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

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

"Tube London" by Rebecca Sams

I loved this book.

Every tube station in Zone 1 is described together with the history and notable features of its hinterland.

I thought I knew loads about London but I had never heard of the London Stone near Cannon Street. I had no idea how many ghost stations there were, nor how many had changed their names, nor how many had moved their entrances or were originally more than one station.

In short it was a fascinating mine of information.

I have two minor niggles and one major issue. The niggles are that some of the information is replicated on wikipedia; and that there is no index so it is very difficult to look things up.

The major issue is that this only covered zone 1. I want another book to cover the rest of the tube. Please!!!! Or I will have to write it myself.

Great fun. February 2013; 160 pages

Monday, 25 February 2013

"The Lighthouse" by Alison Moore

Futh, a rather pathetic recently-separated, middle-aged man with a mother fixation, goes for a disastrous walking tour in Germany.

In this book, all relationships are doomed. Futh has a loveless marriage with Angela who, we assume, cheats on him. Ester, his hotel-keeper, cheats on Bernard. Futh's mum leaves Futh's dad. Futh's dad, who is boring, drunk and violent, hooks up with Gloria, whose husband left her. I cannot recall anyone happy in the book.

The prose is taut. Many things are left unsaid. This makes the reader fill in the gaps, often to discover later that the gaps have been filled incorrectly. Lighthouses permeate the book. Significant events are replayed over and over again. And the book heads to an inevitable doom (we assume, this is another gap which we fill in).

Miserable but rather well written, this book was a worthy Booker shortlist in 2012 losing to Hilary Mantel with Bring Up The Bodies.  February 2013; 183 pages

Friday, 22 February 2013

"A History of the world" by Andrew Marr

It seems unlikely that any single person can possibly write a history of the world and that any person attempting to must be guilty of self-confidence bordering on arrogance. Such a wide canvas must surely suffer from a lack of depth and no single point of view can possibly permit the multiple perspectives needed.

Marr's history of England from 1900 to 1945 was brilliant. He encapsulated the spirit of the times through multiple vignettes. I loved it. But he fails utterly in this new book. It is too big. His attempts to summarise moments become bland generalizations when I was crying out for more details. Try as he might to avoid it he inevitably falls into the trap of being western-centric and focused on the modern world. He has not got the space to say anything truly worthwhile and the result is regrettable, forgettable.

Disappointing. February 2013; 565 pages

Thursday, 14 February 2013

"The Maul and the Pear Tree" by P.D.James and T.A.Critchley

In December 1811 the family and household of a young shopkeeper on the Ratcliffe Highway in the East End of London were brutally bludgeoned to death. A few days later an innkeeper and his family met the same fate. These bloody murders caused panic through the neighbourhood and a sensation across the nation; the magistracy and watch were exposed as incapable and floundering.The scandal led indirectly to the foundation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829.

The story of the murders and the bumbling investigation is vividly told. As in a classic whodunnit, there is a large but limited cast of suspects, most of whom are closely linked to one another and to one or both victims.  Evidence is presented, sometimes obliquely so that the reader is given parts of the puzzle to solve, and testimonies are forensically dissected. Sometimes background details become extended and slightly impeded the flow of the narrative and the ending is a little disappointing (perhaps I was unrealistic in expecting a rather more ingenious solution to a two hundred year old mystery) but apart from these niggles this is an outstanding read.

Thrilling. February 2013; 364 pages

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

"Tales of the city" by Armistead Maupin

I really did not like this book.

Mary Ann, Mona, Brian and gay Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver rent apartments from a pot-smoking woman of mystery, Anna Madrigal. Mary Ann works for ad agency boss Edgar; she has an affair with colleague Beauchamp who is married to De-De, Edgar's daughter. Coincidences abound as these sad, pathetic characters seek love amongst the one-night-stands in San Francisco.

Their tales are told in brief (two to three pages) episodes. The paragraphs and sentences are also short which gives the book a staccato style. Descriptions are littered with brand names: "Once, after smoking half a joint of Maui Wowie, he'd been reduced to using Crisco as a dip for Ritz crackers." It is only after making some effort on the internet that I learn that MW is a variety of THC infused marijuana from Hawaii and that Crisco is a brand of vegetable oil. The overall effect is to render some descriptions scarcely comprehensible I know what Levis are but not Weejuns. I can guess that Mark Spitz briefs are like swimming trunks and that a Ball Park frank is a type of sausage and that the Fol de Rol may be an entertainment but what on earth is a "hemostat roach clip"?

The far more pernicious effect of all this product placement is to make it appear that the characters in this story are two-dimensional and obsessed with appearance and brand names and possessions. I think I am supposed to feel sorry for them. The rich get no pleasure from their wealth. They struggle to get more column inches in the society papers than their rival hostesses. Everyone is searching for love and meaning. But I don't care. They are too shallow. Their tragedies are appearing in the wrong shade of nail varnish. One character only is interesting. He is dying of a terminal illness. There is a reason he wants a meaning to life. The rest of them are butterflies.

Rubbish. February 2013; 269 pages




Saturday, 2 February 2013

"Grammar for Grown-Ups" by Craig Shrives

This comprehensive little book has lots of advice about punctuation and grammar. The second section goes through easily confused words such as 'weather, whether and wether'; some of these are less easily confused than others and there were very few that I needed advice on. The first section was better.

The advice is clear and unpatronising but the best bit of the book is the use of wonderful quotations from wags and wits such as Oscar Wilde, Groucho Marx and Homer Simpson. For this alone it is a treasure.

Keep it on the shelves. February 2013; 235 pages