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Still trying to catch up. Again. Looking for beauty - some wonderful skyscapes this month. L

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since 28/03/2003


The Genius and the Goddess - Aldous Huxley 23/01/2016

A Labyrinth of Interconnecting Guilts

The Genius and the Goddess - Aldous Huxley So, three books in, I've now got to grips with the idea that Huxley doesn’t so much want to tell a story as expound his ideas. Once you know that, it makes it easier to choose whether to read him or not. On balance, I have come down on the side of not – I won't be dashing out to work my way through the rest of his output the way I want to with, say, Nevil Shute, or George Orwell. Of the three I've read recently The Genius and the Goddess is by far the best. Given my aforementioned stance on the works generally, the fact that it is by far the shortest might have something to do with it. It winds up at a concise 120 pages (if you exclude the publishing blurb). More than that, though, it's relative strength lies in the fact that you don't have to be as erudite as Huxley himself to follow what he's talking about. Ok, you'll get more out of it if you know your Dante, and if you've got your various Greek goddeses properly catalogued, but for once you can skim over all of that academic stuff and read this one for the story. John Rivers is in his sixties (which is "old" to the mind that wrote these books – oh how we've moved on) and on Christmas Eve, which isn't particularly relevant unless you want to make the Dickens connection, he settles down to tell his friend the story of his youth. His outpouring is provoked by a recently published biography of the great physicist Henry Maartens. Rivers had been a lab assistant to Maartens at the height of his fame, but more than ...

Time Must Have A Stop - Aldous Huxley 21/01/2016

Stop Time Now, I want this one to end

Time Must Have A Stop - Aldous Huxley Sometimes we start reading "authors" as opposed to specific books, because we feel we ''should''. So it was with me and Huxley. I seem to remember reading and actually enjoying the classic ''Brave New World'' and so felt compelled to explore more of the oeuvre. On completing the second of the three I committed to reading, I slowly came to the conclusion that the reason most of us have only read ''Brave New World'' might just be because it is the only one that is remotely "accessible" to the average reader. Yes, I know that "accessible" is code for "less intellectual" but I make no bones about it. Huxley wears his academic credentials heavily. He loads his books with them and forces the reader – who is not quite so well read, or so well versed in languages, who has (as my English teacher used to say, repeatedly!) not had the benefit of a classical education – to struggle, or to skip. I did both. I skipped passages where I gave up struggling. To put it simply: Time Must Have A Stop defeated me. I struggled on to the end, but cannot say that I have gained a thing from having read it. I can roughly explain the plot, I can share some insights that the book is meant to impart, but was it time well-wasted? No, sorry, not for me. Sebastian Barnack is (according to the blurb) a handsome English schoolboy…on bad terms with his socialist father who disapproves of his hedonistic lifestyle . In fact, Sebastian is not so much 'handsome' as 'pretty'. Not so much a hedonist as ...

Christmas 2015: Tell us about your Christmas Eve party, your Christmas, your gifts... 03/01/2016

The Gift of Peace (bar a rock video or two!)

Christmas 2015: Tell us about your Christmas Eve party, your Christmas, your gifts... For us big family Christmases are nothing but reminiscences. Our families have shrunk, partly through ill-feeling and out-fallings, partly through the natural diminution over time, as the younger generations either failed or chose not to reproduce. For us Christmas is now a time of quiet fun and frivolity, of traditions of our own making, a time when we get to just be together (without me dashing off to work in some other part of the country, with neither of us "having" to fulfil duty visits), a time when we'll make time for the parties and the people we care about in early part of the season and as the new year beds in during January, but when, for most of the official holiday, we'll withdraw from the melee of the world. Mostly it will just be me, him and the cats. My Christmas starts on the 14th December. This was my mother's birthday… and it evolved during my childhood that this was the day (or the nearest Friday to it) that our Christmas decorations would be put up at home. Nothing to do with the fact that mam had organised her works' do and would be out of the way. C's family had a different tradition : they didn't decorate until the children had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. As we have our own homes, we can hold to our own in this regard. I still do the 14th… he does what he can, if he can: the "organisation" algorithm is missing from his programming. I love the tree and the lights and the whole decoration thing… but I'm lazy these days. My childhood home would ...

Unround Circle - Peter Belotte 02/01/2016

Not Rounded Enough

Unround Circle - Peter Belotte As short story collections go, this is a fairly ambition bundle, some 22 stories running to a total of nearly four hundred pages. You'll gather from the fact that I'm starting with the statistics that I didn't instantly fall in love with Bellotte's writing. In fact, I can say that whatever his talents in other departments, short-story prose is not his new-found metier. There isn't a single one of the 22 that engaged me emotionally and not one that I would want to read again. Worse, only some of them kept me well-enough interested to be even intellectually interested in what was going to happen next. I wouldn't normally feel the need to talk about each story in turn in a collection, because they should hang together in some way, but this is such an eclectic mix that it's hard to discern any anchoring thread. Some of the 'tales' don't even qualify as 'stories' being more vignettes, a look at a place and a time through a character's eyes. Contrariwise ''The Balcony'' which is one of these is one of the best of the bunch. Those that are more properly plotted, struggle to constrain their plots within the short story format and end up being explained rather than explored. Show don't tell is the standing advice to rookie writers, the more experienced author ought to already have a feel for when they're straying from that mantra. Too many of these do, lapsing towards there ends into what I think of as "…and then…and then… and then…" mode. Obviously, it's not a blatant as ...

Nothing Sacred - David Thorne 31/12/2015

Grubby Money

Nothing Sacred - David Thorne A while back I described Thorne's first book East of Innocence as Raymond Chandler meets Ray Winstone. I gather that an eight-way auction saw Tiger Aspect securing the option rights for a TV series. I'm looking forward to it. Can't help wondering if they roped Winstone in (and if I'm up for a cut of the agent fees?). Meanwhile, Daniel Connell, the not-so-hot-anymore-shot lawyer protagonist from East of… is back and back in even bigger trouble than before. His sole partner solicitor business is still struggling much as Marlowe's P.I. outfit did, and he's still operating out of a similarly impressive office. The clients he does have, don't have much hope. On the upside, his private life is looking distinctly happier. Maria hasn't quite moved in yet, but she's very much his and very much more than he will ever think he deserves. Life is almost looking good. Then the ex turns up. Well, "ex" would be putting it a bit strongly. Connell and Vick (for Victoria) had a thing a very long time ago. They went their separate ways. She got wrecked, got clean, got married, had kids, got divorced… and now she's quite possibly going just a bit crazy. Things are happening in her flat, mad things, bad, seriously bad things, things that she's sure she's not doing. But no-one else can be. And it's not entirely clear that she's still sober. Is she mad? Or bad? Or has she somehow got herself mixed up with people too dangerous to know? Meanwhile, there's Connell's best friend Gabe. For ...

Jingo - Terry Pratchett 29/12/2015

By Jingo, Theft Is The Only Crime

Jingo - Terry Pratchett Solid Jackson is out fishing for curious squid. Curious squid were small, harmless, difficult to find and reckoned by connoisseurs to have the foulest taste of any creature in the world. This made them very much in demand in a certain kind of restaurant where highly skilled chefs made, with great care, dishes containing no trace of the squid whatsoever. When you come across a sentence like that on page one, you can only be in one place: between the pages of a Pratchett Discworld novel. Regular readers of my reviews (to whom I'm suitably grateful) will know that I'm re-reading them all in honour of the author's sideways take on life, his particular sense of humour and by way of helping to throw a few pennies into the coffers of the Alzheimer's Society, whom he staunchly supported following his own diagnosis. A penny a page is my commitment. I'd urge you to throw a few pence into their bucket as well. Back to the book… Jackson and his son are out squidding. So are Arif and his son. Both at the same renowned site for the small creatures… both equally astonished when a weathercock arises up out of the sea between them. A weathercock might not be so bad, but naturally it's on top of building, which is part of a city, which is on an island, which really has no earthly right to be there! But this is the Disc, not the Earth, and on the Disc these things happen from time to time. Very much like on Earth however, when such things do happen, the very next thing to be occurring is a ...

Lost & Found - Brooke Davis 29/12/2015

A Beautiful Find

Lost & Found - Brooke Davis Millie Bird keeps a notebook. She writes in it all of the Dead Things that she sees. Her Very First Dead Thing was her dog Rambo. Then there were other things a spider, a Bird… but then there was number 28. The twenty-eighth dead thing than Millie Bird noticed was her Dad. He'd been ill. It wasn't like the old man she saw tossed into the air by a speeding car. Her Dad died in hospital… but he became a Dead Thing all the same. Millie Bird could probably have coped with that, as much as she loved her Dad more than anything in the world. Sadly, Millie's Mum didn't cope. One day, in a department store, she told Millie to 'stay right there'. And she walked away. And she didn't come back. That's when this adventure begins, with Millie under the Ginormous Undies in the department store. Staying right there, and waiting. There's only so long a child can wait, so Millie goes exploring – and that's how she meets Karl the touch typist. Karl spends a lot of his time holding a coffee cup in the store café. He has his own sad story. And then finally there is Agatha Pantha. Agatha lived across the road from Millie. She was a crazy old woman who never leaves her house. She's allowed the garden to grow up, with weeds obscuring the windows, with just a tiny hole that she can peer through and call abuse at passers-by. She measures her aging in very precise minutes of the day and names her chairs by what she does when she sits in them. Maybe Agatha has a sad story too. Brooke Davis lost ...

Christmas gifts: how do you organize yourself to buy them? 28/12/2015

Barely organised for maximum enjoyment

Christmas gifts: how do you organize yourself to buy them? I find the world a much less joyful place these days. I know that there is much to lament when we look at what is happening to the climate, to the sought-after-but-never-achieved political stability, to the gains lost in health service provision…and I'll wail and gnash teeth with the best of them… but that's not what I mean. What I mean is that we seem less able to enjoy what should by its very nature be joyful. Christmas. Peace and goodwill. It seems that even those who try to enter into the spirit of the thing, celebrating the turning of the year and a chance to start over, better, or to celebrate the birth of a prophet, or whatever… it seems that even many of those seem to find the whole gift-giving thing a bit of a chore. So why bother? I mean, seriously, if you have to "organise yourself" to buy presents for people you care about…if it is a stress-making worrisome job to get done, I would like to seriously suggest that you stop. They say "it's the thought that counts". If that "thought" is all about having to do it, rather than wanting to, then frankly, it's a thought that need not be shared. So, then, am I one of those who has simply stopped buying presents? Not a bit of it. I love it. I love the buying, the wrapping, the labels, the giving… the whole bit. To be fair, I have very few people to buy for these days, the family has shrunk, and many of those that remain requested that we stop exchanging gifts. But my approach hasn't changed. Through-out the year, ...

Hogfather - Terry Pratchett 28/12/2015

Where the falling Angel meets the rising Ape

Hogfather - Terry Pratchett A quick catch-up for those late to the (Christmas) party… the Disc is a flat planet that spins in its plane, whilst resting on the back of the four elephants who stand on the back of the Great A'tuin the space turtle. It is a place much like Earth, only flat, and (more) full of magic: a place where the wizards pretend to rule, and Patrician knows he does in his small corner of the world (otherwise known as Ankh Morpork). It is a place where the dead are not necessarily… and where the police force is as "diverse" as anyone could possibly wish. It is also a place where narrative imperative cannot be avoided; and where anthropomorphic representations have a life force. That last bit might just hit a logic loop, because the biggest anthropomorphic representation of them all is Death. Yep. Complete with the skeletal framework, the black hooded cloak, the scythe and the pale horse. Of course the horse is real. Not so much "pale" as "white" and his called Binky. (He probably didn’t get a say in that.) Only right now… Death is wearing a red suit, and a white beard. He is dutifully practising "Ho! Ho! Ho!" ~ which doesn't come entirely naturally as you can imagine ~ and has foresworn his pale horse for a sleigh pulled by the magical flying hogs. When I said the Disc was much like Earth, I meant: kind of! Death has been known to go AWOL before. It really annoys his grand-daughter, Susan, because if disastrous consequences are to be avoided, she has to pick up the pieces. A world ...

Bryant and May: The Burning Man - Christopher Fowler 27/12/2015

London's Burning, Man

Bryant and May: The Burning Man - Christopher Fowler The Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) has a new set of overlords. For reasons that were explored in the previous couple of outings they have been transferred to the City Of London Police. The Met are still the big players in the area. City of London Police only police the old city, the square mile, the financial district in other words, that has very little in the way of street crime, because no-one lives there anymore and the people who work there are, by and large, either too rich to need to steal, or too smart to have to do so on the streets. But of course, the people who work there do steal. Come on, they're bankers…! At the start of this latest outing for Fowler's ageing crime-fighters, yet another banker has been caught with his hand in the till. Ordinarily this might not have been much in the way of news, but the anti-capitalists are taking to the streets. It's that traditional time of mayhem between Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night – both later appropriations of the celtic festival of Beltane – all reasons to wander around wearing masks and setting fire to things. What starts as a demonstration, becomes a riot, becomes a series of conflicts that show all the signs of beginning to spiral into a full-blown revolution. London is ablaze, metaphorically and in places literally. Whatever happened to blitz spirit? A few nights of mayhem and the capital seems to be shutting up shop – people are leaving the city – chunks of it are no-go areas. Of course, it's unbelievable, ...

Eaton Park, Norwich 26/12/2015

From Public Works to Public Space: Exemplary Eaton

Eaton Park, Norwich Norwich is my adoptive home town. I've been here (bar a couple of year's "out") since 1981 ~ which amounts to about two-thirds of my life. I love this City for all sorts of tangible reasons, beyond the fact that it is now the ineffable thing we call 'home'. One of those more tangible things is the amount of public open space. If you stand on one of the few high points in and around the city you can see just what a green city it is (in the literal sense). Those green spaces are a mixture of wild (or at least semi-wild) space, managed natural habitats and old-fashioned ~ for which read "Victorian" ~ parks. I have no preference for one over the other. I think the each contribute to the well-being of the communities in which they site, and of the individuals wise enough to enjoy them. All accessible and shared outdoor space, should be celebrated. Elsewhere, I have written about Marston Marsh… my from-the-door-walk which takes me across the marsh, often brings be back home again via the much more controlled environment of Eaton Park. A Bit of History As it turns out, the parks that I think of as "Victorian" are actually slightly later. They date from the interwar years. In the last years of Victoria's reign the population of the City had vastly increased, but little had been done to provide recreational space for the new city dwellers. Only at the beginning of the 20th century did Norwich Corporation (now Norwich City Council) start to acquire land with a few to future ...

Pathlands - Peter Owen Jones 23/12/2015

Walk Free

Pathlands - Peter Owen Jones I have lots of walking books. All of them have been bought with a half-baked intention of actually doing the walks described within them… which of course, I've only partially succeeded in. I do have some books which I have fully ticked-off, but most of them, especially most of the later ones have (at best) been inspiration enough to get the boots on, but rarely more than once or twice. So many unfinished plans. This has always been a source of low-level stress, the self-imposed pressure that I really should be out there 'completing'. Not any more, because I have now found a kindred spirit. I have now found the kind of walking book that I would want to write. It's written to be read, not to be taken out into the field. Although I'm sure that author (tv presenter & Anglican clergyman) Peter Owen Jones would be more than delighted if you did take it out and sat in a field to delight in his words with the scent of new mown hay, or fresh turned earth for company. Pathlands is a collection of 21 walks over the course of a year: tranquil walks among the villages of Britain as the subtitle says. For each walk, we get Jones' description of it, how it was for him on that particular day, the sights and sounds and smells, the people he meets and doesn't meet, the churches he finds (mostly locked), the birdsong and its absence, the reflections and memories all of this provokes. This is supplemented by a line-drawn map, and walk directions. These last are what I normally buy a walk ...

Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach - Jean Sprackland 22/12/2015


Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach - Jean Sprackland Sprackland is a poet, and a good one. At least I assume she's a good poet – I rarely read poetry these days. Her first collection was shortlisted for the Forward Prize, her second was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award and her third won the 2007 Costa Poetry Award. Unless all of the panels harbour the same judges, that's a lot of people thinking this is someone special. That worried me slightly. I wondered if her Year of Discoveries on the Beach might lean too far into the poetic for my taste. I love lyrical writing, but only up to a point. In personal reflections it can easily stray beyond the beautiful into the pretentious. I should have given those judges more credit: Sprackland can write! She can (and does) write beautifully. But she also writes matter of factly. Sometimes with wit, sometimes with pathos, sometimes with a simplification of the scientific perhaps as much for her own understanding as ours. The beach in question is the Ainsdale Sands on England's west coast between Blackpool and Liverpool, or as she puts it a stretch of shore bookended by Southport Pier to the north and Formby point to the south. This is an area that the author has been walking for 20 years, but when it looks as though a move to London is on the cards she decides she wants to honour all that her wanderings have given over her time there, by spending a year looking more closely and recording what she might see. Sensibly she doesn't seek to give us a ...

Whitlingham Country Park, Norwich 21/12/2015

Whitling Away A Sunday

Whitlingham Country Park, Norwich Why Like everyone else these days, I have a number of conflicting priorities and a tendency to overcommit. I forget that I only have 24 hours in every day and I need to spend some of them asleep. I also need to spend a fair few of them earning my keep. Plus there's the writing thing, and the study thing, and the trying to run a house and cook for my partner things… oh and the travel thing… so fitting in the trying- to-get- fitter thing, is the one that isn't doing so well. Yes, user-names aside, the hiker thing seems to have utterly lapsed. On my 2014 birthday I undertook the 1,000 mile challenge. I am here today to say: I failed. Miserably. Not even close. And no excuses. A kind friend told me that the first year was just the rehearsal and that I go for real this coming year. I'll buy that. So I started over again this year. November probably isn't the best time of year to start a walking challenge…but I began by seeking out local walk-spaces, places to give me an on-foot destination from my front door. When you're reliant on public transport the thought of dealing with all of that before you even start can be a barrier too far on a dark morning in the middle of winter. Planning routes I could do, even if I slept in of a Sunday morning had to be the way to go… One of them is Whitlingham Country Park. What and Where The park is 35 hectares of reclaimed land a mile or so south-east of Norwich at Trowse. It's managed in partnership by Whitlingham Charitable Trust ...

Feet of Clay - Terry Pratchett 19/12/2015

No Master

Feet of Clay - Terry Pratchett A golem is not a Gollum (although Tolkien may have had the legend in mind when he created his lost being). A golem is a half-formed being, made of clay, as Adam first was, before he was given life and breath and a soul. As I understand the Judaic legends ~ and no doubt I will be corrected ~ a golem cannot speak, it is activated by the inscription of a shem (one of the many names of God) written on paper and inserted into its mouth or its head. In some versions of the tales, words were inscribed in forehead of the creature. In all cases it seems that it is the words that give life. So why would it be any different on the Discworld? Golems have been around for a while in Ankh Morpork. They're great workhorses… you set them to and they never stop; they don't need feeding; they don't have to be paid. Only, they never stop. And sometimes, you actually need them to. So they're becoming a bit of a liability. No-one is quite so keen on owning a golem any more… but a golem must have a master. Even the white one, that is going to be the cause of all the trouble. An old man is found dead. A priest. Father Tubelcek never hurt anyone, but something about his death doesn't sit easy with Commander Vimes. To be fair, not much sits easy with Vimes these days. Marrying Lady Sybil was definitely his idea, but he hadn't really thought through the implications of being Commander, rather than Captain, Vimes. Having people run his bath and lay out his clothes was bad enough – he drew the ...
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