Books, life the universe

Friday, 31 July 2009

Why blame the weather men? and Volcanoes

I just cannot see the point of it. They seem to get it about right round here though they did forecast some rain today and it hasn't materialised yet. However the night is still young. It isn't an exact science and I can't imagine it's likely to be in the near future.

Being interested in volcanoes I was intrigued to see the volcano which replaced Krakatoa when it blew itself to bits in 1883 is active again and looks like following in father's footsteps. Let's hope there is no loss of life this time. Some extremely strange people are saying it's mankind's fault and this is down to global warming. So presumably man made global warming was alive and well and living near Java in 1883? Sometimes comments on newspaper stories are just as interesting as the article itself.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Tracing Uncle George

I now have birth and death certificates for Uncle George - full name George James Pepper Slator. The Slator is his surname and Pepper is his mother's maiden name and probably his paternal grandfather's surname as well. He was born in Crowland, Lincolnshire on 4th March 1918 and died on 19th June 1926 at home in Dunston - a small village not far from Lincoln - of chronic gastritis and Myocarditis heart failure. There was no post mortem and death was certified by the GP - so presumably it was expected. So all this time I've been cheerfully telling doctors that there has been no one in my immediate family with heart problems under the age of 40 I've actually been wrong!

I would assume though that perhaps he'd been suffering from either or both of those conditions for some time as my father implied he'd always been in poor health. He could perhaps have been Downs Syndrome as I think they often have heart and digestive problems - which could account for why my father was never keen to talk about him. At least I know a bit more about an uncle who was born and died before I was born. Fascinating.

Now I want to try and find out who my great great grandfather's second wife was and what happened to my great grandmother after 1891.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The gender pay gap

I'm not sure we should be surprised by the 'shock' announcement today that women earn over 20% less than men. We're not talking equal - or unequal - pay for equal work but the simple fact women do lower paid jobs than men. When I was working only 35% of my grade were women. If you went to the next grade up only 20% were women. But if you looked at lower grades a large majority were women.

Is this caused by lack of family friendly policies? In my particular employer - no very definitely not so. There was part time working, term time working, annual hours working and flexi time not to speak of paid time off for domestic emergencies and maternity leave as well as a raft of opportunities for unpaid leave and career breaks. We did not have a long hours culture either.

So why do women not earn as much as men? In my work women gravitated to certain areas of the organisation - customer service, welfare, HR etc. What were seen as the macho jobs - like the one I had just before I retired went to men in the main. But the macho jobs attract higher grades and consequently more money. By the time I retired I was working in a virtually all male environment and the culture is different. Women are seen as far less likely to be willing and able to do the job. But much of this is a false perception put about consciously or unconsciously by the men doing the job.

The work I did was seen as being results focused with an emphasis on confrontation which put off many women from even thinking about it as a career choice. In actual fact I got excellent results and without any unpleasant confrontations so the job does not have to be done in the same old way. I suspect in many organisations the same perceptions apply to the better paid jobs and as a result women don't apply for them and if they do they seem to be invisible because no one can picture them doing the job.

All the employment tribunals which involve high powered and apparently capable,
confident women complaining about the prevailing laddish culture and the endemic bullying really speaks for itself. If there is only one woman in a male environment there are always going to be these problems - until the culture changes because more women get these jobs which have always gone exclusively to men.

I am more than capable of standing up for myself in most circumstances and I'm not averse to making a scene if that's what it takes but I found the masculine ambiance at work a shade daunting. I was on good terms with all my colleagues but I found the lack of another woman to talk to on a regular basis made me feel isolated at times and I suspect many women in similar situations feel the same - or imagine they would feel the same - which is why they don't consider such jobs.

Just a few thoughts.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


I came across, by accident, a little book by Joan Smith called Misogynies: Reflections on Myths and Malice. Well worth reading even though it was published in the mid 90s as it is still relevant today. I'm about half way through it at the moment. Once chapter is a deconstruction of Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent - which I haven't read; and another is about the film Jagged Edge - which I have seen. Both chapters suggest there is an underlying misogyny in both works which is taken for granted by both readers and cinema audiences alike.

But what horrified me most was the description of a court case in which a man killed his wife's lover. He only got three years for manslaughter as he'd been provoked into doing it and was only trying to resume his rightful control of his wife. There is one sentence spoken by the man when questioned about his wife being 'allowed' to go out to work, he said he'd thought it best for her to use 'her bright little mind'. How bloody patronising can you get? The case was in the late 80s not, as you might have expected, in the nineteenth century.

Browsing the Internet as I do I've found there seems to be a growing backlash against women which seems to encompass a sheer virulent hatred of all women. You've only got to read almost any news story which involves women to see the comments made against the sex. You get all the old prejudices coming out such as women should stay at home and look after their kids and stop taking jobs away from the men; education has been feminised so that's why boys don't do well at school; women are always devious and untrustworthy and they only want men for their money. If these comments were only appearing on 'tabloid' newspaper web sites I wouldn't be too concerned but they seem to be appearing on the broadsheets as well. A very worrying trend.

I found a recent story about women not putting enough money into pensions brought out the worst in so many men. There were comments such as: women marry and divorce and get their money that way so they don't need to bother about pensions; women expect to be supported by men; women don't deserve pensions; women are always spending money so they don't have any to put into pensions etc etc.

Something I read recently suggested that misandry - hatred of men by women - doesn't have the same support and never has had. Men irritate and annoy women but in the main women seem more able to say well I don't like that man but it's because of the sort of person he is rather than because he's a man.

Interesting times.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

All quiet on the domestic front

The boiler is fixed now - fingers crossed - it was just an issue of timing as it wasn't firing up quick enough after the fan comes on. Naturally we both keep listening to make sure it's all right but that will wear off in a couple of days.

For some reason I was thinking this morning about a particularly useless comment a manager once put on my annual report - 'Jill should learn to see herself as others see her.' There wasn't anything to qualify this statement or any particular incident highlighted and when I challenged it I was told that if I didn't know then no one could tell me. Right so you're saying I have faults but you're not prepared to tell me what they are so that I can put them right? Well yes. In which case it's a good thing I've been moved onto another job then isn't it?

If I could see myself as others see me I'd be probably the only person in the world who can. You can usually see what effect your words and actions have on other people but to perceive yourself completely from everyone else's point of view is virtually impossible. I was always being told in my last but one job that I was too unselfish and always went out of the way to help colleagues to the detriment of my own interests at times. Not sure that's how I see myself and certainly I'm regarded as slightly selfish at home - which I don't accept because the comment is usually made when I won't immediately do what I've been asked to do!! Bit like a man's definition of a lesbian being anyone who won't go to bed with him! The truth as ever is somewhere in the middle probably.

I prefer to remember that not all criticism is valid and you accept it or not as you choose.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Books and Amazon

I have mentioned before that I get free books from Amazon as part of what is known as the Vine Programme. Every third Thursday in the month Vine Voices are sent a newsletter from which they can choose two items. This is targetted to their previous purchases and selected from the items which manufacturers and publishers allow them to have free. I buy and review more fiction than non-fiction and I hardly ever buy software or electronic gadgets from Amazon so I'm mainly offered fiction. Which suits me as free books are not to be sneezed at.

The fourth Thursday in the month we get another newsletter which contains everything left - could be books, DVDs, computer bits, software, domestic gadgets, hairdryers etc. We can choose another two items from that one as well - though sometimes they make it four instead of two. The more desirable items tend to disappear first and it's very much the luck of the draw at 8.00pm who gets what. Personally I will only pick items I'm interested in and will use or read - others seems to look just at the value.

You have to review 75% of the items you've chosen before you can pick any more - which is fair enough. There is no compulsion to review favourably so you can say what you think and the majority take a pride in their reviews and spend a fair amount of time composing them. You're not allowed to sell items you receive or to give them away so in the end you could run out of space!

Recently Vine has started to receive some bad publicity - almost certainly from people who haven't been invited to join. Such people are saying Vine Voices always give 5 star reviews and that it's all a con to foist rubbish on unsuspecting customers. But there are also people who are Vine Voices complaining they don't get offered high value items and others do. To me this is typical of society today. People want everything to be 'fair'. Why? Life isn't fair - get over it.

I usually write very calm and considered posts on the Amazon Vine forums but I've got annoyed and suggested to the whingers that if they don't like it - leave. No one is holding a gun to their head. Vine is how it is. The only people who can change it are Amazon and I don't think they should listen to the moaners - who actually seem to be in a minority anyway. As it is they're spoiling it for the rest of us. I like Vine because it means I get a chance to try new books that I might not otherwise come across. With publishers such as Granta, Faber and Bloomsbury participating it can only be a good thing for everyone.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Now the boiler is playing up . . .

Having had the boiler serviced the other day it is now cutting out every few hours. I am plagued with domestic machines going wrong! Boiler man is coming out tomorrow to fix it. As we only need it for hot water at present and there is an electric back up with our large box of tricks in the 'airing cupboard' also known as a Boilermate, it's not really a problem but it needs fixing.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Why are simple things complicated?

I am pleased with the new dishwasher as it seems to do what it says on the label - i.e. it washes dishes. What I find difficult to accept is that it comes with a diagram of how to load it. Why? If the slots in the racks are further apart you put dishes between them, if they're closer together then it's plates. When you've got lots to fit in then everything goes in wherever it seems to fit best.

I got told off this morning because I hadn't put the tea spoons in the area of the cutlery basket designed for them. Not being at my best in the morning I was a little snappy - along the lines of does it matter? Isn't life too short?

Now I've been asked to buy a dishwasher cleaner because you may think your dishwasher is clean but is it really clean? Well surely it would be just as good to put it on the hottest wash every so often with nothing in it to wash? No you could have limescale and sludge in it. Isn't that why you put salt in it? At nearly £4 a time I think the cost is excessive and it would be a lot cheaper to do what I do with the washing machine every few weeks - hottest wash and no clothes in it.

This is on a par with the annoying adverts which start you wondering about whether bleach actually gets stains out or just changes their colour. Well actually I thought that was what bleach was all about - changing the colour of something. On a similar theme I use old fashioned washing soda and boiling water down the sink occasionally to stop smells. I'm always being told I should buy expensive sink cleaner because washing soda is no good. No, washing soda is cheap, does the job and has many uses - drain cleaner is expensive and has only one use. I love things which have lots of uses and I'm not a great fan of adverts.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

One domestic appliance that is all right and family history

We had our central heating boiler serviced today and I'm glad to say it was given a clean bill of health. The man who does it has just recovered from swine flu. He said that for him it was much like ordinary flu with a few more hallucinations. He says there are quite a few cases in Lincolnshire judging by the queue when his wife went to the hospital to pick up his Tamiflu. He's the first person I've come across who's had it.

I received the birth certificate for my uncle - who I never knew - today. He was born in March 1918. The GRO seem to think I gave them the wrong reference for the death so I am going to have to look at that again. It seemed very odd after being curious about this person all my life to actually see proof of his birth and it definitely is the right person.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Brontes went to Woolworths

The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson is one of those unclassifiable books which fills a niche on its own. It is published by the Bloomsbury Group who are re-publishing long out of print early twentieth century classic - much in the same manner as Faber Finds I suppose.

The story at first seems a little hard to credit but as you get into the book it wraps its tentacles around you. The three Carne sisters live in London with their mother and a governess between the wars. Deirdre is a journalist, Katrine is a trainee actress and Sheil (think Isle of Skye not diminutive of Sheila) still studying with the governess. The three girls and their mother - like the Bronte sisters - make up stories to keep themselves amused. One of their longest running fantasies involves the High Court Judge Sir Herbert Toddington and his wife Lady Mildred.

Deirdre is offered an opportunity to meet lady Mildred at a garden fete and approaches it with mixed feelings. Will reality live up to fantasy? What happens when Lady Mildred gets on so well with Deirdre she invites her home for tea and she meets the judge in person makes a charming whimsical story. It is a real feel good story and I was quite sad to turn the last page.

Other reviewers have commented on the snobbery inherent in the book but in my opinion this does not detract from the story as it simply reflects society as it was then. I would put it in the same category as John Hadfield's Love on a Branch Line, E F Benson's Mapp and Lucia series and E M Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady. If you like those you will probably like this. It is a book to curl up with when you are feeling less than cheerful as it reminds you human beings are not all bad.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Words Can describe

Words Can Describe by Abi Grant is about her descent into hell after being attacked and sexually assaulted in the middle of the night by a stranger in her own flat. It makes harrowing reading but it is also lightened by her own wry sense of humour. After despair and addiction and being unable to work, Abi manages to rebuild her life with the help of friends and colleagues. Her attacker is not identified until twelve years after the event and brought to trial.

Abi describes the horror of the trial itself where she feels she is fighting to convince the court she was not a willing participant in the assault. The defence also tried to convince her that it was a coloured man she'd spoken to on the same evening who had attacked her. Abi knew it was definitely a white man and in the end the attacker was convicted by means of forensic and DNA evidence putting him at the scene. The jury verdict was unanimous. Abi was horrified to find he had been in prison for similar attacks and was actually on bail for another offence when he attacked her.

I found the chapter towards the end of the book about other sexual assault trials made me extremely angry because even though the attacker was a stranger some blame had been attributed to the victim . The courts would never suggest a mugging victim should not have behaved in a certain way. I can't imagine the courts would suggest a male victim of rape or sexual assault was partly responsible for the attack against him. It really is about time the defence was prevented from attacking the victim's character and attributing blame to the victim. Juries are not allowed to know about previous convictions or allegations against the defendant so why introduce previous behaviour of the victim?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


As an offshoot of yesterday's post I was reminded of a book by Alison Weir - Britain's Royal Families. It's more of a reference book than a read straight through book as it traces the descendants of all the kings and queens of England, Scotland and Wales. Unfortunately there aren't giant pull out family trees it is just text but it is absolutely fascinating.

I fished it off the shelf one evening to look up what happened to Edward IV's daughters and found I was still reading it two hours later. A book to get lost in - especially among Queen Victoria's descendants.

I've always been interested in family trees and still have from years ago a huge fold out chart of the the main people in the royal family back to 1066 - though it does not contain as much detail as Alison Weir's book. I wasn't interested in these family trees because these people were famous but because they were the only family trees available and it was just the mechanics of the whole thing which interested me.

I can remember back in the 1970s when I was a librarian I used to delight in reading a book I think published by Burke's Peerage that did contain fold out family trees of the aristocracy. I loved that book but I think it cost about £50 and there was no way I could afford my own copy.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Skeletons in the family cupboard

I had vague recollections of my father saying he had a brother who died young so I set about trying to find out yesterday. He would never talk about him apart from saying it was a good thing he died young and he never said whether this brother was older or younger.

I found him - born in 1918 and died in 1926 - so older than my father. I remember being told he died when he was 6 but he actually appears to have died when my father was 6. I shall be obtaining both birth and death certificates as I would like to find out the cause of death.

I replied to a message on the noticeboard from someone who's husband's grandfather was the brother of my great grandmother! She'd only managed to identify 8 children in the family but I've found 12. My great great grandfather married twice and I don't yet know who his second wife was - I'm working on it.

I've also found out that my grandmother - father's mother - appears to have had a younger sister which I don't think I ever knew about. My father's parents did not speak to either side - his or hers - of their family so I'm not sure what went on there and probably won't find out now.

I had a good example of the perils of Census transcription. My great great grandfather was Alfred Slator. I knew he was on the 1891 census as I'd found him on FreeCen. There was no way I could find him on Ancestry until in the end I put in the reference for the address I knew he was living at. Bingo! It had been transcribed on there as Lackford Later and my great grandmother was down as Sarah Anne Later rather than Sarah Jane Slator! I have filed the appropriate corrections.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Pale as the dead

I finished reading Pale as the Dead by Fiona Mountain last night and while it wasn't quite a five star book it was certainly a good four and a half stars. Natasha Blake is a genealogist and Bethany Marshall asks her to research her family history. Before Natasha can find out exactly what Bethany wants her to do, Bethany disappears. She leaves behind a handwritten 19th century diary which Adam - Bethany's boyfriend - passes to Natasha. He asks for her help in finding out where Bethany has gone. Natasha has to find out how the past is influencing the present.

Being interested in tracing ancestors I found the book fascinating as it shows what sort of things Natsha had to do to try and find out about the author of the diary and how she was connected with Bethany. There is a connection with the Pre Raphaelites especially Lizzie Siddal and the scenes in Highgate Cemetery were very atmospheric. I thought the ending was a little too neat and tidy and seemed a little too contrived but apart from that minor complaint the book was a good read.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Kind Hearts and Coronets

There is an interesting article in the Telegraph online today about this classic film and its director Robert Harmer:

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Fiona Mountain

I started reading Pale as the Dead by Fiona Mountain having had it on the to read pile for some time and found myself quite engrossed. I read the same author's Bloodline some months ago and found it good but I think this earlier novel is better.

Natasha Blake the heroine is a genealogist by profession. She is contacted by a mysterious girl called Bethany who then disappears. Her boyfriend, a photographer, contacts Natasha to give her a diary left behind by Bethany and to ask her to see if she can find the girl. The diary was written by someone apparently close to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

These seem to be the only two books in a projected series featuring Natasha which have been published so far as Fiona Mountain's other books are historical novels. I hope she is going to write more of these genealogy based mysteries as they make excellent reading.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Ox Tales

Oxfam have recently launched a series of four little books of short stories by well known authors. Earth, Air, Fire and Water are the themes for each book and the books are called Ox Tales. They are about 200 pages each and contain stories by some of the best known names in fiction today. I've read the first volume - Earth - and found it well worth reading. If I was still travelling to and from work by bus they would be ideal books for the journey.

Earth contains stories from Rose Tremain, Ian Rankin, Kate Atkinson and Nicholas Shakespeare, amongst others and a poem by Vikram Seth. All the stories are of a high standard and I found the book useful as an introduction to authors I hadn't read before such as Jonathan Coe and Marina Lewycka. I can see I shall have a list of new authors to try when I've finished all four volumes.

If you like short stories - try these - you won't be disappointed

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Many Conditions of Love

Not the title of a philosophical post but the title of a book by Farahad Zama. The Many Conditions of Love is the second in the series which started with The Marriage Bureau for Rich People. It is just as good as the first one and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are the usual issues of arranged marriages and marrying outside one's caste and religion as well as the treatment of widows in Indian society.

This story features Mr Ali's son Rehman, who falls in love with a glamorous journalist - Usha. But Rehman is Muslim and Usha is Hindu and her parents are less than impressed when they hear about the relationship. There is also the ongoing story of how Aruna is getting on with her rich husband Ram's family. Aruna is still Mr Ali's right hand woman at the marriage bureau even though she has no need to work. Her life is about to change with the advent of her unpleasant sister-in-law Mani into the household while she awaits the birth of her second child.

Life in India is vividly portrayed and I could almost smell the food and experience the heat and the monsoon rains while reading the book. I loved the author's understanding of human nature displayed in the story and the gentle humour. There are happy events and sad ones and the book does not have a neat and tidy ending where all the loose ends are tied up. I look forward to the next one in the series.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Washing machine is fixed!

The man from planet Zanussi turned up this morning at 9.30am and the machine was repaired and working in 30 mins - well I'm saying that when it hasn't finished its first drying cycle! I'm confident he's done it if only because he knew exactly what it was and had the part with him though it looks from the paperwork he left that he had every conceivable part with him just in case. All this for the sum of £72.00 0f which £56 was the call out charge. So why couldn't the insurance company have organised this instead of someone who had to check everything and then still wasn't sure - and what's more I still haven't heard from them about when it would have been repaired.

I have phoned them this morning and asked for my money back and they offered me about 25% so I've written and pointed out that their service is less than perfect and that the extra warranty is incorrect as EU law states manufacturers have to provide 2 year warranties not the one shown on the agreement. So according to EU law the extra warranty should only have come into effect 18 months ago and not the 2.5 years ago that they say.

In future I shall not be taking out extra warranties as I'm beginning to think they're not worth the paper they're written on. We're still waiting for someone to tell us when they'll replace the door catch on the dishwasher under manufacturer's warranty - good thing we did it ourselves! This business of sending out people who are not trained on particular makes of machine is not satisfactory. I think they're trying to do it cheaper and probably hoping 80% of cases will be repaired immediately and won't need spare parts. They offered me some money back suspiciously quickly.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Good book

The Day I Died by Polly Courtney is something a bit different. The heroine regains consciousness after a bomb in a London nightclub. She remembers nothing about her life up to that point not even her name. But she feels an overwhelming urge to escape. She decides to call herself by the name of a person whose wallet she finds beside her though she doesn't believe it is her name.

'Jo' gets on a bus and ends up near Oxford where she manages to get a job and find somewhere to live. She still can't remember who she is or anything about her previous life. Her only clue is Saskia Dawson the name written on her hand. Jo has several problems to overcome and she starts to wonder whether she actually likes her previous persona from what little she can remember. She has a drink problem, knows she has used illegal drugs and is worried about something she may have been involved in. Gradually memories start coming back to her.

The book is well written and the plot is fast paced and intriguing. Even though the heroine is not terribly likeable at times I still found I wanted to know what happened to her. The other characters are interesting as well - Pearl - her landlady; Saskia - the stripper; Matt - who helps Jo get another job. I enjoyed it and I shall be watching out for other books by this author.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

A little bit cooler today

I am ever the optimist! We did have a short sharp shower of rain yesterday but considering it was supposed to be thundery showers all day I feel a little short changed. I walked to the doctors yesterday to pick up prescriptions and the sky could only be described as lowering but it didn't rain. I felt as though I wouldn't care if it did rain on me while I was out!

Today does feel a little fresher but there's virtually no wind and brilliant sunshine so I suspect it'll be hot again. I did manage to strip beds this morning without dissolving on the floor in a little pool.

I don't really understand all the 'good advice' the Government keeps issuing about this 'heatwave'. Most is so obvious - keep out of the sun, drink plenty, use sunscreen, wear loose clothing. How old do they think we are? I really hate the Nanny State. Do this, don't do that, eat this, don't eat that, fat people need to get thin, thin people need to put on weight. Why not give us rations and dress us like the Chinese under Chairman Mao? For the powers that be reading this I AM being sarcastic and if you try it I'll be the first to rebel!!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Playing with Bones

Kate Ellis's Playing with Bones is a crime story with supernatural overtones and very well done it is too. DI Joe Plantagenet is missing his girlfriend Maddy who has gone to London for a job interview. Then he gets a phone call to say a young girl's body has been found in Eborby (York) and he is suddenly too busy to worry about his private life. The victim has been strangled, one of her big toes removed and there is a Victorian doll with a similar injury by her side. The alley in which she is found is known as Singmass Close and it has an atmosphere all its own.

Gradually it emerges that there was a series of similar murders 50 years ago in the same place for which the killer was never identified. Has the same killer struck again? Or is someone copying his methods? Joe and his boss Emily have plenty of problems to solve with two more teenaged girls missing and an escaped prisoner on the run who may or may not be connected with the latest murder.

This fast moving plot will keep you guessing until the end. I loved it and finished it in less than 48 hours. I recommend it.