Category Archives: books

Book Review – A Pelican at Blandings

A Pelican at Blandings – P G Wodehouse

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: Arrow (2008)

ISBN-10: 0099514028

ISBN-13: 978-0099514022

I ordered this by accident just before Christmas – I’d meant to order a set of Jeeves and Wooster books to help me through the horror of the Festive Season but these arrived. It didn’t really matter because deep down I’ve always preferred Blandings to Wooster – the reason I’d ordered the Wooster books was because I thought I needed to to make more of an effort with them.

Anyway, here we are, Blandings Castle, where the sun always shines and the twentieth century seldom intrudes. This is the real deal, for despite my admiration of Timothy Spall, the TV adaptation was a grotesque parody.

You could say that the novel is also something of a parody, but in the hands of Wodehouse it avoids that pitfall and weaves a fresh story out of what is pretty standard Blandings fare. A formidable sister, an American millionaire and that renowned blister Alaric, Duke of Dunstable all conspire to make Lord Emsworth’s life a misery. At that point Gallahad Threepwood, younger brother of Emsworth, and one time member of the Pelican Club, enters the picture.

There are two plots to steal a (fake) painting, a couple of romances (one of which does not run smoothly), two imposters in the castle, an incident with the pig in the night, a certain amount of slapstick and a spot of blackmail. It takes a sure touch to navigate all that to a safe conclusion but yet again Wodehouse manages to dovetail the plot, tie up the loose ends and bring the book (the last of his Blandings novels) safely home.

I bought them to ease the pain of Christmas, but ended up reading several of them in hospital to ease the pain of various unfortunate incidents relating to cameras and tubing. It worked – they were a perfect antidote to my troubles. In fact I can’t see any circumstance that can’t be broghtened by a touch of Blanding therapy.

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Perfect light reading…

Biblioperigrination – new word for an old problem

I learned a valuable lesson about book reviews recently. That lesson is do not promise reviews on books you haven’t read yet. The photograph shows The Normans and their Myth, which is quite interesting but not riveting, so I haven’t actually finished it.

Same goes for taking care of books you’ve promised reviews on, as I’ve mislaid 50 ways to make you Home and Garden Greener. It’s easily done when you have piles of books everywhere. I suppose I could review it from memory, but I can’t really remember it that well – I’ve read so many books on this subject.

Reviewing a book from memory, particularly with my memory, could be a dangerous occupation.

The problem is that books seem to have a secret life of their own and are much more mobile than you think. I’m going to see if there is a Japanese word for that. If decided on the word for this phenomenon – biblioperigrination. According to Google there is no mention of this, so I claim to have invented the word. As it’s now going to be in my title and I’m putting in a bid to have it recorded as the first known use. I may write to Susie Dent about it.

I’m going to do The Elements of Murder next. I’ve read it, and I can see it from here, so there shouldn’t be any problems with that. I just need to make sure I’m reading fast enough to keep up with myself.

With that in mind, I won’t tell you what’s next, though I will tell you I’ve just had V. S. Naipaul’s  A Turn in he South delivered. It has been recommended by arlingwoman and I’m looking forward to reading it.

We’re going out now as I’m going to treat Julia to a cream tea. We breakfasted late on scrambled eggs, mushrooms and brown toast, so the cream tea will be a late lunch, which makes me feel better about eating it whilst on a diet. There’s no eating between meals, but if we have it as a meal it’s not a problem.

 

Tsundoku revisited

I’ve written about tsundoku before – the habit of piling up unread books. It was brought into painful focus earlier today when I opened up  a box of books that has been undisturbed for several years. For “several” you could probably substitute “ten” judging by the publication dates.

When I read The Elements of Murder  last month I was surprised at my familiarity with poisons and notable poisoning cases. Not only surprised, but quietly impressed with the breadth of my knowledge.

So when I found a copy of the paperback edition in the box today it was a bit of a downer. Not only is my knowledge based on reading the book ten years previously, but my memory is in fact so bad I didn’t remember buying the book twice.

It’s also a reminder that when I pictured the seven books in the photograph I was intending to review them swiftly. I’ve actually managed two and started two more. I haven’t even finished reading one of them. But I have bought more, and read several of them.

Ah well.

I suppose this officially the start of old age…

 

Schrödinger’s books

A while ago,  when I was in the Oxfam bookshop I saw a book I didn’t buy. To be accurate, I actually saw thousands of books I didn’t buy, but there was one particular book. I picked it up, looked at it, asked myself if I had a good reason for adding it to my existing mountain of books, and reluctantly put it back. (Under my new system I’m trying to buy books only when I’m sure I’m going to read them within the next few months. It’s a forlorn hope but I have to tell Julia something.)

After I dropped Julia off yesterday morning I wondered about visiting the bookshop while I was on that side of town. However, I had a list of  errands to do and decided to make a start on that. As for the book, it will either be there when I go back, or it won’t, and that was when the phrase Schrödinger’s Books passed through my mind.

As everyone knows Schrodinger’s  Cat is an illustration of  what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects.

What? You don’t? You need to stay in more and read Wikipedia. Then, having read Wikipedia, you have to understand it.

It problem features a sealed box containing a cat, a source of radioactivity and a flask of poison. If radioactivity is released it is detected by the Geiger counter which releases the poison and kills the cat. If no radioactivity is released, the cat lives. Because the box is sealed the cat might either be alive or dead, or both.

Alternatively, like me, you can use cut and paste and get by with a vague understanding, secure in the knowledge that most of your readers are similarly vague. To be honest, when I first saw the words Schrödinger’s Cat, I thought it was the sequel to Flaubert’s Parrot. It would make quite a trilogy with Lady Chatterley’s Plover.

I’d have to take issue with “everyday objects” , as I don’t tend to have a Geiger counter, a source of radioactivity and a flask of poison lying around the house. However, it does make more sense than Einstein’s  assertion that a barrel of unstable gunpowder can exist in both exploded and unexploded states. Having, in my re-enactment days, had an Explosives License, I can’t appreciate the subtlety of Einstein’s position. With gunpowder I’ve always thought of it as an either/or situation. Either you have a roof, or you don’t have a roof. There isn’t much room for compromise.

Anyway, back to books. You see a book in a shop and don’t buy it. When you walk out of the shop you can no longer see it and  don’t know whether it is there or not, so it’s both there and not there.

My version of the problem works better with secondhand books. In a shop selling new books it’s more likely they will have a copy when you want one. In a second hand bookshop there’s probably a bigger chance of the book being gone when you go back. Unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. There are plenty of them about.

It also works better with books than cats: in the absence of food and water, there is, I feel, a fundamental flaw in the assumption that the cat is alive beyond a certain point.

This is probably a good way of defining a scientist – a man who can reveal the mysteries of the Universe but can’t run a cattery.

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Books

 

 

 

 

Wandering, not lost

Not all those who wander are lost

J R R Tolkien

I dropped Julia off at work this morning. The gates into the school car park were open today, as it’s school holidays, so we were able to drive right up to the garden gates and unload plants. Yes, unload plants. We’re at it again, making up gardens from scrounged plants.

After that I took a turn through the countryside between Nottingham and Loughborough. It’s scenic, though unexciting countryside, with some pleasant villages. The weather was a bit dull for photography and I wasn’t on top of my game so there are no photographs today. If there were, they would be pictures of gently rolling countryside with lots of greenery.

The trouble was that I started off mentally listing the things I need to do to set my life right, I’ve been letting things drift over the last few years and need to get organised.

Unfortunately this line of thought has a habit of sliding into thoughts of things that went wrong, things I should have done better and bad decisions I have made. It’s often sparked off by looking at a biggish house and thinking “I could have had one like that if I’d worked harder and planned better.”

However, I enjoyed my life as an unprofitable antique dealer and gardener. I also enjoyed the unprofitable time I spent with the kids. And I have two neighbours who ply me with cake.

All in all, it could be worse.

Eventually, I decided I was lost. Strictly speaking I couldn’t have been lost because I wasn’t going anywhere. That’s often been the subject of some discussion between me and Julia when I’ve been happily exploring country lanes over the years. Just because I don’t know where I am doesn’t mean I’m lost. And if I’ve got nowhere particular to go I can’t be going the wrong way.

After that I succumbed to the lure of the Oxfam bookshop in West Bridgford. It’s been refitted since last time I was here and is much better lit and laid out. This isn’t necessarily a good thing as I liked the poky old shop. In fact part of the experience of buying second-hand books ought to be in the dim, cramped, slightly musty conditions.

I resisted the temptation to buy books on Shakespeare, Mary Queen of Scots and Richard III, but did buy books on Percy Toplis, Moorcroft Pottery and historical trivia.

The Moorcroft book cost me £3.49. It was originally £35. Unfortunately, just as I was feeling  economically prudent I took a look at the prices on the Moorcroft site.

I’m going for a nice lie down in a darkened room now.

 

Management books and Winston Churchill

After much thought, and sitting up until after midnight, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t concentrate on writing an interesting post. I have therefore settled on throwing a few things together and trusting that it will be OK.

Come to think of it, I may write a business management book based on that premise. Somewhere in the house I have management books based on  Henry V, Attila the Hun and Jean-Luc Picard, so why shouldn’t Just Chuck it Together, It’ll be OK be a success?

I may market it as a breath of fresh air in a world that seems to increasingly demand perfection, effort and planning.

How about Leadership Secrets of Winston Churchill – a quick study of how the man voted the Greatest Briton of all time actually ran things. It strikes me that when he wasn’t being random he was often drunk, but he still managed to win a couple of World Wars and a Nobel Prize. Makes you think, doesn’t it.

In a modern context, by the time we’d planned, done the Prince 2 stuff and explored the Health And Safety implications we’d have had jackboots marching up the Mall and King Edward VIII re-installed in Buckingham Palace. Or, I think, Edward III for those of you in Scotland.

Anyway, I’d better get to bed as I don’t want to be late for hospital.

In the meantime I will try to think of something entertaining to write for Friday.

🙂

 

 

Book Review: Free Country

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain

by George Mahood

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (18 Dec. 2014)

Paperback 352pp    Paperback £8.99     Kindle £1.99

ISBN-13: 978-1490356662

I’ve read a few books of his sort (which I think of as novelty travel, or even annoying novelty travel) and have mixed feelings about the genre.  Is it really necessary to do more than travel and write entertainingly? Do you need to take a fridge with you, or in this case, do you need to start off in your pants and beg your way the length of the country? Not that it really matters, because charity shops are full of these books and they rarely cost more than £1.50. At that price I can adapt to most things.

Part of the problem is that everything seems to fall into place so easily, finding footwear before doing any serious damage to their feet for instance, and the other is that a lot of the stuff they are given is the result of theft. They may be amazed at the generosity of staff in large chains, but actually, that’s theft. Same goes for the employees of smaller establishments who give them free drink or food while the boss is away – theft.

George Mahood thinks the penniless journey is a demonstration of the basic decency of human beings who are selflessly prepared to help two idiots on their way from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

I think it’s about finding a gimmick to base a book on.

It’s beginning to sound like I don’t like the book, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a good book, with well-observed characters, warmth, moments of peril, light and shade and humour. I did follow them with bated breath, I did worry about them, and I was rooting for them, despite my moral misgivings.

It was a birthday present from Number One son and arrived in the post whilst I was in the grip of several different infections (the advancing years are not being kind), so I left it for a week before picking it up.

Once I started it I finished it in two sessions and was really sorry to reach the end.

Judged from a moral standpoint – theft, begging, fecklessness and having defective brakes – it’s hard to give it more than three stars, but from a reading point of view it’s a massive five.

Mad as a Hatter

Sorry, this should have been part of yesterday’s post.

I’ve always known that “mad as a hatter” was something to do with hatters, madness and chemicals but I wasn’t quite clear on the details. I’m currently reading The Elements of Murder (slowly, I admit, but it isn’t light reading) and the book has some interesting details.

I was going to stick a paragraph in about it, as it seemed appropriate and I had a suitably mad photograph. However, having the information and the need to write a post I thought I’d better find more information to fill it out.

This proved to be a mistake. “Mad as a Hatter”, according to some sources, has little to do with madness, and nothing at all to do with hatters.

This is a nuisance, to say the least. According to Wikipedia there are several possible sources for the expression, including the Anglo-Saxons who used the expression to mean venomous as a viper. There are other explanations too. I’m not happy with any of them, nor am I impressed by the references to early usage, without exact dates. However, this is a blog, I’m citing Wikipedia and I’m never going to be mistaken for an academic.  Can we just say “other explanations are available”, and I’ll talk about the one I want?

The Mad Hatter is supposed to be based on Theophilus Carter, an eccentric Oxford furniture dealer and reputed builder of an alarm clock bed exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. When it was time to get up a clockwork motor engaged and tipped the sleeper into a tank of water. This seems a bit brutal even for stern Victorian early risers.

Unfortunately, though there were two alarm clock beds exhibited in 1851, neither of them was attributed to Carter in the catalogue. Nor, despite Carroll’s extensive diaries, is there any real evidence  that the Mad Hatter is based on Carter. It’s a shame, because it’s a good story.

There is, however, plenty of evidence for hatters exhibiting signs of madness.

The main material used in making hats was felt, which was made from the hair of rabbits and beavers, mixed with mercuric nitrate and repeatedly shaped, boiled and washed until it formed smooth cones of felt. This process released mercury vapour which, went inhaled, caused symptoms such as delirium, hallucinations, irritability, excitability, tremors and depression.

In many countries, including the UK, measures were taken to protect workers from exposure and by the end of the 20th century hatters were no longer suffering the effects of mercury poisoning. In the USA it persisted until 1941, being known as the “Danbury Shakes”, after the hat-making centre in Connecticut. Eventually the need for mercury in the war effort meant the use of alternative chemicals and the end of the Danbury Shakes.

Be that as it may, in the 1860s, when Carroll wrote about the Mad Hatter, mercury poisoning, was a major factor in the behaviour of hatters.

The Ultimate Irony

Got up.

Changed bags.

Finished Richard Mabey book. Yes, 3.5 stars seems about right.

Had high fibre breakfast with fruit.

Watched the Peregrines on Notts TV. Can’t find a good link to post. You aren’t missing much.

Opened parcel. It’s a new book. Could be hard work.

Explained to Julia why I needed a new book.

Picked up prescriptions.

Photographed flowers.

Asked surgery receptionist very nicely if she could get details of one of my two hospital appointments next week. I lost the letter. Yes, two next week. With luck like that I should buy a lottery ticket.

Set off for Peterborough.

Stopped for Burger King lunch. Yes, it was bad planning.

Visited Father and Sister.

Sister told me she now has three books on decluttering. Yes, three. Hence the title of the post.

Had tea. It was veggie burgers. Menu planning has slipped a little in recent days.

Went home the country way.

Saw two Kites.

Watched TV.

Blogged.

It has not been my most interesting day.

Resting, Reading and Recuperating

One of the horrors of old age that I have observed is that at a certain stage people stop reading. My father, despite everything, is still hanging in there. He’s never been a massive reader but he’s always done crosswords and puzzles and, although they may be getting simpler, he’s still doing them. This, I feel, is a good thing.

Ever since I had tonsillitis. in around 1964, and my mother suggested reading as a hobby, I have been a lost cause. She bought me a copy of Biggles of The Special Air Police and the rest is history.

I still have the book – it’s within feet of me as we speak. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if she’d bought Jane Eyre, as she later did. Would I have grown into a sophisticated professor of English Literature? Or would I have given up reading? I suspect the latter. Having been persuaded to read several classics in my early reading career I then gave them up until recently when I thought I should give them another try.

It didn’t really work out well. You may have seen my comments on this previously – that Don Quixote would be much better if it was half as long and had a murder on the first page, preferably Don Quixote himself. My feeling on a number of other classics is similar.

The nearest I’ve been to a classic in the last twelve months is  John Buchan. I’ve managed The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr Standfast and The Three Hostages but I’m having a rest for now. There comes a time when casual racism wears a bit thin, even if it is authentic contemporary racism.

I moved on to Dr Thorndyke but after four of them I started searching around for some variety. Having read a book on Q Ships I’m now on Nature Cure by Richard Mabey.  Clare Pooley recommended it to me when I came out of hospital. I broke one of my normal rules and paid £4.99 for a Kindle edition, but it’s been worthwhile.

Clearly the man is marching to a different drummer, even when he isn’t suffering from depression, but it’s a relaxing and informative read. I looked forward to his account of male urology, as this is one of the points where our lives converge. He likens it to a mythical linking of his internal water with the water of the Fens. That’s why he’s known as an elegant and spiritual writer.

I have never thought of it as mystical in any of my three stays in Male Urology, I just use it as a source of broad humour. My internal water is linked to the water in my kettle.

That’s why I’m not known as an elegant and spiritual writer.

Finally,  moving back to the point. It’s surprising how much energy it takes to read and concentrate. I struggled in the days after leaving hospital, and I’m still not fully back in the swing of things. With the sort of time I’ve had on my hands recently I should have seen Nature Cure off in short order, probably in a day. It’s only 240 pages in the paper edition, which is not a long book.

I didn’t have the energy to start it for a couple of days and I’ve been doing a section each day. I still have a bit left, though to be honest I’m now able to read faster and I’m just trying to prolong the pleasure of reading.  I’m doing puzzles now and looking at the web, though still not up to full speed.

Has anybody else noticed that reading can be such an effort? Or am I just getting old?