Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Gathering

The blurb on the back of the book describes the novel thus:
"The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn't the drink that killed him - although that certainly helped - it was what happened in his grandmother's house, in the winter of 1968.
The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and about how our fate is written in the body, not the stars."
While being accurate, I'm not sure this describes the book to best effect. I also feel that the book should maybe have had an alternative title.

The novel is narrated by Veronica who was the sibling closest to the deceased Liam. Through a series of flashbacks she tells a number of stories - that of her own life and marriage, her journey to Brighton to identify and reclaim Liam's body and the impact on the family of his death. 

The gathering of the title doesn't actually occur until three quarters of the way through the book  after the family history has been recounted. The central story is of an incident which may or may not have happened when Veronica, Liam and their younger sister stayed with their Grandmother, Ada. In explaining the incident, Veronica also relates the history of Ada, her husband Charlie and his friend, Nugent. How much of this backstory is true is, however, open to question - her "memories" contain a certain amount of conjecture.

The book explores how memory can work two ways; how the past, or our perception of the past, impacts on our lives and the choices we make and also how our experiences and knowledge affect our interpretation of the past. Another central theme is the how emotion motivates the behaviour and responses of individuals and those close to them.
The writing is beautiful with a richness of language which reminded me of another Irish Booker winner - The Sea by John Banville. Unlike that book, though, I felt I cared about the characters and the story in The Gathering. The beauty of the prose enhanced the story-telling rather than seeming to be an end in itself.


All in all, The Gathering is a wonderfully crafted and thought provoking novel. I highly recommend it.


Andrew

Friday, 28 January 2011

What this blog needs is a touch of class...

....but I'll leave that for another time. Instead this post features a ballet classic as you may not have seen it before.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are an all-male group of classically trained dancers performing parodies of some of the best known ballets. I saw them some years ago and approached the performance with some scepticism; I had seen them perform a piece on television but could the joke sustain a whole show? What I experienced was one of the funniest and most fun nights I've ever had in a theatre.

The finale is a unique, ehm, "interpretation" of Mikhail Fokine's The Dying Swan:



You can visit their website for more information and tour dates. They're touring the UK in March and April - well worth a gander if they're in your vicinity!

Andrew

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Lord of the Rings: How it Should Have Ended

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a lifelong fan of Lord of the Rings. I read the books every four years and love the monumental achievement which the films represent. That said, I do understand those who feel the whole undertaking of the fellowship could have been less protracted and yearn for a shorter version. So here it is:



You can see abridged alternative versions of a number of other films on the the How it Should Have Ended You Tube channel.

Andrew

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

An A-Z of my CDs: T

T is for Texas who are my favourite band. While interest in other bands has waxed and waned, Texas have been a consistent love for over 20 years. I can't wait to hear the new material and album due later this year. For now, though, I present three of their classics!

First, I Don't Want a Lover. Most of the videos on You Tube are of the remix from the Greatest Hits album. I'm not sure when this performance dates to, but it's faithful to the spirit of the original:




Next, a track from White on Blonde, the album that remains their biggest seller and saw them make a comeback in the UK after the (relative) lack of success of Mothers Heaven and Ricks Road here; although these had been much more successful in Europe, particularly France and Belgium. This is Say What You Want:




And finally, a track from their last album, Red Book. This is Getaway:




Hope you enjoyed!

Andrew

Friday, 21 January 2011

Cock! Balls! Tits! Text RUDE to 70011 to Donate.

No, I've not developed Tourettes. 

Instead, this is a post about The Rude Road Trip undertaken by the guys from The Inbetweeners in aid of Comic Relief. Like the show, the premise glories in puerile and infantile humour - the guys set out to visit 50 places with rude place names over the course of 50 hours. 

You can read more on their challenge here and see a map of their adventure here as well as links to more photos. Here's a flavour of their escapades:






To donate to Comic Relief, follow this link or, in the UK, you can donate £1 in support of the boys by texting RUDE to 70011. Texts cost £1 plus standard network rates.

Andrew

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Mooooo....

Surfing the interweb last night, as one does, I was reminded of the cow parade held in Edinburgh a few years ago. For the uninnitiated, cow parade is a public art event which involves individulas, companies and community groups sponsoring and painting fibreglass cows for display round the host city. At the end of the exhobition, these are then auctioned for chairty.

Having been so reminded, I thought I'd find and post pictures of  some of my favourites:


Highland (Dress) Cow

Patriotic Cow
The Three Grazers (outside the Edinburgh home of The Three Graces)
Jack Vetrianno's The Singing Butler....
...and a bovine version
Edinburgh Skyline
Hope you liked. For more about Cowparade, see here.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

An A-Z of my CDs: S (Part 2)

Pretty much anyone who knows me will know that one of my favourite bands (if not the favourite) is Texas, fronted by Sharleen Spiteri. But "T" is next week's entry, so here's Sharleen going solo with "All the Times I Cried":



and here's "Stop, I Don't Love You Anymore":



Enjoy, I did!

Andrew

An A-Z of my CDs: S (Part 1)

This week An A-Z of my CDs is a two-parter. First up, a lady who was featured with the Pet Shop Boys in my entry a couple of weeks ago: the incomparable Dusty Springfield:

Here's the sublime "If You Go Away":


and here's "Son of a Preacher Man":




Enjoy!

Andrew

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

I want a flying bubblecar!

And after mentioning The Jetsons on my earlier post, here they are. (You knew this was coming, right?)



Enjoy!

Back to the Future

When I was young, futuristic visions of the world were focused on the year 2000. I'm convinced we were promised that we would be living in a version of the world not dissimilar to that in The Jetsons. I am still bitter about being misled.

I've come across this article from the American publication "Popular Science Monthly" which dates from 1925 and pictures the world of 1950. Predicting that our cities would get more and more crowded, the article outlines some potential solutions.

Neither the solutions proposed in the article nor the jet cars we were promised would be in common use by now have come to pass. In both cases the timeframes of the fantastical (and wildly unrealistic) visions was a mere 20-25 years - roughly a generation. It seems that our desire for development and to make the world a more desirable for the next generation has always run ahead of our ability to achieve our ambitions.

I've shown the article as it would have appeared as a double page spread and also enlarged below to allow you to read and study further. I hope you enjoy! 




Hat Tip to sadanduselss.com for the images.


Andrew

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Express Chuckles

Here's a picture from cracked.com that I came across courtesy of Stumble!:


Made me chuckle, at least!

Andrew

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Parker?

Yes, M'Lady?

Aren't these just F A B, Parker?

Yes, M'Lady.

Available from the Royal Mail or by steaming off envelopes...

Andrew

An A-Z of My CDs: R

After Finlay Quaye last week - which was, I grant you, a bit leftfield - I'm returning to more familiar territory this week with "R".

First though, a word about who it's not. It's not Razorlight, although I had been thinking that it would be when I commented on last week's post. It's also not the superb Eddi Reader who has featured on these pages before. It's not Diana Ross, who once reigned Supreme (did you see what I did there?). Finally it's not Runrig.

No, worthy as all of those acts would have been, I couldn't see beyond R.E.M. I present Nightswimming for your enjoyment:



Andrew

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Nocturnes



Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors. His books take the reader on voyages of the imagination; not just to other times and places but into the thoughts, feelings and memories of the central characters. He explores the power of the past on individual motives and actions. The unreliability of memory and the ways in which time, emotion and personal perception act as a prism to distort recollections are recurring themes.

It always takes me some pages to truly get into an Ishiguro novel. His writing has its own particular cadence and the dialogue is often stylised and - to my mind - betrays his Japanese routes even in those novels which aren't set there. Once I get into them, however, I find they have they have their own peculiar momentum and are ultimately satisfying.

Nocturnes is different. It is a series of five bitter-sweet short stories with a musical theme. The characters are all at some form of decision point whether personal or professional and reflecting on how they arrived at their current situation as well as their next steps.

For all that the stories were, of themselves, nice stories, the book lacked the impact that his novels have. Partly this was because none of the stories had a killer punch in the way, say, Remains of the Day does, partly this was because the short story format doesn't lend itself to the author's style. Ishiguro's books are populated with characters with complex feelings and motives which are developed and revealed gradually - many of the protagonists in Nocturnes are as well but these are underdeveloped. As a result, this reader was left with a lack of empathy for them.

Nocturnes is a pleasant distraction which belies the skill and talent of the author. One or two of the stories hint at something bigger - a story which could cover the canvas of a novel. Indeed, two of the stories share a character and I wonder if these might have originally been part of a greater whole in Ishiguro's mind. As it is though all that is left is, at best, a series poignant vignettes some of which could well have been critical points in a larger work but none of which left a lasting impression.


Andrew

P.S. I found it difficult to write this review and to criticise Ishiguro. For something more positive, please click here. For alternative views on this book, turn to Amazon or Goodreads.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen...

... I am proud to announce that this blog is now 300 posts old!


And for those of you who like this sort of thing here's the trailer. It's not really my cup of tea but it takes all sorts - Enjoy!



Andrew

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Day Today

Last night I watched some episodes of The Day Today which I got for Christmas. A TV version of the Radio 4 show "On The Hour", it satirises TV News in the early nineties and starred Chris Morris and Steve Coogan (including as Alan Partridge), amongst others. The show was written by Morris, who developed the theme further with Brass Eye, and Armando Iannucci, who has since been responsible for the brilliant The Thick Of It.

Here are a couple of clips which give a flavour of the show: 





Enjoy!

Andrew

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Down Wit De Kids. Innit.

Another gem courtesy of Stumble! - a website that translates text to that of a 12 year old chatroom user. Here's a sample, using this post from the other day:

LIEF AS A BLOGER CAN B STRANGE!!1!1 WTF LOL SOMETIEMS UR BRIMNG OVER WIT IEDAS - WHICH U MAY OR MAY NOT MANAEG 2 CONVERT 2 A POST - AND AT OTHAR TIEMS INSPIRATIONS SEMS MIELS AWAY!1!!1 OMG MOST OF DA TIEM U CAN MANAEG 2 SUSTANE THNGS UNDER THERE OWN MOM3NTUM EVAN IF U HAEV 2 FORCA U 2 POST NOW AND AGANE
OCASIONALY!1!1!! WTF LOL THOUGH U SE SOM3THNG AND U JUST HAEV 2 POST!!1!1 WTF LOL THES POST FROM TEH OTH3R DAY WAS ON3 SUCH AXMPL32NIGHTS!!!!!11! OMG WTF LOL POST SI ANOTH3R
REGULAR!11!1!11! OMG WTF LOL VISI2RS WIL KNOW TAHT I ENJOY READNG AND R3GULARLEY POST BOK REVEIWS HERE!!111 OMG LOL READNG OPENS DA MIND 2 NU IEDAS AND FRESH WORLDS!1111 OMG WTF LOL IT PROVIEDS A PLAEC OF ESCAEP AND A WINDOW ON TEH WORLD A PLAEC OF R3FLACTION AND ILUMINATION
3V3RY!1!!! WTF Y3AR WORLD BOK DAY (MARCH 3RD IN TEH UK) SEKS 2 ANCOURAEG KIDS 2 FIND DA PL3ASURAS OF R3ADNG AND 2 PROVIED ACES 2 THERE OWN BOKS PRIMARILEY THROUGH ACTIVITEIS IN SKOOLS!!1!!!111 LOL
THIS YAAR DA FOLOWNG SATURDAY HAS B3N DESIGNAETD WORLD BOK NIGHT WIT AN MBITIOS PROJECT 2 DISTRIBUT3 10000 BOKS 2 ADULTS ACROS DA COUNTRY AND COV3RAEG ON BC2!11!!!! WTF NOT ONLEY TAHT BUT INDIVIDUAL APLICATIONS R BNG INVIETD 2 B A DISTRIBU2R OF THASA BOKS!!11!! OMG WTF LOL 2000 P3OPLE WIL HAEV TEH TASK (PRIVIELGE) OF PASNG ON TEH PLEASURA OF BOKS
25!11!!!1 OMG WTF LOL TITLES WIL B GIEVN AWAY FROM ALAN BNATS A LIEF LIEK OTHER PAOPLES 2 BN MACINTYRES AEGNT ZIGZAG PHILIP PULMANS NORTHERN LIGHTS 2 YAN MART3LS LIEF OF PI!1!!1!!11 OMG LOL DA COMPL3TE SHORTLIST COV3RS A WIED RANGE OF GENRES AND ORGANIESRS HOP3 TAHT BOKS WIL B INTRODUC3D 2 PEOPLE WHO WUDNT CONSIEDR THEMS3LVES AS REAEDRS
I!!!!!!!1 LOL KNOW OF VARIOS 2WNS AND CITREIS WHICH HAEV TRIAELD SUCH PROJ3CTS THEMS3LV3S - BUT DA SCAEL AND MBITION OF THES SCHEMA SI 2 B MUCH ADMIERD!!!111! OMG LOL IV3 D3CIEDD IMA APLEY 2 B A BOK GIEVR!1!!1 OMG WTF IF U 2 LUV BOKS AND R INTRIGUAD BY TEH PROJ3CT Y DONT U 2

ANDR3W
PS?!??!? WTF LOL INT3RNATIONALY WORLD BOK DAY SI PROMOTAD BY UNASCO AND OCURS ON APRIL 23RD!11!!!!1 WTF LOL

An extra special prize is yours if you did actually manage to make your way through that...

Andrew

Friday, 7 January 2011

Ukraine's Got Talent

Thanks to Stumble! I've discovered the following videos featuring an artist called Kseniya Simonova who won Ukraine's Got Talent in 2009. She creates "Sand Animations" - creating a series of pictures and telling stories using only a lightbox and sand. It is truly awe-inspiring and hypnotic. I defy you to watch the first video and not watch the second part below!






Here's a link to another piece which has garnered over 17 million You Tube hits.

Andrew

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The 1,000,000 book give-away

Life as a blogger can be strange. Sometimes, you're brimming over with ideas - which you may or may not manage to convert to a post - and at other times inspirations seems miles away. Most of the time you can manage to sustain things under their own momentum, even if you have to force yourself to post now and again.

Occasionally, though, you see something and you just have to post. This post from the other day was one such example.Tonight's post is another.

Regular visitors will know that I enjoy reading and regularly post book reviews here. Reading opens the mind to new ideas and fresh worlds. It provides a place of escape and a window on the world, a place of reflection and illumination.

Every year World Book Day (March 3rd in the UK) seeks to encourage kids to find the pleasures of reading and to provide access to their own books, primarily through activities in Schools. 

This year, the following Saturday has been designated World Book Night with an ambitious project to distribute 1,000,000 books to adults across the country and coverage on BBC2. Not only that but individual applications are being invited to be a distributor of these books. 20,000 people will have the task (privilege) of passing on the pleasure of books.

25 titles will be given away; from Alan Bennett's A Life Like Other People's to Ben MacIntyre's Agent ZigZag, Philip Pullman's Northern Lights to Yann Martell's Life of Pi. The complete shortlist covers a wide range of genres and organisers hope that books will be introduced to people who wouldn't consider themselves as readers.

I know of various towns and citries which have trialed such projects themselves - but the scale and ambition of this scheme is to be much admired. I've decided I'm going to apply to be a book giver. If you too love books and are intrigued by the project, why don't you too?


Andrew

P.S. Internationally, World Book Day is promoted by UNESCO and occurs on April 23rd.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

5 on the 5th - January 2011

After all the fun and games of Christmas and New Year, this month's theme for 5 on the 5th is "Fun and Games". My entry features pictures of Carter's Steam Fair in Bristol as it packs up and prepares to take its brand of old-fashioned fun and games elsewhere.







As ever, please browse the other entries and feel free to contribute next month!

Andrew

An A-Z of my CDs: Q

This week it's "Q"... and I don't have any CDs from artists with Q in their name. I have opted, therefore, to go with a track from an album I used to have on cassette: Finley Quaye's Maverick A Strike. Here's Sunday Shining - a track, like the album, which will always remind me of Ullapool.


Finley Quaye - Sunday Shining

Hope you enjoy! Guesses for "R" below please!

Andrew

P.S. If this looks familiar, it's because I linked to the video on this post. I make no apologies for repeating myself!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A DVD Extra for The Archers...

This has just come to my attention and it's too good not to commit to posterity here, despite the lateness of the hour and the fact that I've already posted twice today!

Even if you're not a fan of The Archers, you may well have heard of the demise of one Nigel Pargetter in Sunday's 60th Anniversary episode. This clip provides an alternative ending:



Hat-tip to @salix2 and @glizando on Twitter for the link.

Andrew

the widow's world in 2010 - according to Google Analytics

2010 was my first complete calender year of blogging, which saw me going from blogging around every 2-3 day to almost daily posts by the end of the year. I blog primarily for my own pleasure although I do check viewings of my blog on a regular basis. 

That said, the numbers remain, largely, contextless and (I imagine) relatively low. Nevertheless, I remain interested in what has been viewed and where those readers came from. So, here's a brief overview of how Google Analytics views my blog, starting with 2010's most read posts:
  1. This post on the RFL's tackling of the homophobic abuse of Gareth Thomas continues to attract high page visits - mainly due, I believe, to the picture of the man himself.
  2. The first of my Great Buildings posts on the Villa Savoye is also one of my personal favourites.
  3. Attitude magazine's approach to mental health issues got my goat in August.
  4. My post on Basil Spence's Coventry Cathedral proved popular - and also got name-checked on Liberal England in one of Lord Bonker's regular round up of interesting blogposts!
  5. The archaeological wonder which is Orkney's Skara Brae was the fifth most viewed of the year.
As can be seen, the architecture related posts were very popular, so I hope to post many more of these in 2011.

Visitors predominantly came, not surprisingly, from the UK. Aside from the UK though, an additional 97 countries were represented from Nepal to the Dominican Republic and Oman to the British Virgin Islands. The top ten countries were:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. United States
  3. France
  4. Canada
  5. Czech Republic
  6. Germany
  7. Australia
  8. Ireland
  9. Denmark
  10. Brazil
Visitors from Namibia and South Korea spent, on average, the longest visiting times.

I could go on, but that would probably bore the pants off you. All being well, though, I shall revisit these stats in a years time and see what Analytics has made of my blog in 2011!
Andrew

Back to Work... and Back to the Blog(s)

As this post goes live, I will be in the process of getting ready for the return to work after the Christmas and New Year break. A break which has also seen my posting levels decrease from what had become an almost daily occurrence to just twice in the past 9 days.

Now, though, it's time to drag myself out of holiday mode and commence posting again. Plans for the weeks and months ahead include:
  • Completing the "An A-Z of My CDs" series.
  • Continuing to contribute to Stephen's "5 on the 5th"
  • Increasing the frequency of my "Great Buildings" series -as these are amongst the most popular posts
  • Continuing to post Book and Film reviews - there are a couple of these in the works
  • Taking Stephen's "30 day challenge"
  • Posting to Lib Dem Gains
...and a few other ideas I have up my sleeves!

I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. I hope that regular readers will continue to visit and that new readers will want to come back. Whichever category you're in, I hope you enjoy your time here.

Andrew

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year

 This post does exactly what it says on the tin, so:
 
 Happy New Year
 Bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong... BONG
 

Wishing you all the best for the coming year.

Andrew