Sunrise on a run

Sunrise on a run

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Game of Thrones

So I've just finished the fifth book of George RR Martin's "Game of Thrones". There are now so many different viewpoints that you can go a whole book without a particular character appearing. I've also had one scene appear from two different narratives. It jarred at first because some of the aspects which, at the time of the scene, were unknown to two characters who appeared in that same scene when narrated from a different characters perspective. I probably need to re-read the two accounts side-by-side! Fortunately this doesn't happen too often otherwise I'd have to accuse Mr Martin of padding!

I am apparently going to have to wait a while before book six appears. With long epic series there is always the concern that the author will die before the book is complete. I might start going to medieval re-enactments in order to start researching ready to line myself up as a ghost-writer! Of course I'm being flippant :)

In all seriousness, the series falls squarely into medieval fantasy. It is clearly influenced by accounts of medieval Britain and the various plots, sub-plots, family feuds and invasions. The magic systems are more subtle than in other fantasy series. There are hints at them and hints at lost magic.

Religion plays a fairly key part in the series. It's a little confusing though. For the first book or two there are two religions: the old gods and the seven (probably inspired by shift in religions from paganism to Christianity. The Red god is introduced quite suddenly. Other religions are introduced as we are introduced to the people who follow them but Rhllor and the "red religion" appears from nowhere. Again, it is a part of the series I should re-read.

I say religion plays a key part but I don't think there is a single religious festival within the series. When I think back to Wheel of Time and how it opens with Beltane/ Beltain, this seems to be a glaring omission. It serves to mark the passage of time.

Overall, this is an impressive achievement and one I shall enjoy re-reading.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hooked on Crochet!

I've been learning to crochet. Inspiration struck when I bought Mr S a Star Wars craft book. Among the patchwork quilt made from Star Wars t-shirts and the Hans Solo in "soaponite" there was an R2D2 beanie hat. Not knowing the least bit about how to crochet but liking how it looks, I invested in a couple of books, dug out a crochet hook from the bottom of the sewing basket and a ball of wool.
Here are my first attempts.

I've found YouTube indispensable as I can see how it's meant to take shape and look and here are my latest attempts: squares for little blankets for the girls' bears.

And the finished blankets. They were originally going to be 9 squares but the girls thought that an extra 3 squares would guard against chilly toes.

Snuggly bears! The sewing together wasn't too bad either. Not sure how long a full sized blanket would take.
These are going to be my next project:
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Strangers Child - Alan Hollinghurst

I've just finished this. It was an impulse buy from the Amazon Kindle Store. Good but not great. One you want to continue to read to get it finished but like "In the Line of Beauty" no great affinity or sympathy with any of the characters.

It spans about a century and is divided into five parts. At first I thought it was going to be like Atonement but the first part is perhaps more akin to Maurice: gauche, upper middle class family, all of whom fall for the upper class boy. Set before the first world war.

Part two skips to the 1920s and the eve of the General Strike.
The next two parts are set in the late sixties and seventies respectively, topped off with a jump forwards to 2008ish.

It paints a picture of Britain during those times but the biographer's pursuit of the truth about his subject never quite takes off. It hints at the history of homosexuality and the law but doesn't quite get there. The speculation in later years over whether one of the characters had affairs with his male friends is of limited interest to the reader because we have already been told about them.

Somehow the book never quite takes off, I don't particularly warm to any of the characters and while I enjoy the gradually changing Britain he depicts, I don't take any great message away from the book.

Worth a read but not the best book I will read this year.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

This was a Christmas present (thanks R!) but it's taken a while to sit down and read it. Overall, I would say it was worth waiting for. A fairly easy read, it follows a family in California from the perspective of the younger child, who is just turning 9 when the book starts.

The book opens with the narrator's and her mum has made a lemon cake. When the narrator bites into the cake she tastes sorrow [what else] to the extent that she can not eat the cake her mother has prepared.

It soon transpires that the narrator can taste the emotions of whoever it is who has prepared the food.

Ultimately this is an account of an all-American family and how it tenuously hangs together through the Son's brilliance and benign madness, the mother's affair with a co-worker at the carpentry co-operative where she takes up work and the constant un-changing father. There is also a slightly senile grandmother living some distance away and who repeatedly sends furniture/ the contents of her house to them.

The narrator's peculiar gift wavers between being at the forefront of the story and sometimes more of sub-point. At one point, the story is more about the son but I don't recall that we ever see the narrator taste anything he has prepared.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Fever of the Bone, Val McDermid

This is the first of Val McDermid's books which I have read. A few years ago we watched the Wire in the Blood series and grew to like it it. I prefer my crime dramas to be gripping/ edge of the seat thrillers rather than something which serves as wallpaper viewing - i.e. it's there but it doesn't really engage brain.

Having seen several episodes and therefore having an appreciation of the characters, it didn't matter that I was not starting with the first book. I won't give too much away but the book follows a series of murders, some in Bradfield and a couple in neighbouring constabularies. The victims meet their killer in Internet chatrooms and lured to their end.

The book hints at various characters' past and refers back to previous stories. Enough information is given that you don't need to have read the books in sequence but enough is kept back that you want to go and read the previous books.

My only criticism is that the killer's ability to track down the targeted individuals is not explained. The killer is able to identify the victims' parents and this is accounted for in the narrative but there seems to be a missing connection in how the killer then pin points the specific victims while in the chatrooms. There is a geographic explanation but no more.

Other than that, and if anyone can point to the time within the story when that particular conundrum is breached, please let me know!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


So I have just finished Skagboys by Irvine Welsh. It's a precursor, I'm not sure I'd call it a prequel, to Trainspotting. I haven't read Trainspotting for years, probably not since before the film came out but it follows a similar narrative style and uses a Scottish dialect,although there was some language which reminded me of a Clockwork Orange. The characters all tend to tell their story which means that the jump from different characters between chapters can take a bit of working out to determine who is narrating the chapter.

One review I read commented on Welsh's tendency to to rework the same characters and the same story.

It charts Renton's descent into heroin addiction, from promising student at Aberdeen accompanying his father on Miner's Strike rallies, to it taking over his entire life, to the extent that he ditches his girlfriend to spend more time with it.

Familiar characters such as Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are also introduced. Other characters are also brought into the picture and their lives all connect, all seemingly to ultimately connect to the two individuals who work in the pharmaceutical factory which is the source of all their woe.

Although the book is set within Thatcher's 80s, the story never quite goes so far to fully pin the blame for Scotland's heroin epidemic on Thatcherite Britain and the closing of the docks, mines and other sources of employment for the working class man. It's there as a theme and touched upon but it doesn't go so far as to say it outright.

Similarly, the story never quite deals with the question of individual responsibility. No-one forced Renton to have his first hit and his spiral into addiction takes time, there's a significant period during which he is not an addict.

Towards the end of the book a few of the characters are in Rehab and one of the people running the rehab programme observes that so long as he doesn't catch aids or overdose, Renton will grow out of his addiction. This basically indicates that Renton is an angry young man full of angst and hormones and he'll get over it all.

Sex, but not love, feature strongly in the book. It's a fine line Welsh treads and perhaps strays over, between gratuitous and simply reflecting that it is regarded as both commodity and means of escapism as much as it becomes a trap. I don't know that I would call the book misogynous but the female characters are really bit players, becoming victims of their own circumstances rather than taking control of their own destiny. Perhaps that is true of the male characters too.

So overall, worth a read. I plan to re-read it, once I've finished Trainspotting.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 08, 2012

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

Tuesday was a rainy day so an ideal day for hiding indoors, reading and playing on the Wii. I recently downloaded Irvine Welsh's "Skagboys" - precursor to Trainspotting so I've started that.

After lunch we headed onto the beach for a stroll, rewarded by views of a rainbow. The picture below shows the Harbour later in the day.

The evening saw a trip to the local curry house, girls enjoyed an egg curry, accompanied by the school bears :)

Wednesday was much more sunny so we decided to take the steam train to Dunster. On Wednesday there is a coach connection from the station to he castle so we took advantage of this. We arrived in Dunster just in time for lunch. There is no shortage of tea rooms and we headed for the Chocolatieria for sandwiches, milkshakes and hot chocolate. My hot chocolate comprised warm milk and a chunk of chocolate to mix in - delicious!

We spent the afternoon exploring the castle accompanied by Boo reading the guide, and enjoying the outdoor climbing and play area.

Thursday was another rainy day so we headed to Quince Honey Farm. The girls enjoyed the indoor play area there. Once we dragged them away, we could look around the beekeeping area: very impressive collection of hives which you could look at without any risk of agitating the bees of getting stung! Definitely worth a visit.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Fossil Hunting

I mentioned in my earlier post that the tide goes out a long way to reveal rocks to clamber, pools to splash in and seaweed to soften your fall when you slip!

The Watchett area is known for its fossils, and we have been keeping eyes peeled looking out for ammonites. Boo and I went clambering over the rocks on our first day here and found a couple. On our next day all four of us went clambering, this time with shoes on: my toe shoes (aka Vibram fivefingers) have been v handy for climbing!

Our previous day's exploring meant we knew which types of rock to look on for the ammonites. We found lots of great examples:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Our Jubilee Holiday

So here we are in Watchett on the North Somerset coast. After a very busy Friday helping out at the school Jubilee celebrations and packing, we drove down to the South West with much of the rest of the country.

Despite all the traffic, we still arrived on schedule, just in time for high tide and lots of clambering on the rocks.

Our cottage is upside down with the bedrooms on the ground floor and living area on the first floor so we can enjoy the views from the decking.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, May 25, 2012


Since October, I have studying with the Open university, the Arts Past and Present (aka AA100). Yesterday saw the submission of my final assignment: a 2000 word essay on sacred space, tourism and pilgrimage. I'm now feeling a little Demob happy to say the least!

I've looked at OU courses now and again over the past few years and they came up again when I was looking at creative writing courses and distance learning. Anyway, on return from our holiday to the US, I decided to have another look and then book! The recommendation from the OU is to study a level 1 course first. Although I have studied at university level before, I decided to follow their recommendation and signed up for AA100.

I'm glad I did as its got me used to the OU way of doing things and the use of online and electronic resources. My previous degree was in the early 90s when the most technologically advanced students has electronic typewriters, most of which are probably now museum pieces! Referencing for those essays involved underlining all the cases and I don't think we ever had a word count to stick to.

AA100 has such a broad range of topics covered as well and you study subjects you might not otherwise consider reading about. We have covered the following:

The Dalai Llama

The Reformation
Pugin's Architecture
Benin Bronzes
Cultural resources and exemptions

General overview of philosophy including philosophical conceptions of leisure
The Experience Machine
Sacred space and pilgrimage
Roman concepts of leisure
The seaside

There's been more of a social element than I was expecting. It didn't
really cross my mind when I signed up that 100s of other people would also be studying this course, from all walks of life and all stages of life. The online world has made this very accessible, augmented by tutorials, a day school and a trip to the British Museum organised by my tutor.

So with four months until my next course, A215 (creative writing), I can read all those books which have been piling up, finish Lego Batman and start Lego Harry Potter, oh and I expect there will be a holiday or two...

What's interesting looking back over this blog is that I've not blogged about the course that much. I suspect that the fear of plagiarism has reined me in. That and the fact that the blog would probably have ended up being a page of popplets...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Benin Bronzes

So, this weekend saw us take a trip to the British Museum. This was to tie in with a trip which my OU tutor had organised to see the Benin Bronzes: the topic of the current assignment.

I've saved the 2012-02-11">photos in an online album which can be found here.

As is clear from the first few shots, I had mixed success to start with - trying to fiddle about with camera settings to get shots in focus, I'd have been better off using iPhone! Got there in the end...

We saw two styles of bronze: the plaques which went in the Oba's palace and the figures. The plaques were a form of decoration and when the British invaded, he was having his palace renovated/ decorated which is why the plaques were all found heaped in a room by the invaders. There are various designs on the plaques: some which record battles and successes in battle of the Oba and some which depict the interaction between Benin and the Portugese in the 15th/16th Century. It is quite clear from the style of dress and facial hair which figures are the Portugese.

Other points of note from the plaques: there were over 50, how many would have been in the palace? Probably more. Important people are larger in the plaques. There were one or two plaques which seem to depict priests providing offerings. Many plaques had a round pattern in the four corners, depicting what: the sun? Since posting this, I have re-read chapter 2 and the readings from O.J. Eboreime at the Horniman museum. These describe them as: "‘the sun never misses a day’ and water leaf motifs".

One of the most striking figure-heads was of the Oba's mother. She, apparently, went into battle with the Oba and with her own army. The head looked much more like it was a portrait of a real person than a stylized head, which is how many of the other figureheads looked. Heads and hands were important to the Bini. It was thought that all of a person's power (soul?) was in their head which is why bronzes of heads were made. As well as the scarification marks above the eyebrows, the central rectangular marks were made to indicate wisdom. These were originally outlined in iron.

There was also a "hand altar," a round, ornate cylinders. It was not clear whether a cast of a hand was intended to be placed in the top of this.
One of the other figures showed the Oba holding leopards and a type of river fish. This was to demonstrate his power, the Bini were apparently fearful/ in awe of water: they saw it as another kingdom.

There were figures of leopards: these were also quite stylized - rather like cats but simply with big canine teeth. One of the cats was also designed to be used as a water carrier. There was also a big cockerel - I wasn't sure whether these would have been indigenous animals or whether these would have been brought from Portugal.

As well as the bronzes, we saw examples of the ivory work, particularly the spice-cellars. The designs demonstrate that they were made for export, perhaps carrying the pepper which was a key export from that region.

A trip to the Horniman museum would also be beneficial, it depends whether I can fit it in between now and the first Friday in March...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad