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The Bucharest Files……..3:15 PM Feb 22nd – At Last A Reason To Be Cheerful!

Bucharest(Why did the Romanian stop reading for night? To give his Bucharest!!! And moving swiftly on from that corniest of book jokes, this is yet another post where I give my book a rest!)

…………….Rugby. 6 Nations. Scotland. Success. Not often those phrases go together!!!!!!!

Thus far it’s all been of a damp squib for Scotland in the rugby. Two weeks ago I think we reached our lowest point against ‘the auld enemy’ – in fact had they gone home at the end of that game and we’d kept playing in the empty stadium, I’m still not sure we’d have scored!

However, at last the clouds have lifted just a little and the sun started to peek through the gloom against Italy yesterday. But still it looked like it would all end in disappointment and a narrow defeat.

And then, at 3:15, with less than 60 seconds remaining against Italy yesterday, Duncan Weir’s kick finally put a bloody great smile on our miserable Jock countenances! Now if you’re a fan of the All Blacks, or the Wallabies, or the Springboks, or even Ireland or Wales or France or that other team who are in the 6 nations that I can’t mention without gritting my teeth, a win over Italy might not feel like much to celebrate! But to us, starved this season of not only success but even the tiniest glimpse we might be moving in the right direction, it was manna from heaven!!!!

On the pitch we celebrated like we’d won the World Cup and chez moi, the neighbours got a blast of Caledonian euphoria and chest-beating! It was bloody wonderful!

So Duncan Weir, thank you for helping make my weekend!

15 mins to go!…………….

………….Twas the night before Christmas and all through our house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse……….

Well actually in our house there is one stirring creature as the dog is gently snoring by our Christmas tree!

I’ve had a look and there are already some decidedly book-shaped parcels under there so I think there is definitely much to look forward to for tomorrow – and Father Christmas hasn’t yet come for my daughter so I need to get to bed and let him get on with his work for the night – which starts soon as it is ten minutes to midnight!

Book TreeMerry Christmas to you and yours and may 2014 bring you peace and prosperity!


CBA? Two Things You Need To Know About……The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald


The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald

1. If you ever thought museums and archivists were dull, sedate and quiet, this will change your mind!

2. This is the first of Fitzgerald’s novels – not perhaps her best but definite portents of great and better things to come! Wish same could be said of my blog posts!

“Treading The Sea Of A Troubled Mind”……..What I Thought Of Landed by Tim Pears……….

Landed…………”Treading the sea of a troubled mind” is a lyric in a song called “Landed” by Ben Folds – as well as having the titles in common, that line (and a few others) are good descriptions of what you’ll find between the pages of this novel by Tim Pears.

The troubled mind belongs to Owen Wood, a man slowly but surely unravelling from his family and from his life following a tragic accident. In fact the only thing that Owen isn’t unravelling from is his past, and in particular his memories of his childhood vacations spent with his grandparents in the Welsh hills. It’s a story that leaves you thinking that you are somehow intruding on Owen’s grief, loss and confusion and yet it’s also a very powerful book so that at the same time it demands your attention and perhaps more importantly it demands your emotions. I read it largely on the Tube on the way to and from work – I’m always struck by how often my fellow commuters read over my shoulder, how often I read over theirs (usually when they are at the sports pages in Metro!) and how often I see one passenger engrossed in reading over the shoulder of another. And it was that kind of feeling I had as I read it, like I was looking over Owen’s shoulder, knew I shouldn’t, but couldn’t help myself, so engrossed was I in his story!

It’s a story that, through shifts in time, depicts the tragic and slightly puzzling circumstances of Owen’s accident, a car crash that results in both the loss of his arm and the death of his daughter. It goes further back to Owen’s memories of an idyllic, or maybe slightly romanticised, childhood in rural Wales, a place that almost seems to make Owen come alive, come out of himself, as if only in this rural setting on a sheep farm can Owen make sense of the world and his place within it. The other time shifts go forward and backwards through a series of events in Owen’s life –  adolescence, marriage, work, children. What anchors Owen to the world is his love for those he cares about, which doesn’t extend beyond his wife, children, mother and grandparents. In a quiet and understated way he is a real alpha-male – his desire to take care of those he loves is his real reason for being. And in the aftermath of the accident, the loss of his daughter, the impact of his loss of his arm on his sense of himself and his life, his relationships essentially unravel and spiral out of control. His attempts to then reassert that control become the heart of the story.

It’s a novel that’s powerful, sad and beautiful in equal measure. As I said before the subject matter ought to leave you feeling a bit like the “spectre at the feast” and yet it doesn’t. It’s really well written, especially the character of Owen himself. There’s something very appealing in him, in his character flaws, even in his speech patterns!  It means that although you can’t easily approve of the things he does you can’t help but understand them and even sympathise with them.

On one level it’s a pretty bleak tale of a man and his family coming apart at the seams. Add to that the fact the fact that Tim Pears also weaves into the book an equally bleak picture of life in Britain, especially among those in poverty or going through hard times, and it should be a bit of a miserable read – but it isn’t. It’s a wonderful read. I thought this was because the bleak personal tale set against that bleak background put Owen’s life into a context that somehow helps the reader make sense of it and perversely it somehow lends the novel an air of hope. It’s not necessarily a hope that all will come right in the end and that they’ll all live “happily ever after”, but more that the book gives you the feel that it’s OK to hope, to look ahead for better times. I won’t spoil the end in case you read it, but I loved it!

I’d never heard of Tim Pears until I read a review of this book, months ago, on Heaven Ali’s Blog. (I get about 33% of my books recommendations from there if I’m honest – and I get 33% from Annabel’s House of Books and the other 33% from Claire’s blog at Word by Word – between them they’ve become like “personal shoppers” for me!).  Anyway I searched for this book for a long time but a bit half-heartedly – I always looked on the shelves in bookshops but didn’t force myself to “track it down at all costs”! What a mistake. It’s a great, great book. I’ve already compiled a list of a few other Tim Pears novels – and I won’t be so half-hearted about tracking them down for if they are half as good as “Landed” is, they’ll be well worth the effort.

If you want to have a look at that original review of Landed that sparked it off for me you’ll find it here at Heaven Ali’s blog

There’s one other thing that the Ben Folds song ‘Landed’ and the Tim Pears book ‘Landed’ have got in common – they’re both great! If you don’t know Ben Folds, have a listen. And if you don’t know Tim Pears, have a read – hopefully you’ll find something, in one or the other, or even both, that you’ll like!

Shedding A Public Tear On The 5.32 To London Victoria………..

……….On the way home recently I decided to pass the time reading Twitter, standing as I was with my right ear pressed against the door, my head partly obscured under someone else’s armpit, and my arse resting comfortably on the next best thing to a seat on our trains – the litter bin! You get the idea – the train was rammed in that “who gives a shit if the carriage has twice as many people as it was designed for, I want to go home” way we specialise in here in London, and in the midst of this entangled web of flesh and sweat, I scrolled through some Stephen Fry tweets – I was looking for either something to make me laugh ( he does it frequently!) or something about his team Norwich City ( he seems to be as big a fan of Norwich as Delia Smith – he just doesn’t get pissed and ramble at his fellow fans at half time!)

Instead of amusing or football stuff, I found a link from him to the letters of a young soldier, Cyrus Thatcher, who served in Afghanistan, and who was killed in 2009. Suddenly the crowd of people didn’t exist for me really. His letters to his family were the among most honest and special things I’ve ever read. They had been released by his family and published to show his experiences and celebrate his life.

As I read his final letter, which he’d written for his family in the event of his death, I cried.

I got bemused and horrified looks, no doubt thoughts ranging from “what the…!” to “weirdo” but I couldn’t have cared less.
The letters are beautiful, tragic,full of warmth, simple,so sad, yet so full of hope and above all crammed with love for his friends, family, comrades and the job he was doing.

I’ve read many books on the 5.32 to London Victoria and I’ll probably read many more, but I don’t think I’ll ever read anything like this again. I cried lots. And somehow I felt better.

So I can’t recommend highly enough that you read the letters of Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher. They are a moving tribute to the spirit, courage and huge heart of one young man and deserve to be read by all of us. Nothing more to be said really.

If Greenock Had Hosted The Olympics……….An Olympics Variorum No. 3

……….Well, we’re moving up that medal table – and while it’s not quite with the “rat up a drainpipe” speed we’d like, it’s still in the right direction – and anyway I’ve always been a believer in “slowly, slowly catchy monkey!”

As before, if you are wondering what the hell a variorum is, or what the hell the Olympics has got to do with Greenock – if you don’t even know what a Greenock is, you can read it on the first Olympics post I did – but only do it if you have OCD tendencies – other than that I wouldn’t bother!

Olympics Variorum Wednesday August 1st

Like Guinness, Good Things Come To Those Who Wait………

Olympic Football GB v Brazil at Wembley………On Tuesday night my daughter finally got to enjoy the event she’d most been looking forward to in her three days of watching the Olympics live – we were lucky enough to get tickets for the Womens’ Football between Great Britain and Brazil at Wembley. And it was worth the wait. I’d not expected much – from GB, from the atmosphere or from the skill level in the game – how wrong was I?!

Before the game she asked me (football aficionado that I am) who I thought would win. “Brazil – easily!” I replied, ” They’ll be miles too good for GB! – Who do you think will win?”

“GB” she replied without the slightest hesitation or doubt. – Oh the blind faith and the naive innocence of the very young thought I, wise old sage of all things football!

But as we got to the stadium the wise old sage was proved to know nada! It was packed, seriously packed and the atmosphere outside wonderful – a riot of colour, a kind of feverish expectation, that babble of excitement you get when there are lots of families with kids all in one place and all accompanied by the wonderful samba rhythms of a half-Brazilian, half-GB band! Inside it was even better. The noise when GB took to the field was quite something – it brought a tear to the eye of the wise old sage (who by this time was starting to think he might just be an old eejit and nothing else!)

Wearing our GB heart on our sleeve….and on our shoulders, and on our arms, and on our back………

But as if that wasn’t enough, GB then go score with their first attack within minutes of the game starting! I’m so used to watching Scotland struggle that I was amazed to find I still knew what to do when my team scored – but I was out of my seat with about 65,000 others! From then on it was wonderful – a football experience like none I’ve had before (I’ve never spent so much time going round the stadium shops before the game for a start!). But beyond the shopping while at football bit, the most amazing thing of all was – we were as good as Brazil(!!!!!)- I never thought I’d ever be able to say that! By the end, GB thoroughly deserved their win, leaving the newly appointed, accurately predicting and smugly gloating young sage to take the hand of the daft old eejit and escort him through the ranks of red, white and blue to Wembley Park for the tube home.

It was wonderful – now why can’t watching Scotland be like that?!!!

I’d Rather Take On Roy Keane Any Day……….

………On the way into Wembley, our celebrity spotting list was added to by that great ITV sporting icon – Adrian Chiles!


He was walking along with what I assume were his kids (either that or he’s doing some moonlighting as a kid-snatcher!), trying to find his entry gate – unfortunately for the poor bloke he seemed to be going in the opposite direction to everyone else (there’s a metaphor there for ITV as a whole if you ask me!). He didn’t look like he was enjoying it – in fact he looked pretty pissed off!

Which I guess just goes to show that it’s not that hard keeping the peace between Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate!

“Upside Down, You Know You Turn Me, Inside Out, Round And Round” – The Diana Ross Factor Returns……….

…………..My daughter has been going to gymnastics for about a year and loves it. However she’s constantly upside down – and since we have flagstone floors at home this isn’t exactly the safest means of transport from the kitchen table to the fridge and back again! So the refrains of “No Flick Flacks Indoors!” and “Don’t Do A Handstand In The Kitchen” have been pretty common – until this week.

But now, thanks to Beth and Louis and Kristian and the other magnificent male and female Team GB gymnasts, we are suddenly encouraging all the upside down shenanigans chez nous. Now the refrains are “Can you cartwheel over to the fridge and put the milk back please?” and “While you’re waiting on the toast to brown, why don’t you wait patiently with your feet straight up in the air, back straight, head slightly forward…..!”

Rio 2016 – I can see it now………………………………………!

The Modfather On Wheels…..

Team USA have got some wonderful athletes. Their swimmers and female gymnasts have been awesome these first few days of the games. I felt a little envious when I saw USA supporters at the Games – they have Phelps, and Lochte, and Franklin and so on. But now we in Britain can trump all of that – and trump the rest of the world.

Yes we think it’s great that USA has a Lochte.

We think it’s great that Jamaica has a Usain.

But after the Cycling Time Trial race at Hampton Court yesterday we don’t care – we in GB have got a Bradley – and what’s more we have the greatest sideburns ever in the history of sport!

Facial hair has never been this popular, iconic, nor looked this cool on any athlete since Mark Spitz used his moustache to win 7 Gold medals!

And Finally, If Greenock Had Hosted The Olympics………

The hero of the Games so far wouldn’t be Bradley, or the gymnasts, or Helen or Heather in the rowing – it would be Michael Jamieson and his fantastic Silver medal in the 200m Breastroke! And why – he’s a Glaswegian, and we do patriotism and parochialism in equal measure in Scotland! – Gaun Yirsel Michael!!!!!!

Michael Jamieson

“Stop The Clocks, Cut Off The Telephone”………And Put Life On Hold, For At Last The New Carlos Ruiz Zafon Is In My Hands!!……….

……….My apologies for bastardising those moving lines of Auden, but they seemed to fit so perfectly with how I feel at the moment.

After years of waiting, the new Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel is in my possession and now I want everything to stop, for time to stand still and for the world to just allow me to read non-stop until I get to the end of the next journey through Barcelona and the Cemetry Of Forgotten Books!

There are only a handful of novelists who can generate this level of anticipation for me about their books being published, and perhaps the books of Carlos Ruiz Zafon are those I most anticipate – well it would be a toss up between him, Khaled Hosseini, Louis de Bernieres and Orhan Pamuk at any rate!

I first entered the magical world of Sempere and Sons bookshop, and the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books, when I read Shadow Of The Wind – by the time I got to it, it was I think being pushed through the Richard and Judy book club thing, as well as promoted high and handsome in every bookshop and supermarket in the land! I loved Shadow – loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED it! One of my favourite books ever.

I then had to wait an excruciating 4 years for the next book, The Angels Game. I read it with joy, wonder, and tears streaming down my face in the sunshine of Crete after the publication timed perfectly with a family holiday! It was fantastic. Every bit as good as Shadow in my opinion!

Three years later, comes the third instalment! Although I’ve been able to sate my appetite a little with a couple of his books for young adults, The Midnight Palace and The Prince Of Mist (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed), it’s still been a long wait for the next adventure in the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books!

It’s a book that I simply couldn’t resist any longer. It came out a few weeks ago but I steeled myself and avoided getting a copy ordered until some other stuff I had on the go was all finished. Now it is (well it’s actually not all finished but I couldn’t wait any longer!!!!!!!!!!). My copy finally arrived in my hands today and now I want to stop the world, get off and spend my next 48 hours or so in Barcelona and in the company of Daniel Sempere!

So I’m off to do just that! See you whenever I resurface!

Music In The Mud – Isle Of Wight Festival Round-Up……….

………..These are just random thoughts, photos and links to other blogs and sites about the Isle Of Wight Festival 2012

1. “I Make My Generals Out Of Mud!”……………….

……….So said Napoleon! Well, he’d have found plenty of raw material to work with at the IOW this year. Below are some of our photos. If you want to see more there are several on the great Every Record Tells A Story blog.

2. They’re Bouncy, Bouncy, Bouncy, Bouncy, Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun, But By Far The Most Wonderful Thing About Feeder ………..

Here are Feeder, who were first up on the Main Stage on the Friday, playing “Buck Rogers”. Altogether now – “He’s got a brand new car, looks like a Jaguar, it’s got leather seats, it’s got a CD PLAYER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

3. If You Want To Get Ahead In Life, Get A Hat……………………

…………The second best hat of the weekend was worn by Springsteen (you can see it over at Every Record Tells a Story!). He got a young woman up to dance during his set and she was wearing one of these woolen pig tail and ear muff inclusive hats – which ended up on him. However, my beautiful partner never does anything without a touch of style and class and, even though I’m just a little biased, I thought she wore the best hat of the weekend! So, here she is in full “bring on the mud and the sunshine” garb for Sunday – with suitably stylish hat accessory of course!!! (Note how the pharmacy has been put in a metal container – festival goers get their priorities right – even if nothing else survives the weather, we can’t survive without somewhere to buy Nurofen or Resolve for the morning after!!!)

4. An Unexpected Little Gem, Stumbled Upon By Accident!

The surprise find of the festival for us was Charley Macaulay. We came across them in the Hipshaker tent – we’d only gone in there for a beer but became intrigued by the number of musicians setting up – we checked the schedule to find the name Charley Macaulay and we decided to stay and have a look – and we were so glad we did. Charley Macaulay has a truly brilliant voice and one of those intriguing mixes of real stage presence mixed with a gentle manner – almost shy! But boy can she sing! She was backed up by an absolutely brilliant 8 piece band, including what we thought was a brilliant rhythm section – the three guys on drums, percussion and bass can really play – but to be fair everyone else in the band was just as talented. Since coming back we’ve checked them out on MySpace and the internet. I thoroughly recommend having a listen if you get the chance. We even bought their CD EP which was getting sold at the gig (by Charley’s mum if I remember correctly!) – and we bought it on the strength of the music and not because we’d had a few scoops (at that point we were still sober!)

If you’d like to check out the music of Charley Macaulay for yourself, there are previews of a number of her tracks on MySpace.

You can also find more info about her and her music at Charley Macaulay’s site, including dates when you might be able to see her and her band live if you are interested. We’ve noticed they are due to play at the Troubador in London on July 18th and if we can make it, we’ll go along.

5. The Boss

I’ve already written about Bruce Springsteen’s set. It was brilliant. He was voted the best act at the festival on NME and I’m not in the least surprised! (I was more surprised to see Elbow 6th in that poll – they were an easy second to me!) We weren’t too far from the front of Springsteen but our iPhone photos aren’t the best as you can see. However there are great pictures of his set on everyrecordtellsastory – well worth a look – including Springsteen dancing in that hat!

6. Napoleon May Well Make His Generals Out Of Mud – But Wellington Comes To The Rescue Every Time!!!

The epic proportions of the mud made this one of those festivals where the wellies aren’t just the fashion accessories of the young and stylish – it was the only way of avoiding contracting something like swamp fever or trenchfoot!!!!! Nevertheless there were huge variations in how we measure up when we are all in wellies – it seems to me it’s a real testimony of the stylish if they can look good in wellies. I’ll spare you any views of my own wellies – suffice to say my £12 specials from Asda aren’t likely to get me on the cover of any magazines sometime soon. And though I am of course again biased, I thought the most stylish wellies of the weekend were my beautiful partners’ Ted Baker wellies!

7.In Spite Of What You All Think You Know About Anatomy, There’s Actually Only One Elbow!!!!

My love and enjoyment of all things Elbow is well documented throughout my blog – and their set at the IOW confirmed that they are as good as I thought they were!

I was surprised in talking to people at the festival and around the island that few have heard of Elbow – I would have expected that years ago when I was watching them in barely filled small places like Scala at Kings Cross in London. However these days, Guy Garvey has a show on Radio 6, their music is used on virtually every sport montage on TV and I’m pretty sure it was also used during some of the image montages on TV about the Royal Jubilee celebrations! But it would seem they still have some way to go in search of world domination! But I don’t care! They have domination over the music in our house!

Their set at IOW was absolutely brilliant. We loved every song, every chat Guy Garvey had with the crowd and every note. Here are our photos of Sir Guy of Garvey and a little sample of how good they were at IOW!

8. And Finally……….The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Of The Isle Of Wight Festival

I’ll start with the bad bits so I can finish on the good – because in spite of the odd, not-so-good bits, it was a brilliant weekend!

The Ugly

The smell! The loos at festivals are never exactly palatial and the IOW was no different! You kind of expect the smell to pervade around those areas but at the IOW I think the general swamp conditions meant most of the site stunk pretty badly! But it was survivable thanks to these good people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Bad

The hassles as a result of the weather were in some ways beyond the control of the people organising the festival so I don’t think they are at fault for the mud and at least some of the ensuing chaos. However there were other things that weren’t that well organised. The bus shuttle from Newport to the site at Seaclose Park was a walk of around ten minutes – it was a bus ride of 25 minutes because of detours around closed roads! Bloody irritating.

Similarly the chaos of getting the specially laid on buses from the site to other parts of the IOW at night time was pretty horrendous – we heard stories of people waiting till 3 and 4 in the morning! And last niggle, The Garden Stage had a dance music tent directly opposite blaring out heavy bass tracks while we were trying to listen to singer songwriters like Matt Cardle – The Christians actually commented on it during their set and they really did have a point. Needs sorting for next year!

The Good

In spite of the niggles there was so much that was good about this festival. However I’ve written elsewhere about the great music and the terrific atmosphere among those at the festival. So here I’ll finish with a thank you to the lovely people of the Isle Of Wight who made us feel so welcome! From people in the pubs in Shanklin, to people forced to wait in long queues for service buses with all of us for buses that they catch every day, to people in shops, to the lovely waitress at Morgans in Shanklin where we had dinner one night, to the really nice Italian who served us fabulous tea and scones in the Village Teashop in Shanklin, to the taxi drivers, to the people who ran the great Ferndale Hotel in Shanklin where we were lucky enough to get a late cancellation, which led to a lovely bed every night and warm showers followed by a great breakfast every morning!!! Everybody was kind, patient, engaged in conversation with us, talked about the festival, went out of their way to help us and generally accepted with humour and good grace legions of the great unwashed shedding dried mud and smelling not at our best all over their shops and pavements and buses and cafes for three days!!!

The festival was great in its own right but the people we met on the IOW made it a little extra special. We will definitely be back again next year – even if the mud is back too!