Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 books, #56-60

Signal red: a novel based on the Great Train Robbery, by Robert Ryan.  London: Headline, 2010.

I found this a riveting read, not so much for the account of the train robbery itself, which is pretty well-known, but for the background in the London of 1962, where well-known villains were using the same tailor as the Beatles, and drinking at Ronnie Scott's club.  Taken as a ripping read, and not as historical fact, this is really excellent, and comes with an afterword from Bruce Reynolds, the leader of the train robbery gang, and some facts about what happened to the individuals involved.  I suppose my only quibble with this one would be that because it's a novelisation, and because some of the characters have been created by Ryan rather than having actually existed, it's difficult to separate fact from fiction...  This wouldn't stop me reading other books by Ryan - I gather he's given Lawrence of Arabia and Scott of the Antarctic similar treatment...

Blood harvest, by S J Bolton [audiobook].  Read by Clare Corbett.  Bath: AudioGO, 2010.

S J Bolton illustrates again why she's the expert in the really quite creepy psychological thriller.  I can't sum it up better than this review in the Observer, except to add that I loved both of the main characters, Evie and Harry.  Harry in particular, as vicars in British crime fiction are often either sinister or inadequate...  The reading is extremely good, even if Harry's Geordie accent is somewhat overdone; you can always tell who's speaking.  Corbett also read the Elly Griffiths books, which I also enjoyed...

Deal breaker, by Harlan Coben. London: Orion, 2002.

The first of the Myron Bolitar novels.  Bolitar was a promising young basketball player until a smashed knee in college took him out of the game; he's now working as a sports agent.  One of his clients, Christian, is the ex-boyfriend of Myron's ex-girlfriend Jessica's little sister Kathy, who went missing two years before.  Now Christian is receiving messages and photos of Kathy, and it's putting him off his game.  Myron investigates, accompanied by the genuinely scary Windsor Horne Lockwood III, trust-fund millionaire and blackbelt tae kwon do expert.  This is very well-plotted and with a genuinely surprising ending, but also extremely wittily written.  Having come across one of these by accident, I'm going to read the rest in order.

The preacher, by Camilla L√§ckberg [audiobook]. Read by Cameron Stewart.  Bath: Oakhill, [n.d.]

This was intriguing, but I think going away for the weekend in the middle of it didn't do the book any services; and nor did several characters having similar names.  I'll read another of this author's books, but I'm not entirely sure what actually happened!  The characters are interesting though, and it rattles along in an interesting way.

Northern sky, by Mark Radcliffe.  London: Hodder, 2005.

I loved this book.  It's been sitting on the shelf as a "wildcard" pick for the last couple of years, having been acquired at a now-defunct bookshop on their £1 shelf.  Mark Radcliffe has been involved in music as both a player in folk bands and a DJ (Mark and Lard/Radcliffe and Maconie) for the last couple of decades, and it shows.  Here, a former university lecturer who has been sacked for hitting his boss ends up back at home with his (wonderfully dotty and rude) recently-widowed mum, and getting back in touch with his old girlfriend and mates at the Northern Sky folk club.  It's a touching, funny book; and probably very true if you're familiar with the way commercial interests meet with small folk clubs.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

POTFeast 2012

The annual Feast Post - hope to get a POTW done this week, too, as I didn't last week!  Click to open up any of the photos in Flickr.

Anyway; the forecast was absolutely dreadful for the Feast this year, but during the week it gradually improved, and this was the scene outside my bedroom window at 8:45 this morning: little train duly installed and people trying to hold down bits of awning in a stiff breeze...

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There were two parades this year.  The 39 Engineer Regiment are moving to the north of Scotland soon as part of MOD reorganisation and the base is to be closed; so they had a separate march through the village...

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... preceded by the Royal Engineers regimental band who were tremendous.

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There was a lot of applause...

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We'll miss them.  There have been a lot of jokes at the army's expense about the chip shop and Chinese takeaway closing; but there's more than a grain of truth!  When they're not deployed, they also provide great support at this sort of community event.

Their attitude to a coconut shy is obviously slightly different from the average civilian's, for example.

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Between the parades, there was wood-roasted pizza, and then knitting; Jackie, Frances and I knitted along to Waterbeach Brass...  There's very little more civilised than knitting while listening to a good brass band on a mostly sunny summer afternoon.

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So, then, for the second half of the parading festivities:  Majorettes!  In this case, the Soham Fenlander Majorettes, celebrating their 25th year.

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The parade and stalls theme this year was Something beginning with F.  Whoever started that series was genius; they can just sit back for at least another 15 years, even if they need to combine some letters!

So we had France - no stereotypes there, obviously.

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The child in the cardboard Eiffel Tower reminds me of Scout in To kill a mockingbird dressed as a ham for her school pageant.  Hopefully she had a happier end to the day.

Then we had Farms

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Flowers

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Fireworks - I was rooting for this one to win best float (it didn't)

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more Flowers - and waves at friend Chris with little Robert on his shoulders!

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Flags - any flags, although obviously with the JubiEuroLympic summer, there were a lot of Union flags around.

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And then Family - the army families in particular.  Lots of them; many in T-shirts with their serving family member's name embroidered on them, which is a great alternative to scribbling your mobile no. on the back of your kid's festival wristband...

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The lady with the sash was saying "Goodbye; thanks for having us"; the banner behind her just says "goodbye"...  the Feast procession is usually quite emotional, but this year particularly so.

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However, to cheer us up, the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism - I see these guys fighting on the Green on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons sometimes...

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Let's have another view; yes, the guy at the back is in a full metal breastplate on a summer afternoon.

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And then finally; before Waterbeach Brass resumed their set, the Royal Engineers band was back to play us a selection of disco classics, including YMCA, Staying alive and How deep is your love.

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As ever at the Feast, surreality, we haz it.  Things not depicted: synchronised beating-people-up the army PT  way, Jazzercise, belly-dancing and more majorettes (purple-clad, this time...)

And it didn't rain...

Saturday, June 09, 2012

2012 books, #51-55

The skeleton man, by Jim Kelly. London: Penguin, 2008.

The fenland town of Jude's Ferry was bought out and evacuated by the Army in 1990, to be used as a live firing range; Philip Dryden, now of the Ely Crow, was present at the evacuation for his Fleet Street paper.  Now, in 2007, he is present at one of the live firings when a stray shell demolishes a farm building, and a skeleton is found hanging from the rafters of a cellar which shouldn't have been there.  Meanwhile a man with amnesia is pulled out of the Ouse lacking the fingers on one hand; and there's another connection with Jude's Ferry.  Dryden investigates, to uncover long-hidden secrets.  Another fenland mystery from Kelly; excellently plotted and with characters you care about.

Black out, by John Lawton.  London: Orion, 1995.

Set in London in 1944, this is a very atmospheric novel; Sergeant Frederick Troy is handed a man's arm which has been found on a bomb-site by a dog.  Details point to the man being German, but there's no indication of where the rest of the body could be.  The actual murder then becomes secondary as there are political ramifications and the US Army Command becomes involved.  Like the blackout itself, the plot is only visible in small flashes, and Troy becomes steadily more confused and entwined.  There are a couple of fairly dramatic twists in the tail of this story too, but it does become a little shapeless before the end.

Nothing to lose, by Lee Child [audiobook].  Read by Jeff Harding.  Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2008.

That great combination of Lee Child and Jeff Harding works again here.  Jack Reacher is in Hope, Colorado, and takes a detour to its neighbouring town of Despair, just for the sake of it.  Unfortunately, the residents of Despair fail to provide him with the cup of coffee he was hoping for, and instead charge him with vagrancy and run him out of town.  This is, of course, just the sort of thing which whets Reacher's curiosity, and he becomes determined to find out the town's secrets, particularly when two women ask his help in locating their missing husbands, last seen in Despair...

Killing the beasts, by Chris Simms [audiobook]. Read by Toby Longworth.  Bath: Chivers, 2006.

Set in Manchester in 2002, around the Commonwealth Games.  Two rugby-playing friends, DI Jon Spicer and advertising executive Tom Benwell, are both feeling the pressure for different reasons.  In the aftermath of the games, a series of brutal killings send Spicer looking for a serial murderer.  It's a strangely-shaped and -paced book, this one, and I'm not sure I'd have kept reading it, but Toby Longworth's performance made it worthwhile...

Eleven days, by Donald Harstad.  London: Fourth Estate, 1998.

Four people are murdered in a normally tranquil area of Iowa, and the sheriff's department calls in help from the FBI in the shape of agent Hester Gorse.  Gorse and the main protagonist, deputy sheriff Carl Houseman, make a great combination, and the other characters in and around the police station would make this book worth reading even if the plot wasn't as tightly-controlled and gripping as it is.  An extremely well-put-together book which I found irresistible reading.  Turns out that the author is a former deputy sheriff in a similar part of Iowa, so I'm assuming that a lot of the station banter and the relationships are taken from his own experience.


Monday, June 04, 2012

POTW: 4 June 2012

It's been a difficult week; and probably more difficult after last week being so excellent!  Some of the interesting things weren't exactly cheerful; some of the work stuff which should have worked out fine went all to hell...  And then there was an internet thing which derailed me a bit.  I would love to be one of those people who can shrug things off; but I do tend to dwell on the things which go badly, and I had a somewhat upsetting post about a project I felt relatively happy about.  a softer world got it absolutely right, as ever.  It's just weird when you experience it in a place in which you usually feel pretty safe.

Anyway, enough about my head.  There's a Jubilee.  And it looks as if the weather was absolutely awful for the flotilla of boats along the Thames; which is a dreadful shame for all the people who put all that effort into it.  Having said that, it seems that everyone just put on their little plastic rain-hoods and got on with it... as we do.   If that link's still there when you look at this post - when they go past the National Theatre and there's the War Horse (from about 0:45) - the Queen's "look, look, Camilla", is interesting... well, it was to me, anyway.

Has to be said that the level of Jubilee effort put into this household was probably best expressed by my realising I had an appropriately-coloured tea-towel out yesterday afternoon...

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Sadly, the picnic up at the local recreation ground was cancelled the night before - wisely as the weather was dreadful.  Still, with any luck the weather will be good for the Feast, which is in a fortnight...

Knitting
I finished a baby blanket, and a hat.  Both are sort of secret... I took photos for a test-knit, and I think they were pretty good.  Otherwise, my main knitting project (not a test-knit) went a bit awry.  I've PMd the designer to find out what she suggests, as this is the first project for this pattern on Ravelry and I don't seem to be able to work out how to get one of the more attractive things on it going...


Music
I had a bit of a splurge on CDs a few weeks ago - birthday money.  I bought the Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues and am really enjoying it.  For the last 3 months or so I've been playing wall-to-wall Bruce Springsteen, mostly the utterly superb Wrecking Ball, (here, have a link to the audio of Death to my hometown  to listen to while you read the rest of this but please for the sake of your own sanity don't read the comments); something different around the house is nice.


Weaving
Needs a little more planning.  Thinking has been a bit off because of the internet-derailing... I can't decide whether to do something in laceweight (got a new heddle for the loom, which should handle finer yarns) or whether to weave some table-mats in the "log cabin" pattern which is the first slightly fancy thing in the fabulous weaving book I got for Christmas, Jane Patrick's Weaver's idea book ...  Weaving isn't something you want to start without considerable mental forethought - warping uses up so much yarn that if you find you've done it wrong, you've probably wasted two-thirds of your supplies before you even start...

Not a lot of spinning on the go, either...

Today I've started doing a couple of more positive things; clearing up in the back bedroom so my nephew has somewhere to sleep in July (will have to start looking at chairs which turn into beds) and washing a Manx Loaghtan fleece.  Photos of that next weekend, maybe...  I'm accomplishing the tidying up by reminding myself how much I enjoy Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books (which I have on cassette); and then taking the cassette player and the kitchen timer up to the back bedroom and leaving them there.  I can't stay up there for more than half an hour or so at a time because of the dust, but that's probably just as well.

Food
Went to Leon in Spitalfields on Monday night with some other knitters - first time I've been to one of their restaurants; but as they have a takeaway in the new King's Cross concourse, definitely not the last.  The dinner menu is slightly more extensive than the one I've linked to, and it's very good food at reasonable prices (certainly for central London); it arrives fast, but you couldn't describe it as fast food...

Also had my first home-cooked asparagus of the season (I want to add "Mummy sends them from Brideshead!" because any way you say it, it sounds pretentious) - lovely.  I gather it's been a terrible year for it.


Technology
After a comic interlude on delivery of a new modem (Virgin Media being majestically unaware, despite multiple confirmations,  that we have some sort of bank holiday-type-thing going on today, until Realisation on May 24...) I obtained delivery of a so-called SuperHub on Friday.  After a hugely time-wasting conversation on Friday lunchtime, we established after 36 minutes what I'd asked the guy in the first 60 seconds..."You've just delivered a wireless hub.  I don't think my PC does wireless because it's quite old.  I have a new PC coming next Friday.  Can I just plug the old phone connection in for the next week until the new one's delivered and phone you then if I can't get it to work with the instructions?..."    I stuck with the conversation because the guy from tech support who got me onto the internet again with this PC, despite my having realised I was going from Win98 to XP but failed to get the appropriate installation CD from them, was genius, so I thought this one might be able to magic up wireless on my old PC somehow (just before he plucked a pound coin from my ear and accurately predicted the lottery numbers, presumably).  I had forgotten that the previous guy was from ntl, in the Days Before Virgin Media. Sigh.

However, I have a new Argos PC table, picked up and delivered by a friend, which was really kind; particularly when I realised that I couldn't even pick the package up, let alone schlep it to the bus station as I'd been intending.  So, the current one looks like this at the moment...

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And on Friday the new PC arrives.  With any luck, by next weekend the next workstation will be less cluttered...