Wednesday, 27 February 2013

hebrews, and both kings

Doing the house group is good for getting through commentaries; I always read through a commentary of the book we're studying. I usually get the IVP Tyndale one. I've just finished the one on Hebrews by Donald Guthrie, which was pretty good, and will shortly finish DJ Wiseman's on 1&2 Kings (we studied 2 Kings before Hebrews, but not 1 Kings, so I've been reading the first half of the commentary since we finished), which was very good on technical, archaeology and history, but less application (though of course there's less application in there, to be fair). Next we're going to do some minor prophets; I'll see which they put together in commentaries.

pillars of gold

I remember saying to Alison Lyon that it was always good when you read your first book by a particular author which you thought was very good, and you knew you had all the other books they'd written to look forward to. That was a long time ago, because I had just read my first Alice Thomas Ellis. I read a few after that, but I hadn't read any for ages, apart from Home Life (collected newspaper columns) a year or two ago, until I read Pillars of Gold in the last couple of weeks, and it was rather disappointing. Oh well.

I started another on my shelf - with in mind to create space, as with Pillars, as well as the fact that they are small to carry around (so many of the books I want to read are huge and unsuited to reading out and about), and short (wanting a couple of quick wins to make up for some of the other doorstops I'm curently working through) - and realised before long (when I came across the line about the good dying young because only the young are good) that I'd read it before, but I'll still read it all. It's Skeleton in the Cupboard, part of a trilogy of books which are the same story told by three different characters in the story. Hard to remember which ones I've read, clearly, and ATE wasn't one I'd done a list for of which books I'd read; I have now.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

online comments

I have never read the comments at the end of an online article and thought 'I'm glad I broke my rule never to read the comments at the end of an online article'.

foxes and dogs

Number-crunching from the current (22 Feb) issue of Private Eye:
4 - Fox attacks on children reported in last 10 years, leading to call for cull of foxes
6,000 - Dog attacks on children requiring hospital treatment each year, not leading to call for cull of dogs

Saturday, 16 February 2013

old red lion gig

Went to my first gig of the year on Tue 22 Jan, continuing my midlife crisis tour of unknown bands in tiny venues. Looking for a Tuesday gig, I saw this free one at the Old Red Lion on Kennington Park Road, which along with the Mansion House is between the Tesco and the chip shop on the way to the tube. It's had an overhaul in recent years, and is now rather a trendy place (part of the Antic London chain) - I asked if they had any cider on tap and they had three, only one of which I'd heard of. The clientele at the gig matched the demographic, trendy 20s and 30s, perhaps a bit crustier. It was a free gig, in a room at the back; I was in what probably used to be a cupboard but which gave me a pretty good view, plus a seat to sit down and read in in-between acts (and also meant that I could write notes on a bit of paper - the back of an Old Red Lion menu - to help me remember who was on in what order and what they were like).

It was what was described as a folk-punk gig, part of a label tour, with one local extra on first. The artists knew each other (a lot of cross-performing going on), and seemed to know and be known by many of the crowd; felt very much like a little sub-culture of its own; the top man seemed to be a hero to this small roomful of people, and as the evening went on there were more songs which people clearly recognised and sang along to, in the last two sets in particular.

Survival Tour. Red Scare Records/Darlington Road Records. On in this order: Helen Chambers (Twitter and Bandcamp). El Morgan (Twitter and full site). Roo Pescod (Twitter). Kelly Kemp (Twitter). Great Cynics (mainly Giles Bidder, I think) (Twitter). Sam Russo (Twitter).

A photo from the gig. A review (and another) of The Darlington Road Sessions, the album which the tour is at least partly promoting, and the album on Bandcamp. A preview of the tour.

I don't expect to see any of them making waves (or perhaps even trying to do so) beyond their own sub-culture, where they seem perfectly happy (and why shouldn't they be) - except perhaps Helen Chambers, who seemed somewhat different from the rest of the pack, and seemed to me to have more talent. I appreciated her more as the evening went on, as I hadn't expected the first act to be my favourite. She had a pleasant voice (more of a vibrato - if that's the right word - than I am keen on), and sang country/folk-style songs with unremarkable words but actual tunes. The thing I have mainly learned from my midlife crisis tour is how hard it is for people to write actual tunes, however technically proficient they may or may not be. The rest of the evening (a mixture of singer-songwriter and shouty folk-punk) held little in the way of actual tunes, or voices or playing which grabbed me; Sam Russo was the best of the rest, sang and played well with okay words and music, but I still wasn't that keen, and left before he had finished, knowing there was no one else to follow. (I took notes at the time, but it seems unnecessarily harsh to note the different ways I wasn't keen on each of them.) On my way out I saw Helen Chambers, now in the main pub talking with friends who had been in the same corner as me, and I expressed my appreciation to her. Talking to the performers - another mark of my midlife crisis.

Sunday, 10 February 2013


I watched Telstar - The Joe Meek Story off the digibox last month. It was a good film, though a sad story. The lead actor, Con O'Neill was very good, but doesn't look like he's done anything else notable, which is always striking when you see such a good performance. Looks like he came out of musical theatre (it's possible that I saw him in Blood Brothers, though he may not have still been in it when I saw it), and the film was based on a play. It would be interesting to seek out interview footage of Joe Meek to see how accurate his accent in particular was. Of course, here's one on Youtube; the film accent was less RP, more regional (he was from Gloucestershire).

all families are psychotic

Last month finished All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Soon after I started I was feeling like I should concentrate on reading books about British people, as I was finding it very unengaging and with ridiculous combinations of plot devices, but I got into it and enjoyed it as I've enjoyed most of his books which I've read, which is quite a lot of them, actually (I haven't been reading them in order consciously, but it is mostly the later ones which I have still to read). He's one of the contemporary writers I've read most of, and I like his writing style in general. Microserfs still my favourite.

ice sculpting festival

On Saturday 12th January we went to the London Ice Sculpting Festival at Canary Wharf. We were later getting there than we'd planned, but that worked out pretty well, as it was really cold, exposed to the wind, and there wasn't much else to do there apart from look at the ice sculptures and buy food off the stalls, but we stayed around longer than we might otherwise have to hear the announcement of the results. Some of the sculptures were pretty impressive.

Friday, 8 February 2013

night at the museum

Watched Night At The Museum as a family on the digibox in January; wasn't as bad as I'd feared, although even within its own fantasy parameters it had gaping and annoying holes of plot and logic, which I insist it's legitimate to be bothered by (don't get me started on Nativity 2). As we were watching it we were recording Night At The Museum 2, so that's still to come.

praying and labouring

I must pray as much as if I were nothing, and labour as much as if I were to do all.
- Andrew Bonar, Diary and Life; Banner of Truth, 1960; p34 (from diary entry for Sabbath 23 August 1835)

I just searched the blog to see if I'd previously noted this quote, which I've just come across where I noted it down in an old notebook, and saw that I hadn't but found some other quotes from the same book. I then looked it up in the book to see if it had actually said 'were to do nothing', but I'd noted it correctly.

Monday, 4 February 2013

the steep approach to garbadale; the algebraist

In January I finished The Steep Approach To Garbadale by Iain Banks, which I'd borrowed from the library and renewed - it wasn't a slow read, but I didn't read it over Christmas. It was okay, but not as good as others - entertaining extended family network, of a kind he's done before, but too many of the plot machinations seemed either too implausible or too predictable. An entertaining and easy read, but insubstantial and unpersuasive.

I'd read from the library just previously The Algebraist, the book which preceded it, in his SF/non-SF alternation. He's one of the writers I read in order, and I hadn't read any for a while because this one had passed out of the library and I never spotted it cheaply in a charity shop. I ordered it in the library in the end, which I don't mind doing from time to time, just as I don't mind paying fines from time to time, since I look as it as a way to subsidise the library service, which I can well afford. The Algebraist similarly was okay, not top-notch. Packed with ideas, though, some things thrown away in a paragraph that other people would build a whole book on. Though of course it's much easier to throw it away in a para that turn it into a book.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

indiana jones and the last crusade

We watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on Saturday the 5th, after getting back from Scotland. We've watched those first three over the last year or two with the younger generation, though I've seen them before. I'm not actually that keen on them, more because I don't actually like that kind of film than because they're not good films of their kind. I find the relentless and unbelievable plot and action rather tedious. Characterisation and dialogue aren't their strong points.

going to sea in a sieve; the postman

I haven't completed the lists in the back of my 2012 diary yet, but a preliminary count looks like I hit the rarely-achieved feat of reading an average of a book a week. Some of those, of course, would have been books started in a previous year, and a couple were of the EH/NT property guidebook type, so not that impressive.

But then I started off this year well by finishing two books on New Year's Day, both of which I'd read entirely on holiday - Danny Baker's first volume of autobiography, Going To Sea In A Sieve, I got from the Rolls for Christmas, while David Brin's The Postman was one which I took from home knowing I could read it while away and then leave in Lewis to be disposed off, to lighten the load on the return journey since we were travelling by plane and train.

Going To Sea In A Sieve was as good as I'd expected, written very much as you'd imagine him saying it. I'm a big fan of Danny Baker's radio work, though I'm almost completely unfamiliar with the TV programmes he's most associated with - the news magazine programmes which he became well-known in were London only, and I never really watched TFI Friday (for which he was a main writer). I did watch and enjoy his short-lived chat show, where I remember all the musical guests had to do a Beatles cover. It was a hardback, and I left it in Lewis, though I intend to retrieve it.

David Brin's The Postman I'd had in mind to read for a long time, and I quite enjoyed it. It's post-apocalyptic, a genre I quite like, and though the central conceit - someone by accident pretending to be a postman representative of a non-existent re-established US government helping to rebuild society by people buying into this idea - was implausible, it did have some other interesting ideas. The most interesting, and convincing, was the re-establishment of any organised authority being scuppered, immediately and ongoing, by individual survivalists and local militia asserting violently their own control and independence. I picked up another couple of David Brin's at the same time as that one; I'm not sure if I'll read them, though he does have a couple of volumes from his Uplift series in various best SF lists, though none are the ones I have.

Friday, 1 February 2013

the black house

I read The Black House, by Peter May, last year. The first in a set of three detective novels set in Lewis. At the time when I got it out of the library I said 'Fearful of being infuriated by gross caricature of Lewis life in general and Lewis Christian life in particular but hoping for the best.'

It turned out that the writer had worked on Machair, the Gaelic soap opera which was filmed in Lewis for a number of years, so he was pretty familiar with the island - but also familiar with over-the-top soap opera cliches.

Soon after I started reading it I said, 'What I'll say at this point is that it's interesting trying to read it as if I don't know anything about Lewis, and trying to work out the picture it creates, especially for people who aren't picking up on (trivial?) mistakes of detail in eg geography and chronology/history, which I'm trying to let pass in a spirit of it being a fictional Lewis so not everything has to be exactly as it is/was. (Perhaps, say, people in Oxford have similar thoughts about Morse.) But for me he's going to have to go some to recover from the 'first day at school' section where the children speak, think and act closer to fifteen than five. I haven't warmed to his writing talent, but his plotting may win me over.'

Well, he didn't win me over. I didn't think it was well written, and I felt it was cliched in all the usual, negative grim ways, including about Lewis religion (this is I think the more common thread in contemporary fiction set in the Highlands, especially by people from the Highlands, than the over-romanticised or mystical angles of old, but maybe I'd still get those today if I was reading the right books). He also seemed to throw every conceivable plot point into the mix, which was annoying. Also annoying were the factual mistakes - as I say I tried to ignore those in a spirit of fairness, but conversely he should have got them right. (Someone's tweets on the book also made me think that people at home were having fun working out which locals the various characters were based on.) And I felt that especially on over-extended account of the guga-hunting trip he wanted too much to get his money's worth out of his research and put it all on the page, which was very tedious.

Having said all that, of course, I'll read the subsequent two in due course, because of the setting. There aren't that many Lewis-set books. (I still haven't read Kevin Macneil's, which I understand to be in the grim if humorous vein.)

Plenty London-set books, of course, and adds a dimension to reading those too, knowing the locations. But of course never enough to make you carry on with series you don't like (recent examples, first Bryant & May and Rivers of London, both also detective), because there are so many others (several fantasy ones still on my mental list, and some on my shelves).

Part of me thinks I should be the one to write the cheery Lewis novel; a bigger part of me rolls over and goes back to sleep. It's depressing to read books which have been published and think that I can write better than that, but much more depressing that I don't.

Prompted to write this blog post about it at last because Douglas sent me a copy as a gift. I see I haven't written anything on this blog for two months, not since writing about Rivers of London. This is partly because of the things mentioned in the 'clearing the decks' post in September, but also because I just got out of the habit of it and into the habit of looking in on Facebook and Twitter and getting stuck there. Reining that in.