Monthly Archives: April 2019

Notre Dame, and Our People

I’m going to be controversial here.

I have not been moved – to the same extent as ‘everyone else’ – over the fire at Notre Dame.

Yes, it is sad, and bad. But it didn’t kill lots of human beings. It wasn’t the empty home of people who have now been made homeless.

I’ve not visited, but on exchanging Notre Dame in my mind for some building I do know and love, I don’t seem to feel much worse.

The Guardian had several bad and sad articles the day after the fire. I actually felt worse about the microplastics, also on the front page, that we eat and inhale all over the world.

But what made me almost cry were pages 18 and 19, about the Windrush citizens, as exemplified by Winston Robinson, former ambulance driver. Things are really no better for most of these people, and certainly not for Winston.

I feel ashamed, even though it wasn’t my doing. And I’m deeply upset that this ‘civilised’ nation can do a thing like this, and on such a scale, and so knowingly, in full view of the whole country, if not the whole world.

I’m sorry.

Remembering Amritsar

Ten – or a hundred – years on and it’s not as if the world has suddenly got a lot better. On Saturday it was 100 years since the massacre at Amritsar. Ten years ago I read Bali Rai’s historical novel City of Ghosts and was shocked. Because I didn’t know nearly enough about this. I blame my non-UK background, but of course, lots of people here don’t know much either. There was an interesting piece in the Guardian the other day. Seemingly British people don’t realise that what happened that day in 1919 didn’t endear them to the Indian population. Or that they haven’t forgotten.

Bali Rai, City of Ghosts

Below is my review from 2009:

Did you know about all the Indian soldiers fighting for England in World War I? I didn’t, other than knowing that soldiers did come from other countries to fight. The sheer number is horrifying. It’s one thing – just about – to send ‘your own’ to die for your country. To send Indian soldiers to their deaths because you have a quarrel with your German neighbour is awful beyond belief.

This novel has a number of sub-plots, which together build a picture of India in the years before 1920. There is Bissen, the soldier who fought in France. There are Gurdial and Jeevan, two teenagers from the local orphanage in Amritsar.

We learn of what happened to Bissen in Europe, and how it affects his life in India after the war. He is an older and wiser influence on the two boys. Gurdial is in love, and Jeevan picks the wrong friends.

And then we have the time and place; Amritsar in 1919. You can tell it’s not all going to end well.

Bali has written a very Indian story from almost a century ago. You can smell the place, and you can see all the colours. You can taste the food, and you can almost feel what happened on that fateful day in April in Amritsar. There is a ghostly element, which although impossible to explain, fits in perfectly with the plot.

It’s very romantic, and it’s very sad and very violent.

It’s a story that needed telling.

It’s a story you need to read.

Double Whammy

When I remembered I had a few unread novels by Carl Hiaasen, I knew I had to pick one of them to come with me on my recent travels. I knew it’d be good, and unlike children’s books that can be too short, Double Whammy is just over 400 pages so I could be sure it would last a while.

I might have chosen Double Whammy anyway, for being the first of the Hiaasens on my shelf, but having looked through all the books, I couldn’t help noticing this one had Skink in it, and that rather clinched the deal. I like Skink. Well, within reason, and it is easier to like him in a book than it might be in real life. If he was real.

Carl Hiaasen, Double Whammy

Double Whammy turned out to be the first Skink novel, so that was an added bonus. (If you don’t know Skink, you can read about him here.) He used to be that totally unlikely creature; a Florida Governor who was honest and decent and couldn’t be bribed. So that’s obviously fiction.

Double Whammy is about the fishy stuff that goes on in the world of bass fishing in Florida. If you think it’s weird that men sit for hours in silence, fishing, it’s even weirder that people will watch these men fishing on television, but there you have it. And if you read Double Whammy you are reading about people watching people fishing…

Some fishermen are cheating, because there is much money at stake in bass fishing competitions. And then they start dying, and someone needs to find out about both the cheating and the murders. Private Eye R J Decker gets the job, and he soon teams up with Skink, despite being slightly scared of this wild man who lives off roadkill.

It’s funny. It’s quite disgusting at times. But it’s also reassuring to read about people who want to do the right thing, both for the environment and against cheating. And say what you want about Carl Hiaasen’s usually very attractive and often scantily clad women characters, but they are feisty and brave.

And all this without any mobile phones or decent clothes, since this was 1987. It’s amazing how far we haven’t come in some respects.

(It’s probably for the best if you are not a dog lover.)

Tweet tweet

It’s just as well I get emails to prod me into looking at Twitter. Not that one can’t live without Twitter, but sometimes it’s fun. I don’t look often, though.

Discovered this at the weekend:

Tweet

Interesting in its own right, I was interested, and surprised, to see that Sara Paretsky follows Son. On Twitter; not in some stalky way. I was even more surprised to see I don’t follow Sara. I should, and now I do. But I suppose while there are obvious people to follow, you can’t really sit down with a complete Twitter once-and-for-all shopping list.

Some of the responses to Son’s question were more serious than mine. As the mother lite I only managed a Ziva David quote, although I think it’s quite as likely to be the correct answer as any of the others.

Or you could argue that the Scandi lit scene is rather limited… 🙃

Astronomy

This is the book I’d have wanted as my course book in Astronomy at school. That is, if I’d been able to take Astronomy, which I wasn’t. In my day this was the subject of the last chapter of the Physics book, and we never got to it.

Anne Rooney, Astronomy

I don’t actually know who the book is aimed at, except for the 14-year-old witch. How The World Works – Astronomy, From plotting the stars to pulsars and black holes, by Anne Rooney, is an excellent book. It seems to do what that front page description suggests, and according to the Resident IT Consultant it could well cover 80% of the GCSE Astronomy course.

That’s presumably why I am itching to read the book with a view to learning all of it, and then maybe sitting the exam.

It’s mostly words, so we get descriptions of everything astronomical, from historical backgrounds to what we know now. There is [mostly] none of those scary equations or difficult diagrams and things that would have turned the young witch off. Well, not off so much, as just making it incomprehensible.

Beautifully illustrated, this is simply a very attractive book. In fact, it’s quite goldilocks-ey in that it’s neither too much, nor too little. I like authors who can introduce a subject for those of us who’ll never be specialists, and make it seem quite normal.

Towards the very end of its 200 pages there is a ‘recipe’ for how to find exoplanets. I discovered I sort of already knew most of that.

While this strikes me as being most suitable for the secondary school student, I imagine that it can be more than readable for the really keen, and much younger, space nerd. If they’re interested, try it early, and before you know it you could have a little astrophysicist on your hands.

Space on Earth

All right, I admit it! Even though I am very keen on space and astronomy and all that, I have entertained thoughts like maybe it’s a waste of money to send men to the Moon. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the Apollo programme, and I have a certain fondness for astrophysics. A witch can still be frugal and ask if it makes sense to spend quite so much money on this kind of science.

It seems it does. And I’m so glad to know why.

It seems the space industry doesn’t use up as much money as we believe. Also that the money spent on stuff to do with space returns to us here on Earth in the shape of lots of very important inventions and discoveries.

Sheila Kanani and Del Thorpe, Space on Earth

Sheila Kanani has written this short book called Space on Earth, and it wasn’t until I read it that I realised why it’s called that. Science for space has turned out to be very useful for normal life on Earth, too. Just think, we wouldn’t be able to take selfies without an invention originally intended for space.

The same goes for satnav and cordless drills. Obviously. Our speakers are a lot smaller nowadays, thanks to space. And let’s not forget solar panels. They are from space too.

Space blankets for premature babies, and baby foods (for that long journey to Mars), cochlear implants and cancer detection, all come from space technology. And for more lighthearted science, we have sunglasses and the right clothes for skiing. Swimsuits for swimming faster, and cycle helmets.

This is fascinating stuff, and it’s such a relief to know that space science hasn’t been just for the nerds among us. For each chapter Sheila also introduces the reader to the scientists who worked long and hard at finding the best solution to a problem. And I do like the illustrations by Del Thorpe. I want to believe that reading a book like this will tempt many more children to go into science, and especially girls. Sheila herself is an excellent role model. In fact, I’d like to think of her as a mentor.

One day is here

Don’t know whether I mentioned the trip we made last month? Doesn’t matter. Long train journey; out one day, home again the next. I used up – almost –  my whole quota of good reliable looking children’s books. I needed three, one out, one back, and one in reserve. The books I had with me were good, and I was pleased with my selection.

Then came two more trips, one just finished and one soon to happen. I had to select reading material for them together, to make sure they were evenly balanced, and so I didn’t accidentally pick all the best books for one, leaving nothing sensible for the other. Same principle of three books per journey.

Trouble was, there were not many children’s books left in the to be read pile. At least not enough to fit in with my needs. There are some hardbacks, but they are too big to hold, and weigh a little too much. Others are short, and would be over too quickly.

So I actually went into the twilight zone. I have a bookcase where I put the ones which have had to drop off the to be read pile due to space and time issues, but that I still believe will be really good to read. One day.

In the end I had two well matched piles, each containing two adult crime novels and one children’s book. That’s not how I like things to be, but frankly, the children’s books coming in are not long journey material. OK, travelling in Britain I could obviously buy a replacement at some point, but not perhaps when I needed it.

And, erm, I even managed to colour coordinate one pile. It was a sort of orangey tinge, until I swapped one book for Death in Berlin, which was rather faded and grey. Not to mention dry. Pages 24 and 25 sailed away on the plane, and I had to anchor them with my foot until I could rescue them.

From the other pile I decided against another ancient copy of a book with print that was far too small for [my] comfort. That’s another thing about old, sometimes used, books. They don’t age well. It can be content, or it can be physical, with dry spines and faded covers where you can barely see what the book is. The tiny print is presumably one reason so many books back then were around 200 pages.

And who knows, before I get on the next train, there could have been a mass arrival of perfect travel companions. Some books are really good, beginning when I get to the station and ending as the train and I are almost at our destination.