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Public Service Announcement

15 September, 2014 at 10:26 pm by belgianwaffle

I won free tickets to Woody Allen’s new film, “Magic in the Moonlight” from the Dublin Theatre festival. Mr. Waffle and I went this evening. It was unremittingly awful. Don’t go. Ironically, it might make a better play.

More holiday soon.

A Trap for the Unwary

6 August, 2014 at 11:07 am by belgianwaffle

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”.

Reading

3 August, 2014 at 3:06 pm by belgianwaffle

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

2 August, 2014 at 11:40 am by belgianwaffle

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.

Peacefully, in his 99th Year

21 June, 2014 at 11:07 pm by belgianwaffle

My friend M’s father died recently. They thought he would make 100 but he didn’t; he had a long and happy life and died at home surrounded by his family. He was very well until the last year of his life, in fact, he only finally gave up driving at 95 and shooting at 92 (some relief in relation to the latter, I think).

M’s father was born in 1915 and his own father was an old man when he was born, having been born in 1845. When M’s father was young, he remembered his father telling him about people calling to the door of the farmhouse in Tipperary, starving in the wake of the Famine. It seems extraordinary that someone with such a close link to the Famine should only have died earlier this month, I suppose he must be the last person to have had a parent who survived the Great Famine.

Darkest Peru

19 June, 2014 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

One of the nicest things about travelling by train is that the free travel scheme means that there is always a good sprinkling of pensioners which is nice in itself but also they bring out the best in students (the other hardy perennials on the train) who are always very polite to them and help them with their bags and generally restore your faith in humanity.

Anyhow, I was on the train up from Cork on a Saturday and three elderly gentlemen, travelling separately fell into conversation about a hurling match between Limerick and Tipperary. One of them was a priest and one of the other men asked him whether he had ever been on the missions at all. He had – 12 years in Korea and 30 in Peru from which he had lately retired. Did he know the two girls who were arrested for drug smuggling? He did indeed, had spoken to them several times. He also opined that the prison where they were serving their sentence was one of the better ones in Peru, he having visited several others for many years. As Fr. Brown says, you can’t be a priest without knowing quite a bit about human depravity. Many anecdotes followed – the lives on other inmates, the altar boy who showed him a local remedy for swelling, how to handle snakes with a stick on the way to school – but my favourite related to Brazil.

One of the other men had visited South America and travelled around (our pensioners, an adventurous bunch) and asked the priest about Manaus. He had been there, he had much to say about the rubber trade. One interesting thing was that the ships transporting rubber had to take rocks back to Manaus as ballast. The last place they passed through was Cork and so all this Cork rock ended up in Brazil. He said that the opera house in Manaus is built from Clonakilty stone. I don’t know whether this is true, but I really hope so.

Here endeth the lesson.

Some Thoughts on High Finance

4 April, 2014 at 10:37 pm by belgianwaffle

Stay with me here, alright?

I was talking to my sister recently about her friend who is very bright and asked, “Did she come first in your class in college?”
“No,” said my sister, “in our class it was only really a fight for second place because we had Joe Soap in our class. He was the cleverest man, I ever met. It felt like he was only going to lectures to be polite to the lecturers.”
“What did he do after?”
“He went to Oxford and did a PhD in Chemistry but then he decided Chemistry wasn’t for him. We were all a bit depressed when we heard because, honestly, if Chemistry wasn’t for Joe Soap then it really wasn’t for anyone.”
“So what’s he doing now?”
“Oh, he’s a banker in the City of London.”

And it just struck me that the rewards associated with international finance do attract super-smart people who are used to being right and being the brightest people in the room. Do you think that makes it likely that they would accept that it’s all their fault if something goes wrong or that they would respect the regulatory authorities?

Sample size 1 as a colleague says when I produce these kinds of things but still.

I think I might go back and re-read my copy of “The Best and the Brightest“.


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