About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 26 December 2009

"KIng Rufus" by Emma Mason

This is a biography of William II. It is well written if not riveting and the print is rather small.

She is clearly on his side. Generally protrayed as a bad king in both senses of the world (not to mention a sodomite), she suggests that he was very capable, a good military leader (though he never actually fought a pitched battle) and competent administrator who successfully prevented rebellion until his murder. He is likely to have had illegitimate children although he never married and we do not know any names of any sexual partner male or female.

His favourite oath was "By the (Holy) Face of Lucca" (or once, "By the Face at Lucca") but, to my immense frustration, Ms Mason NEVER tells you who or where Lucca was and what the face was. This is symptomatic of a slightly too scholarly history. Wikipedia does!

I came across a bumper of interesting bits: the king of Scotland, Malcolm Canmore, ambushed and killed by the earl of Northumberland who later rebelled against Rufus and got imprisoned for life; Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, defending Worcester against rebels; Rufus using English mercenaries to fight his brother, Duke of Normandy; Edgar Aethling, Saxon hope for the crown, working with Rufus and the King of Scotland; Ranulf Flambard, the flamboyant chief minister, who was imprisoned by Henry I after the death of Rufus only to escape the Tower; Gundulf who worked on the White Tower and Rochester Cathedral (it cost £60 to build) and then on the walls around the Tower; Rufus also had Westminster Hall built; Westminster was a dodgy place for a palace because criminals claimed sanctuary in the Abbey and then used it as a base to mug courtiers arriving at the Palace. Much fascinating stuff!

Rufus extended Norman rule into the north, defending his realm against Malcolm Canmore of the Scots. He built a New Castle on the north bank of the Tyne and settled Cumbria, refounding Carlisle (it had been devastated by Scottish scorched earth) and rebuilding its Castle.

Finally, his death. He was shot with an arrow by Walter Tyrrel who fired at a stag in the New Forest but hit the king "by mistake"; he then left the scene and the country and became quite pally with the King of France who clearly had reason for wanting Rufus dead (Rufus was a much wealthier and more powerful king who was threatening to take over lands adjoining the tiny Kingdom of France). Was it an accident or was it murder? The best evidence for the accident was the total lack of people who claimed it was murder at the time ... but given that Henry I hot-footed it from the scene (the New Forest) to Winchester to claim the treasury and the throne he might have silenced those who claimed it was a killing. The best evidence against the accident is the fact that the King's nephew was killed by an arrow in a hunting accident in the New Forest a few months before. Dodgy or what!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

"Valley of the Dolls" by Jacqueline Susan

Perhaps the original bonkbuster this book follows three impossibly beautiful and talented women as they move from young girls about town in 1945 through incredible success to married despair, pills (the "dolls" in the title are sleeping and slimming pills) and booze. Neely, the Irish singer, becomes a film star (Garland?). Jennifer, a nobody from small town America, is first met married to an Italian prince, then marries a singer and film star (Sinatra?), then becomes a star in French sex films and finally dates a senator. Anne, the all time heroine, is engaged to a millionaire within six weeks of arriving in New York and taking a secretarial job; she later dates the impossibly handsome author and later becomes a model and TV star.

The writing is almost entirely dialogue and action and is as improbable as the plot.

Trash.

December 2009, 467 pages

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Kiran Desai "The Inheritance of Loss"

This book won the Booker in 2006.

Sai lives with her grandfather, a retired judge, and his dog, Mutt, on a decaying estate north of Darjeeling near the Nepal border. Their cook mourns his son, Biju, who is living in New York. Some Nepali freedom fighters ("Gorkhaland for the Gorkhas") raid the house and take the judge's ancient hunting guns. Sai's secret boyfriend, her maths and science tutor, who is Nepali, doesn't turn up for their lesson...

The story starts to explain the back story, how the judge and Sai came to be living their, Sai's relationships with her tutor and the others in the village: gay Uncle Potty, Father Booty, sisters Lola and Noni. Intercut are scenes from the cook's son's life in the Big Apple as an illegal immigrant and impoverished restaurant worker. Slowly (and I found it very slow indeed) the story meanders back to the present day.

Suddenly the violence flares up and life will never be the same again...

Deftly written, with subtle observations building portraits of the characters, but in the middle bit I got extremely bogged down and found myself not caring about the characters. But the final third suddenly becomes a different book: the cosy gentility of life is overthrown and ugly chaos reigns.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

"The Human Touch" by Michael Frayn

I hate this book. I wanted to throw it across the room.

Novelist and playwright Michael Frayn exposes the inadequacies in Science, Maths, Logic, Linguistics, Philosophy and Psychology through the power of his introspection and rhetoric.

I don't think so.

Sorry, Michael, but most of what you have to say has been said before. Your primary thesis seems to be Man is the measure of things which was around before Socrates. Your tool for demolishing Physics seems to be Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle although I think you have confused it with Chaos Theory. Maths has long understood and accepted Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. Logic knows the limitations of the syllogism. The people who work in these fields are well aware of the philosophical paradoxes that lie at the heart of their endeavours. These do not mean that all of Science, Maths etc are wrong. It means they aren't perfect. What is?

I object to your apparent belief that you can, just using introspection, revolutionise ideas have been developed through hard work by intelligent people over hundreds of years. Having admitted "The only way I can begin  to approach it [science] is through the supposedly 'accessible' books that some scientists write for laymen, and I can't honestly claim to understand more than a fraction even of these" you go on to ridicule the attempts of scientists to explain their theories. You sneer that these scientific laws are nothing more than explanations. And? Your point is?

I could go on and on. You certainly do. One of the flaws of this book is the endless repetition which your rhetoric demands.

Just one other moan. You claim that it is impossible, by introspection, to decide how or when decision are made. But psychologists using cleverly designed experiments can throw light on how humans think. But you ignore the hard work of so many because you are carried away with your own arguments.

I hated this book. It is endorsed by A.C. Grayling. This makes me not want to read anything ACG has written.

Superfreakonomics by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Another compendium of mad statistics from the Freakonomics people. I discovered:
  • It is more dangerous to be a drunk pedestrian than a drunk driver (so don't confiscate those car keys!)
  • Prostitutes practise price discrimination which is possible because they can easily identify which customers are likely to pay more and they can prevent resale of the product
  • Pimps add more value than estate agents
  • Every year the shoe bomber costs the US 1,065 years of extra security checks at airports
  • You could mask the effects of global warming by attaching long hoses to power station chimneys: pumping the sulphur dioxide high into the atmosphere would create a blanket that would cause global cooling
  • And you could prevent hurricanes using big rubber rings
  • An experiment to see whether monkeys could understand money not only had the monkeys trading coins for treast but also engendered the first observed case of monkey prostitution (a male monkey gave his coin to a female, they had sex, the female then used the coin to buy a treat!)

Even with all this it wasn't as good as the first one!