Thursday, December 31, 2015
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Friday, December 18, 2015
Saturday, November 28, 2015
This story sees a 90s Serbian war criminal turned new-age healer (an obvious Karadzic manqué) turning up in a rural Irish backwater. Once established as a massage oil doling sex therapist, he impregnates the wife of a failed draper before the long-arm of an Garda Siochana whisks him off to stand trial in the Hague. Retribution is then visited on Fidelma, the woman he leaves behind by the wagging tongues of her neighbours and the altogether more terrifying hands of her erstwhile lover's former bodyguard. Forced to flee to London, Fidelma is transformed into that Irish every woman who leaves home under a cloud of disapproval or common or garden poverty, who then works in any menial job she can find, becoming strong in the process. O'Brien weaves a tale of violence and male weakness and female empowerment that is compelling and yet strangely tender. Mna na Eirean have probably never had a more telling or powerful advocate.
Friday, November 27, 2015
Just had the following conversation at the gym. A stranger asked me if it was still raining. When I said it was, he responded by saying he was 'fed-up with this country' because it's 'crap now, always wet and full of foreigners'. His answer? Emigrate to Cyprus!
I wanted to point out that that would make him a foreigner too, but for some reason words failed me...
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Spent the afternoon at the Tetley, the art gallery and community space housed in the former Tetley brewery office in Leeds. The brewery was controversially closed by parent company Carlsberg a few years ago but the imposing main office, complete with wainscot panelled boardroom and portraits of late Tetleys, remain surrounded by art installations and community event spaces.
Shame the beer served in the cafe is now brewed in Northampton, as opposed to the traditional, but sadly now demolished brewery that dated from the early nineteenth century that until recently stood next to the office. The smell of malt and hops filled the air for generations of loiners.
Friday, November 20, 2015
Saturday, November 07, 2015
Tonight I'm readying myself to stand at the war memorial in the morning. I used to go with my grandad, a WWI veteran, and my dad, who fought in WWII. I went with them as a boy because they told me it was important to remember their mates who were wounded and killed. Later, I learned it was also to honour all victims of war. But dad and grandad are gone now, so it can seem lonely, except I go in their memory, sometimes even carry one of their medals so I can remember when we stood together.
It can also feel lonely for other reasons, too. Mainly because I remember when a poppy was a symbol of suffering and loss, not something you felt compelled to wear for the sake of appearances, or to show 'respect' to a far right group that my dad would have raged over.
He was a proud Legion member. And I remember when the Legion didn't go in for a self-appointed guardian role, or or accept sponsorship deals from arms dealers, but existed to look after those who fought, as it did when they helped secure dad's war pension for hearing loss.
So remember tomorrow, remember the lost and maimed, the fatherless and orphaned, the bereaved parents, the widows - from all sides. Yes, that's another lesson I learned from my grandad: there are no 'winners' in a war - no matter what politicians, of all shades, tell you. He knew it for real: on a road leading from Macedonia into Bulgaria at the end of September 1918, he saw the Bulgarian Army surrender:
To us they looked to be either young boys or old men, starving, dressed in rags. They just threw their guns on a pile at the side of the road and shuffled off into the distance.That was war to him, a cruel waste of life, of people and land. War was fear, suffering and loss - he taught me and I remember. Tomorrow, I will remember.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Had to buy a new router yesterday, owing to its predecessor packing up without warning. The replacement, a Netgear AC1600, ticked all the techie boxes, including streaming and gaming. But it resolutely refused to accept my ISP's login settings, so I called Netgear technical support.
After several minutes listening to loud muzak, a female operative answered the phone and proceeded to take my details. After a short while, I was asked if I would like to join Netgear's mailing list (hint to Netgear marketing: technical support calls might not be the most fruitful source of future sales, if the caller can't get their present purchase to work).
I was then taken through an obviously scripted sequence. When this didn't resolve the issue, we went through it twice more. An hour and a half later, the operator admitted defeat and we ended the call with her telling me to contact my ISP and ask them to 'reset the Internet connection and refresh my username and password'. The ISP's tech support dept took some getting through to ('unexpectedly high call volumes'). But eventually a guy traced the problem and the router connected. At this point, I asked about resetting the Internet, only to be told that this was impossible (the request actually reminded me of the IT Crowd episode where Jen 'breaks' the entire Internet by dropping the box that Chris and Moss have told her contains the world wide web as a joke).
The router works, but Netgear tech support didn't help bring this about, and the scripted approach prevented the problem being identified sooner.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Spent the weekend in a 'contemporary hotel' but didn't give much thought to what it meant until I took a shower and then ordered breakfast.
The reception area, corridors and rooms were all clean lines, bold feature walls with contrasting lighter tones. But ''contemporary" has its limits, as I discovered in the shower. This was an old fashioned mixer affair, with the intending showeree trying to gauge flow and temperature from the bath, before turning a third tap to switch the water from bath to showerhead. All of this effort could soon be undone, however, as anyone drawing water elsewhere could either send a stream of scalding water cascading from the shower, or turn the temperature to a level that would be more appreciated by polar bears or penguins.
As I experienced the latter twice during the shower, I went down to breakfast craving hot coffee. But, here again 'contemporary' had its limits. The cups were small and guest seemingly not to be trusted with a cafetiere. Leading to a situation where every sip was followed by a scan of the restaurant, in the hope of securing a refill from a passing and suitably equipped waiter.
Monday, October 19, 2015
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Friday, October 09, 2015
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Friday, October 02, 2015
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Wednesday, September 09, 2015
Friday, September 04, 2015
Friday, August 28, 2015
Early morning email from Mencap, with exciting news and fundraising pleas. Apparently, I received this because I'd given consent to being contacted by them. Except I haven't. Also, although the e-mail, right at the end, states I can 'unsubscribe', there was no link allowing me to do so.
Now, I know that Mencap does vitally important work, but this kind of unsolicited e-begging (as with postal pestering and on street chuggering) seriously reduces the good name of many charities. Yes, I know times are hard financially, and that their are a lot of causes competing for money. But it starts to feel rather underhand when appeals masquerade as news, surveys or questionnaires, or when charities buy in the names and addresses of the provenly pesterable, based presumably on prior giving to comparable causes.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Friday, August 14, 2015
Monday, August 10, 2015
Last week we had 'floods' and 'swarms', now Hammond opts for marauding. When will the Tories stop pandering to the ravings of Murdoch, Desmond, Dacre et al and show real political leadership? And that means cease the scapegoating and threats of inhumane treatment, rather acknowledge that the West caused much of the unrest that has led to the refugee crisis and start to alleviate the suffering. http://gu.com/p/4bdx5?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Blogger
Sunday, August 09, 2015
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
Just been informed that my application to carry out freelance work for Ofsted didn't come up to snuff. Apparently, they received a lot of applicants, which they ranked according to their published criteria.
All guff, so far, as per usual. The application process struck me as rather superficial at the time, based as it was on a short Survey Monkey questionnaire. The questions were not those you'd generally use to assess editorial competency or experience. For example, while they wanted to know how many days per week I was available, no-where was I asked for a list of recent titles or names of my referees. And the curt series of questions didn't allow me to establish that I have over 35 years' experience.
Still, 'rational thought' and 'Ofsted' aren't often seen together in the same sentence. Being awarded the bum's rush on this occasion does not, according to my informant, preclude me from applying again in future. But if Ofsted persists in using something as shallow as Survey Monkey, which is designed more for cheap and cheerful, self-generated opinion polls (the folks in my wife's office use it to decide where to go for lunch), I might just save time and effort and preclude myself.
On the following day, my friend's daughter emailed to say that her mum was still completely bowled over that people had remembered her after so many years, which set me to thinking that her contribution to the lives of so many people, and the obvious affection in which she was held, that recognition was long overdue.
Friendship is precious, and grows in importance with passing years, but losing touch can make the eventual reunion seem rather bitter sweet. There is great strength in tried and trusted friendship, as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.
Saturday, August 01, 2015
Saturday, July 25, 2015
The drive from Totnes to our self-catering cottage on a farm at Hallsands in Friday's downpour was interesting, to say the least. The satnav took us down ever narrowing lanes, with ever-increasing amounts of standing water one the road surface. Looming hedges took out much of the light already depleted by the grey storm clouds that lowered from the narrow slit of observable sky.
My wife, who hasn't been to the - usually glorious - South Hams before, admitted to feelings of claustrophobia before we swung down hill to the farm and the dry welcome of home for the next week.
Woke today to clear blue skies and a light breeze. Now I can show them the beauty of south Devon combes and clear sandy beaches that I've loved since my late teens.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Monday, July 06, 2015
A commonplace, but nonetheless annoying phenomenon, concerns my two teenaged sons and the dishwasher. When the amount of used crockery left lying around in their bedrooms starts to exceed the stock of clean dishes and plates in the kitchen cupboards, we issue a parental order for the mucky stuff to be taken downstairs and placed 'in' the dishwasher. But this apparently simple instruction is nearly always mistranslated in their computer game and streamed music addled brains, so that 'in' becomes 'on top'.
A small problem to the passing reader, perhaps, but one that is seriously starting to affect my already feeble grasp on sanity.
Saturday, July 04, 2015
Come in from the garden to find youngest son riveted to youtube video of three potty-mouthed adolescents playing Grand Theft Auto and giggling over their expletive-ridden in game commentary. And he thinks I'm boring.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
Just back from failed first attempt at blood donation. Medical problem needs checking with GP before the red stuff can flow free. Was asked if I'd ever had unprotected oral or anal sex with another male. Question came as a bit of a surprise, because I thought they only offered tea and biscuits afterwards...
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Saturday, June 13, 2015
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Monday, June 08, 2015
Sunday, June 07, 2015
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
Noticed a promising new job advertised online, a transport company wanted a training consultant. But decided not to bother when I read the HR spiel. Apparently, they want someone who's 'passionate' about putting stuff in lorries to teach others how to do it 'passionately' too. Where do HR/recruitment wonks learn to spout such utter bollocks?
Sunday, May 31, 2015
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Have to declare an oblique interest in this title because it was written by a friend's grandfather.
Coogan's account details his childhood in Glasgow's Gorbals in the 20s and 30s, through to his athletic success with the Maryhill Harriers, to his call up for service in World War II in the Lanarkshire Yeomanry. This territorial cavalry unit was in the process of being subsumed into the artillery, and Coogan's battery - woefully I'll equipped - were shipped out to Singapore to face the full fury of the Japanese onslaught as it tore through Malaysia and Thailand to take the supposedly impregnable British fortress at the foot of the Malay peninsula.
From facing the horror of a banzai attack and a forced retreat to Singapore, to the brutality of imprisonment in the infamous Changi Jail Coogan presents an unflinching account of the sadism of his Japanese captors. The title is taken from a threat made to Coogan by a Japanese officer in response to a refusal to obey an instruction to stop digging a deep grave for a dead fellow POW (Coogan wanted to dig deeper than the permitted 18 inches to protect his friend's remains from scavenging animals). From Changi, Coogan and a small band of surviving comrades from the Lanarkshire Yeomanry, augmented by a changing group of British, Australian and Dutch POWs, are taken first to work as slave labour in a Formosan copper mine, then to a coal mine near Nagasaki. Enduring starvation, sea and rail transport in appalling conditions, and the casual violence of guards indoctrinated to believe that surrender made their charges completely worthless, Coogan never loses his belief in the innate goodness of humanity. While he encounters brutal treatment from some of his captors (two of whom he went on to present testimony against to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal) he is eventually befriended by a guard who shares his love of running and, along with a Roman Catholic chaplain, manages to ensure the survival of a number of his comrades by stealing food from a variety of ingenious, and occasionally stomach-churning sources.
The book also highlights the futility and banality of war. He is scathing of the failures of those in authority, from Churchill's refusal to make proper provision for the defence of Singapore, to the senior officers and wealthy expatriate community who singularly failed to appreciate the danger posed by the advancing Japanese. A final indignity is recalled by the derisory £75 Coogan received as back pay on his return to Scotland. The payment, he recounts, was itself subject to a deduction for food and accommodation, giving rise to his observation that he was docked pay for the pleasure of being starved!
This searingly honest narrative pulls no punches but ends by bearing no hatred. In some ways it complements the Railway Man with its account of Eric Lomax's search for release from the brutalisation of such horrifying captivity in that this is an account of survival against the odds, but one that is suffused with a love for humanity. It deserves to be read by a wide audience. I hope also that it comes to stand as a testament to a passing generation that lived through World War II and stands as a counterbalance to the often cloying sentiment and sensationalised accounts served up on film and TV.