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Sunday October 10, 2021

Pooh Corner

PoohHouse.jpg

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"

TheHouseAtPoohCorner.jpg

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 (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.

    BOM-NothingVentured.jpg BOM-HiddenInPlainSight.jpg BOM-TurnABlindEye.jpg BOM-TheDriftwoodGirls.jpg

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 Sean 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 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.

    BOM-TheSeaDetective.jpg BOM-TheWomanWhoWalkedIntoTheSea.jpg BOM-TheMaliceOfWaves.jpg BOM-TheDriftwoodGirls.jpg

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)

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.

    BOM-DeadTomorrow.jpg BOM-DeadLikeYou.jpg BOM-DeadMansGrip.jpg

  • 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).

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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

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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].

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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).

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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.

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

Tuesday March 9, 2021

One day in March...

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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.

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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...

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[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 Sean 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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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...

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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

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


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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

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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)