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

Thursday, 31 March 2011

"Body Language" by David Lambert

This is a Collins Gem book (less than pocket sized). It did not tell me much that was really interesting; a lot was obvious. If someone shuffles with their shoulders hunched they may feel depressed. It explained a lot of deliberate gestures and the cultural differences but what I was really after was to find those expressions, gestures and postures which betray what we are thinking when we are trying to lie. There was a short section about this near the end of the book but it wasn't enough.

March 2011; 192 pages

"The Water's Edge" by Louise Tondeur

A young girl called Rice goes to stay with Beatrice and her daughter Esther in the Water's Edge hotel in Bournemouth after her single mother dies. As she comes to terms with bereavement and copes with puberty she learns to work in the hotel and forms a relationship with prickly Esther. We learn about the ghosts in the hotel that haunt wheelchair-bound, demented Grandma Maggie.

Tondeur beautifully evokes the naffness of the period. This isn't a hotel, it is a jumped-up guesthouse where the guests must choose their meals for the week when booking in and where the meals all come from tins (the staff have Proper Dinner afterwards). The girls smoke and hang around amusement arcades; Esther studies hairdressing and kisses boys; lesbians abound. Fathers don't.

Tondeur handles relationships well although she seems to avoid credible male characters. There is a lot of awkwardness. No-one is quite comfortable and the interplay of characters is well handled. But, presumably to provide a narration that could describe what no other character could see, she introduces the goddess Persephone who comes from Hell to stay in Bournemouth every spring (the mouth the Hades is underwater, just off the beach). Having a mythical goddess interwoven into the narration made this book very different but it seemed like a bolt on and I was never happy with it.

An interesting but uncomfortable read.

March 2011; 309 pages.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

"MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky" by Charles MacLean.

This quirky little book chronicles the authors love affair with whisky by providing essays, facts, snippets of doggerel (which Scots call poetry) and pictures. I learnt the author's views about which part of the process produces the taste (not the water, not the malting, not the peatfires, not the distilling but the years of maturing in second hand oak barrels that once contained bourbon, sherry, or wine). I learned the history of creating the famous brands and the way that the early advertisers tried to convince the drinking public that this disgusting potion was not the drink of low moonshiners but something for lairds by appealing to tradition and snobbishness. I discovered that whisky was once sold on draught from casks or stone jugs and only latterly bottled; the original bottles being owned by the customer and branded with a big circular seal to show the laird's coat of arms. I also learned some of the many names Scots give drunkenness.

Some of MacLean's learning seems suspect. He cheerfully derives the Scots word 'skelped' meaning both drunk and a blow to the head, from the Gaelic sgailc, a morning dram, although it almost certainly comes from 'scalped'. And on page 162 is something written by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie in 1528/9 whilst on page 163 he tells us that the author was born in 1530.

However, the information about viscimetry, the way two liquids swhorl together as they mix, was fascinating as was the quote for Blake, Thro' a Glass Darkly.

March 2011; 241 pages

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

"Pitt the Elder: Man of War" by Edward Pearce

I have never read a biography in which the biographer liked his subject so little. Pitt/ Chatham is portrayed as a vainglorious, often arrogant warmonger who had not infrequent periods when he was just bonkers. He fought with everyone and changed his politics to whatever was going to win power. Portraying himself as 'The Great Commoner' he soon took a title for his wife and later one for himself. Banging on about his moral stance of never profiting from office, he accepted a £3,000 per annum sinecure. One moment he was trumpeting everlasting opposition to the King, the next he was a Minister of the Crown. He was pompous, boastful and self-obsessed. Despite cultivating an image of the great war-leader in the Year of Victories, the true victors were quiet unassuming generals and admirals and men who crafted a brilliant Navy. The only bits of the war that Pitt took a direct hand in were failures.


I didn't really enjoy this book. Pearce often tries to explain a situation by comparing it with a modern political situation. This is a brilliant idea. But often these explanations are obscure, at least to me and I am not the worst read member of the public, and so they serve just to emphasise the breadth of Pearce's scholarship.

March 2011; 346 pages