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Friday December 31, 2021

Books in December

  • High Island Blues by Ann Cleeves [Read by Seán Barrett]
    BOM-HighIslandBlues.jpg This is the last of the Palmer-Jones series, written in 1996. The plot is excellent, starting with an investigation into a possible fraud, which is then disrupted by an old friend needing help in the US as he has become the prime suspect in a homicide. George and Molly's relationship is realistically observed as they pursue their enquiries from opposite sides of the Atlantic - a certain tightness in communications, but with the mellow tolerance of an older couple. As often with Ann Cleeves, I found all the details about the birdwatchers most engaging. Their particular foibles are very familiar territory, as well as the more general aggravations you endure (and contribute to!) when being on holiday with a "Group". Not that any groups I have travelled with have been driven to start murdering each other - but for all I know it may have been close.

  • The Dead of Winter by S.J. Parris [read by Daniel Philpott]
    BOM-TheDeadOfWinter.jpg A perfect set of three short stories to complement the Giordano Bruno books. The author has taken us back to Bruno's early life as a novice monk in Naples. She has crafted the stories very cleverly, and completely convincingly brings out the character of Bruno in his youth. [I have noticed that other authors who have tried to do this - giving their ever ageing historical characters further adventures set at an earlier time - are not quite so adept at creating the younger man].
    In his later life, Bruno is very worldly wise - with the exception of his understanding of women, who always seem to be his Achilles heel, and which is firmly reinforced here. It's made very clear that his "elders and betters" approach him rather like an errant schoolboy, giving him as much leeway as they can while trying to guide him wisely to cope with the complex political machinations of Italy at the time. Needless to say he is oblivious to their tolerance, and indeed, acting much like an errant schoolboy. He always seems to believe that he will be able to persuade some influential (and rich) figure to sponsor his ground-breaking academic research and writings, when it is pretty clear that anyone achieving power and influence at that time cannot afford to see him as anything but a heretic. Sadly that seems to be wholly true of the real character on which the author bases her stories, right through to the end of his life.
    The three stories work well read together in sequence, and can be enjoyed whether or not you have read any of Bruno novels previously. If you like historical fiction, you will love these stories.

  • Moonflower Murdersby Anthony Horowitz [Read by Lesley Manville and Allan Corduner]
    BOM-MoonflowerMurders.jpg I can't believe I waited so long to listen to the follow-up to the Magpie Murders - maybe I've been "keeping it behind my ear for a rainy day" to nicely mix my metaphors. Following the pattern set in the first book, we have another "book within a book" - where the clue to the current mystery resides in an old (fictional) Detective Atticus Pund novel. Hence the two narrators who delineate the "real" story from the "fiction".
    Needless to say I really enjoyed it - Lesley Manville is a terrific reader and actress, even though I'm not sure this suited her to a T quite as much as The Thursday Murder Club. However, now I discover that we are to be treated to a new TV production of Magpie Murders, starring none other than: Leslie Manville - which is bound to be terrific (she always is); sadly for me though, at the moment only on Britbox..
    [I feel I might have slightly missed out on an underlying joke (in this as well as Magpie Murders) owing to my my limited perception of writing styles; Anthony Horowitz is a very clever and dedicated writer, and I feel sure he must have created a satirical style for his fictional author, Alan Conway. However, I can state with conviction that it's a great and fun book to read even if this part of the humour passes you by.]

  • A Capitol Death, The Grove of the Caesars, and A Comedy of Terrors by Lindsey Davis

    Set against the background of Domitian celebrating his victories in Dacia, [fairly accurately depicted as blatant propaganda], Flavia looks into what appeared to be a suicide, until a witness came forward suggesting otherwise. Her husband should be investigating, but as an aedile he is bogged down with organising elements of the Triumph, about which everyone involved is deeply cynical. The couple's household is expanded by the addition of a new steward, and a "country girl" - with an abiding interest in elaborate hairstyles - who is determined to brook no opposition to a (non-existent) position as Flavia's maid. Although entertaining, I enjoyed the second book better.
    Here, Manlius is again absent due to a bereavement. Flavia is left to mind the shop - that being her husband's building firm - and is witness to the discovery of a body while her team are clearing a site in Caesar's gardens. It soon becomes clear that this is not the first such event, but most of the disappearances over a period of years it seems, were ignored by the Vigiles as they were deemed to be prostitutes or vagrants of no importance. Flavia takes a different view and is soon in danger of being next on the list. This uncovering of a serial killer in the ancient world is told in the author's usual contemporary style, and, rather sadly, is highly reminiscent of a specific recent case, recently reviewed in the media, where investigations were less than thorough due to assumptions about the status of the victims. There was also a sub-plot about faking antique documents, which was passingly amusing but where the author seemed to be metaphorically winking at the reader with literary in jokes that somewhat passed me by.
    Finally: Saturnalia - my favourite time of year. Lots of fun projected in a very contemporary manner, with domestic scenes we can all recognise. It's lots of fun, but this one could never complete with my absolute favourite "Saturnalia read by Christian Rodska.

    BOM-ACapitolDeath.jpg BOM-TheGroveOfTheCaesars.jpg BOM-AComedyOfTerrors.jpg


Posted on December 31, 2021 at 6:25 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Wednesday December 29, 2021

Christmas Jigsaw

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This year's jigsaw was a Christmas present - and now our guests are gone, we can take over the dining table. Smaller than last year but still some challenging areas.

Posted on December 29, 2021 at 6:24 PM. Category: Staying at Home. | Comments (0)

Monday December 27, 2021

Festivities

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Actually we were far from "staying at home" over the holiday, as we joined our siblings (separate groups of four...) for festive meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My present high points were the the most delightful vintage Picquot Ware tea service from George's sister - now lovingly displayed on my vintage mid-century sideboard - and a "Poundland" Christmas Gonk from my sister (to replace the one I lost at Butlins in 1966).

With these turkey dinners safely behind us, we cooked a joint of beef for the ceremonial handing over of the now famously preannounced MinMe Reindeer Cardigan (plus pixie hat).

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Posted on December 27, 2021 at 7:31 PM. Category: Staying at Home. | Comments (0)

Tuesday December 21, 2021

Exchange of presents at the Hogsmill

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We took the precaution of meeting outside - once again at the Ewell pond hoping to see the kingfisher - and as before, at the end of our walk up and down the river, we found her fishing from her favourite branches. I say "her" as Rob has now confirmed the field marks for the female. It's such a lovely sight on a mild December day.

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Posted on December 21, 2021 at 2:55 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Monday December 20, 2021

Reindeer Cardigans

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I saw this pattern and could not resist it.
No, I don't want to actually make it - The Man already has a cardigan lovingly created by yours truly some years ago. No, that's not the reason.... it's because it matches the child's version that I posted as POM for November in 2012.
Described as a "Western Frontier Jacket in Big Ben" it appears to be the absolute identical pattern - word for word - just knitted in thicker wool. Needless to say I shall be posting it alongside the child's version in the near future.

And on the subject of reindeer cardigans, I have made a mini-me version of the one I made in 2011 - so grandfather and granddaughter can be twinnies over Christmas. I transposed the background pattern from the Martin Storey adult's pattern on to a "Scandinavian" cardigan from a vintage Vogue "Knitting on the Go" book Toddler Knits. The cardigan is too small to work the reindeer from Martin's pattern, so I returned to "Chart B" from the child's version of the vintage P&B pattern (referenced above), knitting a blank panel on the fronts, on to which I could swiss-darn embroider the little reindeer.

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To "cap" it all (pun fully intended) I made a girl's hat from a vintage "silver" P&B booklet in the same colours. Whether said girl will tolerate wearing it is another matter.... but it is fun.

Posted on December 20, 2021 at 12:56 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet. | Comments (0)

Thursday December 16, 2021

A little supplement

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I've acquired a tiny vintage Stitchcraft Gift Book - originally given free with the monthly magazine for November 1953. Obviously these booklets were very easily cast adrift from their mother craft so I have never seen it before, but it's in amazingly good condition.
The thing that impresses me most is how many items are included in this teeny tiny booklet. So much so that it's something of an eye test to make use of the patterns without a strong magnifying glass (assuming you wanted to), given the diminutive 6 x 4¾ inch page size, and the really small fonts needed to pack in all that variety.
Despite all its charm, needless to say, today's sophisticated consumer would probably not be entirely thrilled to receive these items as "gifts" for the up coming Christmas season.
But I am tempted...

... for Baby
... and Little Sister
... for Big Sister
... presents for the home.
Lots of pretty things to sew and knit... ... for Mothers and Aunts.
Practical Knitting ... for the Men-folk
... for Grannies
... and Cousins.

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StitchcraftGiftBook1953BigSister.jpg

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Posted on December 16, 2021 at 6:41 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet. | Comments (0)

Wednesday December 1, 2021

Hogarth at the Tate

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My second day up to London since ... well, unless you've been living on the moon I guess you know when. Rob is doing an on-line art course so he wants to look at some specific paintings. One is in the National but today we went to Tate Britain to see the Hogarths, and listen to a lecture - both very rewarding. The exhibition is actually entitled "Hogarth and Europe", and his works are shown alongside other - some satirical - European artists of the time, (indeed, some so satirical that the meaning of the painting is now obscure - though the overall sense of fun remains).

Masks off momentarily in order to snatch lunch in the cafe.

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Posted on December 1, 2021 at 6:30 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Tuesday November 30, 2021

Books in November

  • The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley BOM-TheParisApartment.jpg
    A second exciting thriller from Lucy Foley.
    Again she favours the "locked room" idea, with the suspects based around the characters inhabiting an apartment block in Paris (clue's in the name). But... I say "suspects", and yet what exactly are they suspected of? True, there seems to be a lot to be suspicious of, and much disquieting behaviour ... but mostly it's just a sense of fear and anxiety, nicely conveyed through the eyes of Jess, who is (as in The Hunting Party) one of multiple narrators - and she is the one we most readily identify with. Right from the start, we are drawn into the mystery as the relatable Jess is stumbling around Paris, with little ability in the French language, trying to reach her brother's home - only to find, once there, that her brother seems to have taken off. Jess herself has done a moonlight flit from England (Brighton), so with no funds she has no choice but to stay in "The Paris Apartment".
    As each character takes over the narrative, they each reveal their own individual nameless fears. I'm reading that other reviewers find the characters (including Jess) unlikeable - but I think that's pretty well the whole point. Gradually the overall picture of the relationships between the apparently unconnected residents begins to emerge, making it a mystery thriller that is hard to put down.
    There is a wonderful twist at the end - and the end itself, (again at the risk of a spoiler), while not conventionally boy/girl/sunset, nonetheless provides a satisfying conclusion.

  • The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman [Read by Lesley Manville]
    BOM-TheManWhoDiedTwice.jpg Another delightful outing for the old folk. Once again, I loved the book - perfectly read by Lesley Manville. If there is any "but", it's a similar concern that I had after the first one: namely that, if this is to be a lengthy series, it has to evolve to rely more on plot than lovable characters. For me, like many others I feel sure, the characters are all, and the plot much less so. I have no quibble with the design of the plots so far, but it's the characters that melt your heart, (assuming you have one - no offense to my my sister but she simply did not warm to the first book at all, and expressed the view that the plot was too complex to follow - but then I have no doubt she will not read any more in the series notwithstanding the plots).
    My favourite quote?
    "She looks over at Bogdan, sitting there, silent in his sunglasses - like Mr Darcy."

  • The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah [read by Julian Rhind-Tutt] BOM-TheKillingsAtKingfisherHill.jpg
    All the special audiobook treats saved for one month....
    Again - I love Sophie Hannah's extensions to the Poirot catalogue. They are written with such love of the subject, as well as tongue-in-cheek respect. I feel she knows Poirot so well, and through Catchpool (slightly less in awe of his friend than Hastings was) she is able to poke gentle fun at the greatest detective mind of all time. This plot truly is convoluted to say the least, but very much in the Christie style, with a murderess already destined for the gallows waiting to be exonerated by Poirot, and with double bluffs and mistaken identities abounding.
    It was not possible for me to read (listen to) this and not be interested to know more of "Peepers", the board game broadly described in the book. It's not a wholly key part of the plot, but Poirot and Catchpool use their (mock) enthusiasm for the game as a means of inveigling themselves into the victim's household. You can read about it on agathachristie.com, and even take up the challenge to write your own rules and describe how to play. What we know so far is:
    • The rules are complex
    • The minimum game players are two
    • The game has a board, and a number of round discs with eyes on them
    • It is unlikely to be a large board game, as Poirot packed it into his luggage
    • It is not like chess
    • It is not like Monopoly
    What are you waiting for...?

  • Their Little Secret by Mark Billingham [read by Mark Billingham]
    BOM-TheirLittleSecret.jpg In this book Mark takes on the interesting subject of the psychosis known as "folie à deux", told in part from the insane criminals' points of view. Mark has proved to be excellent at writing in this way - notably in my opinion in Rush of Blood and Die of Shame - and this is no exception. Investigated by Thorne with the help of Tanner, and (of course) his old china plate Hendricks. The plot is thrilling with a twist at the end (which I sort of guessed at but not through any shortcoming in the writing).
    I have two quibbles - the first is quite minor. I am occasionally exasperated at Thorne's apparent ignorance about certain topics which I consider to be general knowledge. I know that the concept of "general knowledge" is a bit false - to quote Chris Tarrant in respect of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? "all questions are easy if you know the answer". So I accept that what I consider to be general knowledge about, for example, "art" might be a closed book to a highly focussed North London DI with an abiding interest in country music. However I cannot believe he is totally unfamiliar with the concept of folie à deux given that it has been applied to one of the most notorious cases in the UK in the last half century. Some of Thorne's other areas of ignorance cannot reflect Mark's own, and therefore occasionally it comes across as a bit false.
    My second quibble is completely personal. As I suspected he eventually might, Mark has chosen to ditch Helen, Thorne's most recent love interest. This has lost my respect for the character - and the author to some degree. I think it is hard to write about an essentially flawed (only in so far as we all are) personality in such a tough job and also have him keep a stable home life - in fact it's probably not even realistic - but I wish Mark had risen to the challenge. Instead Thorne is apparently going to remain in his laddish drinking-after-work-followed-by-a-take-away-curry-then-back-to-his-flat, interspersed with unlikely love interests (how old IS he? is he THAT attractive as a proposition?); and sadly, I suspect, all simply because it's too hard to write a happy home life. It's no coincidence that our popular fictional detectives seem to live alone* [even "Lewis" had to lose the wife once he took over the franchise]. Weirdly though, for me (again very personal), the most realistic point of contention was the problem of adjusting to living arrangements south - as opposed to north - of the river. It may seem bizarre but having lived around London I have observed that my friends retain a deep allegiance to one or the other, and I can see it might be one of those apparently trivial things that make a relationship impossible to sustain.
    But I really did like Helen.
    [* A notable exception is Caroline Graham's DI Barnaby, who was probably more realistic in the books than in the TV adaptations, though long-suffering wife, Joyce, was portrayed in a fairly balanced way.].

Posted on November 30, 2021 at 2:39 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Monday November 1, 2021

Dune

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George was also the driving force behind our second cinema visit. Like (in my mind) everyone in the 1970s, we all read the sci fi trilogy sensation "Dune" - which then promptly spawned a 4th volume. [G tells me there are a good few more now and Frank Herbert's son has taken over the "franchise"].
There was a David Lynch film made in the 1980s, which was led to much disappointment and general criticism - but it is now, like some other notorious "flops", (OHMSS), deemed to have be misjudged and unjustifiably maligned. Considering it was said to be "unfilmable" at the time, and without the possibility of CGI, I think it was quite an achievement, staying true to the spirit of the film.
This latest film is excellent, overcoming any slow plot development, and creating great tension and excitement in the assassination attempts, and battle scenes. This is all aided by modern filming techniques, and also by splitting the story over more than one film, which is almost a necessity for such complex plots. In this "part 1", we get only hints at the astonishing way the native Fremen use the giant worms, and in the final scenes, just a glimpse of their ingenuity. [No issues now in visually depicting worms "the size of an airport runway".]
I read that prior to 1984, there was a lot of other film production preparation, with various scripts - one associated with Ridley Scott, which was also due to be split over 2 movies. He dropped the project and went to work on Blade Runner. One can only imagine what might have been, I suppose.

Posted on November 1, 2021 at 10:28 AM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Sunday October 31, 2021

Books in October

  • The Night Fire by Michael Connelly BOM-TheNightFire.jpg

    Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch join forces once again... In fact we have essentially three story lines loosely interwoven - each one featuring his three main protagonists: Bosch, Haller, and Ballard. Along the way he includes a few interesting police anecdotes, which I am sure he has picked up from real-life reminiscences. The latter makes it almost a short-story collection, along the lines of the Frost novels - a technique that served the TV serialisation very well.
    Although some readers did not much appreciate the book, and see it as pointing the way for Bosch's exit, I enjoyed it very much. I can see Connelly might be thinking along these lines, but, although his days as a paid police investigator may be numbered, Bosch is only slightly older than the author himself, so I see no reason why he would not continue as long as Connelly continues to write. All he is showing is that Bosch can be a key player without having to be the "main (wo)man". As far as Bosch's health is concerned, I am sure Connelly is including realistic (if not his own) experiences of what it's like to age.... His days of great physical exertion are over - even to the (realistic again) degree of not being able to tail a suspect reliably for any prolonged length of time.


  • A Step So Grave and The Turning Tideby Catriona McPherson
    BOM-TheTurningTide.jpg BOM-AStepSoGrave.jpg
    We are into 1935 and Dandy has to cope with the prospect of her eldest's forthcoming marriage. The families are united at the potential in-laws' island home, with Dandy having great misgivings, which are only confirmed as she perceives that Donald seems more entranced by his potential Mother-in-Law, Lavinia, (says it all), than with Mallory, his betrothed. That aside - in fact, we are observing the great social changes of the period, and Mallory proves herself to be a dependable "modern" woman with relatively socialist ideas who is destined (in the fullness of the next two books) happily enough to take on an estate without the erstwhile expectations of a full complement of household servants.
    Needless to say all does not go well at Wester Ross, where they have to deal with a gruesome murder, which does nothing to enhance the mood for romance and wedding bells.

    In the second book, Dandy and Alec are called away to help solve the problem of a ferryman (woman) who has apparently experience a psychotic episode. The solution might seem simple ie engage the help of the medical profession, were there not an added mystery surrounding the drowning of a young man known to Dandy, who apparently fell into the water while inebriated....
    It seems that everyone has secrets and each tells a different story; nothing seems to add up.

    As usual, these books are splendidly researched, and set in marvellously historic locations - obviously with some imaginative embroidery. I always want to visit these places after reading the books, such that I begin to think Catriona should be sponsored by the Scottish Tourist Board.

  • The Woolly Hat Knitting Club by Poppy Dolan [Read by Lizzie Wofford]
    BOM-TheWoollyHatKnittingClub.jpg
    The story begins with Dee Blackthorn, a highly focussed PR executive working in a (I hope not quite realistic) cut-throat company, when she is unexpectedly (and undeservedly) fired. This is a disaster on many levels but it does mean she can more easily step in to help her brother, who badly needs assistance - and along the way she reconnects with some old friends from "back home". I originally chose this book on the strength of the title, (which seemed to nicely encompass my interests), and also the cover, (which - along with the title - implied it would be a light-hearted story about a club). I had a preconceived idea that it would be like, for example, the Jane Austen Book Club, ie mainly about the meaning of life etc, and which could have centred on any activity.
    However, likening it to other works doesn't give it enough credit. I loved it as a romcom, and I cannot praise Poppy enough for a really delightfully fresh and entertaining book.
    Poppy's conversational style means it is perfect as an audio book, and Lizzie Wofford gives excellent voice to Dee. The conversations are so natural, they read almost like a script; along with the highly visual descriptive detail, I felt it could translate easily into a live performance.
    Surprisingly to me, I identified probably more with Dee than the "lovely craft people" (even though I hope I am one), and new Mothers, (definitely not one); oddly, I found the details about Dee's business and commercial life of more interest than the knitting. After the first few chapters I did begin to wonder who exactly the book was aimed at as it seemed a bit Mills & Boonish - and I hasten to say I don't necessarily mean that in a derogatory sense since M&B are very skilled in what they do. A bit more reading, however, and it became much clearer to me that, of course, this is a romantic (comedy) novel and as such, anyone who knows this author's work will know exactly what to expect and thoroughly enjoy it - as I did.
    [In addition, I have to mention that, although there is a lot of knitting, we're not too bogged down with it, and congratulations are due that all the technical detail is completely correct - nothing worse than constantly being bugged by inaccuracies in a subject you know well!.]

  • Murder Under the Sun by Agatha Christie [Read by Hugh Fraser]
    BOM-MurderUnderTheSun.jpg The stories are:
    • The Rajah's Emerald - featuring James Bond (no - not THE James Bond)
    • The Oracle at Delphi - featuring Mr Parker Pyne
    • Wasp's Nest - featuring Hercule Poirot
    • A Death on the Nile - featuring Mr Parker Pyne (no - not THE Death on the Nile)
    • Problem at Pollensa Bay - featuring Mr Parker Pyne
    • Have You Got Everything You Want? - featuring Mr Parker Pyne
    • Triangle at Rhodes - featuring Hercule Poirot
    • The House at Shiraz - featuring Mr Parker Pyne
    • Double Sin - featuring Hercule Poirot
    • The Gate of Baghdad - featuring Mr Parker Pyne
    • The Regatta Mystery - featuring Mr Parker Pyne
    • The Pearl of Price - featuring Mr Parker Pyne
    • The Man from the Sea - featuring Mr Satterthwaite and Harley Quin
    Some I have listened to before as part of other collections but with different narrators.

Posted on October 31, 2021 at 6:57 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Tuesday October 19, 2021

Snap!

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Heaven knows how but my little house plant caught a spider.

Posted on October 19, 2021 at 4:34 PM. Category: The Garden. | Comments (0)

Monday October 11, 2021

No Time To Die

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George was very keen to see this so it meant our first trip to the cinema (Reigate) since February 2020 - the moment when time stood still for my cultural activities.
The story, and Daniel Craig's, exit was a little strange, leaving unanswered questions, and leading to much speculation. [The most popular seems to be that 007 will be the franchise trademark rather than Bond himself - giving lots of "Dr Who" like possibilities for new actors; it seems to have been hinted at by having the 007 number reallocated to another agent as part of this plot.]
I liked the story line as it returned to the more normal Bond formula of a simplish plot, an evil villain (with a lair), and vividly memorable stunts. For me, this kind of action movie doesn't need a complex plot.

Posted on October 11, 2021 at 7:42 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Sunday October 10, 2021

Pooh Corner

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We went to Ashdown Forest, taking a walk to Pooh Corner and Poohsticks Bridge. The latter has been replaced with a replica (mostly because much of the old one rotted away). We played Poohsticks but not very competitively; according to Poohstick champion Eeyore, it is won "by letting your stick drop in a twitchy sort of way."

Pooh's House was also to be found but I am ashamed to say that it took me a while to remember that he "lived under the name of Mr Sanderz"

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We also enjoyed a really wonderful (no - REALLY wonderful) Sunday Roast dinner at the Anchor Inn. Many pubs serve perfectly adequate Sunday lunches which most of us happily accept - but this one was truly exceptional... the moistness of the cooked meat, perfect vegetables and roast potatoes with fresh Yorkshire Puddings.... mmm.

Posted on October 10, 2021 at 2:58 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Saturday October 9, 2021

Knitting and Stitching at Alexandra Palace

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The show was, by necessity, a bit restricted this year - and even though in many respects there was plenty to see, (because in a "normal" year you don't even get round to see half of it, as it's so overwhelming), everything was very spaced out and there were fewer visitors. This was good for feeling "safe", but at the same time, it was all a bit sad. Personally, I missed some very specific vendors that I usually see every year.
Above you can see the Stitch a Tree project - a vast textile hanging made up of around 6,000 embroidered trees. The project is a message of support for displaced people around the world.
And below - a cheerful if slightly dishevelled pair after our jolly day out.

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As an aside - we travelled by public transport this year which seemed the better option owing to petrol shortages and green protesters randomly blocking major roads. However, it ended up having challenges of its own, since Alison's local station had a "replacement bus service" and mine had delayed and cancelled trains due to signalling failures!
On our way home we found the whole of the area on the South Bank was utterly packed with people (Saturday Night Fever) - and there, like everywhere it seems, flouting Public Health advice with apparently only "old people" choosing to wear masks. However, in all the general melee, we were quite lucky to find somewhere that was prepared to serve us a meal without pre-booking.

Posted on October 9, 2021 at 2:59 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (1)

Thursday September 30, 2021

Books in September

  • A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin [Read by James Macpherson]
    BOM-ASongForTheDarkTimes.jpg I've been saving this book to listen to as a special treat. In that respect it did not disappoint. It is clear that the author is now desperately trying to keep Rebus in the action - as we all love him - with some creative (though nicely plausible) strategies. In this book, he achieves it with essentially two story lines - one revolving around Rebus and a murder affecting his family, while the other is a "normal" police case handled by Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox. The cases have a tangential link, allowing for necessary communication between our heroes, but equally could have stood alone.
    I am glad Rebus still has his place in the books, but I do think Clarke and Fox are strong characters in their own right, and could easily carry a plot without him.

  • Guilty Not Guilty by Felix Francis [Read by Martin Jarvis]
    BOM-GuiltyNotGuilty.jpg Overall a well-plotted thriller, despite not being my favourite kind, as we "know" the murderer all along. However there is a certain delight in the totally unexpected twist at the end - playing excellently on the book's title. The final resolution (though not the "guilt" aspect) is left open - but even if you don't like that kind of ending, I think everyone will feel one way or another that they "know" what will happen.
    We all know Martin Jarvis is a genius so I expect to be largely ignored if I say "I would not have read it like that". As I'm not a professional - actor or narrator - I could never have voiced the characters in any plausible way to allow the listener to understand who was speaking and generally what was going on. However, I think the hero's agonised pontifications about his dear wife and her problems - which were, in all seriousness, extremely tragic - could have struck more of a cord with me if voiced a little differently. Even though we are hearing the character's inner thoughts, which may indeed be desperate, he has a long-term agony which I think just catches him unexpectedly when he thinks of her - rather than a continual wailing lament. As I've said before, I don't think Felix writes emotions very well, but I do think that that part of the story could have perhaps been improved by reining in what was written on the page by tone of voice.
    Other than that, I did find the hero's attitude to being suspected of a murder a little different from how I feel I might have behaved. Luckily it's never happened to me, so who knows...? Maybe it's a man/woman thing. I think I might not have stood up to the police - which undoubtedly would have been a mistake in any case - and tried to persuade them to look elsewhere.

  • The Complete Steel by Catherine Aird [Read by Robin Bailey]
    BOM-TheCompleteSteel.jpg I've had a few Catherine Aird books on my radar for a long time without knowing anything about the author or her style of story. I now find she writes slightly-tongue-in-cheek police procedurals, with a suitable inspector (Sloan) and his sidekick (DC Crosby) - whom I internally equated to Lynn Truss' (did I place the apostrophe correctly?) Constable Twitten, despite the fact that Sloan is a very intelligent copper with a very dry wit, rather than an idiot, and the stories are not outright comedies.
    The tone of the novels is definitely nostalgic, and a bit cozy; the author has been likened to M C Beaton and Caroline Graham - I would say somewhere between the two, and if you like them you will probably like Aird. Lastly but no means least(ly), Robin Bailey provides the perfect voice for the narrative.

  • The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [Read by Glen McCready]
    BOM-TheLostWorld.jpg This is an excellent adventure story. I did wonder if it pre-dated the first Holmes book as in A Study in Scarlet the solution to the murder mystery is explained in the "story within a story", which takes up half the book. It led me to think that Doyle was perhaps happier writing tales of adventure. Indeed I think Doyle found it hard to sustain complete novels based on the Holmes type of mystery and deductive reasoning, finding it more suited to the short story format. However Lost World was serialised in 1912 - long after his interest in Holmes had essentially ceased.
    At any rate, Doyle's output was prolific, so by this time his writing was no doubt sharpened to a point - and his ability to tell a tale is second to none*. Despite knowing the basic story and having seen the film on TV from time to time, I found it wholly gripping, most entertaining, and worryingly plausible (!) throughout.
    * (maybe second to Kipling...).

Posted on September 30, 2021 at 8:31 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Thursday September 2, 2021

Wetlands

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Rob now has a lifetime membership for the Wetlands, so in celebration we went to Barnes to take a look round. We had a lovely day, with plenty of outdoor space, despite a good number of visitors. We also saw some interesting birds - uppermost the Greenshank pointed out by a fellow enthusiast, but I also loved watching the Snipe who showed off his plumage delightfully for a good while.

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I think the preening Heron here looks almost prehistoric.

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Here am I making my way diffidently across a rope bridge - mainly cautious since Rob had just bounded over it and got his feet soaking wet, as the water was high enough to cover the boards when weighted down with a person!

Posted on September 2, 2021 at 2:57 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Tuesday August 31, 2021

Books in August

  • The Heron's Cry by Ann Cleeves [read by Jack Holden] BOM-TheHeronsCry.jpg
    Ann Cleeves novels just seem to get better and better.
    This is the second book in the "Two Rivers"series, in which we meet a new cast of characters who are extremely likeable and realistic. The scenic backdrop of North Devon gives all the appearance of a sleepy rural environment, and the pace of the story matches the steady thoughtful personality of Detective Matthew Venn. However, appearances are deceptive, and in this book, as the previous one, the pace quickens, towards the thrilling concluding chapters, where the dangerous potential of the Devon landscape and its dramatic weather are fully exploited.
    Although in Venn, we do have a fairly idiosyncratic man heading up the investigations, I would say he has pretty equal billing with the rest of his team within the story line, which is an aspect I particularly like. We are not faced with the hackneyed lone - probably alcoholic - detective with his/her faithful sidekick. Instead we have a quiet intelligent man, supported by a strong team of colleagues. The social environment of North Devon is portrayed as somewhat bohemian, with a group of artists providing the focus of the investigation in the "closed community" style of mystery.
    As usual, I listened to the audio version of the book, which was perfectly narrated by Jack Holden; he had a number of relatively diverse accents to deal with, which he did excellently - subtlety and without overt flourish - everything you look for in a narrator. I can't wait for more "Two Rivers" stories, and I'm looking forward to watching the much pre-publicised TV series.

  • Execution by S.J. Parris [read by Daniel Philpott]
    BOM-Execution.jpg Knowing the ultimate outcome for the historical character on which these books are based, I constantly fear for Bruno's safety.Even worse this one is called Execution [but I think I am not offering a real spoiler by saying it's not referring to Bruno's demise]. Rather this is again all about a famous Catholic plot against Elizabeth I.
    Bruno finds his way back to England once more, ending up spying for Walsingham, and all the while hoping to gain a sponsor/protector in order to be left to peacefully pursue his "heretical" writings. Again - no spoiler really - the end of the book finds him still hopeful, and - more importantly - still alive.

  • Nothing Ventured, Hidden in Plain Sight, Turn a Blind Eye, and Over My Dead Body
    by Jeffrey Archer [read by George Blagden]

    I was curious to read a Jeffrey Archer novel and I thought a "crime" novel might be a place to start. As the author himself explains very precisely - this is not a detective story, it's a story about a detective. It is in fact a story or set of stories about William Warwick's career in the police force. While I realised that, after all this time as a best-selling author, his popularity must be based on something of merit, I had assigned him to a particular category in my mind, and was reading (or listening) with a view to mentally poking fun.
    In fact, he certainly does know how to tell a story, and I continued seamlessly from one book to the next in the manner that one is hooked into a soap opera. True, I did find the "good egg" character - not to mention his love life - more than a little nauseating, and even though his father was a bit OTT, I thought the hero's family relationships were well drawn, (one suspects based on some true to life experiences as a child, or a parent), and the story line - like a Boy's Own adventure - was very engaging.
    The net is: it was so engaging, and as the stories never entirely reach a conclusion, I am (perhaps not quite eagerly) waiting for the next book*! Not at all what I anticipated I have to say.
    * Over My Dead Body is available in October.

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Posted on August 31, 2021 at 12:40 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Sunday August 15, 2021

Granny Square Day

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Today is (apparently) Granny Square Day.
These well-known squares can offer a simple entry point into the world of crochet - most (older) folk well aware of them long before they acquired the "granny" moniker - in fact at some point, I was driven to ask someone what it meant before I realised I had been making them on and off for years.

In more recent times, I have been intrigued by the prospect of making this Rona cardigan designed by Marie Wallin [originally in Rowan Magazine 46 from 2009]...

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... for which I planned to use my hand-dyed hand-spun fleece - even though the original is in the all-time favourite Felted Tweed. The pattern has the potential in the squares for versatility in sizing, although I may go for a more reliable commercial yarn to make the plain fitted elements of the design.

Granny Square Day was started on Instagram in 2014, celebrating all things Granny (and square), and as a side effect is able to support a charitable enterprise as well - this years it's Woolly Hugs.

There is lots of excellent collateral on the Gathered website, including: a tutorial on how to make a granny square, some more unusual patterns, and a delightful diversion into triangular grannies for bunting.

Posted on August 15, 2021 at 9:20 AM. Category: Knitting and Crochet. | Comments (0)

Saturday July 31, 2021

Books in July

  • The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo [read by Seán Barrett] BOM-TheRedbreast.jpg
    Harry Hole's third outing where, while he remains in Norway, much of the related plot is set elsewhere both in time as well as place. The telling reminds me somewhat of the way Doyle chooses to expand Sherlock Holmes beyond the short story format, so we have two tales in one. Very interesting historically for those, like me, who know absolutely nothing about Norway's political position in WW2, as well as being very tense and thrilling as usual. [And to make a change - spoiler alert - Harry's love interest does not end up as a murder victim, though a colleague does, and we are treated to a variation on the traditional trope of someone saying "I know who the murderer is" but then not actually revealing it in the same sentence.]

  • Earthly Remains by Donna Leon [Read by David Rintoul]
    BOM-EarthlyRemains.jpg Brunetti is stressed to breaking by his work life, where he seems to be constantly battling to get at the truth (which is pretty blatantly obvious in many cases) and to prosecute the guilty (who are not brought to justice through undue influence and money). His wife suggests a holiday away from it all for a couple of weeks, and ships him off to a villa owned by her family.
    He spends his time as planned - rowing in the daytime with the caretaker, visiting the latter's beehives, and reading Pliny in the evenings. But a mystery develops, culminating in a death, and Brunetti is inevitably caught up in it.
    This tale is really depressingly true to life - a tale of industrial pollution, corruption (at all levels of society), and probable murder - and ultimately, yet again, with the guilty evading any consequences.

  • The Sea Detective, The Woman Who Walked into the Sea, The Malice of Waves,
    and The Driftwood Girls by Mark Douglas-Home

    Cal McGill is an Edinburgh-based oceanographer, and environmentalist. He's an interesting take on a private investigator, as he is contracted by various commercial institutions to track down items lost at sea; he uses his own computer based modelling on ocean currents in order to provide information. To me this is a much more plausible way that one might make a living as a niche investigator in the UK (America may be different) than as the conventional private detective of novels. Initially his (paid) work is looking for lost shipping containers and cargo, but as the books progress he is employed by families looking for the remains of lost loved-ones, and then inevitably we find ourselves embroiled in the more conventional murder mystery.

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Posted on July 31, 2021 at 9:18 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Saturday July 10, 2021

Thursley Common

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For all the time my sister lived along this road, I never visited the Common with her. So when I joined the local RSPB group for an outing, I was not as generally appalled as they all were to see the devastation caused by last year's dreadful fires. In fact - without sounding too blase - having seen the result of the fires in California forests over so many years, the sci-fi landscape seemed all rather familiar, and "natural". However, it is a terrible blow to the reserve; apart from the affect on wildlife, it destroyed all the carefully constructed boardwalks over the wetlands.
However, nature (and man) is doing its best to renew, with many brave trees like this silver birch, throwing up shoots from the base of its burnt out trunk.

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The weather was moderate, (ie we avoided rain), but not an abundance of birds and dragonflies. I did finally see, but mostly hear, a Dartford Warbler flitting about in the scrub, and also, redstarts and linnets, as well as more familiar species.

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Posted on July 10, 2021 at 7:18 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Wednesday June 30, 2021

Books in June

  • Montmorency by Eleanor Updale [read by Stephen Fry] BOM-Montmorency.jpg
    I should say up front that this is a book for "children" - the writing style is, in my opinion, pitched very well for the young. It's easily understandable, educational, and humourous; it talks a lot about sewage and poo - all time favourites among 9 year olds (and those in their 60s if I am anything to go by). However the content and basic themes of the book were criticised as being unsuitable for the young - it was variously recategorised as young adult.
    Basically I think it is the somewhat dubious morality of the central character that gives some people a problem. The unvarnished truth is that Montmorency is a (highly skilled) thief and con artist. The author makes him into a Jekyll-and-Hyde type character, going so far as to give his villainous persona a different name to emphasise his low moral character.
    I think the book is so cleverly written (and delightfully read by Stephen Fry) that I would definitely give it to my 9 year old - hoping it would encourage a great interest in reading if nothing else - as well as fervently hoping it would not encourage him to try thieving or going down sewers. It has to be said that the most dubious activities of our hero are not what I would call glamourised in any way. And there is quite a good overall moral message in the end, as Montmorency gets to put his talents to good use for Queen and Country, finally able to put his criminal past behind him.

  • Dead Land by Sara Paretsky [read by Liza Ross] BOM-DeadLand.jpg
    In this story VI becomes involved in the world of the displaced homeless, and the mentally ill. She's not a very willing participant in the action as it stems from her young and impetuous god-daughter's desire to "help" someone (Lydia) who would undoubtedly rather have been left alone. It is only the actions of others towards VI's pragmatic and fairly low key suggestions about social care options that sharpens her interest in the whole affair. Soon she is uncovering very dubious dealings around real estate planning, and ultimately the catastrophic incident which started Lydia's mental decline from a famed singer-songwriter, culminating in living on the streets.
    The plot is complex, (involving identity theft which is always potentially confusing), and has a political element; however, the fundamental story revolves around family inheritance, and age-old crimes driven by personal greed - as ever.

  • The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves [read by Janine Birkett] BOM-TheDarkestEvening.jpg
    I've been listening to a few Ann Cleeves' books over the past 12 months - mostly early ones since an author can write only so many new books - but now I realise how much I've missed Vera. In this book we meet some - I think, hitherto unknown - relatives of Vera, as a body has been found in their grounds. This is an example of excellent writing in my opinion. In previous stories, we have not been subjected to Vera's complete detailed history, only those things relevant at the time, leaving her life completely open to more minor revelations as they occur. It may seem odd to some that Vera is quite familiar with a set of people she associated with as a young girl but has seen little since; however it seems familiar territory for me. Cousins can be those childhood playmates, who are at once familiar from when parental siblings maintained family ties, and yet total strangers since those loose bonds were lost along with the elderly parents.
    The story opens in a swirling blizzard - which is a miscalculation on my part as I usually like to match the season in which I read a book with its fictional setting - but I was too impatient wait for the snow before reading this. The tale itself is an absorbing mystery, and the solution almost mundane in it's simplicity. Vera herself says "who else could it have been, pet?". But that is one of Ann's particular skills, I think: the solutions are realistically simple and at the same time not at all obvious, making for an excellent read.

  • The House on Half Moon Street, The Anarchists' Club, and The Butcher of Berner Street
    by Alex Reeve [read by Ash Palmisciano]

    These books are about Leo. In the first book, Leo is in love with Maria - but then Maria is murdered. Leo is an obvious suspect, but it's very important to Leo that he is never arrested or held on suspicion by the police...
    I am loathe to immediately reveal Leo's secret as - unlike other readers who read the book blurb - I came to this cold, simply viewing it as a Victorian murder mystery, so the basic premise was a bit of a surprise. Having got over that, I found the "whodunnit" story, the descriptions of Leo's life, his work opportunities, and Victorian London, all very absorbing and interesting. I thought his plight was sympathetically and realistically described... but then I am "cis" - and the author is a cis white male - which seems to be giving some of the readership a bit of a problem. All I can say is that whatever issues and anger this topic engenders in the current era, I can only suggest in the author's defence - if he even needs it - that he is writing about what it might have been like for someone almost 150 years ago. Despite the fact that the author says that during his research he was "surprised to find how little has changed", there is no doubt a lot has changed. Though many attitudes may still remain in the dark ages, Leo faced many legal threats that are not here today, and I thought these were well-described - and the effect that this constant fear of discovery had on his mental state, on his ability to make real friends, and on his self esteem also seemed realistic to me.
    Surely these books can be at the very least thought provoking to a cis readership (like me); like most detective fiction, you cannot really expect them to be super-realistic text books on the subject (maybe unless you are Peter James...). At any event, they have certainly caused me to listen to the opinions of the trans reviewers, which I otherwise would not have thought to do. Some of the negative reviewers strongly advised trans people not to read the books. I, on the other hand, would say to any gender: read the books if you like Victorian murder mysteries; you will soon decide if you find the protagonist or subject matter too annoying, and you can put the book aside.
    The books are narrated by Ash Palmisciano, who gives voice to Leo with a fairly androgynous or adolescent male tone which I thought suited the character.

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  • Mr Standfast by John Buchan [read by Frederick Davidson] BOM-MrStandfast.jpg
    This is the third novel featuring Richard Hannay, which finds him on active service on Western Front. He is, however, recalled for some further espionage work - much against his will, and longing throughout to return to the good honest old-fashioned fighting. He is forced to pose as a pacifist to infiltrate a network of German spies (in England - and later elsewhere); in his own words: "To go into Germany as an anti-British Afrikaner was a stoutish adventure, but to lounge about at home talking rot was a very different-sized job."
    As usual (it seems to me) his mission isn't really very clear. He establishes his credentials in a community of pacifists in Surrey, then rollicks around Scotland, (camping and living on his wits like a boy scout, and seemingly, even in his own estimation, achieving nothing), before making his way via London into Europe where he finally focusses on the destruction of an old enemy first encountered in The Thirty-Nine Steps.
    Worth mentioning that (astonishingly) he falls in love with a (very) young and independently-minded woman. She is also involved in espionage, and determined to see it through, much against Hannay's way of thinking of the world and, more specifically, a delicate young thing's position in it. He comes round to it, and the book ends with both of them separately pursuing their contributions to the war effort - Hannay back to the fight on the Front. And all this from a man who "knew about as much of [women's] ways as [he] knew about the Chinese language".
    I was a bit slow to recognise that the title of the book comes from a character in the Pilgrim's Progress - which I did read, but long ago. I should have realised sooner as Bunyan's book features large in this story. At first, I thought it was being handed between the characters, and discussed as a use for some kind of cipher, then again perhaps as a signal to recognise fellow spies. However, it seems that they all just took great comfort from the content, which gave them the heart to carry on in such a ghastly war.
    I took a while to get used to the reader (not Christian Rodska - who read Greenmantle). Davidson's delivery was a real upper class drawl for the most part, which I never really took to for Hannay. Accents were adopted where appropriate (and these did include Glaswegian, Highland, Germanic, and earnest young folk), but we heard Hannay's South African accent only as part of his "disguise".

Posted on June 30, 2021 at 9:24 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Monday May 31, 2021

Books in May

  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson [read by Lucy Scott] BOM-TheSummerBeforeTheWar.jpg
    I was reminded of Major Pettigrew (and his Last Stand) and fell to wondering what the author had written since - this book is the answer to the question. I read a number of slightly critical reviews but I was very smitten with it. Set in Rye, it's impossible not to link it with the Mapp and Lucia books, and indeed the author intentionally references them, with more than a nod, in both in the manner in which she writes as well as more overtly in some names and general characteristics. Although although it shows all the charm and satirical humour of small town life, it is also quite dark. Things do "work out" for the main characters in the story but not without great cost. The injustices and deep hurts caused by the small mindedness of the (essentially rural) pre-war society are eventually overcome - mainly because a lot of the more minor class-ridden thinking is swept away in the aftermath of WW1, or pales into insignificance in comparison with the huge losses experienced by all classes of the society.
    But we begin in 1914 - it is the end of England's brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful...

  • GreenMantle by John Buchan [read by Christian Rodska] BOM-GreenMantle.jpg
    I needed a new book to listen to before falling asleep and thought Hannay would be a good Marple substitute - despite the full-on adventurous subject matter. I really like Christian Rodska so searched for books he has narrated - and found this one. After watching or hearing many adaptations of The Thirty Nine Steps, I did actually read it when I was in my 20s and discovered it to be interesting in that it was definitely an obviously of-the-era totally bloke's book - no love interest - in fact no female's at all really. This is the second Hannay adventure, and cut from the same cloth - except instead of being on the run in Scotland, he is on the run with a "gang", across Germany and into Turkey, spying against the Germans.
    The adventures as they traveled were episodic, and it was jolly exciting and full of derring do. However, it may be because of the late night listening, but overall it did not seem to have a very coherent plot. And don't ask me about the Green Mantle... The "book blurb" clarifies the plot for me more than reading the individual parts: Richard Hannay sets off an a hair-raising journey through German-occupied Europe to meet his old friend, Sandy Arbuthnot in Constantinople. [Note that they both set off from London but for some reason go by different routes]. They struggle to subvert German espionage attempts in the Middle East and halt the further spread of pro-German sympathy in the Muslim world. Hannay spends much of the time pretending to be a pro-German version of his South African self - and Rodska delivers a entire panoply of suitable accents for the characters, as he is wont to do. Patriotic fervour at its best (or possibly worst depending on your viewpoint).
    Like The Thirty Nine Steps there are no women to speak of ("Women had never come much my way, and I knew about as much of their ways as I knew about the Chinese language") barring The One... and I feel I have to reproduce this section of the book (philosophy thrown in for free) as I found it so extraordinary:
    "It's true all the same. Women have got a perilous logic which we never have, and some of the best of them don't see the joke of life like the ordinary man. They can be far greater than men, for they can go straight to the heart of things. There never was a man so near the divine as Joan of Arc. But I think, too, they can be more entirely damnable than anything that ever was breeched, for they don't stop still now and then and laugh at themselves ... There is no Superman.
    ...
    But there is a Superwoman, and her name's Hilda von Einem.
    "

    There is such a lot of weirdness in this book that I'd love to write even more but in fact this is a great review from a Simon Guerrier in 2009 which I could not possibly top. He rather nails the key aspect by saying: "Hannay himself is a problematic hero for modern readers". [He does seem to say throughout that the American character is called Blenkinsop when I believe he is the rather more unusually named Blenkiron].

  • The Long Call by Ann Cleeves [read by Ben Aldridge] BOM-TheLongCall.jpg
    Ann introduces us to a new set of characters here; they are maybe trying a bit to hard to represent a modern slice of the middle classes with excessive "inclusivity" all round, but the individuals were really well portrayed and likeable. I am glad to have a younger set of police characters leading an investigation, (rather than, say, an elderly birdwatching couple of amateur sleuths). Also the setting is North Devon - around Barnstaple - which has happy (if sketchy) farm holiday memories for me through a family connection to farmers in the area.
    Had this been a stand-alone novel I would have been more fearful of the outcome for the characters - Ann's stories have a tendency to be poignantly sad - but I saw this described as a "Two Rivers Mystery - Book 1" (nothing like planning ahead - The Heron's Cry is due to be published in September 2021) which comforted me a little as the story progressed. I am hopeful that the author has at least her "three book deal", and I see that filming of a TV series is already underway, with 4 episodes, which might give a good chance for a faithful dramatisation of the book.

  • Dead Tomorrow, Dead Like You, and Dead Man's Grip
    by Peter James [read by David Bauckham and Jamie Glover]

    So now I have moved on through the next 3 books, I'm afraid I remain exasperated at the writing style.
    Plots: tick; tension: tick; pace: tick.
    Repetition and unnecessary detail: big tick...

    You do not have to take a character, describe his every item of clothing, and compare his looks to that of a well-known actor, in order to paint a good picture of the person in a reader's mind's eye. I am no writer, so I looked for what techniques my other favourite authors use, and find that just one or two key (acutely observed) points are sufficient to reveal the personality type on the page. Likewise, you do not have to describe every room you enter as if you were making an inventory for a house clearance auction. Whilst it is evocative and fun to use a picturesque city as a backdrop for a story - and it is interesting for me to read about roads and places I know well - it is not necessary to have a journey described with every single turn in the road as if the writer were reading and A to Z of the city. On this issue of repetition, he also has a problem when referring back to events (or people and places) in previous books; I think this can be hard for an author to achieve as ideally you don't want to reveal other plots and spoil things for people reading out of sequence. However, not only is this aspect not well executed, but descriptions (of people and places) are repeated from previous books, word for word, almost as if he's used cut-and-paste. Again, referring to other authors, I find they are very clever at finding new ways to sketch a character who might be well-known to some readers, but new to others.
    While these books are by no means unreadable or without interest, I feel that this writing style is lazy with the author believing quite the reverse due to his (clearly) enormous efforts at his so-called "research". I am surprised at James, as he seems to be an experienced career writer, and I just expected something better.

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  • Island of the Mad by Laurie R King BOM-IslandOfTheMad.jpg
    I like the way this author (fairly obviously) visits a wonderful exotic location, does her research, and bases the location of her book there. It reminds me of Mary Stewart who (fairly obviously) worked in much the same way. Given that this author's books are set in a previous era I guess it's slightly harder to ensure period accuracy - but then I would be happy to go along with it either way, not knowing any better. In this case it's Venice that provides the marvelously glamorous setting. As a bonus we also meet Cole Porter, who becomes a key player among the smart set with whom Russell and Holmes are involved; this is an example of another point I enjoy about King's stories. Although they have their roots in an extremely English icon of literature, she introduces wholly appropriate American links, whether through people or place, and does so seamlessly, which I think takes more skill than might be apparent.
    As a complete contrast, the book also explores - as the title implies - institutions housing those deemed to be insane, both in Venice, and in England (Bedlam - which, by 1925, had evolved from its Victorian reputation - as something of a prison or freak show - into more of a sanctuary for those afflicted).
    In this story, Russell is again asked to track down a missing person in the shape of the aunt of an old friend from Oxford, Lady Vivian Beaconsfield, who has spent most of her adult life in and out of one asylum or another, and who has disappeared following a supervised outing from Bethlem Royal Hospital. The trail leads to Venice and Holmes "tags along" with his own mission from Mycroft to review the rising tide of fascism in Italy.

  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon BOM-TheTroubleWithGoatsAndSheep.jpg
    This is also set in a hot English summer, and the protagonists are two 10 year old girls, who decide to solve the mystery of why one of their neighbours has suddenly gone missing for no apparent good reason - o, and because God is "everywhere", to find him as well. It has slight shades of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night; we see the world through the girls' eyes and the adults' reactions to them, which provides perhaps slightly more humour and slightly less pathos. However, again, this is a story with a dark side. Everyone in the street has secrets, but the one thing they are all sure about is "that bloke at number 11 is a weird pervert and needs to be driven out"...
    The 1976 time period was very evocative for me - it's rather like the "what were you doing when Kennedy was assassinated?" cliche. For me, that whole summer was: living in Wimbledon, the heat, my cat, my University finals, and and my first job in a stifling new office block (where we were not allowed to open windows despite the "teething trouble" with the air conditioning).

Posted on May 31, 2021 at 9:40 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Friday April 30, 2021

Books in April

The effect of lockdown in combination with retirement has led to the seemingly excessive monthly consumption of books - through all forms of media....

  • The Windsor Knot by S J Bennet [Read by Samantha Bond]
    BOM-TheWindsorKnot.jpg This is a fun book which has received much praise by reviewers but I had no idea of its subject matter before I started on it. . My mistake was in reading it hot on the heels of The Thursday Murder Club - which needless to say I much preferred. They have a number of basic themes in common: potentially twee subjects with tongue-in-cheek humour, but treating both subject and characters very seriously and with respect.
    This book has the Queen in the role of "Miss Marple" (I know! our very own dear Queen... whatever next?... no knighthood in the offing for the author I feel...). She keeps it realistic (but, then, how would we know?) while at the same time, despite the characters being real people, they are in truth merely anthropomorphised royal icons.
    As I said, it is fun - but it grates a little with me. Of anything I probably enjoyed the pun of the title most of all.

  • The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon [Read by David Rintoul]
    BOM-TheWatersOfEternalYouth.jpg Another sad tale, told in Leon's distinctive sympathetic and keenly observed way. It revolves around a 15 year old case which was put down at the time as an accident. An elderly friend of Brunetti's wife's family begs him to look into it again, and he finds a way to do so.
    I have seen some complaints of the constant references to Brunetti's family life and cooking, as well as his "unrealistic" aversion to the digital age. However, I love these aspects - it provides a tapestry of his life and work in Venice - a greater whole. I would here contrast it with Patricia Cornwell's writing and her constant references to the same background subjects - hers are tedious and add nothing to the stories at any level - neither the mystery nor the general interest. Well in truth there is no comparison is there? Brunetti has a charming family and the exchanges with his wife and children add a lot to the body of the story well beyond merely providing a backdrop. However realistic or unrealistic is Brunetti's life, the author makes us believe in it, and feel we are right there with him.
    The "accident" is revealed in quite a different way, and a corrupt individual is brought to justice - which sadly cannot help the victim, which we knew throughout. But we are left uplifted by the touching closing scene.

  • Looking Good Dead, Not Dead Enough, and Dead Man's Footsteps
    by Peter James [read by David Thorpe and David Bauckham]

    I saw the first TV adaptation of these books recently and so, starting with No 2 in the series, I finally gave in to Amazon's long-term campaign to get me to read the Peter James books. [Previously actively put off by the themed titles always having to have the word "dead" in them]. I can now see why they worked well translated to a drama, as on the page there is a great deal of very detailed descriptions of physical locations and police procedures that can be simply conveyed in literally moments on the screen; hence you don't get that feeling that the story has been butchered to fit into just a couple of hours. Because of this, I think that listening worked well for me - I'm pretty sure I would having been skipping through passages of the written word. [Although I would most certainly not have been skipping through the detailed descriptions of the locations, because of my personal love of Brighton and my Sussex childhood].
    The third and fourth books in the series, confirm my view that the author's self-professed fixation with researching correct police procedural details is firmly carried through to his work - in some instances to the detriment of the story in my opinion. However, I can agree with him that when you know about a specialist subject - in any field - reading what (to you) is blatantly inaccurate fiction is more than a little annoying. [Sometimes these inaccuracies can only be willful - especially in some TV dramas where any sense of realism is sacrificed to the requirements of the plot - and I'm not talking only tongue-in-cheek Midsomer-type dramas...].
    As a complete contrast to this slavish attention to authenticity, his ability to pen tense thriller passages - seemingly restricted to the denouements - is really excellent. I'll be interested to see how his themes and plot formulas develop over the many books that follow.

    BOM-LookingGoodDead.jpg BOM-NotDeadEnough.jpg BOM-DeadMansFootsteps.jpg

    As a final thought - I do find his "romantic" interludes (definitely a euphemism) a bit tedious. Is this because I am too old to be interested any more? I think not. Is it because I am female? This could more be the case - but isn't the demographic reading mysteries* predominantly female? I always think (girly) emotions are more affected by describing and implying feelings rather than describing actions. I can only again point to Mary Francis's very positive influence on this aspect of her husband's books, which he, and later his son, were unable to sustain without her. Somehow Jame's sexual descriptions are on the one hand too heavy handed to be romantic, and on the other not graphic enough to be arousing. [I'm given to understand that writing "good" porn requires a very specific skill set... although, I'm probably glad overall that this author does not display it.].
    [* If these books are classed as thrillers, rather than mysteries, then the audience would once have been entirely male. However it seems that even this statistic has changed over the last century.]


  • Classic Detective Stories [Read by Edward Hardwicke]
    BOM-ClassicDetectiveStories.jpg The stories are:
    • The Green Mamba Edgar Wallace
    • The Poetical Policeman Edgar Wallace
    • The Dying Detective Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    • The Burglar Colin Dexter
    • The Man in the Passage G.K. Chesterton
    • The Assassins' Club C. Day Lewis
      [writing as Nicholas Blake]
    • The Case of the Tragedies of the Greek Room
      Sax Rohmer
    • Chimes Muriel Spark
    Some I have read before or heard on the radio, but the Edgar Wallaces were new to me, as was Sax Rohmer - I found both very dated in tone and manners but without much period charm - the Rohmer was a good locked (Greek) room puzzle.

  • Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Croft
    BOM-MysteryInTheChannel.jpg Another Inspector French story - but I liked this one more than 12:30 from Croydon. It followed the usual path of a whodunnit with a tense denouement as the police set a trap for the murderer, and laid in wait. Here we still enjoyed French's attention to detail, with every piece of evidence thrashed out and tested to the last degree, step by step building a solid case. There was even a realistically sizeable gap in time where it seemed likely the mystery would never be solved - and then the unexpected event which opened it all up again.
    The story opens with the discovery of a yacht floating unattended in the Channel; two bodies are found on board - shot dead. They are directors of a city finance company, in the danger of imminent collapse, and the obvious suspects are other members of the management team... but which one? (or two?)

  • The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley
    BOM-ThePoisonedChocolatesCase.jpg This is a story involving fictional author Roger Sheringham and his (fictional) Crimes Circle, who decide to investigate a "real" crime that Scotland Yard are unable to solve. Each of the six members provides his/her solution which they then present to their fellow members. It's similar in theme to The Floating Admiral but slightly more coherent since it is written by the one author - although 2 additional solutions were provided over time by Christianna Brand, and Martin Edwards.
    I can't help but point out the similarity between the fictional Crimes Circle and the real Detection Club (of which Berkeley was a member). Seeing the descriptions of the 6 fictional members, I also cannot help wondering if he is parodying and making fun of his real life compatriots in the Club.
    There are the usual interesting word usages: the "correct" writing of 'bus, (short for omnibus), as well as a Greek word printed using the Greek alphabet - and not translated! (I like to think of myself as educated but I have no idea....). The word "daisy" apparently describing a caddish "lady's man" (as opposed to a ladyman) which I can't find a satisfactory reference to; in modern usage it seems to mean "an excellent thing". The dictionary of "hard boiled slang" (jolly useful site) suggests it might mean "none to masculine" which may be the context in which it's used here, ie not a "man's man".

  • The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie [Read by Joan Hickson]
    BOM-TheMovingFinger.jpg Yet another so-called Miss Marple book narrated by Joan Hickson - again wholly inappropriately. Firstly, yet again (surprise to me) this is written in the first person from the point of view of Jerry Burton - so why use a female to read the audiobook? In the newer TV Marple they even use Burton to provide a narration over the story. Secondly, (surprise to me) Miss Marple is a fairly peripheral character in this story, only appearing in the last quarter of the book - I had even begun to wonder as I listened if she had been shoe-horned into the TV story as they had done in some of the other books they have chosen to adapt.
    Other than that the style of the book is similar to Murder at the Vicarage, where Burton takes the place of the vicar with his wry and, in his case, somewhat critical view of village life. I think possibly Burton's romantic attitude towards the rather young Megan could be considered a bit dubious by modern standards - even despite his clear intentions towards marriage - but this is somewhat mitigated by the strong self-determining characters of both his sister and Megan herself.
    As to the story and plot - I have always thought it is an excellent one - Miss Marple cuts to the chase: when you look at it that way, only one thing happened - Mrs Simmington died.

Posted on April 30, 2021 at 12:45 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Tuesday April 6, 2021

Meeting at Wisley

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We finally got together after over a year - on a crisp sunny day, half way between our homes. Above was towards the end of our walks - somewhat windblown and pretty cold (but nothing could spoil it). You can see that prior to that we found some sheltered spots for our (multiple) tea breaks.

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Posted on April 6, 2021 at 5:26 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Sunday April 4, 2021

Winter Pots at Easter

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My "rescued" tray of plants from a local DIY store called Winter Ice.
Below - a reminder of how they were 4 months ago. Full marks for all different plant varieties: primrose, daisy, pansy and viola (dianthus with one tiny flower so far).

WinterIce.jpg

Posted on April 4, 2021 at 12:12 PM. Category: The Garden. | Comments (0)

Wednesday March 31, 2021

Books in March

  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman [Read by Lesley Manville]
    BOM-TheThursdayMurderClub.jpg Along with the rest of the world (it seems), I cannot praise this book enough. It was an absolute delight from the very opening sentences. It has to be said that this was probably very much enhanced by having Lesley Manville as the reader, but even so the characterisation is truly glorious. To know that this is Osman's first novel makes it all the more amazing. At the end of this audio version may-I-call-you-Richard is interviewed by Marian Keyes, and although it's a bit sycophantic, and very much a mutual admiration society, her excessive praise and not to mention envy is clearly sincere.
    In all, this is a lovely book, and although Richard, (along with his publicist and agent I am sure) has made his reputation as a very popular presenter work overtime in publicising this book, it really it highly creditable. I am really looking forward to (hopefully listening to) the next one - at the same time now slightly nervous as to whether he can live up to his own standards.
  • I could not help but compare the title of this book (even not knowing the story or setting) to Agatha Christie's Tuesday Night Club, which she used as a device to present some short stories featuring Miss Marple and others. Each week the group tell tales of mystery, always solved by the female amateur detective from the comfort of her armchair.

  • Winter by Ali Smith [Read by Melody Grove ]
    BOM-Winter.jpg Another wonderful book from Ali Smith, which somehow manages to be wonderful as it evolves from page to page as well as overall. It teeters on the surreal but is founded very much in politics of today, (refugee crisis), as well as the past (Greenham Common*) which in turn informs today.
    Of course, it was again poignantly sad but while I have read (much more) deeply sad books before, this one actually made me cry. I think the author has been really clever with this because it affected me in a very interesting way - you grow to love a character and it is implied the character is lost in a national disaster - which is then "poignantly sad". But suddenly it came to me that real people had died in that national disaster - which was surely to goodness much worse than the possible demise of a fictional character who is in any case a little ethereal. It wasn't that I had not known this before but it made me feel it in a different way - it went somehow beyond empathy.
    Don't get the wrong idea, though; this is not a grim book, and I have not described the story - which can be viewed in terms of literary references (the Guardian has a perfect review comparing it to Dickens' Christmas Carol - which may be why I liked it so much - who knows?). In all it's a lot about love, and joy - a tale of redemption - "luminously beautiful".
    [* I've never been very politically aware so the information about the women camped at Greenham Common - that I admired but also pretty well ignored at the time - was very interesting to me].

  • 12:30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Croft BOM-1230FromCroydon.jpg
    One of my bumper collection of Christmas retro mysteries. This author was a well-known member of the Detection Club and much respected by his fellow members. He is known for his great attention to technical details (background in engineering) shoring up water tight cases for his protagonist Inspector French.
    However, I really did not find this book to be much fun for me - and this was entirely due to the fact that it was not at all a whodunnit. Mystery/crime novels where the baddie is revealed early on - or written from their point of view - are not my favourite at the best of times. Here the story is about a very detailed crime, all meticulously planned out, and which, of course, begins to unravel. Once the unraveling is underway, you find that from an objective point of view the murderer appeared quite suspicious to observers all along.
  • A point of interest for me personally, is that in 1953, for what were the last few years of his life, the author moved to Worthing. Many people retired to the south coast in those days - the bungalows in my home village were chock full of ex-civil servants, ex-bank managers, and spinster sisters of a certain age, tending their immaculate gardens and hedges, and enjoying the relatively clement weather in their declining years. [This retirement destination was gradually replaced by Spain during the 1970s, leaving these coastal towns looking sad and a bit down at heel, with the little bungalows' handkerchief front gardens, formerly so cherished, now concreted over to allow parking for cars. ].

  • The Honjin Murders by Yokomizo Seishi BOM-1230FromCroydon.jpg
    Another rather original choice among my Christmas presents. It was a very good mystery, and well explained for a non-Japanese reader. I'm not sure if this is due to the translator or the author. It may have been necessary to explain the historical context to Japanese readers, but the book was published in 1946, so I was slightly surprised at that. However the author does excuse himself for making several references to famous Western crime "golden age" authors, and also to other locked room mysteries. In fact one of the characters has a huge collection of such mysteries.
    This translation was published in 2019 to much praise, but despite his obvious fame in Japan (with a literary prize named in his honour), I can find only one other book by this author published in English, with another due for publication this year. However they are all with different translators, so I can only hope they will prove to be as good as this one.

  • Troubled Waters by Gillian Galbraith [Read by Lesley Mackie ] BOM-TroubledWaters.jpg
    I was able to listen to the final Alice Rice mystery rather than reading it. I'm not sure the author meant this to be the "final" one, but Alice does buy a country cottage outside of Edinburgh, probably mirroring what the author herself chose to do, and expressing her own feelings about it. In an interview, the author admitted she was unlikely to return to Alice as she was now too out of touch with modern police procedures.
    The author's personal website is a bit neglected and could do with an update. Although this book was published in 2014, her latest book The End of The Line in 2019 is a really excellent novel, and apparently, since lockdown, where ebook lending has increased 146%*, the first Alice book, Blood in the Water, was the top most-loaned adult ebook.
    [* That was probably all me...]

  • The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie [Read by Stephanie Cole] BOM-TheBodyInTheLibrary.jpg
    I thought that since I know these stories so well - watching repeats of the various TV productions of them frequently enough to be embarrassing to admit to - that it would be a good book to listen to while drifting off to sleep. However, I probably last read the books when I was about 11 or 12 years old and was really surprised and delighted at how good the actual written work is. (I know I should not be - millions of fans over the years attest to that surely...). I was also surprised at how faithfully the TV adaptations followed the book - large sections, if not all, of the dialogue being lifted straight from the page. Of course, Christie is well-known for her excellence with dialogue (as opposed to prose, I believe) so this should be no surprise - but it was nonetheless. Many of the stories are quite a bit altered in the TV versions - most particularly in Agatha Christe's Marple. [...and particularly one feature of this story, though strangely that alteration does not fundamentally alter it very much; in fact I rather liked it - it made one much more sad for the murderer... but I digress...].
    Add to all this that Stephanie Cole is a lovely reader. She has a wonderfully gentle voice - totally suited not just to the Marple character but the tone of the whole book.

  • The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie [Read by Joan Hickson]
    BOM-TheMurderAtTheVicarage.jpg I was so delighted with The Body in the Library that I rushed ahead to listen to this one - the first Marple book - and was bitterly disappointed. Not read by Stephanie Cole but Joan Hickson - who could not, in my opinion, be bettered in playing the TV character in Miss Marple, but who is strangely not really a very good reader. I can see why she would have seemed an obvious choice but a narrator needs different skills from an actor. In fact they made two glaring errors in choosing Hickson for this. The first, which Stephanie Cole would not have solved, is that this book (a surprise to me) is written in the first person from the point of view of the vicar... who knew? (everyone except me I suspect) - so obviously it should be voiced by a male narrator - no?. Secondly, in choosing an actress whose very voice is that of Miss Marple, it meant that every time she said "I", you immediately linked it to being things Marple did, which seemed momentarily slightly incongruous, before you reminded yourself that this was in fact the vicar speaking.
    I have to say the library inaccurately labelled this book as being narrated by Richard E Grant - and I found there is in fact a version by him which is much preferable (I listened to a sample). In fact the - again unexpected for me - pleasure of this book is the dry wit expressed by the vicar with his acute (unspoken) observations of his parishioners and which is well suited to Grant. One thing I would also note here is, that it is, I understand, notoriously difficult to adapt first person narratives (especially diarists) to the screen; in the case of this story, the TV adaptations are excellent, very faithful to the spirit of the book, and feature the vicar in much the way the book did - however you do lose much of that wry humour that book-vicar expresses only in his own thoughts.

  • BlackwaterBBCR4.jpg Blackwater
    Radio series written for reading by several voices across ten 15 minute episodes, it tells the story of Zoe who reappears in her home town rather dramatically after 10 years on the same day as her supposed murderer is released from prison. Consternation all round. Even worse she is unable to explain where she has been all this time.
    It's a very professionally produced polished thriller with a very credible plot - full of tension and drama. Written by Claire McGowan, produced by Celia De Wolff, and stars Clare Dunne (Zoe), Richard Clements (Steve), Aston Kelly (Paul), Sean Kearns (Phil), and Roisin Gallagher (Danny).

Posted on March 31, 2021 at 10:15 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Tuesday March 30, 2021

The other end of the Hogsmill

PeriwinkleHogsmill.jpg

We met up again as the day was predicted to be another sunny one - offset by dire warnings about the weather prospects over the Easter weekend. We walked to the little pond along part of the river which was cleaned up with help from the National Lottery. The wild flowers are lovely - celandines, wood anemones, and these periwinkles. Rob introduced me to the three-cornered leek (triangular stem) which I'd never heard of and is delicate and beautiful - but smells of onions. [Probably some sort of metaphor for life but I can't think of it].

ThreeCorneredLeek.jpg

On the way, there were some scrubland bushes full of house sparrows. These are sufficiently rare these days to be worth having a proper look at (and taking a photo).

HouseSparrow.jpg

We went along the river walk and crossed the A3 (subway), viewing a nest hole Rob had spotted some days before...

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..and we were suddenly surrounded by these impossibly cute tits which stayed by us for ages, but were too nippy to get any perfect photos.

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We came back on the other side of the river and were suddenly faced with a dead end. So being intrepid - whilst at the same time realising it was not a really sensible thing to do - we went through a very large gap in the fencing and made our way through a relatively wild environment - I have to say in our defence that we were not the first and followed a pretty distinct trail. After walking through some tall grasses, we found Rob's jumper to be covered in extremely tenacious seed heads, reminding me of the Burry Man.

However, eventually, and fairly predictably, we ended up in a private area with a padlocked gate barring our way on to the A3 side. I was a bit unwilling to go all the way back in order to cross back to the sanctioned side of the river - although we had mentally prepared to do so - but luckily we found we could exit across a private driveway (hardly any trespass at all...) and out onto a residential road. From there it was easy to find our way back.
It wasn't until we were back at our cars that we discovered that I was also a Burry Woman.

BurryMe.jpg

Posted on March 30, 2021 at 11:44 AM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Tuesday March 9, 2021

One day in March...

KingfisherHogsmill.jpg

We are allowed to meet for a walk and it's the only sunny day expected for a week (and it is indeed lovely). So we went to search for the little chap above, as he had been see in the vicinity of the pond which is where we started out. No joy - we met a photographer who had settled in there to wait.
We then walked for a couple of hours up the river, and on our return at lunchtime - joy. We watched (and photographed) him fishing and perching for about half an hour - and he was still at it when we finally left.

Hogsmill1.jpg

We saw quite a lot of other interesting birds in our travels including a kestrel (below), nuthatch, grey wagtail, multiple tits, parrots, various geese, cormorant, jays, moorhens, coots, tufties - and a couple of well fed rats...

KestrelHogsmill.jpg

[A ranger told us that on their relatively small reserve they have over 50 recorded bird species].

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This is my photo (as opposed to Rob's with his fancy camera) of the Kingfisher. The bird itself is absolutely dead centre on the branch overhanging the water - I guess you'll have to take my word for it...

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Posted on March 9, 2021 at 3:07 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Sunday February 28, 2021

Books in February

  • Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo [read by Seán Barrett] BOM-Cockroaches.jpg
    The second of Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series - this time set in Bangkok. Alcoholism still a key feature of Harry's life but he seems to have a motive to stay dry and seems to do so for most of this book. I know these should not be my main thoughts on a book but addictions always worry me - it's just a "thing".
    I listened to quite a lot of it while out walking every day (- lockdown -) and I think I should have given it more proper attention as it's a moderately complicated plot and there are lots of Norwegian and Thai names (I know - sorry... but for me, audio is harder that the written word with names). Anyway, it was excellent, though I need to read a few more to make sure Harry stays safely on the wagon...

  • The Magus by John Fowles [read by Nicholas Boulton] BOM-TheMagus.jpg
    The Magus was published in 1965, but is set in the early 1950s, when Fowles started writing it. For someone of my age, it was almost a cult book. My college tutor was utterly captivated by it, and my sister was similarly fascinated by Fowles (though I think in her case it was mostly The French Lieutenant's Woman).
    I find it hard to review this book because frankly I don't have sufficient writing skills to express my thoughts properly - and so much has been written about it I'm likely to be repeating others (using inferior prose). My tutor said the plot was "like an onion" where you were constantly peeling off more layers as you read. And given the nature of the book, I find it odd to reflect that I have read it at least 3 times in my life, as well as listening to a more recent radio play in 2016. Listening to it read out was a new experience again; it slowed me down, and drew attention to whole episodes I had pretty well forgotten. Partly this was because you (I) are so wrapped up in unravelling the mystery that you (I) mentally skim over anything that is not apparently revealing anything to you (me) towards that end. And here, I remembered a series of theological lectures I attended about 'Myth and Legend', where our Dean said that a truly great book was one you could re-read and it would have something new to reveal to you every time. Now I do not claim that this is a 'great' book in the way the Dean meant it, if for no other reason than Fowles was not very satisfied with it himself. However, it is interesting coming back to it with all those years in between, because it really did seem to have a very different point from the one I took away from it when in my twenties.
    Originally I read about a young male graduate who doesn't really know what he's doing with his life and goes to teach English on a small Greek island, leaving a behind an Australian girl with whom he has been living. From there on he is manipulated emotionally and physically by a mysterious wealthy old man and his accomplices living on the island. They use psychological illusions which become increasingly dark and serious, so that in the end our hero finds it hard to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
    Like many other readers at the time, I thought it was all about his changing, through his experiences, and coming to realise that his original love is "the one", so I was disappointed that there was no specific happy reunion at the end. In fact when asked, Fowles would impishly give different answers to the question "... but what happened in the end..." - and due to the books extreme commercial success, he continued to work on it, publishing a revision with an extended ending to assuage his readership; this new ending still left the question open but those who wanted to could be more optimistic about the love affair rekindling.
    Now I'm no longer in my twenties, I do not see the romance as the main point of the novel. Moreover, the main character is not very likeable, though he is indeed taught some lessons by his experiences. However, one wonders if he is really capable of truly understanding let alone becoming a better human being, and thus I found it less important whether he achieved his final fixation of being reunited with his original love. I read that you cannot help having sympathy for a character when written in the first person, and that this is the difficulty in writing only from that point of view, since he is forced to have a certain degree of intelligence and understanding in order to convey the finer points of the story to the reader - and yet the character himself is written to have no such qualities.
    Finally, as well as (superficially) young women, such as myself, being wrapped up only in the mystery and romance, young men, such as my tutor, were, I believe, wrapped up mostly in the idea of the exquisitely lovely fantasy woman our hero pursues, and were no doubt wholly engaged throughout by the fairly explicit text on love making. [Rather confirmed in a way as my tutor (not in any way shape or form inappropriately...) subsequently suggested I would like the Alexandria Quartet - even gave me his copies I think, which I still possess, unread - though after watching ITV's The Durrells recently it occurred to me that perhaps I should read them.]

  • Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi BOM-DirtyWeekend.jpg
    An interesting book from 1991 which is rather graphically violent. Bella ("Brighton Bella" she muses) is refusing to be a victim any more. Instead she morphs into a type of female vigilante.
    The text has a lyrical quality of the same type I observed in Autumn by Ali Smith, (albeit a very different book), where words seem to be satisfying explored with the brain and the tongue. However, mostly - and rather counter to the text - I really enjoyed the setting in Brighton. Here are Bella's thoughts on the West Pier, which many locals might have echoed:
    West Pier is her favourite pier. Her all-time favourite pier. It is first among piers, the pier of piers, a peerless pier. You want to head down to the coast in February. You want to pop down, if you have a moment. You want to see West Pier as it should be seen.
    They've stopped cleaning off the mess the gulls drop, and it stands out white against the grey English sea. It's forlorn and desolate and ravaged, and they want to pull it down. They say it's unsafe. They say it's an eyesore. They say it detracts from the rest of the town.
    Pygmies and philistines.
    It's the town that detracts from the pier.

    [As of now, only a partial metal framework remains.]


  • RedForDanger.jpg Red for Danger
    I experienced the same (patronising) admiration for this suspense thriller from 1954, as I did when listening to the Peter Coke/Marjory Westbury Paul Temple adaptations. As I said then, we - or I - tend to forget that fifties Radio plays were produced with great skill and realism - albeit that the realism is overlaid with slight over dramatisation in keeping with the time (and some actors are better than others). The script is good - but then is is written by Edward J Mason of Dick Barton and The Archers fame - and the conversations come across as very natural, especially considering the (fairly) preposterous plot involving a secret formula for a metal alloy, and foreign spies.
    The hero is a jeweller by trade (although it sounds as though he's a gentleman sleuth who has had other adventures). While attending a birthday party, his hostess (Red) convinces him she is in danger... Cue the music...
    Stars Ysanne Churchman. Anne Cullen, Arnold Peters, Bernard Rebel, Dudley Rolph, Gerik Schelderup, June Spencer and Peter Wilde; written by Edward J Mason, and produced by Philip Garston-Jones.
    Edward J Mason is a name particularly memorable for me as he created a number of panel game shows with producer Tony Shryane, including My Word!, (and My Music), which I used to listen to secretly in bed at night after I was given my own transistor radio (with an earpiece) aged about 10.

Posted on February 28, 2021 at 6:13 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Thursday February 18, 2021

Fungus

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"Bracket" is about as far as I can get in the identification. There are several contenders but when you know nothing about a subject it's easy to be misled by pictures (Rainbow? Blushing?). I think clues might be in the time of year (now) as well as the tree on which it's growing - which I did not observe closely at the time. I'm guessing it's not rare (but very pretty).

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Some candidates - all looking very pretty:

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TrametesHirsuta.jpg

LenzitesBetulinus.jpg

Posted on February 18, 2021 at 1:37 PM. Category: The Garden. | Comments (0)

Sunday January 31, 2021

Books in January

  • Alice Rice Mysteries: Blood in the Water, Where the Shadow Falls, Dying of the Light,
    No Sorrow to Die, and, The Road to Hell
    by Gillian Galbraith

    These are pleasing detective procedurals of the type I very much enjoy. There are 6 Alice Rice novels and the only reason I have not read the last one is that it (unlike the others) is available in audio format so I am waiting to listen to it. I was led to them after I read (listened to) the stand-alone novel "End of the Line" (quite a different theme), which is her most recent and was, I think, the best.
    According to the Times Gillian Galbraith's books have become one of the most sought after lending-library titles during the Covid-induced reading frenzy of the past year. I hope she writes more books, though I think there will be no more featuring Alice.

    BOM-BloodInTheWater.jpg BOM-WhereTheShadowFalls.jpg BOM-DyingOfTheLight.jpg BOM-NoSorrowToDie.jpg BOM-TheRoadToHell.jpg



  • The Ape who guards the Balance by Elizabeth Peters [read by Barbara Rosenblat]
    BOM-TheApeWhoGuardsTheBalance.jpg The usual amusing nonsense that faithful readers of these novels will enjoy - and expect. I am a faithless reader, and can't say I am enamoured - but I also hastily say that I do accept that this is "just me". I am not keen on the tongue-in-cheek way the main character with her false Victorian/Edwardian sensibilities is presented as the narrator. And yet I have come back to the series several times.... I can only say that they provide adequate background listening without my paying too much attention. [I might also add that this could be a mistake, as the plots are quite complex - and to that end I also feel the books would benefit from being read in chronological order].

Posted on January 31, 2021 at 10:16 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Sunday January 24, 2021

No grit here...

Skid.jpg

Someone's car slid for quite a distance down our road, (including over the pavement), deftly avoiding people and parked cars, and finally coming to rest in our fence ....

Posted on January 24, 2021 at 1:36 PM. Category: Staying at Home. | Comments (0)

Thursday January 14, 2021

3000 Things... complete

SJigsawComplete.jpg

Victory is ours - Christmas project completed.
What to do now? Why - on to Mike Wilks letter "A" of course...


SJigsawBeginning.jpg

Our Christmas project - a Waddingtons 3000 piece jigsaw purchased long ago for just such a time as this.
Mike Wilks stunningly detailed picture "Sleepy Shopkeeper" featuring all things starting with the letter "S". [Including his own signature "Wike Milks" - - no? - a spoonerism].

Posted on January 14, 2021 at 7:19 PM. Category: Staying at Home. | Comments (0)

Friday January 1, 2021

Gazing out to sea

FolkestoneStatue.jpg

This seemed to me the "right" image to start this year. Mostly it's because this figure is solitary, contemplating a shrouded horizon. I can see that it might convey a poignant sadness - but that's not the view I want to suggest. Far from that idea, Gormley's figures are said to stand on the shores, not for ever sadly waiting or hoping, but gazing out to sea with a silent expectation.
It conveys to me a peaceful stillness - a calm interlude - some kind of contented solitude.

This public art sculpture by Antony Gormley is sited at Folkestone's Harbour Arm.

Posted on January 1, 2021 at 12:32 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)