Right Night Light

Recently I have been reacquainting myself with reading in low light. I spend an inordinate amount of time getting the illumination exactly right for my nightly reading forays. During my experiments, I have found that the best light is that which is almost too dark, but just bright enough to make out the words with a bit of concentration.

My reasoning is simple, to truly connect with the book, quite literally in hand, there needs to be complete immersion.  With less light, the world beyond the page in my peripheral vision becomes just a black abyss, and visual distractions are extinguished, except for what my imagination conjures in that murk. Add to this the near silence (Amelia permitting) and complete escapism is fully achieved.

I spent most of my 20’s engaged in doing this as I didn’t go out clubbing or whatever else was ‘hip’ back then. The plethora of books I first enjoyed in this way varied, and of the calibre which was thus: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, The Woman in Black, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous With Rama, Phaedo, The Wind in the Willows, The Stand, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Complete Hercule Poirot short stories, The Midwich Cuckoos, The castle of Crossed Destinies, The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, The Island of the Day Before,  Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Peter Pan, and Endymion Spring.  Continue reading “Right Night Light”

Basil – Wilkie Collins

In Basil’s secret and unconsummated marriage to the linen-draper’s sexually precocious daughter, and the shocking betrayal, insanity, and death that follow, Collins reveals the bustling, commercial London of the nineteenth century wreaking its vengeance on a still powerful aristocratic world.

This was a random purchase, based on the name of the author, that and it wasn’t either The Woman in White or The Moonstone – neither of which I have yet read – which always come up whenever the author’s name is mentioned.  It also reminded me of (when the currency was converted) picking up those classics for 99p, last century.

Basil is a tale of class, snobbery, obsession, prejudice, passion, deceit and vengeance.  In its day it was a highly scandalous novel, today, sadly, there is nothing disgraceful about it in the slightest. There is, however,an odd choice made by the titular Basil, fairly early on and feels for that reason, a tad forced as a plot device.

I didn’t really care about any of the characters – I tried my best, honest –  but as there is little to endear most of them anyway, it is, for me, a moot point.  Only Basil’s sister and Mother-in-Law escaped my devastating lack of sympathy.  I did enjoy following the trajectories (mostly miserable) of all the characters though, despite some stereotyping and illogical leaps.

There was on exception to my general apathy or downright dislike to the characters and that was Mannion, his demeanour and mysterious countenance really add something tonally darker into the book and contributed much to my enjoyment of the story and its eventual direction. Continue reading “Basil – Wilkie Collins”

Mountains of the Mind – Robert Macfarlane

Why do so many feel compelled to risk their lives climbing mountains? During the climbing season, one person a day dies in the Alps, and more people die climbing in this season in Scotland than they do on the roads. Mountains of the Mind is a fascinating investigation into our emotional and imaginative responses to mountains and how these have changed over the last few centuries. It is rich with literary and historical references and punctuated by beautifully written descriptions of the author’s own climbing experiences. There are chapters on glaciers, geology, the pursuit of fear, the desire to explore the unknown and the desire to get to the summit, and the book ends with a gripping account of Mallory’s attempt on Everest. Mountains of the Mind is a brilliant synthesis of climbing memoir and cultural history.

This book is much more than a simple history of mountaineering, it’s a venture into the psychological history of Westerners (mainly the British) and how mountains ( European for the most part, with a dash of Himalayas) have imprinted themselves on our consciousness, changed our attitudes, and inspired great feats.

…and it is a physical as well as a cerebral horror, for to acknowledge that the hard rock of a mountain is vulnerable to the attrition of time is of necessity to reflect on the appalling transience of the human body.

The book starts off with the author describing how, in childhood, he discovered climbing through reading books. This beginning is written in such a wonderfully literary way and engages straight away and which carries on throughout this engrossing chronicle.  MacFarlane’s enthusiasm is infectious from the off, each page is crammed full of interesting facts and anecdotes. It’s a true love letter to the mountains but also a warning over the obsessions that come with it.

Like so many writers including Mark Twain, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Bryon, Dr Johnson, Keats, Ruskin, Coleridge, and Tennyson; whose lyrical observations have inspired millions, the reader’s imagination is inflamed by the talk of crevasses with snow that fell several centuries ago, perfectly preserved bodies, ice caverns, strange creatures and so on.  It’s easy to visualise the look, age, and height of these natural edifi, and feel the author’s deep love and sober respect for the mountains, through his words. Continue reading “Mountains of the Mind – Robert Macfarlane”

Evil Star Wars

There are few authors I actually pay attention to as people, unless the books are of extremely high quality. Thankfully Margaret Atwood is a thousand miles from being one of those authors.

I just heard about this so sorry for being a bit late with it. I’m talking of course the Variety interview Atwood did recently, which is a fairly straightforward, marginally interesting interview until she bizarrely makes the claim that Star Wars was to blame for 9/11.  I mean we all know it was Back to the Future that predicted it, but idiocy aside, what is the world coming too?  Here is the section in question (with my italics):

You attended one of the women’s marches last year. What do you make of this latest wave of activism? 
Typically, waves are waves. They hit the shore and then they recede and then they hit the shore again. How many backlashes have we been through? We used to have a race going on, to see which would win, between “1984” and “Brave New World.” It looked as if “Brave New World” had won. That turned out not to be true. Just to give you a very creepy feeling, there was an opera of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that premiered in Denmark in 2000. It started with a film reel going across the top of the stage and showing various things blowing up. And one of the things that blew up was the Twin Towers. But it hadn’t blown up yet. They did the opera again, and they had to take it out, because it was no longer in the future. Does that give you a creepy feeling?

Yes, it does.
They didn’t get that idea from my opera, don’t worry. They got the idea from “Star Wars.”

Do you really believe that?
Remember the first one? Two guys fly a plane in the middle of something and blow that up? The only difference is, in “Star Wars,” they get away. Right after 9/11, they hired a bunch of Hollywood screenwriters to tell them how the story might go next. Sci-fi writers are very good at this stuff, anticipating future events. They don’t all come true, but there are interesting “what if” scenarios.

Where do you start with this car crash?  Most importantly her play was not a catalyst at all, it couldn’t have been. We don’t know why not, and as usual interviewers won’t do their job and ask probing questions so I guess that will remain a mystery.  Star Wars gave them the idea – presumably not the original film – not one of the many books or films where hijackings and attempts to do damage with planes are central plot points..

I’m not offended because it’s Star Wars,  I’m not one of those people. I enjoyed the original trilogy but think the new films are utter rubbish. but why would anybody who seems intelligent come up with something so downright odd?  Maybe it was an odd bit of failed sarcasm, although it doesn’t read like it.  The more cynical may suggest it is because the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale is due to air on the 25th April.  If this is the best she has, then maybe save it for the marketing team.  Whatever the reason, I’ll save my money and not encourage such people and their inane ideas with book/DVD sales.

The Code of the Woosters – P.G. Wodehouse

Sorry if this is not up to the usual standard, we arrived back from a hiking trip at 4am yesterday morning and this was written then. Posts and awesome photos will soon follow.

When Bertie Wooster goes to Totleigh Towers to pour oil on the troubled waters of a lovers’ breach between Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle, he isn’t expecting to see Aunt Dahlia there – nor to be instructed by her to steal some silver. But purloining the antique cow creamer from under the baleful nose of Sir Watkyn Bassett is the least of Bertie’s tasks. He has to restore true love to both Madeline and Gussie and to the Revd ‘Stinker’ Pinker and Stiffy Byng – and confound the insane ambitions of would-be Dictator Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts. It’s a situation that only Jeeves can unravel. Writing at the very height of his powers, in The Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse delivers what might be the most delightfully funny book ever committed to paper.

It’s been a long time since I last picked up one of Wodehouse’s books and within a few pages, it reinforced the idea that it was a terribly long overdue decision that needed putting right.  Coming across the word hornswoggle was the icing on the cake.

It was a silver cow, but when I say ‘cow’, don’t go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow.  This was a sinister, learing, Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth for two pence.

Wodehouse’s uniquely written style is just brilliant, the language is the best part of the book, which is saying a lot as the book is an exceedingly witty study in comedy.  This offsets the characters, who don’t have much depth but that is fine as it is all about the elaborate  plotting.  The phrasing of each sentence is a delight, and raised many a smile with the whimsical nature with which it presents itself.  Perhaps it is a bit stereotypical of Englishness but that is also one of the novel’s many charms.

Continue reading “The Code of the Woosters – P.G. Wodehouse”

Cracking Up Over Christmas

Before we go any further please apply yourself to puzzling out some of the most humorous jokes you will ever come across. Ever.  Answers will be provided at the end but don’t skip the rest of the post though, let the anticipation build and then feel the buzz drain away from you as the answers are revealed at the end:

  1. On which side to most chickens have their feathers?
  2. What goes up and wobbles?
  3. What type of dog has no tail?
  4. What is green and goes to a summer camp?
  5. What’s a Grecian Urn?

After pushing back the plates of Christmas dinner, my thoughts naturally turned to blogging and it was then that I remembered a much lamented missed opportunity from last year which was to talk about Christmas crackers and the contents therein.  As is tradition around these parts, the pulling of the cracker has been an integral part of Christmas since 1847 and features a wealth of goodies to delight even the most Scroogiest of Scrooges at Christmas.

Fainty sinister example of a cracker pulling found at mediacentre.kallaway.co.uk
Faintly sinister example of a cracker pulling found at mediacentre.kallaway.co.uk

Nothing beats the smell of gunpowder of a lazy Christmas Day afternoon as is attested by the thousands of crackers that go off each year.  It is the ultimate family diversion, of little consequence but always strangely enjoyable and something not to be done without.  Those who fork out lots of money for the so-called luxury crackers with prizes worth ‘winning’ miss the point, it’s the tackiness of the whole ordeal that is so beloved of households everywhere.  For those of you not familiar with this particular treat, here’s a brief and fairly passable explanation of what it all consists of. Continue reading “Cracking Up Over Christmas”

The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb – David John Griffin

StubbsyThe turn of the last century and Theodore Stubbs’ manor house resides in the quirky village of Muchmarsh. A renowned entomologist, he is often within the attic adding another exotic specimen to his extensive collection of insects. But Theodore is also a master hypnotist, holding the household in thrall to his every whim. Theodore’s daughter-in-law Eleanor returned from the sanatorium two months before is a haunted figure, believing that her stillborn child Alastair lives and hides in the shadows. Then she falls pregnant again, but this time by the hypnotic coercion and wicked ravishment of Theodore. A dreadful act begets terrible secrets, and thirteen years later the boy Alastair Stubb begins to lose his identity. It is not long before mystery, intrigue and murder follow gleefully in his wake. The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb is a gothic terror of the highest order, delivering a dream-like and hallucinatory reading experience that promises to reveal secrets both disturbing and astonishing. Do you dare meet the Stubbs?

Thanks to Matthew from Urbane Publications for sending me a review copy of this elegantly Gothic tale, one that feels familiar in all the right places – in a good way – but also has a fresh sort of rampant fiendishness running through it that kept me engrossed right to the end, with its thoroughly entertaining denouement.

The precisely constructed plot is chock full of seduction, blackmail, murder, depravity, madness and secrets aplenty which can’t fail but to appeal to any reader. What makes it more pleasurable is the interspersing of dark comedy from a supporting cast that sound like they are the offspring of characters from a Dickens novel, it’s a fine balance but the comic aspects never ruin the brooding feeling of the novel, if anything it makes the sinister more effective.

The first half feels very reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, the protagonists live almost separate lives in a big, aged house, yet they contrive to make their shared endurance feel like a claustrophobic and uncomfortable existence. This works well with the slow build up, that takes its time to reach a memorable boiling point. Continue reading “The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb – David John Griffin”

In Possible Proximity to Madness

Waiting for a bus on one’s lonesome is usually a fairly boring experience but seeing a bus pull in with the destination Halfway emblazoned on it had me amused for at least the five minutes it took for mine to show up, on time I might add as well.


The natural first thoughts of any sane person is to question the nature of reality when confronted with such a questionable vision, of which challenge I gleefully accepted.  Of course it would be foolish to concede to the obvious explanation that there is in fact a place called Halfway, for its much more interesting to indulge in some exercise of the musing muscle instead, of which I did:

  • If Halfway is a destination then surely it is indeed the whole way and so halfway is a different destination contrary to what is being advertised?
  • Halfway would be a stop en route to the real destination but how do you define where that would be with no clue to the actual distance?
  • Why is the imposter Halfway masquerading as the last stop, wouldn’t a more subtle con trick be to change the name instead?
  • Perhaps Halfway is a staging point, a hub for ultimate destinations somewhere, paradoxically being both a destination and a stopover.
  • But then the question would be what constitutes halfway in terms of the word?  Mirriam-Webster defines it in two ways, one being not total or complete, so to some extent if you will.
  • So that means that the actual Halfway, be it the ‘destination’ or the actual distance on the route to a place cannot be clearly understood without some prior knowledge.
  • Is it perhaps halfway to all places in the same distance radius as it is from where Mansfield is situated from it?
  • If you asked for halfway, would you have to pay the full fare for Halfway?
  • How could they charge you when the above definition means halfway doesn’t have to actually mean halfway
  • Is there a place called Fullway?

I could have gone on all day with such thoughts had my own wheeled demon not fortunately arrived  and I had to do battle with sleep as seems to be the way of late on a bus at mid afternoon but there you go, a little insight into the mind of Ste J and it didn’t cost you a penny.

Town Encounter

It begins, as it always does.  A sudden recognition of my situation, this time sitting outside on a bench in the sun.  The bench is one of those metal ones that retains its coldness despite how long you sit there and has a lattice back, it’s also blue but the paint is flaking.  At right angles from me is another bench and a man sits there, he has long blonde hair and for some reason I know he is Australian.


Looking at my surroundings, there are plenty of shops lining the thoroughfare, it’s quiet here despite that, perhaps it is not one of the main arteries of the town.  There are trees at regimental intervals with lush green leaves which seem to revel in the sunshine they bask in.  I have a book naturally,  and it rests on my knees open, the ideas of page leafs and tree leaves amuses me.

I hear a bang above me and look up, the buildings rise three stories and one of the windows opening has startled the peaceful scene.  There is a lady there  with dark hair, she waves at me, well I assume its me but in these situations you never know, so that mortified do-I-acknowledge-said-person-or-not worry kicks in.  After waving back like a reckless fool, a bit of paper is thrown from the window which flutters towards me which I expertly snatch out of the air. Continue reading “Town Encounter”

The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White

47-1For those of you who don’t want a complete plot summary in the synopsis avoid the below brightly coloured writing, I will say though that the plot and its inevitability is secondary to the whimsical nature of the story.

Probably only the magician, Merlyn, knew that his pupil, the Wart (to rhyme with “Art”) would one day be the great King Arthur.

For six years Merlyn was the boy’s tutor and the Wart learned all manner of useful things; such as what it is like to be a fish or a hawk or a badger.

Then the King Pendragon died without heirs.  And King Pellinore arrived at the court with an extraordinary story of a sword stuck in an anvil, stuck to a stone outside a church in London.  Written on the sword in gold letters with the words Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil is Rightwise King Born of All England.

The last person anybody expected to pull out the sword was the Wart but then he had had Merlyn as his tutor for six years…

Having grown up with the Disney film, I couldn’t leave this book resting unloved on the shelves of a second-hand bookshop, I assumed a fun and magical tale which would provide some escapism and nothing more than an amusing diversion.  It did more than that, it made me smile and introduced to me to some really big words as well.

What sets this story apart from other Children’s books is its denseness, by which I mean the number of interesting facts and the language, which add layers to the nature of its plot.  It has all of these in abundance and is a book that adults will enjoy as much as children.

I say plot, it’s a less a singular story rather a selection of scenes which offer lessons about nature and life lessons to the character of The Wart (to rhyme with Art, of course).  In fact the title is almost an afterthought but that makes sense as the understanding and attachment to Wart has to be built for the books that are to follow, this being book one in a series of five.

For children, there is am amiable story, which is a different take on the parentless boy coming of age being around magic theme and it is perhaps no surprise that J. K. Rowling cites this book as one of the inspirations for the ‘arry Potter series.  The world is populated with comical and eccentric characters and religion, nature and time are all touched upon in the adventures, it is a book that will certainly intrigue the younger mind with the mysteries of the world and its philosophies.. Continue reading “The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White”

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