Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Another Mystery Object For You To Identify

As you both know, the family spent a pleasant week in South Wales recently, during which Offspring#1 and I spent many happy hours beachcombing. In Lydstep Bay, while I was fossicking around at low tide after spongs and bryozoans and other good things, Offspring#1 was scaling the rocks high up in the splash zone and identified a series of scratch marks. Here they are.
I apologise for the absence of a scale bar: I reckon this field is about three centimetres by two, more or less. In my earlier post I suggested that they are scratches made by the radulae of questing molluscs as they scratch algae from the rock surface -- but I have never seen anything like this before, and  my postbag has hardly been bulging with comments on this either way. Now I've been on social media for a week or two, I thought I'd post this picture more widely to see if anyone had any ideas.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

At Last, The 2018 Show

I've been writing down the author and title of each and every book I have read since the end of 2013, and, when I am feeling bloggy, I write an end-of-year round-up to highlight my favourites in any given year. Here is a brief summary of the story so far:

2014: 45 books read. Favourite: Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus.
2015: 41     "       "           "        : Dan Simmons, Drood.
2016: 42     "       "           "        : Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall.
2017: 34     "       "           "        : Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

In 2018 I read 56 books, one for each year of my age. It's quite a task, however it was made somewhat easier by my having broken an ankle in August so I was Off Games (I brought a note) and could catch up with my reading. So, which books made my Top Ten in 2018, and which one gets the ultimate marmalade accolade of Read of the Year?

In no particular order, as they say on all the game shows, they were ... clears throat roll of drums

Ursula Le Guin The Dispossessed. Anarres is a planet where resources are scarce and the residents must pull together or starve. Shevek, a brilliant engineer from Anarres, travels to Urras, a much richer society, and is dazzled and baffled by its abundance. Shevek is working on the Principle of Simultaneity, a means of instant communication across interstellar distances -- and a possible leveller. Yes, it's brilliant science fiction, but as with all good SF it holds up a mirror to our own times. But as always with Le Guin its the clear, lucid and dignified prose that shines.

Charles Dickens Great Expectations. When a serial in one of Charles Dickens' periodicals turned out to be a clunker, the master had to turn to in a hurry to rescue the magazine's sales and his own livelihood. You'd never know it from reading this melodramatic rags-to-riches tale, as on every page you feel you are reading a classic of English Literature. It's also killingly funny. I read this as it was one of Offspring#2's set texts for A-level. In fact, I read all her set texts so we could chat about them later, which we enjoy doing to this day even though she's flown off to college. Sniff.

F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby. The novel that epitomises the shallow consumerism of the Roaring Twenties in the U. S. and A., and can be seen, in a way, as a savage and less brittle counterpart to Evelyn Waugh's very English novels such as Vile Bodies. Amazed by how brief it was. You don't need to use loads of pages to tell a good story. This was recommended to me by my friend D. A. of London.

Neil Ansell The Last Wilderness. Few do rugged travelling like Neil Ansell. Now in his fifties and finding rugged travel to be taking its toll, Ansell returns to a part of the Scottish Highlands where he made his first trip into the wilds, as a very young man. Increasing deafness means that he strains to hear the songs of birds he has known all his life, perhaps for the last time. Beautiful and tragic.

Alex Clare She's Fallen. A guest at a wedding plummets to her death from a hotel balcony. Did she fall or was she pushed? Such matters are of secondary importance in this, the author's second policier featuring D. I Robyn Bailley, who is learning to live as a woman after deciding to change gender. The novel starts more or less where the first, He's Gone, ends -- and I don't think I'm spoiling things too much to say it ends on a cliffhanger. Can't wait for the third instalment.

Steve Brusatte The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. Another Day, Another Dinosaur Book. This one, though, is written with such knowledge and infectious brio that it stands on top of the heap. If you read one dinosaur book in the next year or two, make sure it's this one. But only if you read mine first (it has better pictures). I reviewed this in the Literary Review.

Dan Simmons The Abominable. You won't read a more ripping yarn about the perils of inter-war alpinism this year. Or, perhaps, ever. Rich in detail, splendid in execution, this stirring tale of an attempt on Everest while trying to foil merciless gun-toting Nazis is as exciting as it is nostalgic (one imagines Tintin having similar adventures with Snowy, the Thompson Twins and Captain Haddock). Don't let the title fool you. This isn't a novel about yetis. Or is it?

Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology. My annual list is rarely without an entry from Neil Gaiman (or Dan Simmons, or Ursula Le Guin, come to that). Here Gaiman re-tells these misty old myths from the Creation to Ragnarok, most of which seem to involve Loki getting up to mischief and then having to find some circumlocutory way to put everything right. But such tales are in the telling, and reading this cast the same spell I felt as an eleven-year-old on first looking into Roger Lancelyn Green's Myths of the Norsemen. As enchanting as you have come to expect from this modern master of fantasy.

Alan Garner Boneland. I'd read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen when I was a child, but never read the sequel, The Moon of Gomrath. These two - well, the first, at any rate - concern the adventures of two children, a brother and a sister, when they come into contact with mythic ancientry in the landscape of Cheshire in the English Midlands.This, the third episode, concerns the adult life of the boy, who has become a radio astronomer and is trying to contact his sister, who it seems was astrally projected at some point in Episode 2. Not being aware of much of this, I read Boneland as a harrowing study of mental breakdown, written in the most extraordinary way, more like a prose poem than a novel. This was loaned to me by my friend Mr. C. F. of Cromer.

And the winner is ...

J. R. R. Tolkien The Fall of Gondolin. Recovering from trench fever after the Battle of the Somme, a young signals officer called Ronald Tolkien took an exercise book and scribbled a fantastic tale about a beautiful, hidden city assaulted and finally conquered by the forces of evil. The Fall of Gondolin was the first tale to be sketched in a sequence that eventually came to be known as The Silmarillion, even though the events take place towards the end of the overall story. Although most of the rest of The Silmarillion was sketched out in fair detail, evolving and maturing in all sorts of ways before Tolkien's death in 1972, Gondolin remained mostly unrevised, and although key to the mythos, much of it remains the youthful tale of heroic derring-do as it was laid down in 1917. It's one of literature's great tragedies that Tolkien - who could never bear to finish anything -- never finished this tale, the one that started it all, and from which sprang The Hobbit and of course The Lord of the Rings. Notwithstanding inasmuch as which, this edition is a tribute to Tolkien's son and literary executor Christopher, who has been ploughing through, editing and publishing his fathers' writing since the 1970s, and now -- at the age of more than ninety -- is hanging up his red pencil for the last time. This is the last that can be told of the matter of the Elder Days, in story or in song. Elegiac..

Between Books

I know you are wondering - both of you - why I have rebooted this blog after an absence of more than a year, and why I have rejoined Facebook and Twitter. The reason, I think, is that my wheels are spinning without any traction, a state I get into when I am between books.

So let me bring you up to speed.

My book The Accidental Species was such a rip-roaring success - well, it actually made a profit in its first year, in hardback, something that has never happened to me before - that I was enjoined to write a terse technical tome called Across The Bridge, a project I had been at pains to avoid for years, but eventually I ran out of excuses.

'I'm not going to write another effing book!' I opined, one afternoon, after Across The Bridge had been published, notwithstanding inasmuch as which the request by my friend Mr B. C. of Swindon to write another novel featuring my detective heroine Persephone Sheepwool. It's all very well for Mr B. C., I thought, who churns out books faster than one can say 'Harriet Vane'.

My Carer and Private Brain Care Specialist Mrs P. G of Cromer, who knows me better than I know myself, remarked that I say that every time I finish a book, and that's when my former colleague Mr D. A. of London suggested I write a kind of memoir celebrating all the amazing discoveries with which I have been associated over thirty-plus years as senior bone-grinder at the Submerged Log Company.

To think - I had a key part in steering the amazing hobbit person of Flores into the light of day.

And when my friend Dr S. B. of Edinburgh describes in his celebrated book the cocktail party where the first feathered dinosaurs were revealed, it was at second hand, because he was only seven at the time. But I was there, in the Room Where It Happened.

So I wrote it. The working title is Let's Talk About Rex: A Personal History of Life on Earth. I even have a cover to go with the working title. Here it is:

Don't look for it yet. It's not out yet, and may never be, though my agent liked it enough to read it and suggest emendations, which I have made, and it's now in Version 2.0.

So I am in that state authors call Waiting For Things To Happen. In the meantime I have what looks like a freelance commission that'll keep me from prowling the streets at night.

So why has it taken me more than a year to return to teh interwebs? Well, it was like this. In May 2018, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal was hitting the news, I was at my desk one Sunday and looked out of the window to see the sun shining. Thinking I should get out more, I went into the garden and did a few odd jobs. The birds were singing. The hens were clucking. This is the life, I thought.

So I went indoors, wound up my blog, and deleted my social media accounts.

Suitably rested, I am back in the fray.

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Mystery Object For You To Identify

The Midl of Lidl (or as it may be Aldi) is a wonderland, full of all those things you didn't know you didn't need, such as stuffed warthogs, rat pressers, atonal apples and amplified heat. Some of the objects are so obscure that I simply cannot work out their intended function, not even when they are in the box with full instructions in twelve languages. If the object is found au naturel, in a state of deshabille, as it were, it can be a proper poser. I think I know what this object is -
... having seen something like it in a box last week, but one never knows. I do have a few ideas:

1 - a do-it-yourself home bungee-jumping kit;
2 - safety harness for indoor paragliding;
3 - a device for removing Boy Scouts from Horses' Hooves;

I own that it is resembles somewhat a late-eighteenth-century Gloucestershire grummet-tinker's scrode, though these are hard to distinguish from early-nineteenth-century Herefordshire grummet-tinker's scrodes, especially if it is missing its splod, as seems to be the case here.

Can you do any better?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Green Build

Most years we go to the annual Green Build event held at Felbrigg Hall, a lovely National Trust property a gnat’s crotchet away from chez Gee. And so it was today. The event is sponsored by the local council and billed as a lifestyle event, encouraging us all to Go Green. Although one does wonder about the carbon footprint of all those cars queuing to get in to an event that grows in popularity each year.

A particular draw for us is the prospect of bags and bags of compost at £1 a go. This comes from all the garden waste collected kerbside in brown wheelie bins (a scheme to which we subscribe) which gets transported to the council’s industrial wormery. This is just like our own domestic wormery only bigger, and the worms, being employed by the Council, have to wear hard hats and high-viz jackets.

The excitement of the event can be in tents.
As you might imagine there is quite a lot of input from artisanal arts and crafts...
... although some of the arts and crafts are less artisanal than others.
Responsible use of a chainsaw. Don't try this at home.
 Being as I am a Socks Maniac I was interested in this display of warm winter socks.

Some of the arts and crafts are not so much artisanal as industrial: there are displays of green tech, including Tesla solar batteries and a surprising variety of electric cars.
We are always interested in building, and building techniques, so I was attracted by this display on lime plastering and traditional insulating materials. Visitors are encouraged to get plastered and fleeced.

Special events, demonstrations and seminars occur throughout the Green Build event's busy program. We didn't attend any this year, but a few years back Offspring#2 and I went to a lecture about how to build houses out of bales of straw. At the end I asked whether such buildings were proof against being blown down by wolves.

For us the best bit is the chance to wander round Felbrigg's productive walled gardens, which are quite magical. 

Another 250 years of loving care, we think, and our garden could be as good as this. And so we leave, daydreaming about smallholdings.

It Has Not Escaped Our Notice

Quite often while performing or rehearsing with my beat combo I have cause to penetrate the interior of the surprisingly large county of Norfolk, and the Lands Adjacent, I find myself in remote country lanes that appear to go on forever. There are times when I feel that I am in the middle of nowhere. Imagine my delight when the other day I found that this was literally true. I had to stop and take this picture. I mean, you would, wouldn’t you?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

It Has Not Escaped Our Notice

Spotted outside a pub in Norfolk
Sightings of interesting signs are welcome on this blog- send them here. All submissions will be enjoyed and cherished, though not necessarily published. If they are published, you will retain copyright and be attributed.