Thursday, 21 August 2014

land sakes; the case of the lame canary

I used to think that when Elvis sang 'land sakes alive' in I Got Stung, he had just tripped over his words in saying 'and snakes alive'. But I was reading The Case of the Lame Canary by Erle Stanley Gardner - a Perry Mason novel from 1937 - and one of the characters used the expression a couple of times ('Land sakes, I'm so excited I'm all of a tremble.'). A google indicates that it's a euphemism - American, perhaps primarily southern states - for a swear, of the kind avoiding religious swearing. Here's a stump on Wikipedia.

The Case of the Lame Canary, which I finished on Saturday morning on the sleeper to Inverness, was alright, but not sufficiently good that it made me want to read more Perry Mason. I think I've read one Perry Mason before (there are over eighty novels and short stories, according to Wikipedia; looking at the list here, the Borrowed Brunette title rings a bell).

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

the british resistance

Pat's grandfather was a steward (factor) on one of the Yorkshire estates of Lady Waechter de Grimston - and also a famous poacher on neighbouring estates.
'That fact never seemed to go against him because in the Second World War he was recruited into the British resistance. They had underground bunkers full of molotov cocktails. While the Home Guard had pitchforks, he had a sub-machine gun.
'He was the Commanding Officer of Holderness. He had a list of names and, if we were invaded, he was to go round, knock on the door, and shoot them. These were people who were suspected of having German or Nazi sympathies. The one on the top of the list was the Chief Constable of East Riding. He must have been a right-winger. Who provided the list I don't know, but he would have done it.'
- A quote from an interview-based article in the West Highland Free Press of 11 July 2014 about Pat Myhill, a former planning officer in Skye who was brought up in Yorkshire. Whether the story is true or not, who knows.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

death at the dolphin

On Monday 7 July I finished Death At The Dolphin, by Ngaio Marsh. It was okay, but it decided me to get rid of the batch of Ngaios I had on the shelf, picked up cheap and secondhand (most or all in the church where the LGQ rehearses, when they used to have a secondhand bookstall), as the last couple I've read haven't really been good enough to prioritise over other crime writers on my list. I will keep an eye out for any that get onto 'best' lists, including A Surfeit of Lampreys.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

houses of parliament

On Thursday 26 June, after going to a test for a language place in a secondary school (with no real expectation - other parents were saying 'good luck', I was saying 'have fun'), we went to the Houses of Parliament. It wasn't very busy, so we didn't have to queue at all, and went to both Commons and Lords. We didn't stay long in either place, because there wasn't anything very interesting going on or very many people in the chamber. In the Lords, however, there was one person I recognised, and that was Paul Butler, who used to work at Scripture Union and is now the Bishop of Durham. Who'd have thought I'd live so long that I'd know, however vaguely, someone with a seat in the House of Lords?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

ruling passion; ali smith

I don't often remember my dreams; if I do, it's usually just a fragment, but itcan really stick with me through the day.

Last night I finished reading Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill, the third Dalziel and Pascoe detective novel. I'd got the first six in a cheap set from The Book People, based on some recommendations of the series, but I'd been quite disappointed with the first two (A Clubbable Woman and An Advancement of Learning); I might not have stuck with them much further, or at least made much of an effort to seek more out, but this third one I found to be much better.

At bedtime, then, I was wondering which novel to read next off my shelves; I browsed a bit, but made no decision.

In the night I dreamt about Ali Smith, so in the morning I picked up Hotel World off the shelf and started that. I read Like a long time ago, I bought it new when it came out. I've had Hotel World and Other Stories & Other Stories on the shelf for a while.

The fragmentary scene I remember, which was perhaps from just before I woke up, was that I wanted to introduce Ali to Fiona and other friends in the Morris Folk Choir - I think Fiona was sitting beside her - but Ali was drunk and asleep.

I knew Ali a tiny bit at university. Her last year was my first year, and we were in the creative writing group together. Probably the high water mark of my literary career will prove to be having poems in the same publication as Ali, the creative writing group's issue of its magazine, Scratchings, for that year. When I was home last year I took back down, among some other things, the copies of Scratchings which I had, including that one.

I wrote to her a couple of times after she left university, and got replies. Once while I was still in Aberdeen and she was in Cambridge, I think, after having gone to see her play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; and once after I'd read Like, her first published novel, which was when I was in Elephant & Castle, and which I sent care of her publisher.

I'd always had a certainty that she would get published. I would regularly look in the relevant place in the bookshop shelves to see if she'd appeared there yet. And eventually she did. I saw her once some years after that, across the bookshop in the South Bank Centre - I think it was a Books Etc then - but I was with my mum so didn't go over.

She was very kind to the younger me, and I have fond memories of her.

Monday, 28 July 2014


On Monday 2nd June I finished Transition by Iain Banks, which was pretty good. I guess the title also an allusion to the fact that the novel was something of a transition, being a science fiction one under his normal fiction name. Not many books left to go now (four, in fact, two of each; I've been reading them chronologically), and they won't be added to, sadly.

Monday, 14 July 2014

william wyler directs laurence olivier

From Frank McLynn's review (Literary Review, April 2014) of Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, by Mark Harris:

The most attractive personality of the wartime directors was William Wyler, a slightly-built German Jew from Alsace who became one of Hollywood's legendary figures. Famous for his meticulous direction - he was known as 'ninety-take Wyler' - he struggled with communicating his wishes to his actors. The 'guidance' he gave them has been variously reported as 'Again', 'It stinks' and 'Be better'. When one actor painstakingly followed his directions to the letter, Wyler yelled, 'Don't do it the way I tell you. Do it the way I mean.' But he did teach Laurence Olivier the difficult art of acting for the camera (on Wuthering Heights). Every time Olivier played the scene, Wyler monotonously said, 'Again. Give me less.' Eventually an irritated Olivier expostulated, 'If I give you any less, I won't be doing anything at all.' Back came the reply, 'Now you're getting the idea.'

churchill's phrasemaking; churchill's literary-based opposition to hitler

Two extracts from Piers Brendon's review (Literary Review, April 2014) of The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor, by Jonathan Rose:

Rose starts from the unimpeachable premise that Churchill was in thrall to the words, spoken and written, with which he dramatised his life. There is, indeed, abandant evidence for this. As his friend Charles Masterman said: 'He is in the Greek sense a rhetorician, the slave of the words which his mind forms around ideas. He sets ideas to rhetoric as musicians set theirs to music. And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery.'

Asquith put it more pithily: 'Winston thinks with his mouth.' His real tyrant, observed Sir Robert Menzies, was the 'glittering phrase'. Such phrases could be misleading, none more so than his reference to the Mediterranean as 'the soft underbelly of Europe'. Yet even as a young man Churchill himself was aware of the danger of becoming, as Disraeli famously said of Gladstone, 'inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity'. He told his mother, 'I very often yield to the temptation of adapting my facts to my phrases.'

Similarly, as Rose rightly says, facts were always subservient to interpretation in Churchill's books.


Citing Churchill's fear that Hitler's domination of Europe would deprive Britain not only of territory but also of free speech, Rose asserts that 'the core of his implacable resistance to Nazism was essentially literary'. Furthermore, Rose affirms, Churchill 'recognized and resisted Hitler largely because the Fuhrer so closely resembled the fictional villain [Antonio Molara] he had created' in his only novel, a Ruritanian romance entitled Savrola, first published in 1899. But evidently the resemblance was not close enough. So, in the end, Rose decides that Churchill 'recognized his enemy because Hitler seemed to be an amalgamation of his three favorite melodramatic villains', Molara, Moses and the African tyrant in King Solomon's Mines.

Only a university professor of rare intelligence would conclude that Churchill needed adventitious aid from literature to appreciate the menace of Hitler.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

lewis and the first world war

It struck me today that I don't remember, in thinking about growing up (and on the whole since), being aware of many stories of Lewismen in the First World War being told or written about. The Iolaire was the only story, casting its monstrous shadow over every other individual story that could have been told. I don't know if this was generally true, or just my experience.


I've been thinking recently about the millstone saying of Jesus - 'If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea' (Matthew18/Mark9/Luke17). I'd generally thought of it in the context of those who harm or abuse children, those who are the worst of society. But I've been thinking I can't distance myself from the warning as comfortably as that. As Christian parents, or Christian adults in church, if the way we live - sinfully, hypocritically, faithlessly, selfishly, unlovingly, generally setting a bad example - causes a little one (child, or perhaps anyone younger in the faith) to reject or turn away from or be led off the Christian path, we are all potential millstone-wearers.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

the thing

On Friday 9 May I watched The Thing - the John Carpenter version - on a DVD I got secondhand. Watched it late after the others had gone to bed, as one should. One of the core horror films of my youth - along with An American Werewolf in London and Alien, both of which I have also recently picked up on DVD.

It did stand the test of time, and I enjoyed it. The ending had stuck with me, and was as I remembered it (things which 'stick with you' can turn out to have been surprisingly inaccurate memories). There were a couple of extras (commentary, and making of/special effects thing, I think), so may watch them at some point.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

things that make where we live sound worse than it really is

An old post from Facebook, 15 July 2011:
Things that make where we live sound worse than it really is: a) discovering a couple of years ago that Domino's won't deliver pizzas to our house because of the estate we live on; b) today's school sports day featuring an inter-parental dispute which involved a call to the police.

(some comments: Douglas: 'Vibrant and diverse. Sounds like competitive parents though.' John I: 'Were you and Bethan in the parents three-legged race again?' Me: 'They're the kinds of stories you read in the paper and think what awful places they must be, but the estate and the school aren't like that at all. I don't know, you shoot one measly pizza delivery boy and they never let you forget it.' Douglas: 'A colleague of mine, veteran of a dozen England Football tours (including not being allowed in Japan due to some misunderstanding over being on a list), was rather taken aback by the ferocity and determination with which everybody went about getting drunk on a Saturday night in Stornoway.')

Saturday, 28 June 2014

austria may 2013 - notes tue to fri

Tuesday. Our pre-booked Ingham coach trip. I had slept quite badly with my sore head but felt better as the morning went on. A good trip, worth doing, seeing lots of alpine scenery and among some remaining snow in places (though locally there was less snow than when we had arrived). It was a warm sunny day, mostly.

We went to a monastery in Stams, then up to Stuibenfall, the Tirol's highest waterfall. On up further, over Kuntai pass, high and full of ski resorts, before back down with a stop at Gries, then on home across the river Inn to Seefeld and on home. Got local bus into Weidach, shopped at MPries, mostly for work gifts, then walked back.

Wednesday. Slept better. A wet day. Others went swimming before breakfast, then leaisurely morning, with table tennis, air hockey and arcade driving game. Cherub learnt to play patience. Then bus into Weidach after middday, connecting to bus to Seefeld the long way round via Mittenwald (ie via Germany). Ate packed lunch in Seefeld bus stop, had little wander, then back to hotel on bus mid-afternoon. We visited the Ganghofer Museum near the hotel - it was all in German only, about local history and an author with a local connection; we made the best of it.

Thursday. A day in Innsbruck. We didn't start as early as we'd planned, as we didn't set the alarm to let cherub, who'd had an upset stomach the night before, sleep as long as needed and then to wait to see if breakfast had any ill effects, but all was well. Got bus to Seefeld, but our planned train wazsn't running because it was a public holiday (Corpus Christi - we saw dressed-up folk getting ready for a parade at the church by the hotel). Many shops were shut in Seefeld and Innsbruck for the holiday, but at least it gave us time to go to the tourist office in Seefeld and get some Innsbruck maps and info before we got the train.

We visited the Gold Roof Museum, bought a sandwich lunch, went up the City Tower (Bethan didn't get out of the door at the top, but we went round the balcony outside), ate our lunch in the old Imperial Palace Square, then went to the State/Court Church, with Maximilian's tomb and an impressive set of statues, and then on joint ticket to the neighbouring Tyrolean Folk Art Museum, which was actually very good, especially the old wooden parlours. Did some more tourist shops - they were open - then back to station where we bought a drink before the 1808 train home (tried a nice local soft drink called Almdudler, which we'd also had at hotel). It was another wet day, though it was drier in Innsbruck.

Friday was the walk up the mountain in the rain and snow to the Wettersteinhutte, covered in the earlier blog post. We started walking about 1010, home about 1440. It was a bit of a damp trudge home, whereupon we all changed and had baths/showers/went swimming. We then popped into Wiedach for a final visit to tourist shops and MPries before dinner.

Then Saturday we flew home.

Friday, 27 June 2014

austria may 2013 - notes sat to mon

Over a year has passed since our holiday in Austria, Sat 25 - Sat 31 May 2013, which I did a brief blog on over a year ago, mostly about the mountain walk we did on the Friday, my favourite thing from the holiday.

I pulled out the notes from the notebook they were in a few weeks ago, because I wanted to use that notebook for this year's early holiday, in Slovenia. At last I'm getting round to writing them up here.

Saturday. The trip out was most notable for: all the German football fans we saw at London Bridge and Gatwick (many travelling very light, as if not staying the night), on their way to the all-German Champions League final at Wembley that night (we watched the second half in our hotel - Bayern 2, Dortmund 1 - junior was keen to watch it, mostly for the novelty of watching it in a foreign country I think); lunch at Cafe Rouge, which had windows with a very good view looking out onto the runways, which seemed quite unusual for airports these days (though perhaps coming back into acceptability); dropping out of the clouds to land at Innsbruck between the mountains either side of us.

The view of the runways from Cafe Rouge meant you could really see how short a time it was between planes using the runway for takeoffs and landing; also, how short a time it is between starting down the runway and lift-off. When we were in the plane, waiting just off the runway, I saw a plane coming in to land, and as it did so, so we turned left onto the runway for our own take off - it was just like letting a car past on a main road before turning left onto it.

I don't think I'll ever grow blase about the view of earth from the air, and the deceptively solid appearance of clouds when you're not just in the whiteout midst of them. It was patchy to start with - we saw the channel, then massed clouds over Europe.

We were on a charter, all with people from the same Ingham's package; our first family package holiday, and cherub's first flight overseas. I was texting Douglas from Gatwick; he and the family were going to the Lake District in a campervan for half-term, and we were both anticipating similar holidays - relaxing, uncertain of weather, plenty books and games. Exactly three weeks earlier from me sitting texting while my womenfolk were playing games on iPads in an airport shop, we'd been in Thomas Cook at Marble Arch with little idea of where we might go for our holiday. I bought a booklight at Gatwick, so I could read in bed at night, but it was broken from the start and wasn't practical enough to make me want to buy a new one.

In Innsbruck we had to wait for a group on a delayed flight from Edinburgh. A coach then dropped us off at our various hotels in various locations; our hotel, in Leutasch, was the last out, being furthest away. That worked out well for us; we liked not being in the bigger resort of Seefeld, where most people were, and there was a good bus service in the area with a period bus-pass which you could buy (and we did). We were very pleased with the hotel. Good food. As usual, foreign European food deceptively similar to home but different enough to take your tastebuds by surprise; usually not in a positive way, though just through unfamiliarity rather than badness. The music during the evening meal included Christmas songs, oddly enough; the music was Western.

The mountains were snowy, and some flakes fell while we were in Seefeld on the coach - the holiday rep said the snow had fallen last Thursday, unseasonally and unexpectedly, so not sure how much snow there is usually supposed to be on the mountains at that time of year. The temperature outside the bus was 11 degrees at the airport, down to 4 degrees in Leutasch.

Sunday. Snow had fallen in the night, and was falling lightly during breakfast, which was very nice, but it didn't lie any further than it had been doing. We met the couriers after breakfast, bought maps and booked trip. We got our packed lunch at breakfast and walked into Weidach along the river, then back via Gasse (though the trail in the woods was closed due to rock falls). We ate our packed lunch at the hotel, then hired bikes and did some coaching of the cherub, not very successfully, in the car park (we didn't do any more cycling in the week), in slight rain (clearly falling as snow higher up). The others went to the pool, then we went to dinner, and played Old Maid back in the room, then to bed.

Monday. We got going later than anticipated, walked into Weidach, went to tourist info and MPreis (a supermarket), where we got light lunch. Then bus to Geisterklamm to walk round the gorge. The walk was more hair-raising for Bethan than expected, with lots of man-made walkways and bridges along and across the gorge, so our walk was extended as there was one bridge she could not cross. It meant that we did walk into Germany, out the other end of the gorge, where we had ice cream and saw a waterfall. We walked back on a much easier arm of loop, and walked a bit back along the road until we got a bus to Weidach then a bus - the same one, it turned out - immediately to kirchplatzl and our hotel. Dinner and evening in, playing pool and air hockey, and the others went out for a walk. Bethan had a sore ear after swimming; I had a headache, possibly altitude with or without dehydration.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

the diminutive guardian of the highlands

A positive man by nature, George Hendry concludes 'Midges in Scotland' with the thought that Culcoides impunctatus does more than Scottish Natural Heritage and all the other conservation bodies put together to keep the West Highlands free of human development.
Let us look at it, says George, as 'a diminutive guardian of the Highlands'.
- from Roger Hutchinson's review of George Hendry's Midges in Scotland, WHFP, 18 April 2014

Thursday, 24 April 2014

the younger generation

The three of us, thinking of things we could do for my birthday.

Me: We could go to a folk gig.
Cherub: No.
Bethan: Aw, it's your dad's birthday.
Cherub: It's my childhood.

Friday, 18 April 2014


Last Saturday we all went to the cheap morning showing of Frozen at the Odeon Surrey Quays. I was probably keenest to see it, actually, as it had had such good reviews, and people seemed to go to see it more than once (including to singalong showings - the people behind us were singing along at some points), but we were all pretty underwhelmed. I thought it was very slow getting going, opening with two or three very 'stage musical' songs; the songs were all of that kind, which I don't like at all, and I felt very much that the film had been written with turning it into a stage musical in mind, and it was all the worse for it; the plot was pretty sketchy; the funny snowman sidekick seemed quite out of place, and his much-vaunted humorous song was a one-liner stretched out unimaginatively ('I want to do what frozen things do in summer...'). I don't know why it's been so enormously successful; it didn't charm our family.


We finished watching Hairspray - the John Travolta film version of the musical remake of the original John Waters film - on Wednesday. We all started watching it, but Bethan baled out after the first session, finding it boring, all that singing and dancing; we liked it a lot, however, all that singing and dancing. Set in 1962, the songs were proper songs in the style of the period; plus a good story and well acted.

the lewis man

I read the second of Peter May's Lewis-set detective stories, The Lewis Man, and disliked it as much as the first one. Terrible rubbish. Full of cliches in language and plot. Every researched fact and geographical detail on tedious show-your-workings display. Everything but the kitchen sink plot themes, and preposterous plot points - the idea that the family background of someone from the island, alive during the book's story, could be mysterious/unknown/fabricated, is just implausible (even if he was from Harris and living in Ness...); even I know that feannagan are lazy beds, and you did get them in Lewis; road trips and journeys made to find things out that could have been simply ascertained by a couple of phone calls and a working internet connection; local police doing no work on a murder investigation (which, incidentally, seems to cause no stir in the islands whatsoever) but happy to pass info to someone to do their own private investigating; not looking through papers in the house until near the end (which again would have made the story considerably shorter); choosing to go to a gangster just to find out the real surname of the dementia sufferer who the gangster would surely hold partly responsible for the gangster's brother's death (no, don't see any possible repercussions there...).

The relentless negative depiction of anyone religious and religious culture in general (although of course some Southern Isles Catholics are allowed to be jolly, despite their awful religion, by way of traditional caricature contrast to the northern Presbyterians) is tedious as well as annoying. And, of course, not reflective of real life: I don't care who you are, I don't believe you could grow up in Lewis and not know Christians you liked, loved, respected or who made you laugh (in a good way), however profoundly wrong you thought they were or however horrible you thought some of their fellow Christians were. (And he manages to get in two horrible childhood experiences at the hands of religious institutions, one Protestant and one Catholic; I couldn't believe he was going for the double, but he did; hilarious.) When he does 'humanise' the horrible minister, it's by 'managing to get down to the non-Christian he once was beneath the Christian he became'.

And as for the decision to have some of the chapters done in first-person narration by a character suffering from severe dementia but whose internal monologue is lucid, structured, memory-perfect, eloquent, it simply beggars belief.

I will of course read the third one in due course (in fact I noticed it in the library and picked it up, so might be sooner than I thought). They don't take long, at least. I'll be glad when it's done. I read somewhere recently they're thinking of making them into tv drama; my heart sank.

I'm glad I don't feel the same need to read books set where I live now; there are quite a few more of those.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

my little fashion blog

I don't know who retweeted it so that it popped up in my timeline, but I've discovered My Little Fashion Blog's Twitter feed. I'm not interested in the website, nor most of the tweets, but there is one subset of tweets which I find fascinating: the ones which post side-by-side images of a garment being worn by a model on catwalk/fashion-shoot and the same garment being worn by a famous woman in real life, usually on a red carpet.

I don't think the blogger is making any point with these tweets, but they make me think. Of course, how the models almost never smile and the famous women almost always do. But also, how often the clothes are not worn as they were intended to be worn (not in the same combinations/ensembles, and also not in the same arrangement of an individual item). The model is so rarely the same shape as the woman wearing the clothes in real life. You really do wonder why people design clothes to be modelled in a way they will so rarely look in real life - especially as the shape of the models so often don't actually help to make the clothes look good. You wonder if the designers plan into their design of each outfit a range of sets of specifications for different shapes and sizes, rather than just carelessly scaling them up or down, to make sure the clothes will look good in those different shapes and sizes. It's striking how often, despite the fact that most of these famous women are famously beautiful and have had someone helping them get ready for this engagement at which they have been photographed, the clothes don't actually look that good on them; and if that's the case, what chance do lesser mortals have?

I continue to find the fashion industry both fascinating and baffling.