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A Trap for the Unwary

August 6th, 2014

My (Irish) friend was giving expert evidence to a House of Lords committee recently. She decided that they were all lords and could be addressed as such, so, following one man’s intervention, she said as “Lord X said…”. The clerk of the committee passed her a note. On it was written “viscount”.

Soft

August 5th, 2014

My father often used to say to us when we were children “you are brought up too soft”. You might imagine that on this basis he himself was brought up in conditions of penury and hardship and went barefoot to school but in fact, he grew up in a large house at the bottom of the road where my parents’ house is now. As far as I know, he had access to shoes at all times. So, given my father’s relative affluence, I felt his tendency to assert that we were too soft was inappropriate.

The other day, herself wanted to squeeze some lemon juice. The electric juicer was in the dishwasher so I hauled out the manual juicer from the back of the press. She looked at it a bit dubiously. I went back to reading the paper. After a while she said plaintively, “How does this work?” I looked and she was holding the lemon daintily on top of the squeezer waiting for the squeezer to work its magic. “You have to twist it down.” “What?!” Brought up too soft.

Citizen of the World

August 4th, 2014

Previous correspondence with my sister.

Me: How’s Spain?
Her: Fine, I imagine but I don’t know as I am in Germany.

In my defence, she has a very heavy travel schedule. She recently returned from India.

Me: How was it?
Her: Oh, fine. Horrible hotel room.
Me: Why?
Her: In India, the way they make a non-smoking room is to take out the ashtrays.

And then the next week, she was in Abbeyfeale. It’s just non-stop.

Reading

August 3rd, 2014

The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith
The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith

These are books 1 and 2 in JK Rowling’s detective series. I really enjoyed both books and I think that they are very well plotted and competently written. For my money, book 1 was better than book 2. Book 2 was a bit flabby and overlong. Nearly 500 pages for a standard detective novel is just too much. The first novel is set in the world of celebrity models and the second in publishing. I can’t say I know a lot about either milieu but the first struck me as more authentic. Still, the relationship between the two main characters is really well done and engaging. I will read book 3 when it comes out.

Death of Yesterday” by MC Beaton
Death of a Bore” by MC Beaton

Don’t judge me. These are exactly the same as all the other Hamish Macbeth books. Therein lies their charm, I suppose.

The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith

This is a story written by a man with a Swedish mother and an English father about a Swedish woman who is married to an English man and has an English son. Are you still with me?

The narrator’s Swedish mother may be losing her mind. His parents have emigrated to Sweden after a life in England and his Swedish mother begins to disintegrate. It’s unclear whether the story she tells her son is the result of a disordered mind or whether there is something more sinister afoot. The author manages this really well and it is very difficult to know what is real and what is imagined. I thought the denouement was very clever and satisfactorily explained the story. It is also very competently written. Thematically, it is a bit grim, though, and I am not entirely sure I can say that I enjoyed it.

How to be a Heroine” by Samantha Ellis

The author talks about some of the books that formed and shaped her as a reader and more generally. If you are a reader and were a reading child, it’s very interesting to see some of your old favourites taken by the scruff of the neck and analysed in detail.

Greenery Street” by Denis Mackail

My kind sister-in-law gave me a present of this in the Persephone Bookss edition and I was charmed. It is a lovely novel about a young married couple in their first home. The couple are singularly ineffectual, always running out of money and live in fear of their maid whom they call “the murderess”. All their crises, however, are minor ones and happily resolved.

I discovered on reading the introduction that Angela Thirkell, whose books I like very much, was the older and much loathed sister of Denis Mackail. Apparently she was by far the stronger personality of the two. I can see that as there is a sweetness in “Greenery Street” which is entirely absent in Thirkell’s work.

Love Nina” by Nina Stibbe

This is a very entertaining read but might possibly be even more entertaining, if you were intimate with literary London in the 1980s. Unacquainted as I am with London literary figures, it still made me laugh. Also, Alan Bennett is a lovely man.

Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes

The conceit of this novel, which was a best seller in Germany, is that Hitler wakes up in modern day Germany. Everyone things that he is a Hitler impersonator and he becomes a media darling. It has some very clever and amusing pieces like when Hitler tries to set up an email account (“Adolf Hitler” – No that’s gone – “Reichstag” -That’s gone too – and so on) and when he visits the neo-nazi offices. Quite daring overall, as well as funny, and interesting.

Raising Steam” by Terry Pratchett

A new Terry Pratchett novel, but not a very good one. Half a loaf is better than no bread. Steam comes to Discworld.

The Other Family by Joanna Trollope
Daughters in Law by Joanna Trollope

Some friends recommended Joanna Trollope. I hadn’t tried her stuff before but I now think I will be reading them all. These are both clever, readable stories about the trials and tribulations of the middle classes. Not a huge amount happens but it doesn’t matter.

Summer Half” by Angela Thirkell

Another Angela Thirkell came into the library, rejoice with me. I enjoyed this as I have enjoyed all her stuff. She has some pretty odd ideas about teachers though.

The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion

Another very enjoyable read. A man on the autistic spectrum meets a disorganised girl. It is, as the reviewers say, laugh out loud funny. Recommended for a summer read.

“Five go to Smuggler’s Top” by Enid Blyton

I read this in honour of my trip to Rye. A terrible mistake. George is undoubtedly the most annoying character in fiction. Her and her stupid, bloody dog. Not a childhood favourite I should have revisited.

“Fatherland” by Robert Harris

A friend recommended this and I enjoyed it. It’s set in a 1964 where Germany has won the war. The impact of this and the likely nature of the Greater German Reich is really cleverly imagined using the example of East Germany and Russia, I imagine. The book is essentially a police procedural about a lone good cop solving a mysterious murder but it is the context which makes it both clever and memorable. I would read another of his books but I think I would need to be in the whole of my health to do so. The author is very clever and it shows just a little too much.

Feminism

August 2nd, 2014

I was at a party recently where one of my fellow guests was a man in his 40s with two children, a boy of 5 and a girl of 3. The little girl snatched some pizza from a plate that was circulating and her father said to her, “Don’t do that, it’s rude.” Then he turned to me and said conversationally, “I always think, before giving out to her, would I say the same thing to her brother? I don’t want to stop her being herself or put more restraints in her way than I would in his.”

This from a man with 5 brothers and no sisters who went to a conservative all boys school. Rejoice.

Another Cultural Quarter

August 1st, 2014

Parnell Square in Dublin is surrounded by lovely Georgian terraces. The Rotunda Hospital at the south end is a beautiful building. The Gate Theatre is on the south east corner of the square. The Hugh Lane municipal art gallery is housed in Lord Charlemont’s former town house at the north end of the square close to the Dublin Writers’ Museum. Unfortunately and, slightly mysteriously, the whole area is really depressed. The council, has decided to work on a regeneration plan which is terrific and I really hope that it works. If all goes according to plan it will be:

“A dynamically managed developmental space for diverse audiences that, through programming, participation, exhibitions and performances showcases the vibrant cultural life of Dublin to a local, national and international audience”

I am following developments with interest and would really love to see the “dynamically managed development space” work out well. It also includes a massive new central library in the old Coláiste Mhuire school buildings which is sorely needed as the current central library in the ILAC centre is very old and tired and, in any event, was unattractive from the day it was opened.

When passing the Georgian buildings that form the old Coláiste Mhuire, I had noticed that there were security men positioned in front of the building sitting on uncomfortable chairs which seemed to betoken promising levels of activity. One day, I scooted up to one of them and asked him why he was there, expecting some details on what was going on inside. Unfortunately not. He said, “Ah love, I’m just here to stop the junkies jumping over the railings and shooting up in the basement.

Not there yet with the regeneration then.

Old, but not that Old

July 31st, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I was coming up from Cork on the train with the children and to show them how near they were to Dublin, I wanted to point out the Wellington monument in Phoenix Park. “Look, look,” I said, “who can see Nelson’s Pillar?” Pause. Then herself said, “Mum, I think it was blown up in 1966.” Which it was.


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