Sunday, 29 December 2013

the harry hill movie

On Monday 23rd December we went to an afternoon showing of The Harry Hill Movie at the Shaftesbury Avenue Cineworld. It had had mixed reviews, but we enjoyed it a lot, being very like the humour and style of his TV work.

That's the cinema which is in the Trocadero centre - whichever chain it used to be used to include that in its name (Wikipedia suggests a sequence of MGM, Virgin, UGC, Cineworld - I'd forgotten about MGM cinemas, but they were there when I came down first I'm sure), but perhaps Trocadero is a poisonous brand now. The centre itself is very run down; it feels almost post-apocalyptic, with stalls and tat shops camped out with a very temporary feel in what used to be a centre with some pleasant and reputable shops.

morris folk choir and lgq in december

In December I had my first three performances as part of Morris Folk Choir, apart from the anomalous though marvellous involvement in The Events. Singing at the St Andrew's Christmas fete on Saturday 7 December was nicely low-key, as to a large extent we were background music to the fete in the body of the church, with only a few people deliberately listening to us up our end of the church. On the following Saturday we had our Christmas concert and ceilidh, which I thought up to a few minutes before the start time was going to be very poorly attended, but it was respectable in the end, and went pretty well. Then on Tuesday 17 December we sang Christmas carols - and other songs from our repertoire - in Euston station for Marie Curie, and that was fine too, though of course no static audience.

The last rehearsal in November was the designated Morris Folk Club night - the first I had made it to in the end, though that was what was supposed to be on the night I first went along. That first night was completely a rehearsal for the upcoming performance, and this night was mostly a rehearsal, but did have four or five individual performances from choir members, including one from me, my first at Morris, a rendition of Stop The Cavalry, appropriately seasonal, which I think makes a good folk song (I did it at Sharp's a few years ago, but not sure they were convinced). It went fine.

And on Wednesday 4 December we had the London Gallery Quire Christmas concert at St George's Alie Street. I felt a bit underprepared for a couple of them, but it went pretty well on the whole I think. Doing the two choirs has helped me enjoy LGQ a bit more, I think, as I was getting a bit stale with it. I've probably said before that if I'd gone to Morris first I would have been happy with that and not added LGQ to my 'portfolio', but I'm sure LGQ improved my confidence and my choral ability.

maisie dobbs

I finished Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear on Sunday 15 December. The first in a series of detective novels, set in London in 1929 but written in America. Bought as a present last year for Bethan because of its name, but she didn't enjoy it much and neither did I - we won't be pursuing the series. I didn't think it was that interesting or well-written; there were points that it felt quite 'researched', like in over-elaborate descriptions of routes in London; but most of all it felt like the story within the story - Maisie's whole back story - was a dull novel which had failed to get published until someone had had the idea of turning it into a detective story.

a question of upbringing

Halfway through reading A Question Of Upbringing by Antony Powell I abandoned it, earlier this year. First of a long series of novels, supposedly a classic, A Dance To The Music Of Time. But I found it dull and humourless, flatly written, and shaping up to be nothing more than a soap opera about posh and semi-posh people for people who considered themselves to be above soap operas.

I'm still not great at abandoning books even if I'm not enjoying them, but life's getting shorter.

rereading lord of the rings

On 23 December I posted this on Facebook: 'Not much of a one for re-reading, but felt in need of a fantasy journey story, so have decided to give Lord of the Rings another go. I read it when I was in school but wasn't that taken with it (I appreciated the world/history creation rather than the actual execution of it). Maybe I'll appreciate it more now. Though I have just plodded through the prologue material - can't work out why it was thought necessary or valuable to put all that stuff at the start rather than in the appendices (a couple of pages would have done, including the rewriting of ring acquisition from The Hobbit in the light of its now greater significance). A Long-Expected Party awaits.'

I've started reading it - in a nice seven-volume edition (film tie-in, but discreetly so) that I picked up in a charity shop some time ago - and decided to make some notes as I go. Partly on how I'm enjoying it, partly on how it's striking me, partly on how/why it works and is beloved, and inevitably partly on comparing it with the films.

I'm making the notes in a notebook; I may blog them exactly as is, or expand/reflect.

Monday, 9 December 2013

stranger in a strange land

I finished reading Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein at the weekend. It's one of these famous, notable SF classics, but it was mighty disappointing. Man from Mars brought back to earth, sees world in different way, brings insights accordingly, with side order of satire/attack on religion - that's what I was generally expecting. But it was patchy, poorly structured, didn't hold to its own internal logic, made odd plot leaps, behavioural inconsistencies/stupidities, illogicalities for the purpose of later plot progress, didn't actually have much in the way of interesting ideas or insights, wasn't very satirical (he presents the daring and startling idea that some charlatans operate within religion - controversial!) wasn't that well written, and just didn't make sense.

The Wikipedia entry quotes a review I'd go along with: 'Writing in The New York Times, Orville Prescott received the novel caustically, describing it as a "disastrous mishmash of science fiction, laborious humor, dreary social satire and cheap eroticism"; he characterized Stranger as "puerile and ludicrous", saying "when a non-stop orgy is combined with a lot of preposterous chatter, it becomes unendurable, an affront to the patience and intelligence of readers".' Inevitably, someone founded a religion based on the sex cult the Martian sets up.

I'll stand by my enjoyment of Starship Troopers, though, essentially a war story in space following one soldier's career. That's supposedly controversial too, as being right wing (the film in particular is perceived as a satire on fascism, the book conversely as non-satirically right wing), but I didn't think so. But I think I'm probably done with Mr Heinlein now.

Monday, 2 December 2013

a london calling t-shirt

A friend at church (Maisie) was wearing a t-shirt last week with the cover of The Clash's London Calling on it. London Calling came out in 1979, when I was twelve. The cover design is a take-off of Elvis Presley's eponymous debut album, which had been released in 1956 - eleven years before I was born, twenty-three years before London Calling was released, ancient history in both respects. London Calling was released more than eleven years before Maisie was born, and thirty-four years ago from now - again, ancient history in both respects.

I'm not sure what that all means, but it made me think of the nature of history, mortality, perspective, the passing of time, and the power of a good album cover.

London calling - yes, I was there too. And you know what they said? Well, some of it was true.

Monday, 25 November 2013

a clubbable woman

On Thursday 7th November I finished A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill, the first of the Dalziel & Pascoe novels. I had had in mind to read the first of those for a while, as from what I'd heard it sounded like I might like them (puzzles), and then I saw in a Book People catalogue from Radio Times they were selling the first six for six or seven pounds, so I got them.

It was okay, though not very puzzly. It was from around 1970, I think, and I didn't warm to either of the detective characters (in fact it was quite of its time in terms of sports club and sexual politics, which I found odd to start with until I realised when it was first published). I'll stick with them, though, and see how they develop. They became a very popular TV series, but I've never seen any of them. It didn't have the feel of an introduction to a series, setting up the characters, but wrote about them as if you were familiar with them already, which I found interesting.

happy go lucky

We watched Happy Go Lucky on DVD on Friday 8th November. I'd bought it for Bethan as a present years ago, as she likes Mike Leigh (so do I), but we hadn't managed to watch it. It was okay, as they go, but nothing special. Not too much bleakness, at least - I'm less keen on the bleakness. My favourite Mike Leigh is definitely Topsy Turvy, which is perhaps the least characteristic of his films. We saw it at the Barbican, at what, without us knowing it in advance, turned out to be a showing with a Q&A with Mike Leigh after the film, which was quite a bonus.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

four just men extract - the london mob

This is a section from The Four Just Men (first published in 1905, but much of this section rings strikingly true today), by Edgar Wallace, from near the end (p121 of 140), when the date and time are approaching when the Four Just Men have stated they will kill the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, having already demonstrated impressive feats which suggest they could do it:

The crowd that blocked the approaches to Whitehall soon began to grow as the news of Billy's death circulated, and soon after two o'clock that afternoon, by order of the Commissioner, Westminster Bridge was closed to all traffic, vehicular or passenger. The section of the Embankment that runs between Westminster and Hungerford Bridge was next swept by the police and cleared of curious pedestrians; Northumberland Avenue was barred, and before three o'clock there was no space within five hundred yards of the official residence of Sir Philip Ramon that was not held by a representative of the law. Members of Parliament on their way to the House were escorted by mounted men, and, taking on a reflected glory, were cheered by the crowd. All that afternoon a hundred thousand people waited patiently, seeing nothing, save towering above the heads of a host of constabuliary, the spires and towers of the Mother of Parliaments, or the blank faces of the buildings - in Trafalgar Square, along the Mall as far as the police would allow them, at the lower end of Victoria Street, eight deep along the Albert Embankment, growing in volume every hour. London waited, waited in patience, orderly, content to stare steadfastly at nothing, deriving no satisfaction for their weariness but the sense of being as near as it was humanly possible to be to the scene of a tragedy. A stranger arriving in London, bewildered by this gathering, asked for the cause. A man standing on the outskirts of the Embankment throng pointed across the river with the stem of his pipe.
'We're waiting for a man to be murdered,' he said simply, as one who describes a familiar function.
About the edge of these throngs newspaper boys drove a steady trade. From hand to hand the pink sheets were passed over the heads of the crowd. Every half hour brought a new edition, a new theory, a new description of the scene in which they themselves were playing an ineffectual if picturesque part. The clearing of the Thames Embankment produced an edition; the closing of Westminster Bridge brought another; the arrest of a foolish Socialist who sought to harangue the crowd in Trafalgar Square was worthy of another. Every incident of the day was faithfully recorded and industriously devoured.
All that afternoon they waited, telling and retelling the story of the Four, theorising, speculating, judging. And they spoke of the culmination as one speaks of a promised spectacle, watching the slow-moving hands of Big Ben ticking off the laggard minutes. 'Only two more hours to wait,' they said at six o'clock, and that sentence, or rather the tone of pleasurable anticipation in which it was said, indicated the spirit of the mob. For a mob is a cruel thing, heartless and unpitying.
Seven o'clock boomed forth, and the angry hum of talk ceased. London watched in silence, and with a quicker beating heart, the last hour crawl round the great clock's dial.
There had been a slight alteration in the arrangements at Downing Street, and it was after seven o'clock before Sir Philip, opening the door of his study, in which he had sat alone, beckoned the Commissioner and Falmouth to approach. They walked towards him, stopping a few feet from where he stood.
The Minister was pale, and there were lines on his face that had not been there before. But the hand that held the printed paper was steady and his face was sphhinxlike.
'I am about to lock my door,' he said calmly. 'I presume that the arrangements we have agreed upon will be carried out?'
'Yes, sir,' answered the Commissioner quietly.
Sir Philip was about to speak, but he checked himself.
After a moment he spoke again.
'I have been a just man according to my lights,' he said half to himself. 'Whatever happens I am satisfied that I am doing the right thing - What is that?'
Through the corridor there came a faint roar.
'The people - they are cheering you,' said Falmouth, who just before had made a tour of inspection.
The Minister's lip curled in disdain and the familiar acid crept into his voice.
'They will be terribly disappointed if nothing happens,' he said bitterly. 'The people! God save me from the people, their sympathy, their applause, their insufferable pity.'
He turned and pushed open the door of his study, slowly closed the heavy portal, and the two men heard the snick of the lock as he turned the key.
Falmouth looked at his watch.
'Forty minutes,' was his laconic comment.

four just men

I finished Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace on Friday 5 April. It was good, and I enjoyed it. Edgar Wallace is one of those writers who was massively popular in his time, and prolific (more than I could ever hope to read), but who hasn't survived into regular reprinting, just the occasional volume in a niche/classic reprinting series (The Four Just Men was, according to the blurb, his first great success), and one of those who make you wonder why some people endure and not others. Certainly to an extent it's true that if someone wrote a couple of classics which are still considered classics, their other works are more likely to survive too. (I often think this in relation to Shakespeare and his contemporaries in particular, when you compare some of his plays which get regularly produced with other rarely-produced 16th/17th century plays you do get to see.

Here's a paragraph from the introduction by Jack Adrian (pxv in my Dent edition ('Classic thrillers' series) of 1985):
A remarkable feature of the book is that although on the surface it seems to be a straightforward and seamless narrative it is no such thing. It is in fact a series of smoothly linked short stories. Not every chapter comprises a self-contained tale but certainly 'The Faithful Commons', 'The Outrage at the Megaphone', 'The Messenger of the Four' and even the 'inquest' chapter at the end have a beginning, a middle and a natural conclusion, and each is so constructed that either a problem is devised and then solved, or a shock or twist is contained in the climax. It was a style of storytelling - a series of minor mysteries solved in sequence throughout the book while the major mystery was only revealed at the end - that was to be refined over the years until it was recognisably the Wallacean method, to be cheerfully pinched by an entire generation of thriller writers.

I will post separately a good section, from near the end (p121 of 140), when the date and time are approaching when the Four Just Men have stated they will kill the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, having already demonstrated impressive feats which suggest they could do it.

mr holgado

On Saturday 6 April we went to see Mr Holgado at the Unicorn Theatre at 2pm, while Bethan was at choir practice. We enjoyed it a lot, I possibly more so. One of those children's plays which wouldn't need to be very different to be playing in an off-west-end venue; slightly creepy, surreal, a visual style you'd think of as European. Three actors, well performed and well staged.

Friday, 22 November 2013

barts choir

Went to see Barts Choir once again on Wednesday, at the Albert Hall once again, and, as often, had to leave at half time since it would be too late to stay for it all. So we heard Beethoven Coriolan and Dvorak's Te Deum, but not Brahms's Requiem. They were good as ever, and it's impressive to see Bethan performing in such prestigious venues. I had been looking for the Dvorak on CD but hadn't found it; it was good.

The time we saw them before that was at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 8 April. They were doing Faure's Requiem, with in the first half Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music, Britten Sea Pictures (no choir) and Finzi. We stayed for the whole thing that time. Both occasions, as usual, others from church were with us.

In between they did something at the Cadogan Hall, but we weren't able to go for some reason.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

one day; teen angst canon

On Tuesday 12 November I finished reading One Day by David Nicholls.

I had it on the shelves, and it was bumped up the reading list by an exchange of tweets with Andy on this article from the BBC News magazine, 'Is there an 'angst canon' of books that teenagers read?'

Andy had only read a couple of them; when I went through all those mentioned I found I'd read 17 of them, but in most cases, possibly every case, not as a teenager (I had in fact only finished Jane Eyre the previous weekend). I also thought that many of them didn't live up to their reputation, but was aware that that might be because I didn't read them at 'the right time' of life. Some of the books mentioned were clearly 'core' titles, familiar, while others were mentioned in little more than passing and seemed rather tenuous to link to the theme.

One Day was one of those more modern ones mentioned. It didn't seem likely to me that it would be angsty, though it might be sad-romantic at a level, as with some of the others mentioned in the article as more popular among the girls. In fact the article said boys read angsty ones and girls read 'expanding emotion and sensibility' ones.

Anyway, I was prompted to read it, and I read it pretty quickly, and enjoyed it, as I had expected to, though I thought the very end, a partial flashback to the very first day, made the rest of the book much sadder in retrospect, deliberately or not.

Andy had read Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. I had read those - or, at least, the first volume of each. The former I enjoyed, though the set-up and themes were more familiar to me from reading sf/fantasy than they seem to have been to some people, but thought the sequels would be more of the same, so not in any great hurry to read them. The latter was okay, but not good enough to commit to - or be grabbed by - another long fantasy sequence, especially since so much of it was politicking and inter/intrafamilial relationships and treachery which were setting themselves up for long, long workings out of things which you can see are going to happen or go wrong, based on mis/non-communication and deceit, and it would have to be much more engagingly written to make me have the patience for that, and for me not to just get frustrated at people's bad choices and gullibility (which I was already doing).

I had read The Outsider, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, 1984, The Bell Jar, Catch 22, Clockwork Orange, Wasp Factory, Slaughterhouse Five, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, To Kill A Mockingbird, Trainspotting, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I hadn't read The Trial, Junkie (W S Burroughs), Last Exit To Brooklyn, The Handmaid's Tale, 100 Years Of Solitude, I Capture The Castle, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, three John Green books (The Fault In Our Stars, Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines), and One Day. (On my shelves, as well as One Day, I have I Capture The Castle and 100 Years of Solitude, in both cases bought because they're on must-read lists.)

It quoted one survey saying men liked The Outsider, Catcher in the Rye and Slaughterhouse Five, girls liked Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Handmaid's Tale, while both liked Catch 22, To Kill a Mockingbird and 100 Years of Solitude.

In a sequence of emails to Andy I said,
'I those + 15 others! #lapofhonour Finished Jane Eyre on Sunday! Much good they did me; would rec few - perhaps read too late?'
- and when he asked which I'd recommend:
'I'd rec Bell Jar & Mockingbird to anyone. If you like SF then 84, Orange, Brave Slaughterhouse all cut it.'
'(Slaughterhouse more WWII, those are the good bits, SF bits will put some off). I have One Day, I expect to like it. #oldromantic'
'Hated Jane Eyre, Wuthering, Catcher, Catch 22, Outsider, Fear/Loathing, Cuckoo. Mostly dullness/horrible characters.'
'Like many 'humorous classics' of previous generations, found Catch 22 simply not funny!'
'I confess 1984 more for its ideas; I did find it a little dull too...'

Only things to add, I think, are that I have a clear memory that To Kill A Mockingbird was definitely one of those I was put off from because I knew people had studied it in school (not that they'd said anything bad about it, just the fact that it was a set text - exactly the same with Lord of the Flies, which I also enjoyed when I did read it), and that I subsequently read I think all of JD Salinger's other books and thought they were great - Catcher in the Rye I just thought was dull and pointless.

Slaughterhouse Five was the only book I read in preparation for university, it having been on the first year English reading list in the sample info they sent, but it wasn't on the list when I actually went.

Wuthering Heights was the first book I wrote an essay on for first year English at university. In a way I wonder if it led to me not carrying on with English, rather than psychology, because I wrote a not very good essay, because I couldn't get past the ridiculous narrative structure, hundreds of pages of reported speech within reported speech within reported speech, as well as just hating the book in general, which got me off on a bad foot with my tutor and we never really recovered from that.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

sherlock holmes museum

Two of us went to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Friday 5th April; we had tried the day before but didn't go through with it because the queue was so long (though we did instead on that day visit the Sherlock Holmes pub, off Northumberland Avenue, with its replica of Holmes's study upstairs, preserved from the Festival of Britain; you could just look in, and I wouldn't have liked to have made a special or long trip to see it). We got there soon after it opened when we went back on the Friday, though by the time we left the queue outside was substantial.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum I was surprisingly pleased with. It was a little expensive, given that it's very low-maintenance - largely an unstaffed recreation of the apartments at 221b, and an easy tourist moneyspinner - but neither of us were bored, and I did find it quite evocative. The thing which was most striking was - and I think this was accurately representative - how little private space to themselves both Dr Watson and Mr Holmes would have had living in such a place, yet there's certainly nothing in the books to suggest that these were unusually restricted dwelling places for men of their wealth and standing in that era.

The second thing I will remember longest from that visit will be the younger member of the party pointing at something in the shop and asking what it was, and I had to explain that it was a telephone with an actual dial, and demonstrate how it worked. I felt very old.

And later that day, we also popped into Tate Modern. It's good to live in London.

scott pilgrim vs the world

Finished watching Scott Pilgrim vs The World on digibox on Saturday 16 November. I quite enjoyed it, though it had had mixed reviews; obviously based on a comic, and drew a lot from that in its look and style.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

appointment with death

Finished Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie on Wednesday 9 October - it was okay. Too much one of those blast from the past crimes, and also one of those that spends a lot of time on timings around the murder.

making up ground on harry potter

In advance of a visit to the Harry Potter experience by two of us in half term, we watched three of the Harry Potter films in October - the Goblet of Fire, the Order of the Phoenix, and the Half-Blood Prince. We'd put them off because they were 12s. They were pretty good, and especially from Phoenix got progressively darker and more teenage (the second and third mentioned in particular had quite a different colour palette from the earlier, brighter films, being virtually black and white in places). We just have the last two films - the two parts of the final book - to go. I'm enjoying watching them, but still don't feel the need to read the books. (I read the first years ago and found it an unremarkable children's book, which I wondered why so many adults read and enjoyed; nothing snobby against it, but very definitely a children's book.)

the claw of the conciliator

On Sunday 29 September I finished The Claw Of The Conciliator by Gene Wolfe, the second in the Book of the New Sun set. I went for the second after the first because of the style and the ideas; the second had that, but continued to be a bit too directionless; it didn't feel like enough things were resolving, or enough progress being made. I enjoyed it okay, but not enough to go on to the third one.

sharp's

For the first time in ages I went to Sharp's, on Tuesday 24 September; it would have been a Morris Folk Club night, but they decided to go to Sharp's instead, after the rehearsal (which I wasn't at), as it was Gerry the barman's last time (another firm has won the contract). It was a good evening; I put my name down but didn't sing, but I was far from the only one, as there were many there, and I think those who did sing only sang once. The Morris choir did sing, Roll the old chariot along, which was one of my favourites of the night (I didn't go in the choir, but I did sing along as everyone else did; Sharp's always very good for singing along; also, I still had my right lens covered up after the op, so looked rather odd). Probably my favourite of the night was a humorous version of Matty Groves called Fatty Groves.

I definitely won't get along so often now, Tuesdays being Morris night; I hadn't been along for a while, partly because I'd lost my nerve. I haven't made it to a Morris folk club night yet.

the wind in the willows

I read The Wind In The Willows while up in Lewis - a copy in the house there. I knew I could finish it elsewhere if I didn't there, but I finished it there (on Friday 30th August).

I was pleasantly surprised, as I had got an impression of it as an annoying, childish book, rather in the vein of Winnie The Pooh (which I started years ago, while at university, and hated - full of selfish characters every one of which I hated; children, of course, being fundamentally and inherently selfish, don't take against books like that for that reason; one of those books which really don't work if you didn't read it as a child I suspect) - not least I guess because the character which has permeated through into popular culture most is the monstrous, selfish Toad, and the familiar episodes being the ones in which he appeared.

I was only reading it because it was on some of the 'best books' lists I'm working through (which is why I'll have to have another stab at Winnie The Pooh again, anticipating that it won't take long). But I enjoyed it; predictably, the character I liked least was Toad, and his behaviour, both in general and to his friends, I found appalling. But it was well-written, not twee, and not too flowery (the other impression I'd got was that it was full of descriptions of wonderful nature, which it wasn't really), and I liked the other characters and their relationships.

Coincidentally, there's a series on CBBC just now, All At Sea, which I hate with a passion for just those kinds of reasons - main child character does monstrous selfish things (in, importantly I guess, a realistic setting rather than a cartoony/heightened setting) which are really unpleasant to friends, family and everyone alike, which are supposed to be funny but which just aren't, and conclude in mild punishment and little consequence of the vile havoc wrought. A child of my acquaintance just thinks it's very funny and doesn't understand what I'm banging on about.

monsters university

Saw Monsters University in 3d at the Lanntair on Friday 23rd August. Unremarkable, and certainly not as good as the original. I don't remember anything that made me laugh. At the height of my cataracticity, so the 3d particularly pointless.

st kildan myths

From Roger Hutchinson's review of Donald S Murray's The Guga Stone (a collection of pieces on St Kilda):
'Donald Murray rightly points up the absurdity of the authors of the two most popular modern St Kildan books, Tom Steel and Charles Maclean, in blaming the Protestant Church for destroying St Kildan culture and ultimately St Kildan society.
'Steel and Maclean are able to perpetrate that fiction chiefly because neither they nor most of their readers know much about Protestant - or any other - Hebridean islands. If Presbyterianism destroyed St Kilda, why is Catholic Mingulay not still thriving? If Presbyterianism destroyed St Kilda, how did Scalpay survive?
'Those authors, those storytellers, were actively looking for a mythology. They had discovered a founding myth. They needed a final myth to explain the evacuation of 1930. And in between, myth became woven with reality into the rough fabric of life on Hirta, Boreray and Soay.'
And:
'The island's famous "Parliament" is another source of profound symbolism. ("There was one of those in our village on Lewis too," writes Murray, "which met and quarrelled on occasion. We gave it the considerably less grandiose title of the Grazings Committee.")'

the trilemma

A couple of quotes from Alex MacDonald's article on CS Lewis in the November Monthly Record.

Talking about the 'mad/bad/God'/'liar/lunatic/Lord' options presented in Mere Christianity: 'This argument, which Lewis did not invent but developed and popularised, is sometimes referred to as "Lewis' trilemma". The earliest use of this approach was probably by the Free Churchman "Rabbi" John Duncan (1797-1870), quoted in 1870 as a saying used by him during his preaching career (Colloquia Peripatetica): "Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable."'

Nothing new under the sun, of course. And wouldn't be surprised if someone had made the point long before that too.

Alex goes on to say that some argue against it by saying that Jesus didn't in fact claim to be God - he did - or that he was simply mistaken (though how a mistake of that nature is supposed to be different from 'mad' I don't know).

Then:
'However, it is common today to speak of a fourth option to the trilemma - that Jesus was a legend, or at least supernatural aspects of the Gospels are mythical - and it is customary to criticise Lewis for not taking this into account. This is unfair, as in a popular apologetic work such as Mere Christianity he did not delve into questions of literary criticism. However, elsewhere he did, particularly in the delightfully entitled Fern-seed and Elephants.
'There he picks a statement from a liberal commentary where John's Gospel is called a "spiritual romance", "a poem not history". Lewis retorts: "I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this." In his opinion there were only two possibilities - either the author was reporting what happened, or else someone neary 2000 years ago suddenly invented modern, novelistic, realistic narrative (which is literarily and historically inconceivable). He says that if a biblical scholar tells him that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, he wants to know how many legends and romances he has read, not how many years he has spent studying that Gospel and what others have said about it. This is still a point of fundamental significance today. I recently heard a scientist on radio dismissing the Bible as myth. We are entitled to ask not how well qualified he is scientifically, but how well qualified he is to speak about myths.'

Friday, 15 November 2013

not like my day

Things which are much more common today in Lewis than they were when I was growing up, all observed on the beach at Eoropie in the summer: kite-fliers, dog-walkers and surfers.

Friday, 25 October 2013

the events - our performances

Our performances were on Tuesday 15 October at 7.45pm and Saturday 20 October at 2.45pm. On Tuesday we arrived for 6pm, I guess mostly straight from work; on Saturday I aimed for 1pm but turned out it was meant to be 1.30pm, but I wasn't the only one. I guess because we needed less of a run-through on the Saturday - which is why we got there early. We went through all our songs with Jessie and Polina, with the lead-in often being done for us by Rudi and Neve, who were there for most of the time. We also got the volunteers for the 'frequently asked questions' and the 'what am I' statements (I volunteered for both on the Tuesday, and just the latter on the Saturday; it wasn't that I was mad keen, but some folk clearly weren't up for it, so I don't think I denied anyone an opportunity). After we'd finished rehearsing, which we did in the theatre space, we went into another room to wait (and from which we could go out to the toilets). Neither time were we there particularly long. The room we were in was I think being used as rehearsal space for The Scottsboro Boys, as there musical instruments there. When I went out to the toilet on the Saturday I went to the ones upstairs, which meant that I went through the queue who were waiting to get in to see The Events, which felt quite odd.

Both performances went pretty well, I think. Once they took us out of our room they split us up so that we came into the stage space from two different points, and encouraged us to get into conversation before we went on so that we would wander on naturally, still in those conversations, although as it happened I wasn't talking to anyone either time as we went on. I didn't notice it so much on the Tuesday, as I don't think we were waiting so long in readiness before we went out, but on the Saturday I got quite involved in a conversation with Marian, so that it took me surprise when we went out and all of a sudden we were around the piano and ready to launch into our opening song. Perhaps the 'getting into conversations' was as much to reduce that nervousness and anticipation before going on as it was about how we went out.

On Tuesday we started with Ho ro haradala, and got applause - it's the kind of song with the kind of finish that lends itself to getting applause. It went well enough that some folk wondered if we should do it again as our song on Saturday. (In our original open dress rehearsal, the play started and finished with one of the choir's songs, but they'd changed this for the performances to just one at the start.) Our plan for Saturday was Mingulay Boat Song, which we'd done at the open dress along with Caleb Meyer.

I said in a group email, 'I'm for sticking with plan to sing Mingulay. Makes it different, interesting to see what difference it makes to the experience for us, the actors, the audience, kicking off with a slower, more melodic, reflective, evocative song. Will it set a different tone? No one will whoop. Will people laugh when the boy speaks his first words which aren't 'ja tak' - which I wasn't expecting, and which they didn't when I saw the play. Did we put the audience in that place, singing such an up song, full of energy? It's fascinating stuff! (To a particular kind of mind...)'

What I thought would happen, did: we didn't get applause, and they didn't laugh when the boy spoke first. In fact, I'm pretty sure there was less laughter throughout, though I wouldn't credit that all to our opening song. I'm sure the actors do it differently and draw different aspects out every time.

I think each time I did my 'what am I' line I got a laugh, I'm not sure why; perhaps it was the line, perhaps it was because I looked intently at Rudi as I said it, perhaps I just sound funny.

In Tuesday's shamanic ritual Rudi lay down and put his leg in the air. Since nobody else did, I went and lay beside him and put my leg in the air too; nobody else joined us. I should have lain opposite him and put my foot to his foot, to create an archway, the required 'symbolic portal', but I chickened out of going that far.

We didn't mess anything up and it all went pretty well, I think. On the Tuesday some of started the Norwegian Coffee Song too early but we all carried on and started when Neve then indicated we should, but it didn't sound awful, and in fact Bethan (who was there for that performance) said she hadn't been sure if it was deliberate or not, so that was okay.

Friends and family, and other audience members we overheard, seemed to enjoy it in general, and think we did well, although some did find it a bit confusing, which is understandable. After the Saturday one, when I came out, a chap said to me we'd done really well; he also said 'I could hear *you*', which was a bit unnerving.

It was a great experience, and I'd readily do something like it again. You can see why peple do amateur dramatics, just for the buzz, never mind money. Although I haven't been in the choir long, I did get the impression that it had raised our confidence about what we could do, in terms of ability, and also reflected that we're pretty good at being ready to and confident at giving things a go.

After both performances I did try to say in person or by tweet to the professionals involved thank you and how much I'd enjoyed being involved. Jessie said I had a good voice, which was kind - I tended to fear that all I had going for me was volume. Polina and others for their part expressed their thanks for the choir, both that we were good and our readiness to throw ourselves into things.

On my way off stage on the Saturday I squeezed Neve's hand and said think you. When I got home the Gilmours were still visiting, and Harry wanted to shake my hand, as doing so put him two handshakes away from Matt Smith; I did so, and told him the last hand I'd held was Neve's. Conversely, I wrote this on Facebook on Saturday evening: 'Cherub had a choice this morning: to go with Bethan to her choir rehearsal or to go with me to mine. If you come with me, I said, you might meet the woman we've seen in Doctor Who (Neve McIntosh, who plays Madame Vastra, was one of the two actors in The Events, which our choir took part in on Tuesday and this afternoon at The Young Vic). Cherub, unstarstruck, looked at me quizzically: "Why would I want to do that?" Why indeed. Cherub went with Bethan.'

case histories

I finished reading Case Histories by Kate Atkinson yesterday; it was a good read, and I'll read more of Kate Atkinson (she's been on my to-read list for a while). My nearest comparison would be Alice Thomas Ellis, but a bit warmer. I was a bit disappointed with the ending, though; on the one hand it seemed to peter out somewhat; on the other, the private detective hero found out two different murderers, but for no apparent reason that made any sense reported neither of these findings (and in one case the murderer was identified by someone else and you wonder why she wouldn't have then come forward herself in any case. Apart from that, most enjoyable.

private eye cartoons

Two Private Eye cartoons from 6 September issue.

Two pictures, side by side, of Paul McCartney on stage, with fans looking glum in one and ecstatic in other. Cartoon headed 'The importance of grammar demonstrated by Sir Paul McCartney'. In the first pic he is saying (in block caps in cartoon) 'Here's a song I wrote yesterday', in the second 'Here's a song I wrote - Yesterday'.

Man on laptop with handheld device, saying to unimpressed woman, 'I think you'll find that what I lack in charisma and personality, I make up for in social media presence.'

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

the events - in the audience

I saw the opening performance - first preview, rather than 'opening night', I think, whatever difference that makes - of The Events in its Young Vic run on Wednesday 9 October - the night after our last choir rehearsal night, but before our Super Sunday rehearsal.

It was good to see it as an audience member rather than a choir member. It didn't have the same impact as the dress rehearsal, of course, because it was the second time I'd seen it, but I did pick up more of it since I was able to concentrate on it rather than looking at the booklet to see where we were and thinking about our next bit. But from things said during later rehearsals, and in Neve's blog post about Dublin, there were also changes to the text in addition to those I'd actually noticed. I'd noticed, for example, that in the phase where Rudi plays several characters talking to Neve in succession that she gave a two-word intro at the start of each scene (the father, the journalist, the friend, the politician). The changing of the characters, and who Rudi was portraying now, was something that did take me a while to tune into in the dress rehearsal, and from comments after our performances (and some of the reviews) some people did still find it a bit confusing. But you could see that as adding to the theme of puzzlement, uncertainty, confusion in the play. In one interview I read or heard, rather than a review so it was I think an 'official' interpretation, part of the idea was that Rudi depicting all the other characters was partly communicating the sense that Claire was seeing The Boy in everyone. Another thing I only picked up from reading about it, I think, was that when Claire imagines killing a baby, she's imagining having killed The Boy at birth; I'd have got it eventually... The ending was more tense than I'd got the first time, re whether Claire was going to poison the boy or not, but again Neve's blog made me unsure how much of that I'd missed and how much was new.

The choir for that performance was the Morley Chamber Choir, from Morley College. They were good, but very polished; too polished for my taste, and certainly for depicting a 'community choir', but that's hardly their fault. Their own song was a spiritual from Tippett's Child of our Time, I think. (They wrote about it in their programme note; each night there was an insert in the programme telling a bit about that evening's choir.) Neve in her Dublin blog made a similar comment re some of the choirs sounding too professional; perhaps that's why they seemed to like Morris, we're not too good! It was interesting that at our dress rehearsal we got applause after our song, but they didn't; partly perhaps because it wasn't a song with a big finish that prompted applause, but I think more so that people weren't sure that they should applaud and because no one led off confidently then it didn't happen.

In a conversation on our first performance night, I think, Polina said that it was interesting the difference the choir made; for example, if it was a more professional-sounding choir singing something religious at the start then it seemed to draw out the religious/spiritual elements.

The only thing which I tipped off my fellow choir members about as a result of seeing it was that at the end during the applause and bows, Neve and Rudi turned to the choir and bowed, and the choir, possibly taken by surprise, didn't bow, and it looked a little odd; so I did say they would do this and we should be ready to clap.

Funnily enough, when I got to the theatre, about twenty past seven, Neve was outside, and I held the door open for her to come in behind me.

Monday, 21 October 2013

the events - choir rehearsals and super sunday

So in the weeks leading up to our Events performances we rehearsed the songs at our regular rehearsals, and then on Super Sunday (which for us was Sunday 13 October, at Morley College), which is a rehearsal at the start of the week (Sunday or Monday) for all the choirs involved that week.

Doing the songs at our own rehearsals went pretty well. They had dropped one altogether ('that girl beside the fire', which I hadn't been that keen on anyway, a bit staccato, a bit tricky, a bit cold and the best bit was at the end when it went warm and harmonic, which was rather like 'we're all here'), and made changes to others (most notably to us the start of Bonkers, cutting the 'boom's and the 'tss tss' headphone leak rhythm). Apart from Bonkers, the other songs were the Norwegian Coffee Song, Soul, How Great Thou Art, Gavrilo Princip and We're All Here; also, one female choir member had to hum a lullaby-type tune under a speech by Claire.

Rosie in the choir would record the rehearsals of particular songs and email them around, which was a great help. The ATC had also prepared recordings of each piece, with different parts drawn out in the balance to help you learn your part. Those were helpful initially especially, although it was hard to pick out your own part particularly even on the specially done ones, and were also done more formally than our style, so as we made our own recordings of our own rehearsals I tended to rely on those.

Also, each choir made different decisions about what they would do with the harmonies. Because ours is a non-music-reading choir, Michelle had decided not try to teach us all the harmonies so we did more in unison - in particular, How Great Thou Art (except a couple of folk who could read music did the harmonies) and Gavrilo Princip (which I think was unison first time through then harmony second time through on paper; the harmony sounded good, especially when I heard it on the joint rehearsal, but unison had its own power too).

There were bits we were pretty at ease with, and others that were a bit trickier. Preparing for the dress rehearsal in particular we were a bit ropey in one bit of How Great Thou Art because it's the kind of tune that there are slight variants of, so even those of us who knew it (and I was surprised how many didn't seem to know it at all) knew different versions of it. But moreso there was a bit in Bonkers I found very hard to find the note for, and the Soul section was quite hard to get to grips with.

The Super Sunday rehearsal was good, but I felt a little less confident at the end of it, though I didn't let on, because I was sure we would pull things together in the pre-performance rehearsal on the Tuesday evening. It was quite similar in structure to the first rehearsal we - and I guess all the other choirs - had with James and Polina, except this time it was assumed we knew the music. Sally Christopher, the woman who had been involved in getting the choirs on board, was there to introduce, then Jessie Maryon-Davies, who was the pianist for this week's performances, warmed us up and ran through all the music. (She was very good.) Then in the second half Polina came and we went through the songs again in their place as she described the action to us.

We were all sat in our massed parts rather than in choirs, which meant that our lower ladies (and a couple of ladies from other choirs) were sitting with the tenors, since that was the part we were singing. (Essentially I seem to be the only tenor at the moment in Morris, which is why I'm a lower lady; I don't mind being a lower lady.) There were bits I was more confident about afterwards, and it was interesting to hear the other choirs doing harmonies we weren't doing (the Gavrilo Princip was the only bit I thought it would have been good to have got, if we'd had more time).

But there were bits where there had been slight changes from the versions we'd been working from in our rehearsals. Those were the bits I was a bit concerned about, not because they were difficult, but because about a third of our choir wasn't there, and I thought that on the Tuesday night we were either going to have to unlearn the changes or cement them and also have the others learn them. At our last choir rehearsal we had practiced for the first time an ending for Bonkers which involved just three voices, including me, but when I saw the play (the day after that rehearsal, but before the Super Sunday) they sang that with all the voices so I was neither surprised nor disappointed when that was how it was done at Super Sunday.

Monday, 14 October 2013

the events - tour coverage and basking in reflected glory

In the weeks since the dress rehearsal I have been basking in reflected glory, as The Events went on with great success to the Fringe, via a first public performance at a festival in Norfolk, and then to Glasgow, Oxford and Dublin. It's at the Young Vic now, then in November going to Hull, Bristol, Birmingham and Plymouth.

As part of the dress rehearsal, I couldn't help but feel partly responsible for the success in Edinburgh. Also, they had taken photos at our rehearsal which they then used for press photos, so in quite a few of the reviews and articles they used photos which included some of the choir (though not me). The full set of photos is on their Facebook page here.

Here is a set of links to reviews and related articles which I've noted over the weeks (mostly through links from Tweets). They're just in the order I noted them, and mostly Edinburgh-related.

Telegraph, 2 August ('What do we do about evil?', interview with David Greig and director Ramin Gray). British Theatre Guide Edinburgh review. A Younger Theatre Edinburgh review. Telegraph Edinburgh review. Guardian Edinburgh review. What's On Stage Edinburgh review. Scotsman Edinburgh review. Times review (can't see much of it through the paywall, though I'm sure I saw the whole thing at the time). BBC Scotland Edinburgh-related article. Arts Desk Edinburgh review. Postcards from the Gods blog Edinburgh review. Evening Times interview with David Greig. Irish Times Dublin review. Oxford Times Oxford review. Another Irish Times Dublin review. Patrick Lonergan blog Dublin review (long, interesting reflection). Entertainment.ie website Dublin review.

On the Actors Touring Company blog, apart from my email, were these. Interview with Ramin Gray and John Brown (director and composer, transcript of Youtube interview after first rehearsal with a choir). Christine ventures into the Events (an account of a rehearsal). Nick Williams on winning a Fringe First ('I acknowledged the massive team effort, and then talked about our brilliant choirs. They truly are the heart of the show, giving energy and enthusiasm and trusting us to take them on a journey through dark waters.'). Stars and Awards (including a Fringe First and the Carol Tambor award). The Choir Whisperer (by Sally Christopher, the choir coordinator) (giving special thanks 'to the Morris Folk Choir for jumping in at the deep end for the open dress'. 'It'll be alright, people will come' (interesting blog by the stage manager). Do it, do it, do it (post by one of the Edinburgh choirmasters and a choir member, title being the advice to any choir thinking of doing it). Neve in Dublin (with some interesting insights into text changes and working with the choirs).

There's also an ATC page on Youtube which has a number of videos, including a good trailer and audience reaction clips set 1 and set 2 after the open dress rehearsal.

And ATC's Storify page has these Story sets of Tweets: Open dress rehearsal (there are three of my tweets in this one); Edinburgh first night reactions; sample of Fringe responses; the events in Glasgow; the events in Oxford; and the London previews (the first of which I was in the audience - there's a Morris tweet in this one).

the events - the post-dress-rehearsal email

This is what I said in my email to ATC after The Events open dress rehearsal:
'I was in the Morris Folk Choir at the rehearsal of The Events last night. It was a great play, and great to be a part of it. Thank you.
'I had cried, for the first time in many years, the morning after Andy Murray's victory at Wimbledon. We had been talking about it at work, and I said that what I was thinking about most was the mixed feelings there must be in Dunblane of pride in Andy and sorrow over his fellow schoolchildren who never got the chance to grow up and do things with their lives. Which made me cry.
'It would make me a little cross when people would complain about Andy Murray being insufficiently cheerful. When you've sheltered in an office while someone is shooting your fellow pupils in another part of your school, you have the right to be dour from time to time.
'Nobody feels like singing *all* the time.
'But whatever you've been through, you do still feel like singing some of the time.
There's a lot packed into that 2% of DNA which is just us.
'Best wishes for the tour, and thanks again.
'Iain MacDonald'

I have that text not because I still have the email, but because they put it on their blog.

I had been keeping an eye out for Events coverage, on places like the Young Vic website and the Actors Touring Company website, and I think it was after I'd sent that email to the ATC that I said to Michelle that it was a shame the choir didn't have a Twitter account, as it was another way to promote our events etc and we could mention our involvement with The Events; I also said that I'd had a look (!) at likely possible names to see if they were free, and that I'd be happy to set up an account and then let someone else run it (I thought I was a bit new to be muscling in myself). Michelle said set it up, and run it, so I did.

I think it was the day after I'd set it up that ATC got in touch to thank me for my email - which I'd sent a few days earlier - and asked if they could put it on the blog that they were setting up for The Events on their website, which they were giving a bit of an overhaul. They said they'd credit me, and give a link to me on Twitter (I'd also tweeted them); I said no problem, but could you include two twitter addresses, mine and the choir's, as although it was a personal response rather than an official choir response it would be good to give the choir a bit of a plug, and they said fine. (They did then give the blog post the title 'Message from London Morris Folk Choir', which I was a bit embarrassed by, but no one in the choir seemed to mind when I told them about it apologetically.)

Sunday, 13 October 2013

the events - choir rehearsal and open dress rehearsal

James and Polina from ATC came along to the Morris rehearsal on Tuesday 23 July to introduce us to the music for The Events, and they did it really well. Polina (Kalinina) is an Associate Director with the Actors Touring Company, whose production it is, and James (Slimings) was part of the team coaching the choirs on the music; Polina talked us through the production and James taught us the songs. They (or colleagues) were doing this with every choir. We rattled through it in around our usual two hours of rehearsal, though they said they usually intend to give it three hours. They had sent through the music to Michelle just a couple of days before, I think, and she sent it round. There was some apprehension between then and the rehearsal, but there was also mutual encouragement, and a lot of encouragement and positive feedback on the Tuesday.

(In The Events, by David Greig, there are only two actors (someone playing Claire and someone playing all the other parts), plus a community choir who sing and take a limited part in the action, and are onstage throughout. The idea is that wherever it is performed a local community choir would take part, rather than using a choir of actors. The intention may have been to have a different choir for every performance, but some choirs are doing two, including ours. The actors in this production are Neve McIntosh and Rudi Dharmalingam; I've seen Neve before, though under a lot of make-up, in Doctor Who, while I don't think I've seen Rudi before (he was in the original production of The History Boys).)

So the next day, Wednesday 24 July, we went along to the Young Vic after work to do it with them in the open dress rehearsal. They had chosen Morris for the dress rehearsal because Morris had been one of a number of choirs involved in an Events-related workshop during a choirs weekend on the South Bank earlier in the year, and they'd obviously liked Morris's attitude/approach in some way. (They had had a small choir of actors during the rehearsal period, to help them rehearse.) As I think would be the pattern for all the performances, they had another run-through of the music, plus the staging, with the choir, then a short break, and then the actual performance. The run-through was run by Polina, but also involved the director and the composer; there was a different pianist, Magnus rather than James. The open dress rehearsal meant that there was an audience, but it was of people associated with the production or the theatre in some way (I spoke to people afterwards who were trustees/board members or who had been in the rehearsal choir, for example).

I thought the play was very good (full of questions and issues without trying to give definitive answers and solutions), the actors were very good, as was the pianist, and I thought we acquitted ourselves well. It was well received by the audience. The actors and others involved in the production expressed their appreciation, and we were able to do likewise; it was good to be able to talk a little to both Neve and Rudi afterwards. It was interesting that most of what I talked about was the experience of doing it, still buzzing about it, but in the days afterwards what I thought about was the ideas in the play. I said in an email to the choir afterwards that it was one of the best things I'd ever done. I also sent an email to the ATC saying something about my experience of it.

(In fact, I did wonder to myself if the actual performance of it wouldn't go as well as the rehearsal, partly because we would be more familiar with it and so in danger of being less engaged, but more so because we would be expected to be better having had more time to practice. We shall see.)

me and morris

I'd been thinking of looking for an additional choir, as well as London Gallery Quire.

I went for LGQ when I was looking (in 2010, I think) because you didn't need to be able to read music, it was a kind of music I fancied (not big classical, more traditional, at the folk end of things, not a pop song or gimmicky choir, familiar in style from some of Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band), and it was on a good night for me (there are sites where you can find lists of choirs in your area; I did my research).

I'm very happy with LGQ, but thought I could manage another, as it's only fortnightly. I also wondered if I could find something more folky. I had quite some time ago tried a folk choir at Sharp's, but I didn't stick with it; we most often sang foreign songs in unfamiliar arrangements, and it never felt like I/we were making much headway; I don't remember if there was something that changed that created a point to leave, perhaps a change of day or simply an end of term. (In fact I see I've noted that I saw them in July at the British Library; they were very professional but I'm not sorry I didn't stick with them, as the professionalism and the arrangements weren't my cup of tea.)

I had seen the Morris Folk Choir at Sharp's folk club, during a singer's night, a couple of years ago. One of them took some photos on the night, including a couple of me while I was singing. Afterwards I spoke to Michelle, who was the leader of the choir. Earlier this year Flickr had a relaunch with lots more free space for free customers, which drew me back to it, and I think it was then that I saw those photos again. I don't remember if I'd been thinking of the Morris choir before that, or if that prompted it. Anyway, I found their website again, and saw/heard them elsewhere online. I saw they were on Tuesdays, and thought I'd give them a go.

I went along (to a room upstairs at the Hope and Anchor on Upper Street, where they meet) on Tuesday 25 June, which I think may have been the first Tuesday after I'd decided to see what it was like. I'd noticed on the website that it said that they currently had a full complement. I'd also noticed that the last Tuesday of the month was usually a folk club, with a shorter, open rehearsal beforehand, and I thought that would be a good way to see what the choir was like without crashing a rehearsal. I wasn't sure of the set-up, though, or even if there was definitely a folk club on, so on the day I sent messages to the website email address and the Facebook page, but didn't hear anything (I had left it till the afternoon, so wasn't completely surprised), so decided just to go along anyway.

I'm glad I didn't get a reply, because they'd probably have put me off coming, because it turned out there wasn't a folk club at all, as they were having a concert on the Saturday so had decided to rehearse for that, so I turned up in the middle of the rehearsal. They were apologetic, but I didn't mind, and in fact it suited me better, because I just joined in with them as they were rehearsing. It was mostly solidly folk songs, with some modern songs, but I liked the arrangements.

I didn't go along to hear the concert, but I did go along the next Tuesday for the next rehearsal, but found no one there except a woman who was about to do a try-out for her Edinburgh Fringe comedy show. She was Catriona Knox, and I stayed for it, and enjoyed it. Again Michelle was very apologetic when I emailed to say I'd gone along but no one was there - I hadn't got onto the emailing list yet, so didn't get the email saying the rehearsal was cancelled because the pub had let the room to someone else and so they had a social meeting in a pub elsewhere.

I was signed up to the email group, and read back through emails, which gave me a good flavour of the choir. I remember liking the swopping of information about folk gigs and folk songs there was. I also noticed the info about the choir's coming involvement in a play called The Events at the Young Vic. The emails also indicated that they were looking for a few more men, so the website was a little out of date in that regard; I think I picked up more recently that there is a waiting list for women.

I went back on the next Tuesday, by which time I was pretty sure I was going to give it a go, and the Tuesday after that. And the Tuesday after that, 23 July, was the night James and Polina from the Actors Touring Company came to rehearse us for The Events dress rehearsal the following night.

Friday, 4 October 2013

son of stickler - follow-up appointments

I had my follow-up appointment on Friday 20 September, two weeks after the surgery, at 10.40. I was seen pretty quickly for the initial measurement and assessment, but then saw people come and go for the rest of the morning. The chap who saw me saw I was still there and went to see why. I'm not sure whether I was being saved up or had been overlooked, but someone had my file. I saw a doctor soon after that - I'm going to guess she was Spanish, though I didn't catch her name, though she was very communicative and helpful. She had a look, wanted to have a better look and get the senior doctor (it was Ms Obi's clinic, so may have been her) to have a look too, so put some drops in and asked me to wait to be seen again in about fifteen minutes; it was about 1.15, so I asked if I could go and eat something, which I did.

So, they said that the op had gone well, but that there were two things which concerned them. One was that the pressure in my eye was still too high, as it had been at the time of the operation. (In fact, the ?spanish doctor wondered to herself why I'd been given my follow-up appointment as part of their clinic, which I gathered was more of a glaucoma-related clinic, but I guess worked out it was because of this high pressure; glaucoma, it turns out, is caused by high pressure in the eye.) I was prescribed Azarga, two drops a day. I'd still be on the Maxitrol, the post-op eye drops, going down from four to two drops as scheduled the following day for another two weeks. Azarga is one of those drops with a big list of side effects and who shouldn't take it, and where they ask you if you have any problems with your heart (nothing beyond hypochondria, I thought), and where you have to press the corner of your eye for two minutes after putting it in so that it doesn't get into the rest of your body too much.

The other was that the lens was not sitting in the central position in my eye that it should be, but was slightly to the side. This was not because it had been put in wrongly, but because the sac in my eye in which the lens sits was off-centre. They didn't want to go back in (the sac is held in place by, I'm calling them threads, and I guess trying to adjust them would be major if in fact possible at all), but wanted to see me again, I presumed so they could see how I was coping with this off-centre lens; if I was coping fine, I guessed, that would be fine, and if not they would have a think.

They made me a pair of appointments for Tue 1 October at the same clinic, first for a thorough eye test with the optometrist before being seen by the doctor. (On paper I had 1.30pm appointment with Mr Lim the doctor and 3pm with the optometrist Ms Patel, but they told me to to turn up for the 3pm appointment, as the doctor couldn't see me usefully until I'd had the eye test.) I wasn't cleared for getting a new eye test with a view to getting new glasses.

I remembered on the way home that in the post-retina-op process there had been talk of something being off centre so that my vision wasn't hitting the best place on the back of my eye; I guessed this was the same thing and was sorry I hadn't remembered during the appointment. I wasn't sure whether it would have made any difference in any case - I don't think they thought the off-centredness was a result of the cataract op, and I'm not sure if it was a result of the retina op or if it was something I'd always had or had been developing because of the Stickler's. (I had remembered to mention the retina op and the Stickler's in this appointment.)

I wasn't worried about the high pressure or the off-centre lens, they being under care, but was disappointed about the 'not yet' on getting new glasses. I still had the micropore tape on the right lens.

On Tuesday 1st Oct - this Tuesday - I went in for my 3pm eye test first. The optometrist's name on my prescription was J Mehta, so I presume it was her (of course she told me when I went in, but I never remember). She gave me a full eye test on both eyes (whether or not it was relevant, I told her re the retina, the stickler's and the cataract). At the end she wrote me a new prescription, and said that, as long as the doctor said it was okay, I could get new glasses on the basis of that prescription, which took me by surprise. She went to talk to the doctor while I waited in the corridor, and in no time at all I was in to see the doctor.

I had still had the micropore tape on the right lens, and explained why when she asked, that it had been too disconcerting after the op when the glasses lens was too strong for my needs, which she was fine with. But she took the tape off to measure the strength of the glasses, and I found when I put them back on that they weren't as disconcerting as they had been. And as I sat in the corridor I was pretty sure that I could cope and get about now without putting the tape back on. I have; I guess my eye just needed that bit more time of recovery (and also, of course, there's the good old adaptable brain adjusting). The day after I was still covering the right eye up for reading and computer screen, but I don't need to do that now so much. The wateriness, grittiness and light sensitivity have all pretty much gone too.

The doctor - the ?spanish woman again, with as per last time a once-over from the senior doctor, Mr Lim in this case - tested the pressure again and was very happy with it. She said I should stop the Maxitrol on schedule and just carry on with the Argaxa, and that would be us; as we talked, however, she realised I hadn't been on the Argaxa before but only since the op (ie I guess that I wasn't a glaucoma patient); so she said I should stop the Argaxa when I stopped the Maxitrol (that is, yesterday as I write), and they made another appointment a month hence at which they would test my eye pressure again. If it was fine, then that was fine, it was obviously high related to the op, and was now back to normal; if it was high again, then it might be a permanent after-effect relating to silicone and I would need to go back onto the Argaxa (I guess forever).

As far as the off-centre lens went, she didn't mention that specifically at all. But she said that the eye test done today had shown that I could get a prescription that would take me back up to 6 (in both eyes, I presume) - I presume that means normal vision - and so it was apparent that their concern in the previous appointment was that they would not be able to do that. Again she said, apparently to confirm with me, that the target for the outcome had been such that I would still be short-sighted and need glasses; I said yes. The senior doctor had a quick look and was happy. I was sent off having been told that I could now get new glasses.

Yesterday morning I went into the Institute of Optometry and spent over an hour choosing frames and lenses. I came out £585 lighter, and should get my glasses in a fortnight. The lenses are expensive, only partly because I'm getting light-reaction built in, which will help since I am more light-sensitive in the right eye since the retina op. I looked at quite a lot of frames without regard to price, and came down to two which were both equally expensive; still, they're going to be on my face all the time, I will hopefully have them for a number of years, and it would potentially be a false economy to put very expensive lenses into cheap frames.

As for my eye, we'll see how it feels - how they both feel - when I have my new prescription glasses.

As far as the eye lens goes, Douglas said that a colleague of his has had both his done, and it is disconcerting because both his pupils now appear to sparkle. I haven't noticed such an effect. What I did notice immediately after unveiling the eye the day after the op was how different the colours were from each eye. Everyone says it's much brighter, which is true, but more than that, everything was whites and blues compared to browns and yellows; it was very striking when you alternated between eyes. I don't know if this is all to do with the lens or also to do with the fact that the right eye since the retina op has been full of aqueous rather than vitreous fluid. Either way, I anticipated that the brain would adjust to balance this out; the effect does certainly seem less marked now; I wonder how it will be with the new prescription. There will be more adjustments for the eyes and brain to make then anyway, of course, both for the correct prescription but also for the physical differences in the glasses lenses. The woman in the optician's was taking quite detailed adjustments and measurements, especially in relation to which point on each glasses lens I would most naturally be looking out of, given the position of my pupils, and she indicated that this in particular was quite different from the way my current glasses were configured and would take a bit of getting used to.

So, a couple of weeks till the new glasses, another couple more to the next appointment.

Friday, 27 September 2013

son of stickler - cataract op

On Thursday 5 September I went in about an hour early - before half eleven - for them to redo the eye measurement test, again on the fancier machine. I'm not sure now if it was because they wanted to try to get a better reading or if it was because they thought the eye pressure had been significantly higher than they'd have liked and they wanted to see if it had come down. Either way, it was still high, I heard later.

I went up to the unit where they do the surgery for half twelve. I had the logging in process with the nurse, with measurements and questions and drops, and then waited with the others for the doctor to come on at half one and do the preliminary conversations and assessments with us all, after which they would decide the order we would be done in (I remembered from the last time that this was the way they did it, so wasn't expecting my op to be anytime near half twelve - we'd all have been called for that time). I sat in the corner by the window, it's a great waiting room, up there on the eighth floor of the north wing, looking down onto County Hall and the river; it was a nice day, and people were out on the hospital grass.

When the doctor came, she explained what I said above re the assessments and ordering. The person I thought of when I saw her first was Phoebe from church, though she didn't look that much like her in reality; I described her at work as 'the schoolgirl who operated on me'; she did look very young, but I didn't mind that; she was a registrar, her name was Anna (I couldn't find her on the website after, or the staff board in the hospital, I guess because she's not part of the permanent staff), and I'd guess very loosely that she had a south-east Asian background, though her accent made me think of Germany. Unless I see her name on a related document I'll never know any more about her, probably.

When I went in she had a look in my eye. She asked me if I'd had iritis. I said I didn't know what that was, but that I had had retinal detachment surgery. That's important for me to know, she said, which confirmed to me the importance of not assuming that they've had time to read your file in detail rather than just having picked it up when you came into the room. So I said also that the detachment has been the result of me having Stickler's syndrome. She mostly then spent the time telling me that because of the previous surgery and the Stickler's there was a much-increased chance of complications, or lack of success, during or after the operation; it was more complicated for me, but they'd try to sort out anything that arose at the time, 'on the table'; I was fine with that, as usual; operations have risks, and even if a worst-case scenario is blindness, well, that's the definite scenario without an op. (A couple of people in the process - I think she was one of them - asked me if I'd had the other eye done yet, which wasn't very encouraging; perhaps non-post-op cataracts usually come in pairs; or perhaps Sticker's ones usually do.)

I came out thinking I'd surely be on first or last, and sure enough when she'd seen everyone and came out - about half two - to tell us the running order - emphasising that the order was for no reason other than medical reasons - I was on last (out of five or six). I went to the desk and told them I was on last, so could I go and eat something; they said fine, so I took off my gown, retrieved my rucksack from the locker, and off I went downstairs to shepherd's hall and had a meal, then went out and rang Bethan. I didn't rush, as there were four or five people to be operated on before me, but when I came back up a nurse said she'd been looking for me to give me a tablet to reduce the pressure in the eye before the op. When I went back into the waiting area there were two people out already having had their surgery, and a third came out soon after that; they were really rattling through them.

I waited as the others went and came. A young couple were waiting, and a different surgeon came out to tell them the op on the child had gone very well, and that she was still sleeping but they'd take them in so they'd be there when she woke up. I would hear - but not see - that surgeon later.

I waited, feeling too full and sorry that I'd had a twix with my coffee after the meal since I hadn't expected the op to be coming so soon and I was afraid I might be sick if I was nervous (no reason to think I would do that, of course). I was prepared and taken to the entry room to the theatre, but was taken away again because I'd been called too early and they were still stitching up the person before (I think they may all have been women, in fact). Then taken back to the entry room. I don't remember during which of the entry waiting periods I heard a child howling - from what I took to be the adjacent operating theatre - and said to the nurse, that'll be me; it so won't be, she said. I don't know if it was the child mentioned earlier; I thought at the time it was more likely another one. The second time I was taken into the entry room I asked what the time was; it was twenty to five.

When I was back in the waiting area I asked someone there what the time was; it was quarter past five. So although it had been complicated, it hadn't taken longer, or much longer, than a routine one. So it was much shorter than the retina op, and I'd say it was less gruelling. I'd say I experienced more pain during it, though; either this is because, happily, the memory of pain fades pretty effectively, or because the surgery was less major/invasive and so there was less anaesthetic knocking about. There was more sharp pain and less - none, really - of the pulling/tugging/manipulating which is my major memory of the retina surgery. I told them near the start that I was feeling pain, and they gave me a bit more anaesthetic. I didn't need to tell them, because I was doing a lot of toe wiggling, making little noises and making my body very tense, all of which they told me I had to try not to do, because it was making me move but also because it was increasing the pressure in the eye which was already making it difficult. When I say 'they', it was mostly the other surgeon who was telling me this. I don't think any of this was said to me directly, but rather my registrar surgeon Anna talking to the other, obviously more senior, surgeon (who I"m pretty sure was Luis Amaya, who I see has one of his specialities as paediatric opthalmology; she had put me on last obviously because I was more potentially complicated, but also because she had asked him if he would stay to be on hand after he'd done his ops. He stayed, and she talked to him throughout, but at no point did I get any sense that he was intervening or taking over; on the contrary, his primary contribution, apart from telling me to relax, was to assure her that she was doing very well and that her decisions were the right ones. She checked with him the strength of the lens which the doctor on Tuesday had recommended putting in, I think because she wasn't sure it was right or perhaps that she'd understood it right, but he confirmed it.

Before the op I'd avoided doing too much online research, and was happy with just looking at this page on the NHS website, which contained a nice animation re the procedure (I definitely wanted to avoid seeing any real-life footage). I'm pretty sure the procedure as outlined there is what I had. I heard the sound of the thing they used to break up the 'cataract' (though in reality that seems to mean the whole actual lens, since they insert a whole new lens in its place), which is an extraordinary thought that they can break it up with sound.

The most unnerving thing - and I really don't remember this from before - is that for much longer I could see relatively clearly out of my eye, so I could see them approaching with various implements. I really didn't like that at all. On one of the occasions on which I made a noise they asked if whatever they were doing was causing discomfort, and I said no, but I can really see you. I thought I should say this, in case I wasn't meant to be able to see them so well, but she was quite laid back about it and said that that was normal in this kind of procedure.

When they were finished and getting me ready to get off the table, one of the nurses expressed surprise at how drenched in sweat I was; were you really nervous, she said; yes, I said.

I wasn't the only one, as it turned out. Anna said as I lay there after we'd finished that she'd been very nervous about doing it, but that it had gone really well, it couldn't have gone better. You don't mind hearing your surgeon saying they're nervous, as long as it's after the op and the op has been successful; not what you want to hear beforehand. She came into the waiting room later to tell me again that it had gone well; perhaps because they thought I had been such an anxious patient that I needed further reassurance.

I phoned Bethan, who had already rung the hospital and so was on a bus on the way, and I got a cup of tea and a biscuit. After they arrived I was discharged with some post-op eye drops - Maxitrol, one drop four times a day for a fortnight then twice a day for another fortnight - and three days worth of tablets to keep the pressure down in the eye. I was told to take it easy for the next day or so, and not too much bending, but that was it; a very different recovery process from the retina.

As I said to people later, if the next day had been one of my working days, and it had been a day of meetings rather than screenwork, I could have gone in; I felt a bit washed out, that was all; and I didn't feel any particular pain in the days after that led me to taking any more paracetamol than I would normally have done in any given week. I slept sitting up for a couple of nights, although they hadn't asked me to do that and it was more for myself, wary of knocking the eye knowing that I move about a lot in my sleep; they gave me an eye shield to wear at night, which I am still wearing (again, I don't suppose most people would wear it this long), but won't for much longer.

The eye has felt fine, just feeling things which I remember from last time and so which I'm not worried about feeling this time - sometimes a bit watery (hardly now), sometimes a bit gritty/stingy (less so now), and sometimes a bit light sensitive (getting back to my usual level of light sensitivity now, I think).

Saturday, 7 September 2013

son of stickler - from post-retina op discharge to eve of cataract op day

(I should say at the outset, as per similar post-op emails in early 2010, that I'm typing this mostly without looking at the computer, which is my pre-emptive excuse for the typos.) So, I had retinal detachment surgery in January 2010, due in large part to me having something genetic called Stickler's syndrome, previously undiagnosed. I knew that in due course a post-operative catarct would form in that, right eye, which I would need to get removed.

At the end of spring I went to get my eyes tested, primarily because the left eye was obviously feeling the efects of three years working on its own, more or less, and I was having more difficulty reading, espeically noticeable when precenting or reading choir music. I had decided to change opticians and went to the Institute of Ophthalmology, which is walking distance from our house and which the others had been to recently ( I found out later, soring through paperwork, that I had actually had an eye test there years ago, I guess before even I worked at Scripture Union, which had the opticians very near which i went to then and had still been going to). I understood that you had to wait until the cataract was well in before you should think about getting it removed, and I knew it was coming on well. I hadn't realised until I did the eye test that it had quite gone so far, as I ouldn't even see the letter at the top of the chart, and I remembered how much of the chart I could read when I had my eyes tested for new glasses after the operation and aftermath were all over. The opticians, fair enough, wouldn't give me a new prescription for my left eye as there was no point in doing so, since they couldn't give my right eye a proper test, and I'd need new glasses again after the cataract op which they thought I was going to need. They also had a good look at my left eye, and got someone in to have a second look, as there was patch at the veryedge of theri sight of my retina which they weren't sure about. that I have an ophthalmogical referral to look at my left retina and to determine whether there should be cataract surgery on the right eye.

The process is that they write a letter to my GP with the outcome of the eye test and their recommendation. The GP then refers me to the hospital for an assessment. In fact Southwark have asytem set up, to speed things up, whereby some opticians have someone who is accredited to do those appointments, which means you can get an appointment faster than going through the hospital. As it turned out, because of my prior surgery the chosen optician wasn't prepared to do the test, so I had to get a hospital appointment anyway. They offered me one whil I was on holiday, so I had it put back a week to the day after we got back from holiday - this Tuesday.

I didn't mind the wait. It did make me a bit frustrated with myself that I hadn't gone for an eye tst sooner, since it left me with the left eye reading problem for longer than was necessary when I getthe impression I could have gone back with the cataract sooner.

What I wasn't clear on, though, was where I now was in the process - that is whether this Tuesday's appointment was a pre-pre-op appointment, when they would look at my eye and say yes, you do need a cataract op, we'll get you into the system and call you back for a pre-op appointment, or whether this was a pre-op appontment when they would confirm I needed an op and get the bakk rolling there and then. It did turn out to be a pre-op appointmet of the latter kind.

So on Tuesday I trod the familiar corridors of the St Thomas's eye department, did various measurements, details and drops with the nurse, then saw Prof Zuberbuhler, who took a look at the right eye and offered me a cataract op. He also looked at the left eye and said it was fine, which was reassuring. He gave me all the info about the risks and possibilities of it being unsuccessful, as they have to do before they get you to sign the consent form, and then I signed the consent form (the worst outcome he said was one in five hundred chance I'd lose the sight in the eye, but the alternative is not having surgery and not seeing out of the eye to any effect anyway). As with the retinal surgery, I had drops in my eyes when I was given th form, so i couldn't actually read the document which I was signing, which I still think is funny.

I did some more preparatory tests and measurements after that with a nurse. They had difficulty doing one of the biometric tests, I think because the cataract was so bad. So while they waited for someone to be free to redo the test for me on another machine, they sent me to the reception desk to get a date for the op; they reckoned the waiting time was usualy four or five weeks. When I saw the guy, he offered me the 5th of September. I said 'what?'; I assumed he meant October and had made a mistake. He loooked at me puzzled. You mean three days from now, I said. Two days, he said; Thursday. Oh, I said; I took a moment to think about it, and couldn't think why not, so I said okay. Then I had my tests redone on the other machine by a nurse practitioner (I needed anaesthetic drops in my eye for this,a s it obviously involved direct contact with my eyeball), though she still seemed to be having some trouble.

The doctor had talked about my new lens. He had said they could give me a lens that would mean I only needed glasses for reading, but they didn't like to make the eyes more of a difference than 3 otherwise they would find it very hard to work together. (In my 2010 test the left was minus 6 and the right minus 3.75; this May's test said right was minus 4, though I don't undestand how that was worked out.) So he told me which minus number he'd aim to make the new lens, and said that when it came to the left one they would then leapfrog that lens accordingly to being that much better than the right eye. The nurse practitioner mentioned a new lens as well and I asked her about it. I had thought that they removed the cataract f rom the lens and so restored the lens to more or less what it had been before (hence my thinking of it as 'cataract removal surgery); she said lots of people make that mistake, but infact what they do is take the whole lens out and put in a new artificial lens. So it is less cataract removal surgery than lens replacement surgery. I guess it did used to be more as I had imagined it in 'olden days'. This I guess whas why the doctor on Tueay - and the surgeon on Thursday, when it came to it - was at pains to emphasise that I would still need glasses adn that I would not be getting perfect distance vision. I hadn't expected any change in my distance vision, but I guess some people (who are better informed than me about the actual process) do expect that.

Bethan asked if the Sticklers had come up with the doctor, and I said it hadn't, but I assumed he was a ware of it, since that and all the retinal detachment stuff was isn the folder of notes, I presumed, since that's where I'd had it done. She said not to assume they had picked that up, and to be sure to mention it on Thursday.

I went from the hospital to work after lunch, then to Morris Folk Choir in the evening; I went into work onWednesday morning and home as usual at lunchtime; then handed cherub over to Bethan at her work and went to my other choir, the London Gallery Quire in the evening. Just before I went out to meet Bethan I got a call from the hospital asking me to come in a bit earlier on Thursday in order to repeat some of the biometry (I guessed, correctly, that it was that final test).

It seemed a bit surreal that it was all happening so fast, especialy since I hadn't even been certain that Tuesday's appointment was a 'pre-op' one. But I didn't mind at all; less time to think about it. With my retinal surgery, of course, I toddled along on the Monday after New Year to eye a&e and was under the knife on the Thursday, I think. So, two quick ones.

The day of the op will be covered in a separate post.

Monday, 26 August 2013

private eye cartoons

26 July: A couple returning home to find their house on fire. One saying to the other, 'Well, that's a relief - I'm not going mad after all. I really did leave the oven on.' Rings true.

9 August: Two people at drinks party. Man: 'So how are things at the library?' Woman: 'Oh, you know - quiet...'

Sunday, 25 August 2013

never have your dog stuffed

While on holiday I bought (in Blythswood charity shop in Inverness) Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, by Alan Alda, and subsequently read it. It was very enjoyable. Well written (I didn't realise he'd done so much writing of scripts himself, as well as acting), in a way which wasn't just a detailed run through the CV but which focussed on key episodes and elements through his life, in a way which made you feel like you were getting the full story in a satisfying way which might make you not realise that in fact it was being quite selective.

(It made me think of visiting the Roman site near Shrewsbury and using the audio guide, where I had just that same experience at the end of thinking I had had a very good tour around the site and looking back and realising that I had been led very carefully through it and that there were lots of areas I hadn't walked through at all - but I hadn't felt I was being limited as I went and I didn't feel that I'd missed anything and needed to explore any of the other areas afterwards.)

Quite a lot of it was about his relationship with his parents, especially his mother, who was mentally ill. He's the kind of person you see on telly and think he seems like a nice person, and you hope he is, and the book supported that hope.

The title was a metaphor relating to something that actually happened. His family did have their beloved dog stuffed after it died, but it was badly done, especially the face; but he found that his memory of what the dog was actually like was replaced by his image of the stuffed dog; the preserved memory pushes out and distorts the reality of the original. 'I see now that stuffing your dog is more than what happens when you take a dead body and turn it into a souvenir. It's also what happens when you hold on to any living moment longer than it wants you to. Memory can be a kind of mental taxidermy, trying to hold on to the present after it's become the past.' (p31).

Two more quotes:

It was on that carpet [of that childhood home] that I lay with books from the shelves and, propped on my elbows, read them for hours during long afternoons. The living room shelves must have been decorated with books by the yard, chosen mainly for their bindings. I pulled down dozens of large, beautiful red leather books called the *Congressional Record*. I was delighted to see they were written in dialogue, my favorite form, and I enjoyed them. I especially enjoyed the sarcasm these people used against one another, even after the elaborate show of courtesy to 'the distinguished gentleman from Vermont.' *These* guys were funny.
- p42, Arrow Books, 2007 paperback edition

The difference between listening and pretending to listen [on stage], I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I'm willing to let them change me, something happens between us that's more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues. Like so much of what I learned in the theater, this turned out to be how life works, too.
- p211

Like most books these days which were first published in America, incidentally, it was not Anglicised for the British edition, which I still find annoying.

kathy burke quote

A Facebook thread reminded me of this: Kathy Burke gave one of the best answers I ever saw in one of those celeb questionnaire items in a magazine (Saturday Guardian supplement, probably):
Q: What's the worst thing anyone's ever said to you?
A: 'You look like Kathy Burke. No offence.'

hawk and fisher; sara paretsky

I had it in mind that an interesting crossover genre would be detective/mystery story set in fantasy context. I'm not sure where I heard of Simon R Green's series featuring Hawk and Fisher, two city guards solving crimes in a fantasy city, but I got a three-in-one volume of the first three in the series. I read the first one, Hawk & Fisher, while on holiday just now, and don't feel inclined to read the other two (or, if his other fantasy books are like this - I'd never heard of him, but he's written quite a lot - any other of his books). It was cliche-ridden and the dialogue was poorly written. Another one of those increasing number of books which makes me think, how did this get published and I could do better than this, but in a way which depresses rather than encourages. All well enough to think that, but the fact is that he did in the first instance actually take the trouble to write it and then worked to get it published; I can think all I like that the books I've never written would be better than so many of the books I've read...

The story itself was a classic (in the sense of archetypal, rather than great) locked room, country house mystery, with usual sets of characters, relationships and motives; it could be changed into a non-fantasy version without too much difficulty.

After I read that I started reading Toxic Shock, a VI Warshawski novel by Sara Paretsky, which Bethan had just finished but didn't much like (first of hers she'd read, and also that I was trying), but baled out after a couple of chapters. It was ticking key boxes I didn't like - unsympathetic main character, gritty modern American, plot and setting which didn't interest me - plus the fact that Bethan didn't like it (and didn't say 'but I think you might').

The Hawk & Fisher omnibus was the only novel I brought with me, and I've been avoiding buying too many more books knowing that I'd be carrying them home. I bought a commentary, which I won't be reading now, and Alan Alda's autobiog, which I have now read and of which more later, and The Claw of the Conciliator (second volume in Gene Wolfe's New Sun series), which I thought I'd save for later (but may yet start). So I've started Wind in the Willows, which is in the house, and which I've never read and is on a couple of my 'best books' lists (though reading children's classics as an adult rarely works, I've found), and I can pick it up easily if I don't finish it here.