Books, life the universe

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Family murders

I'm not talking about my family, though there are a fair number of skeletons in the cupboard when you start looking for them. I'm talking about the latest case of an apparently estranged father killing his wife/partner and child. While I'm reluctant to generalise it does seem to be a mainly male crime. No one knows exactly what happened or what the family circumstances were but my first thought was - there's got to be a better way of sorting out family problems than this.

People are quick to blame women for using their children as pawns but is this really the whole cause of the problem? I'd be the first to say that women can be nasty, vindictive and deceitful - but so can men. It would be fairer to say 'People can be evil - whatever their sex'. Many blame the family courts for always awarding custody to the mother - is this really true? If the positions were reversed would we see a spate of women killing their partners and children?

If you look at the situation prior to the era of easy divorce when the mother was unlikely to get custody because she was not in a position to support herself and the children financially - were there many cases of mothers killing their children and partners? If there had been then I'm sure someone would have made use of the statistics by now

Monday, 28 December 2009

Murder Must Advertise

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers is an excellent dissection of an ad agency in the 1930s. I read it first in my 20s when I was reading my way through the Golden Age authors of the 1930s. Re-reading it again I was interested to find the criticisms of advertising even more relevant today than they were when the book was first published. The comment that the rich don't pay attention to advertising because they buy what they want when they want; but the poor pay attention to adverts and stay poor because they feel they have to buy all the things advertised to improve their lives is definitely applicable to the 21st century.

The mystery and the murder - which has happened before Wimsey comes on the scene - are complex involving illegal drugs and the fashionable set who use them - and very much relevant today. I enjoyed this book because it brings in Peter's brother in law - Charles Parker, theology reading Scotland Yard detective. The insight into advertising is fascinating especially the way the exact right words for adverts are decided upon. What is right for one company will be rejected by another. Well worth reading even today.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Reading old favourites

Dorothy L Sayers' Gaudy Night is one of those books which I find I can read and re-read time and time again - and get something new out of it on every occasion. This time I read it for its commentary on personal integrity and the consequences of crime on the perpetrator and on those connected with them. I also noticed how the clues are built up, layer upon layer as well as the red herrings. It is an object lesson in how to plot a crime novel and it actually doesn't matter that there is no murder.

I then started reading Murder Must Advertise which I haven't read for about 30 years and I am finding it every bit as good as I remembered it to be. Peter Wimsey takes a job in an advertising agency for reasons which are not at first revealed. The advertising background is authentic as Sayers herself worked at an advertising agency for a time. The book has some trenchant comments to make about the ethics of advertising which are still valid today.

Friday, 25 December 2009

What's in a piece of paper?



This is what I call art








It's truly amazing what this artist can do with a sheet of A4 paper, a scalpel and glue.


Some of the bigger sculptures - if that's the right word - are brilliant too.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year . . .

. . . to all my readers. Please translate these wishes into any other version you can think of - e.g. solstice blessings etc.

I have made some delicious pork and apple puff pastry sausage rolls this morning and they've turned out very well. Messy to make because the apple makes the meat very sticky - lots of flour needed . The cooking apple just takes away the greasiness. Lovely!

Cottage pie this afternoon for tea tonight and then steak in red wine for tomorrow with jacket potatoes and veg. Might seem boring but we decided not to go out because after it rained last night it froze so we've got a couple of inches of ice over everything. So that's why we don't have the festive joint of meat for Christmas day. We shall venture out before New Year and do a sort of Christmas dinner for New Year instead. We do have Christmas Pudding and mince pies and chocolates and plenty to drink so we shall enjoy it.

I hope everyone will enjoy their Christmas however they intend to celebrate it.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Will this snow ever go?

Right it was beautiful when it first fell but that was last week, now it's overstayed its welcome. We've lost very little of ours apart from off the roof and other places where the sun's been on it. Then each night there's been a bit more to replace what was lost during the day. Still I can't change the weather and it still does look pretty when the sun's out as it is now. I am glad I'm not having to traipse out and get the bus every morning but I would like to go out and everywhere is so icy round here that I haven't done so as I don't want to risk breaking my arm again.

Perhaps I'm getting old as I'm concerned about things like that - but having done it once I've no wish to do it again - it was painful. In fact I'd rather go through my hysterectomy again than break anything - it hurt a lot less than my arm did.

Talking of getting old - I'm finding I'm far more claustrophobic than I was even 10 years ago and I'm wondering whether it's something which gets worse with age - anyone had the same experience? Enclosed spaces never used to worry me at all but now they really make me panicky to the extent I'd almost rather walk up several flights of stairs than get in a lift. Very odd.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Georgette Heyer

I've started reading Pistols for Two - the only book of short stories Georgette Heyer published. I intended to only read the first story but found myself still reading a couple of hours later. I had forgotten how good her writing was - the witty dialogue the believable characters, the historical background. Sort of a 20th century Jane Austen. This is really relaxing reading and just the sort of thing to curl up with on a winter's day with a mug of hot chocolate or a glass of wine. I'm really looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the rest of her books.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Still snowy here and a sad anniversary

We haven't been out since last week because of the snow and because we didn't actually need to. Some idiot hit one of the lampposts just down the road on Saturday because he was going too fast to get round the corner and the road is a sheet of ice and hard packed snow. Fortunately no one was hurt and the council came and removed the lamppost which was leaning at a drunken angle that same evening.

I was talking to my neighbour earlier today and he said the main roads are all right it's just the residential roads like this one which aren't. We may go out tomorrow as there as one or two things I want to get from Sainsbury's but if the weather is too bad we won't be going. We have enough to eat for at least 2 weeks. I do try not to get too much food at Christmas though it always seems to me like a good excuse to not really worry too much about what you're eating just for one day.

I shall be making pork and apple sausage rolls on Thursday. I had intended to make a Christmas cake this year but didn't so that is definitely on the agenda for next Christmas. Home made is usually nicer than bought. I have a recipe we usually use from a book by a lady called Elizabeth Ayrton. The recipe's title is Mrs Raffald's Bride Cake but it is just as good as a Christmas cake. It isn't too heavy and dark and from memory includes lots of peel and you whip the egg whites to make it nice and light. I think the recipe dates from the 18th century. Now Christmas food I can get excited about - just not Christmas itself.

The sad anniversary is the death of my mother in 1994 - 35 years ago. I can still remember how I felt even now. It was the shock of her dying at 45 which makes it stick in my mind more than my father's death at 80 in November 2000. His death seemed as though it happened at the right time and he'd had a good life - she had so much of her life left to live.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Gaudy Night

I am listening to a BBC dramatisation on CD of Dorothy L Sayers' Gaudy Night - which is very good though not as good as reading the book. So I started reading the book yet again last night. I was struck when I was listening to the CD about how much information the story contains about the choices women were able to make about their lives. The mystery hinges on whether women should support their husbands or expose them if they do anything wrong. The theme is repeated again and again in various small events. There is also a lot of discussion about women looking for fulfilment in a career and what happens to their intellectual interests when they marry and take on their husband's interests and give up their own.

The book was published in 1935 and yet if you set aside the somewhat different standards of morals and acceptable behaviour the same issues are current today. One of the dons rails against employing a woman with children as she needs time off to nurse a sick child and can't put her work first and again this is a recurring theme. There is much discussion about falsification of scientific results and historical research and whether such things are acceptable if the person concerned does it because they need the money they will earn to support wives and children.

This book has always been a favourite of mine which I re-read on a regular basis but the subtext - if you like - only struck me in the last few days having read several books on a feminism related theme. I didn't think women's rights were such an issue in the 1930s as they faded into the background after universal suffrage was brought in and only resurfaced in the 1950s and 1960s with Betty Frieden, Gloria Steinem etc all. Having said that though Dorothy L Sayers did apparently publish a book entitled Are Women Human? of which I have yet to track down a copy.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christine Poulson again


Having read Stage Fright and really enjoyed it I dug around in my 'to be read' pile and located Dead Letters which was the first in the Cassandra James series. This is a case of 'Did she fall or was she pushed?' when Cassandra finds her head of department dead in her own swimming pool. What follows is a convoluted trail of relationships and lies and involves a postgraduate student who died a few months before the story opens.

Like Christine Poulson's other two Cassandra James stories this is well written and enthralling and I certainly didn't work out what was going on and who was responsible. I'd only managed to narrow it down to two possibles before all was revealed. A very good story and this writer deserves to be better known in my opinion.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Georgette Heyer


I first remember reading Georgette Heyer when I was 11. I think my mother put a copy of The Talisman Ring in my Christmas stocking that year. Even though that particular book is not my all time favourite, I went on to read all her historical novels though I have never read any of the detective stories.
It must be about 15 years since I last read a Georgette Heyer and I have been prompted to look at her books by this book - Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester. It does only deal with the Regency novels - which excludes some of my favourites - These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, Powder and Patch and The Convenient Marriage - but it is still interesting. It is social history and gives more background information about the fashionable world in which Heyer set her Regency novels.
I'm going to start reading the detective stories this time and perhaps work my way through the rest of her work - including the 'modern' novels she herself suppressed and which are available now if you look for them hard enough. I've just been reading extracts on www.georgetteheyer.com and it made me remember how good they are. Yes they are escapist literature - but they are very quality escapism which no one else has really matched since. Elisabeth Aston comes close in her Jane Austen sequels but apart from her I haven't read anyone who matches up to Heyer's brand of humour and humanity.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Female Eunuch

I finished reading Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch last night and found I had forgotten how revolutionary the final chapter was. It advocates encouraging new ways of organising society such as co-operative buying of staple household items and not being brainwashed by brand appeal. She warns about the adverse effect of consumerism and suggests that if women really want to change their lives they should not be so influenced by the idea of having the latest appliance - just because it is the latest. She suggests farming out domestic tasks you hate doing to people who like doing them and sharing things like washing machines between households. In this way families will not be 'forced' to spend money they haven't got on things they probably don't need - though she does say a washing machine is necessary!

She points out that while the nuclear family with traditional roles suits a minority of women it forces many to spend most of their time undertaking repetitive and boring tasks. To share these out on a barter system would ease the burden for many people. She sees nothing wrong with paying someone to look after your children if they can do it better than you can. She argues that it is only with domestic tasks this is seen as unacceptable. If you needed legal advice you'd pay a solicitor so why not pay someone who enjoys spending all their time with kids to look after yours so that you can spend some time doing the things you do find satisfying and rewarding? Simple - but still revolutionary even 40 years later. I can see why this book caused such a stir at the time it was first published. I know it made me stop and think about things I'd always thought unchangeable.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Stage Fright

Stage Fright by Christine Poulson is an excellent crime novel. Cassandra James an academic specialising in 19th century English Literature at Cambridge University is on maternity leave following the birth of her daughter Grace. She has rewritten the script for a theatrical production of Mrs Henry Wood's East Lynne. A few days before the first night Melissa, the leading lady, disappears, leaving her own baby daughter Agnes alone in the house she shares with her husband who is cast as the villain in the play.

Concerned for her friend, Melissa, Cassandra is also unnerved by the strange phone calls she keeps receiving and the absence of her partner Steven on a business trip to the USA. The air of menace and brooding is well done and emphasised by the setting of most of the action in the fens near Ely. I found myself completely immersed in the book last night and totally unaware of my surroundings while I was reading - which for me is one of the tests of a good book.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Day trip to Norwich

I had to go to Norwich today for my 3 monthly dental appointment - which is a bit of a nuisance though it was a pleasant day out. I was surprised by how few people were out and about and I was wondering whether everyone has done their Christmas shopping and are sitting at home feeling smug! Even Norwich city centre didn't seem as busy as I remember it being this close to Christmas.

I also noticed 2 Tesco Express stores - one at the bottom of Westlegate opposite Marks and Spencers and one half way down Prince of Wales Road. The one on Prince of Wales Road would have been extremely useful when I was working in Norwich as it is only a few minutes walk from the office. I always used to have to make a special trip to an out of town store to do my shopping when I lived in Norfolk. I can see why the one on POW Road is there because there are a lot of newish houses and flats in that area - in fact instead of being a bit seedy it's looking really quite smart and almost continental though I do wonder whether it's still the red light district.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Depressing weather

It is just dull and miserable today and I really dislike this weather. It's about the only time when I would consider living abroad. But then even Mediterranean countries have dull wet and cold weather at times so I suppose you'd feel cheated if you lived somewhere that was generally hot and then got a day like today. At least we expect this sort of weather in the UK.

I have all my cards and presents wrapped up and ready to go now and most of the food shopping ordered - some of which is arriving today. I shall be paying a visit to Marks & Spencer next week because I've decided I'm going to get ready prepared food that I just need to stick in the oven for once. Then I can sit around and put my feet up. We limited what chocolates we had last year and I've done the same this year otherwise we end up still eating them at the end of January. We didn't feel deprived last year and felt we had the right amount.

I've just read an article suggesting we make too much fuss at Christmas and expect everything to be perfect - which we do - then there's the inevitable let down when we feel cheated. It is only one day after all and it's just so commercialised. I'm not even going to Midnight Mass this year as it isn't in our village. It's a pity because our village church is always full so why they've just decided to do one this year in this group of parishes I can't imagine. I suspect part of the problem is that we only have a sort of caretaker vicar because one of the parishes objected to our lovely lady incumbent a couple of years ago. It was hardly a majority verdict since the other two parishes - including ours - were happy with what they'd got. Why can't people accept female vicars are here to stay?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Naomi Wolf


I am gradually reading my way through the classic authors and books of the so called second wave of feminism to see how relevant their thoughts are today. Fire with Fire by Naomi Wolf was published in 1994 and yet she paints a picture of a very similar world to today. She is scathing about 'victim' feminism - and I agree with her. You cannot fight or change anything if you are starting from a position of weakness and simply expecting things to change because people feel sorry for you.
She argues that if you want things to change then you need to go about it an adult fashion and use reasoned argument and don't forget your sense of humour. Her view of feminism is quite similar to my own - it's about choices in life and what suits you may not suit someone else. She points out that stereotypes straight jacket everyone - not just women. It is not helpful to see men as anti women since the majority aren't - they're just struggling along trying to make the best of their lives like the rest of us.
Great reading and full of common sense - but then I would say that since I agree with a lot of it!
I occasionally read a website called the F Word.(www.thefword.org.uk) which can be interesting but is frequently over the top. I came across a post a couple of weeks ago in which a woman had been taking part in a Reclaim the Night March and had been pushed by a man. She said she had been sexually assaulted because the man had pushed her on her breasts and at the same time grabbed them. Right - so if you're pushing someone away from you how can you be grabbing them at the same time? To me this is not a sexual assault in any shape or form. If she'd been a man he'd have pushed her in the same anatomical area - so what? Unpleasant, unnecessary but not a sexual assault.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Tiger Woods

Am I the only one totally bored with this story? Yes he's been to bed with lots of women. That is surely nothing to do with anyone apart from him, his wife and the women concerned. It has no impact on the way he plays golf. Yes if advertisers recruited him because they thought he had a squeaky clean image they will drop him but apart from that does it really matter? He's a golfer for goodness sake not a clergyman. I am not condoning his behaviour but I don't see the public need to know - or care - about it.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Re-reading a classic


I am currently re-reading Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. I first read it soon after it was published and was very impressed. I've read about 70 pages so far and many of the things she rails against are even worse now. The cult of the body beautiful for example and the emphasis on not having any body hair. Now this has extended to men which wasn't the case back in the 1970s. The book stands up well to re-reading and her writing style is always interesting.

For myself I am against hair removal and I always feel that it makes adults look like children. Adults have body hair and children don't. I know it's now pushed as being a hygiene issue but I've always believed that you just need to wash regularly and that natural smells are just that - natural smells. However I do think we need underarm deodorants - but that's as far as I go I'm afraid. As someone I once worked with commented on a colleague - 'She's got deodorants for places that I didn't even know I had.'

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Pink Stinks

I really can't see the point of this campaign or the recent support it's received from a Government Minister. If girls like pink - what's the problem? I read all the books with all the conventional stereotypes when I was a child and my favourite colour was blue. It never occurred to me that I had to stay at home and bring up children or that women shouldn't have careers. But that says more about my parents' teaching than anything else. I helped my Mum when she was making cakes and was cooking Sunday lunch for the whole family at 14. I hated housework - but so did my Mum. But we used to discuss anything and everything at home so I was never in any doubt that I could have opinions and express them.

Once I could read on my own no one tried to censor my reading so I read the Jennings School stories, William books, the Chalet School and the Abbey School series as well as many non fiction books. By 10 or 11 I was reading Georgette Heyer and Dennis Wheatley - yes his black magic books. Did I grow up to do a pink and fluffy job only suitable for girls? No I didn't. So I read a mixture of books and preferred dressing in trousers though I did like pretty dresses - as long as they weren't frilly. There wasn't much pink around - or maybe my Mum didn't like pink. I think the pinkstinks campaign may have a point when it talks about the over emphasis on appearance and celebrity but otherwise why focus on a colour? (www.pinkstinks.co.uk)

I'm starting to wonder whether stereotypes are more pervasive now than they used to be. I hate the emphasis on appearance which pervades everything. I also dislike political correctness - though some things are called political correctness when they're really just common decency and politeness. As for the fuss about Thomas the Tank Engine - words fail me! I love those train books they are brilliant stories and very moral. Thomas gets punished if he does something wrong or stupid - what could be wrong with that? No there aren't many female characters - maybe more now that there used to be. I remember Annie and Claribel the coaches but as far as I can remember they used to keep Thomas in order not the other way round.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Pre Budget statement

I haven't read all of it though I was half listening to it while Alistair Darling was speaking. I just looked at a short piece on the Telegraph's website which says capping public sector pay rises at 1% has angered the unions - and the TUC who are for once sticking up for low paid public sector workers. I should think I can count on the fingers of one hand the times in the last 30 years when the TUC has actually publicly supported the public sector. That is pretty remarkable. Roll on the election.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Alarm clocks

I was reading something yesterday about alarm clocks which wake you up by means of a light which gradually gets brighter - imitating dawn. The article I read - can't find it now so I can't add a link to it - seemed to be saying they are a new invention. The sophisticated versions which are sold today with the means to play music or tune in to a radio station are new, but ones like mine have been around about 15 years I think.

I've certainly had mine about 10 years. It isn't very pretty but it is absolutely brilliant. The back up on mine is a conventional alarm which will wake you up if the light doesn't but 99 times out of 100 the light wakes me up before the alarm. I don't wake up startled with my heart pounding like I did with a conventional alarm clock and when it eventually goes wrong I shall buy a new one. I shall probably have to replace it soon because it takes 60watt screw in candle bulbs. You can also use it in reverse to go to sleep.

What amazed me was the comments - from people who plainly hadn't tried it - were that it was just a gimmick and couldn't possibly work and only the gullible will buy them. 10 years use suggests otherwise. I used to hate the fact I had to rely on the alarm on my phone or a phone call from hotel reception when I was working away from home. I do still use the alarm - even though I am retired - I find keeping to some sort of a routine means I sleep much better. Though I do get up later - about 8.00am - than I used to.

Monday, 7 December 2009

One Dimensional Woman

One Dimensional Woman by Nina Power is a small book - just over 100 pages but it makes some very interesting points about women today. Why do the few so-called feminist books aimed at younger women concentrate on personal improvement rather than changing society? Why has the consumer society had such a huge effect on women to the extent they must have the latest designer handbag, plastic surgery their own flat and a man - probably in that order? Why do women objectify their own bodies even though women have spent decades complaining about men doing just that?

What I also found interesting were her comments on pornography. She points out that original silent pornographic films always contained an element of humour and it looked as though the participants were enjoying themselves. She is not anti pornography but suggests we have lost something along with the humour. She also suggests that 21st century feminism has rather lost the plot. Very well worth reading.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Sexual Paradox

I am currently reading a book called Sexual Paradox by Susan Pinker. It is excellent and very well written. She is, among other things, a child psychologist. She decided to contact some of her former patients to see how they were getting on with their lives as adults. She also contacted women who had been very bright at school, done well at University, had high powered jobs and then in their 30s and 40s changed careers because they wanted more than just a high powered job with a big salary.

She found the men - who had dyslexia or Asperger's syndrome - had mainly done very well for themselves in purely worldly terms; finding ways round their disability or going into spheres which made the most of their particular qualities. There was a chef who was dyslexic but had no problems reading his colleague's scrawled orders; the man who was totally hopeless in social situations but brilliant in his chosen field - computers. Apparently dyslexia, Autism and Asperger's are all mainly male problems and it is thought due to too much testosterone while the baby is in the womb. So a result of nature not nurture.

What I found most interesting is that w0men who have Asperger's - about 10% of the total sufferers - are far better in social situations than the males affected. This reflects the fact that girls develop social awareness much earlier than boys.

I have always accepted that men and women - in general - don't have the same qualities. But I don't believe that is a reason for denying either sex access to particular jobs. People mix up equality with the idea the sexes are the same. Many of those who believe the sexes are different think that excuses favouring one sex over the other which I don't believe should happen - any more than positive discrimination should happen. We may never have a situation where there are 50/50 men and women in the House of Commons or 50/50 men and women on the boards of the top companies but as long as there is no discrimination that is an acceptable situation in my view.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Books


I've just started reading Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angel. It is a Regency novel and very reminiscent of books by Georgette Heyer. It reminds me particularly of books such as Bath Tangle, The Talisman Ring and Black Sheep. The dialogue is sparkling and the sparring between the hero and heroine is well done and witty. Clare - a school mistress in a small Welsh village - hears the rakish Lord Aberdare - half gypsy as all the best heroes are - has returned to his estates after a 4 year absence. Clare approaches him requesting financial help for the villagers and the means to make the local mine safer for its workers. Lord Aberdare strikes a bargain with her. She must live with him - ostensibly as his mistress - for three months. After that he will provide what is needed. The book was originally published in the USA and is the first in a series.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Civil Service Compensation Scheme

I would not normally write about the Civil Service - on the principle that you don't bite the hand that feeds you - but the proposal to change the scheme under which Civil Servants are made redundant has made me extremely annoyed. The current scheme allows for several ways of getting rid of surplus Civil Servants, both voluntarily and on compulsory terms.

I left on voluntary terms which meant my pension and lump sum was paid immediately though my pension wasn't increased as it would have been under compulsory terms. If I hadn't retired when I did then I would have had to continue working probably beyond 60 and could have been forced to move house as I wouldn't have been able to afford to go voluntarily under the new scheme as I would have had no income until I could take my pension at 60.

I know they have to make things affordable but the whole point of the CSCS is that it's a convenient way of reducing staff if need be without paying them on compulsory terms. Under the new set up they won't get as many people volunteering and they will have to make them redundant - potentially increasing the number on the unemployment register. I suspect this is all being done because the public think the scheme is much more generous than it is and think people are walking away with millions - which they aren't. Civil Servants have never been paid the going rate for the job because of the final salary pension scheme and the CSCS and of course the job security.

Unfortunately what the media don't tell you is the pension scheme has changed from final salary to career average for anyone joining since 2007 and they have to pay a lot more for it. The changes are going to happen - apparently - next year. The union for the majority of Civil Servants is PCS and they are trying for a Judicial Review of the whole thing. http://www.pcs.org.uk/ This is a good example of the Government listening to the vocal minority who think anyone who gets something they don't should be penalised. Instead of campaigning for better pensions for everyone this minority are only happy if everyone is suffering. If this change goes ahead it will be the thin end of the wedge for everyone working in the public sector.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

First frost of the year and books

I was quite surprised when I looked out this morning to white grass. That's the first frost of this winter - so now I can believe winter has started. I am glad I don't have to go out at 6.45am to get the bus to work.

I am currently reading Tessa Hainsworth's Up with the Larks about how she swapped a high powered job with the Body Shop for life as a seaside post woman in Cornwall. It paints a picture of rural Cornwall which anyone who lives a in a village will recognise. I really enjoy reading books about people moving to the country - or abroad - and changing their lives completely. I don't want to do it myself but i still like reading about it. I've always liked reading books like that and as a child used to devour things like Thor Heyerdhal's Kon Tikki and Aku Aku. Armchair adventure I suppose.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Woman Racket


I finished this interesting book by Steve Moxon last night and have posted a review on Amazon - which has not yet appeared. Overall I thought it was well written though the last few chapters were light on references and heavy on his own opinions. I have no problem with pornography as such though I must admit I didn't like his attitude that all pornography - including child pornography - is harmless. According to him punishing people for possessing child pornography is tantamount to punishing them for 'thought crime'. He seems to have missed the point that such photographs show children being abused and that a crime has to be committed in order to produce the pictures in the first place. Recent court cases have shown how child abuse can happen anywhere at any time.

I didn't like his attitude to sexual harassment laws either. He seems to be saying that normal banter between co-workers is what's ending up in the courts and people ought to grow a thicker skin and just put up with it. I have never had any problems myself dealing with unwanted attentions or offensive language at work and I must say the vast majority of men seem to have no problem in knowing where to draw the line. The legal cases I've read about are mainly where people have expressed dislike of what was going on and attempted to stop it and no one's paid any attention and just carried on.

His whole theory is that men have always been disadvantaged in Western society and women have been pampered and mollycoddled and still expect to be treated better than men. This is not the feminism I grew up with - which was that there needs to be equal opportunities for both sexes in all areas of life. I don't want - and never have wanted - special treatment. Like many male commentators he equates feminism with lesbianism and thinks the word patriarchy is a term of abuse instead of being simply a description of the society in which we live.

As I say an interesting read but giving certain women derogatory nicknames does not serve to enhance his argument, whatever he thinks.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Interesting facts about London Underground


I found Amazing and Extraordinary London Underground Facts by Stephen Halliday very interesting. It is a little book - less than 140 pages of text - but packed full of interesting snippets. I hadn't appreciated how many Americans - both speculators and engineers were involved in the building of it. There were plenty of conmen as well as people who made it their life's work to get sections of railway up and running.


I can just imagine what it must have been like underground when the trains were steam! Definitely not good for people with breathing difficulties. There are no illustrations and it would have been nice to see some photographs but this is meant to be a stocking filler type of book rather than a definitive history.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Leigh Russell


I am currently reading Cut Short by Leigh Russell and very good it is too. It is a psychological crime novel about a serial killer and features DI Geraldine Steel. It is a debut novel and not published by a main stream press but it deserves to be more widely known in my opinion. It is well written, the characters are believable and there are no excessive descriptions of violence - only what it necessary to the story. This is a great start to a new series and I'm already looking forward to the next episode. I recommend it to anyone who likes crime novels. If you want graphic and gruesome dismembered bodies then you won't find them in this book and it is all the better for it in my opinion.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Climate change

I think it is interesting that the current furore about the leaked e-mails suggesting climate change isn't man made comes just after the survey which showed the majority in this country do not believe climate change is anything to do with human beings. It seems common sense may be re-asserting itself. I've always thought climate change is a natural phenomenon if only because there have been ice ages before there was much human activity.

I know that doesn't mean we're having no effect but I do think it is easy to over estimate the effect and to underestimate the effect of such things as volcanoes. I have read supposedly serious articles which suggest earthquakes are man made though I have a feeling they originated with David Icke and are probably a fantasy. Paul Hudson - who does the weather forecast for this area and Yorkshire has suddenly become involved in the whole business because the e-mails were sent to him before they were made public. Some people are asking why he didn't make them public. I really can't see why he should feel obliged to do so but people get some strange ideas.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Concerned about rape

No no - nothing's happened to me. I'm still reading Steve Moxon's book - The Woman Racket and I'm starting to get annoyed. In two consecutive chapters he has demolished domestic violence and turned it into a wholly female on male crime and stated that anything up to 70% of rape allegations are false and that no one suffers serious after effects from being raped.

I fully accept women are not the only 'victims' of domestic violence and that men probably don't report it when they should for fear of ridicule. I also don't like the plans announced today to teach children that domestic violence is wrong but only when it comes to beating up women and children They should be taught that all violence is wrong - not just male on female violence.

As for rape - I know there have been several cases recently where women have been jailed for false allegations but it seems the author's definition of false is any case which doesn't result in a conviction and I have real problems with this. He also says if there are no signs of violence then it wasn't rape. Which does not square with anything women are told about self defence - if he's stronger than you don't struggle as you could end up dead or seriously injured. Better be raped and alive than dead - which seems like common sense to me.

He's also saying that the justice system is skewed against men in rape cases because they can't now bring in a woman's previous sexual history. In spite of this only 6% of cases result in a conviction - a result, I would say, of a jury trying to make up its mind beyond reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt when it's often a case of one person's word against the other's. This to me is not a justice system unfairly biased against men. I do think that there ought to be anonymity for both - or neither - until after the trial.

The book concerned started off well with much evidence cited to back up his conclusions but the last couple of chapters seem to contain a lot of conclusions not backed up by verifiable data. He does talk briefly about male rape but doesn't seem so keen to suggest any of the cases which get to trial are false allegations. Which of course may be correct. I can understand why male rape could be more traumatic than female because many heterosexual men seem to be somewhat homophobic. But I don't think this should be used to suggest that women are not adversely affected by rape.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Retirement update

As it's almost exactly 6 months since my last day at work I thought I'd review the situation. Am I happy with the decision? Yes - totally. Have I adjusted to it? No possibly not completely as I still have the niggling feeling I ought to be doing something with a work feeling to it. It's that blessed Protestant work ethic I suppose.

I have every intention of doing either an Open University course or writing a book next year. I'm mulling over the idea of writing non-fiction instead of a novel as I think my talents probably lie more in that direction. Then there's the fact there is a much bigger market for non-fiction which makes it more likely it would be published. But more of that later when I've decided how to put my current thinking into action.

Then there's the inside of the house to decorate and the housework to do so there's plenty to occupy me not to speak of all those books to read. In short I love it and I'm really glad I took the plunge. It certainly felt right at the time - and that is always how I assess any big decision. Staying at work felt like doing the worst possible thing in the world when given the choice. I suspect there are several people left in the office I was in who wish they'd followed my example.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Brightest Star in the Sky


I'm not a huge fan of books by Marian Keyes though I have read a couple which I enjoyed so I decided to try The Brightest Star in the Sky - all 600 pages of it. If it had been a more normal size type face it wouldn't have been as long. It's in 13.5pt which is quite large for a book I think. Not that I'm complaining because it was easy to read. The story features the occupants of 4 flats at 66 Star Street in Dublin.


It also features a fairy - or ghost - take your pick, who is about to interfere in everyone's lives. Actually the fairy is not that intrusive and I sometimes felt the author had forgotten about the fairy. There is comedy and tragedy and yes it is a good light read but after much thought I downgraded it to 3 stars in my Amazon review because I've read much better. I know Marian Keyes has many thousands of fans but she doesn't quite do it for me. When there is a tragedy I expect to be moved to tears - I wasn't. Some of the book seemed quite muddled and there was some back tracking to fill in details. Many of the characters' actions were just not plausible and I didn't really care about them enough to worry about the sticky situations in which they found themselves.
The book itself has an all gold cover - which doesn't show up that well in the picture and is nicely produced as you might expect from one of the Penguin imprints but the contents were just not quite right. I don't think I'll be reading any more by this author.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Sorting out day today

I decided I'd got far too many unread books loitering around the place so I went through about 100 of them today. Many I don't think I will ever read even though I obviously thought I would when I bought them. The majority are second hand and cost me very little fortunately as if I buy a new book I will always at least attempt to read it even if I give up after 50 pages. I generally read at least 50 pages before coming to a decision. If a book hasn't grabbed me by that stage I won't usually persevere unless I have to write a review of it.

Having gone through them I've listed them all for sale on eBay and Amazon. And sold one within about 10 minutes - so that was a good start! If they don't sell within a few months they can go to a charity shop. If I didn't get ruthless with them I'd need a new house to put just the books in! The upside of the clear out is that I came across about a dozen which I'd forgotten I had and they've got themselves higher up the to read pile.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Education and feminism and Steve Moxon

This seems to be a common complaint of the education system these days. Apparently boys are being held back so that girls look better - not sure I believe that. People seem to be worried about most primary school teachers being women. I was at primary school in the 1950s/1960s and all my teachers - with one exception - were female. So how have things changed?

The other complaint is course work favours girls where exams favour boys. This is definitely a sweeping generalisation. I've come across more than one man who doesn't do well in exams but excels at coursework. I tend to do better in exams than I do at coursework but my mother used to go to pieces in exams. So surely if you have half the marks on the coursework and half on the exam that is fair to both? Or am I missing something?

I am currently reading an interesting book by Steve Moxon called The Woman Racket. I haven't got to the section about education though he has talked about men getting a higher percentage of first class honours degrees and being better than women at maths. His basic theory is that men are discriminated against because in almost any activity women cluster in the middle sections of ability with men at both ends - the best and the worst. Men have bigger brains and higher IQs. I paused to wonder whether that's because they were better at IQ tests but he seems to have ignored that point.

He also argues that the NHS pays more attention to women's health. Germaine Greer argues that's because it's an indirect way of controlling women by screening them for everything under the sun. I've also read somewhere that men in general resist attending for any sort of screening and that is one reason why screening programmes for prostate cancer etc are not considered viable. There is far more at stake than a simple discrimination issue.

Steve Moxon's basic argument is that women have never been discriminated against in any shape or form and have always lived privileged lives and yet they never achieve anything particularly noteworthy. Marie Curie anyone? Florence Nightingale? Rosalind Franklin? He also says we should not judge what happened in the past through the eyes of today. I know what he's getting at but surely nothing would change if we never looked at it differently? He is saying men are the ones who are discriminated against. He hasn't yet annoyed me and while I don't wholly agree with what he is saying it is interesting reading and is backed up by verifiable sources for a change.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Strange reasoning

Comments on news stories can show up some very strange reasoning. The two stories which have given rise to the strangest in the last few days have been the woman who was murdered with a captive bolt gun and the doctor who attempted to poison his pregnant girl friend. The murder was committed by an abattoir worker as might be expected and was carried out because the lady concerned did not want him as her boy friend and made it clear she didn't want him. The strangest were along the following lines:

She brought it on herself because she humiliated him by saying she wouldn't go out with him

All meat eaters are responsible for this murder because if you hadn't eaten meat there wouldn't have been a slaughter house for this guy to work in.

The doctor who attempted to poison his girlfriend to bring about an abortion of his baby prompted the following comments:

He's definitely innocent and she framed him by poisoning herself

Why was she going out with a married man? [She didn't know he was married until the police told her]. It's all her fault.

Women have abortions - this was no different. If he's got to go to jail then all women who have abortions should be jailed as well

What rational woman takes a cup of tea she thinks was poisoned to the police?

When I read the last one my immediate reaction was - any rational woman who wants to stay alive!

Monday, 16 November 2009

We have heating!

Well it was working while he was here and has gone on and off on its own so hopefully that is the problem solved. I haven't yet moved stuff back into the utility room and I think I'll leave that a couple of days to make sure. This is the best news I've had for at least a month. Just have to wait for the bill now.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

False Pretences

I gave up on the Cruel Hoax having realised that one of the books he was quoting from was actually revealed as a hoax way back in 1912. I have posted a review of it on Amazon which I'm sure will attract a lot of negative comments. The book already has two positive reviews which appear to have been written by men who have swallowed the theory hook line and sinker. I did read most of it though I skimmed through the last 50 pages as being hopelessly irrational and delusional.

I turned instead - with relief - to Veronica Heley's False Pretences which is the fourth book in her Abbot Agency series. I wasn't sure about this series at first but it is really growing on me. There is no on the page violence, characters attend church though they are definitely not holier than thou types. Zander - who appeared in a previous book - asks Bea for help. He works for the Tudor Trust which owns blocks of flats in London which it rents out at reasonable prices. Zander has discovered an ongoing fraud which is netting one of the directors a tidy sum each month and as a result has put himself in danger.



The plot is satisfyingly complicated and the regular characters - Oliver, Maggie, Max, Nicole and Piers make a welcome reappearance. This is a relaxing read with realistic characters and situations. I enjoyed it.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Cruel Hoax

I am currently reading a book called Cruel Hoax: Feminism and the New World Order by Henry Makow who seems to have an inferiority complex before he starts as he has PhD after his name on the book cover. His opinion - not backed up by verifiable facts - is that feminism was invented and propagated by the big banking families in America and Europe. It was done to destabilise society and make people more easily controllable. It was easier to invent feminism as women are much more easily brainwashed than men.

The whole idea is that women would be indoctrinated into thinking they should rebel against their oppression by men and destroy the nuclear family. According to this guy, feminists are all lesbians, communists and atheists and are being controlled by the Illuminati to break up families and not have children so that the world population reduces, society is fragmented and individuals are more easily controlled.

He seriously believes that women are naturally self sacrificing and find true happiness in giving up their wants and needs in exchange for being supported by a man. Men have only become promiscuous because women made them so and man's natural inclination is to have a wife and children but feminists thwart this desire. He says women should behave like they do in Muslim countries and not work outside the home. It is wicked not to have children. Obviously he is not aware that in Iran more than 50% of university students are women. The author says he never found happiness with women until he got himself a submissive wife who believes his word is law and that her own interests don't matter as long as he is happy.

Women should not have careers because it is not natural to have women in positions of authority over men. In fact all the things he says should happen if suggested in connection with a race or religion would be against most Western anti discrimination and race hate laws. I find it suspicious that even though he writes mainly about America he lives in Canada and his web site is hosted in Canada. Is he persona non grata in the USA? He also appears to have been adversely affected by being sacked from a University post because of sexual harassment in connection with his teaching of the works of D H Lawrence. His writing is emotive - 'feminists vomit' over material on his website and he does not back up his theories with verifiable facts only by quotes from long out of print books and articles.

I am far from believing that feminism holds all the answers but if this is the standard of the opposition they don't have much credibility.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Still no heating

The title really says it all. What's more the oil gauge keeps giving me a heart attack because it's showing the wrong reading. We even went out this morning to make sure the oil wasn't leaking out of the tank because it was showing half full when we know it's nearly full.

The boiler is supposed to have been sorted today but no one turned up. I just hope we aren't going to be faced with trying to get someone else to do it but I don't think I'm prepared to give him much later than Monday to sort it out before I do get someone else. This has gone on long enough.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Gender and the Media

I'm still ploughing my way through Rosalind Gill's fascinating book Gender and the Media. I was reading last night about magazines especially the ones which have sprung up over the last 15 to 20 years aimed at men. Some of the quotes are really awful - just so sexist and derogatory. As the author says it is almost impossible to complain about them or criticise because they are billed as ironical or humorous and forestall criticism by saying what follows is not meant seriously. In other words they are using the get out which some men have always used when you complain about an unpleasant remark - only joking, you must have lost your sense of humour.

I was also interested to read about women's magazines and how the majority spend all their time telling you how to have better sex, how to attract a man, how to make yourself more attractive. These were the reasons I stopped bothering with women's magazines. They never had any thought provoking articles in them it was all aimed at finding a man. Cosmopolitan was never like that when it first came out as it had hardly any fashion and make up stuff in it and was all about social issues of the day, relationships - other than with men - practical things, books, music, theatre travel etc. I stopped buying it because it became far more traditional.

For a while I bought one called - I think - Red which came out every fortnight and had really interesting articles about politics, problems in this country and elsewhere and sort of up market true confessions. But even that got boring after a while. Marie Claire was quite good as well at one time. Now I just don't bother with magazines except ones about writing.

Am I the only one who thinks clothes, make up, appearance, weight, doing the right thing to attract men and keep them interested is just soooo boring? These days it is so in your face it is difficult to avoid - it seems to be my duty as a woman to be always dressed up and made up and worrying about what people think of me. This 21st century woman wants more interest in life than that. Where have all the feminists gone?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Gender in newspapers

I was reading a chapter in Rosalind Gill's book last night about women's invisibility in news stories which got me thinking. If you're watching the news on television watch how many stories are about men and how many times an expert interviewed is male. I started off this morning looking at two newspaper websites - The Times and the Telegraph. The Telegraph was almost exactly 50/50 split and mainly it did not add anything about a woman's appearance or family background to stories about women unless it was relevant. The Times was much more male dominated with the majority of stories featuring men and male experts though again they did not tend to say whether a woman was married or not.

The Mail - which I also briefly looked at - had far more stories where a woman's appearance was described and descriptions such as 'single mother', 'mistress', 'widow' etc were used far more than on the other two sites. The stories featuring men or women were pretty well evenly spread between the two - it was only in the Times that there were far more stories featuring men than women. I was only looking at the top UK news stories rather than anything else on the sites.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Books


I am pursuing my interest in the gender war - not that I like that way of describing it because to me it isn't a war. I'm currently reading Gender and the Media by Rosalind Gill which I am finding fascinating even though it is really an academic text. It's about how the way different sections of the media portray gender so it's not just about women but about men and masculinity and about what is apparently called Queer Theory - i.e. lesbians, bisexuals and trans gender people as well as homosexuals. It covers newspapers and magazines as well as books - though not apparently the Internet.

I tried to read - and failed to finish - Dick Masterson's Men are Better than Women. It is basically a misogynistic rant and the author appears to think there is absolutely nothing a woman is good at or good for. I'm all for not having censorship but if he had written the same thing about any ethnic group it would have been an incitement to racial hatred but there is no law that covers hatred of women - or men for that matter. It made me wonder whether I would have felt the same if it had been a book written by women about men and I concluded I would have done. It is just completely distasteful. It is advertised as humour but even some men reviewing it on Amazon didn't think it was funny.
Audio book
As light relief I am listening to Jane Austen's Emma - read by Jenny Agutter - very relaxing and her voice is just perfect for this book. I had forgotten how bitchy some of the dialogue is. Mrs Elton especially is just so unpleasant in such a civilised way. I'm nearly up to the famous Box Hill incident. I really like audio books and listened to two of the discs before I got up this morning.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Boiler news

Boilerman could not get here yesterday because his son - who works with him - managed to wrench off half his thumbnail - ouch!! He arrived today and has tried to seal all the joints in the pipe from the oil tank into the boiler - without too much success. He has decided to replace the pipe from the oil tank to the boiler as being the only thing that's going to solve the problem as there must be somewhere along it's length that it is taking in air. He isn't going to dig up the old one though - just put in a new one - which makes sense. So he's coming back on Tuesday to do that. Well at least it isn't a new boiler and hopefully that should solve it - he is confident it will.

I'm feeling all right today - but then I'm one of these people who can deal with bad news it's not knowing what I'm dealing with that really freaks me out. It's also bright sunny weather - which helps. Think I need to invest in one of those light boxes.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Trip out today

I went into Boston today and had a pleasant mooch around. I've not really looked round the shops properly since I stopped working there in 2005 and the shopping area has expanded. There is even a Costa Coffee and a Greggs now not that these necessarily constitute an improvement. Everywhere was busy and as usual in Boots you needed a packed lunch and a good book before you joined the queue to pay. Why is the service so slow in Boots? I used to find this in Spalding and I thought it was just that store but Boston is just as bad.

The sun was out this morning - it's raining now - and I was standing at one end of the marketplace looking toward St Botolphs church - AKA Boston Stump - and marvelling at how dominant the church is. It sort of fades into the background if the weather is dull but comes into its own in sunny weather. One of the pubs close to the church is called The Stump and Candle which always amuses me. The Wetherspoons pub by the river is called The Moon Under Water - which may be particularly relevant if the river overflows its banks.

I've always thought Boston is a bit drab in appearance but when you look at it more closely there are so many Medieval and Tudor buildings it's amazing. Lots of lanes as well with their names in wrought iron in an arch at the beginning and end. Strange street names as well: - Strait Bargate (yes it really is spelled like that), Wide Bargate, Dolphin Lane, Pump Square, Pescod Square. I must go and remind myself of what Pevsner says about Boston buildings.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Central heating again and chocolate

Our boilerman arrived yesterday afternoon to fix the boiler - again. Which he did temporarily saying it was still taking in air and he would need to come back - when it is light to make sure it's nothing to do with the oil tank end of things. We were all three standing in the kitchen talking and half listening to the boiler to make sure it was all right. It went off - as it was up to temperature - came on again because the heating had cooled it down and then it went bang loudly three or four times. Leaving us all coughing because of the clouds of blue smoke.

So he's coming back again - in daylight - to try and find out what's going wrong with it. As he said - they shouldn't do that. Obviously he never normally sees boiler do that as he will only be called out once they've gone bang. I think I was the calmest one of the three of us - possibly because I have actually seen another oil fired boiler do something similar years ago. I called the fire brigade on that occasion because I was in the house on my own and the phone was in the same room as the boiler. So we're back to our electric back up system. Mind you we don't need the heating on at the moment because of the brilliant sunshine.

Chocolate

Yes folks as I've said before it really does make me bad tempered and irritable. I haven't had any for 3 or 4 days. I had a Cadbury's Twirl last night - feeling I deserved it - and today I am much more short tempered than normal. Yesterday I was fine - not even after the events related above was I irritable or bad tempered. Now I feel like snapping at anyone and everyone - grhh!! I really shall have to give it up - except for special occasions

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Sweet Sorrow


David Roberts' Sweet Sorrow is the latest in his Verity Browne and Edward Corinth mysteries. I think it is probably one of the best as well. I wasn't impressed with Something Wicked; No More Dying - the last one - was good, but this is even better. Set in 1939 just before the outbreak of war, it includes cameo appearances by Leonard and Virginia Woolf and Dylan Thomas. Verity is waiting to be sent abroad as foreign correspondent for her paper and Edward is waiting to be told what the Foreign Office and MI5 want him to do - which may or may not include escorting the Duke of Windsor to a place of safety.

In the midst of all this Verity and Edward have just got married and bought a house in a small village in Sussex only to find that violent death has followed them. Byron Gates a philandering poet is murdered with a sword. Edward spends half the book saying he's not going to investigate the murder while actually following various leads. The dialogue is excellent and it seems as though the author has really got to know his main characters over the course of the series. The early niggles of married life where each person misunderstands the other and over reacts to them is brilliantly done. The background is really good as well - politics, the BBC and the 1930s literary scene. Good reading

Monday, 2 November 2009

Dying in the Wool


I started reading Frances Brody's Dying in the Wool last night and found I was still reading it an hour later even though I'd only intended to read the first chapter to see what it was like. It's set in the Leeds area in 1922. Kate Shackleton is a widow and she has developed something of a reputation for solving mysteries. When she is contacted by an old acquaintance - Tabitha - who would like Kate to trace her missing mill owner father and is willing to pay for her service Kate is intrigued. The book is written in the first person and has unexpected touches of humour. I was attracted by the cover which absolutely fits the story. It seems as though it is going to be the start of a series - which is always a good thing.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Women's history


I am currently reading Rosalind Miles's The Women's History of the World. It is really interesting and shows how much more freedom and opportunity women had in civilisations before the Christian era. When the Gods were Goddesses and women chose their own husbands - the plural is deliberate. It seems to have been when the world went over to monotheistic religions that things changed. Women then became chattels - subject throughout their lives to male control and decree. Segregated from society for one week in four and regarded as animals to be controlled rather than sentient human beings.

I was intrigued to read the origin of the term faggot when applied to homosexuals. Male homosexuals were burnt at the base of the fire which burned witches - i.e. used as faggots in the other sense of the word, to get the fire going. What a wonderful thing is prejudice. Especially when you consider that in ancient Greece homosexuality was the norm and women were only there for procreation and not pleasure. Though the Greeks were better in their treatment of women than later civilisations - boys and girls being regarded as equal and educated to the same standard.
Seems as though in the Middle Ages in Europe the safest role for women who wanted a long and peaceful life was to enter a nunnery. They lived a lot longer - were not subject to any rule apart from that of their order and could rise to the post of Abbess. The only alternative was marriage - and constant child bearing before an early death.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Machines just annoy me

Our Boilerman came and fixed the boiler yesterday afternoon. It was fine when he left - had gone off and on a couple of times just how it should - no problems. Today it's gone wrong again and won't fire. Grhhh!! Having been perfectly reliable for 7 years it is now playing up and costing money. It's a pretty simple basic boiler with very little that can actually go wrong with it but it seems as though everything is going wrong at the moment.

Am I the only one who gets really rattled by such things happening? I find it just very uncomfortable and unsettling. I don't even like people coming for routine servicing and it feels as though they are invading my personal space. Next Tuesday the alarm is having its routine service and I shall go out because I need to go into Boston anyway to start doing Christmas shopping so that will be a good excuse. Let's hope by then we've got the boiler sorted as well though I know Boilerman is very busy at the moment.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Another Bibliomemoir


Having read Susan Hill's Howard's End is on the Landing it seemed only fair to read Rick Gekoski's Outside of a Dog. The author is an American who has spent much of his adult life in England. He studied for his Doctorate at Oxford and went on to lecture at Warwick in English literature. The book is about the books he read and how they affected him. It is also about his marriage to Barbara - which ended after 30 years - and his two children Anna and Bertie. He worries he introduced Anna to the wrong books when as an adult she writes a book about serial killers.

He is unblushingly honest about his faults and failings. He tries writing a novel and fails dismally and admits he never has anything original to say. He leaves his secure job at Warwick to build up his rare book business and sets out to read himself back to normality by reading thrillers. University life has turned him into someone he does not like or recognise.

As a rare book dealer he meets many famous people - Kim Philby's widow in Moscow and Graham Green in Antibes and makes a better living than he did as a university lecturer. He writes a book about football which he thoroughly enjoys doing and is thrilled when it is published, though he spends years failing to write a book about D H Lawrence.

I enjoyed the book and loved the author's style of writing and I was left wondering why I have never come across him before. I recommend it to anyone who loves books and reading.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

1930s Crime Story


I've read David Roberts' Edward Corinth and Verity Browne stories before but I was less than impressed with one published a couple of years ago called Something Wicked. At that point I seriously considered not reading any more, but as I'd enjoyed all the rest I thought I'd give the series another go and read No More Dying. It was enjoyable.

Edward and Verity are engaged - in spite of the fact that Edward is the son of a Duke and she is a member of the Communist Party. It is 1939 and war is imminent. Joseph Kennedy is the American Ambassador in London and both Edward and Verity need to speak to him. Edward because he's working for MI5 and trying to thwart an apparent plot to assassinate Winston Churchill which might have originated at the Embassy; and Verity because her Communist Party boss, David Griffith-Jones wants her to get to know Kennedy and because her newspaper boss wants her to interview him. Both Edward and Verity end up as guests at the Astors' home at Cliveden - where the trouble begins.

This book flows much better and the dialogue is more believable than Something Wicked and Verity's crisis of conscience over the Communist Party is well done. I really enjoyed this one. I have its successor - Sweet Sorrow - to read now and I'm enjoying that one as well.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Heresy


I finished S J Parris's Heresy last night and I think it was worth reading. As mentioned before Giordano Bruno is an excommunicated monk now working for Elizabeth I's spymaster Walsingham in England. He is sent to Oxford University to try and find out how many Catholics there are at Lincoln College. He has reasons of his own for going there as he wants to track down a book he is particularly interested in.

Shortly after he arrives there is an attack on one of the masters by a large dog as a result the man dies - before he can tell Bruno something he particularly wanted him to know. Bruno himself is suspicious of various people and feels he is being watched and his room searched - added to which he is attracted to the Rector's clever daughter - Sophia. There follows a series of murders and Bruno encounters a sinister book seller who may be able to help him in his search. This is a fast paced story with some interesting characters and the author brings 16th century Oxford vividly to life. This is an author and a series to watch.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Telling Tales


Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes by Melissa Katsoulis is really good. It looks like a fake Penguin paperback of the old orange and cream design.
There are famous and not so well known hoaxes starting with Chatterton's poetry and William Henry Ireland's Shakespeare papers. Many of those quoted are American and the author points out there also seem to be a disproportionate number of literary hoaxes from Australia.
A hoax which intrigued me was a recent one and I remember reading about it at the time. It involved Bevis Hillier and A N Wilson. Both authors wrote biographies of John Betjeman with Bevis Hillier weighing in with a prestigious 3 volume job and A N Wilson penning something rather more lightweight. Hillier was peeved to hear his long time enemy Wilson was writing a biography of Betjeman and he sent him a faked letter supposedly from Betjeman to a lover. Wilson did not check its authenticity and published it in his own book. The first letter of each sentence of this epistle spelled out 'A N Wilson is a shit'. Wilson seems to have put a brave face on it - at least in public - and simply had the passage removed from later editions of the books.
Amongst other hoaxes which caught my attention was one perpetrated by a late night DJ on an American radio station. He and his listeners invented a book called I Libertine - supposedly by a chap called F R Ewing. They all went into book shops asking for the book until eventually they created such a buzz that people not in on the hoax were claiming to have the read the book and met the author. The DJ decided he'd have to come clean about it when it turned up on a church's list of banned books. The book was eventually written at the behest of a publisher and sold well with the royalties going to charity.
This is a fascinating book with many hoaxes I hadn't heard of before. It raises some interesting questions about the dividing line between fact and fiction and about how people react when they're taken in by a hoax. I love it and would recommend it to anyone interested in literature or indeed in human nature. It is written with a wry humour which fits the subject well.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Storm in a teacup

I'm half listening to a recording of the infamous Question Time with Nick Griffin. What a load of rubbish. Whatever you think of the BNP and its policies they are a legal political party and he should at some point have appeared on such a programme. The problem as far as I can see is that no one can set aside their emotions and debate the issues in any sort of analytical fashion. We need free speech - even if we don't agree with what is said.

I think the BNP have probably crystallised some of the things that many people were thinking but maybe they've not done it in the right way. I know from my own reactions to some of the views put forward by the BNP that there is a lot more going on under the surface of the whole argument. Some rather unpleasant archetypes are being given a lot of exercise in the public sphere at the moment.

I do think it's very interesting that the main political parties are angry about the whole thing. Why? Don't they like free speech? Or is it all right provided people are saying things which confirm their own beliefs?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hamish Macbeth

Even though I read M C Beaton's Agatha Raisin books I'd never bothered with the author's other series - Hamish Macbeth. Having just read A Highland Christmas and really enjoyed it I can't see why I've never read any before.

Hamish is a village policeman in the north of Scotland. He's a bit fed up because everyone seems to be going away for the holiday and he is left at home working. There isn't even any decent crime to investigate - just a missing cat and some stolen Christmas lights. But he soon cheers up when he realises Mrs Gallagher - whose cat has gone missing - is frightened of something or someone. This is a problem worthy of his skills.

I loved the characters and the way Hamish himself sets about solving the crimes. This is excellent light reading with enough of a mystery to keep you guessing until the end. I shall certainly be looking out for more of this series.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Books books and more books

Are books and reading addictive? I'm sure they are. The only time in my life when I didn't read very much was the 4 years from 1996 to 2000 when I used to spend a lot of time doing cross stitch instead - but even then I used to read embroidery magazines, use the Internet and read the occasional book. Since 2000 I've gone back to reading - helped by the fact that for 5 years I was working away from home and had a great deal of time to read in hotels in the evenings.

Now I have even more time to read which I am really enjoying. I've never understood why some people think it's sad to read and you really should get out more. I think that's something people have said to me from when I first learnt to read! I always used to take out the maximum number of books from the library even as a child. When I was about 11 or 12 we lived about 5 minutes walk from the library and in school holidays I used to walk there nearly every day to get out my maximum of two books.

Then when I was in my late teens I can remember reading my way through the whole of Agatha Christie one summer holiday. I would call in at the library when it opened and then spend the day on the beach at the north end of Lowestoft among the sand dunes. Bliss!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Gloomy day today

I'm not gloomy but the weather definitely is - wet and dull. At least the lawn looks better and not so brown. I feel a long winter coming on. The good side is I can curl up with a good book - or several.

Maybe more later - there seems nothing much to say today.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The advantage of posting reviews on Amazon . . .

. . . is that you sometimes receive e-mails from publishers and authors saying would you like some books to review. As I did today. The person who e-mailed me had gone through my wish list as well and fortunately several of that publisher's books were on it. So a good reason for maintaining a wish list as well.

I did turn down an offer a week or so ago because the book offered just didn't look like my sort of thing but generally what I have been offered so far fits my tastes. It's beginning to look as though my writing in future is going to consist of book reviews but as I enjoy doing them and I enjoy reading the books this is no hardship.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Currently reading . . .

John Mortimer's Rumpole Rests His Case. I think this was originally intended to be the last ever Rumpole book as he has a heart attack in the last story. John Mortimer did say after Leo McKern died he would not write any more because he could not envisage another actor playing Horace Rumpole. He was of course persuaded to write Rumpole and the Primrose Path, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders and The Anti-Social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole. Then Penguin have just published a collection of the Rumpole stories written at various times for magazines and newspapers - which I'm pleased about as I haven't read any of them before so I'm saving it for Christmas.

I've gone back to Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots which is fascinating though difficult to read because it is over 700 pages and a very heavy paperback - not ideal for reading in bed.

I've just started reading Justin Pollard's Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits of our History - which features a section on the exploits of Arthur Ransome in Russia! I've also started a book called Heresy by S J Parris which features Giordano Bruno as a detective working for Francis Walsingham to unravel some grisly murders in Elizabethan Oxford while is searching for a copy of the works of Hermes Trismegistus. I've read about 50 pages and it looks good so far.

A pretty eclectic selection I think!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Arthur Ransome and Safari exploits

I have finally ploughed my way through to the end of The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers. I did find it interesting - even though I haven't read Swallows and Amazons. A large part of the book is Ransome's exploits in Bolshevik Russia which I found excessively confusing. He eventually married - as his second wife - Trotsky's former secretary. He also worked - officially and unofficially - for the British Secret Service. The big question is did he also work for Russia? The book leaves the reader to make up their own mind. There was very little about his successful later years following the publication of Swallows and Amazons and its successors. It was an interesting book - though heavy going at times.

I've also just finished Don't Look Behind You: True Tales of a Safari Guide by Peter Allison. The author's love of Africa shines throughout this book as well as his love of the animals. There are some hair raising incidents with the author getting on the wrong side of elephants lions and tigers but there are also some sad incidents where the author and his colleagues cannot intervene when animals are in danger. The book is almost as good as going on safari.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Arthur Ransome

I'm still ploughing through a biography of Arthur Ransome and finding it a little heavy going as the greater part of it is a history of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917. Apparently Ransome was suspected of being a Bolshevik spy though he seems to have spent a lot of time spying for Great Britain on an unofficial basis. For some reason the powers that be in Russia seemed to trust him even though he was English and a journalist for the Daily News at the time. Very cloak and dagger. I will finish it but I really should go back and read all the complicated toings and froings but as I'm not really sufficiently interested I don't think I shall be doing so.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Hated words

I've only heard my current least favourite from a few people and recently found out it is used by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear . Which said it all really. The hated word/expression is T'Interweb - sometimes also heard as T'Internet. What's wrong with calling it the Internet or the Web - either of those say what is. It makes my skin crawl - though I don't know why. My last manager at work used it all the time - first time he used it I had to ask for a translation! I heard it again recently and was reminded how I used to flinch every time it was used. I'm not usually a pedant as far as language is concerned and other popular expressions only annoy me because they're used all the time - e.g. singing from the same hymn sheet; it's not rocket science; across the piece; at the end of the day; by close of play. . . . But this particular one really gets to me.