Monday, 22 February 2010

10 things... I love

A while back I posted this which I intended to be the start of a series. Unfortunately, I kinda forgot about it and only rediscovered it when looking back over my 100 (count 'em) postings so far.

Having done 10 things... about me, here are 10 things... I love.

1. Texas and Sharleen Spiteri - from buying Southside on vinyl in early 1990, they have remained firm favourites.
2. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - the books, the films, the radio adaptations.
3. My iPod Shuffle - Modest and unassuming, it does the job!
4. Digital Spy - Meets all my entertainment news needs.
5. Blogging - The process of writing... and getting feedback from friends.
6. Salvador Dali - The first artist featured in my virtual gallery.
7. Architecture - Which I promise to blog more about in future.
8. Iain Banks - Probably my favourite author.
9. Handel's Messiah - A glorious and uplifting work.
10. Rocky Horror Picture Show - Well I had to choose something to contrast with Handel! Also uplifting, if rather less glorious!


Sunday, 21 February 2010

100... and still going strong!

This is my 100th post to this blog - who'd have thought it? As I did for my 50th post, I've done some analysis of my postings so far:

Top tags:
  • Poetry (14)
  • Blog (14)
  • Anthology (12)
  • Sport (12)
  • Books (12)

Number of posts with comments: 45

Most number of comments for 1 post: 5

Over the past 50 post, my poetry anthology strand has augmented its position as the mainstay of my regular features. I'm particularly pleased about this as poetry has been something I had neglected as an adult so re-acquainting myself with old favourites and finding new gems has been a pleasure.

I still seem to blog a lot about blogging, which isn't totally intentional, and will be something I'll try to curtail over the next 50! Sporting posts are still featuring in the top five and there's still a surprising lack of Political posts - I hope to change this as the election approaches. Books are new in the top tags list and my reviews are set to continue, so I expect this to be even more prominent at the 150 posts stage!

I had lined up another Guest Blogger, although she is now halfway round the world - I anticipate a rethink of the strategy there! I intend to continue with my Virtual Gallery and have recently started an Iconic Images series as well. I'll also keep contributing to "5 on the 5th" and have plans for a new series of posts on Architecture.


Click here to see how things stood at the 50 post mark.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Virtual Gallery - Room 4

The latest artist to get a room in my virtual gallery is Monet. The great impressionist painter, Monet's work is best seen in real life - I never feel prints do full justice to the pictures and the techniques employed. Still, in the absence of the real thing, prints will suffice.

There were many pictures I could have chosen for this gallery but have gone for some of my favourites. Enjoy!

From top to bottom:
  • Impression - Sunrise (1872)
  • The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog) (1903-1904)
  • The Studio Boat (1874)
  • Haystacks: Snow Effect (1891)
  • Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies (1899)
For more on Monet, see here. Click here for an interactive tour of The Orangerie and perhaps the most famous of Monet's Water Lily paintings.


To see the previous rooms in my virtual gallery, click here.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Ozymandias - KIng of Kings

I've mentioned before that I've been enjoying listening to the BBC's A History of the World in 100 objects series. The poem I've chosen to showcase this week was inspired by a recent episode about this bust of Pharaoh Ramesses II, although Shelley had probably not actually seen the sculpture first hand.

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away"

More about the sculpture can be found here and there's more about the poem here.


Click here for more poetry.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Devil May Care

Today I finished my latest book - Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming. I should preface my remarks by saying I hadn't previously read any Faulks and only 1 previous Bond - Casino Royale.

Set in 1967, the plot centres around a pharmaceutical magnate, Dr Julius Gorner, who has a sideline in pure Heroin production and a pathological hatred of Britain. Not content with seeking only to destroy British society, he seems to have acquired some military hardware too. Bond is employed to investigate further - not only on the instructions of M but also on behalf of a woman he meets while on sabbatical at the start of the novel.

This is a book of contrasts in which some elements are extremely good and others less so. As far as I can tell, Faulks manages, for the most part, to capture Flemings' style. Allusions to previous books, references to fine food, cars and Bond's various interests and a ripping yarn are all present and correct. Some of the passages are also very filmic - I could see Connery/Moore/Craig etc in my mind's eye as they unfolded.

Less successful, I thought, was the central plot. Without wanting to give anything away, I found that the suspension of disbelief required with regards the motive and method of Gorner's plan a little too much at times. I also thought that some of the violence may have been more extreme than Fleming would have written - although this is subject to my caveat above. Although a gripping read, some passages were less so - in particular those where Gorner lectures Bond on the evils of the Brits and a whole chapter dedicated to a description of a Tennis match.

These quibbles aside, however, this is a good read which I would happily recommend, especially to those who are fans of the film franchise.


Monday, 15 February 2010

Iconic Images 1

I've decided to start a new blog series of Iconic Images. I think the title says it all, so will not explain further. The first image I've chosen is from wartime Britain and the campaign to maximise self-sufficiency in the production of food.

I love this image as it is so simple and stark. There's no tarting up or glamourising and the message is conveyed in just three words.


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

More Simon's Cat...

Part two of Snow Business has now been released! The full episode is here:


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

It's funny how writing a blog works sometimes. I intended to post a William Blake poem, before toying with a Roald Dahl piece. The poet I eventually decided on could not be more different to either of those two.

Maya Angelou was born in America's Deep South in 1928 and faced a difficult childhood as well as the challenges of racial segregation. In the 50's and 60's she was active in the Civil Rights movement and in later life has become a much celebrated figure, best known for her poetry and memoirs. She has been awarded many literary prizes and honourary degrees and in 1993,she was given the privilege of writing a poem for President Clinton's inauguration. You can find out more about her here and here.

I've chosen what is perhaps her best known work, which shares its title with the first volume of her memoirs. Although about oppression, I believe this poem is, ultimately, uplifting and carries a message of hope. I'd like to dedicate this to my dear friend Connie, whom I know really appreciates Angelou's work.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.


NB - I looked at this on various websites and there seemed to be a number of different versions of the formatting of the stanzas. My apologies if the above is not as intended.

My other featured poems in this strand of my blog can be found here.

Monday, 8 February 2010

A History of the World

As I've mentioned previously, I started a new job last week. One of the benefits of this is that my commute is that by foot and train rather than car, which means I can read and listen to my iPod.

As well as having music on my iPod, I've also downloaded a whole host of podcasts from the BBC - meaning I can listen to programmes I wouldn't normally be able to. One of these is Radio 4's A History of the World in 100 Objects.

The series is presented by Neil MacGregor, who is a director of the British Museum. He has chosen 100 objects from the museum's collection with which to illustrate the story of human development from the earliest times. Each programme takes the form of 15 minute essay describing the object in question, the cultural background of it's creation and what it tells about our history.

I have to say I was sceptical at first - indeed before I knew the format of the programme, I thought it might be in a 5 minute slot. I've been won over by the conversational style of delivery and the obvious enthusiasm MacGregor has for his subject.

The programme is supported by an interactive and informative website which contains information on all the objects as well as allowing listeners to view the objects in detail.


Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Amber Spyglass

Yesterday I finished The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, the last in the His Dark Materials Trilogy. After being amazed by the first book but underwhelmed by the second, I wasn't sure what to expect.

It is, in fact, a novel of extraordinary ambition, following the desperate paths of 5 key figures from Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife and introducing several more. The action moves between several worlds, as each of the protagonists seeks to achieve their aims.

Although published as a children's novel, the themes covered are far from childish - the use (and abuse) of free will, personal sacrifice, the redeeming power of love and how we treat the world around us are but four. Nor is Pullman afraid to confront death head on with several characters (over the course of the trilogy) meeting their ends with what happens after death a key theme in The Amber Spyglass.

The ambition of the novel - and indeed all three books - is largely achieved. That said, I did feel that some of the dialogue in the third book was a bit clunky where some of the more complex concepts were being explained. My biggest concern with the book was the unashamedly anti-catholic stance taken. This is not because I wish to defend Catholicism or organised religion - I just feel the metaphor should have been allowed to stand on its own terms.

Minor niggles aside, however, this was a satisfying read which left enough to merit a future reading - from which I'm sure I shall glean more. I will be thoroughly recommending the trilogy to all who ask and many that don't.


My previous book reviews can be read here.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


I saw one of these today:

I tried not to stare - particularly as the driver clearly loved the attention - but when you see something so beautiful it's hard not to!


Friday, 5 February 2010

5 on the 5th - February

This week I began my new job in Bristol. Unlike Wells, where I used to work, Bristol is a bona fide city complete with it's own edition of Metro.

By coincidence, the suggested topic for this month's "5 on the 5th" was City Life, so all my pictures are related to Bristol in some way.

From top to bottom:
  1. Awaiting the Train
  2. Bristol's Floating Harbour
  3. A Moment of Calm (NB, this picture comes complete with Aston Martin Vantage!)
  4. Rush Hour
  5. Metro


My previ
ous 5 on the 5th entries can be found here.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Got a spare £65m?

This 6ft tall sculpture by Alberto Giacometti sold at Sotheby's yesterday:

More details can be found here. And before you ask, no it wasn't me who bought it!


More art related posts can be found here.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


Just now I'm really loving Paolo Nutini's 10/10. It's got such a joie de vivre about it that I can't help but smile, sing and dance when I hear it! Here's a version he did on Jools Holland's New Year show:


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A Lifelong Favourite

As a child, one of my sisters had a beautiful illustrated edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. Although with an adult's eye some of the poems may seem a little twee, I still find joy in it's contents even today. I think the secret is not only to imagine oneself as a child again, but to imagine oneself as a Upper Middle Class Victorian child.

I could have chosen a number of different poems, but I've gone for this one:

From A Railway Carriage by Robert Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!


Read my other poetry selections here.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Resolution Check 1

I've decided to start a monthly update on how my non-resolution resolutions are going, I outlined these in a previous post, here, but to jog your (my) memory, they were:

  • Continue to reassess, manage and improve my finances
  • Lose some weight/get fitter (yes, the old favourite!)
  • Read more books than last year - say 25-30
  • Blog around every 2-3 days (c. 147 posts)
  • Re-start my entries to Three Positive Things and explore positive psychology further
  • Commence work on a piece of fiction of my own (other than this list!)
So how's the first month gone? Well, it's been a funny old month, dominated by work changes - first the office moved from Wells to Bath followed by me starting my new job today. I've therefore seen today as being a chance to start to really focus on my various targets.

I can't claim to have made any real inroads, although I did make 13 blog entries which is on target. The new commute involves more exercise, so that should help weight loss, as is my intention to start taking my own lunch to work... which will also help the old finances.

Book-wise, I'm still reading The Amber Spyglass, which I started early in January, but again the new commute is going to allow me to accelerate my reading! I've yet to re-commence Three Positive Things or start any writing.

So there you have it - a sorry tale in some regards, although I prefer to suggest it's more a case of "One Step at a Time".