Thursday, 28 April 2011

Such Fun!

As Miranda'a mum would say. And that's our verdict on last night's Orange Wednesday cinema visit to see Thor. A cross between Superman and Lord Of The Rings, Thor is colourful, funny, action packed and just the right length. The movie opens with a trio of scientists out in the New Mexico desert searching for astral phenomena when they are drawn into the most spectacular astral event of their lives. At the same time young Thor (relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth) is just about to be crowned king by his father Odin (Athony Hopkins) when all hell breaks out in Asgard their magical kingdom  ( a CGI tour de force). From then onwards director Kenneth Branagh takes us on two parallel journeys in Asgard and New Mexico as Thor's people battle the evil Ice Giants (a tribe of huge and wicked goblins) and on earth our scientist heroes are up against the secret service who are hugely interested in their research. It's an extremely entertaining couple of hours, the 3D is unobtrusive and very well done, Hemsworth is a likable Thor and it's certainly worth four stars from us.

And it has to be five stars for Hillfoot Plants Nursery who Marion has been emailing to order some special geraniums. Marion's order was only worth twenty or thirty pounds but Annie's response to her complex requests re timing, plant sizes etc was perfect - very friendly and helpful - something that is so rare in these days of one-click internet shopping. We are sure that the geraniums will be excellent when they arrive. You can check out their website HERE

I'm loving my foray back into the world of metal detecting but yesterday it took me on  a merry dance. I decided to find some new places to try the detector and spent some time on Tuesday and Wednesday researching potential sites. I checked them out on Google Earth and the landscape looked right so I set off in the car without the detector to do some knocking on doors. The first site went well and I gained permission to search a small area. Buoyed up by my success I travelled to farm number two. The farmer, Andy, was great and said that it would be fine by him but I had to clear it with his landlord. I drove to the landlord who was an estate manager who told me that I had to clear it with his superiors. So I got in touch with them and they're going to phone me back. Thirty hours later there's been no response so, with the Bank Holiday weekend ahead, I imagine that the field will be sown with a new crop and out of bounds before I hear back.

I drove another hour into the countryside. It was a beautiful day and it would have been a glorious drive had I not been stuck behind a couple of pensioners (I know pot-kettle and all that) on a winding road watching the ETA on the sat nat increase minute by minute. I'm not exactly Lewis Hamilton myself but these two were doing thirty in a sixty limit. At one point they turned off and I was able to put my foot down for a minute only to discover that they had taken a short cut and there they were again just around the bend. I eventually arrived at the farm and the door was answered by a friendly decorator who told me that the farmer was out. I explained the purpose of my visit and asked the decorator to give me the farmer's number (he couldn't find it but he gave me the full name and address and said I'd get it from the directory). Ninety minutes later I arrived home and the bloody number's ex-directory. Hence the accompanying pic.

I would have loved to have done this to those doddering drivers yesterday.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The God Of War Was On His Horse

There's bound to be no end of puns to accompany the release of Kenneth Branagh's Thor, our choice of Orange Wednesday viewing this week, so I'll get my groan quota in now with a little rhyme that I remember reading in Marion's Manchester University Rag Mag circa 1974.

The God of War was on his horse
She was a dashing filly
"I'm Thor" he cried
The horse replied
"You forgot your thaddle, thilly" 

Which just goes to show that student humour was not quite so sophisticated forty years ago. We're looking forward to it.

I went to the dentist fully expecting the extraction of my badly damaged tooth. I didn't go to my regular practice as, in an emergency, I would have been expected to wait until someone was available (last time I gave up after two hours). I went instead to 10Dental who I found advertised on the Internet. I got an appointment inside two hours, was seen promptly by a young and seemingly very competent young dentist who told me that the tooth was not beyond salvation although it would cost over £370 to get it capped. I've said I will think about it but in the meantime he has fitted a temporary filing that should see me right for a few weeks while I make my mind up. I thought that was good value at just under £50. Our own dentist (NHS) retired last year and Marion's first visit to his replacement was a painful experience and my own was not exactly pleasant so perhaps we should be looking for a permanent change.

5@50 at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre was a pleasant afternoon out. The theatre is a wonderful building and their productions are always innovative, using the the theatre in the round setting in very imaginative ways. The shop sells some excellent locally made glass, ceramics and jewellery and the restaurant is OK with some very friendly staff. As for the play?Sadly the critics were not wrong and, although the idea of focusing on a group of women worked well in Desperate Housewives and Sex In The City I didn't enjoy it as none of the characters was particularly likable and all had problems of one sort or another so it appeared that each was only really interested in their self and I'm afraid that I was interested in none of them. 

We've got Marion's mum Flo with us for the next three days. She's having her flat decorated so she's coming round to keep out of the decorator's way and then going home again in the evenings. We've got the Royal Wedding for her to watch on Friday (I wonder if it's on in 3D) and we've planned a garden centre visit for Wednesday. I'm sure we'll find something for Thursday. Hopefully the decorator will finish on plan and she can be enjoying her spruced up pad by friday evening.

I'll leave you today with the official trailer for Thor.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Hoping That 5@50 Can Mask The Toothache

We're off to Manchester again tomorrow for the matinee performance of 5 @ 50 at the Royal Exchange. It's got a great cast and the subject matter (the play portrays five women celebrating reaching their fiftieth birthdays) is appropriate to our age group and may touch a few raw nerves. So, on the face of it, it should be an entertaining afternoon. The only problem is that, yet again, our perceptions of the play have been coloured by poor reviews in the press (perhaps we should stop reading them) with both The Times and The Guardian less than enthusiastic. One likened it to a British "Sex And The City" which would not be bad but then added "the films rather than the TV series" and as the films were universally hammered by the critics that's not a great comparison. Oh well. We should form our own opinions I suppose and at least we're going without high expectations.

Before that, I've got to try and get to see the dentist. That isn't my tooth in the photo but it's almost exactly how one of my teeth looks today after a huge filling dislodged at the weekend leaving me with nothing but one edge to the tooth and a gaping hole. I'm pretty sure that there is no alternative but to have the tooth pulled out (that was the outcome of the one in the photo) which is a pity as I haven't got too many of these large double teeth left now. I suppose that's what to expect when you retire but I'm not ready to leave my teeth in a glass of Steradent every night just yet.

Last week's Orange Wednesday film "Unknown" might have been called "It's Complicated" if Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin hadn't got there first. Starring Liam Neeson as bio chemist Dr Martin Harris, the action takes place in Berlin and it all kicks off when Harris is involved in a car crash that leaves him close to death. He makes a speedy recovery but is extremely confused - even more so when he returns to his hotel and finds his wife doesn't recognise him and an impostor seems to have taken his place. I'm not giving away much there as you would have got this much from the trailer. The action packed movie follows Harris' attempt to prove that he is Harris and discover precisely what is going on. It's a good plot with a very interesting, unexpected and clever outcome and we both enjoyed the film. Sadly for me, Neeson's performance was too "shouty" but that was the only negative in an otherwise entertaining and interesting thriller. It's probably too late to catch it in cinemas now but look out for it when it airs on Sky.

One film that we are looking forward to is The Help which gets its release in the USA in August. Marion and I both read Kathryn Stockett's excellent book on which it is based during the last couple of weeks. It's a moving story about race in the deep south in the 60's seen through the eyes of two black maids and a young white woman, a writer, who attempts to give them a voice and show the world the prejudice suffered. Its not all serious though and the book has plenty of humour which I hope is captured in the film. We've got to stock up on books for our holidays in a couple of weeks. Marion has bought a Kindle so we can take loads with us.

One thing we haven't bothered with this year is Britain's Got Talent. As I said last year on the old Instanta blog it seemed to demonstrate that Britain hasn't got talent and, judging from the most popular clip from this year's series on YouTube to date, this seems to be even more the case this year.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

A Mystery Metal Detecting Find

My brother Pete and I had a sunny day out with our metal detectors on Thursday. It was great to be out in the fresh air in such beautiful weather amidst some wonderful scenery but we drew a blank when it came to the detecting with just a Victorian penny, a few buttons, a buckle and a sixpence that was not quite as old as me to show for our trouble. I also found this unusual modern item which I took to be a piece of farming equipment. The farmer confirmed what it is and what it's used for. Can you guess? Answer at the bottom of this blog.

Marion has been sorting through the baby clothes that we bought from our ex-colleague Nat. We reckon that there are so many that the baby will grow out of some of them before he or she gets the chance to wear them. It's only ten or eleven weeks now to the due date so we are starting to get quite nervous for Sarah. Ten weeks is nothing really. We've been retired for twenty one weeks now and it feels like only yesterday that we cleared our desks and headed off into the sunset.

One of the wonderful things about retirement is that you can do what you want when you want. Clearing out and spring cleaning the garage would be the very last thing on our minds on a Bank Holiday weekend while we were working but that's what we did on Good Friday using a break in the weather to empty it completely, take loads of stuff to the tip and give it a thorough clean. You can actually get into it now although there's no chance that we could ever get a car in there.

While we were tidying I realised that I've built up quite an impressive tool kit in the thirty five years that we've been married. I could probably give Bob the Builder a run for his money with this lot.

Before I end your suspense on the mystery object there's another Bank Holiday next weekend. I don't think I'll be watching the wedding but wouldn't it be great if it went something like this?

Mystery object. It seems that some cows occasionally try to suckle other cows. To prevent this from happening, farmers fit these device through the offending cows' noses and a row of small blunt prods prevent them from being able to suckle. The farmer says that, although it sounds cruel, it works and doesn't cause the cows any pain.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Grannie Training

Marion was in trainee grannie mode today as our ex-colleague Nat and her seven month old daughter Isabella visited us. Nat brought round a super baby bath and bouncing chair plus loads of clothes that Isabella and her sister Olivia have grown out of and we were delighted to buy the lot for Sarah's baby who is due in July. We don't know what sex our new grandchild will be so Nat restricted the clothes to those in neutral colours. I want to be green rather than cheap in buying second hand clothes and these are barely worn and in some cases still in the original packaging. It means that we can now spend more on other stuff for the baby as there is a hell of a long list facing all new mums nowadays.

If Sarah's baby is anywhere near as good as 'Bella, it will be wonderful for her.The baby was here for almost four hours and was nothing but smiles and chuckles apart from when she had a well earned nap. Nat (who is camera shy hence the absence of a photo on here), is a brilliant, loving and natural young mother whose children are a credit to her. The cocky,streetwise and savvy teenager I interviewed for her first job on leaving school around five or six years ago is now just a distant memory.

It's Wednesday which means just one thing - our regular Orange Wednesday trip to the cinema. There's not much we fancy in the latest releases so we've got the opportunity to see Unknown which has been out since 4th March and is still running at the local VUE. It's one of those films that we always thought we'd go to but every week there was something we wanted to see a bit more and amazingly, as it has been here for six weeks, now we've got the chance. Mind you, having seen the trailer so many times I think I've got a pretty good idea of 90% of the plot although I'm sure that there will be a pretty significant twist that we don't know about.

It would be a right miserable sod who complained about the weather that we are having. So call me a right miserable sod. I've arranged another day out with the metal detector for tomorrow. My brother Pete is coming along with a couple of blokes I met on an internet forum (no, not like that). We've got some interesting fields to search but the problem is that, with the lack of rain for the last few weeks, the ground is going to be rock hard so if we do happen to strike it lucky and find some decent signals it's going to be a hell of a job finding out what they are. Oh well I suppose it's a lot better than getting ourselves frozen and soaked. I'll let you know how we get on.

When the babies grow up they will hopefully be looking to go to university. Lincoln looks like it has potential.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Didsbury? It's Nice But It's Not Panama

When the kids were small the favourite book in our household was The Trip To Panama by Janosch.

It charts the adventures of loving couple Little Tiger and Little Bear who discover a fragment of a banana crate on a river bank. It bears the word "PANAMA" and they immediately decide that they must find this wonderful  Panama because "Panama is the land of our dreams. Panama smells of bananas". Since then, another loving couple (us) has used Panama as a metaphor for the place of our own dreams and yesterday, being in Manchester, we decided to have a quick look for somewhere to settle for the future.

We chose Didsbury for the first step into our own adventure as we had read that it is vibrant, lively and a little Bohemian with excellent transport links to Manchester and the motorway system. It was certainly lively with plenty of pavement cafes and a great range of local pubs, restaurants and shops - butchers, greengrocers, cheeses, books and much more. It's so trendy there's even a cup cake shop. There's also plenty of green space and the place has a well maintained look to it. The only drawback for us was that the traffic was constant and very loud with the fumes to go with it. So sitting at the roadside enjoying breakfast in the sunshine was spoiled. We looked at a property that is an apartment within a beautiful old mansion that has been done up to a very high standard. It has super gardens. The only snag was that it was bang on the main road. It was worth going to look at Didsbury but we had to conclude that it's nice - but it's not Panama.

Marion's going away for a weekend in early June. Our God daughter is getting married in July and she is having a "hen weekend" at Center Parcs near Nottingham. I've decided to go metal detecting while she's away and I emailed half a dozen hotels in Yorkshire enquiring about the price and availability of a single room for two nights. I didn't get a very positive response other than a welcoming email from the owners of this farmhouse B&B. I have never tried a B&B before but, being on my own, it's not a problem if it's not up to expectations. And judging from the extremely pleasant responses to my emails, I've got a feeling that they will make me very welcome. I will let you know. Being on a farm they might even let me have a look around their fields.

After a couple of weeks where we have been away for days on end we've nothing much planned now for three weeks so it's time to get back into the habit of the gym. I'm aiming to be able to do this by Christmas.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Manchester - The New London?

We had another great day in Manchester yesterday. In fact we’re liking Manchester so much these days that we are going to have a look around a couple of estate agents today to see what the property market is like now that we seem to have been priced out of our ideas of moving to London.

We started with the Imperial War Museum North, which is close by Old Trafford. It’s a fantastic piece of architecture. The museum tells the story of 20th and 21st century war in a very poignant way by concentrating more on the stories of individuals – the ordinary soldiers and seamen, the kids who were evacuated and the civilians who suffered the blitz – rather than on overloading you with facts and technical stuff. We both choked up on reading some of the letters and watching the grainy black and white footage of young men heading to the horrors of the Somme – it’s an emotional trip and one that I can strongly recommend for the sympathetic layout and the amazing artworks including an incredible sculpture that dominates the gallery. We’re spared images of death and some might think that this sanitises the full horror of war but I believe that it was the right decision as there is enough there (including the stark statistic that 20,000,000 Russians died in WWII) to make even the darkest warmonger question their thoughts.

From the museum you can see the new BBC Media City another architectural triumph. I have read that the BBC is struggling to convince their employees of the benefits of a move up north. OK, Manchester is not London (yet) but when it sinks in that they can get to work in a few minutes and save themselves two hours of misery on the Tube every day, buy an affordable property and enjoy a city that is certainly vibrant and up and coming, perhaps the voices of dissent will die down. At the moment the Media City area lacks things like pubs and local shops (although there is a shopping mall a couple of hundred yards away) but once established I can see it becoming a success. I hope that it does succeed as it is one hell of an investment.

As I said on Saturday’s blog, we were staying at the Lowry Hotel having mistakenly thought that it was near the Lowry shopping mall and the Lowry theatre (we aren’t the first a waitress told us). It’s a great hotel with spacious rooms and all you could want (including a wardrobe big enough to sleep in). I have just one gripe. In common with almost everywhere nowadays, there is a service charge added to all your food and drink. It’s only 10% so that’s not a problem. The problem is that the staff are really nice and when they hand you the bill to sign there’s a very big and obvious space for you to add a gratuity. Now I would love to reward their lovely service with a gratuity and it would normally be more than just 10% but what is the service charge if not a gratuity? Can somebody please explain? I noticed in London (where 12.5% is the norm) that an (optional) service charge was added in 90% of the restaurants we visited. What’s the point? Why not just inflate all the prices by 12.5% and let tipping become a thing of the past.It would save me a few quid as I generally give a bit more.

We enjoyed Lenny Henry’s Cradle To Rave. It’s a nostalgic trip through Lenny’s life and his love of music. He’s a genial bloke who you can’t fail to warm to although I found his story sometimes pathetic (in the true sense) rather than hilarious. The audience was mostly staid and middle aged and it was a huge credit to Len that by the time he reached the excellent finale to the show he had managed to bring everyone to their feet to rapturous applause. He’s still touring so do try and catch him if you can.

And you wonder why I am giving up football after loving it for forty-four years?

Saturday, 16 April 2011


We're going to see Lenny Henry at the Lowry in Manchester tomorrow. I saw the show reviewed in a couple of papers and thought that it sounded good so I booked a couple of tickets. Although the show is also appearing at our local theatre here in Southport I decided that it would be good to make a short break of it, visit the Imperial War Museum nearby and book a hotel for the night. I had heard good things about the Lowry Hotel so I went on the internet and sorted out a night there. "Great" I said to Marion - "we can stroll from the Lowry Hotel past the Lowry centre to the Lowry theatre and back again afterwards". We were telling a couple of friends of our plan on Thursday when they pointed out that the Lowry Hotel is not near the Lowry theatre at all but almost bang in the centre of Manchester. I'd always assumed that it was on part of the same complex so now we've got to drive or get a taxi. Oh well, the best laid plans and all that.

Friends Mark and Nita (who saw and thoroughly enjoyed the Lenny Henry show when he came to Preston) took us out for a meal last night at the Freemasons in Wiswell near Ribchester. It's a pub with an excellent chef and we ate an exceptional meal and drank some very fine wine. I can thoroughly recommend it for a special occasion as it is many notches above traditional pub food and very close to the standards achieved at the nearby Northcote Manor which is Michelin starred. It is not surprising that the pub has won awards at the Publican awards in both 2010 and 2011. Thanks Mark and Nita for your hospitality.

We had been visiting Mark and Nita as Mark (above) had expressed an interest in trying out metal detecting. As they live in the countryside outside the Roman settlement of Ribchester he asked his neighbouring farmer if we could give it a try in the fields next to the house. We found a few bits and pieces but then Mark had an enormous loud signal on a bank near to a stream. We dug and we dug and we dug all the time thinking that for something to be so deep and right out in the country it must be ancient. Finally we saw a glint of metal. Could it be at Roman hoard? Alas no. It was this enormous cast iron plate. The detectors discriminate and reject iron but when it is so deep the machines are not always able to differentiate and by the time that we got to it we decided to dig it out just in case it was an ancient chunk of iron.  Never mind, we enjoyed the exercise and we had quite a few laughs in the process.

It's not long to the Royal Wedding now. I'm not really interested although I am interested in anything to do with St Andrews as our daughter Sarah lives there after studying at the university. Here's a tribute to the wedding from the university choir with a great St Andrews backdrop.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Deus Ex Machina

I said on Wednesday's blog that the suspense was killing me. Little did I know that a couple of hours later I would be sitting in FACT Liverpool watching The Silent House and thinking that the suspense might well do just that. Talk about a scary movie! The audience (me and Marion included) were jumping out of their skins. But more of that later. The suspense in my headline referred to my excitement in trying out my new metal detector for the very first time. I arrived at the field at around ten o'clock and after a brief chat with the farmer about our replaced hips (he has two and now has one leg shorter than the other) I was off. The grass was a bit longer than I had hoped which meant that the detector was higher than I would like but it wasn't long before I started to get signals and started learning to use the machine.

I searched the field in the photo and found a nice little buckle which probably dates to the 18th century and a few buttons, washers and bits of bullets. Not a lot but, as I said on Wednesday, I expected nothing having searched this field on and off for twenty years and with the detector a good two inches higher than the ideal I was happy with the results. I moved on to an area which is grazed by sheep and the grass is much shorter. My brother Pete and I have found a number of Roman artefacts there but again I expected little as our last two or three outings had drawn blanks.

This was the result. I can't overstate how impressed I was with the machine - the XP Deus (hence today's headline). From a place that yielded nothing to two of us, I found over thirty items. As you can see, some of them are clearly junk but amongst that junk was the following.

A Romano British umbonate copper alloy brooch with traces of blue enamel from around the second century.

Three Roman coins (the third illegible).

A very old riveted strap end (probably from the same period).

An old copper coin. This is known as a Conder Token and dates to around 1792. It depicts John Of Gaunt Duke Of Lancaster.

As well as these items I also found £1.22 in spendable money and some old pre-decimal coins.

So the wait to try the new detector was well worth it. If I had found one of these items I could put it down to coincidence but to find them all indicates that the new XP Deus detector is certainly a winner and has reopened for us the sites that we thought were worked out.

I mentioned our trip to FACT to see The Silent House on Wednesday. It's a Uruguayan film with subtitles but don't be put off by that - there's very little dialogue. It's a short film and it is supposed to have been shot in one take which is a great achievement but not particularly relevant. It involves a girl and her father visiting a derelict house to do some tidying up before it is sold. But are they alone? There's no power and only a couple of lanterns and the director creates an extremely scary atmosphere as things go bump in the night. Although the suspense is extreme  - and it's worth watching for that alone - the plot is confused and you will certainly leave wondering what exactly happened but if you get the chance and you like a good fright, give it a try.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Suspense Is Killing Me

It's D Day tomorrow as I head off for a day's detecting with my shiny new wireless metal detector. I've always been a sucker for new gadgets and technology with HD and 3D in the house long before there was anything to watch in those formats so it's hardly surprising that I've gone for a new innovation when it comes to the metal detector. It's not exactly new as the XP Deus has been around for a short while now but it's new to me as I've been out of the hobby for a few years due to the need for a new hip (which is now recovering nicely and incidentally gives a brilliant signal on the machine). I've read so much about the new model that I'm almost bound to be disappointed tomorrow as I head for an area that my brother Peter and I have been searching for close on twenty years. On our last couple of visits we had barely a signal between us so it's a real test and the site is such that when I emailed Pete to tell him I was going he replied to the effect that it wasn't worth him coming as he knew that he would find nothing.

However it is an ancient site where we have found a fair number of Roman brooches, a couple of tiny silver medieval coins and a Romano British spear butt similar to this. (This is not the one that Peter found but I don't have a photo of his which is extremely fine, in perfect condition and intricately decorated - must get him to send me a photo). And by the way I don't recommend searching Google Images for "spear butt" unless you are pretty broad minded - it took me ages to find this photo even if it was the very first one to come up. Although my old detector is perfectly serviceable, it is eleven years old and very heavy and resulted in a visit to the doctor who diagnosed tennis elbow last time I used it. So a lightweight wireless machine is more than just a gimmick it's a boon. With creaky elbows and a brand new hip I can't help feeling that it's been designed with people like me in mind. 

Come back on Friday and I'll let you know how I got on. If I find anything at all it will be a success so maybe it's not the fairest test for my first try. 

We're just back from dropping daughter Sarah off at Preston station for her journey back to St Andrews. Hopefully she has enjoyed seeing us as much as we have seeing her. It's sad that she lives so far away with our first grandchild on the way but that's the beauty of retirement, there's nothing to stop us going up there (apart from the cost of petrol and that's not going to keep us away). We've spent some of the time looking at prams - blimey how they've changed in the thirty years since she was an infant - some  are so full of gadgets that there's a fifteen minute video explaining how to use them. It used to be pick up baby, place in pram - push. 

At least having her here has made the binmens' week a bit easier. When they see our bottle box this week they'll wonder what's happened but with Sarah not drinking we've joined her by way of solidarity - it would have been a bit unfair for her to sit watching us quaffing glasses of Pinot and Merlot while she's sipping her water. We can always make up for it at the weekend as we are meeting some good friends Mark and Nita (whose son happens to own a fabulous wine shop) on Friday. I'm taking Mark out  to try his hand at detecting in some fields by their home and he tells me that he's got a big bag ready for the gold. Hmmmm. 

I've got a long drive ahead tomorrow. I'm going to keep a really safe distance from the vehicles in front.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Some Recommended Reading

I've managed to find time for a fair bit of reading lately and, as usual, I've enjoyed it immensely. The books I have chosen are fairly mainstream so you will probably already be aware of them but in case you aren't I can recommend all of the following.

This American tale of two social misfits is narrated by one of two brothers who inhabit a large mansion on Fifth Avenue New York close by Central Park. Both brothers are disabled. Homer, the narrator is blind whilst his brother Langley, a victim of mustard gas, becomes a compulsive hoarder. Their story spans the decades from before the Great War to Vietnam and beyond and is a compelling insight into two liberal and eccentric lives lived on the fringes of society. The book is poignant, touching and sympathetic with the blindness of the narrator giving an extra dimension to the piece. Incidentally, on looking for a photo for the blog I discovered that Homer & Langley Collyer existed and many of the events in the novel did happen although the author E.L Doctorow has shifted their time frame as both died in 1947.

Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" was always going to be a hard act to follow but the young Indian novelist has more than lived up to expectations with "Between The Assassinations". The novel is set in the fictional Indian city of Kittur between the assassination of Indira Ghandi in 1984 and Rajiv Ghandi in 1991 and, rather than following a single character or family, the book is effectively a series of short stories each charting an inhabitant of that filthy, corruption wracked city. The poor country boy, the rich private school boy, the businessman being screwed by corrupt officials, the tragic low castes, the misguided communist are but a few of the colourful array of characters vividly portrayed. All have their own story but just once or twice we might see them in the background of another's. Is that one perhaps riding by with a block of ice to deliver? Adiga's writing is sharp and vibrant and you can't just see Kittur, you can smell it.

I loved "A Short History Of Tractors In Ukranian" and always look out for Marina Lewycka's latest novels. Like "Tractors" "We Are All Made Of Glue" is a book that is a joy to read insofar as it is beautifully written and a complete page turner. In a similar vein to her first novel, Lewycka deals with old age and "foreigners" creating an unusual relationship between an old bag lady and her young female narrator. The story is both funny and sometimes sad with some serious undertones about race and religion but, whilst it is difficult to put down, I felt a little let down with its conclusion. It has to be a must for any aspiring writer as an object lesson in how to write for your readers.

Another American novel with two names in the title, I was attracted to Florence & Giles by the comparison on the cover to "The Turn Of The Screw" ( the film of which gave me childhood nightmares) and indeed there are many similarities to Poe's classic - the gothic mansion, the spooky lake, the stern governess and a young boy and girl. This is a very modern novel full of suspense, horror and psychological trauma with an exciting almost whodunnit underlying story and a quirky voice from the young female narrator Florence who revels in creating new words to add to the language in the way that Shakespeare did - and some of those new words are quite excellent. I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone looking for something slightly offbeat and a step away from typical horror or thrillers.

Finally here's something a little different. Lent to me by daughter Sarah's partner Duncan ( a keen diver) this book charts the history of diving from the ancient Greeks to today using a mixture of both historical documentary and interesting anecdotes from the author's own experience. By including those essential anecdotes the book is entertaining as well as being highly informative and a must for anybody with any interest in either the sport or the deep oceans.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful

As my regular readers will know, I'm a loyal (albeit atypical) Guardian reader. Having deserted The Times way back in the seventies when their printers went on strike I never returned to their fold and have been happy with the high quality reporting standards of my chosen newspaper. However I now buy The Times on a Saturday principally for their great crossword selection. I am impressed with their writers and enjoy reading India Knight and Giles Coren's columns and Caitlin Moran's TV reviews but the most compelling section of the paper is the weekly magazine column written by Melanie Reid. Melanie is a journalist who, twelve months ago, suffered an horrific horse riding accident which left her with a crippling spinal injury.

The injury left her with virtually no sensations from the neck down other than some feeling in one hand. She has stoically attempted to improve her life over the last year and her efforts, supported by the amazing spinal unit in Glasgow where she has been an inpatient since the fall, have brought sufficient success for her to have been discharged. Though still reliant upon her wheelchair, she has managed to make a few faltering steps with the aid of complex physiotherapy equipment. Her weekly diary of her life since the accident opens the readers' eyes to her incredible strength of character and the amazing NHS employees who support her.

This week, in a change from her weekly "Spinal Column" she reflected upon the twelve months that she has just been through. And what struck me most about this was the following :- "I learnt three absolute lessons. First, that the world is split into people who moan and people who don't. I have heard enough moaning in the past 12 months to last me a lifetime. In this regard, I refuse, ever again, to spend time with anyone who complains continually about the weather, their job, their relationship or their appearance. these people are death to the soul; they suck the oxygen out of the air; they need to be avoided at all costs"  What a fabulous and true observation. People know me as a ridiculous optimist and mock my constant state of "extremely happy" on the LSE Mappiness application but it's true isn't it? What is the point of moaning? If you are a moaner you aren't pleasing anybody, you aren't pleasing yourself so lighten up. If Ms Reid doesn't moan (and she has far more reason to moan than most), then neither should you.

As she was once a keen rider I would be interested to know Melanie's view on the Grand National. It's a difficult one this one isn't it? On the one hand it is an exciting and colourful national institution loved by millions but on the other there's about a thirty to one chance of any one particular runner being dead before teatime. After the tragic death of two horses on Saturday, the race is today being likened in some circles to bullfighting. This is a little unfair as the death of the bull is always a certainty but there is no doubt that the horses' lives are being put at risk for public entertainment and unless those chances of the horses meeting an untimely death are made miniscule by changes to the course I am afraid that I have to support the abolitionists. The jockeys have a choice. The horses don't.

You may have noticed that I have had a week away. I've been in London to see our son and celebrate our daughter in law Josephine's birthday and to have a couple of days' break in the capital. There was no time to blog with a non stop three days of walking, shopping, eating and enjoying the incredible unseasonal hot weather. We went to see Blithe Spirit which was pretty much as the critics called it but never mind it was good to see an old fashioned bit of theatre the like of which we are unlikely ever to see again. The play has haunting as a theme as too does this week's choice of Orange Wednesday movie - The Silent House. This is a Uruguyan horror film that is based on a true story and supposedly shot in one take. The reviews were mixed but the Guardian's critic reported a roomful of critics jumping out of their seats which is good enough for Marion who loves this genre. I'll let you know what we think.

I may have mentioned on here that we were thinking of moving to London. While we were down there last week we had a look at the prices in some of the areas that we liked. I think we could end up with something like this.  

Before I go, here's another great little video to make you smile highlighted by @Glinner on Twitter.