Today I am with Winston Smith. It is a bright cold day in April, and the clocks are striking thirteen...
This all seems horribly familiar.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.
Today I am with Winston Smith. It is a bright cold day in April, and the clocks are striking thirteen...
This all seems horribly familiar.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.
It is quite possible that I had a slip of the credit card back in January and pre-ordered the new Fuji X100F camera. It finally arrived on Friday, and oh, it is beautiful. It's a gorgeous camera, the fourth incarnation of the X100 launched some years ago. Those who have used one of the previous versions have raved about it, and I got all caught up in the hype and bought one. It reminds me very much of my Nikon FM2 film camera. If feels sturdy, but not too heavy and has all the traditional dials of a film SLR. The Delightful Mr F and I went out and about in Bath to try it out yesterday. It was fantastic to use, and I can see this becoming a real workhorse for me.
It would be fair to say that I am now suffering severely from Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS*), which is a lot like Book Acquisition Syndrome (BAS) but manifests itself in the buying of photography equipment instead of literary material. There is method in my madness though. 2017 is a year for me to concentrate on my photography and a bit of kit here and there is reasonable I think. The Delightful Mr F says that without trying things, how will I know if they work for me? I like his logic. He is a good egg, no doubt about it.
It turns out that my credit card is really quite slippery as it slipped again and I also bought a stack of photography books and some Folio Society books too this month. The Folio ones were on sale, so they don't count do they?
*What and unfortunate acronym
It's been a funny start to 2017, that is to say odd rather than hilarious. Last week I met my pals, C and S for luncheon at a local eatery. C had bought her very photogenic son, T, who was as good as gold and after a suitable amount of cute baby noise generation, and batting off dotty old ladies* who wanted to play with T, we settled down for a natter.
I have, dear readers, recently been accused of being weird because I don't have an in depth knowledge of the goings on in the Kardashian family and would rather read a book instead. I announced this to C and S with some sadness. We then pooled our collective knowledge. All we knew was that Kim was robbed recently, and that there were several of them, all having names beginning with K. We ran rather dry on facts after that. I did consider Googling, but frankly couldn't be bothered and didn't think it would much enhance our lunch.
I know the Kardashians are very popular, and not having watched the programme, I could be accused of not being in a position to comment. However, I do feel calling someone odd for reading rather than watching reality TV is a little bit rude. It made me wonder dear readers whether you have ever been insulted because you like a good book. I am sure the Kardashians are excellent entertainment, but better than a Pratchett, Austen, Ishiguro Wodhouse or Christie**? For some yes, but not for me.
The whole "odd" accusation had me feeling very down, until I heard Sam Harris on one of his podcasts say that in order to have a mind worth having, then you need to understand science, the arts and the humanities. I paraphrased there, but I did like the idea of "a mind worth having". So, what would you read to help you develop a mind worth having? For me it would be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction:
What would be on your list dear readers?
*By the way, if you want to scare old ladies, look after someone else's child while they order food at a counter. When aforementioned dotty old lady comes to coo over the baby and asks how old they are, answer with "I don't know, he isn't my baby". The look of horror as they automatically assume you have kidnapped the child is brilliant. I should say that it is best to clarify that he belongs to your friend who is less than ten feet away otherwise you may have some explaining to do to the local constabulary.
** Insert your favourite author here
*** I really hope he isn't a fan of the Kardashians...
Last week I had to go to London for a spot of work. That completed I went for a wander around and about and took some shots on my Fuji X70, which is rapidly becoming a permanent fixture in my bag. I am not well versed in the geography of our great capital city, but decided I would just amble around the place and follow my nose if I found something interesting. It was a glorious spring day and I found myself meandering in the areas of St Paul's, Holborn, Fleet Street as well as along the South Bank. It was all very pleasant indeed. I shot a lot of photographs and had to stop when both my batteries were depleted. I was a little shocked when on the train home to find that I had walked 11 miles!
I have realised that photography is becoming much like reading for me. I am starting to integrate it into my daily life and it broadens my view of the world, which is no bad thing. It also opens up conversations that I wouldn't otherwise have had. At one point I was reading a sign outside a church I had found down a quiet side street. Seeing my camera, a chap stopped and told me that if I walked to the end of the street and turned right there was the most amazing view of the church with great shadows when the sun came out. Then he went on his way. No idea who he was, but it was a nice interaction. I like to think he was a spy with an eye for photographic composition on his way to a dead drop. More likely he was an accountant, but why spoil a good story eh?
Anyway, here are my favourite shots from the day.
You may have noticed the absence of Photography Sunday last week. Well, that was because I was doing actual photography! I was photographing the wonderful Champagne At The Blitz. The singing trio are a vintage group, made up of Caroline, Jenny and Sarah, Jenny be married to one of my book club pals. They have performed at various events, and been on the telly don't you know. Last Saturday was their first full concert, just them and a wonderful audience gathered in Rotherwick Village Hall. There was bunting, flag waving, vintage clothes* and me with an astonishingly heavy zoom lens and a panicked expression as I tried to capture the concert for posterity.
The girls were brilliant, you can hear samples of their singing on their website, but live they were outstanding. They were pitch perfect and the atmosphere was brilliant. They have a second concert planned for November, so if you are in the area, I would urge you get tickets. It's a wonderful evening and you will leave feeling throughly cheered.
*The Delightful Mr F was dapper in his tweed suit
I might be a teensy-weensy behind on my reviews... never mind, better late than never, eh? Today's literary delight is First Class Murder by Robin Stevens, the third in the Wells and Wong mystery series. Now I will admit that I approached this book with some trepidation dear readers. The reason? Well, this is a book which pays homage to Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Now you can imagine how I might feel about someone trying to reflect Christie can't you? This, however, is a Robin Stevens book, and therefore there is no need for panic. In fact, there is need for tea and buns and enough time to sit and read it from beginning to end.
Daisy and Hazel are off on their holidays with Hazel's dad, and they are travelling on the Orient Express. Hazel's father is a little bit concerned that the friends have got into the habit of tripping over dead bodies every ten minutes, which is not at all becoming for young ladies. He makes them promise to be good, and not get into any trouble. Well, it isn't long before a body is found in one of the cabins, completely locked from the inside and the girls set out to solve the mystery on the quiet.
There is as cast of characters including a psychic, a magician and a Russian princess. There is also the added bonus of a young American lad who takes a bit of a shine to Hazel. The resemblance to the Christie classic is clear to see, but it's so deftly done, and handled with such devotion, it's a joy to read. The friendship between Daisy and Hazel is developing nicely, and really has some depth. I can see these two aged eighty, knitting together whilst chatting to the vicar about the recent murder at the village fete.
It's a truly glorious read, and as with all the Wells and Wong books, there is a proper mystery with red herrings, twists, turns and clues to indulge the reader. The books may be aimed at younger readers, but there is no shying away from what murder means.
This series is fantastic, and even if you don't have a Hazel or Daisy in your life to buy a copy for, pretend you do, and read it yourself. You won't regret it.
When the Delightful Mr F first taught me how to use an SLR camera about 20 years ago, there was relatively little to learn once you had your head around the aperture, shutter speed, ISO triangle. After that it was all about practise and learning to "see" photographically. Now though, it is a whole different world... My first SLR, a Nikon FM2, was completely manual, manual focus, manual settings, not an automatic widget in sight. In fact it was so manual it would work without a battery.
My lovely new Fuji cameras can do everything apart from actually walk out the door and take the photos themselves. The risk is that the camera doesn't quite do what you expect and you end up with a photographic dog's dinner. Even if you are photographing a dog's dinner you want it to be in focus and properly exposed don't you? Why am I rambling on about this? Well, on Monday I had my first one to one photographic mentoring session with Kevin Ahronson. We talked about my homework from the first course lecture. I had five photographs for him to review, all of the Delightful Mr F doing some karate training. Three of them I was quite pleased with, one I couldn't quite work out why I wasn't so happy, and the final one I had struggled with getting how I wanted it.
It turns out dear reader, that I had fallen foul of the autofocus system. The reason I was so dissatisfied with one shot was that the autofocus system hadn't quite got things right, so The Delightful Mr F was looking somewhat blurry around the edges. I am so used to focusing manually, I hadn't quite cottoned on to what was happening with the automatic functions.
So, on Wednesday lunchtime you would have found me reading the manual which came with my camera. Yes, the actual manual, which to be fair didn't help a great deal, so I resorted to the wonder that is YouTube. I think I now have it nailed and so The Delightful Mr F need not be in fear of being blurry again.
The one to one mentoring is extraordinarily powerful. In half an hour Kevin had shown me where I had got things right, and where the others photos could be improved. I doubt I could have worked it all out on my own. I also met his cat, who is super cute.
So, here are a few shots of The Delightful Mr F. After almost six years, you must all be wondering what he looks like. Happy Sunday!
Edith finds herself at the Hotel du Lac, on the shores of a Swiss lake, having been advised by her friends to go away and think about things for a while. The reasons she needs this break are revealed as the book progresses.
Edith is a serious, woman, not yet married, who find herself in a hotel with a cast of characters she enjoys watching. We have a mother and daughter, Mrs Pusey and Jennifer who are hopelessly devoted to each other, the charming Mr Neville, and Mme de Bonneuil and her little dog. Edith is a romantic novelist and decides to use her expulsion from her social circle to finish her next book, but the words won't flow. Instead she starts to mope about, and so Mrs Pusey decides she needs taking out of herself.
The prose is wonderful, there are very sly observations on the characters and the small talk is painfully accurate. It isn't a fast paced read, but then it doesn't need to be. I found myself slowing the pace to reflect the setting, a slightly old fashioned and snooty family run hotel.
This book came in for a lot of criticism when it won the Booker Prize in 1984 when many thought that The Empire of the Sun should have won. I haven't read The Empire of the Sun, so can't comment. What I did like about this book is the theme that a solitary life, when chosen knowingly, is a fine life.
It was pretty chilly here at Fennell Towers this week, it has been as low as -6C, which for the South East is darn nippy. Despite the cold, it has been sunny, with beautiful blue skies, so with several layers on, plus some gloves and a bobble hat* I went for my daily walk in the woods. It. Was. Freezing. I am nothing if not intrepid, and so I pressed on, camera in (cold, gloved) hand.
There was a low hanging mist still and I got this nice general shot of the woods with the sun breaking through the trees.
In the woods are a herd of highland cows which graze and keep everything under control. They were close by, so took a photo of this handsome chap. When I walk in the woods during the day, I don't often see anyone else, and so tend to assume that I am on my own. Imagine dear reader, if you will, there I am, taking some photos of the cow. As a photographer you want to make your model feel relaxed and I was chatting to the cow, only to realise that six feet away was a couple, looking at me like I had gone mad. I brazened it out with a cheery "good morning!" and went on my way.
Having got a good distance and some trees between me and the couple who now thought I was potty, I came across a ditch with some frozen water in it. The water had made some lovely patterns. I took this shot, balanced precariously on the side of the ditch, not entirely sure the ground was solid. Can you imagine what those people would have thought if they had rounded a corner and seen me sprawled in a ditch having been talking to the cow minutes earlier? I am sure they would have assumed I had been on the orange squash...
After the ditch shot I decided to head home, as my fingers were turning blue. On my way I saw this toy rabbit tied to a lamppost. I have titled this shot "Lost Bunny". I considered calling it "Lost Bunny Tied To Lamppost", but decided that was too much, it is always better to give the viewer somewhere to go with their own interpretation, don't you think. ;)
*A bobble hat is an essential piece of photography equipment
Today I am with Andy Barber, a DA, whose son, Jacob, may or may not have killed his classmate by stabbing him in the chest and leaving him in the woods.
This is the book I am really struggling with. I am about 100 pages in and frankly I just don't care one way or the other who did what, when and why. I will struggle onwards as it is a book club read. Has anyone read it? Does it get better?
By all accounts William Landay has written two other very well received books, so there is hope!
- Defending Jacob by William Landay
The Moving Finger is a Miss Marple mystery. Well, almost. Miss Marple does appear, mostly drinking tea and knitting and mumbling on about this person and that she is reminded of. To be honest, it would have worked as a plot without her.
The true stars of the book are Jerry and Joanna Burton, a brother sister who have moved to the small town of Lymstock. Jerry was a pilot in the war and is recovering from serious injury, and the pair thought that the quiet life in a small town would help his recovery. Anyone who has lived in a village or small town knows full well there is no such thing as the quiet life in these places, and that's certainly true of Christie's fictional world.
No sooner have they got rid of the last packing case and found the kettle, they start to receive poison pen letters accusing them of not being brother and sister, but lovers living in sin. Being Londoners and therefore far more sophisticated than the locals, as far as they are concerned, they burn it and think no more about it. The trouble really starts when it transpires everyone is receiving this nasty letters, and Mrs Symmington, the solicitor's wife commits suicide after receiving one. Not long after their maid is found dead too.
The murders seem to put a metaphorical spring back in Jerry's step, and he sets out to uncover the wrongdoer. It truly is a tangled web, and the culprit isn't that easy to spot. I liked Jerry and Joanna very much, far more than I liked Tommy and Tuppance, and as with all Christie's best works it has that juxtaposition of comfy English country life and cold blooded murder.
I remember this story from the marvellous BBC adaptations with Joan Hickson, but not sure how many will have heard of it otherwise. It's a hidden gem.
We are off and running! The Hampshire School of Photography 1 year foundation course has officially started. On a chilly evening last week, I packed up my camera and pitched up at the local community centre to meet my new classmates. What a lovely bunch they are too. We range in photographic experience from a couple of decades to "just opened the box of my new camera at Christmas".
The course has been developed and is lead by Kevin Ahronson, top professional photographer and all round good egg. After the obligatory course introductions* Kevin took us through the basics of operating a Digital SLR out of the Auto mode. Having done a bit of photography, none of this was new to me, but it is always good to hear the information again, as knowing the basics well is the key to everything else.
I always think that photography is a very odd blend of the ultra technical, with lenses, focal lengths and exposure times, with the purely artistic and creative. Which makes it very inclusive, you can take joy from photography in whatever way you like.
Now comes the slightly daunting part... the homework. We have a few weeks to go away and take some photographs to practise the skills Kevin taught us in this session. We get a personal 1:1 mentoring session with him and our shots will be critiqued. The critique part of this whole experience, is I think, going to help me the most, although I am hoping Kevin doesn't turn into the photographic equivalent of Simon Cowell with a red buzzer. On Friday I morphed into Hermione Granger and planned my shots. Yesterday saw me hunched over my camera doing my homework in the hope of getting a gold star from Kevin. In fact I wasn't very happy with the results for one shot, so took it again. I'm glad I took them yesterday, it's raining cats and dogs here today, and the light it terrible. Listen to me, talking about the quality of the light and re-taking shots. I'm an artist Dahlings! I may start lounging about the place, and having an occasional rant like an 1930s artistic Christie character.
I am looking forward to seeing what my classmates photograph. I have a feeling we will all interpret the brief very differently.
Signing up for a course for a whole year is quite a big decision, but after the first session know I am going to have a fantastic time, and my photography should improve too.
* Whilst he asked us to introduce ourselves, thankfully we didn't have to do any icebreaking exercises involving building the Great Pryramid of Giza out of paperclips and rubber bands. Why do courses make people do that? Those exercises just make me grumpy.
We are a mere 13 days into 2017, and already I am having a blogging editorial crisis. My complete lack of blogging last year due to important things has resulted in an enormous backlog of book reviews to be written and posted. Regular bloggers will exclaim, "Worry ye not! This means you have spare reviews for when you don't have time to write one, keep them in the box for later."
Well, that's all well and good, but many of these books are festive reads... Publishing festive reads in January just looks tardy and has that feel of left over Christmas pudding that sits in the fridge until someone cracks and feeds it to the birds. I suppose I could publish them in July to show just what a rebel I am, but quite honestly, Harrods will have beaten me to it by opening their Christmas shop in June. Perhaps I'll just hold them for next Christmas, and regale you with my more recent reads instead.
I have read a couple of really good tomes in the last couple of weeks. My current read is proving to be less of a page turner than I hoped, but I shall press on as it is a book club read. It may get better you never know, but so far I have tidied my office, done some washing and swept the leaves in the garden to avoid reading it. It has to go back to the library soon, so this weekend I have vowed to finish it. It also possible that I may have had a sneaky visit to Mr B's, and possibly purchased one or two literary items that I am desperate to read, so I can use that as a bribe to finishing the current book. I can't start the new ones until I have finished this one. It's like bribing a child to eat their greens in order to have dessert isn't it? Honestly, the maturity of my mind is a worry.
What are you reading at the moment?
Brace yourselves, we're heading into intellectual territory with a review of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carol Rovelli. This is a very short book, but full of amazing ideas and concepts and it even has its own webpage.
This little book covers some major concepts within modern physics, including quantum mechanics and the nature of space and time. Rovelli, one of the world's leading physicists recognises that his audience probably doesn't know much about science, let alone have a functioning knowledge of Einstein's thought experiments. Nevertheless he doesn't shy away from getting to the heart of the matter when it comes to the ideas, concepts and theories. You will need to concentrate to read this, but it is worth it. You will probably need to read it more than once to really get the beauty of what he is saying and what the theories tell us about our own place in the world, but the first reading will get you hooked and there will be no turning back then.
The nicest part of this book is actually the final chapter, where Rovelli describes all the loose ends that physics cannot currently tie up. There is no pretending that all the answers are there, just the chance to learn more and expand our horizons and understanding. It's fabulous stuff.
As you may recall from this post my obsession with photography as been reawakened and next Wednesday I am starting a year-long photography course with the very talented Kevin Ahronson from the Hampshire School of Photography. My excitement levels about this course have reached a level only previously attained by a trip to Mr B’s. Strong words indeed.
I have discovered that The Patience of the Delightful Mr F is pretty much limitless, as I have had my head in the manuals for my cameras and glossy photography books* for the last several weeks. I have also taken to carrying my camera everywhere. I used to rely on my iPhone, but the purchase of a Fuji X70, has changed that, and now I can get high quality images with an easy to carry teeny-weeny camera.
The only real way to get better at photography is to do it. I am hoping that over the next 12 months I can develop my technical skills as well as start to get to grips with my own personal photographic style**. After 2016, which frankly was a bit of a slog on many fronts, I am finding photography rather invigorating. So, for now (or until change my mind or get bored), Sunday is hereby declared as Photography Sunday on the blog. Like an annoying relative back from a mundane holiday, I shall regale you with my photographs. You have been warned. Lets start as I mean to go on with a few shots from Devon
*They are so pretty aren’t they? They also have the added benefit of making me look like an artistic intellectual. Appearances are so deceptive.
** I am an engineer and therefore have no sartorial style to speak of.
This is one of my favourite Poirot novels. It shows Poirot and his little grey cells solving a crime years after it was committed.
Caroline Crale was convicted of murdering her artist husband, Amyas Crale 16 years ago. Their little daughter was sent to Canada to live with relatives, but now she is an adult and wants to get married. She is concerned that having a murderer as a mother might put off her betrothed, and so comes to Poirot asking for him to uncover the truth about what happened. She is convinced her mother was innocent. So, Poirot sets off to talk with each of the people who were present when the poisoning occurred and to uncover the truth.
Each chapter tells the story from a different character's point of view. We discover unrequited love, illicit affairs, violence and passion, all set against the genteel backdrop of an English summer. It's marvellous stuff. If you are feeling particularly alert you can compare the evidence of each character and it should allow you to piece together what happened to Amyas Crale. If, like me, you just wanted to enjoy the journey with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, that's OK too.
Well, I am still here. I hope you are all still there too. What on earth has 2016 been about? Between the political shockwaves, war, terrorism and the celebrity deaths, it got to the point where I didn't want to look at the news any longer. 2016 is not a year which will not go down in history as one of the best will it?
Thankfully The Delightful Mr F had the excellent idea of purchasing some additional bookcases which has made 2016 a good bookish year. His view on these matters is that we never have too many books, just too few bookcases. He's a good egg isn't he? Due to my complete blogging failure in 2016, I will need to catch up on some reviews of the new purchases in 2017. There are some crackers in there, and I need to update my Agatha Christie Challenge page as I have ticked off another 12 volumes this year.
In case you hadn't realised, in which case you had better get to the shops smartish, it is Christmas Day tomorrow. The Delightful Mr F and I are planning a quiet day with some books. Karate books for Mr F and probably a good murder mystery for me. So, Merry Christmas from me and The Delightful Mr F, I hope your Christmas is just as you would like it, and here's to a better 2017*.
* We have tin hats on standby, just in case...
This is one of the few Dahl books that I didn't read a child. As with all Dahl books, it has some really nasty adults in it. Matilda is clever. Very, very clever. She also has pretty useless parents, who at best neglect her and are too stupid themselves to realise how brainy their daughter is.
Matilda attends the local school, and is taught by the very lovely Miss Honey, who in turn works for the awful headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Miss Honey can see how clever Matilda is and tries to help her. Meanwhile Miss Trunchbull is preparing increasingly abusive punishments for any minor misdemeanours her charges may undertake.
This is a brilliant book. Miss Trunchbull is a truly horrible character, very dark and very macabre. She of course gets what's coming to her, but not before Matilda and Miss Honey have gone through some mild peril. It's funny and icky and exciting. All the things children (and some grown-ups, that is to say, me) love.
So here we are at another full length Miss Marple story, and one of my favourites from the BBC adaptations starring Joan Hickson.
Colonel and Dolly Bantry are woken one morning by their maid screaming because she has tripped over the body of a strangled woman in the library. The Colonel phones the police and Mrs Bantry calls her old pal Miss Marple.
The Bantrys have no idea who the dead woman is, although village gossip soon ramps up to wonder whether the Colonel might have been up to no good behind Dolly's back. It transpires that the girl is a pro-dancer at a local hotel, and from there the trail leads into a web of family lies and deceit.
Miss Marple is delicious in this, nudging the ever grumpy Inspector Slack and rather upright Chief Inspector, Colonel Melchett,in the right direction. The solution is ingenious, and with your eyes open, you can solve this one on your own. You may find tea and knitting help sharpen your mind.
Christie is at her best when she does these sorts of plots. A closed cast of characters, each one rather shady and with a secret, all bound up with a British stiff upper lip. Marvellous autumnal reading.
Here's a turn up for the books*, I read a sort of chick lit type thing. I'm not, in general, a chick lit kind of girl. I gave up after all I found within these tales were useless lead female characters falling for the wrong man and having absolutely no common sense whatsoever**. I can't say exactly what possessed me to pick this up in the library. Under normal circumstances I would have been a bit sniffy about the cover. Which just goes to show that you should never be sniffy about such things. You learned a valuable lesson there Helen, and don't you forget it.
So, what's Modern Lovers all about? We have two couples, both with teenage children, having known each other since college days and now living in the same neighbourhood. Elizabeth and Andrew have been married for years, and their son Harry is in love with Zoe and Jane's daughter, Ruby. Still with me?
Andrew is having some sort of midlife crisis. He joins a, well not quit a cult, but creepy new age, weird yoga and suspicious juice drinking bunch of people who want his money to open a healing centre. Meanwhile his wife is approached by a Hollywood agent who want to make a biopic about the band she, Andrew, and Zoe were in in college with another, now dead friend. Down the road, Zoe and Jane are having relationship difficulties too, and the stress of running their own restaurant is taking it's toll.
With their parents otherwise occupied, this leaves Harry and Ruby to their own devices, ending in a them being arrested for... well... I'll let you find out. It's very funny though.
Yes, it's about relationships, yes it's quite suburban, and yes it's a family tale, all things I generally find rather dull. These types of plots really don't anything for me. If I may quote the Wee Free Men, it can all be a little bit "waily, waily, waily". Modern Lovers has a lovely balance of really quite acute family problems against the absurdity of life which lifts it above other books I have read like this. It's funny and thought provoking and I have made a mental note that as I get closer to fifty I will be wary of yoga instructors offering free cleansing juices.
** Susan Sto-Helit is my role model.