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Team effort

When I heard that Adam Kay's memoir 'This is Going to Hurt' was being dramatised for television, I wondered how it could be done.

A hugely popular book, topping the charts for many weeks, it's clearly had a wide appeal but its wry and knowing observations on the life of a junior doctor would not be easily translated to the screen, I thought. And surely it would then undermine what was achieved so well in print - to entertain and enlighten, shock and inspire simultaneously.

Although I still feel that I prefer the book, the seven part series that is currently showing on BBC One is well done. But it is a difficult watch.

There is still some humour, and the acting is excellent - we really feel we know these characters - but it is a bleak presentation of our hospitals and of the overwhelming pressure bearing down on the people we call on for life and death decisions.

Although Adam Kay is presented as an unattractive individual in this drama (perhaps more so than in his books), we still see the subtle but distinct change in him when he needs to step up to the plate and save a life. What's more, every member of the team comes together for this common goal. There can be no point scoring when a life is at risk.

Reading the Covid diary of the ICU nurse, Anthea Allen, this week (scroll down for details), I was moved to read of both her pride and delight in her team and in the nursing profession as a whole, and also how everyone implicitly knew their role, their contribution in any task or crisis. It is humbling and uplifting to read. When our society today continues to value individual goals and achievements, it is worth remembering how much good we can do when we work together.

Thank you for reading!

PS It'll soon be the end of the month again, and time for book group. We'll be meeting at the hall in Woodbridge, so if you'd like to come along please reply to this email to let me know and I'll send you the details. We will still be taking precautions to keep everyone safe and comfortable, so I do need to hear from you before the night, please.

Life, Death and Biscuits
by Anthea Allen

This is a diary of nursing on a Covid ward.

I didn't think I was ready but it's a description of selfless, tireless, dedicated caring and it's inspiring, encouraging and uplifting.

The author was a sister on an ICU ward in London when Covid hit. Seeing how it was affecting her team, she emailed friends and neighbours asking for treats she could take to her staff.

Anthea Allen's heartfelt plea in her email touched a chord. She was inundated with cakes, biscuits and offers of support. People in lockdown, fearful of Covid were desperate to know more of what was happening on the frontline, and how they might do more than stand on their doorsteps and clap.

Anthea continued to give details of her experiences and her emails reached an audience of thousands. Such was the response that she decided to provide regular updates. This book is a compilation of those weekly emails.

Warm and intimate, her writing vividly conveys the humour, fear, monotony and tragedy facing these committed nurses every day.

Anthea describes how the intensity of the work in unprecedented circumstances meant the staff quickly saw each other as famlly, building strong and lasting bonds. They found that they wanted to spend all their time in the wards as this was where they felt they were needed and had purpose. Many would come in on their days off.

She looks back on more normal times and reflects on the regular challenges of being a member of the critical care team, performing CPR, harvesting organs, providing end of life care. The compassion these nurses show is extraordinary and so comforting and humbling to read.

There are details about the practicalities of wearing PPE, of the lack of hot food and drinks, of no time to go to the bathroom. There are the moments of hilarity: an elderly patient is asked if they wanted a cup of tea and says they've already been given one by 'the other astronaut'; a mask confuses a simple request as someone thinks they're asked 'would you like a coffee?' when the question is 'do you know where the mop is?'

There may have been clapping on doorsteps, but the public was quick to forget all that the medical teams had done and continue to do, she says. Even so, despite the pay and the conditions, the nurses continue to do what they do because of the job satisfaction. What they do matters.

This is a brilliant book. It's easy and compelling to read and there is so much to take away from it, being reminded of the phenomenal commitment, care and compassion by all those working in the NHS. It's a book to return to not just as a record of the response to the pandemic, but to be humbled by those whose job and vocation it is to care for others.

If you'd like to hear more from Anthea, she was on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live programme here.

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.
When the Sky Falls
by Phil Earle

The clue to the content of this book is in the cover but every time I picked it up I saw a craggy mountain. In fact it is the silhouette of a gorilla.

It is 1941 and Joseph has been sent to the city to live with Mrs F, the brusque owner of a rundown zoo. He has many personal issues to deal with, but in wartime there are also concerns regarding the welfare of the animals.

Joseph isn't thrilled to be sent to live with Mrs F, and she's not keen to have him with her either. But this is wartime.

Joseph's mum left him when he was tiny and his dad has gone to fight. He has to make friends at the new school but is soon the victim of bullying. He's a whizz at maths but when he tries to read, the letters dance on the page.

Back with Mrs F, Joseph is expected to help look after the animals and after a difficult start, he soon comes to look forward to feeding the huge silverback gorilla, Adonis.

But a shocking reality that Joseph struggles to take on board is that should the zoo take a direct hit in any bombing raid, it is up to Mrs F to kill the animals to ensure they don't escape into the community.

Based on a true story, this is a moving and uplifting tale of grief and loss, friendship and community, and the bonds between humans and animals. It's suitable for readers aged nine years and above.

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group
at St John's Hall, Woodbridge

Monday 28 February 8pm

talking about...
by Andrew O'Hagan

A coming of age novel in Thatcher’s Britain, this has been described as a book about male friendship and male fragility. "A heartbreaking novel of an extraordinary lifelong friendship." Based on the author’s experiences: nearly all true, he says. What will we think of it?

Buy your copy of the book from Browsers in Woodbridge with the book group discount and if you'd like to join in the discussion, please reply to this email to receive all the details.
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