If Greenock Had Hosted The Olympics……….Olympics Variorum No.1

……….The Olympics has taken over a bit chez nous! We watch it on TV constantly at home, we listen to it on the radio when in the car and we are lucky enough to have tickets to go a couple of times! One effect of this is that I’m reading very little so I thought since the Olympics has taken over our lives I’d let it to the same to my blog – otherwise I’ll have sod all to write about really!

Greenock
The beautiful Lomond Hills in the distance – the not quite so beautiful Greenock in the foreground

One of the things that strikes me about the Games is the sheer scale and breadth of it – and that’s where my home town, Greenock in Scotland, comes in. For those of you who don’t know it, Greenock is on the west coast of Scotland about 20 something miles from Glasgow – originally an industrial town which grew up and existed for many years to serve shipbuilding. There are some things which I think characterise Greenock. Our Scottish accent is on the harsh side which makes it unintelligible to many other Scots and the rest of the world has no chance! It rains a lot – Greenock is frequently on the lists of the wettest places in the UK every year! We have a reputation to be…..em……well…….short-arsed! The two-week holiday in July, when most Greenock businesses and people traditionally took their holidays used to be referred to by other Scots going on holiday at the same time as going away during the “midget fortnight!” The views FROM Greenock across to the Lomond Hills are beautiful and spectacular – the views from the Lomond Hills back to Greenock are, well, not that nice really! I’ve always thought Greenock is one of those places best seen from a distance (the further the better if you ask my family!) than up close!

I think of my home city as Glasgow of course and yet Greenock was where I was born and grew up. And I always felt that Greenock existed for Glaswegians to have somewhere to look down on!!! (that’s when you know you’re one one of the lowest rungs of the social ladder!). At the time when Glasgow was European City of Culture in the mid-1980’s, the Glasgow Herald ran a spoof series of stories entitled “Greenock – European Burgh Of Culture!” sending up the fact that Greenock could be pretty much the most uncouth, uncultured place on the planet really! I lived in Spain then and my cousin used to cut them out and send them to me – they were hilarious! And lastly, by way of setting these posts up, I have to explain the “Variorum” – this was part of a news phenomenon in Greenock – we had a small local newspaper 6 nights a week, the Greenock Telegraph, which was bought and read by about 90% of the population. In it, there was a piece called the Variorum, a collection of varied and random pieces of information which were masquerading as news – it was frequently bizarre, constantly surreal and always daft  – or as one Greenockian described it on an internet forum “the Variorum – what hilarious pish was put in there!”

Here are some samples of what passed for news in Greenock!

A man was seen walking his dog in Coronation Park. (!)

A bus conductress wasn’t pleased today when a man handed her a £5 note to pay a fare of only 50p. (!!)

Largs had one of its busiest Glasgow Fair Mondays in years, with the main streets congested with traffic. The sea front car park had a ‘full’ notice until well on in the evening. (!!!)

Customers in a large supermarket in town last night were taken by surprise when it was announced that large loaves of French crusty bread were being given away free. Apparently the store had made too many, and had decided to treat their customers to a gift. (I think this might be an error actually – more likely they were robbing the store and the Telegraph was trying to avoid casting the town in a bad light!)

So, inspired by the Greenock Telegraph Variorum, I’ve decided to make my Olympic posts over the next couple of weeks nothing more than random ramblings – which, when  think about it, isn’t any different from what I write on here the rest of the time!

Olympic Variorum 1 – Saturday July 28th

“She’s gorgeous Andy! She’s ABSOLUTELY gorgeous!”

The Opening Ceremony was fantastic. In places it was spectacular, in others very ecletic and funny and throughout it was always entertaining and showed Britain off in a great light – mind you we might have been only showing it to ourselves in a great light as god knows what the rest of the world made of it! Most blogs and comments and newspaper reviews seem to have the same positive view though. I’ve read the odd negative comment from eejits like that Tory MP/tosser (delete as applicable!), but most people seem to have loved it.

I partly loved it because it didn’t have the usual stuff about Britain – no Beefeaters, or Red Arrows, or a million minor Royals we’ve never heard of – and how can you not love a ceremony with The Arctic Monkeys live! However I’ve not read anybody yet who agrees with me on the best part – it wasn’t the James Bond thing, or the Rowan Atkinson thing,Gregory's Girl or Kenneth Branagh or fireworks or any other of that stuff. It was the part, during the sequence about the love story “Frankie and June Say Thanks Tim!” where they played part of the film- and soundtrack, of Gregory’s Girl – the most wonderful film ever! I can amuse and entertain my family by remembering virtually the whole script and saying it out loud before the line is delivered as we watch it! (note: “entertain” and “amuse” are my words to describe this talent – their words are I think “bore” and “embarrass”!)

So thank you Danny Boyle (and if there is any justice, soon to be Sir Daniel of Boyle)  and well done – and above all thank you Gregory!

Yesterday Butter! Today The Olympics! Tomorrow The World!

The visual spectacle of the Opening Ceremony was matched if not surpassed for me by the music. Donkey’s years ago I bought Never Mind The Bollocks and it changed the music I listened to overnight really! While I never abandoned my rock roots altogether nor fully embraced the punk style (I tried it for a short time but while I could do the hair and clothes, I hated the idea of piercings – I had a great idea once as a compromise – wearing clip-on earrings – it didn’t work!). But I loved punk music. I saw The Ramones more years ago than I care to admit – it was chaotic, shambolic and utterly wonderful! But even I never thought we’d see The Sex Pistols at The Olympics – and not once but twice. First God Save The Queen in a little film during the ceremony and then in the stadium itself the chimes of Pretty Vacant! I liked it. First John Lydon advertises butter, then they promote the Olympics. Who’d have thought a bunch of eejits who could barely play and who couldn’t really sing, but who had a nice line in “Fuck Off!” and who had more front than Blackpool would have come to this?!

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now!

QueenI’ve read much of what a “great sport” The Queen was in doing the little sketch with Daniel Craig for the Ceremony. I liked it and it was very funny – and somehow very British – but from then on during the ceremony, every time the cameras captured her she looked pretty pissed off to me. After a bit she began to irritate me if I’m honest. I know Morrisey’s not exactly an ardent royalist, but she and he should get together and swop notes about looking miserable in public.

I admit I’m not a fan of the Royal Family at the best of times – but at least Anne and Charles and Harry and William look as if they enjoy these things!

Maybe the expectant “Sir Daniel Of Boyle” shouldn’t hire that m0rning suit just yet!

“I Didn’t See The Flame Or Nuffink Your Honour, But JT Didn’t Start That Fire!”

Like many others, while watching the athletes file in for the Opening Ceremony I was surprised (and not pleasantly) to see the-see-no-evil, hear-no-evil guru Ashley Cole himself carrying in one of the flags! Personally I’d like to blame G4S – as I blame them for most things these days – but EVEN THEY don’t deserve to get the blame for Ashley Cole!

Still – be grateful for small mercies – at least we didn’t have to look at a bloody John Terry look-alike as well!

And Finally, If The Olympics Had Been Held In Greenock…..

……….There’s no way all 200 odd of those copper pans for the Olympic Flame would have been there by the end – someone would have nicked most of them and sold them to a scrap dealer while the ceremony was going on!

Ex-US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Guide To The Man Booker Prize 2012!……….

……….To much publicity, controversy, chagrin and the odd bit of pompous crap, the Booker Prize list for 2012 was announced 2 days ago. After 48 hours I’ve already enjoyed reading some really good articles and blog posts about the Booker longlist for this year – mind you I’ve skimmed a few as well!

So in getting round to writing about it 2 days later, I think I’m pretty slow. No doubt every angle of the Booker list has been covered – but as the American politician and one time Presidential candidate Mo Udall said of a US political debate, “Everything that can be said on this topic has been said – but not everyone has said it yet!!” Well, I’m writing my Booker Longlist twopence worth in exactly that spirit!!!!!

So my challenge to myself is to write something fresh about the Man Booker when everything has already been written – that’s where Donald comes in. For those of you who don’t know, Donald Rumsfeld was US Defence Secretary twice, latterly under George Bush (a time which might aptly have been celebrated by the Specials singing their classic song “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum!). As well as slightly-to-the-right-of-Genghis-Khan political beliefs, Donald Rumsfeld was also well-known for his, what you might call “way with words!”. And I’m using one of those classic Donald speeches to guide you through the Man Booker Longlist for 2012.

The Donald Rumsfeld Guide To The Man Booker Prize 2012

It seems to me that one of Donald’s most famous speeches lends itself perfectly to a personal review of the Man Booker Prize 2012 longlist.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Like a knife through butter (and an axe through logic and a sledgehammer through the beauty of the English language) Donald Rumsfeld allows me to strip the Booker list instantly into its three key components – and as I hope to show by the end, this isn’t just some random categorisation! I’m talking about a sociological truth, an indisputable law of book nature, and I think I have the evidence to prove it!

Category 1. Donald’s Known Knowns

These are the books that I know that I know. That’s to say I’ve read them, I know I’ve read them, and knowing I’ve read them means I know whether or not I think it deserved to be on the list – though of course at this stage known knowns can only be compared with other known knowns, as it would be unfair to compare them with known unknowns and impossible to compare them with unknown unknowns! Still with me?!

So my known knowns are:

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. (Great book – really loved it!)

And that’s it I’m afraid! At this stage I haven’t read any of the other books on the list – but I’m glad this one made it. And that’s not me comparing it to known unknowns or unknown unknowns – that’s me comparing it to all the other known knowns I’ve read this year which didn’t make the list!

Category 2. Donald’s (Completely, Or Slightly) Known Unknowns

Now some of these are books where I know the author but don’t know the actual book itself. And the reason is they are famous. So they are known but the book is unknown. So my Completely Known Unknowns are:

Umbrella by Will Self (Mmmmm – Will Self always seems a miserable git really – will wait and see if this makes the shortlist before I decide whether or not to read it – secretly and irrationally I hope it won’t!)

And that’s it I’m afraid! Will Self is certainly well known to me but his books are absolutely unknown to me. I’ve read articles in newspapers and magazines and seen him on TV – not my cup of tea I fear!

On the slightly known unknown front, these are books I know of, by authors I know of, but not specifically books I actually know or authors I actually know! So my Slightly Known Unknowns are:

Skios by Michael Frayn (I saw this mega-cheap in the Oxfam bookshop on Wednesday and decided against buying it – am now kicking myself!!)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (this is in my ‘What Next’ pile and I’ve read great reviews of it elsewhere so it will be getting promoted up the queue!)

Category 3. Donald’s Unknown Unknowns

These are books I’ve never really heard of, by authors I’ve never really heard of – till now!

The Yips by Nicola Barker (I was given her novel Darkmans as a gift but it seems to be one of those books with lead weights in it – I’ve never plucked up the energy to read it – I can barely lift it! If this weighs less I might have a go at it!)

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (apparently part of the story is a man on a restorative walking holiday with “events” unfolding around him – sounds like a perfect book for the evil Kindle so I can read about all that walking while I’m walking the dog!)

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil ( A story about a Mumbai opium den and its users which the review in the Guardian in February likened to an opium-induced dream – and as I am always up for an opium induced dream, I think this will be a definite for me!)

Communion Town by Sam Thompson (which tells the story of a city – possibly New York or London – told from the perspective of 10 different characters – not sure about this one yet!)

Philida by Andre Brink (one of the very few non-British authors on this year’s list with a story about a slave in South Africa in the 1830’s – I can find no real reviews of it but something about it sounds good – another one I think I’ll read myself!)

The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (another non-British author and perhaps one I should have heard of as a previous book of his was nominated for the Booker in 2007 – but I didn’t pay as much attention to the Booker back then!)

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (The review I read of this makes it sound like an intriguing possible! It’s about a middle class family, holidaying in France, who find a woman swimming in their pool. She stays with them and the novel charts what happens from there! However, in addition to the review, the book also apparently has an introduction by Tom McCarthy. I recently read and absolutely loved his novel “C” – so if Tom McCarthy likes it then this moves from an intriguing possible to a dead cert for me!)

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (It’s a great title – but I’m wary of some novels with great titles as in my experience the odds are 50:50-ish that the inside won’t live up to the promise of the great title! And to provide further evidence to support my 50:50 notion a review of this book a few days ago in The Independent compared it to the work of David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan – for me I loved Mitchell’s One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and thought Jennifer Egan’s Welcome To The Goon Squad was awful! 50:50!!! I’ll stay in two minds about this for a while!)

The consequence of all this is that knowing so few of the books on the shortlist has been a blow to my intellectual ego – in fact my “fiction” intelligence is feeling a bit like poor old Donald Rumsfeld! I can’t help asking myself how come I read so much, write a fair bit now about reading, read a fair bit about what other people write about what they are reading and I’ve still read only one of the Booker short list and even worse haven’t heard of most of them!!!!!!

But Donald has the answer – f0r I think I can prove that the unknown unknown syndrome is pretty common among us, the reading public. And here’s my evidence.

I looked this morning at an on-line poll in The Telegraph “Books” section asking who we fiction fans think will win the Booker for 2012 – and the leader, by a country mile, is Hilary Mantel! Now is that because most of the respondents could say all twelve books were known knowns and they think Hilary’s is the best?! Or is it because they’d only heard of one or two and, like me, the rest were unknown unknowns to them!

Need further proof? Well, lo and behold, look at the next three places in the poll – Micheal Frayn, followed by Rachel Joyce and Will Self – my known unknowns. And finally, bumping along the bottom, pretty much evenly, are all those unknown unknowns.

So it’s proven –  it would seem that Donald Rumsfeld holds the key to understanding the Booker and the book reading public after all!!!

And who will win? The bookies favourite is of course Hilary Mantel (and why wouldn’t she be – if she’s the only bloody known known for most of us avid readers and book bloggers, then there’s no chance the bookies have heard of any of the others either!!!)

But to be sure, before you part with your money by betting unwisely, I’d like to go back to Donald Rumsfeld for the answer to the question of who will win! As Donald also one said:

“If I know the answer I’ll tell you the answer. If I don’t, I’ll just respond cleverly!”.

So that tells you two things – I’ve no idea who will win and neither does everyone else – but my clever response money is on a book from the unknown unknown list – and that will allow the final part of Donald Rumsfeld’s Guide to the Man Booker Prize to be used:

“I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started.”

That my friends tells you the winner will be Nicola Barker – at the moment that doesn’t look obvious because it’s the future, but when it’s the past, you’ll look back, read this post and think – well I never. Good old Donald Rumsfeld! Now why the hell didn’t I predict that too!!!!!!!

The Odd Couple – But With More Bitter Lemon Than Jack Lemmon!………..What I Thought Of The Bottle Factory Outing By Beryl Bainbridge

The Odd Couple……….Beryl Bainbridge’s Bottle Factory Outing is a book about a chalk-and-cheese-couple, who reminded me of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the film of Neil Simon’s play “The Odd Couple” – complete opposites living a ‘can’t live with you but can’t live without you either!’  kind of existence, which is farcical and funny, but with Beryl Bainbridge there is a much more acidic, sharper, and very, very, bitter taste to the comedy – this is the sort of comedy that’s just as likely to make you wince and grimace as it is to make you smile and laugh!

It’s been about three weeks since I finished Beryl Bainbridge’s The Bottle Factory Outing as part of the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, hosted by Annabel at Gaskella. In that time I’ve read and reviewed other books. But I’ve been putting off writing a review of this book because I just didn’t know what to make of it. It’s an odd book, and as I mentioned before, it’s about a very odd couple!

Brenda and Freda are friends (sort of!), flatmates, and work colleagues at the bottling factory where they both work on the production line. Both have had their ups and downs, and to be honest, if you’d kept a score throughout their lives, probably a lot more downs than ups!! The story sees them preparing for and then going on a works outing which they are organising, partly to add a little change and colour to their fairly drab lives and partly because Freda has an ulterior motive – to get her hands on Vittorio, the relative of the factory owner and the most desirable of the many Italian immigrants working in the factory. Much of Brenda and Freda’s lives revolve around the everyday and their work at the factory, owned by the almost mysterious Mr Paganotti, who is mentioned throughout the book but never actually appears. There’s a host of strong Italian support characters, mostly from the factory, such as the unusual and amorous Mr Rossi, with a slightly eccentric Irishman chucked in for good measure!

However, it’s the relationship between Freda and Brenda that is the heart and soul of the book. But I hesitate to call it a friendship – it reads and feels more like a kind of social and emotional marriage of convenience than a friendship. And from the outset, the odd feel to the book is rooted in this slightly bizarre pair. Their first meeting is odd – Freda virtually force-feeding Brenda into being adopted/taken under Freda’s wing(not a terribly cosy or safe place to be!!), after a chance encounter in a shop as Brenda flees from a disastrous marriage, a seriously mad mother-in-law and a husband who is the village ‘soak’ essentially! The oddness is maintained in their everyday lives – for example, separated at night in the bed they share by a bolster of books of all things!

The first part of the book sets up the story and while mildly amusing in several places it’s a gentler kind of comedy here. It’s at the factory outing where the story really takes off into a whole new level of odd and where it really does become the blackest The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridgeof black comedies!  From this point on I’ll say nothing more about the story for fear of spoiling it but suffice to say it’s full of twists, blind alleys and an eventual denouement which is both hilarious and tragic at the same time! I laughed at it – but I’m ashamed to admit that I laughed at it!

So if it was hilarious, why wait so long pondering what to make of it before I came to review it?

I think the answer lies in the “black” part of black comedy – I found this to be so sharp, so acutely observed and so raw in places that it was almost uncomfortable to read. The tensions between Freda and Brenda or between them and the other characters are painful to observe in places – you almost feel embarrassed – it’s a bit like when you see a couple rowing in public and you want the ground to open up and swallow you even though you don’t even know them!

The few Beryl Bainbridge books I’ve read are all slightly quirky and odd – populated with characters who, if they were flat shapes would be all corners and sharp edges rather than smooth and curved! This is no exception. And yet, on reflection I did enjoy it – and I judge that partly on the basis that I laughed out loud several times when I was reading this book! (that in itself was an uncomfortable feeling though as I read this book on the dreaded, evil, Kindle, while walking the dog in the park – the looks from other dog-walkers and park -users at the man with the dog suddenly breaking out into laughter will forever be in my memory and associated with this book!).

Another feature of the other Beryl Bainbridge books I’ve read is that you get plenty of ‘bangs for your bucks’ with her. This was a short and very easy to read novel – and yet it’s got comedy, farce, horror, violence, love, poverty, royalty, and much more, all packed into it! You can’t do anything but like the way she writes and the characters she draws, who don’t just leap off the page at you but who also grab you by the throat and pin you down until you submit!

Overall – the book is odd – it’s about an odd couple in an odd relationship living in odd circumstances. It’s a book that is quirky odd, cruelly odd, viciously odd, uncomfortably odd, and blackly odd, but overall it’s really hilariously, terrifically, odd! And on that contradiction in terms, I’ll finish!!!!

I read this having been encouraged / inspired by Beryl Bainbridge Reading week. I know a number of others read and reviewed both The Bottle Factory Outing and most of the other Beryl Bainbridge novels and short stories and there’s a summary page at Annabel’s blog Gaskella, listing all of them if you’d like to read more about the Bottle Factory Outing or other Beryl Bainbridge novels!

100 Completely And Utterly Random Thoughts About Blogging!……….

……….If you reach one hundred you’ve got it made – apparently!

So said George Burns! To be fair to old George Burns, when he was talking about having made it if you reach one hundred, he was referring to surviving life to reach the age of 100!. I’m using it to refer to having survived blogging to reach 100 posts on my blog! For this is indeed numero one hundred!

As I’m a bit OCD to say the least, I do like numbers, number patterns and numerical milestones and they often make me reflect. Today is no different. When I started writing, I did it at a time when I’d just taken voluntary redundancy at work and had a lot of time on my hands. I’d always wanted to write and this seemed safer than trying to write a novel – so I began blogging to feed that desire to write while at the same time kill off the appetite for writing a novel. And I’ve enjoyed it – it’s done as I’d hoped and fed my inkling to write but it didn’t do the second part – instead it whetted my appetite for having a go at a novel. I’ve started my novel – 7 chapters in 9 months!! It’s driving me mad but somehow I’m enjoying that too!

Anyway to mark 100 posts I thought I’d just write down a series of random, unconnected, and quite possibly utterly pointless things about blogging, books, and blogging about books! So here are my one hundred completely and utterly random thoughts!

1. Nothing is more annoying than a computer crash when you’ve written three quarters of a post and not saved the draft as you go along!

2. You quickly become addicted to stats – even stats that would seem derisory and pathetic to more experienced bloggers. You never forgot the joy of celebrating 10 visits in the same day! 10 visits! 10! Party time!

3. If you are not IT literate, the blog forums are no use to you as they are full of people who were born in a computer, live in a computer and speak computer speak!

4. Who the hell writes all the spam I get? I mean who has the time for that! I’m unemployed for christ’s sake and even I don’t have time for that!

5. There are more bloggers writing about books than I ever imagined. I stumbled across a WordPress book bloggers directory the other day and there were hundreds listed!

6. WordPress isn’t “Word” but I wish it was, as I’d be able to get it to behave a bit more and do what I want!

7. You need to remember to “save draft” frequently!

8. Blogging is addictive! (I hope our bloody government don’t find out though because no doubt those eejits would ban it if they knew!)

9. Google’s Blogger platform and WordPress must have fallen out at some point – maybe over a woman they both loved or something – for they really don’t seem to like each other! As a WordPress user, leaving comments on blogs using Blogger makes you feel a bit seedy, squalid and not to be trusted!

10. There seems to be a kind of book blogging ‘Royal Family’ who’ve got gazillions of followers – including me, (that’s me follower, not me Royal Family blogger!). To be fair to the Royal Family –  they are really good at it!!

11. I don’t think I’ll ever be in the book Book Blogging Royal Family!

12. Writing posts while the sun shines through the window is much better than when the rain is battering off the window – alas about 95% of my hundred posts have been written with the rain battering off the window! Still, I enjoyed the other five!

13. Book blogging isn’t good for the dog – I read blogs while walking him and so he’s frequently lost or ignored!

14. Blogging has brought me a different class of junk e-mail – I now get more offers of help to increase my ‘traffic’ than I get offers to help increase the size of my penis!

15. Blog posts ALWAYS take longer to write than you think they will! I’m already wishing I’d called this 15 Completely and Utterly Random Thoughts About Blogging’ instead!

16. There seem to be a lot more women blogging about books than men!

17. I write mainly about books and litereature. Yet the most popular posts I wrote by far were about music! I’ve only ever written 3, but they were the three most popular by miles! Since then I’ve written no others about music even though they might well attract the audience that currently I haven’t got! Which tells you two things – either I’m not very bright or I’m not that arsed about an audience! (I think it’s the former but I wish it was the latter!)

18. Lots of book bloggers, especially the book blogging Royal Family, seem to be appreciated by authors, booksellers or publishers. As  a result some get sent lots of free books and invites to events by publishers. It’s a world I didn’t know existed till I started this!

19. Several bloggers about books also seem to be into knitting!?!?!

20. It really does take your reading habits to places you wouldn’t otherwise have gone and lots of those places are great.

21. Some of those places are crap though!

22. Book bloogers seem to be the most polite people in the world. Nobody ever really slates a book or disagrees with another blogger in the comments. Sometimes I think I’d like to see someone write “This book is shite!” or “Don’t talk such absolute diarrohea!”. Of course I couldn’t do that myself – I’m too polite!

23. Blogging has left me with a “what to read next list” that is so long I might have to sell my house to fund it!

24. Book blogging has taught me a bit of humility. I thought I was pretty well read till I found the blogging community. Then I realise I’m relatively “Janet and John” in  my reading experience compared to people like Simon at one of my favourite blogs Stuck In A Book! If he re-named his blog to “Born In A Book”, I’d believe him!

25. I now know that Virago and Persephone aren’t minor characters in Greek mythology but are instead much loved and desired book publishers who are very “in with lots of book bloggers!

26. There are a lot of people out there reading romantic fiction so the world should be all right really.

27. The person who writes the tweets for Waterstones Oxford St is clever, imaginative and very funny!

28. I’ve tried the books again and read the blogs but I still have a question – Science Fiction – what’s that all about?!

29. If there was a pin-up poster girl of book bloggers at the moment I reckon it would be Hilary Mantel (I’ve no idea what she looks like but her books are pretty wonderful!)

30. Bloggers are much more likely to review books that me, a lover of reading, will like. For example the reviews of Song Of Achilles in The Daily Telegraph and The New York Times, mocked it and rubbished it. Every blog review I read said “wonderful!” in 10 feet high letters. I read it. Fantastic. The bloggers are nearly always right for me!

31. Have I mentioned that blog posts always take longer than you anticipate. God how I wish I’d called this 31 Completely and Utterly Random Thoughts About Blogging’ instead!

32. I’d like to read other book blogs by people just starting blogging like myself. But it is impossible to find them by any means other than luck!

33. Although bloggers are polite about books and to each other, they are happy to let rip and vent their spleen at the rest of the planet – especially the BBC for some reason!

34. I can’t make up my mind whether blogging really has got me reading more – I often think I don’t blog enough book reviews because I don’t read enough, so maybe I should stop blogging so I can read more and have more books to blog about, but then that would defeat the purpose because I wouldn’t be blogging anyway, although of course that isn’t really the purpose for reading, but if I stop blogging I’ll miss it because I enjoy it………and so on and on! For someone who gets dizzy easily I still seem to spend a lot of my time going round in circles!

35. I suspect some book bloggers may have learned the secret of time travel. How else can Book Snob read as fast as she does or how else can dovegreyreader fit into one week what I couldn’t fit into a month!

36. If Ian Rankin didn’t spend time tweeting or listening to music I reckon he could write two Rebus novels a year! get with the beat Ian for god’s sake!!!

37. I’ve never been to a book / literature festival but I now have several on my “must see” list!

38. I’m too ugly for a personal photograph as my Gravatar image!

39. My family think blogging is a nonsense! Sometimes I think they might be right!

40. Blogging has taught me that most of the people on planet Earth will write a novel at some point!

41. Football and sport might be popular, but blogging about books on football and sport seems almost non-existent. Writing posts about football books isn’t popular either, going by the stats I got when I tried it!

42. Did I mention that allocating time to a blog post is far from an exact science?! I’m already wishing I had called this 42 Completely and Utterly Random Thoughts About Blogging’ instead!

43. In book blogging world Elizabeth Taylor is first and foremost a much-loved early 20th century author. Everywhere else of course she’s first and foremost that much-married, beautiful ex of Richard Burton’s and actress mate of Mickey Rooney’s! Book blogging really is a different world!

44. Book blog posts are seldom time limited and yet I don’t think the older posts are ever read. So it seems old blog posts don’t die but just fade away. Sad, really!

45. I’m going to cheat in future when I’m unsure what to write about and simply recycle old posts under a new name – no one will ever know and I’ll have saved those older posts from a life of gently going grey in my archive, watching life go by while they play sudoku or something!

46. Having reached 100 posts with visit numbers that even the dog thinks are funny, makes me realise that I might often be talking and writing to myself in this blog! So with that and starting work again next month, I may not have the time or inclination to continue blogging much longer.

47.  Then again, I like talking to myself! I find myself, clever, erudite, witty and I always find myself agreeing with what I’ve written!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

48. In my opinion, the best written book blogs that I read are Gaskella, Book Snob and Word By Word – someday, if I keep going, I’d like my blog to grow up and be like theirs!

49. I like writing about books – not as much as I like reading books – but it’s close and getting closer!

50. Blog posts should be just the right length. Posts that are too long are to be avoided at all costs!!! So I shall make this post 51 Completely and Utterly Random Thoughts About Blogging’ instead!

51. Stopping at 51 was nothing to do with the fact that getting to one hundred was going to be near bloody impossible and would have taken another three or four days! Honest!

Let Them Eat Cake! But Make Sure It’s Paama’s Cake!……….What I Thought Of Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord

……….Books are pretty constant in shape and basic form but the stories inside them come in all shapes and sizes. Most of them I read are good to better than good, with the odd turkey thrown in! But sometimes I come across a book that’s just a real feel-good read – what I mean is that it’s not just the story itself, but the way the story is written that gives me pleasure. Redemption In Indigo is one of those unusual books in that the story is pretty good but the real delight in the book is the way the story is told. Or to put that another way Karen Lord is a even better storyteller than the good story she has to tell!!

Hugh Lupton Storyteller
The wonderful storyteller Hugh Lupton

There’s clearly a rich heritage in storytelling around the world and I tend to think it’s a very special, exceptional talent. I also tend to think that while all authors of fiction are storytellers, not every storyteller is necessarily an author! I say that because of a spectacularly good oral storyteller I heard when I first arrived to teach in England. The Primary School I worked in was having a book week – and this was in the late 1980’s when these things were new and in their infancy. The school had arranged for a storyteller to come and tell stories to our Year 6 classes. To be honest, I thought it might be a struggle to catch and maintain the pupils interest – I could not have been more wrong! The guy was an absolute genius called Hugh Lupton – his website is well worth a visit and includes samples of his magical storytelling (and books he’s written which maybe suggests I’m wrong and that every storyteller IS an author!) Anyway, in the late eighties I’d never heard of him – but today he’s one of Britain’s leading storytellers! When I saw him, he told a couple of warm up stories which were quirky, irreverent and absolutely engrossing. He had every pupil in the palm of his hand in seconds. From there he told the story of Gawain and The Loathly Lady – it was a master-class! You could have heard a pin drop – it was magnificent, memorable and unforgettable – I still vividly remember it 25 years later!

And it is that mastery of the storyteller’s art which is at the heart of “Redemption In Indigo” and that’s what I liked about it most. The Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lordstory is based on a Senegalese folk tale, and I think it’s based in Africa – or perhaps the Caribbean where Karen Lord lives. It tells the story of Paama, a woman humiliated by her husband’s extreme gluttony who happens to be a wonderful cook and a wonderfully strong character! She’s given the power of the Chaos stick by an other-wordly being or god. The stick had originally been in the possession of another other-worldly being, the Indigo Lord. It’s taken from him for reasons revealed slowly through the book and given to Paama because the other-world beings / gods believe she is the kind of human being to be able to make wise use of the Chaos Stick. There’s only two flaws in the plan – they forget to tell her how to use it and the Indigo Lord wants it back! The story then unfolds of first the search for Paama and then the attempts of the Indigo Lord to persuade her to give it back. As with all good tales, the story is one in which Paama learns about herself and other people, in which the Indigo Lord learns about himself, other people and other, other-worldly beings and in which the reader learns a number of maxims and truths and sayings about people and about life. Along the way it throws into the mix plague, heroism, chocolate cake, a wonderful poet, a peacock, a pillow for reading dreams, the King Of Dark Waters and the Queen Of Ever-Changing Lands, among others! She stirs them all into the mix, in a kind of story-telling pot, and it turns out beautifully, almost as desirable and delicious as Paama’s cooking must be!!!

The narrative flows gently and easily throughout and the quality of her writing is absolutely brilliant. As you’d expect with a folk tale, it’s a fantastical flight of imaginative fancy throughout, populated by talking spiders, talking insects, beings with magical powers, humans with magical powers, characters who are at the extremes and some wonderfully clever and quite memorable sentences-cum-life-maxims!!!

The Trickster tried to process this, shook his head and returned to the issue of his inner struggle. “You have ruined my reputation, do you realise that?”

She looked at him affectionately. “You were ready for ruin, do you realise that?”

He shrugged, which can be a lovely thing to see when six out of eight shoulders are going at once.

One of the things I liked most about the book, was the very explicit role Karen Lord took as narrator of the story. She talks straight to you as reader and it really does help draw you into the story. It is expertly handled with a lovely balance of storytelling, wit, comment, talking to you as the reader and imagining how you as the reader are feeling or reacting to different parts of the story! She maintains it right to the end, which in itself is a really good ending, and as you finish, it really does feel that you’ve been told a story rather than you’ve read a book!

The characters are strong, well developed and always engaging. The  core story of Paama, the Lord and the Chaos Stick is very good and well supported by a number of tangents that the story slips into before it ties it back up to the main narrative. I found it to be a very clever and in a way, a very charming book – that’s not a word I use often but that really is how this book felt to read. It kind of charmed me from start to finish and I liked being charmed by it!

I read Redemption In Indigo as part of The Readers Summer Book Club. This is exactly the kind of experience I’d hoped to get out of taking part – this is a book I wouldn’t have chosen myself in a million years – but I really did enjoy it – Karen Lord is a writer – or a storyteller – of real quality!

If you want to read more about this book, there are great reviews of it at Savidge Reads and at David H’s blog.

A Love Like A Wild Rose, Beautiful, But Willing To Draw Blood In Its Defence!………What I Thought Of Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton

Now You See Me by SJ Bolton……….The one thing this book isn’t short of is blood! There’s tons of the stuff in the pages of this terrific detective story/thriller by S.J. Bolton. However, there’s a bit of love too – though for the most part it’s more the love product of a twisted, warped mind than perhaps the conventional everyday love that I know about! But the two are cleverly connected together in this story of DC Lacey Flint and her attempts to find a pyschopathic killer butchering women across London in a kind of homage to Jack The Ripper.

DC Flint’s involvement with the murder starts at the outset for the first victim blunders, throat cut and bleeding from that and other stab wounds straight into DC Flint’s arms as she gets out of her car. It’s clear very early on that this is no coincidence on the part of the killer who begins a killing spree across London, butchering women while constantly linking the crimes in some way or other to the notorious Jack The Ripper. As the body count mounts, DC Flint moves from detective to bait for the killer and even to a shadowy place where as the reader you end up unsure just exactly what DC Flint’s connections to these deaths, and to the killer might be.

I read Now You See Me as part of The Readers Summer Book Club. It was the one of the books I was most looking forward to and yet I was apprehensive that it might not live up to expectations – I shouldn’t have been concerned – I loved it! I usually enjoy detective fiction so I was always confident that if the book lived up to  reviews elsewhere and some of the hype around it, I’d like it. What I’d not expected was for it to be such a fabulously great read! At this point, this is the best detective story I’ve read this year by some distance. And for me, there were three things that made it special, so special in fact that it overcame the fact that as I read the book, I  didn’t particularly like or warm to DC Flint as a character!

The first thing that makes it special is the plot itself. The interweaving of the killings, the search for the killer, the link to Jack The Ripper and the lives of the main characters is quite brilliantly done. As a result, the book rips along at a really good pace and it’s full of twists and turns. What’s very clever about those twists and turns, is that they are always so well embedded in either history, or in the characters, they are always believable. It’s a book that constantly throws you off the scent and catches you off guard but you never feel it’s being done just for the sake of it or just because the author is trying to manipulate you as the reader!

The second thing about it is the way it connects up to the Jack The Ripper killings, which are done subtly in places, sledge-hammer like in others! But it’s never less than utterly engrossing. I had a bit of difficulty with the fact that DC Flint, in addition to being the first witness and in addition to her role as both detective and bait,  is also apparently the font of all knowledge within the Met on Jack The Ripper! This stretched the character a bit for me, but it didn’t detract from the writing or the story. The sections of the book looking at the Ripper murders was informative, intriguing and very effective. Equally the connections made with the Ripper killings have been really well thought out – it’s miles beyond the simplistic kind of “let’s have all the bodies in Whitechapel” stuff and the connections become small puzzles in themselves at times.

The last thing that I loved about this book is the main character – I didn’t like her but I loved reading about her! There’s a little bit of the standard “flawed” genius about DC Flint, but in her case her issues, problems and faults are certainly unusual and they are drip fed into the story rather than poured out in the space of the first couple of chapters. Somehow what it ends up doing is creating a detective who I didn’t like, didn’t even rate, and yet, as a result, it made her all the more realistic. It really engaged me as a reader – my brain was following the narrative, trying to make sense of the relationships, trying to work out who the killer was and why, and then on top of all of that, trying to come to terms with the main character throughout. It’s an absorbing read!

The book is well written, with just the right balance of detail, action, reflection and, frankly, gore. The killings in themselves are pretty gruesome – there were bits where I felt physically uncomfortable reading the book – but that just added to the enjoyment of it! While the section below is far from the goriest, it gives you a very early flavour of the quality of SJ Bolton’s writing.

“I hadn’t the heart to argue, so I just kept staring at the dead woman. Blood had spattered across the lower part of her face. Her throat and chest were awash with it. It was pooling beneath her on the pavement, finding tiny nicks in the paving stones to travel along. In the middle of her chest I could just make out the fabric of her shirt. Lower down her body, it was impossible. The wound on her throat wasn’t the worst of her injuries, not by any means. I remembered hearing once that the average female body contained around five litres of blood. I’d just never considered what it would look like when it was all spilling out.”

 So, ‘Now You See Me’ delivers blood and gore from beginning to end – in between, and throughout, it delivers a terrific plot and a detective who I didn’t like, but who I loved, including those ‘wild rose’ bits, character thorns and all!

Only Robinson Crusoe Had Everything Done By Friday……….Something For The Weekend July 13th

After all things Scottish to link with Andy Murray in the Wimbledon Final and all things music to link with the Isle Of Wight Festival, I thought I’d have another theme this weekend – and what could be more apt than rain. We’ve got bucketloads of the stuff! After the wettest June since records began we apparently have had the average rainfall for July arrive in many areas in a period of 24 hours! This year, more than I can ever remember, the British Summer seems little more than the odd break between black clouds!

But what the hell – I’m from Glasgow and the one thing Glasgow prepares you for in life, above everything else, is rain – though preparation for “deep frying food” is a close second!

Something To Listen To……….

In recognition of all things Glasgow and wet, what could be a better combination than Deacon Blue’s Raintown. I bought this in 1987 when it was first released. I loved it – I thought it sounded great, I loved the voices of both Ricky Ross and Lorraine MacIntosh, the songs were clever and different and Ricky Ross had a kind of 1980’s mullet like I did! Since then much has changed but I think it’s an album that’s stood the test of time – at least it’s held up a damn sight better than my hairstyles!

Donkey’s years ago, back in those dark days when we had tape recorders, I taped a live Deacon Blue gig – I recorded it from Radio Clyde I think or it might have been Radio 1!  Anyway, the best bit was that it was Deacon Blue live in Glasgow for New Year – and they played a stomping version of Queen Of The New Year of course. I played that tape to death – eventually it just gave up and to be honest I was near to tears. These days I think Deacon Blue might be a bit of a guilty pleasure for some people but there’s no guilt about it for me – I loved everything they did and always will! If you like Deacon Blue there’s a comprehensive site which tells you everything you’d ever want to know about them, and some things you probably won’t want to know, at Glasgow Skyline.

Something To Watch……….

This is cheating a bit, but the best song ever with “rain” in the title is the gorgeous Tinseltown In The Rain by The Blue Nile. Here it is on  Later With Jools Holland – worth watching – honest!

Something To Read……….

I‘m struggling to maintain a theme on rain here as I’ve just started Karen Lord’s Redemption In Indigo – it’s set in Africa and is the re-telling of a Senegalese folk tale. Not much connection with rain I guess – however if the weather forecast is correct for this weekend, while there might not be much rain between the pages of the novel itself, it’s going to be battering off the windows here in Essex as I’m reading it!

I’m reading it as part of The Readers Summer Book Club and as you expect with that kind of book list, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag – some of the books were those I’d have read anyway and have loved them, but some were things I’d never have touched – and so far, of those, some have been great and a real surprise, and others haven’t been my thing at all – but I loved having a go at the book club list anyway!

I’m about half way through Redemption In Indigo but already I know it’s going to be one of those what I would never have chosen myself but that I will really enjoy!

I can’t think of a book with “rain” in the title that I have ever read. I do have one on my shelves, Jonathan Coe’s “The Rain Before It Falls”, but I’ve not read it yet (and it’s been on my shelves a couple of years I have to admit.) Coincidentally, I read a review of it the other day on someone else’s blog – but for the life of me I can’t remember whose blog it was! But it was a good review and left me thinking “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm – maybe not!”.  As a result I won’t be reading it any time soon I don’t think!

Something To Eat……….

With only a week now to go of the school year, my daughter has been in full sleepover mode this weekend! After spending Friday sleeping over at her friends house, where they seem to have talked for much longer than they slept, they both spent Saturday night with us – the ratio of sleep to talk improved a bit, but not my much!

However with the kids here we had one of those ‘pick at delicious things’ dinners – all from good old Marks and Spencers and the best were the gorgeous barbeque spare ribs – if you’re in M and S you should try them – they are great!

Messy to eat of course – but great!

Something To Learn Off By Heart……….

I am still learning snippets of poetry off by heart in the hope it will help preserve my memory – though my family might say there wasn’t much there to start with! – and help to stave off the onset of old age. This small piece is by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and as I’m a bit of an old romantic in my head at least, he’s one of my favourite poets!

I’m actually reading Emily Dickinson at the moment – it’s kind of like returning to my youth. I read her work voraciously when I first discovered it at the age of about 15. Since then I’ve read the odd poem here and there but it’s been some time since I read through a collection of her work – and already I can honestly say, I missed you Emily!

It feels like putting on a favourite old jacket, it wraps around you and feels comfortable and right. Much to my family’s amusement, and sometimes horror, I have a collection of t-shirts, jackets, and sweatshirts that I’ve had for years – and I mean more than 15-20 years! We call them my “old campaigners!” If Emily Dickinson was a t-shirt, she’d be an old campaigner!

And Finally, Something To Remember……….

I read the other day in the Guardian the tragic news, that Gabriel Garcia Marquez will no longer be able to write as the dementia from which he suffers now prevents it. The news was released to the media by Garcia Marquez’s brother. It left me feeling so sad that life would somehow perversely take away from this great writer the very skill that defined him and that even more perversely, the cause of the dementia was the chemotherapy which had initially saved him from cancer. It seems to me such a cruel thing to happen to any writer, and indeed to anyone at any time.

But of course, Gabriel Garcia Marquez isn’t just any writer. He was one of the most influential of his time, much loved in his native South America and around the world and a Nobel Prize winner in the 1980’s. I’ve loved every one of his books that I’ve read – ,”One Hundred Years Of Solitude”,  “Of Love and Other Demons”, “News Of A Kidnapping”, “Love In The Time Of Cholera” and my own favourite “The General In His Labyrinth”. I’m currently keeping a re-read on the go at the moment – my next one will be a Garcia Marquez, just to remind me how good a writer he was and how much I enjoyed his writing over the years.

 

I Don’t Know Whether There Are Gods, But There Ought To Be!……….What I Thought Of The Song Of Achilles By Madeline Miller……….

Achilles played by Brad Pitt……….I’ll start with a confession – I’ve always loved Achilles!

I first read the Greek myths as a teenager. It was a set text in English Literature at school, but from about half way down the very first page, it was obvious to me this wasn’t going to be the normal chore of reading a set text – this was going to be a joy! I loved the stories and the story I loved most of all was that of Achilles. Therefore I have to admit that I’m probably biased in reviewing this book!

But in mitigation, I’d start by pointing out that it is a very different Achilles that you read about in the pages of Madeline Miller’s book. He’s still the mean, lean, fighting machine of the myths, he’s still the bronzed, spectacularly handsome adonis of the Brad Pitt film, but he’s so much more than that here. Wolfgang Petersen, the director of the film Troy, which had Brad Pitt as Achilles, said “Achilles was the rock star of his day, so it made sense to have Brad Pitt playing him!”. Here, Achilles is much more than the rock star of his day – he’s a man with hopes, passions, confidence, fates, desires and faults, and as a result he emerges twice the hero in my eyes that he was in those original stories I read or in subsequent films. Never, in any of the original stories, or in any film, did I enjoy the story of Achilles as much as I did in “The Song Of Achilles”. This book won the Orange Prize for Fiction this year – and no wonder. It’s simply brilliant! So I can’t imagine any other nominated book even came close to it!

The story is told here by Patroclus, who is Achilles companion in the myths, and who, in the book, is the overwhelming and undying love of Achilles’ life. It allows Madeline Miller to cleverly tell not only the story of Achilles and Patroclus but to add the love between them to become the heart of the story. And yet all the ingredients of the myth are retained and beautifully crafted in the novel. Achilles is still the son of King Peleus and the god Thetis, but the love affair of the two men, and in particular Thetis’ reaction to it, provide a whole new dimension to Achilles position as the son of a Greek God. There is still the prophecy of the fatal connection between Achilles and Hector of Troy – Achilles is still destined to kill Hector and still destined to die once he has completed that deed (if you’ve read the myths you’ll know this already – if you haven’t read the myths I’d reassure you I’m not giving anything away that you won’t find out early in the novel!!), but now it’s given a whole new meaning as it is seen through, and reflected on, from the mutual love between Patroclus and Achilles. Similarly, the siege of Troy by Agamemnon, the longing of King Menelaus for the return of the beautiful Helen from the arms of Paris, and the tensions between Achilles and Agamemnon are all here – but seen through the eyes of Patroclus, and seen in the context of the love between him and Achilles, all of these things have a fresh and new feel to them.

The love between Patroclus and Achilles is at the heart of the story and it drives both characters and most of their actions. Madeline Miller starts it as a schoolboy romance which blossoms and grows into the most passionate of affairs between the two men and into the most unbreakable of bonds. It’s a fantastic piece of imagination and it transforms the story entirely to one of emotion and depth instead of one of action and deed. Their relationship colours everything in the book and as a result I found myself changing my thinking about Achilles. Instead of a hero, the greatest warrior of Greece, Achilles is more than anything a man of capable of an incredible capacity to love and  of a great loyalty to that love – and I loved him all the more for it!

The book is wonderfully written. It’s testimony to how good a writer Madeline Miller is that she’s not only created two of the strongest characters you could ever hope to read in a novel in Patroclus and Achilles, but that she’s also created a host of engaging, likeable and strong characters around them.  Sure the characters were all there in the myths, but she’s not only added to the two main characters, but she’s added something to the others. There’s more of a wordly-wise, almost detached feel to Odysseus to go with the scheming mind, there’s a depth and intelligence to Diomedes that takes him beyond the brave warrior and there’s even now a realistic paranoia and frailty in the self-esteem of the egotistical Agamemnon. It’s brilliant stuff! She adds to the great characterisation with fabulous detail which brings Ancient Greece to life, through food, clothes, customs, social conventions and expectations. Her writing about the gods, their pettiness and their scheming is so well done – you get a real sense of almost idleness straying to meddle in the affirs of men just because they can. It’s callous, cold and utterly believable!

Strangely the only time this realistic feel of Greece and the gods slipped a bit was in one or two aspects of the behaviour of Patroclus and Achilles – there was a slight danger they became almost stereotypically homosexual (for example the kind of ‘women’s refuge’ type tent they set up to rescue some of the captured women of Troy from the hedonistic behaviour of Agamemnon and his warriors – it just felt a little 21st century here to me!). In addition at times some of the dialogue felt a little too much like it was lifted from everyday speak of 2012.

But these are minor quibbles. It’s a book which works on two seemingly distant, arguably contradictory dimensions.As an action story of blood and adventure it’s fantastic. But what’s at the core of it, and what underpins it, is the most touching, moving and passionate of love stories, one of whom is the very epitome of the blood and gore action hero! And perhaps that’s the difference and that’s what made this book such a special read. When I read the story of Achilles 35 years ago I read an adventure story and loved it. When I read Song Of Achilles, I read the most wonderful love story, of two men and their belief in, and passion for, one another. I loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it!

It was the Greek philospoher Diogenes who said “I don’t know whether there are gods, but there ought to be!”. And that kind of describes how I feel on reaching the end of this terrific book. I know that the story is a myth, but this book tells such a wonderful story and tells it so beautifully, that the best way to do justice to the book is to believe that although Achilles and Patroclus didn’t exist as written here, they ought to have done!

Goodbye John Humphries, James Naughtie, Sarah Montague et al…..Hello Madeleine Miller And All Who Will Follow Her!……….

……….I’ve spent the early part of the week commuting into the city – not the norm for me – and as a result I’ll be starting a new job at the end of next month. While going in and out on the train and the Tube this week, I’ve been reading ‘The Song Of Achilles’ by Madeleine Miller (it’s brilliant by the way!).

Normally I go to work by car and so my early mornings are spent with the Today Programme on Radio 4 – and have been for about 10 years! But from August I’m going to be swopping the car for the commute into London to work – and among the things I’m most looking forward to are reading every day on the way in and the way back, making homeward bound detours to Waterstones in Oxford Street or to Foyles at Charing Cross or to the many independent bookshops all over the city, and I’m looking forward to having the chance to go to author talks in the early evenings in venues across the city.

Reading On London Underground

For the last few days I’ve been struck by just how many people read while commuting – the trains and tubes are full of people with their nose in a book or a Kindle! Among the books I saw were Chad Harbach’s “The Art Of Fielding” (in my TBR pile), Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” (liked it but not the best of his stuff!), William Boyd’s “Restless” (another in my TBR pile), Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” (not my thing really!) and Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” (I didn’t like this at all though I know others who loved it). Obviously I’ve no idea what those who had Kindle’s were reading – although I have to admit that each time I saw someone with a Kindle my brain pondered “Do they look like they are reading Fifty Shades????????!’. Bizarre I know – even more bizarre was I thought some of them were – prejudice in overdrive I fear!!!!

My favourite though was the woman I saw at Liverpool Street still reading, book in front of her face, weaving from the train platform, across the station concourse and down onto the Central Line – she put her book down only to swipe her Oyster card – apart from that she was on a kind of automatic pilot and it was up to everyone else at rush hour to swerve and weave out of her way! I had to admire her sense of direction, her disregard for the rest of the commuting world and above all her obvious passion and enjoyment of her book! (Couldn’t see what it was – might she have been a Fifty Shades reader?!?!?!)

I’m looking forward to the commute by train and tube – although I’ll have hassles like everyone else, it’ll allow me to use the journey time to indulge in something I love – reading more and more books! At the moment, the car journeys are ok when you’re moving – but let’s be honest around the M25 and London ‘traffic’ and ‘moving’ are almost contradictory terms!!! Once I’m stationary, it always seems like such an awful waste of precious time!

However, while I won’t miss the traffic jams, I’ll miss the Today programme on Radio 4 – or at least large parts of it (I’ll still listen in over hurried breakfast and getting dressed if I can!). It’s one of the things that I think define me as “getting older” – my family prefer Christian O’Connell on Absolute Radio  in the mornings – and I admit any time I listen in I think he’s hilarious. Twenty years ago he’d have been my morning radio choice without a doubt – but now I’m fifty and I’ve got grey hair and my knees creak, I feel at home with Radio 4! (Sorry to any fellow R4 listeners who are offended by the implication that we’re mostly getting on in years!).

Radio 4 Today Programme Presenters
John Humphries – The Best Voice On Radio Sarah Montague – and my favourite Scotsman, James Naughtie

But nothing beats listening to the Today programme to start the day – I look forward to John Humphries baiting and devouring politicians and their egos for his breakfast, I could listen to Sarah Montague’s fabulous voice reading the telephone directory aloud, I love the spark and energy of Evan Davies, the measured deep tones of Justin Webb, and above all I think James Naughtie is wonderful – whether it’s politics or the arts or just the weather, he’s bright, intelligent, engaging and always sounds like he’s enjoying whatever he’s doing! If he and Alex Salmond were put in charge of the Scotland football team, we might win the World Cup!

Though I’ll miss them, I now have more time than ever to spend reading. Which is just as well, as my To Be Read shelf has never been longer (in fact it’s no longer a shelf – it’s now more like two and a half shelves!) and my What Next list would use up every penny I earn if I was to buy everything on it! As my start date is still about a month away I don’t know what will be my first book to mark my new commute – if anyone has a suggestion for something apt or just plain fantastic, let me know!

While I can predict I’ll read more than ever, I’m certain that for as long as my commuting goes on, I don’t think you’ll ever see me doing this!

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey

Only Robinson Crusoe Had Everything Done By Friday……….Something For The Weekend 6th July 2012

……….The last time I posted about a selection of things for the weekend was just before I headed off to the Isle Of Wight festival and so pretty much all of it was about music. This weekend, with Andy Murray in the final of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon, I’m going for all things Scottish!

Something To Watch………..

Andy MurrayEasy choice to start with. It’s got to be the Mens Final.

At last we have a Brit in the final – and more importantly he’s Scottish. Murray has performed well at Wimbledon several times but until now he’s always fallen at one of the late hurdles – and a couple of times the last hurdle! But not this time. He’s been terrific in the last two games against Tsonga and Ferrer and now he’s in the Final to play against Federer. It’s a terrific achievement when you consider the last time a Biritish player made the final was 1938! However if he doesn’t win, he’ll still get slaughtered by the idiotic sections of the British media and it would seem a considerable number of his fellow countrymen here in the UK. It seems madness to me – the guy’s a wonderful tennis player so you’d think the whole country would be behind him. But sadly it isn’t – though I have a feeling the proportions behind him will be pretty high in Scotland itself – and why shouldn’t it be! I’ve also got the feeling that he himself will be devastated if he doesn’t win – I’d reckon he didn’t employ Lendl as his coach to get him to Grand Slam finals – he employed him to help him win them so I think they’d see anything less than a win as failure. I’ll just be glued to it, fervently hoping Murray will win. If he does, I’ll be the proudest of Scotsmen (and that’s pretty proud, for I’m a proud Scotsmen most of the time anyway!)

Go On Murray My Son!!!!!!!!!!!

Something To Listen To………

About 6 weeks ago, Paul Buchanan released a new album, his first solo album since the eventual demise of The Blue Nile. You may of course have heard of neither. The Blue Nile were first a cult band in Scotland in the mid-80’s before going on to be much-loved favourites of many people across the world – but with an output of 4 albums in 22 years they were never aiming for world domination. I first heard The Blue Nile one Sunday night on Annie Nightingale on Radio 1. At the time I lived in a flat with two other blokes and had just started my teaching career in Scotland. A song called “Heatwave” came on – I’d never heard anything like it. Next day I bought their debut album, A Walk Across The Roofstops and have been an avid fan ever since. The music is beautiful, haunting and gentle, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hopeful. Paul Buchanan is now in his mid-50’s – he feels like somebody I’ve grown up with!

His first solo album, Mid-Air, was released in May. Around that time he appeared on Jools Holland’s ‘Later’ – it was stunningly beautiful. This is the title track from the album as it sounded that night with Jools Holland himself playing piano. Have a listen, it’ll take your breath away!

Something For Sky Plus……….

Nicola BenedettiNicola Benedetti, the Scottish violinist with the movie star looks is on South Bank Show on Sky Arts 1 this weekend. Although from an Italian family, she was born in Ayrshire and still has a lovely Scottish accent!! She’s got a reputation for being glamorous of course, but equally she has a reputation for being very down to earth and very, very talented.

The programme follows her working as a violinist on the road, with children in schools and her preparations to return to Scotland to play with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The programme is also partly about the instrument she plays – in her case a 300 year old Stradivarius worth apparently £3 million! Ordinarily I’m more of an Indie music fan than a classical music fan, but I saw Nicola Benedetti on another programme on BBC 3 and she came across really well – so I’ll watch this and I reckon I’ll enjoy!

Something To Read……….

A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic GibbonInspired by another blog, HeavenAli, I’ve chosen a few books to re-read over the summer. One of those is one of my favourite books set in Scotland, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s “A Scots Quair”. I first read it when at Uni in the early 1980’s – it was bought for me as a gift by a friend at the time and I read it almost non-stop to find out about the lives of first Chris Guthrie and her brother Will, and then of her son Ewan, in the desolate, bleak but beautiful North East of Scotland. A ‘quair’ is the old Scots word for a book – and this is a Trilogy made up of ‘Sunset Song’, about Chris’ adolescence and hard life growing up on the farms of Kinraddie, ‘Cloud Howe’ following Chris’ life through her two marriages, the second one to a Church Of Scotland minister, and the third book ‘Grey Granite’ with Chris moving to the city of Duncairn and with her son by her first marriage, Ewan Tavendale, coming into the books as a main character.

Vivien Heilbron in Sunset Song

There’s something poignant and lonely in the books, and the harsh realities of life of the time are laid bare on the pages, but it’s a beautifully written book. In the 70’s and then again in the 80’s there were television programmes made on each of the three books, with Vivien Heilbron in the role of Chris Guthrie – I loved the series as much as I’d loved the books. It’s perhaps the re-read I’m most looking forward to over the summer!

Something To Learn Off By Heart……..

The Little White Rose by Hugh MacDiarmid

I’m cheating a bit here as this piece of poetry is one of my absolute favourites – so I already know it off by heart and in my sleep – but as I’m thinking of things Scottish it couldn’t be more apt. This is Hugh MacDiarmid’s “The Little White Rose”. The only part of it I want to change – for this weekend at least – is the heartbreak! This weekend, for Andy Murrray and for all of Scotland, I hope we have joy and something wonderful to celebrate come Sunday evening!