May 30, 2014

A Phenomenal Woman

“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.” 
― Maya Angelou

May 19, 2014

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A delicately and masterfully crafted book. Unbelievable that this is Anthony Marra's first novel. His writing hooked me in from the beginning and immersed me in his character's lives effortlessly. The attention to life's details is extraordinary and the reality he creates leaps from the page in a picture more vivid than I have read for some time. He manages to convey much with very few words. Not a sentence is wasted and it shows throughout the entire book.

I felt I had been through an emotional wringer by the time I finished reading and I'm glad I took the journey. The story is at once heartbreaking and uplifting and I defy you not to cry at the closing lines.

Why it didn't win the National Book Award I'll never know. Anthony Marra deserves to win prizes for his writing. He has far to go and I, for one, will be keeping track of him to see what wonders he comes up with next.

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The Shock of the Fall

The Shock of the FallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Shock of the Fall

Nathan writes with a keen sense of observation, that make a person, a situation, an emotion, real. He manages to focus on the tiny details, both internal and external, that often seem inconsequential but become an important part of the experiencing of the character. At the beginning of the story our protagonist ends up on the ground with a girl he has just met, falling on top of her while reaching out to comfort her. He describes her turning her head and one of her hairs trailing across his lips and tongue. It is that kind of simplicity that puts flesh on the bones of the people in the story.

The writing is both delicate and substantial; putting things very simply at times, yet very powerfully. His sensitivity in describing mental illness shines through and, by the time I was most of the way through the book, I felt I had some understanding of what the central character was experiencing.

This felt like a story written from the heart. The author used to be a mental health nurse and manages to put across some very poignant points about the treatment of people with mental illness. He describes the hospital ward office and all the mugs, clocks, mouse mats, and pens that are adorned with the names of the medication the patients hate. Drug reps may have a job to do but it implies an insensitivity on the part of hospital staff that they allow the clinical aspect to creep insidiously into the treatment place. Patients have enough to remind them of their illness without emblazoning the day-to-day and the ordinary with more reminders.

I started this book mid-morning and couldn't put it down. I had to stop to do other things otherwise I might have read it all in one go. As it is I picked it up the following day and finished it in one more sitting - in tears by the end.

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May 10, 2014

Dicewords app for iPhone, iPad and iPod

If you love word games, this is for you. Dicewords.

9 alphabetic dice, over 10 million word combinations... 

Often unpredictable and always great fun, this compelling word game can be played by 1 to 8 players at all skill levels. Includes excellent Dicewords-based puzzle too.

Stephen has taken about a year to make this. It is the first app involving a game he has produced and it's now finally live on the app store. It took a lot of learning on his part. Well done.

You can see more of Stephen's work on his website - Black Tablet.

Dicewords is produced in collaboration with Graham Lipscomb, of Graham's Games.

Wild Mushrooms

Not a sign you see every day.

We were in Brighton yesterday and this was propped in the door of a shop.

I wonder how many Wild Mushroom workshops there are nationally?

April 11, 2014

pope Francis takes on evil which some priests had committed

The poor ole pope taking on evil
So, pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the "evil" damage to children caused by sexual abusers in the clergy.

Hah!!! Baloney.

Does this include the clergy and the vatican who have moved these evil abusers around the world to remove them from the places and the people they have harmed? The people who have moved the abusers in an attempt to hush up abuse by an institution that is supposed to protect people? The clergy and the Vatican who have persistently, it seems, tried to ignore the problem and to deal with it in the most heinous way possible to those who have been abused?

I have written before about the right of the catholic church (no capitals on purpose here - it shouldn't be a proper noun) to speak about anything to do with abuse when it seems to me to be the most abusive Western religion going.

If anyone's going to Hell (capital letter on purpose - it is a proper noun after all) it should be the perpetrators of such crimes. Instead it leaves the victims in Hell and rewards the perpetrators.

Consider a 55 year old woman married to a divorced man. Not much wrong with that you might think.

That 55 year old woman had a letter from the pope excommunicating her from the catholic church because she was married to a divorced man.

That 55 year old woman is Irish and a devout catholic. She has had it instilled into her since birth.

She wishes, secretly, that her husband will die before she does so that she can be accepted back into the catholic church and go to heaven when she dies. She loves her husband dearly and knows it is a completely unreasonable thing to think and feel. The way she thinks about it causes her immense feelings of guilt because of her love for her husband. But because it is so ingrained in her she cannot help thinking this way.

I think the Moonies did something similar and it's called Brainwashing (capital letter on purpose). Who is more Christian? I'll leave you to decide.

February 02, 2014

St. Peter's Maldon without the Holm Oak


Maldon may have lost a beautiful tree but a view of St. Peter's has been opened up that won't have been seen for over 100 years.

January 11, 2014

150 Year Old Holm Oak Cut Down in Maldon

They're cutting down the old holm oak in St. Peter's churchyard, Maldon. The base of the trunk has a fungal infection that has weakened it and it is in danger of falling down.

It has stood in front of the Thomas Plume library for about 150 years and has become an imposing presence in the town.

It provided a lot of shade in the summer and the bench under it is a popular place to sit. It's also an enormous amount of greenery spreading, as it did, out over the road and towering about 80 feet above the town.

Without it there will be a huge gap and I'm sure it will be missed by a lot of people - I know I will.

Today, there were pockets of people standing around in the High Street watching the operations as they start to take the tree down. It will be an impressive piece of work and I'm sure will attract bystanders, but I also think there will be people watching because it feels like the end of an era. There will be a lot of emotional people in the town.

A Very Modern Car

I bought a little car a while ago, a Peugeot 206. It's very nippy and compact and I love it. It's blue-silver, even though the registration documents say it's silver.

I like to be a little different.

It has some automatic devices and settings, which are quite handy as well; the lights come on automatically when it gets dark enough to have them on. I like that bit. The fog lights don't come on automatically when it gets foggy though, something that would be quite handy as I always forget where the fog light switch is and then have to scrabble around dangerously - in the fog - looking for the switch.

When these automatic devices are active, a sign lights up on my dashboard to tell me. I like that bit too. It feels modern.

One day a sign lit up that got me rather nervous and led me to believe the car had belonged to someone fervently religious, perhaps a Catholic.

'Automatic Whipping Active', it said.

I didn't know how to turn this one off, which was worrying for a while. Mind you, I didn't know how to turn off the other settings either but they were handy ones that I liked having set to ON. I like to be a bit different, but not this different.

Was this a setting for the lazy self-flagellator; have a machine do it for you rather than DIY? I would guess, having never tried it, that self-flagellation would be dangerous while driving and would rank along with mobile phone usage and steering with your knees while driving with your hands behind your head - something you could be filmed doing and then find yourself posted to YouTube. How embarrassing would that be? I wondered how many points someone would get on their licence if they were stopped for flagellating themselves while driving.

The device never activated itself and I didn't find myself being flagellated. I could only guess it would do it if I did something that deserved penitence.

I pointed it out to a friend one day.

"You silly bugger," he said, in the way old friends can call me a silly bugger. "It says, 'Automatic Wiping Active.'"

Now I'm worried about my seating position.

January 09, 2014

Knitting Jumpers From The Wool That's Pulled Over Our Eyes

So, Sir Margaret Thatcher's government wanted to shut down more coal pits than they said they did. Of course, key advisors would deny any cover-up claims and they always have done. Quite right, it's what they get paid for isn't it?

The information released by the National Archives after 30 years shows much that would have been shouted down as 'conspiracy theories' even while the national populace knew its truth ... we always seem to know the truth even when we're told we don't.

The government will always try to pull the wool over our eyes in a futile attempt to cover up what is later revealed to be just that - a cover-up.

I'm surprised there hasn't been the uprising my mother thought there should be back in 1983. "It's time this country had a revolution," she said. And she wasn't a revolutionary type, my mother, but she knew injustice when she saw it and she was only 5'3".

We vote our governments in to dish injustice out to us, don't we? We always do. It's what democracy is for. And then, because we can't face the stupidity of what we've done, we wave our hands and say, "Oh, they always do it. The next government will be better." Really?

Our governments are usually full of the most unrepresentative people; MPs with privileged educations and more than one home. How is that representative of the people? When was the last time you felt that our PM downwards had any idea of what life is like for us mere mortals? Exactly. They are removed from us and seem to think they can do what they like - and usually do.

That Bliar chap a few years ago cried 'justice' while authorising and encouraging bombing the hell out of Iraq. 'We have good cause,' he said, while we cried "Bliar." So, who was right? We haven't even had to wait 30 years to find out what we all knew all along. Try as he might he couldn't pull the wool over our eyes.

The frustration is, we didn't seem to be able to actually do much about it at the time. We were too busy knitting wooly jumpers with all that wool. All our protests were treated in much the same way as Sir Margaret sanctioned in the 80s - oppress the buggers and beat them down.

Oh, and while we're at it, did you know she and her government were all for flooding Kent and Essex to save London when the building of the Thames barrier was delayed due to a strike? Playing God as well, were we Sir Margaret? That moment with the tailplane of a model of a British Airways 747 obviously went to her head.

While not condoning violence I think there was a great lesson to be learnt from the fate of Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu. Go too far and your own people will bay for your blood ... and one day they might just get it.

January 08, 2014

Are Mobile Phones Irritating Social Exclusion Devices?

Have you noticed the people who seem to have nothing better to do than stand around, or wander aimlessly through your local streets or supermarket, nattering on their mobile phones?

They are the people who have their phone glued to their ears for hours at a time, and are obviously talking to someone on the other end of the phone who equally seems to have little else to do other than talk to someone on the other end of the phone for hours at a time.

The young lady next to me on Witham station, judging by the strange (and worrying) colour of her skin, was probably talking to a young lady with equally strange coloured skin sitting behind the desk of her local tanning parlour and who also had little else to do, except study her nails and discuss skin colour with the young woman on Witham railway station.

Am I being unfair in laying most of this behaviour on women? A quick head count while waiting for my train revealed four women on two platforms with their mobile phones glued to their ears apparently talking to the same person, unless by some strange magic they managed to hang up unseen and dial another number. By this I don't mean all four women were talking to the same person in a conference call - at least I presume they weren't. What I meant was, the person on the other end was the same person throughout the time I saw them on the phone -- Oh, You know what I mean.

Men do spend inordinate amounts of time on the phone and upset and bore a lot of bystanders in the process but it is women, and young girls, who seem to have it down to an art form.

To be fair, on my way home from London, an older man sat in the same carriage as me and spent most of a 45 minute journey holding the tiny microphone attached to the lead of his headphones close to his mouth while he spoke in a louder than usual voice to it about completely mundane and frankly boring stuff. What the person on the other end was doing was beyond me - painting the next masterpiece in oils perhaps? They can't have been listening to such drivel, surely?

While I'm on a roll (because that's what I feel this is), what became of bluetooth headsets? All these women and boring middle-aged men taking up the airwaves with copious amounts of nothing are either wearing headphones or holding the phone to their ears. Bluetooth headsets seem to be reserved for men over a certain age. They are the ones, often taxi drivers or overweight 50-somethings, that look like they've had a cyborg part grafted to the side of their heads. That little device in their ear says, "Look at me. I'm modern and technical and down with the crowd. And I'm so popular I have to wear this device so I can speak to my minions while I'm doing other stuff." Mind you, the little device in their ear is only speaking to them. To the rest of us they look like middle-aged tossers.

Mobile phones seem to have extended the capability of gossip in women, and inane boring chat in men, to something beyond the personal, beyond human interaction. Now you can say, "Oooh, you'll never guess what?" wherever you are and whenever you are. You don't have to wait until you see someone. Not only that but you can include a carriage full of passengers in your conversation by talking inappropriately loudly to the irritation of everyone else around you (not that you'll realise this - you'll be so engrossed in your own selfish thoughts and behaviour). The woman who sat in front of us on the way to London discussed her family very loudly for about 20 minutes, explaining to her friend afterwards, who she had largely ignored for most of the journey, "That was my dad. I have to shout, he lives in Spain." I kid you not.

Still, if silence is your thing, you can negotiate the countless youngsters wandering around with their arms and hands extended in front of them with thumbs that can outperform our nearest primate relatives and who may well evolve into a species that looks like they're holding something even when they're not ... thumbs bouncing up and down on invisible keys. They are so absorbed in the little screens in front of them, they even have to download apps to replace their attention and eyesight.

I'm quite happy to revise my thinking about this subject if you can give me reasonable cause to do so. In the meantime I'm happy to rant and to grow into one of the grumpy old men I so admired on TV some years ago. You might not agree with me but I know I'm right.

Besides, this is my blog and I can write what I like.

Happy New Year and Bah, humbug.