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Sunday July 31, 2022

Books in July

  • A Song from Dead Lips by William Shaw [read by Cameron Stewart] BOM-ASongFromDeadLips.jpg
    I thought The Birdwatcher was a great book, and I'm wondering why it took me so long to read another offering from Shaw.
    This story is also excellent, and again was a good fit with my interests - which, apart from the dead bodies thing, was set in the not too distant past of London in the 1960s. This era covered my life from a very small child to a young adult, so I can remember it, but as it were "through a glass darkly" (which must also apply to the author as we are of an age). However, it seems to me to quite accurately reflect what I remember of wandering around London as a teenager - trying to find Carnaby Street and the Swinging Sixties, (unsuccessfully) - and looking for Rupert Street (successfully) to find a wonderful shoe shop, (as opposed to the Raymond Review Bar). So having been reminded of all this - I find I strongly agree with a the NY Times comment "an elegy for an entire neglected generation".
    The war in Biafra is featured fairly centrally as part of the unravelling of the murder mystery. This war provided my first exposure, (with zero appreciation of the true situation), to mass appeals for aid for victims of a terrible famine, and of graphic TV footage showing starving children. The war itself ended by the 1970s and Biafra disappeared as both a news item and a separate state. An estimated 2 million civilians died of starvation, of which three quarters were children.

  • A Twist of the Knife by Anthony Horowitz
    BOM-ATwistOfTheKnife.jpg "I've written three books and our deal is over.", says an exasperated Horowitz, having been subjected to a series of near death experiences as a well as some ridicule (which is worse I wonder...?) through his relationship with the irritating ex DI Hawthorne. As you can imagine, this state of affairs lasts about 5 minutes before Anthony finds himself on the wrong side of the law, and has (reluctantly) to call upon Hawthorne for assistance.
    I have come upon this fourth in the series somewhat sooner than I expected as I was lucky enough to be allowed a review copy; thus I've read it on the page as opposed to listening to it.
    This particular story - another of the "locked room" genre - revolves around a theatre production of a play written by Anthony himself; the play receives a scathing review, leading to... a murder. As with many other snippets revealed in these books, it drove me to look up "Mindgame", to find that it is indeed a play of his from 1999, (and it did receive lukewarm reviews at the time, but, happily, spawned no murders that I could find). Once again, I loved the book- my favourite Horowitz series - clever, thrilling, and wonderfully entertaining. And as I love Rory Kinnear's narration so much, I shall definitely be listening to it all over again once the audio version is available.

  • Secret Water by Arthur Ransome [Read by Gareth Armstrong]
    BOM-SecretWater.jpg This is not quite so adventurous - nor set in such a picturesque a location - as some of the other books up to this point. The Swallows' Father was unable - at the last minute - to take them on a planned sailing trip all together, so he arranges something else for them to do, a little more statically: a mapping project while camped on islands within tidal mud flats; he also arranges for the Amazons come to Norfolk to join them. Since it directly follows the (alarming) events in We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, one can only surmise that the adults felt they needed a safer environment for their unaccompanied children. What could possibly go wrong? Nevertheless, the 3 youngest of them manage to end up in yet another disastrous situation. Again we watch helplessly as, despite sound planning, they make a series of last-minute faulty decisions, inevitably leading to their being stranded in the middle of the causeway as the tide comes in...

Posted on July 31, 2022 at 11:17 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Tuesday July 12, 2022

The Glass Menagerie

TheGlassMenagerie.jpg

An interesting production of this play. The character of Tom is played by two actors - one is the young, brash, and pretty resentful Tom in the timeline of the story, and the other is the older, cynical, tortured (and perhaps unsuccessful), writer Tom who acts as narrator, played brilliantly, I felt, by Paul Hilton. I'm not sure if this was how it was originally intended, but overall I think it worked well as a construct - the way the story is told, in itself, separates the characters.

As to the other aspects of the staging, I am little more lukewarm. The set is spacious, without any borders, which is a little contrary to the intimate nature of the play; I was uncomfortable with it. The most intimate scene was created by an excellent lighting design for the blackout and candlelight - which was a necessity given the set. But by far the most peculiar aspect was the menagerie itself - which was HUGE. I can see it was allegorical; however, to me, Laura's precious and slightly broken unicorn is sufficient as the real allegory, and not her collection. I always imagined the menagerie to be in a rather small cabinet in keeping with their life of relative poverty, and only large in its importance to Laura; I don't think it needs to be physically large and looming to convey this.

Posted on July 12, 2022 at 11:53 AM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Thursday June 30, 2022

Books in June

  • The Cliff House by Christopher Brookmyre
    BOM-TheCliffHouse.jpg This is another excellent novel from Chris Brookmyre - an all time favourite since he first introduced us to Jack Parlabane and his version of the "Tartan Noire" novel. Since then he has not stuck to the one detective - despite his evident popularity - but has explored a lot of different writing techniques and styles, and all with great success in my opinion.
    This is a "locked room" mystery, set in luxury a retreat isolated on a remote Scottish island a la "And Then There Were None". The characters are looking forward to a relaxing hen weekend with the usual copious quantities of alcohol and gourmet dining provided by their very own personal chef. However, the bloody demise of the chef on the first evening is a fairly strong indicator that things are not going to plan... and then they discover that they have no communications with the outside world...
    The story is narrated through the eyes of each character in turn, gradually revealing that each of them has a (greater or lesser) dark secret in their past, increasing the tension as we wait to find out which of them might be bent on such a ghastly form of blackmail revenge.
    If you share my own taste for well-written twisty plots and properly rounded endings, you can always be sure of a great read when you open any of CB's books - this one being no exception.

  • In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear [read by Julie Teal]
    BOM-InThisGraveHour.jpg Here we find Maisie at the very start of WW2, with events from the previous war all too sharp in her memory. The story concerns Belgian refugees who remained in Britain after WW1, and a tragic event from their past which led to an inexplicable string of murders so many years later.
    The book provides an excellent account of every day life, as civilians start to get to grips with the rituals of gas masks and sheltering from air raids - as well as some less well-remembered political points (see note).
    Note: Before the Blitz started, the government ordered London Transport not to allow people to use the tube stations as shelters - which seems astonishing now, as we more or less identify that period with Londoners sheltering in the Underground. It seems that though Churchill was happy to use a disused underground station as a refuge himself, he talked about forcibly preventing the general populace from doing the same. However, Underground station staff found that it was impossible to stop people entering and setting up their own primitive camps below ground, and in October 1940, the government policy was changed. The short branch line to Aldwych station (often used now and in the past for filming historic dramas) was closed and given over to the public, and three disused stations were specially opened to the public.

  • Riviera Gold by Laurie R King[Read by Jenny Sterlin]
    BOM-RivieraGold.jpg I would say: 'I love these books', but I have found the last two slightly harder going.
    The books are really about Mary rather than Holmes, and I think she writes well about the latter, with understanding and affection, but I'm not keen on her treatment of some of the other characters. Speaking as a Brit, I suppose, I do not really like Mary's rift with Mycroft, and as I mentioned before, I actively dislike what she has done with Mrs Hudson (now "Clarissa", apparently). This story features "Clarissa" centre stage, so I found it hard to engage with it, plus I found the method of the telling - the plot interspersed with "conversations" between two women in a different timeline - rather confusing, (although that may have been simply that it was not ideal for an audio book). And while I do enjoy the author's peppering the stories with well-known characters from the period (in this case Picasso - probably not very realistically in my opinion but... what do I know?), I did prefer her use of fictional characters (ie Lord Peter Wimsey and Kim for example).

  • Winter Holiday, and We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
    [Read by Gareth Armstrong] BOM-WeDidntMeanToGoToSea.jpg BOM-WinterHoliday.jpg
    While Peter Duck is a true adventure story in the style of Treasure Island, these two books are a whole other kettle of fish. In Winter Holiday the Swallows and Amazons meet up with the Ds for the first time, with snow everywhere, and the lake frozen over. Nancy is in bed with the mumps, but still well in charge of the rest - who are in quarantine for the duration and unable to return to school - and their expedition to the "North Pole". This is perhaps the more realistic of the two books, in that the children end up in a very bad situation in a blizzard - all very low key unless you have actually been in that situation - and they are lucky to escape perishing from exposure while no-one has any idea where they can be. It's also a perfect illustration of mis-communications ["when you see a signal start for the North Pole"], which provides a good lesson to inform your later life!
    In the same vein, We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea is even more heart-stoppingly awful, as we watch the Swallows step-by-step make the wrong decisions in an unfamiliar boat - culminating in the inevitable loss of the anchor, and the start of a ghastly trip across the North Sea in a storm. In some ways it could be said that this is a slightly less realistic scenario, but only in as much as - duffers or not - the more realistic outcome would have been that they all drowned. Luckily, with many more books in the series, this was not the case. Again, this is agonising reading as an adult, and again, I love the way the adults are depicted - especially in the closing chapter, as Mr Walker is viewed by the children at a distance, explaining to his wife what their children had really been up to.

Posted on June 30, 2022 at 12:44 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Wednesday June 8, 2022

Downton Abbey

DowntonAbbeyNewEra.jpg

I had an indulgent afternoon out on my own at the Everyman cinema, with a Silver Screen ticket. Designed for the over 55s, the ticket includes free tea and cake, and - along with the twee nature of Downton - perfect in every way!
As for the film - I did feel that the plot was slightly better than previous offerings, relying less on the splendid costumes and locations and more on a proper story. It reflected the New Era in the life of Downton, where they accept a film crew descending on them in exchange for a fee - welcome, however distasteful - and thus it also allowed them to reflect the changes in the film industry through the latest innovation of the "talkies".
However, I'm sure the many fans of Downton would love it whatever the intricacies of the plot (or lack thereof).

Posted on June 8, 2022 at 7:53 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Tuesday May 31, 2022

Books in May

  • The Cook by Ajay Chowdhury
    BOM-TheCook.jpg Overall, despite its having a decent plot and potentially interesting characters, this book was not really to my taste. I don't think that should put anyone else off reading it - my taste is by no means everyone's. Kamil Rahman appeared first in The Waiter, and although I prefer to read books in order, when the publishers via Netgalley kindly offered me Kamil's second outing to review, I decided to read it first. I feel that may have been my mistake. Reviews of The Waiter, explicitly mention the vivid interweaving of cultures by alternating between past events in Kolkata and the present in London being so enjoyable. However, unlike the first book, the action here is based solely in London, and I found it very hard to engage with the characters and the communities. Even though I the fault may be with me, (in that the age and background of the players is well outside my demographic), I think the author should have made me engage more, and thus given me more of an interest in things about which I know little. I have the slight impression that the author said all he wanted to about the characters in the first book, (perhaps an indication that they are a little shallow?). Even the themes of homelessness and domestic abuse - which are shocking and ever-present in our society - failed to raise the emotions in the way they should have.
    Despite the good story, I felt Kamil's investigation came across as implausible; the concept of a familiar crew getting together to solve a mystery on their own smacked almost of children's books. All books with "amateur detectives" have this kind of inherent problem - I heard one experienced author saying: "why would a person in reality accept being questioned by anyone other than the police?". However, again, I think it's the author's job to answer that question, and make me suspend my disbelief. Despite all this, I am still keen to read "The Waiter", and I hope we might get improved characterisations as the series - and the author - progress.

  • A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz [Read by Rory Kinnear]
    BOM-ALineToKill.jpg Of course, as with most of Anthony Horowitz's (may I call you Tony? no?) output - I loved this next book in this series. The plot is good, the characters wonderful, and ... well, what more can I say?
    As this was an audio book - and I would say again what an appropriate reader they have found in Rory Kinnear - they followed an apparent trend, by including an interview with the author at the end. I found this really interesting, not only in Anthony's opinion and insights about writing this and other books, but in his sheer irrepressible enthusiasm for his craft. This is reminiscent of some anecdotes I heard from friends who worked with him in his youth in advertising, when "all he ever wanted to do was to write and write".
    I was also very pleased to discover that far more books are in plan for this series, (beyond the "three book deal"). True to the professional he is, Anthony explained that he will need to vary the form in those future books, and how he might do so, to avoid his own fictional role as "Watson" becoming stale.

  • Hot to Trot by M C Beaton with R W Green [read by Penelope Keith]
    BOM-HotToTrot.jpg As Marion Chesney died in 2019, I thought this would be the last Agatha Raising book I would read; however, this book credits Rod Green as a co-author, and it seems clear he will continue to write the Agatha books*. He makes it clear that Marion worked with him and supplied him with some future storylines - as well as approving his first few chapters on her behalf - before she passed away. I think he really has done a good job, although I do detect a slight mellowing - and I suspect he will be unable to bring himself to make Agatha quite as outrageously foolish as she has been under Marion's watch. (I always likened Agatha to an adult version of Blyton's Noddy - he is based on naughty 3 year old mentality, while she is a naughty 50 year old.)
    * R W Green also seems to be continuing the Hamish McBeth series - a delight yet to come for me - I loved the TV series with Robert Carlyle, and was rather put off to discover that it and he ("not a Highlander!") were intensely disapproved of by Marion. I hope sooner or later Green will achieve full credit for the books that he's responsible for.

  • Swallowdale and Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
    [Read by Gareth Armstrong] BOM-Swallowdale.jpg BOM-PeterDuck.jpg
    Swallowdale takes place the year after Swallows and Amazons. The Swallows - so excited with the prospect of another summer holiday in the Lake District - have to deal with an accident which holes their boat, putting it out of action for the duration of the story (a couple of weeks); this means they cannot camp on Wild Cat Island until it is mended. Instead they find a "secret" valley in which to camp, and a cave - both of which in fact remembered by their relatives from when they were children. Not to mention the "shipwreck" itself at the start of the book, again, there is a very scary element when a sudden mist descends while the the two youngest children (by then, aged only 8 and 10) are making their way back to camp on their own after an "expedition", and they become lost. Once again - despite knowing the outcome - this is especially frightening to read as an adult where you can not only clearly see that, for all their certainty, they are nowhere near where they should be, as they try to follow the (wrong) beck, but you can also fully understand the true peril of being lost and exposed on the fells.
    Peter Duck is quite a different sort of book. Although it still features the S&As, and although it is described very realistically, it is definitely a bit of a tall tale of adventure. Peter Duck himself is a (fictional) old seafaring man living in retirement on the Norfolk Broads. He is referenced in Swallowdale more or less as Titty's imaginary friend, and she names the "secret" cave after him. It is suggested that this is a story made up while the S&As were staying on a Norfolk wherry with Captain Flint, during the winter between the first two books*. Because of he nature of the story, Ransome has a degree of freedom to write an exciting thriller with somewhat larger than life villains and heroes - and yet at the same time staying on the edge of reality - definite shades of Treasure Island.
    * [I see wikipedia describes it as "metafiction"]

Posted on May 31, 2022 at 9:57 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Sunday May 29, 2022

Bletchley Park

BletchleyPark.jpg

I was unexpectedly invited to join a friend and (long ago) colleague on a "works outing" through the company social club (* see note).

It was a terrific day out, and the group was treated to an excellent lunch and tour of the site - and of course we got to see the (or one of the) all important enigma machines. I could thoroughly recommend it as a day out for anyone. The atmosphere of the place has been recreated with dim lighting, recording, and projections - everything looking as though the occupants had just stepped out for a moment.

Below is the bright and airy Library inside the Mansion - but the huts where the coders worked were more or less windowless and very eerie. [And highly reinforced externally with concrete structures.]

BletchleyParkLibrary1.jpg

BletchleyParkLibrary2.jpg

Towards the end of the afternoon Sally and I went across to the National Museum of Computing, which is adjacent to the site. The staff gave us 100% attention and considering it was the end of the day, were still stunningly committed to their task of explaining the history of the machines on display. I was totally gripped - Sally rather less so, as by that time we were both pretty tired and still had to drive home....
We still managed a retail visit to stock up on our "careless talk costs lives" coasters, and the posters about saving gas and electricity, which I felt highly appropriate to display in our house today... though maybe not in order to build more aircraft...

* Note: It's a real shame that after a century of existence, this year sees the demise of our "works social clubs" after the company announced they will no longer support them. Personally, I think it's really mean spirited since the cost involved - the level of actual monetary support having been progressively cut year on year since I joined in the 1980s - must be really trivial for such a large multinational (and profitable) organisation. However, I also see that the reality is that the interest in the clubs has dwindled. Frankly, I think younger employees probably have better things to do with their free time, with social media filling this particular gap, enabling them to more easily access a "club" environment on a broader scale. This is not true for the "retirees" section though; although retirees potentially have the same opportunity for broader social interactions, the club enabled them to retain those loose bonds with old colleagues that they no longer met every day at work - every outing was a kind of class reunion.

Posted on May 29, 2022 at 7:46 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Thursday May 26, 2022

Betchworth Castle Walk

BetchworthCastle.jpg

Following the relatively uninteresting (and hot) walk along the river Mole last month, I was told that one could walk in the opposite direction on a footpath to Brockham - so we did. After stopping for a cup of tea and a cake at the Reading Room coffee and cake house in the village, we walked back and took a diversion following signs to Betchworth Castle. The latter is not a castle but a derelict medieval house, in process of being saved as a scheduled monument.

BetchworthCastle3.jpg

BetchworthCastle2.jpg

Below is an interesting object sighted on the banks of a fishing lake, on the way to Brockham. Someone has set up a wooden hunter - viewed through the hedgerow, it certainly had us fooled for a while...!

ModelHunter.jpg

Posted on May 26, 2022 at 3:36 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Saturday May 14, 2022

Sonning - Busman's Honeymoon

BusmansHoneymoonSonningMill.jpg

Lord Peter Wimsey - upper crust sleuth - has married his lovely fiancee, Harriet Vane. But his honeymoon bliss is shattered when the dead body of the house's previous owner turns up in the cellar.

It seems long ago now that I signed up for this outing to The Mill - and after much rescheduling - here we are again. I did hear a radio production of this story in 2014 with Ian Carmichael, from which I remember the plot was slight enough and a cactus played a leading role. Nonetheless, (ignoring the cactus who was a bit wooden), the acting in this production was probably the best I have seen at Sonning* - at best it's challenging in such a small and intimate space. James Sheldon as Lord Peter was really excellent, convincingly depicting Wimsey's determined gaiety as he tries to overcome his somewhat fragile mental state, as well as his sheer joy at being with Harriet (Kate Tydman). I should really mention all the cast as they were a brilliant set of experienced supporting actors - and I was delighted to find Noel White stepping up as the police Inspector one again, (though the audience refrained from cheering on this occasion and probably quite appropriately as it was a less tongue-in-cheek production!).
I also need to say - the meals provided at the Mill are really excellent, and it was so good to enjoy the experience with the usual group of friends and colleagues, especially now I have retired.

* I was interested to read a rather critical review which to me hardly described the same play that I saw - all I can say is it must have been an off day, and since the reviewer admits, he may have eaten too much beforehand I can only conclude it affected his judgement, though why it would have done so negatively I cannot imagine...

Posted on May 14, 2022 at 3:43 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Wednesday May 11, 2022

Ryeland Sheep

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I went to pick up two Ryeland fleeces from a neighbour - hoping that someone in the Guild might like to spin them - otherwise I shall do so myself. Above are the two boys in person - very friendly and interested in the prospect of nibbles. Not looking quite as teddy-bear like as they are before shearing. These are chocolate Ryelands and the fleece has some grey so it will be interesting to see what the yarn turns out like.

Also, as always on this day, I am thinking of my school friend Kate, whose birthday it would have been. Today particularly I'm remembering her, and her sisters, as they commemorate and celebrate her life.

Posted on May 11, 2022 at 12:09 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving. | Comments (0)

Saturday April 30, 2022

Books in April

  • Low Actionby Andrew Cartmel [Read by Finlay Robertson]
    BOM-LowAction.jpg Another interesting excursion into the world of popular music - in this case: Punk.
    Our hero, the Vinyl Detective - a moniker he has come to rue - is again drawn into danger (and a murder plot) with the lure of finding a rare record. As before, I found the mystery and characters highly engaging - already looking forward to the next one.
    I also have to say, I enjoy the setting of the characters lives, which is in and around Richmond and Surrey. In this book in particular there are many fairly detailed descriptions of journeys taken by bike and car to places very familiar to me and which I have great delight in unpicking. I especially hope the author does actually live in the residence described as the detective's home - which is lovely - since I know he lives or lived in that area.

  • Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome [Read by Gareth Armstrong]
    BOM-PigeonPost.jpg I decided to listen to the Swallows and Amazons books - it's a very long time since I read them. I do plan to approach them in order but for nostalgic reasons I had to start with this one. It was the first one I read - aged about 8 - when I knew nothing about the book nor that it was part of any series. In truth, I was probably a bit young for it, but I went to the local library (located in a tin hut behind the Parish Hall) every week after Brownies, and I was always drawn to plain book covers (this one red with no dust cover) where the contents provided all the colour and excitement you could ever want.
    At the time I remember being completely mystified in trying to keep track of a rather large number of children - introduced all at once - and by the fact that they all called each other Captain, Able Seaman, and so on, when there were no boats in sight. I think in hindsight that I must have struggled with the reading - or was simply missing the experience to really understand what was happening - because it was quite a surprise to find how thrilling the plot is. The children face real jeopardy from a wild fire, which, as an adult, makes you sick with fear - even when you know the outcome...
    Despite that, there are a lot of interesting nuggets of information in the book which clearly stayed with me into adulthood, without my ever consciously remembering where they came from, and it was fun to rediscover them.

  • A Rising Man, A Necessary Evil, Smoke and Ashes, A Death in the East,
    and The Shadows of Men by Abir Mukherjee [Read by Simon Bubb]

    For me, these books are wonderful, and splendidly narrated by Simon Bubb.
    Set in India, just after the first World War, it's the time of the British Raj, a time of nationalistic agitation against direct rule and India's push for independence. Again for me, I think they are perfectly pitched - and I feel comfortable in that view because of the author's ethnicity. Abir Mukherjee is a Scottish Bengali author, so to my mind he is able to tread a tricky line describing the inherent injustice of the era but also with some insight into "Britishness" and all that that conveys.
    His two protagonists are Captain Sam Wyndham (ex policeman relocated from Scotland Yard), and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee (educated in England and called Surrender-not, by his British superiors, claiming to be unable to pronounce his name). Banerjee has rejected his family's plan for his career and instead chose to join the police; in the first few books he is accepting of the status quo, however I think his attitudes harden as the author uses the novel to reflect social issues of the time. Wyndham's attitude to politics seems moderately neutral, especially compared with his peers in the force - but then he has his own internal demons from his experiences fighting in the war in Europe (WW1) to deal with. He does offer a certain wry cynicism in his thinking, but not generally expressed. I find his attitudes somewhat warmly familiar. My own Father was in India in the 1930's up until independence. He was first in the British Army and then later the Indian Army, and he definitely had no chauvinistic illusions about Britain's "right to rule", or the general superiority of the then rulers. At the same time, he wasn't standing up to be counted - just doing a job. At the current point in the stories, Sam reminds me of him - probably without the opioid addiction though...
    We are now up to the 5th book, but I'm not quite up to date in my reading yet.

    BOM-ARisingMan.jpg BOM-ANecessaryEvil.jpg BOM-SmokeAndAshes.jpg BOM-DeathInTheEast.jpg

Posted on April 30, 2022 at 8:36 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Saturday April 23, 2022

Spring lambs

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I made these as a bit of fun for our Guild meeting.
They were quite popular but I think better in look than taste - but then I'm not fond of marsh mallow. Probably more fun with kids for both eating and creating.

Posted on April 23, 2022 at 10:41 AM. Category: Kitchen and food. | Comments (0)

Thursday April 21, 2022

Mole Valley Walk

MoleValley.jpg

While visiting a local garden centre I noticed there was access to a trail along the River Mole, so Rob and I met up to take a walk. In practice is was a very hot day, with lots of dog walkers, and we saw very few birds. We followed trails on both sides of the river, and eventually had to turn back as the path to the Box Hill view point was closed for renovations to the steps.
We did spend some time watching some cock pheasants making enthusiastic amorous advances to "the ladies"...

MoleValleyPheasants.jpg

...and Rob took some good photos of a few butterflies.

MoleValleySpeckledWood.jpg

MoleValleyBrimstone.jpg

MoleValleyOrangeTip.jpg

MoleValleyPeacock.jpg

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 3:38 PM. Category: Days Out. | Comments (0)

Sunday April 17, 2022

Easter Sunday

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So we hid the hand-crafted eggs around the garden for the almost-two-year-old to find in the Grand Egg Hunt - but unfortunately the magpies found them first... however I suspect they must have been very disappointed when they found no actual "egg".

Posted on April 17, 2022 at 5:13 PM. Category: The Garden. | Comments (0)

Friday April 15, 2022

Summer Pots

SummerFlowerPots2022.jpg

I copied a commercial collection to create these pretty pots for the summer - however, they include French lavender with saxifrage and primula, which are not a compatible seasonal combination, so I will no doubt be replacing some of them in a couple of weeks, as they die back.
Below are extravagantly pretty pink "parrot" tulips that somehow escaped the attention of the squirrels last autumn.

Tulips12022.jpg

Posted on April 15, 2022 at 11:12 AM. Category: The Garden. | Comments (0)

Thursday March 31, 2022

Books in March

  • Troubled Bloodby Robert Galbraith[Read by Robert Glenister]
    BOM-TroubledBlood.jpg I guess this is another one of those I'd been saving up for a rainy day, and it did not disappoint. It is a long book - I believe JK Rowling has been criticised for this in general - but fans are as much interested in the story of the characters as in the mystery plot so I can't see there will be many complaints. As to the plot: it is pretty complex and, in hindsight, highly improbable; however it's told in such a way that disbelief is suspended and it becomes wholly convincing. Strike and Robin investigate a 20 year old unsolved missing person case - with little hope of resolution after so many years. On the plus side, as they are not the police, and as it is all so long ago, some witnesses are more forthcoming than they were at the time - whilst on the negative side, others are more determined than ever that some facts should never be revealed. Add to this a fascinating diversion into the occult as they try to decipher the long-dead DI's casebook, (written as he descended into a mental breakdown), and we are all set for a jolly time!
    Robert Glenister is a simply brilliant reader, and to me he particularly excels himself with this book. He is truly narrating rather than acting out but manages to voice each character quite distinctively, and even includes the "stage directions" as written (yawns, coughs etc) without ever over-doing it or becoming a distraction from the text.
    I think this illustrates a bit of a loss for Mark Billingham's books, which are now narrated by the author; Mark is brilliant, but a comedian first and actor second, (actually I should revise that immediately as I think that these days he has to be classed as an author first).

  • The Edge by Dick Francis [Read by Tony Britton]
    BOM-TheEdge.jpg Dick Francis' books always have a "theme" and they are always at their best when that theme sticks to racing. However in this book the "theme" is not only racing but also a good deal about the Canadian railway system, as the entire action of the plot is on board a racing "special" which is transporting owners and horses between the race venues.
    Some other readers noted - as did I - that the more gripping elements were a bit diluted since the hero, working under cover throughout, never really confronted the the villain of the piece in his true persona. But in truth, the book was not among his best because it was published after Mary had died, and I think there is no doubt when considering the Francis catalogue, that she put the true magic into the books. I think his technical information, structure, and plotting are all sound, but the gut-wrenching emotion, and thrilling sense of jeopardy, are missing without her influence.

  • The Department of Sensitive Crimes, The Strange Case of the Moderate Extremists , The Talented Mr. Varg, and The Man with the Silver Saab
    by Älexander McCall Smith [Read by Saul Reichlin]

    This is an amusing set of tongue-in-cheek mysteries from "Älexander" McCall Smith. It satirises the "scandi-noir" books, dwelling excessively on philosophy and ethics (somewhat at the expense of plot). Enjoyable rather than ground breaking.
    It's a particularly nice touch to have Saul Reichlin's gravelly narration, as heard in the famous Dragon Tattoo (Millenium) series - and others.

    BOM-TheDepartmentOfSensitiveCrimes.jpg BOM-TheStrangeCaseOfTheModerateExtremists.jpg BOM-TheTalentedMrVarg.jpg BOM-TheManWithTheSilverSaab.jpg

Posted on March 31, 2022 at 11:15 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Monday March 21, 2022

The Duke

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Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren pretending to be old - but in fact portraying characters from the 1960s that were well over 10 years younger than the actors are now. [To be fair I think working people had generally much harder lives then]. Anyway - a lovely film, a great cast, and a courtroom drama and script approved of by the Law Society Gazette.
Based on the true story, Kempton Bunton is shown as a charming if hopelessly irritating man with a practised line in standing up for working people and OAPs. I dearly hope they took the script from his actual testimony in court, but, even if so, I'm sure it had to be much edited to avoid dull procedural legal guff in what is billed as a comedy.

Posted on March 21, 2022 at 11:51 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Sunday March 6, 2022

Spring Pots

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My Autumn bulbs in the beds were been decimated (or worse) by squirrels digging them up to eat - a lack of acorns this year due to the oak processionary moth. However, I protected some small pots with chicken wire....

Posted on March 6, 2022 at 10:33 AM. Category: The Garden. | Comments (0)

Monday February 28, 2022

Books in February

  • Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
    BOM-LessonsInChemistry.jpg I chose to review an early copy of this book (courtesy of Random House and NetGalley) because, as I trained as a chemist, the title interested me. To be clear, I did not expect it to be about chemistry, and - if my friends are anything to go by - I need to reassure other readers that it is not really about chemistry. It is a brilliant piece of story-telling with a fair mix of triumphs, tragedies, and humour, but with a set of very serious messages - which you can either enjoy - or ignore.
    The major problem in life for the heroine is misogyny in science - and the secondary problem is her uncompromising attitude to it. The author is able to magnify these points as the book is set in the America of the early 1960s, where women do not have the brains to pursue serious careers, and when they do, must be suitably modest, and accepting of an inferior role. Although much less overt today, we know that underlying attitudes (unintentional bias at the very least) still severely limit women's success in science (and any other professional fields you care to mention). I read that the author "worked widely in the fields of technology, medicine, and education" and suspect the book is a reflection of her experiences, first or second hand.
    I notice the book's publicity blurb focuses on the central character - but the book is crammed with delightful characters - all brimming with idiosyncrasies, and who are in many ways easily as interesting as her: the precocious daughter, the abused neighbour, the vicar who doesn't believe in God, the slighted secretaries... the dog... In fact they are the real "enablers" who, through their extraordinary natures and kindnesses, give her some degree of freedom to be so fiercely determined in her outlook.
    I can't recommend this book enough - like Nigella Lawson, I was sorry when it came to an end.
    [I read that it has already been taken up by Apple to become a TV series - an obvious development - but I dearly hope they do it justice.]

  • The Appeal by Janice Hallett [read by Aysha Kala, Daniel Philpott, Rachel Adedeji, and Sid Sagar]
    BOM-TheAppeal.jpg I think this is an astonishingly good first novel; the major thing wrong with saying that is that it makes it sound as though it "could be improved on with practice" and this is definitely not the case in my opinion. In fact, it's a really intriguing mystery, presented to the reader in an highly original manner. A series of emails and other documentation is shared with us, as it is in the process of being scrutinised by some junior members of a legal team in preparation for an appeal hearing. It is fascinating to eavesdrop on these messages, as they gradually reveal a conspiracy (and then a murder) as well as the characters of all the players - and they really are "players", all being stalwarts of village society and members of the local amateur dramatic society. The "appeal" is a clever title referring not only to the court appeal, but also a potential fraud relating to a charity appeal.
    I'd also like to confirm that it has a very satisfactory ending - always a key point for me!
    This book was a Christmas gift, but I actually listened to most of it as an audio book. Given the nature of the presentation (emails, post-it notes, facsimiles of flyers, whatsapp messages etc), representing it off the page was pretty challenging, and, once again, very well done. [On some occasions I was glad to have the book to refer to, but I think it would have worked well enough without it].

  • Cry Baby by Mark Billingham [read by Mark Billingham as narrator, joined by a host of others including Robert Glenister and David Morrissey ]
    BOM-CryBaby.jpg A prequel: we've gone back to 1996, and the point in Thorne's life where he's breaking up with his wife, and in the process of purchasing his famous north London bachelor flat. It's a case involving a child abduction which is doubly traumatic for Thorne as he is still haunted by dreams of a previous, and similar, case which ended all too tragically.
    In the epilogue, we return to the present with Thorne briefly reflecting on the case. My only reason for mentioning this is that Mark now puts (lovely) Helen definitively in the past (yes, I'm still annoyed), with Thorne relishing thoughts of moving on. I can see from a writer's point of view, it's easier to have new characters to explore, and I would also say that this inability to settle is very "real" but we have now got to the stage where Thorne will for ever be playing at Jack the Lad in his (I interpret) slobby flat, continually moving on as each new woman finally observes his feet of clay.
    The most interesting thing about this audio book was that it was presented almost as radio drama. The prose was narrated by Mark - so the complete book was actually read out - but all the dialogue was voiced by individual actors, and it really worked so well; all credit to the actors and editors for making it come across so naturally, (because I suspect it was not like a play where all the cast can be recording in one room as a piece). David Morrissey got to reprise his role as the voice of Thorne, and Robert Glenister, who was missing his role as narrator on previous books, had a chance to be included. I would not like all audio books to be adapted in this way but it really was very original and refreshing.

  • Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham [Read by David Thorpe]
    BOM-FlowersForTheJudge.jpg As I mentioned when I read the Campion novel last month, I have read only one other Margery Allingham book previously, (Black Plumes), and I found it fairly light-hearted and none too riveting. Mr Campion's Farewell was very much in the same vein - but then, it was not actually written by Allingham, although I had thought it a fairly good pastiche. Hence this book was all a bit of a surprise - a pleasant surprise. It had an interesting plot, and, as far as I can judge, was pretty well written. I was quite captivated by the dramatic descriptions of the coroner's court and the Old Bailey.
    [I note that a reviewer on "Good Reads" states "at times, this is one of the best books that Allingham has written" - and also mentions the courtroom scenes which confirms to me that this may be one of her better Campions.]
    A point of interest to me: the inquest seemed to have a jury - which I thought a bit odd and was driven to look it up; it seems that they have been "rarely used" in England since 1927, and are only mandatory in very specific circumstances - since 1977, their rulings do not commit a person to trial, (a change which took place after Lord Lucan was charged in 1975 - presumably in his absence). As is often the way, having never noticed them before, I subsequently saw a coroner's jury performing in an old black and white movie.

  • Slow Horses, Dead Lions, and The List
    by Mick Herron [Read by Seán Barrett]

    My friend Tony recommended these books some good while ago, and I was pleased to find them in audio book form. They are really gripping and well-written and I can hardly wait to continue with the series.
    The overall style owes a lot to Le Carré, who popularised a much more dangerous and less- glamorous view of spies - intentionally a polar opposite to the cinematic version of James Bond. Personally, I enjoyed these stories more than Le Carré in general, (probable exception being Tinker Tailor...), who is more cerebral, and much more poignantly sad. I can't comment intelligently on the comparative writing skill, but although these retain the introspection, sense of anxiety, and tragedy, they are more overt thriller than psychological thriller, and each story has a comforting sense of resolution at the end, (which always suits me better in this type of fiction!).
    Apparently they are due to be released on April 1st as a 6 part series on Apple TV. Gary Oldman plays Jackson Lamb (a kind of subverted George Smiley) - hard to imagine since Lamb is overwhelming fat but from the pre-release photos they seem to have focussed on other characteristics - and Kristin Scott Thomas (a personal favourite of mine) is perfectly cast as Diana Taverner.

    BOM-SlowHorses.jpg BOM-DeadLions.jpg BOM-TheList.jpg

Posted on February 28, 2022 at 7:06 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Sunday February 13, 2022

Death on the Nile

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So Poirot has reined in the controversial moustaches (seen in Murder on the Orient Express) - maybe too hot for Egypt. It was all beautifully acted out by a star-studded cast, and the locations were stunning - well worth seeing on the big screen (or as big as it gets these days). True, there were minor plot alterations to fit in with the history that Brannagh is creating, but none of which I would quibble with. However, excellent though it was, and much as I enjoy watching different interpretations of the same play/material.... it made me feel there is little left to be explored in this story - which is not good. Unfortunately, when making a Christie production, you have a dilemma as to whether perfectly act out her story as told, or make changes about which die-hard fans will inevitably be up in arms. Brannagh has done good work here but whether it proves enough of a success to make a solid franchise is up for debate. Poirot did point the way to a future adaptation in relating his dream of "retiring to grow vegetable marrows" - but will Roger Ackroyd ever make it onto the big screen? It's a hard novel to adapt, having the "unreliable narrator" as fairly key to the plot, so there would be scope for some innovative fresh approach...
[My main regret is that Peter Ustinov played Poirot in the seventies version. Much as I like Ustinov, (as Poirot and otherwise) he cannot help but make the stories much more light-hearted than they should be. I can see Poirot as a somewhat comic character but not a clown; I think David Suchet gets the balance right, where the humour lies mainly in how seriously Poirot takes himself. Even then, the later TV adaptations of the novels did not work anything like as well as the original short stories.]

Posted on February 13, 2022 at 4:50 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Saturday February 12, 2022

Unravel 2022

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After just squeezing in a trip to Unravel in 2020, about 2 weeks before everything shut down for the duration, we are back again for the reopening in 2022. We had lunch at the Giggling Squid before starting on our retail experience, and almost immediately met some friends for a cup of tea once in the Maltings.

Having got our priorities right, we then did actually buy some yarn - I got my usual couple of balls of sock yarn (as if I had not had my fill of socks lately!), and then in a surprise departure, bought some skeins from The Knitting Shed and Debonnaire, with a plan to make shawls/wraps. The yarns below are variously merino, silk, and mohair.

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Posted on February 12, 2022 at 10:25 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet. | Comments (0)

Monday January 31, 2022

Books in January

  • The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett
    BOM-TheTwyfordCode.jpg Janice Hallett's second book offers another (quite different) innovative way of presenting a mystery story. Much of the text is a digital transcription of a number of audio files, apparently found on the mobile phone of a - now missing - ex-convict. This automated digitisation process is not perfect, and results in a writing style which has the effect of emphasising the educational background and underprivileged upbringing of the narrator. Indeed a lot of the story stems from his attempts to unravel a mysterious, somewhat traumatic, and imperfectly recalled event from his schooldays. The "code" of the title is (possibly) embedded in some books for children written in the 1940s by a prolific authoress now out of favour due to her mainly sexist and racist attitudes - sound familiar? I loved it. We are treated to short excerpts of Enid Blyton pastiche - clearly great fun for Hallett to write - and the protagonist, Steven, as a relatively newly-literate adult, seems to find the stories as compelling as most juniors did in their era. For myself, I was totally hooked as Steven unravelled the mystery, if not partly because the plot was (fully intentionally I believe) not without some similarities to those children's adventure yarns of old. The episodic nature of the "files", plus the constant fear for Steven's safety, made the book hard to put down.
    However, the above only describes some elements of what made the book appeal so much to me - for the rest, you will have to read it yourself. Overall, the story is a contemporary thriller completely grounded in a gritty reality, and has the most wonderful twist of a conclusion, which moves us far beyond childhood nostalgia and the Famous Five.

  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber [Read by Jill Tanner]
    BOM-TheCrimsonPetalAndTheWhite.jpg I watched the BBC production of this book (over 10 years ago as it turns out) starring Romola Garai. It was an excellent production and I recommended the book to Alison (she likes a chunky read to get her teeth into) but I never read it myself. I do remember wondering how they managed to get such a lengthy tome into 4 episodes. However, now I have read it in full I think they did a remarkably good job. Of course, I would not recommend the screen version as a substitute for the book itself; the latter is wonderfully rich, full of fascinating characters, absorbing descriptions, and evoking a fantastic picture of Victorian life at every level. Despite its length I was sorry to have to finish it. It's hardly surprising that many readers (and screen watchers) were eager for more stories and episodes. However, I think the author had said all he wanted about the characters. The ending was left a little open, and the audience reaction reminded me of The Magus with everyone wanting to be explicitly reassured that it "all turned out alright". This includes me, since I had thought that there might more closure in the book itself, but this was not so. Nonetheless, I think, perhaps more than Fowles, the author strongly indicates that Sugar and Sophie will be "OK", (and that William never will be).
    Faber did subsequently write a short story collection The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories (which I did read) where he "returns to Silver Street to find it still teeming with life, and conjures further tantalising glimpses of Sugar, Clara, Mr Bodley" etc. This is not any kind of sequel - which it does not claim to be - nevetheless, a large number of fans seemed to find it disappointing, having had high expectations of that "closure". I think this says more about the readers than the book.

  • Mr Campion's Farewell by Mike Ripley [Read by David Thorpe]
    BOM-MrCampionsFarewell.jpg As I referenced when talking about Dune, Dick Francis, etc, I see that Albert Campion has become a franchise. He was a character created by Margery Allingham in the 1920s - apparently intended as a parody of Lord Peter Wimsey, which I can easily understand - but she died in 1966, and I thought so too did Campion. However, her last novel was completed posthumously by her husband, Philip Youngman Carter, who in turn wrote a couple more books, and then when he died in 1969, the baton passed, after some years, to Mike Ripley, who (with the approval and agreement of the Margery Allingham Society), completed Carter's last manuscript, which became Mr Campion's Farewell, published in 2014. (Phew!) Since then, Ripley seems to have published a Campion novel every year.
    So, back to the point - this novel.
    I enjoyed it for what it was... which was, I guess... everything I imagined it would be.
    After all, Ripley is a talented crime writer so really no less than I would have expected from him, retaining a fairly light-hearted treatment for a mystery thriller. I was particularly delighted at the absence of the brittle dialogue, and impenetrable 1920s "bright young things" jargon, which made the last Allingham book I listened to - Black Plumes - almost impossible to understand. So I think if you like the originals, you will like this one - as I did.
    At the same time I noted that at one point, while considering the "goings on" he is investigating at the quaint English village of Lindsay Carfax - which I can tell you has distinct shades of Christie's Bertram's Hotel - Campion concludes that the (not-so) secret society of "Carders", seems "all a bit childish really". And for me: completely worthy of Enid Blyton I would say...

Posted on January 31, 2022 at 11:12 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Friday January 28, 2022

Christmas Jigsaw - completed

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Finally completed the Christmas jigsaw over teatime this afternoon.

Posted on January 28, 2022 at 6:37 PM. Category: Staying at Home. | Comments (0)