Monday, 31 October 2011

On Skippy Dies And The Hunt For A Decent Comic Novel

I'm a bit of a lazy so and so when it comes to choosing books and, as Marion has such brilliant literary taste, I tend to simply read what she's bought - I'm rarely disappointed. This is even easier now that we both have Kindles and we can read the same books at the same time. But just before we headed up to the caravan on Saturday I decided to pop into Waterstones in Liverpool and choose some reading for the long dark hours in St Andrews. I made a list after looking at the covers from a wide range and then went home and downloaded them onto the Kindle (sorry Waterstones but at least you sold me a panini and a cup of coffee).  I wanted something that might make me laugh so I chose The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe, Rabbit Run by John Updike and Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. In addition I picked a few that were not for laughs and bought Pigeon English and The Slap because both are best sellers and have some critical acclaim.

I finished The Rotters Club pretty quickly. It was a well written novel about adolescence interwoven with seventies nostalgia and Trade Union politics. I enjoyed it although it did not provide the laughs suggested by the cover. Skippy Dies took far longer to read and it was almost a week before I finished it today. The Kindle version does not have page numbers but the percentage bar at the bottom of the screen kept telling me I was far from finished and I just read that it runs to almost 700 pages in paperback. I feel somewhat exhausted and a little let down as, yet again, despite being well (nay brilliantly) written, I failed to find the humour proclaimed on the back cover. Set in a posh Catholic boys school in Dublin there is plenty of scope for adolescent laughs but this tale of 14 year olds is simply too dark to be a comic novel and I found   myself disappointed that I have failed, yet again, to find the holy grail of a book that will make me smile. Many years ago I enjoyed Tom Sharpe's Wilt novels and, whilst I bet they are terribly dated today, they were written just for laughs. If anybody can point me in the direction of a modern equivalent, I will be very grateful - mind you I've still got the Updike to redeem my choice.

We're off to the wonderful Old Course hotel tomorrow for three nights. You may wonder why, when we have our caravan to stay in, we should up sticks and head for a luxurious five star hotel with an outstanding spa, huge comfortable rooms, deep baths and magnificent breakfasts. A mystery. But one with a logical solution. It's quite simply because many months ago, in our pre caravan owning days, the hotel tweeted an unbeatable special offer for November and I booked it. The excellent deal had a no cancellation clause so I suppose we'll just have to grin and bear it. Poor us.

My Novel

While I am up here in Scotland I hope to be putting the finishing touches to my novel. I wrote it over two years ago and then had to shelve it due to work commitments but since retiring it has been professionally critiqued for me by a leading light in publishing and I have done a rewrite taking everything he said on board. I think its quite good (apologies for the immodesty) and I am now looking at ways of self publishing it for the Kindle. I will be pleased when it is finally finished as I feel that I have learnt an awful lot about writing and can't wait to start my next one. Maybe I will try and write something that will make people laugh. 

Friday, 28 October 2011

Memory Lane

Ring Ring. Mother in law 'Hello'
Me 'Hi Mum. It's only me. Just checking you got my message on your phone about tomorrow'
MIL 'Yes John. Yes I got it.'
Me 'OK Mum. Just wanted to make sure. See you tomorrow then.'
MIL 'Hang on. Let me just check what you said. I've written it down'
Me 'OK' 
Sound of phone being put down and shuffling in background. A minute or so passes.
MIL 'You're going to pick me up at ten past nine tomorrow to take me to the clinic'
Me 'Yes that's right. See you tomorrow then. Got to dash now as we're heading for a train.'
Call ends
Thirty seconds later. 
Phone rings. Screen flashes MIL.
Call drops out.
Screen flashes. VOICE MAIL
Ring voice mail. 'You have a new message'
Message MIL 'John can you give me a ring back please?'
Phone back. Ring Ring.
MIL 'Hello'
Me 'Hi Mum. I just got your message'
MIL 'Oh. Sorry. It's just I forgot what you said about tomorrow'

In the past we might all have had a bit of a chuckle about that 'What are you like?' I might have added but the appointment in question was a visit to the local Memory Clinic and that's where we were today.

We were seen by an excellent assessor who spent well over an hour talking to Marion's mum and then finished with a questionnaire. Her response to the questions was quite staggering for us, as, although we have been aware of her struggling with her memory for some months now, this is the first time that she has  been probed over such a wide array of topics. Instead of an hour of happy reminiscences, her trip down memory lane was a ride into a series of cul de sacs and dead ends with just the odd crossroads navigated successfully.

It will be six to eight weeks before she is seen again by a consultant who will provide a diagnosis but in that time she is going to find things very hard, especially as she was unhappy with a recent trial week in a local care home and refused to stay. We will be in Scotland for the next two weeks. Fortunately she has a fair number of people who will keep an eye on her for us but we can't see much light on the horizon for her. Which is very, very sad. 

Retirement isn't always a barrel of laughs.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Gluttons For Punishment

We're true gluttons for punishment aren't we? Not content with sitting through Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 amidst an audience of attention deficient kids and their mobiles over the last couple of years, we went to see Paranormal Activity 3 this morning - bang in the middle of half term! But hey. A salute to the 11am teenage crowd. Perhaps their daily dose of fizzy stuff or whatever it is that turns them into mindless morons hadn't kicked in and, apart from jumping out of their seats and giggling nervously during the creepy bits, which is part of the fun of this sort of movie, they were as good as gold. Hats off to them. As for the film. If you've seen one, you've seen them all but that's not to say that this one didn't have a few extra twists, like the camera fitted to a fan which panned pack and forth instead of showing the usual Paranormal Activity fixed tripod shot and allowed for the unexpected to appear err.. unexpectedly. I won't spoil it for you by giving away the plot but, if you are the sort of person who enjoys it when people jump out at you from dark corners and shout 'BOO', you'll love this.

Glen Campbell at the Liverpool Philharmonic last night was a trip down memory lane as, despite his Alzheimer's,  Glen managed to belt out a decent selection from his huge repertoire of hits. At the start of his performance I thought that I would be writing the classic Eric Morecambe line that he was playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order but after a shaky start he showed himself to still be something of a virtuoso on the guitar and, for me, the highlight of his playing was an excellent  duelling banjos with his daughter. The only hint that all was not quite right with Glen was the way that his family (two sons and his daughter are in his backing group) were watching him like hawks and having to adjust their tempos to keep in time with their father and his odd breaking off from a couple of romantic ballads with inappropriate laughs and asides. Although there was no attempt at making the show anything but a celebration and a happy event, watching someone who clearly lives for his music, on the verge of dementia had to be tinged with sadness. 

Fortunately no sign of dementia in my mum who is not looking bad for an eighty five year old. Seems that she's just had a photo shoot with one of our niece's friends and I found this on Facebook. We saw a couple of women of a similar age fall over in Liverpool yesterday. Fortunately there was plenty of help on hand but it demonstrated the frailty of the elderly. One of the victims sat next to us on the train home. She was 85 too and told us that she had booked her ticket and travelled to the concert on her own as well as walking the half mile or so uphill to the venue and insisting on walking back to the station despite her fall.

Before Glen, I messed up by forgetting to book a pre theatre meal near to the Phil so I used the iPhone to find an alternative and it came up with a pub in Duke St called The Monro. And very good it was too. In fact the meal was probably better than the one we would have had in our first choice, and, being over half a mile away from the show, gave us the chance to walk some of it off too. There was a great choice on the menu, the cooking was fresh and the service was very friendly if just a little slow in taking the orders. All in all good value for money at about £53 for two and a half courses, coffee, and a bottle of wine.  

Never has a film been more appropriately titled than 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' which we saw yesterday afternoon at the wonderful FACT. This is a film that you could talk about for ages as it raises so many questions. The part of the poor mother is superbly acted by Tilda Swinton and the director's use of blood red imagery which starts with the opening scene at one of those Spanish tomato throwing festivals is quite brilliant. Being someone who tends to look at things logically I found a few flaws in the plot niggled me, but this did not detract from a film that is a truly thought provoking and riveting drama. I worry a little about the publicity trailer and posters which may mislead the "Paranormal Activity" crowd into trying it as this is purely a psychological drama, violence, though extreme, is only alluded to and the monster is not a horror movie one.   

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Busy Week Beckons

We are off to St Andrews again on Saturday but we've got a pretty busy week in prospect before we head north. We brought Marion's mum back from her stay in a rest home this morning. The carers said that she coped quite well with the upheaval but she was keen to get back to her flat. So, after joining us for a bite to eat, she returned home in the afternoon. It was only a couple of hours before she telephoned and asked us to come round as she had forgotten how to turn her TV on. After a week relaxing in Kirkby Lonsdale in the safe knowledge that she was being looked after, we are now faced with more uncertainty. She's got a few medical appointments for us to take her to this week but we doubt that much can be done to improve her failing memory.

Memory loss is an early symptom of Alzhiemer's and on Tuesday we are heading to the Philharmonic  in Liverpool to see Glen Campbell (a sufferer of this awful disease) on his farewell tour. I hope that it is a joyful celebration of a life lived to the full rather than a depressing demonstration of the ravages of dementia.

As it is unlikely that we will be full of the joys of spring after going to the matinee performance of We Need To Talk About Kevin at FACT before we head to the Phil. The film is widely acclaimed as a thought provoking study of parenthood and we aren't expecting a barrel of laughs. 

The rest of the week will be taken up with a day trying to finish editing my novel, a day in London when we are visiting our investment advisors and meeting Paul and Josephine for a meal and running Marion's mum around for her appointments. The caravan in St Andrews will be a real oasis when we get there.

We went to see Contagion on Friday when we got back from Cumbria. It's a good, but not great, film about the onset of a deadly virus - a sort of bubonic plague for the twenty first century. It's quite predictable but well filmed, well acted and moves at a good pace. I have strangely found myself going almost OCD with washing my hands since we saw it.

If, like me, you are a bit fed up with all the criminality in the news, you'll be saddened to see that it's even spreading to those lovable and cute creatures - penguins.

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Great Short Break In Kirkby Lonsdale

A couple of months ago a flyer popped through our letter box advertising a newly renovated holiday cottage in Kirkby Lonsdale. We weren't planning a break but the cottage looked so nice that we thought we would give it a try. So we booked for the four nights just gone. It's not far to travel and the scenery in the area is pleasant. It was a good decision. 

The Local Churchyard
Being situated within a stone's throw of the ancient church, our cottage was in the heart of this pleasant little market town which made such a refreshing change from country cottages in the middle of nowhere. The town has a lot of excellent restaurants and pubs so it was easy to just pop out to one or to an inn or hotel for a bite to eat, some tea and cake or a glass of wine. There was also a good Booths supermarket within easy walking distance and plenty of fine food stores on the main street with a weekly market thrown in for good measure.

Thornton Force Ingleton
The weather was not great apart from on Wednesday when we had a bit of a trip down memory lane and walked around the popular Ingleton waterfalls where we spent many happy days when the children were small. It's just as pretty as it always was although, without the kids, we seemed to whizz around the walk much faster than we did twenty odd years ago.

I noticed this odd formation of foam in the river caused by the falls. Caught in an eddy, these giant cappuccino toppings went around on a never ending merry go round that was quite hypnotic to watch.

The Sun Inn Lamb Shoulder
The nearest place to our cottage to eat out was The Sun Inn. Consistently found at, or near, the top of lists of best pubs and inns in the North, the accolades are completely justified and we enjoyed an excellent three course dinner on one of our nights. The food was great but so too was the atmosphere and the service. It's well worth the five stars it usually gets from Trip Advisor reviewers. But it's not a one restaurant town and we also enjoyed tapas at the friendly bar and restaurant  Platos and returned almost every afternoon to the recently refurbished Royal Hotel for tea and biscuits near a warm log fire.

The cottage, Chapel Cottage was perfect for two and would have easily accommodated another couple. It has just been restored to a very high standard. In fact the standard is much higher than you would expect from a holiday let.

It is located in one of the many small courtyards off the small town's streets and access by car was not for the faint hearted but, with Marion's guidance, we got by without any scrapes (unlike others as witnessed by a few paint marks in the passage). 

I don't know if I should be telling you about it really as we may want to go back and I wouldn't be surprised if next year is not soon fully booked. But, hey, I don't have that many readers so if you want a perfect little cottage in a pretty little town, check it out here.

You can find some more holiday cottages in Kirkby Lonsdale and the surrounding area below, just click on the pictures for full details including current price and availability.

If you prefer a weekend break in a hotel or guest house, Kirkby Lonsdale has some excellent places to choose from including a number of cosy pubs offering accommodation. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

One Man Two Guvnors Five Stars

If I told you that the play we went to at The Lowry in Salford last night was a modern recreation of a The Servant Of Two Masters by 18th century Venetian commedia dell'arte dramatist Carlo Goldoni, you'd be forgiven for thinking I had gone all arty farty and intellectual. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth as, despite following the commedia dell'arte structure to the letter, with James Cordon the harlequin figure who interacts between the audience and the players, this is nothing more than a hilariously entertaining, evening of fun. Set in 1960's Brighton with musical interludes from an excellent skiffle group, the play is often pure farce -every character a caricature - every scene played for maximum laughs. The structure is fascinating with many of the devices - mistaken identities, women impersonating men and plenty of audience participation - echoing back earlier than Goldoni's Venice to Shakespeare's Globe where Touchstone and other famous fools were doing similar two hundred years earlier. It has received rave reviews and, for once, these are fully justified. It really is fast moving and extremely funny with a magnificent performance by James Corden who holds the stage for much of the play. It would be wrong to think of this as just a one man show as there are notable over the top performances from Oliver Chris as upper class twit Stanley Stubbers, Daniel Rigby as wannabee  acTORRR Alan and a show stealing reprise of Julie Walter's 'two soups' from Tom Eddon as Alfie the octogenarian waiter. This is heading for the National Theatre next month and I can see Corden and his crew tied up with this show for many months to come. I challenge anyone not to enjoy it.

I would love to have said that the Lowry Restaurant, where we enjoyed a pre theatre dinner, was also worthy of five stars. But, although we have been many times and always eaten well, we felt a little let down last night. That's not to say that the food was not excellent and the service, as always, friendly and helpful. It's just a matter of value for money. We eat out quite frequently and I think we've got a good idea of the going rate. The three course dinner was £21.95 which is about the level I would expect for the venue. But I found it galling to see that bread was an additional £1.50 and other cost cutting measures such as espresso coffees served without the usual addition of a small biscuit. Nit picking? Perhaps. But bear in mind that the food, though finely cooked, is not expensive stuff- chicken, beef stew, smoked haddock not fillet steak or pate de fois gras. The cheese board comprised just a few tiny crackers and three morsels of, admittedly very nice,cheese for a fiver. I didn't want bigger portions, just a slightly smaller bill. Perhaps if the bread had been freely served and the dinner maybe a pound or two less we would have felt that we had better value. I know it's a charity but we donated to the excellent exhibition and felt just a bit overcharged this time.

For my comments on our third film this week, Guillermo Del Torro's dark fairy tale 'Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark', I should really just direct you to those I made when we went to see Paranormal Activity 2. I don't know what it is about films that could be loosely described as 'horror' that attracts total imbeciles to the cinema. I don't know about being afraid of the dark either. There were so many phone screens lit up throughout the film that the screen was aglow with the bloody things. And as for attention span? I don't think that many in the audience (typical age from around fifteen to thirty) could keep still, or keep their mouths shut for more than a few minutes at a time. We complained after Paranormal Activity and got our money back but couldn't be bothered this time as the poor manager already had a queue formed by other disgruntled old (ie over thirty) customers. 

If the audience had bothered to actually watch the movie the would have seen a very dark fairy tale, a little like Coraline in style. I'm not sure that I'l be encouraging granddaughter Rose to believe in the tooth fairy after watching what it is that comes to collect the teeth! The film has not received rave reviews but we enjoyed it very much and, although not overly scary, it is a dark, well made and entertaining tale.

We're off to San Carlo in Liverpool tonight to celebrate the arrival of our friends David and Jane Howarth's new granddaughter. I bet their waiters let us have as much bread as we want.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Weighty Decisions

As I mentioned recently, Marion's mum Flo has been finding it difficult living alone of late and is struggling with every day things like visiting the shops and taking a shower. She has done extremely well for sixteen years alone but, at 86, is having to rely more on us and neighbours to help her out of minor scrapes. We don't want these to turn into major scrapes like leaving something on in the kitchen or falling in the shower so, on her doctor's advice, we took her to look around a residential home this morning.

The thought of elderly care sometimes conjures up images like this. I certainly experienced this sort of place (like God's waiting rooms), during my time as a bank manager and couldn't get out of them quick enough. But I also had good memories of my own Nan living on Lord St Southport in a fairly posh place where she had a whale of a time and even ended up with a 'boyfriend' (quite an achievement as the ratio of women to men was about ten to one). 

The one we visited was a little more like this (albeit through rose coloured spectacles) and I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere with only the occasional whiff of stale urine that totally pervades some residential homes. It was quite a lively place with plenty going on. While Marion and her mum were doing the tour I managed to speak to a 95 year old and ask him how he enjoyed things. He had only been there a month and, although it was not home, the food was good, he was being well looked after and he was happier than he had been on his own. A pretty good (and unforced) endorsement. We also managed to speak to a woman of our age whose mother had similar difficulties to Flo and she spoke very well of the home.

I suppose that in Spain, France, Italy and many other of our European neighbours  the question of packing an elderly relative off to a place like this would not arise and it would be simply taken for granted that she would come and live with us. It's a dilemma isn't it? Nobody wants to see a parent unhappy but at the same time, other than a few saints out there, none of us wants a huge chunk of our retirement sacrificed to caring. That sounds selfish doesn't it? And yes we could devote hours every day to Flo if we gave up everything else as we have no excuse like work to stand in our way. But would that be the correct decision? I've thought long and hard about this and I don't think so. The home can provide support that we can't. Flo's dignity can be preserved by having a qualified carer rather than a family member help her to bathe and there is emergency medical support on hand 24 hours a day as well as daily activities, fifty others her own age and a varied and healthy menu.

After looking around the home we went to a cafe for a sandwich. Sitting opposite, enjoying a cup of tea, was a woman who lives in the adjacent flat to Flo. She told us that she was off to lunch and a concert in Southport and had a diary packed full of similar engagements and was disappointed that similar concerts she travelled to in Bootle had been hit by the cuts. She was well over ninety but told us that yesterday she had sorted out Flo's central heating for her. She strode out of the cafe and over to the bus stop with an air of happy independence. An air that Flo is sadly unable to emulate.

She has decided to give the care home a try. She's going to treat it like a holiday for a week while we are having a break in a cottage in Kirkby Lonsdale. We'll see how things go. At least we will not have to worry while we are away but if she decides that it's not for her we'll be back to square one.

On a lighter note, good luck to our friend Mark Jones who has just embarked on a very big adventure. Passionately patriotic, Mark enjoyed watching Wales win through to their World Cup semi final on Saturday morning so much that by Saturday evening he was so delighted with the result that he somehow managed to book himself onto a flight to New Zealand for the remainder of the tournament. It's amazing the lengths some people will go to to avoid an evening with me and Marion (dinner was scheduled for Saturday). If you read this Mark (we're sure that you will have more than a few free minutes alone in New Zealand for two weeks, especially if your match tickets don't materialise), good luck mate. We'll be rooting for you.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Chalk & Cheese?

We managed our planed cinema marathon at FACT in Liverpool yesterday, taking in Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur at 2 pm and, after winding down with a bottle of wine and some snacks at Salt House Tapas, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris at 6.15 pm. Tyrannosaur was mentioned in a discussion on Radio 4's Today programme this morning when it was described by one contributor as 'misery porn for the middle classes'. He felt that films like this stereotype the working class as mindless and violent morons but, for me, he totally missed the point. The impoverished characters in Tyrannosaur could not be described in any way as 'working class' being, instead, the feral underclass of recent Tory speeches who don't work and are unlikely ever to do so. The film is brutal and violent but the violence is not confined to the work shy but seeps into cosy suburbia where much worse than bar brawling goes on behind net curtains. The actors in Tyrannosaur have been widely praised and there are powerful performances from leads Peter Mullan and Olivia Coleman whilst Eddie Marsan was convincing as an evil wife beater, Paul Popplewell was the hardest of hard men and newcomer Samuel Bottomley as the child mature beyond his years was outstanding. Although the film bristles with violence, anger and rage, it still had an underlying compassion that came through in the closing scenes.

In fact, in honesty, the ending of Midnight in Paris was not that far removed from that of Tyrannosaur. The tale of amiable American Gil, a successful movie screenwriter who yearns to be a serious novelist, the film takes place in the French capital where, each night,  at the stroke of midnight, Gil is transported to another Paris occupied by famous literary and artistic characters from the twenties. It's a charming film, full of fun, a glossy travelogue for that beautiful city and perfect for a romantic like me. It's totally daft but what's wrong with that if it makes you smile. 

I had a bit of a go at Salt House Tapas on here last time we went. it was just before the Dolly Parton concert and the place was crammed and, although we booked well in advance, we were stuck on a poky table upstairs away from any atmosphere - the sort of table used as a last resort in an emergency rather than for regulars who had booked. The meal then was very poor but they redeemed themselves yesterday with standards back to the level that I have praised here several times before. We shared half a dozen tapas. All were very good as too were the excellent olives and anchovies. The desserts were ok and the bill for two including wine came to a reasonable £54.

While we were sitting back at the cinema, our great friends David and Jane Haworth were joining us as Grandparents. Their daughter Louise presented everyone with an early surprise when little Poppy Amelia arrived unexpectedly at around 7 o'clock. We are delighted that everything went well and both mum and baby are doing fine. Congratulations to Jane, Dave, Louise and, of course, proud dad Lance who, I'm sure will be nicknaming the baby Poopy Amelia before very long.

More cinema tomorrow. My suggestion of a VUE token for my birthday did not fall on stony ground and as we're back in with Orange, tomorrow we're off to Southport for "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" . Don't say we haven't got a wide taste in films.


Friday, 7 October 2011

Hectic Times Ahead

You may think that retirement is all pottering around the garden, playing bowls and going down to the bridge club. But strangely (like lots of fellow retirees) we find the time flying by with little or no chance to do everything that we want to.

The next few weeks are typical. We've got the National Theatre's production of One Man, Two Guvnors at The Lowry in Manchester but before we go to the theatre we have to travel to Knutsford to deliver some items to an auctioneer as we are starting to clear out our antique collection. And then there's dinner booked before the performance. It's all go on that day. The highly acclaimed play stars James Corden who hosts our son Paul's creation A League Of Their Own which returns to our screens tonight for a fourth series on Sky at 10pm. Set your SkyPlus now or, if it's not past your bedtime, watch it.

On Friday we've got a day in Liverpool followed by a meal with friends (imminent arrival of their daughter's baby permitting) and a visit to see more friends on Saturday and a cottage break on the edge of the Lake District the following week.

Before that we've got some catching up on our cinema visits to do so we're having another marathon at FACT in Liverpool on Monday when we're off to the 2pm showing of Paddy Considine's critically acclaimed directorial debut Tyrannosaur. The trailer looks a bit violent and grim so we're lightening the mood later on with a viewing of Woody Allen's latest offering Midnight In Paris at 6.30. With a bite to eat thrown in for good measure that's another packed day. Another day will be spent out with the metal detector if I can find somewhere for us to go.

One of the less pleasant parts of retirement is seeing older relations struggling with old age. Both our mums, pictured here in their early seventies, are now in their mid eighties after being widowed relatively young. My mum is coping very well apart from occasional falls which have sometimes left her looking like she's done ten rounds with Mohammed Ali  but Marion's mum Flo (far left) is now finding it very hard to live alone and, after recovering brilliantly from two bouts of cancer in her seventies, is becoming increasingly confused. We've got several appointments lined up in the next few weeks in a attempt to find the best solution for her future but, whatever it is, it won't be the same as being fully independent like she has been for the past sixteen years. It's an unhappy and constant reminder to us of the necessity to make the most of what time we have got. 

On a lighter note, let's hope that when we visit FACT on Monday we aren't faced with this..

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Back In The Old Routine

We managed to get out to the cinema for the first time in a couple of weeks today when we travelled to FACT in Liverpool to see Drive. The story of a very complex and nameless Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver, it's not all Vin Diesel or Jason Statham packed with car chases and crashes. No, it's a lot more sophisticated than that with Gosling playing one of the most taciturn characters seen on screen since Clint Eastwood's man with no name (there is another similarity to Clint with Gosling constantly chewing on a toothpick instead of a cheroot). Although the dialogue is sparse there is enough to tell a pretty complex tale of mafia mobsters with a little romance thrown in to lighten what is otherwise a very dark film. It's a good thriller and well worth seeing but, be warned, it is extremely violent in parts and I felt that the violence overstepped the mark in at least one gut turning scene that had me closing my eyes. 

The old routine included getting a day out with the metal detector yesterday when my detecting partner and I travelled up the M6 to Cumbria for a search around some fields near to where I found that piece of Roman gold a month or so ago. Having bombarded the farmer with regular phone calls since the end of July asking if the fields had been harvested, he finally (like the man from Del Monte) said yes. Unfortunately the anticipation exceeded the results and, apart from a worn fragment of a Roman coin I only found this Roman mount which would probably once have been fixed to a piece of Roman furniture. Although I have not found tons of stuff with the detector this year, I think that, barring a couple of hours in Scotland, most of our outings have turned up at least one historic or displayable coin or artefact. It would be good if we could increase that to three or four.

Yet another part of our regular retirement routine is going to Victoria Leisure for an hour or two work out. I've managed three visits so far since getting back from Italy and Marion has done almost four hours of intensive classes. As a result of this and sticking to a healthy diet, we're both almost back to our pre Torcello weight and ready to start eating (and drinking) a bit more.

We'll miss the routine of The Great British Bake Off which reached its climax last night when Jo was deservedly crowned winner. After weeks of effort surely she deserved something better than the ghastly trophy comprising an assortment of kitchen implements and half a dozen eggs in a goldfish bowl with a lemon squeezer on top. Great show. Shame about the prize.  

Monday, 3 October 2011

In Praise Of The Kindle And Locanda Cipriani

We bought a Kindle in March. We both enjoy reading but there was something of a reluctance to take the plunge with e-books and, although we have had the device for six months, we didn't download anything until  the week before we went on holiday.I still had plenty unread on the shelves so had no incentive to go digital and Marion loves the feel of books and was extremely reluctant to make the change. But with us travelling by air for the first time in ages, a case full of paperbacks would have played havoc with the baggage allowance. Marion is a great list maker and had a long list of novels that she had seen reviewed recently so we went onto Amazon and bought half a dozen. An added benefit was that we were able to download the Kindle App onto both the iPad and the iPhone giving us three copies of each book which meant that we could both read the same book at the same time which would have allowed us to talk about them if we had actually done so.

The experience was a delight. The screen is clear and the device is extremely light. Turning a page is simplicity and the book is always at the right page when you pick it up again. I reckon that using the Kindle allowed me to get through a novel in far less time than it would have taken me to read the same in book form. As a consequence I got through all six of Marion's book choices in the seven days we were away as well as a free Charles Dickens selection that I downloaded. 

Marion used the Kindle and I used the Kindle for iPad and iPhone. There is no question which is better. The iPad is much heavier and the screens on both iPad and iPhone are more difficult to read in bright sunlight. Having said that I still found using them a good experience. The latest Kindle is on offer at Amazon for just £89 and, at that price, anybody who enjoys reading should log on and buy one now.

So what did I read on that marathon readathon? All the books probably fall into the category of light reading and tending towards the feminine taste, both of which suit me fine.

Tim Pears' Landed tells the story of a young father separated from his wife and kids. It opens with a hard but idyllic childhood spent on the Welsh hillside with farming grandparents but life is turned upside down by a motor accident which wrecks the future. This is a very easy and highly descriptive novel which moves to becoming (intentionally) surreal in the closing stages. We would have preferred it without the surreality as both of us found the ending unsatisfying.

For me, another strange ending marred the excellent Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown. A story of relationships and family told by the long suffering teenager Jake and his alcohol dependent mother Mary the book constantly flits between decades and demands concentration but that concentration is rewarded by an intriguing jigsaw that fits together beautifully and, I felt, should have ended when that last piece was put into place.

The Return Of Captain John Emmett is a bit of an Edwardian whodunnit (although there's no chance of you guessing the solution). It's entertaining and enjoyable. Perfect for a sun lounger.

The White Woman On The Green Bicycle was my favourite of the holiday reads. Set on the tropical paradise of Trinidad, the book evokes colonialism to perfection. It is the tale of a glamorous young couple who travel to the Caribbean for the husband's career. It's supposed to be a short term thing so the suffering young wife, who dislikes the place intensely, makes an effort to cope but watches in horror as her husband becomes a lotus eater who is totally bewitched by the island's charms. With strands of politics, relationships, racism, family and love, this is a complex and beautifully written novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

I felt that I could see what was coming in A Mile Of River from a long way off. If things hadn't turned out as expected it would have been a brilliant novel but as clues were flagged up almost in block capitals I was disappointed. A rites of passage tale of a young woman in the long summer drought of 1976. As I said, "brilliant" could be applied to the writing but not, sadly, to the plot.

Another very pleasant read, The Opposite Of Falling is a good love story with plenty to keep you guessing. I thought that the flying devices around which the whole thing revolves felt a little contrived but the characters are strong and believable and it's a very nice book.

And talking of nice things, I'd like to finish today with some words of praise for Signor Bonifacio Brass and his staff of Locanda Cipriani on Torcello. We had to leave the hotel at eight in the morning. This was before breakfast starts but on the previous evening one of the waiters offered to get up an hour early and come to the hotel and make breakfast for us. What fabulous service! We declined the waiter's offer - the poor lad wasn't knocking off until late at night and we had plenty of time to eat at the airport but when we got up, Signor Brass, the owner of the Locanda, made us coffee. That's the sort of attention to detail and hands on management that has made the place the massive success that it is. Success that is well deserved. You wouldn't get many hotel managers doing that, let alone owners. Thank you.