Thursday, 28 June 2012

On Carter Beats The Devil And The Five Year Engagement

Paul bought me this book for Fathers' Day (to be precise he bought me an Amazon voucher and sent me a list of recommendations to download). He's a lover of all things American from the NFL to the great American novel, but for me it was something refreshing. I haven't read a great deal of American fiction; it was different; it was a pleasant surprise.

It's a very long book and, as Fathers' Day was only just over a week ago, it's a credit to Glen David Gold that he got me turning the pages fast enough to have finished already. Opening with a spectacular magic show "Carter Beats The Devil" in which Carter The Great and "The Devil" perform a series of outrageous illusions, each one more mind blowing than the next before ending in a magnificent finale involving audience member President Harding coming to a theatrical end in Grand Guignol style, the novel does nothing by halves.

Many of the characters in the book are real; Carter The Great was a famous illusionist, Houdini makes a brief appearance and President Harding was visiting San Francisco at the time that the story begins. As I am not particularly familiar with any of the real characters I simply read it as fiction. After reading the book I checked out Harding and Carter and I think it's fair to say that fiction is the best way to describe it - there's plenty of hocus pocus.

After the opening extravaganza we have several story strands involving secret agents, rival magicians, Carter's childhood and his career and love life and Gold plays tricks with the reader as we try to second guess what is real and what is an illusion.Some of the illusions appear far fetched but the author explains in his notes that all of them were performed (or attempted) during the magical music hall heydays that preceded the movies and television. The same feeling of implausibility applies to the plot but I urge you to suspend your cynicism as you would if attending a performance by Derren Brown or David Blaine and simply settle down to be entertained.

Its all quite brilliantly done - well written with plenty of humour and it comes together in a wonderful, breathless and exciting finale. And that's where I felt that the novel should have ended as my only minor gripe was in the lengthy epilogue in which the author ties up a large number of loose ends. I felt that this was unnecessary and could well have been left to the reader's imagination.

I may be a bit old fashioned but my choice of the perfect romantic comedy would be something like "Love Actually" "Four Weddings And A Funeral" or perhaps Ricky Gervais' much underrated "Cemetery Junction". Each has a slight edge to it but is generally pretty "nice" in a soppy warm and yes "romantic" way. So when I read good reviews of "The Five Year Engagement" I thought that perhaps this would be on those lines. But in the same way that I found the great American novel a bit different I found the great American romcom a long way from the cosiness of its British counterparts.

That's not to say that it isn't an entertaining film. Jason Segel as Tom does a good "nice guy" in very much the same way that he did in the recent Muppet movie and Emily Blunt is the perfect foil as his English fiancee Violet. Together with Alison Brie as her sister Susie, Blunt performs one of the funniest scenes in a long while as they row using the voices of Sesame St characters to avoid upsetting Susie's children. But Tom's best friend Alex who reminded me of a young Jack Black, adds a layer of crudity that lowered the tone of the film for me with an endless fixation on genital related jokes that were not just confined to his character - they permeate the film ( we even have Tom's pensioner mother discussing her vaginal reconstruction surgery at breakfast and Tom worrying about the effect of snow on the size of his penis) - hardly Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn stuff. 

When the credits rolled and Jud Apatow's name came up, the penny dropped. He's been responsible for a fair number of funny films but they're all a bit crude and although I'm no prude, I prefer my crudity separate to my romance. So if you want a film with some laughs and a bit of romance give it a try but if you want the emphasis on the romance, stick with Richard Curtis.


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Goodbyes Begin

Although we've still been going to the gym this week, we haven't really needed to as the marathon packing job has given us plenty of exercise. Yesterday we moved the boxes packed with all the office and the attic contents down into the conservatory. We felt that we'd be less likely than the removal men to scuff the paintwork so we traipsed up and down three flights of stairs with approximately 240 boxes.

We're almost at the end of it all now and the removal man came round this morning to check out our handiwork - I think he was quite impressed. I've asked him to come and pack what's left now (some paintings, mirrors, glass and a few antiques)  as we aren't insured for breakages under his terms and conditions if we pack that stuff. We're going to head off up to Scotland on Monday for a well earned break and to celebrate Sarah and Rose's birthdays (can it really be a whole year since we made a mad dash up to Dundee to welcome her into the world?). Once we're back we've got to pack for four months of caravan living, help Paul and Josephine with their move to Rochester and choose a builder to renovate the new place in Framlingham - not much on our plates then.

Marion said a tearful goodbye to her friends at the gym last night and on Monday we took two of our oldest friends to The Vincent for a farewell meal. I'm sure we'll see plenty of them as David and Janet are in London frequently and it will be easy for us to arrange to meet up. Tonight we'll have our last ever Orange Wednesday at Vue in Southport. We're going to give The Five Year Engagement a try. It's been well received by the critics so hopefully we'll be leaving the local cinema on a high note.

It was also goodbye to Marion's car yesterday as we sold it to a local dealer. It's been a great little runaround for her but she didn't exactly drive far in it and, with just 10,400 miles on the clock after six years, someone is going to get a great buy. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

So Long To A Labour Of Love

A man with a van duly arrived on Sunday morning and took the outdoor potted pants down to the new house in Framlingham. The van was packed full when we'd finished loading it and it marked the decline of the garden that has been Marion's pride and joy over the last twenty-three years.

Here's how it looked shortly after we moved in; a patch of lawn and some pretty ugly concrete flagstones was the sum total of our green space. We started to dig a pond but in general, it was somewhere for the kids to play.

As the children grew up and the climbing frame and goal posts fell into disuse, we concentrated on making the garden an oasis in our little piece of suburbia.

The old flagstones were replaced with a curved stone patio and the borders were planted with shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals and it started to look like a gardener's garden. Marion studied plants and read avidly about the subject.

And finally, last year, we felt that we'd got it just right - just in time to put the house on the market. Oh well, it has given us both a lot of pleasure in the last twenty years. Let's hope that when we start again in Framlingham late this year we can equal of better what we did here - being retired we'll have more time and, having a bit more cash than we had when the kids were young, we might be able to buy bigger specimen plants to give us a bit of a head start.

We took time off on Saturday to visit a window showroom. We're looking for windows for the new house and we discovered that the nearest showroom of a company whose windows appealed was in Leeds. After we'd checked out the showroom (the windows were extremely nice), I suggested to Marion that we got ourselves a bit to eat before heading back home. I saw the sign to Harewood House and guessed that there would be a cafe there, so off we went. We had a very pleasant lunch in the terrace cafe overlooking these lovely formal gardens but, as it was £20 to get into the grounds, it ended up costing us £50 for  sandwiches and cake with a pot of tea. Which wouldn't have been bad if we hadn't simply gone to the cafe and set off home.

Speaking of stately homes, we came across this old photo when we were sorting through the coffer full of photographs the other day. One of our five minutes of fame (almost an hour actually).

Thursday, 21 June 2012

All The Days Are Blurring Into One

I think it's Thursday today although, as every day has been almost identical for the last two weeks, you could tell us that it was Wednesday, Tuesday or even Saturday and we wouldn't know any better. Who would guess that preparing to move from a family house of twenty-three years would be such a challenge? The last twenty-four hours has been one of the most grueling yet. 

Yes, yesterday we hit the point on the schedule that read "photos". I've always enjoyed taking snaps and in the forty years or so that Marion and I have been together I must have taken many thousands and, before we hit the digital age, most of those thousands of photos were printed by the local shop and religiously stuck into albums with the better ones finding a place in one of Marion's large collection of frames. We had a large antique coffer completely full of photographs so, starting yesterday at around noon, and finishing at about the same time today we went through every single one of them.

This is what we ended up with. Now I don't want to panic our children and other relations; the bulk of those big bin bags is taken up with empty albums - we threw away very few photographs with people in them (other than those of people we'd rather not remember). Most of the photos disposed of were my attempts at landscapes and holiday scenes; so bags full of atmospheric shots of castles, Lakeland fells, hotels we stayed in, Mediterranean beaches and fish I once caught were consigned to the tip. I've made so many visits there in the last two week that I'm on first name terms with some of the blokes who work there now and I walk around the place with such authority that people have started asking me which skip they should deposit their stuff in. We still ended up with three packing boxes of photographs, albums and frames to take to Framlingham but at least we've spared our kids some work in the future.

Before we started on the photos it was the turn of the smallest room in the house - the cupboard under the stairs. It was like the Tardis! Who would have known that all this stuff would have fitted in here?

Marion is so keen on leaving the house nice for whoever comes in after us that she suggested we might want to decorate it. Hmmm.

After working flat out we decided that we really ought to get to the cinema. We haven't been for almost two weeks and, although there was nothing on at Vue that really took our fancy, we ended up at Red Lights. I spent most of the film wondering if the bloke playing the young scientist was the real scientist Professor Brian Cox off the telly. Turns out it was Cillian Murphy but I'm not the first one to notice the similarity as I Googled the names of both together and loads of stuff came up. Sadly the similarity between Murphy and Cox was the only thing that was interesting in the film. It was, in fact, pretty rubbish. Sigourney Weaver is a scientist who debunks the paranormal, Murphy is her assistant and the film opens interestingly enough with a haunted house for them to investigate. But then Robert De Niro enters the fray as a blind psychic who once persuaded Murphy's mum that she could fix her cancer by paranormal means and the film revolves around the two doctors' attempts to destroy De Niro's credibility and expose him as a fraud.  A few things go bump in the night which is a good job as they woke me up - maybe we've been working too hard on clearing the house but this really was a dull film.

  I even managed to find a photo of the two of them together.

There's so much going on in our heads that we're still reading when we go to bed to try and wind down. I read  Theres' Always Tomorrow by Pam Weaver this week. I gave it four stars on my Amazon review but feel a bit guilty as I was slightly critical and I know that when I get around to publishing my own novel I won't enjoy criticism. Here's my review.

"I spent a while trawling through the Amazon bestseller lists trying to find a good read and There's Always Tomorrow caught my attention - it looked like my sort of book - a mysterious letter, family intrigues a period setting.

And it's a good story about good and evil. It captures the atmosphere of the fifties very well and the reader is always compelled to discover what happens next. But I did have a few niggles. For me the heroine Dottie is almost too good to be true and whilst Pam Weaver's writing is very competent, whenever we got to showing emotions, there was always a tear running down a cheek or a heart fluttering in a fairly melodramatic and overstated way that had me picturing the characters like actors in silent movies. I don't want to appear overly critical as it is an enjoyable book, but I do feel that this exaggeration and almost cliched showing of emotions let it down at times and I sometimes felt as if Dottie and some of her pals were characters from one of the many Enid Blyton books that are referred to in the text.

Although there is a dark side to the book, it's a pleasant and unchallenging read and I think that it's a story that would make a good TV drama."

It's Friday tomorrow (I think). That means it's the conservatory and lounge to get sorted. Can't wait for the weekend (dining room).

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Packing Up Is Hard To Do

It was just four years ago this week that our loft conversion was completed. It's a lovely room with a fabulous en suite bathroom and great views over the garden. But we're moving on and, as we started our packing at the top of the house it was the first to get the full treatment.

Here's how it looks today now that Paul and Sarah have told us which of the boxes in the attic they want to keep and which are to go into store. We were able to empty all of the cupboards beneath the eaves and put everything into about twenty boxes ready for the removal men. We'll miss this room;  at the top of the house it was a safe haven and we used it as a guest room and sometimes for ourselves as a cosy weekend retreat.

We found Sarah's favourite Poochie and Rag Doll up in the attic and, after a quick session in the washing machine, they're all set for the trek up to St Andrews after twenty odd years here in Southport. Paul's guitar and amp are all set for the trip to Rochester (God help his new neighbours) and today we got all our patio pots together ready for the journey to Framlingham.

We're likely to be homeless for up to five months and everything is going into store but the removal firm have no facilities for looking after plants and, as we've got a huge collection (this is less than half), we've arranged for a gardener to tend for them in Suffolk until we get there. It's costing over £300 to ship them there but the alternative is to lose them all and start again from scratch which is not an attractive prospect.

We've arranged for the conservatory here to be decorated before we leave; it was one of just two things that really needed doing and we don't want to leave the new owners with anything that looks less than immaculate. But it's been a hell of a job arranging it. The weather has kept putting the decorators off but finally, yesterday, the scaffolders arrived and erected the scaffolding in preparation for the painting. Just one problem. When I got home they'd left. They'd erected it in the wrong place - an area that doesn't need decorating and now they can't get back for a couple more days. This job seems to be fated and it's annoying that doing something at our own expense for which we'll see no benefit has caused so many problems. The second job is to re-grout some tiles and that's all in hand for next week. Our timetable has us completing the packing by then so maybe, just maybe, I'll get a chance to get out with the metal detector before we leave. 

It's twenty three years since we last moved and this last twenty three years has been the most active phase of our lives with the children growing up. So consequently we've got so much more stuff than we ever had in the past and packing it has involved planning with military precision. It's a good job that Marion is so well organised. We've got a timetable written down that covers every day now for the next two weeks. So far we're sticking to it precisely. Let's hope that everything continues to run smoothly.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

An Old Adult's Take On A Young Adult Novel

I read the book that I won on the excellent Caroline Smailes' blog the other day; Darren Craske's The Lantern Menace isn't aimed at old blokes like me but I have to say that I loved it. Here's the review that I posted on Amazon.

"The Lantern Menace is juvenile or young adult fiction so you may wonder what a fifty eight year old granddad is doing reviewing it. Well, I won a copy of the book on an excellent author's website and I knew that if she was promoting it there had to be something good about it.

And there's certainly more than something good. I'd describe it as great. It's great fun, has great pace and there's a great story there too. I've only read two fantasy novels before - The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings and, like those classics (and, I suspect many other fantasy books) The Lantern Menace involves a quest. Our young teenage heroes Finchley and Princess Castria set off with Rufus Lightfoot on their journey to recover a Limbo Lantern that holds pure evil (it's their fault that it's lost). They have plenty of exciting adventures along the way and the book is action packed throughout.

We usually associate the idea of fantasy with some sort of dark medieval atmosphere and, although there is an element of this - they journey by horse and cart - the language is up to date and the kids are very modern in their outlook; Castria goes for designer clothes and looks for her home decor in interior design magazines. This modernity adds a nice touch to the story and I love the way that author Darren Craske throws in plenty of jokes and clever asides (in brackets).

Although it's aimed at children, the book doesn't talk down to kids at all and uses a refreshingly advanced vocabulary - there's even a lepidopterist in there! Its written in a way that projects pictures into your head and I could see the action happening so vividly that I almost felt that I had watched a film rather than read a book (and what a good film it would make).

I know that both of my children would have loved this book and I'm absolutely sure that thousands of others will too."

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Treasure In The Attic

You may be aware of that BBC programme Cash In The Attic where antiques experts visit someone's family home and rummage through all their stuff to see if there's anything they can sell at auction to fund an exotic holiday or a Golden Wedding celebration; after the auction there's usually enough for a night at a Travel Lodge or perhaps a couple of bottles of Cava and some Iceland sausage rolls. 

With our move potentially imminent we haven't invited the BBC around but we've been carrying on with our own attic clear out and our lovely guest bedroom is stuffed full of boxes and things from our past while we try to get our hoard down to a manageable size. I spent the whole of yesterday - from eight in the morning until after six p.m shredding paperwork - stuff from when we were working, all my old eBay records that are no longer needed by the taxman and lots of Marion's mum's records. The shredder kept overheating so I had to wait for it to cool down but I have to give credit to Fellowes (the shredder makers) as their very cheap machine coped with what ended up as ten black bin liners full of shredded paper.

While I was busy shredding, Marion carried on with box emptying and she certainly came up with some wonderful treasures.

If only our boys in blue knew what a thief looked like. According to a very young Paul they often look the same with a round head, mark over eyes and hands with dots on. They are also fat and have long? legs.

Sarah was a poet 
"The Colours Of The World"

The greens of the trees and the grass down low
Blue of the sky up high
With the yellow of the sun
Let the world become    a sphere of colour
Countryside has all the colours
And you and I shall be happy.

Not bad for a six year old.

I don't think Paul has ever sent me a card that was anything but interesting but I liked the sentiments of this up with guns and down with flowers card that has me (I assume) firmly caught in the crosshairs. 

Sarah's literary career continued apace and she even found time for a booklet of reviews of work by "this author".

Pop Up Pirate may have seen better days but he still works and has to be one of the best toys ever.

Marion wanted me to cull my large collection of antique reference books so I took a few down to the charity shop. I'm relieved to say that I didn't take this shelf as I checked out some values on the internet and came across this.

You won't be able to read it all but those three volumes to the left in my photo are the same books as in this auction lot. I will follow the sale on 19th June with interest as the estimate is US$2,500 to US$3,000. So, along with our children's treasures, perhaps there really is some cash in the attic.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Another Excellent Read

I've got to hand it to Marion; when it comes to choosing good books, she really is an expert. She trawls through all the book reviews in the weekend supplements and adds the ones she fancies to the Amazon wish list and then, when we've both read everything on the Kindles, she downloads four or five from the list. I had just finished reading Middlesex a week of so back and saw The White Lie by Andrea Gillies turn up on the Kindle home screen. I had no idea what it was about so dived into it completely unaware of what to expect.

What I found was an intriguing tale of a Scottish family dynasty told by Michael who stood to inherit the once magnificent but now crumbling Salter family pile Peattie set in acres of beautiful Scottish countryside. But Michael is telling his story from a watery grave and the wonderful loch on the estate plays an important role in the book.

What is the white lie to which the title of the book refers? Although it is revealed towards the end of the novel there is, in fact, a multiplicity of lies throughout as the book charts the tragedies and family intrigues that have faced the Salters over many years. Although principally a tale of relationships there is an element of the "whodunnit" to the story and Andrea Gillies leads the reader off on a number of false trails and presents us with plenty of red herrings to keep our interest throughout what is a relatively long book.

I enjoyed it immensely - it evokes a brilliantly atmospheric feeling of the deep dark Scottish loch, the rambling old house that is not quite a stately home but has dozens of rooms and plenty of secrets and, most importantly, the age old dilemmas of family loyalties. My only problem with this excellent book was the size of that family. I had the same problem when I read A S Byatt's The Children's Book last year. Gillies writes in the accompanying notes at the end of the book that she started out with a family tree as she set out to write her novel. I would have welcomed this family tree appearing somewhere for easy reference as, at times, if felt as if we had a cast of hundreds. I'm happy to say that I eventually got to know who everybody was. Marion hasn't read it yet but I know that she'll love it.

And now for something completely different. I was delighted to win a download of this new YA fantasy when visiting author Caroline Smailes' blog. I read a short story The Quaint Christmas by author Darren Craske a few months ago and enjoyed it so, as soon as I've finished my current read, I'll give this a try.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Countdown Begins

Well it's not just one countdown that's beginning at the moment - there are about four.

Our second grandchild is due in early August but we've been told that there's a good chance that the baby will arrive before then so the clock's starting to tick and we're getting very excited about welcoming her into the world and are looking forward to buying a new pram and lots of the other little bits and pieces that go with newborn babies.

Countdown number two is really Paul and Josephine's; they're buying a new house in beautiful Rochester with it's fabulous Cathedral, super Norman castle and speedy rail links to central London. They haven't exchanged contracts yet but we're hoping it's imminent and, as soon as the paperwork goes through, we're looking forward to going down to see the place and help them to move in. If we could tie the date in with the sale of our own place we'll be able to get all the furniture we're giving them delivered - we won't have room for it in our new home. It will be sad to see it all go but we'll be really delighted to see it stay in the family.

I've been working more on the 3D computer program finalising the layout of the house we've bought in Suffolk and seeing where the furniture we have left will fit. We're now counting down the days to when we can start with the alterations. The engineer has done all the structural drawings and the architect has worked on the plans and submitted them to three builders and to the local planning people for building regulations approval so we just have to wait for the builders to come up with their quotes and the planners to give us the green light. The house is much smaller than where we are now but the layout seems to work well on the computer and we hope that we really can make a silk purse out of what is at the moment something of a sow's ear.

Our final countdown is to leaving Southport. We haven't pressed that button yet but when it starts I expect it to come very quickly. We're going to go and live in the caravan in St Andrews (and hopefully spend some time in Rochester too). Look out for my blogs as trailer park trash.

I had a long chat with Paul this morning. We spoke about his hugely successful creation, Sky1's "A League Of their Own" and I felt guilty for not having watched it recently (must do better as a parent). Anyway I was thinking that I haven't embedded many videos on here for a while so here's one from ALOTO. I'm a very proud Dad.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Liverpool From A Tourist's View

When you live down the road from somewhere you tend to take it for granted and don't really appreciate it as others see it. That's the case for Liverpool - a place that we visit often and have done so for years. Marion's cousins Lynne and Sharon are visiting us this week so we decided to take them to the city and became tourists for a day.

Like most visitors we headed for the Waterfront and parked at the Albert Dock. With The Beatles Museum, the Tate and the Maritime Museum close together on the dock and the Museum Of Liverpool Life a short walk away there's more than enough for a day out on the site. We opted for the Maritime museum which houses the International Slavery Museum and is also currently running a Titanic exhibition. You couldn't fail to be impressed by these wonderful and free attractions which are informative and very well laid out. We enjoyed the slavery, the smuggling and the Titanic exhibits.

I don't know if it's the public spending cuts but sadly there were a few areas that needed attention with several interactive displays marked as out of order, the waste paper bin in the gents overflowing and the cafe's coffee machine broken down. These are all minor points that didn't greatly detract from the excellence of the museum but turned a five star experience into perhaps four stars.

It's a pity that the catering we experienced didn't come close to four stars. If you're a regular visitor to this blog you'll know that we often eat in Liverpool and have written plenty of good things about the food in The Salt House, Leaf, FACT, Waterstones, The Monro and San Marco - in fact I can't remember having a bad experience eating in Liverpool for a long time - until yesterday that is. We went into a bar called Blue but found dirty uncleared tables and a generally grubby atmosphere so we beat a silent retreat and walked further around the dock to a place called Revolution. It looked a lot brighter, the menu was fine for what we wanted so we went in. We had a reasonable meal but the service was poor. It took ages to be served. When we were served  the waitress did that clever thing where they don't write anything down but remember it all - fine if they've got a great memory. Ours clearly hadn't; so when our main courses arrived after what seemed an eternity there was the minor oversight of the starter that failed to materialise and three portions of chips when we'd ordered just one. The waiter who delivered the food was a nice lad and very apologetic about the oversupply of chips although he failed to remember to knock them off the bill which, like the food, took forever to arrive. We weren't alone in feeling disappointed and watched the people who sat at the neighbouring table leave before their waitress  arrived after pointing out to another waiter that the table was dirty and being told that it wasn't one of his tables. Who trains these people? 

So all in all, from our one wet and cold day, we concluded that Liverpool Waterfront is an excellent place to head to for a look around but, from our experience, the catering on offer leads a great deal to be desired.

Marion saw that there's a sale on in the baby department at Marks & Spencer today so she went and bought some clothes for Rose. When she got home she used Skype to check out whether Sarah liked them. I always thought that we'd start to use Skype regularly. When it first started I fitted out all the desktops at work (yes I know I've told you before) with webcams and waited for a rush of callers that never arrived. In those days the calls were unreliable unless you fine tuned each workstation properly but today the calls are clear , the sound is perfect and I've no idea why anybody who has it prefers to use a phone.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Best Cinema In The North West - That's A FACT

We had a great day in Liverpool yesterday. We started out at John Lewis to try and get a few ideas for the kitchen in the new house in Suffolk. The designer was a lovely lad but his design wasn't a great deal different from the one we came up with and we were hoping for a bit of inspiration. At least we got a good idea of how many units we can have and the appliances available.

From John Lewis it was on to Waterstones for a coffee and a bite to eat. There was another of their lunchtime talks and readings going on but sadly we were too late to listen to it properly. After Waterstones it was time for our favourite cinema - FACT. I don't think we will miss too much when we move down south but we will certainly miss FACT. With its exhibitions, cafe and bar it's so much more than a cinema and it screens such a great range of films. We've got a perfectly good multiplex here in Southport in VUE but there's very little chance of the two movies we chose to see yesterday getting a showing there.

We started with Ken Loach's latest - The Angel's Share. It's a good little film but it does raise a few moral dilemmas. Stealing is wrong - yes? But Robin Hood was good - yes? So stealing is okay if it's only some unfortunate rich guy who loses out and some poor people benefit - yes? If you can go along with that then this tale of a group of young Glaswegian scallies who we meet at the opening of the film as they receive their community service orders is a fun and enjoyable piece of cinema although it also has a dark side. The brains behind the operation Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a young thug whose girlfriend has threatened to leave with his newborn son if he doesn't end his violent ways (difficult considering half of Glasgow wants to kick seven bells out of him). Introduced to the delights of fine whisky by the affable head of the community service team Harry (John Henshaw), the intelligent Robbie is a fast learner and when the rarest cask ever to come on the market surfaces he sees an opportunity. What follows is an ingenious and very funny plot carried out by by Robbie and his small band of kilted merry men. There are fine performances by the entire cast but even as the film closes with a generous gesture from Robbie you do have to question the ethics behind it.

After The Angel's Share we went straight into Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. If you enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums you'll appreciate that Anderson's films can be a bit different and different this certainly is. The camera is often straight in front of the subject which Anderson places centre screen and films in such close up as to often become distorted. There's a star cast including Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray but the film is stolen by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman as Suzy and Sam. Twelve year old orphan Sam (who looks like a young Johnny Depp) is attending scout camp on the small island where slightly older Suzy lives. They fall in love and run away together. The rest of the scouts headed by scoutmaster Norton, Suzy's family, the police in the shape of Bruce Willis along with Tilda Swinton as social services are in hot pursuit. The love story is charming, the chase is hilarious and the underlying theme of family is beautifully done. If you like quirky you will like this. We both loved it.  

Friday, 1 June 2012

Confessions Of A Bookworm

If you're my age, when you see the words "Confessions Of" in a title you can't help but associate it with images of that cheeky chap Robin Askwith and his tawdry 1970's sub Carry On dirty films. Whilst our neighbours across the channel were making the erotic Emmanuelle, Askwith was peeping at showering schoolgirls through bathroom windows with a leering grin that would today have him banged up for sexual harassment. Fortunately younger readers won't remember the films and, having read the best selling Confessions Of A GP from the same publisher (the excellent The Friday Project) last year, I had an inkling of what Confessions Of A Male Nurse would be like.

It is exactly what the title suggests. Michael Alexander ( a pseudonym for obvious patient confidentiality reasons) tells us about his sixteen years as a male nurse in both New Zealand and London in a series of short anecdotal chapters. And what experiences he has had! The cover picture suggests humour and there is a degree of this in the book although for me it has more of an overriding air of humanity as Alexander is clearly someone of great compassion who cares for his fellow man (and woman).

We are taken through a challenging start to his career as the only male nurse in a gynaecological ward and then on through surgical wards, periods as an agency nurse, the horrors of A&E and the difficulties of working with psychiatric patients. The problems of working with know-it-all doctors, couldn't care less colleagues and belligerent patients in sometimes short-staffed, sometimes dirty but occasionally pleasant wards are outlined in a very well written, extremely believable and insightful book. Although he has plenty to moan about, I am pleased to say that the author is not a moaner and his upbeat style makes this an interesting, educational and very enjoyable read.

Last week I, along with a number of other followers of meandmybigmouth's blog (see the link over there on the right), read Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex. I had heard of the book and recall listening to a discussion about it on Woman's Hour; I had thought of it as just the tale of an unfortunate who was born with inconclusive gender. I'm so pleased that we read it as it is so much more than that. It flits across the decades going back to his/her grandparent's flight from Smyrna, through Ellis Island and into a life in the USA. It's a fascinating read. Full of beautiful metaphors and at times poetic prose, it is an excellent family saga and whilst the problems of being an hermaphrodite are always there, they are sufficiently below the surface to make it not just a book about gender. I enjoyed it very much and strongly recommend it if you want a good long read.

Talking of long reads, a fellow detecting enthusiast recommended Company Of Liars by Karen Maitland.Being on jury service this week gave me plenty of reading time on the train and in the waiting room so I got stuck in and managed to finish it this afternoon. I expected an historical novel but, although it's billed as "a novel of the plague" on the cover, there is an underlying fantasy element to the book which made it less compelling for me. The story is told by Camelot, a seller of dubious relics, who gathers together a group of nine misfits who travel England in an attempt to escape the pestilence. Each has a secret - hence the title. It's a well written story and if it had been purely historical I might have enjoyed it more but once we were presented with the supernatural I lost interest (it's just not my cup of tea). However, I'm not one to stop reading half way through and I persevered until the end. Some of the secrets are good and some are very good and the author does an excellent job in surprising the reader when they are revealed. If you like fantasy then give it a try but if you want Wolf Hall I wouldn't  recommend it.

So that's my Kindle reading almost up to date. I've just downloaded this book of short stories put together by the brilliant author Caroline Smailes. It's a selection of 100 word stories inspired by songs on YouTube. I had a go at writing one for inclusion myself but was completely on the wrong track and was understandably (but very politely) rejected. ALL proceeds from this book go to an extremely worthwhile charitable cause  One In Four -  for victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence. You can read about the charity here . Please download it. It's less than the cost of a couple of sips of wine.