Small Eco-Houses

This is one of those Taschen published books with a lot of pictures and parallel text in English, French and German. All told it only took about an hour to read, so there is not a lot of text, and frankly the text is not up to much either. However that is hardly the point of the book. It is a resource of photos of some aspirational or not so aspirational houses with an environmentally friendly element. However this is environmental friendliness with concrete, larch cladding and lots of glass walls, so nice to look at but not a lot of chickens scrabbling around strawbale walls.

Worth a look and really not very expensive for what it is. You can always have a look through it and dream of being able to afford one of these houses.


Shooting Blanks

May 2015 - Testimony 1

I found one of the first of them. He was floating face down in the water. I pulled him out with a bill hook. You don't find a body in the water every day, at least in those days you did not. He was dead. But not long dead. He had a kindly face. The sort of guy you felt you could trust. I could not quite place his clothes, foreign somehow, not from round here.

We kept the body cold, and the police came down to collect in when we got into harbour. They didn't seem all that surprised.

A month later and it all seemed very different, most everyone I knew had fished bodies out of the water. There must have been hundreds of them. There were rumours. Rumours run wild. People trafficking, drug deals gone wrong, organ trading. None of it made any sense. It kinda creeps you out. I always liked being out at sea. I felt kind of alone out there. Pee off the side of the boat, no one there to see you. Do what you like. I knew folks took guns and shot sea gulls. But you didn't feel so alone out there anymore. At least it was quiet, no one yacking at you. Just the sea, sucking at the side of the boat. The gulls if you were close enough to shore. The boat noises, the comforting creak and ping of the boat floating in the sea.

The worst thing is not knowing. We none of us knew what was going on. Just tried to go about our business I guess. But suddenly pulling a few fish from the sea seemed a bit irrelevant.

June 2015 - Testimony 2

We had just received the latest tranche of grant funding, it covered the existing longitudinal pH work for the six quadrants, and sample at increased intervals. It really was not difficult to plot. The pH readings were all wrong, and there was a centre to the reduced pH. This was not what we had been looking for, but once the data was plotted up it was obvious. It would have been tempting to ask for further research funding, but we already had the latest tranche. I bullied the Assistant Director and got permission to take the Clupea Research Vessel through to the projected centre. If there was a centre then maybe there was something there. It was getting dark as we reached the area that I had plotted. I'd not expected to see anything. I just thought I would be taking readings, for as long as I could get away with before the captain decided to head for shore. They had little time for our scientific work, but they were paid to taxi us around so as long as the weather was not horrendous I did not expect too much trouble. On the horizon I saw a pale light. Like when the flaring oil reflects off clouds, but there was no flaring oil and no clouds. I did not have to ask the captain to steer closer. It had piqued his curiosity too. He said that we could not neglect a distress flare, but we both of us knew that it was no distress flare.

As we steered forward the air smelt strange, like hot electrics, a sort of chemical smell.

We could not understand what we were seeing until we were almost upon it, the air was lit up, and seemed to wrinkle. And out of the wrinkle fell people. The water was full of people. They flapped but could barely swim. With the mates, I pulled them aboard, we pulled them aboard wrapped them in blankets until we ran out of blankets, then newspapers, they huddled shivering, there were corpses in the water, and struggling people.

I was angry, and it gave me strength, and I pulled them out of the water until I was exhausted, it is almost impossible to pull a person from the water, I am not a strong man, but I pulled out dozens, the mates pulled out more, they were still falling out of that wrinkle, when the captain steered us to shore. I was hoarse shouting but I could barely move. They just sat there shivering, saying nothing. Five or six must have just died on the trip back, shivering until they quietly just stopped and fell silent. I felt wrung out.

I was pulled in by the police, and some other government people. Mostly I just waited around. They got me to make statements, and sign statements. Then sign documents that had been typed up. No one ever told me anything. I got taken to some facility in metal containers at some big harbour. There was all sorts of stuff going on there. Some were kindly, some were gruff. I had seen the sea fill up with struggling people, I didn't really care much anymore.

August 2015 - Testimony 3

All the nations of the world are united in welcoming these strangers to our lands. We do not know where they have come from, or understand how they have come but they are surely refugees in the truest sense of the word. We extend to them the hand of friendship, they come in need and we shall not turn them away in their great need.

October 2015 - Testimony 4

The United Nations under the powers vested in it, censures the following nations for failure to accept their quota of "refugees" in the past month,

October 2015 - Testimony 5

Reports have now been published in three peer reviewed scientific journals confirming that the "refugees" are capable, with intensive cognitive training of gaining basic communication skills. However it has proved impossible to obtain any account from them of who they are and where they have come from. Analysis of their clothing has shed little light on the issue, their clothes are not currently manufactured anywhere in the world, and two new polymers were identified in use. The speculation remains that they have travelled through time or from an alternative dimension. The initial suggestion that they were refugees remains appropriate although legal debate proceeds to establish whether they should be granted asylum based on the closest land territory of USA. It is argued that as no country of origin has been established and it has not been established that the refugees are fleeing natural disaster or persecution they cannot be legally classed as asylum seekers under UN rules.

October 2015 - Testimony 6

A variety of northern cities have accepted quotas of "refugees" in exchange for additional disbursements from the Treasury. There have been riots in three cities, and some anti-blank sentiment, but additional funding is being provided for health and social work services.

The Chief Executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission has stated that his organisation does not represent "refugees." They are an unwanted burden on existing minority groups and are supporting them has drained resources from our deprived and disadvantaged. It has still not been established that they have any significant cognitive abilities.

October 2015 - Testimony 7

The Government has activated Cobra to respond to the Congoese Flu. Airline bosses are appealing to the European Commission claiming that restrictions on flights to Africa are an infringement of their right to free trade.

October 2015 - Testimony 8

Six nuclear power stations around the Mediterranean are now believed to have failed and there have been no official reports from ten countries. The army is fully mobilised, with troops returning from a variety of conflicts. The government has declared a state of national emergency. Public sector unions are threatening strike action over delayed payment of salaries.

November 2019 - Testimony 9

He was blond and handsome. I'm a woman, I cannot help but notice these things. He did not say much. He would often just look at me, like a dog looks at you. Dumb but affectionate, or maybe just hungry. At first I had tried to get him to help around the farm, but he really was not much use.

You could see the clouds glow all red and angry. The air stank of smoke, not woodsmoke, but dirty smoke like burning tyres that caught the back of your throat. I just stayed out here. I counted out a load of shotgun cartridges but never used them. No one came by. There was just the two of us out here in the hills. I carried on farming just as I had always done. I grow a fair bit out here, and tins and jars keep for ages. Always had a big pile of them. It was stupid things like bailer twine that you run out of. When there is not a shop to run out too.

I got lonely. You get lonely sometimes. A woman alone.

He was handsome, did I tell you. We just, well, you know. Even one of the blanks knows how to hold a woman and make love, after a fashion. There was a time when you would have been treated like scum for something like that. But there was no one to criticise. And with all that had happened did it really matter. There is little enough joy in the world, what is a small piece of pleasure in all of that.

He died. It had been a struggle to keep him. He did not really know how to clean himself, or look after himself. I did my best. I knew plenty had just been allowed to die, I never did that. Honest, I did my best, but he got poorly and I could not keep him alive. He died there all quiet like. At the end he was looking at me, that same way he did, like he loved me, or maybe just hungry, the way a dog would. And then he was still looking at me, but he wasn't there anymore, I just sort of knew that he was dead.

We used to wonder if the blanks come from the future, why would they come to now, but with the plague, the wars and everything it is obvious enough, but why come back if you are going to be a blank. That's not really escaping is it, coming back, even if you get fished out of the water, and you don't drown, you are a blank, you don't know anything, you are not anyone, is that any better than being dead. What could you hope to achieve by coming back in time, so many of them, thousands upon thousands coming back here.

Most everyone dies of the plague. I had only survived by being up here, being careful, boiling everything, disinfecting everything. But my son is different. I am teaching him the alphabet, and words and stuff. He is smart and strong, and lively. Like he never saw anything bad enough to bother him. He capers about, and goes down into the valley. He wanders about, he meets people. I don't dare, I have to stay isolated up here. If I don't I just know I will catch the plague and die. But not him, he seems to be immune.

He has his father's eyes, he looks at me affectionate or maybe just hungry.

The Creative Habit, learn it and use it for life by Twyla Tharp with Mark Reiter

This is a highly recommended and quoted book on creativity by a contemporary dance choreographer.

It is not hard to read, it is bubbling with ideas, and there are some good stories in there too. I don't know anything about contemporary dance, so it provided an insight to a world that I know nothing about.

Having said all that, I found that it dragged a bit, having said something it seemed to be resaid and expanded, and clarified. Probably a book for when you have the time to concentrate and take it in properly.

The girl who played with fire by Stieg Larsson

Book two out of three in this series. Incredibly readable, one of those books that is hard to put down, so it seems to just read itself. A slightly different beast from the first book, the story develops itself while remaining true to the earlier one.

I would not defend this is the greatest book ever written, it is shallow and at times incredibly smug, the lead characters never seem to doubt themselves or let anyone down. For me the end dragged a bit, oddly I was most gripped when the least seemed to be happening. Also you really do need to read these books in sequence.

Highly recommended despite all these caveats, though judging by the bookshops and all the people with copies, there cannot be many folk left who have not read it. Also by far the best cover of the series!

boo hoo by Ernst Malsten, Erik Potanger and Charles Drazin

This is the story of boo the internet fashion retailer that grew and crashed in the 18 months to May 2000. I vaguely remember boo, I went to their website once out of curiosity. It featured virtual sales assistant, but mainly I remember that it took an age to download and was too glitchy to use

This is one of the most purely entertaining books I have read recently. In breathless prose Malmsten describes working up the idea, the rounds of finding capital investors, and burning through £135 million. He had the misfortune of setting out to raise capital in a rising market where getting investors was easy, with the market shifting to one that remembered what fundamentals were.

These were the self styled brightest and the best. Where did they go wrong?

Difficult to say, it depends on how reliable a narrator Malmsten is, I suspect that he was more flaky than he makes out, they all worked long hours, but that is not the same as working effectively. They did all get blindsided by a large number of obvious problems, technical problems, too fast a burn rate on their capital, lack of leadership and strategic decision making. On the other hand they seem to have been effective in addressing issues, able to create and harness enthusiasm, able to cope with considerable complexity.

Maybe he was too caught up in the celebrity culture, knocking back endless vodka and grapefruits, turning up drunk to one too many meetings, too reactive when he should have been proactive.

When I finished the book I checked things out on Google, what had Malmsten done since, helping out someone selling handbags, the short interview mentioned how much he likes to party. There was website set up by an aggreived supplier who never got paid. And an archived version of the website,

it took ages to load the first page, it was quite pretty,

the second page was still loading when I gave up on it

subvert the rules - design ideas to subvert the rules

We all know that good design is about following rules, for example

1 the medium is appropriate to the subject; but what about a fine classical marble bust of a punk rocker with a large mohican haircut

2 each design should reuse elements and have a consistent look and feel; but what about having a piece of furniture shift through different styles, for example one end the table is pure IKEA - but as you move from that corner it gets progressively more ornate, until is it high victorian at the other end. You could do this with a room too.

3 size and weight is appropriate - what about something that looks like an abandonned crisp packet but is actually made out of lead and is phenominally heavy, Happy Meal toys made of gold.

4 serious subjects get serious art forms and vice versa - so what about a cross stitch formal state portrait or an oil painting advertising second hand cars.

Lautner by Barbara-Ann Campbell-Lange

A book on the architect John Lautner published by Taschen. The owner of Taschen actually owns Lautner's most famous building the Chemosphere, which has featured in the film Charlie's Angels. As an architect Lautner specialised in private homes, so most of his designs are inaccessible to the general public. They have however featured prolifically in films and popular culture. The Elrod Residence for example featured in Diamonds are Forever.

This is a decent and very reasonably priced book. Reading about architecture is rather like dancing about philosoply. The text is a a little sketchy, I would have liked to read more about his early life. The photos do suffer a seventies aesthetic. The recent documentary by Murray Grigor makes these building seem far more alluring.

However, for the money, this is a decent introduction to one of my favourite architects. Also nice to see Frances Anderton of the Design and Architecture podcast mentioned in the credits.

If nothing else, I would recommend checking out the trailer to the Murray Grigor documentary.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I remember reading this when I was at school, and it was one of my favourite science fictions books. One of my daughters was reading some Bradbury short stories at school and I mentioned what a good book the Martian Chronicles was. So, next time I saw it in a book shop, I bought her a copy.

Anyway my daughter read it quickly (always a good sign) and liked it. I've just finished re-reading it myself, and I still think it is wonderful. The descriptive passages are beautifully written, it is a book to leave you with a head full of images. It is essentially a collection of short stories, often with a wry twist at the end. This is not a malign universe, but one that is largely indifferent to our fate. Bradbury comes across as someone who cares deeply, with profound sympathies and an abiding wish that we could just be better people.

Highly recommended.

Dreams of my father by Barack Obama

I picked this up at the railway station and have been reading it for some time. At Christmas I had four books on the go, and I have been steadily trying to rationalise down from that.

Anyway this is an outstandingly well written and thoughtfull book. It is not really an autobiography, he writes perceptively about others, but tells us little about himself or his opinions. It is not a book about what he believes or what he did, it is about him figuring out what it is to be black.

The book could quite easily be edited down, and although it is very well written it is probably a bit too confusing for the average reader to really keep up with all the different characters.

However this is all rather irrelevant now, it is a book written by the first black president of the USA. What does it tell us about him? He is a decent and thoughtful person, someone who cares, too educated to fit in easily with people in the slums, too concerned to fit in with the well to do, his family are a consistent, welcoming and positive influence on his life. On the basis of this book, Obama is a truly exceptional candidate for president of the USA. History will come to its own judgement on his merits as president, but it is to America's credit that they could put aside racism and elect him.


You wake up in a strange room, you remember that you are a serial killer, you have killed countless people. Indeed you are surrounded by the paraphanalia of a serial killer, bloody knifes, photos of corpses, the whole room is splattered with blood.

Do you
(a) continue your life as a serial killer
(b) stop killing people
(c) immediately go to the police and confess to your crimes.

You wake up in a strange room, you remember that you are not a serial killer, you see a jury of your peers before you. You chose option (c), they congratulate you on your high moral standards and release you back into the community where you will live for another hundred years.

:59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman

A thoroughly entertaining book about self help with a scientific perspective that attempts to answer the challenge of providing you with real techniques that you can understand in less than a minute to make yourself happier.

Not only that, reading the book manages to make you feel happier, it is light and positive with just the right element of challenge. Like having some helpful older relative offering you some decent advice.

There is an exercise towards the start that takes a while to complete, but it is definitely worth working through, and does not require a major investment of time and energy.


isn't it apt that the word innuendo, is actually, a bit, like, well, you know,

a bit of an innuendo itself,

Withered Hand video

I rather like this video that goes so badly with the song that it actually goes very well.

Well worth checking out the other songs by Withered Hand.

Warren Buffett and the business of life - by Alice Schroeder

Anyone with an interest in investment should find this a valuable read, it is also a well written account of an interesting life.

To qualify each of those statements, although there are some broad lessons to be learnt for investors, this is not a handy book of investment tips for the novice. Buffett made some horrendous mistakes in his investments, though by and large they make for more interesting reading than his successes. There was no great secret to his investment success. It was largely down to an enormous amount of hard work. Work searching out investment opportunities, work studying investment and business both specific and general. He worked to build up his capital, from the odd business while still at school to getting investment capital from relatives. He worked hard to be honest, scrupulous and above board in all his doings. Over time his business scaled up from one finding small undervalued and unfavoured businesses, to a white knight stepping in to save troubled businesses. The abiding impression is that investment is a serious business that entails a lot of hard work.

As billionaires go Buffett actually led a fairly uneventful life. He liked his home comforts, familiar food, he was loyal to his friends and through overwork tended to neglect his family, something he came to regret later in life. It was not a life of high adventure. But it was a life where commitment and principle were brought to bear, where he formed his own views and stayed true to them. In fact he is probably more likable than admirable. That is not to say there is nothing to admire, just that by the end of the book he comes across as a very decent person.

It is also worth pointing out that this is a long book, it weighs in at over 700 pages, in a small font. This is not just an account of Buffett, at times it also feels like a portrait of most of the people he met, and most of Omaha too. That said where it slowed, it was generally for a reason, setting up a context for what would later prove to be key events.

The author is to be commended, it is well written, thorough, clearly a labour of love. I would hope that most people would find it of interest, though suspect that it will appeal mainly to investors.

Christmas gift ideas

Ideal Christmas gift ideas,

for the older generation Vera Lynn sings well loved songs from the war, including that perennial favourite "Hitler's only got one ball"

or for the pet owner in your life, a life sized plastic bloodstained dismembered human hand, watch your friends gasp in surprise as their dog brings them a real human hand.

One Straw Revolution -by Masanobu Fukuoka

Zen and the art of organic rice farming

The One-Straw Revolution is not really written as an book, but as a collection of short discursions. These cover the author's life, his farming methods, his conversations with the students that visited his farm, and his philosophy on the impossibility of understanding nature. For me the book got a bit repetitive by the end, but it was never less than readable and thought provoking. With hindsight I would have simply launched straight into reading the book, and left the rather wordy introductions by other authors till later.

If you are interested in the Japanese approach to life, then you might find "Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use" by Toshio Odate, of interest too.

I suspect that often we are striving to find a technical solution to the wrong questions, when books like this can make us wonder if maybe we should be asking a better question. File next to Thoreau's Walden.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The latest Girl ... book caught my eye, but being boringly conventional I decided to start with the first in the sequence, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even if the cover is not quite so eye catching.

For - it is a good read, I read it inside a week, which is unheard of for me. It is engaging, thought provoking and is about somewhere sufficiently different (Sweden) to be interesting.

During most of the book nothing much happens, for the remainder the action comes thick and implausibly fast.

Against - despite the title, the girl hacker is probably in less than a quarter of the book. There is an abiding cosy middle classness things, the trains run on time, and young people are polite. Everyone rapidly becomes implausibly rich because being poor is unspeakably dull.

The bulk of the book is about the journalist author's alter ego, a brilliant journalist, who solves crimes, saves lives, wins awards, beds numerous women, and is just generally wonderful.

My geek comments would be that no top hacker would use a bog standard Apple McIntosh computer, they might use a hackintosh, they might use a Linux distro of their own devising, or Windows running on a Mac, or most likely a PC laptop. The trojan programme that plays an integral part in the later plot is just balderdash, as it presumes that you would not notice that you were working off a remote server instead of your own hard-drive. I would have thought that whenever your wifi signal dropped it would be a bit of a give away. And a trojan version of Internet Explorer!

All criticism aside, it is a well written book, it is engaging and likable and although far from perfect it well deserves its success. I'll be buying the subsequent volumes.

Heroes, Villains and Velodromes: Chris Hoy and Britain's Track Cycling Revolution - by Richard Moore

This book is not something that I would usually have read, but a friend who is a keen cyclist loaned me his copy, and I have been steadily reading away at it for a few months. Despite the cover, this is not really a book about Chris Hoy, it is about the renaissence within Scottish cycling. For non-cycling fanatics it is a bit dense, and the human interest is sparse. But it is not really that sort of book. Where it does excel, for me, is in showing the sheer doggedness and determination required to succeed. By any reasonable standards Chris Hoy faced obstacles that must have seemed insurmountable. His physical achievements are remarkable but it was through mastering his own psychology that he laid the foundations for what he achieved. He was advised to go away and devise a training programme that excited him, and that is what he did. He visualised all the myriad possibilities for a competition, so that he could cope calmly with any of the anticipated setbacks.

Well worth reading even if you are not a cycling buff, though maybe less of a page turner for non buffs.

gardens, red onions, job hunting and thinking of China

This weekend seems to have flown by, most pleasantly by and large.

Decent weather yesterday, a little warm for walking my dog, he was pecht getting back, I was too. Then worked on my garden in the afternoon, with number two daughter assisting.

Part of the joy of gardening is that it is all a bit of a playground. It really doesn't matter all that much what you do, it will all pretty much grow back anyway. So I just play about with what I think might be interesting or fun. In that spirit, I just gave number two daughter a quick tour of the garden, explaining what I thought needed done, and asked her to choose what to do. For some reason they always seem to want to trim the hedge, until they actually start wielding the shears and realise that it is hard work.

She concentrated on weeding out a little flower bed, and then transfered in a couple of box plants that I would like to shape into something geometric when they get big enough. I also got her to trim a box plant that I'm just trimming into a globe shape, it is surprisingly difficult trimming something to be round in three dimensions. I weeded the veg patch and lifted the red onions that I have been growing, they are now sitting in the cold frame to dry off. There is a certain quiet glory in harvested food. My damson tree, which clearly suffers vertigo as it is striving to avoid any great height, tying itself in bushy knots, has maybe a dozen gorgeous purple damsons growing. Not enough for jam, but good to see.

Otherwise, I've been playing around with a pedometer. There was a free pedometer in the house, so I gave that a go. And found out that :
I actually do more than 10,000 steps most days, without any particular effort.
I do less steps at the weekend, because I don't have to walk to catch public transport and everything in my house is closer to hand, obviously.
the most annoying thing about a cheap pedometer is when it resets itself, losing my awesome daily stepcount!!!

I've ordered one on Amazon, and once it arrives, I will try and develop some sort of exercise regime based on tracking my steps. Also ordered Cousin Basilio (book), which I seem to remember was good, and Coup de Torchon, the Bertrand Tavernier film, which I remember enjoying.

I'll try and build up a little stock of arty filmhouse type films that I remember being good. I've recently got State of Things (Wim Wenders) and the Saragossa Manuscript (Jan Potocki book, Wojciech Has film) and enjoyed watching them both.

I have been patiently adding the odd book or DVD onto my Amazon wishlist, but last time I looked half of them were unavailable, so clearly I need to go that extra step and actually buy some of these things, rather than leaving them skulking on my wishlist.

Otherwise, being playing about with Kuler, got a couple of awesome teeshirts from RedBubble. All is relatively quiet at work, so finding productive and sensible things to do with this largesse of time.

Autumn is here, keen to get out and get brambles, went out a few weeks ago and they were not yet ripe, but the back road where I usually do my brambling should be about ready now, so I'll need to get out.

Watched Benefits Busters, then chatted about it when getting my hair cut. All amazed at how much single mums can get in benefits and how well they seem to do without doing any work whatsoever. I suppose for society it makes more sense for a single mum with four children to bring her children up full time, rather than going out to earn the minimum wage. However being detached from the job market while the children grow up is not a great long term option. It is incredible just how unscientific getting jobs is. You can study all you like, getting a job still seems to be pot luck at the end of the day. In China the state decides what you are going to do before you even go to university, a system that does have something to recommend it!

There is a bit of a difference in how people think about work.

There is the view that work is basically unpleasant, and you only do it if you really have to, and get paid. And even then you are duty bound to do as little as you can possibly get away with. Doing more than that is breaking solidarity with other workers and is encouraging employers to take liberties, or raise the bar unacceptably on the level of effort they deem sufficient and appropriate.

Alternatively there is the view that work is part of who you are, how you define yourself and how the world sees you. Therefore you strive to work to the best of your abilities and take a pride in your work.

I was initially tempted to say that this was a class difference, but I don't think that it is so much to do with the person doing the work, as the type of work. A craftsman would always take a pride in his craft, someone bashing out widgets probably won't. I suppose that a lot of people have been stuck with a bad experience of work where there is no merit in working hard, where the culture is to do as little as possible. That attitude does not transfer well into more modern jobs where the worker is expected to constantly innovate and challenge themselves.

There is a third catagory beyond these two. It is not so much what you do, as what you say you do. If you can say with conviction that your job is critical to your employer, then if your job is unique, and it is vaguely plausible then people will probably believe you. So in differentiated, skills based roles, the ability to sell yourself arguably becomes more important than ability. This is because it is difficult to put any useful metric on a unique job. So the outward perception becomes reality. Part of this mentality is that every job is a stepping stone to another job.

For an employer the risk is that people move shamelessly into the third catagory.

Finally some more musings. China and India seem to be pursuing very different economic models. India is going for a service based economy, whereas China is going for a manufacturing based economy. On this basis, I suspect that India has made the better choice for the long term. Just a thought.

Latest Headline from the Sun Newspaper

Attractive young woman has breasts, we have the photos

dystopia number 1


eyecandy works

Newton anglepoise lamp

My blogging has been much depleted of late. Of course this just means that I been off doing something more interesting.

There was the annual family holiday, which really was excellent. What with the tunnel vision to study for my paralegal qualification, everything else rather got shoved to one side, so there has also been catching up, with the garden and community work. At the same time work has shifted from mad deadlines, to a more measured pace, which is letting me get in about some of the more strategic thinking and longer term work.

I have also been ramping up the number of applications for promotion that I have been putting in. I suspect that my fate is forever to be a very creditable second choice, always getting pipped by someone who's experience is just a bit more relevant. Fortunately there is no danger of me ever running out of ideas for things to do, but it would be nice to rake in a bit more money doing it!

I have recently been enjoying MyTexts which is another bare bones word processor type thing, pretty much like WriteRoom, Voodoopad, Devonthink, all of which I have bought and use. I guess that having a whole stack of different word processors is like my vast pen collection. Not really about functionality. Anyway MyTexts is clean simple and elegant. Recommended.

Also been admiring the Kuler website which means you can tap into a zillion colour schemes, or create your own, and Mondrianum which allows these to be incorporated into the Mac colour picker.

There was an article recently about someone's house, an incedibly colourful house, mainly white, with splodges of fantastic bright colours. And the person said that colours gave them energy, and it made me think that I am sort of like that. Bright colours and attractive shapes, eye candy if you will, do give me energy. I like forming ideas into simple venn diagrams that explain how things are related to each other, I like using my lamy four colour pen to organise my notes into different types of stuff. I love the anglepoise lamp I recently got from Habitat because it is red and a nice shape.

Of course different things motivate different people, but if I like colour then I should use it to organise my world, and help me to engage with things. So for me, eye candy is tax deductible, eye candy works!!!

John Lautner

Lautner house

What I love most about the architecture of John Lautner is the way that he sets his buildings within their surroundings, sometimes a building is designed to blend in or stand out, from its environs, but Lautner designed his buildings so that when you were inside one, looking out, it was hard to tell where the inside ended and the outside began.

The curves of the Mar Brisas house mimic the curve of the bay beyond,

The Elrod Residence encapsulates the boulders that surround it

The Pearlman Cabin uses pine trunks to frame the windows, so the frames merge into the surrounding woods when viewed from inside

These look to be splendidly livable houses for people who like to look out at the world. Perhaps in a perfect world we could all live in John Lautner designed houses, or our houses could encapsulate some of the technical chutzpah and site specificity that make them so special.

As a child Lautner's parents brought him up with substantial and rich time in the great outdoors. It is inspiring to hear about parents making such a conscious effort to offer opportunities to their children that are thoughtful and unique, rather than the more generic aspirations that seem to come without thinking.

various shoutouts

Just a quick shoutout for some recent finds on that interweb thingy.


First off, it is a well, you know, a sort of, its like a, well why not just give it a try, play around a bit, play around a bit more,

Secondly, getting bored with your desktop and want to put a clock on it. This works just peachy on my Mac, and there are plenty of templates to choose from, and if you are so minded you can even create your own.

Thirdly, check out some arty tee shirts. Probably a little pricey, but then when you consider just how much of a part of your visual identify a good tee shirt can be, then paying a bit extra for something that is exactly right seems a small price. There is a myriad of other community stuff that I have not explored too.

Finally, Just a cool tune, give it a whirl.


I thought I'd go to a physiopherapist to help with an old ankle injury, but they were just pulling my leg.

Shoutout - Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show

I really must go to more student shows ! Yesterday I spend the morning going round the Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show 2009.

Often with exhibitions they are a bit of a one trick pony, all very good, but quickly turning into variations on a theme. With a student show there are hundreds of students doing their thing, pushing the boundaries out in all sorts of directions, without much regard for practicality or sense.

For me, the stand out sections were the product design - in particular some stackable mugs by Thomas Payne, some twirly jewelry by Sarah Milligan and some superb furniture for children by Emily Greenberg. There was also the entire performance costume department, where not only were the costumes fantastic, but there were notebooks full of sketches and ideas which show just how much hard work and imagination goes into the work. I was also impressed with the architecture work, it is depressing that there is so much unimaginative architecture out there, when there is such creativity and imagination on tap.

Normally I would just link to images, rather than copying and pasting them into my website, but I do suspect that the links might vanish over time, and this stuff is just to good for me to talk about, without some images to look at. I've done my best to provide appropriate links and credits for the designers. If any of the creators have any problem with me including images, or would like me to provide additional links, just drop me an email.

stackable mugs by Thomas Payne

twirly jewelry by Sarah Milligan

the most fund children’s table ever

Performance costume by Eleanor Welch

the Leith Mile by Colin Davidson

The Great Crash 1929 - John Kenneth Galbraith

I bought this book alongside Depression Economics by Paul Krugman, and rather left it to one side. I've only just got round to reading it, and I have been very pleasantly surprised. Knowing that it was a classic text on the subject, I rather expected it to be dry and worthy. It is completely the opposite. After the first few pages, it quickly picks up pace and is an absolute page turner. There are not many books that I find I cannot put down, but this was one of them. I won't pretend to understand everything, and there are many out of date references that go over my head, but the big message is loud and clear. Largely based on newspaper reports, often tracing the story over individual days, people thought they could not lose, and borrowed money to invest. Confidence slipped, and then crashed catastrophically.

It is easy now to imagine you would be immune to such folly, but by the end I could easily envisage myself getting caught up in the mood of the time.

On the minus side, the quality of the printing is poor, with smudgy text. This is not an economics text book, you might learn about the psychology of the time, and think about the economics, but it does not provide glib answers. However, the mark of a good book, it leaves you wanting to know more.

Creative Assignment #2

Design modular furniture.

When we were young, we all loved lego and mecanno, and used to build endless toys and fantasy contructions from it.

Wouldn't it be great to have modular furniture, you buy a small variety of standard components and you assemble them together to build pretty much any item of furniture you could want. As with my proposal for stencils, the art in the design would be to come up with the minimum number of pieces, that can offer sufficient functionality.

I did tinker with this idea a while ago myself, and the Shigura Ban 10 unit system does something along the same lines, if you prefer a podcast to a web page, it is about 1.50 in to the attached Monocle podcast, but it is worth watching the whole thing.

It really is not a desperately new idea, so the interesting question is probably why it has never really been implemented. It is probably because it is design athema. Once you get your lego bricks, there is no further design input. While this might be bad for designers, it is great for empowering users. With the growing culture of IKEA hacks, it might be a good fit for IKEA, who to my mind are actually a really innovative and progressive company when it comes to design. Although somewhere like HABITAT is renowned for its design, I would actually rate IKEA as the more innovative.

nice little video podcast on Shigeru Ban - does not say anything about modular furniture, but might be of interest, from the ever excellent Gestalten

Creative Assignment #1

Design an economy stencil font. That is, a set of stencils that depict the letters of the alphabet, but design them such that although they are clearly legible, they can be rotated such that an individual stencil might serve as more than one letter. The stencils are therefore likely to be square [but other shapes might be possible].

Probably best that stencils use rotational symetry but not to be flipped over, so both sides of the stencil do not get sticky with paint.

It would not be necessary to have upper and lower case, or much in the way of punctation.

Because these are stencils, they need to operate as distinct shapes, with the minimum of complications.

The design challenge is to design something that would be a robust and usable stencil, so simplicity is key, it needs to be highly legible, and it needs to use the minimum number of stencil pieces. I've not done any work on this, but it should be easy to get down to 20 pieces, but going well below that is certainly not implausible.

In practical terms, it might be better to create a set with commonly used letters duplicated, so that words could be stencil sprayed in a single pass, rather than having a couple of attempts to spray the single stencil.

JG Ballard

I just heard yesterday that JG Ballard had died after a long illness.

As is the way nowadays, his reputation is based on the two books that were made into films. Namely
Empire of the Sun, and Crash. Although his fame proper probably began with the publication of Empire of the Sun, which sold very respectably when it came out. It told a slightly fictionalised story of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp during the second world war. For people already familiar with his work, it set his previous stories into a firm context, the sun-scorched deserted suburban environments, the characters struggling to make sense of a fractured reality. The dislocated reality that he wrote about, was here in his childhood.

In a way, pulling back the magician's curtain seemed to diminish his imaginative achievement. But his imagination was about so much more than dried up swimming pools and whale like abandonned Oldsmobiles.

His writing was not about outer space, but about inner space. They were fictions focussed tightly in on the protaginist, generally someone trying to make sense of their world, albeit through some form of personal ritual. They were cyphers, almost devoid of human emotion or feeling, save a desire to understand. The sort of fate that befalls children, destined never to effect much change, but just to try and figure things out.

I have always loved to read, but it was reading Ballard that first alerted me to the subversive, challenging role that writing should occupy. I read through
The Disaster Area,
Low Flying Aircraft
Vermilion Sands,
High Rise, Crash, Unlimited Dream Company, the Drowned World, the Crystal World

greedily. My sixth year studies dissertation was on
Magic, Mystery and Technology in the works of JG Ballard, years before anyone had ever heard of him.

Subsequently I have continued to read him on and off. Each piece of writing is very much a small fragment of the larger whole, it is quite repetitive, I would not read everything. But he had a living to make from writing, and who can berate a craftsman for repetition. As his later more autobiographical writings made clear, he lost a much loved wife, and brought up his children himself. For all his literary iconoclasm, he comes across as a pretty decent person, who did his best and was happy to recognise and acknowledge the goodness in others.

We have lost a very fine writer, and a decent human being, but we are the richer for having known him.

The Murder Exchange by Simon Kernick

I got this book cheap as part of a promotion that The Times was running. It is a thriller set in London, featuring a former mercenary and a policeman. They take turns providing the narrative, and their stories cross over and come together by the end.

If you are looking for something diverting then you won't go far wrong with this. It is certainly not the best written book I have ever read, the prose is unremarkable, but generally it goes along at a fair pace, and though never terribly wonderful, it is never terribly dull either.

I am sure that there are better thrillers out there, but this is a decent enough potboiler, that manages to feel reasonably fresh and convincing, despite covering what could be very cliched territory.

The Return of Depression Economics by Paul Krugman

It used to be that banks just did not fail. Well we all knew that some had failed in 1929, but banks did not fail in modern times in modern countries. This is a smart book, lightly updated to reflect recent events.

How much you get out of the book will depend on your aptitude for macroeconomics, I know a bit and feel that I got most of it, but certainly not all. However it was consistently enjoyable and readable. I never felt that I was being talked down to. I might re-read just to get my head round some more of it.

If you are looking for a book that will tell you what shares to invest in, or how to make money investing in the next few years, then this is not much help. After reading it you might even want to start stockpiling bottled water. But if you want to start getting your head round what is happening, then this could well be the best book to read.

At the end of the day, we just don't know what will happen, this book won't tell you, but getting some perspective cannot do any harm.

Random Quote - “A note about intellectual style: one temptation that often afflicts writers on economics, especially when the subject is grave, is the tendency to become excessively dignified. Not that the events we are concerned with aren’t important, in some cases matters of life and death. Too often, though, pundits imagine that because the subject is serious, it must be approached solemnly: that because these are big issues, they must be addressed with big words; no informality or levity allowed. As it turns out, however, to make sense of a strange phenomena, one must be prepared to play with ideas.” p7

Plasticene related news

In plasticene related news this week, the sad news that Morph died, it is thought that someone left him next to the radiator. Also University Challenge team disqualified after it was found out that a team member was made out of plasticene.

Newsflash - Jennifer Aniston is still not going out with Brad Pitt

No Safety - a Mountain Goats' tribute album

I have lately been enjoying listening to No Safety, a tribute album to one of my favourite bands, the Mountain Goats.

The full story is available within a thread on the Mountain Goats' website, most of the tracks are on a single file for download, although there were a couple that missed the compilation that are appended to postings, and are well worth seeking out.

Someone started off the forum thread with a suggestion that people each contribute their own cover of the track Going to Georgia for a tribute album. Going to Georgia is one of the most popular tracks by the Mountain Goats, though I must confess to not being terribly vexed about it as a track.

Now the idea seems a bit borderline sensible, borderline bonkers. However it actually works very well. The different versions are all sufficiently differentiated to be worth listening too, and because it is the same song, they actually hang together pretty well. It makes for a good background album, you maybe don't need to think about it too much, but it will occassionally grab your interest with something totally arresting or surprising.

I do hope that I am not damning with faint praise, it is a really enjoyable listen, every track is different and of a professional standard, while having a real indie creative vibe to it. There is nothing workmanlike to any of the tracks. The tracks that have most caught me so far have been one by Joe Harbison, which is instantly compelling and electronic, and a bonkers version sung in Norwegian, but there is not a dud version amongst them. Clearly these are some very talented and creative people.

It used to be that what we saw, read, listened to, were all mediated through the process of being published. So quality was consistent, maybe not high, but certainly consistent. The Bloomsbury Set, Algonquin Round Table, or a myriad of other groups demonstrated how narrow and non-inclusive this process was.

However now there need be no mediation through the process of being published. Self publication used to be the vanity press, and accordingly distained. Now numerous people have demonstrated the ability to move from self-publication on the web to creating a perfectly valid career of their own. I have probably touched on this already, so I won't stress over listing folk like Merlin Mann, Scott Sigler, and Jonathan Coulton.

Equally valid there are plenty of people who create material of interest and genuine worth that finds its own small audience. In the past this might have involved bands doing weddings and random gigs at pubs, either performing generic material that people liked, or less generic material that most people did not like, even if a few did.

But now it is straightforward to create material, straightforward to make it available more widely, straightforward to find very niche product. Talent is required rather than just technique or contacts.

Accordingly I can now listen to an album of different versions of the same song, by a band that most people have never even heard of. All the songs are produced with professionalism, passion and real flair.

The world is changing, and sometimes it changes for the better.

reality has once again reasserted itself

I have been relatively remiss with blogging recently.

After making vast in-roads into my plans to blitz the world of arts and ideas, with gazillions of pitches of every subject under the sun, things have rather slowed down to a more ponderous rate after the initial frenzy. That is not to say that there was anything wrong with my original thinking. However for the first couple of weeks, I was relatively quiet at work, had an extra day off each week, and was not doing much at the weekend. Accordingly it was relatively easy to find the time to do all this pitching and working up of creative ideas.

Reality has once again reasserted itself, in the various dimensions that it is prone to.

1 Work
2 Creativity
3 Blogging and web-siting

At work, things seem to have moved up to a rather hectic pace, so hectic that it all rather zen, just figure out what I need to do, then do it. Scant time to think, plan, wonder or worry. Hopefully things will slip down a notch or two, but things might conspire against this. I have taken on an entire other job, in addition to the admittedly light duties that I already had. I have been volunteered to do some work for senior management, which rather means that I have to do a good job of it, and I don't want to be making excuses about not getting stuff done. I don't mind, it is a chance to do some interesting stuff, and potentially get noticed. Though frankly I am a bit long in the tooth, for harbouring any great ambitions. Also I continue to come up with ideas to stretch myself, the idea that I pitched in a recent blog, for a staff seminar, will be taking place in April! and I have volunteered to take nightclasses in paralegal studies.

As ever, opportunity never comes in any planned manner, it just all arrives at once, when you are not expecting it. But with this sort of work, sometimes it it just the ability to seem calm and in control that counts, rather than actually doing anything terribly specific. I have been mindful of not working excessive hours, because at the moment I need to be productive, rather than just sitting there doing a lot. So the productive side of my brain gets burnt out after a while. Time to head home.

2 Creativity
as above, after an initial flurry, I have slowed down on the pitching like a maniac, and trying to drive up traffic to my website. Potentially you could easily spend over a day a week on those, and there just has not been the time lately. However I do think that the underlying principles of pitching broadly and keeping track of what happens are sound enough.

Of the initial pitches, the most productive to date seems to be the seminar idea, which has been accepted, and will be taking place. I do feel that my jokes are decent enough, but I've really not found an outlet that might take them yet. I might take a day off at the end of the week to catch up some of this creative stuff.

3 Blogging and web-siting
I suppose it would be easy enough to justify any amount of unproductive trawling around the web as being either research, or making comments in the hope of driving up traffic to your own website.

Accordingly the lack of huge amounts of time ambling the information superhighway probably won't set back civilisation unduly.

I have recognised that it is useful to have permanent links to my individual blogs, just in case I, or anyone else wants to put a link to them somewhere. I have accordingly been doing some of that boring behind the scenes stuff to set up permalinks on my blog. Nothing terribly noticeable, but useful to have.

I have also been a little remiss in blogging, but I do find it a useful way to straighten out my thoughts, and just keep in the habit of writing, so I'm doing a few blog entries this weekend, when there are bound to be other more productive things that I could be doing instead.

In conclusion, that is about that for the moment. I suppose getting somewhere is really about tempering what you want with what you are managing to do, and coming up with a decent compromise somewhere in between.

In praise of pottering

Pottering is a greatly undervalued activity.

I suppose that the common expectation is that all life is about bashing out widgets, a task requiring neither imagination nor creativity, and so we do no need to potter, or to reflect, we merely get on with bashing out more widgets. We might periodically take time to sharpen our widget bashing tools, or plan our critical path for most effective bashing of widgets.

But we certainly do not have any time for pottering. Pottering is anathema. Pottering is the lazy inefficient waste of time, falling away from our puritan protestant work ethic, our idle hands lead us into the devil's work.

But is this really true. I suppose if you paid someone to work for you, you want to see them bashing out those little widgets as fast as they can. But reducing everything to bashing out widgets presumes that there is no quality dimension, it is purely a case of quantity. The more widgets the better.

But for many things there is not an infinite demand for our widgets. How many emails a day does our boss really want us to send him. Or the quality dimension is paramount. Is more blogging really better blogging.

Which all, in, a round about, way, leads me back to pottering. Because pottering is the antithesis to quantity. Pottering is the complete absence of quantity. In fact pottering can regularly deliver no perceptible outputs what so ever.

So why is pottering any good?

Because if you are ever to be truly great at anything you will probably need to spend a great deal of time pottering. It is the pottering time that differentiates the tradesman from the craftsman, the labourer from the artist. It is that ability to just step back, allow yourself to take a line for a walk, or let the line take you for a walk. To put words after each other just to see if they take you anywhere interesting. Fiddle about with something, take it apart, put it back together again, see if you can make it work a little better.

Just imagine the craftsman pottering away in his workshop, putting together a few off cuts to make a children's toy, sharpening much loved tools, browsing a catalogue, or sketching out impractical ideas.

Just imagine the gardener weeding slowly while just wondering how to arrange some new plants, or rearranging pots while she thinks about colour schemes.

Just imagine the endless hours tinkering with websites, or browsing for ideas for your blog.

I suppose the point is that pottering is defensible, we all need time to potter a bit, particularly around the things we love doing. The real art is in extracting the odd nugget from the pottering, making good use of the nuggets.

Perhaps what we need is a better methodology for productive pottering. Perhaps what we need is a better articulation of the relationship between pottering and bashing out widgets. Ideally they are in harmony, two sides of the same coin. We should not feel guilty that we are not always in the same mode. It is part of our strength.

I hear that they are saving money, and the next series of Ice Road Truckers will be someone driving a white van across London

planning for creativity

The toughest things to plan for the ones that you really don't have much control over, especially when they are difficult.

For instance how could you plan to win a million on the lottery?

I have decided to get a bit more serious about blogging, and freelance writing, and coming up with ideas, and jokes, and whatever other vaguely creative or useful things I write about. But how on earth can I plan the unplannable?

Basically I seem to be tackling this in stages.

1 For the past year or two I have been keeping this blog, and from time to time following up on ideas that I have had, but without much dedication. I now have a fairly substantial blog of writing. I also keep a notebook of creative ideas, with various degrees of dedication, and then transfer the stuff from there onto Voodoopad, which is so loose and freeform, that it suits creative thinking. On the other hand Devonthink is a bit more business-like, and suits stuff that requires a little more discipline. Though truth be told, I use both of them in pretty much the same way.

2 I have now recognised that there are two activities in creativity. There is the creative one, of coming up with genius ideas and typing them out. Then there is the drudgery one, of trying to get someone to publish them, customising them for publications that might have an interest, trawling for likely periodicals, sending stuff off for consideration. They fit together like ying and yang, when I'm inspired, write something, when I'm not, attend to the drudgery. So far there seems to be more drudgery to do, than inspiration required, which suits fine, as I don't feel very inspired most of the time.

3 In particular I am now keeping a log of material submitted, but I am working on the principle that the likelihood of anything getting published is pretty low. So I just constantly brainstorm ideas, possible outlets, pitching anything I think might be of interest. As long as the idea is worked up to a reasonable standard, I just pitch and forget. I don't imagine anything will come of the vast bulk, but over time, some are bound to get published, and I can always use that to inform where it is most productive to put my efforts.

I will probably carry on with this exploratory approach for a while, and if I start getting paid for freelancing, I can always start to specialise a bit more.

I really have no idea what will come of any of this, probably nothing of any note, but I like to write, and I like to bat around ideas, so if some of it manages to find itself in front of a larger audience then I have succeeded in a modest way.

The Reapers by John Connolly

This is just a very good thriller. It is well written, thoughtful, well paced and has a wealth of interesting characters. Throughout it maintains your interest and although you want to know what happens, you are more than content to wait and see how things unfold. I am sure that the author might be capable of writing dull or uninteresting text, but he does not do it in this book.

One slight caveat, by the end of the book, the pace picks up considerably and new characters are sketched in cartoon tones, only to be dispatched a few pages later. The book slips into the style of Carl Hiassen, whereas previously it was more measured.

Quite simply, one of the best thrillers I have read, and possibly one of the best writers in the field today.

Random Quote - "One of those old railroads, now abandonned, curved through a forest of hemlock, maple, birch, and small beech before emerging into a patch of clear ground, a relic of the Big Blowdown of 1950 that had never been repaired."

Douglas Coupland made plastic


in the good old days topless women would wave a flag to make sure you did not miss them


Private Eye to close

Private Eye to close

In a long overdue move, The Private Eye, well known UK satirical magazine, has announced that it will close down. The Private I, has long been a thorn in the side of the establishment. Noted for its regular reprints of stories about foreign or poor people having sex with animals, and derision for our hard working political representatives and government departments. The magazine has been coming out every week for the past hundred years [sub ed - can you check this bit please - I think it might be older] and has broken such stories as [sub ed - can you find something]

The editor of Private I, the well known television personality, appearing on the ratings topping Have I Got Ugly Celebrities for You and that thing about trains, Sir Ian Hillslop said to our reporter, "as a well known television personality and political pundit, I have worked closely with such respected political figures as the Labour MPs Boris Johnstone and Christine Hamilton. It has gradually become clear to me, that we are privileged to have such people working for us. It is churlish of journalists and the public to criticise these fine and upstanding people who work so selflessly on our behalf.

To be honest, as soon as Tony Blair was elected, I knew that the game was up, though we did manage to keep limping on for a bit, but now that Barrack Obama has been elected, we have frankly been left with nothing to print.

It is a sad day, but I will have to console myself with my lucrative tv career."

Sources at Private Eye told us that they expect to be able to run with reprints and previously unpublished material until someone notices, and expect to get away with this for some time as everyone just reads the cartoons and classifieds, or poses with an unread copy to show that they are really a bit edgy.

Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve

This is the third in a sequence of books for children, about a post apocalyptic world where mobile cities trundle across the wasteland attempting to consume each other. While the first was incredibly fast paced to the extent almost of being exhaustingly relentless, the second was a little slow. This one is a fair combination between pace and atmosphere. While the stories are aimed at children, if you think about it, the world described is so bleak and forlorn, that it is hardly mainstream fare. There is a certain economy with some of the leading characters turning up across the books, but a great many other leading characters exit from each book. This is a heartless world.

The book is tremendously well written, packed with character and incident, what impresses me most is the sheer beauty of so much of the prose. This is someone that could turn his had to first rate poetry, writing for children. I cannot praise this sequence of books too highly. They are as good as anything I have read.

Random Quote - Anger and a sort of panic rose in him. He felt that this woman had stolen something from him, although he no longer knew what it had been. He tried to bare his claws, but could not move. He might as well have been just an eye, lying there on the wet earth.

TS Eliot's to do list

TS Eliot's to do list

I have just been reading about prioritisation and to do lists, and they really sound most wonderful. I have decided to put them into action, forthwith,

AM - write The Wasteland
check spelling
post off to Ezra Pound

It is a shame about Ezra, obviously he has not heard about time management, otherwise he would be a really great poet, like I am.

Lunch - not sure about the peaches, they look a bit dodgy to me

PM - dash off some minor works
discover that my name is an anagram of toilets, and will cause endless merriement to countless generations of school children, while no one understands my great poems.
Consider various alternate options for my name,
DJ Eliot, the versifier
TS - author of the Wasteland - Eliot
Virginia Woolf

decide to stick to TS Eliot

attempt to think of toilet related anagrams for FR Leavis until,

Tea - that peach is still sitting there, it is starting to look decidedly manky. Who keeps buying all these peaches.

This is the way the day ends,
not with a bang, but with dinner

This poetry lark was fun, maybe tomorrow I should try politics.

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

I bought this as one of the cheap paperbacks that you can get with the Times. The past few have all been more aimed at women, which probably reflects that fact that women buy and read books, whereas men presumably get magazines where you can look at the pictures.

Anyway, it was certainly a page turner. It kept you reading, it was never dull, and moved along in an engaging way. However, despite clearly being very clever, I really doubt whether the author was even alive at the time he was writing about, or whether he has ever met anyone from the working class. Not normally huge disadvantages, but when you are writing from the perspective of a working class person who gets a scholarship to a minor public school, it would help if you had some degree of understanding of the person and their background.

You do therefore have to choke back your critical facilties and suspend your disbelief to a huge extent. If you can manage that, you would probably enjoy the book.

One example can suffice, the protaginist comes from a very poor background, yet during the late seventies at university he has a car. During the early eighties, I only knew one university student who had a car. Without hefty parental support getting a driving license, or buying a car, were beyond the reach of pretty much everyone, without huge expenditure of time and effort.

It also fell into the pattern nowadays where in novels everything and everyone is notable. In real life everything and everyone is pretty mundane with exceptions so rare that they could be disregarded for all practical purposes. The protaginist is quite an engaging character, and it would have been more pleasurable if it had all ended happily. It reminds me of why I enjoy the Douglas Coupland books where nothing much happens, and folk are a little eccentric but nothing that outrageous.

I rather prefer books about people who are mad to be borderline insane themselves, like Patrick Hamilton or Malcolm Lowry, straining at the limits of reality. Rather than something that could easily enough be serialised without frightening anyone.

Random Quote - opening lines
"My name is Mike Engleby, and I'm in my second year at an ancient university. My college was founded in 1662, which means it's viewed here as modern. Its chapel was designed by Hawksmoor, or possibly Wren; its gardens were laid out by someone else whose name is familiar. The choir stalls were carved by the only woodcarver you've ever heard of."

I am guessing that the carver is Grinling Gibbons, but the point is that the writing does rather flatter you along the way, in a way that real life does not.

Findings by Kathleen Jamie

Another short review of a book that I have just finished.

A present from my uncle, Findings, by Kathleen Jamie is a selection of short essays. Kathleen is a poet and lecturer at St Andrews University, and the essays follow a rather particular style. They describe trips or observations, predominantly of the natural world, which then provide a prompt for more philosophical musings.

I suspect that there are probably quite a few books following this sort of template, looking for parallels I would suggest, Walden, Sweet Thames Run Softly by Robert Gibbing, or Richard Mabey.

Findings however is a consistently enjoyable and thoughtful book. My only caveat would be that as with the natural world, you do need to slow down your natural pace, and let yourself take it in, a chapter at a time, pausing for breath at times, reflecting, or quietly admiring a fine turn of phrase.

I will find space in my bookshelf, between Gibbing and Mabey, and look at things just a little differently from now on.

Random Quote- “When my mother fell ill, a doctor was called, and my mother always told me the same two things about the doctor - one, that he never sent a bill, and two, that he never entered the room. Not from snobbery or fear of contagion; it was how he made his diagnosis, how he gauged the severity of her disease.”
Page 107

The Irresistable Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday

I will just take this opportunity to jot down a few impressions about the last book that I read,
The Irresistable Inheritance of Wilberforce,

by someone rejoicing in the rather unusual name of
Paul torday author of salmon fishing in the yemen,

which is clearly something of a mouthfull.

Normally I manage a blog entry a week, but I must be way short lately, hence this rather random blog. I don't read a lot now, but honestly this is not the first book that I have finished since starting this blog.

Also worth noting, I am surprised when I pick up a proper book now at just how many words there are, my fiction writing, as demonstrated in the downloads page, is tending towards the jewel like, seldom a thousand words on the same story, so a whole grown up book on one subject is something of a shock. Nevertheless I like what I am writing now, and intend to persist in my own style.

Anyway -Wilberforce - it is about a man who drinks himself to death, told in four chapters, which are in reverse chronological order.

Having said that, it really does not come across as a realistic account of alcoholism, I certainly enjoyed the book, but the overall sense was of someone with a certain sense of reality and their place in it, rather than the emotional helter-skelter of any serious addiction.

The main character came across as adolescent or slightly autistic, like Adrian Mole at stages, slightly baffled by the world around him,

I think that the main character actually is autistic as he does not accept the reality of other people, he merely sees them in terms of what they offer him, or as possessions. His childhood is loveless, but later he does make friends, but when offered the choice of friendship or something material he consistently fails to choose friendship.

So he betrays his business partner by selling the company from under him, then breaks away from him. He finds a father figure in Francis, but ends up buying his largely worthless wine, and leaving him to die neglected. He enters a circle of friends, and ends up marrying the fiance of a friend, and alienating them.

He never accepts responsibility for his choices, and does little to make amends or make the best of things.

In essence Wilberforce is a weak man, who mistakenly thinks that what you have is more important than who you actually are. He gains another man's wine collection and another man's wife, but fails to learn what it is that he truly responds to in them, a simple openness and offer of friendship.

Random Quote -
“I love wine. I have not always loved it, but I have made up for the woeful ignorance of the first thirty years of my life by the passion and intensity of my relationship with wine ever since. I need to be more precise: I very much like white burgundy, I am fond of some red burgundies, I have flirted with some excellent and intriguing wines from Tuscany: but I adore Bordeux.” page 26

On Bramble Picking

Things that you learn from picking brambles

  • keep moving - there are always more bramble bushes to be found
  • don't get bogged down finding the last bramble on the bush
  • don't stretch or reach too far, better to keep moving
  • over stretch and you can spill the lot
  • moving position will change your perspective, and you will likely see more
  • as you start to pick, you will likely see more
  • where there are some brambles, there are likely to be more, once you settle down to look for them
  • seeing a bramble bush is not the same as seeing brambles for picking
  • with practice you can get plenty of brambles into your hand
  • take out the stalks as you go, don't leave it for later
  • pick good brambles, mushy brambles or part ripe brambles are not worth the effort
  • passers by will always offer advice, but they won't help and they don't pick
  • there were always more brambles last week, will be next week, and used to be twenty years ago
  • brambles stay ripe on the bush for quite a long time compared to most soft fruits
  • a great bramble shines
  • start recognising that brambles come by the branch, find a good branch and harvest that
  • start recognising that brambles come by the bush, find a good bush and harvest that
  • brambles vary enormously, but are pretty constant over the same bush,
  • too small and too much effort, too large and prone to over-ripeness
  • when they are ready - they come off with minimal effort
  • pick them before Michaelmas, when the devil spits on them, and they are not good afterwards
  • the more sun, the quicker they ripen
  • some open spots are very slow to ripen or poor to fruit
  • brambles on second years growth perhaps?
  • learn your area, where the bushes are, and the sequence they ripen in
  • get some bramble bushes you see everyday, to act as your calendar for when you need to go out more widely for harvesting
  • if there is not enough for a jam, wash, crush, seive the juice, leave to set for a night, to make jus for adding to plain ice cream
  • picking needs a special sort of patience
  • there will always be brambles left over
  • there are usually brambles to come back for
  • you never find them all, first time around, come back along the same path, and you will find lots more
  • we were made to pick brambles
  • all year round a bramble is a nuisance, and then, come autumn, it feeds everyone
  • patience and effort will prevail when you pick the right time, and the right place
  • picking brambles means scratches and stings
  • a bramble bush in a hawthorne tree is the perfect option for picking
  • hedgerows and the sides of paths make for good picking
  • avoid roadsides, and too obvious areas
  • there will always be brambles
  • there should always be someone to pick them
  • it is food for free, but it is the process that is importance
  • picking brambles connects you to the seasons and the land, in a way we were built for
  • picking favours the long armed and long legged
  • wear long trousers or gaiters so you can wade in fearlessly
  • watch where you put your feet, it is easy to step on a promising branch or two
  • with an open mind, you can learn from anything or anyone