About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 26 February 2011

"The Expelled; The Calmative; The End & First Love" by Samuel Beckett

These four 'novels' (anyone else would call them short stories) relate the story of a man outside society, a drop out, perhaps a tramp. He has a little independence but he is handicapped by his fears so that he cannot cope with life. Thus, when he walks and pays attention to the way he is walking, he falls down. When he perseveres he has to fling himself to the ground to avoid crushing a child although normally he wouldn't bother because he hates children. Hats feature prominently.

He writes beautifully. There are beautiful descriptions and tantalising metaphors. The hero is a man of mystery about whom we want to know more; we want to understand what has brought him to this pass. But these are just glimpses through a window and we will never know more than we are told. And that, in the end, is unsatisfying.

Feb 2011; 80 pages

"Sunset Park" by Paul Auster

Four damaged people squat in a derelict house in Sunset Park, New York. Good looking Miles, whom everyone fancies, is waiting for his girlfriend to become old enough to be legal. Haunted by the death of his step brother, he is hiding from his publisher father and his actress mother. So he's ordinary then. Ellen, reeling from an abortion, wants to be an artist and spends her time drawing erotic sketches copied from porn magazines. Big bear-like Bing, who frames prints and mends old fashioned stuff in his shop, the Hospital for Broken Things, poses in the nude for Ellen, masturbating for her before finishing himself off in her mouth. Alice is in the last stages of writing her dissertation about a post-WWII Hollywood film and breaking up with her boyfriend.

Four damaged characters undergoing the process of healing, just as the Hospital mends Broken Things.

A quirky novel which explores the way we humans, with our dreams and our sorrows, struggle against outrageous fortune, always losing as we age.

Feb 2011; 308 pages

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

"Just my type" by Simon Garfield

It was a Christmas present. It arrived out of the blue. I made surprised and polite noises of gratitude.

But it was really interesting.

I have never particularly noticed or thought about typefaces (not 'fonts'!) before except to be delighted by the Guradian's April 1st spoof about the island of San Seriffe (run by General Pica and inhabited by Flongs) and to use a different typeface (not 'font'!) for a friendly signature to a memo. But this book made me suddenly realise that typefaces are all around us. Like coins they are overlooked, miniature and everyday works of art.

And suddenly I discover what a ridiculously high cross piece the little e has in Times New Roman compared to the e in Arial. And I judge types by whether they have serifs or not. There are scripts and 3D and gothic and frenchified and ...

I was amazed at how enthralled I was (the last similar experience was when reading the book 'Salt'). It has almost literally opened my eyes. I  would like to study fonts in more detail because it is still so hard to spot the differences between Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, Helvetica, and Verdana to mention but a few. I would like to understand more about the bits that make up a letter, the serfi, the bowl, the loops, the diagonals; the book was rather lightweight on this aspect. But it also had fascinating stories about the weird people who become typographers and lots of trivia (who invented the dropped T on the Beatles drum kit?). 


Surreally fascinating.


Feb 2011; 331 pages

Saturday, 12 February 2011

"1421; the year China discovered the world" by Gavin Menzies

In 1421 a huge Ming fleet set out on a voyage of exploration. By the time they returned, the Ming foreign policy had done an about face and forbidden any further voyages. The records of the voyage were systematically destroyed.

Menzies believed that this fleet sailed round India and South Africa, across to the Cape Verde islands and down to Cape Horn. Some travelled through the Magellan straits and then doubled back to the Falkland and then across to Australia. Others went up the Chilean coast and to Mexico and California. Others travelled back north to the Caribbean, some eventually going to North America and circumnavigating Greenland (Menzies claims it was a hot year and the ice had melted).

The Vinland map
They left maps of fantastic accuracy that were subsequently copied and taken to Europe. Dom Pedro, the brother of Henry the Navigator, took maps to Portugal where they were subsequently seen by Vasco da Gama, Diaz, and Columbus and his brother (the last then drawing a map which showed a much elongated South Africa suggesting that the voyage to the Spice Islands would be quicker travelling West than via the Portuguese route of round the Cape of Good Hope). These maps show Australia and parts of Antarctica with great accuracy; they show the Magellan straits before he got there (indeed he told his sailors that he had seen a map with the passage on before he got there); they show the Caribbean; they even show all of Greenland (the Vinland map).
The 1489 Martellus map (forged by Bartholomew Columbus?) shoring a vastly over elongated South Africa. 
The Piri Reis map; c1513
Menzies claims that Columbus and Magellan and Cook were not great discoverers because they had already seen maps of where they were going.

He cites a lot of evidence including obelisks with writing on them in a Tamil script (I am not sure why he doesn't draw the obvious conclusion that Tamils put these there rather than that the Chinese did). He claims that the early European explorers discovered plants and animals that are native to China in the Americas. He interprets folklore of light-skinned or yellow-skinned people as recording Chinese visitors. He finds Chinese DNA and diseases in the Americas.

I whole heartedly accept his evidence as showing that there were great voyages of exploration and trade with Australia and Africa and the Americas long before Columbus, da Gama and Diaz. Merchants will always seek new markets. Where I disagree is that all his evidence necessarily points to this one great fleet on their one great voyage. Why should there not have been trading links down to Australia and across the Pacific for centuries before 1421; why should not other nations such as the Indians and the Arabs not have made wonderful voyages? The maps are clearly records of travel.