man.


A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One’s Own was my Classic Club Spin book back in August, something I was quite pleased about as it’s one of those books I’ve always wanted to read. Although I admit to knowing very little about it before I picked it up, I just knew it was one of those works that has had an impact on a lot of people and is frequently referenced in feminist literature. I thought it was something I would probably enjoy reading and get a lot out of. I did on both counts.

A Room of Ones Own Cover

The book itself is not that long at 123 pages, an extended essay based on two lectures Virginia Woolf gave to female students at Cambridge in 1929 on the subject of Women and Fiction. It is easy to read, though some references to writers and the politics of the time weren’t that familiar to me so I may have lost some of the finer points of her argument, and not dry at all (a slight worry as I knew this was initially written to be heard, not read).

Woolf starts by discussing what could be covered under the heading, women who write fiction, for example, or women in fiction, before stating that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. This is because without these things, she will never have the space and freedom to write; she will spend her time instead trying to earn a living or make ends meet, taking care of her home, her husband and her children, and bending to the wills and expectations of a patriarchal society (Woolf writes, “England is under the rule of a patriarchy. Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor. He was the power and the money and the influence.”)