The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai

Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast. Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris. This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work. Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

After reading two volumes of Garai’s short stories this is the first novel by the author, once again the focus is on the troubled times of his characters, and how they respond to the problems presented.  The down to earth approach to telling a story gives it the edge over those authors that attempt to force an emotional response from the reader with unneeded flourishes.

Taking place in Paris – a source of artistic and literary inspiration for many throughout the ages – I was pleased to see that both made appearances within the story, whilst Garai’s eye for natural beauty – and degradation – in the often ignored urban areas helps layer a further feeling of the city’s atmosphere and depth.

The titular character Jeremy is interesting in his introspective, self-examining ways.  His solitary approach to life – somewhat enforced thanks to circumstances – gives him the drive to fix things, even if they don’t always work out in the way he intended. Continue reading “The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai”

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Tales from the Inner City – Shaun Tan

Tales from the Inner City is a powerful reflection on the nature of existence and the urban relationship we have with the animals within our human world.  From the dog to the crocodile; from the tiger to the frog, world renowned artist Shaun Tan explores the perennial love and destruction we feel and inflict on our fellow creatures.

Shaun Tan always creates enjoyable and thought-provoking work, and in Tales from the Inner City he explores nature, our co-existence – or not – with animals and how our way of life effects the natural environment around us.

This heavy, lavish hardback tome of 225 glossy pages, is full of atmospheric illustrations, each set over two pages which accompany the numerous short stories, and sharply contrast the differences in two opposing worlds and have an air of the dreamlike about them.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag in terms of their messages, some are obvious, but due to the trademark whimsy and surreal of Tan’s style, others fail as the point being made is sometimes too veiled.  Despite this, I find all them enjoyable and full of depth. Continue reading “Tales from the Inner City – Shaun Tan”

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt – Byron Preiss

One morning, whilst waiting for my strong cup of coffee to kick in, and the laptop to boot up the latest manuscript that needs going over , I stuck on the Travel Channel in the hope of finding some adventure.  Or more importantly to avoid all the terrible reality TV that ruins the medium.

Josh Gates was on doing his Expedition Unknown, and at first my heart sank when his quest involved  a book called The Secret,  thankfully it wasn’t referring to that terrible specimen that came out some years ago.

What Josh was referring to was a book that leads to real buried treasure,  and instead of  a classic  ‘X’ marks the spot treasure maps, there are twelve fantasy images  with clues of real world landmarks cryptically embedded within. Accompanying each illustration is poetry with additional clues to entice the reader into this deceptive maze.

Published in 1982, creator Byron Preiss tapped into the The 80’s love of fantasy but he layered it with the theme of immigration, from the Old World to the New.  The fantastical creatures of Europe came over, and morphed into something else, along with those that told the tales.  It is also an encouragement to get out and travel, to appreciate nature, and enjoy a bit of lateral thinking at the same time. Continue reading “The Secret: A Treasure Hunt – Byron Preiss”

(F)easter

Good Friday promised a leisurely start, especially as the citizens of this country run on ‘Filipino time’ which generally consists of being late at ever opportunity so if you want people to show up at your desired time, its accepted that you tell everyone to arrive at least an hour earlier.  The opposite happened, of course. The rush was then on when word came through that we were going now, Right Now.  You can’t plan anything in advance, I find it best to go with the flow.

Liliw, Laguna. I have no idea about the umbrellas.

The whole weekend was glorious sunshine, especially after a cooling thunderstorm had  hit us the day before.  Off we went to Quezon province. Around about forty of us piled into cars and a lorry, and as usual the lovely countryside sprawled out for my viewing pleasure.

Rolling into our resort, the air con going 24/7 in the rooms was the best thing since the bread before sliced bread.  The first order of business was to go on a short pilgrimage up the Kamay ni Hesus.  Not being a Catholic, I still chose to wander up its 300 steps for the experience.  Thankfully it wasn’t too busy, last time my Filipino fam came the queue was three hours long. Continue reading “(F)easter”

Sand, Sea, Mountains, and My Poor Toenail

The last time I caught you all up on my adventures was back in August and since then a good few things have happened, including losing a lot of photos so what remains is below.

We took a cruise around Manila Bay, one Friday evening. Whilst we headed up the bay, we ate a tasty rice based meal and were treated to an aural accompaniment by a musical duo.  This ranged from ballads to the Spice Girls, because that is what happens if you ask for requests from tone-deaf people with no sense of atmosphere.

As we made our way back down the bay, the sun had finally set and all the lights started to flicker on, which made Manila look surprisingly beautiful.  Although I do hold to the opinion that it is a beautiful city, it just depends on how tenuous about the word beautiful, or romantic you are about it.  We had prime seats for the regular Friday night firework show, which was another bonus.

It was great to see the city from another angle, one less seething with people, and free from the traffic and the noise.  Watching the planes coming into land every couple of minutes, encouraged me to muse on the people arriving. They would soon enter the fray, and fight through the chaos to wherever they are going.  I hoped they were prepared.

In November, it was All Souls Day which is a bit like Mexico’s Day of the Dead but with less make up.  We went to the cemetery, with its party atmosphere –  complete with fantastic barbecue smells and balloons for sale – and had a big family picnic, before planning an impromptu trip to the beach the next day.

It was beautifully and sunny, with good food and plenty of swimming.  I spent a few hours floating on my back, watching the occasional plane fly over thousands of feet above, before the odd rogue wave would wake me from my musings.  It wasn’t a busy beach and as the sun set, there were some gorgeous photos ops to be had. Continue reading “Sand, Sea, Mountains, and My Poor Toenail”

When Will You Visit?

I spent ages looking for a good video with which to entice you over to this part of the world  in the near future – one that didn’t include people needlessly showing off – after a good twenty-five minutes of searching, finally this one was settled on.

I did want a shorter, snappier video but  – although quite long at seven and a half minutes – it does a very good job of capturing the beauty of both the country and people, whilst, towards the end, balancing that out with the poverty that is so often glossed over in such videos.

Catching Up on Things

Every morning I feel extremely privileged to wake up in The Philippines.  Now in my tenth month of living here, it really is ‘more fun in The Philippines’, as the saying goes.  Despite its status as a third world country, there is so much more to this archipelago than that label. Here people deal with life in such a positive way, day-to-day living here can be hard, the early morning commutes to an ever busier Manila for example, the fight to get on the transport, the endless queueing, and everyone (except me and – thankfully – the driver) grabbing a nap whilst they can.  Yet despite all that people are happier here, perhaps the sunlight is a factor but whatever the reason, despite the challenges people endure, they love life and will make any excuse for a gathering, with more food than its physically possible to eat.

Standing at the door armed with a cup of coffee, usually around 6am (when the temperature has yet to hit thirty degrees but is almost there), I love to look at the palm trees and hear people catching up, sweeping their house fronts, and doing regular people-in-the-morning things.  As I settle down to my own work, the sun usually shines relentlessly, the ebb and flow of passersby changes with the waxing and waning of that fiery ball in the sky, and I get lost in words, and ideas for the future.  Today I realised that, apart from neglecting the blog  -due to other important things that needed doing – I haven’t really mentioned a lot about where we have gone in recent months, so in no particular order and without further ado:

Whilst Summer was still with us we took a trip to Laguna for a day at the hot springs – situated halfway up a mountain – and the most important thing to do was to find a good vantage point and take a photo of the great view spread out below us. That done we rushed down the hill to have a go on the slides!  The so-called express way we took to get there has frequent toll gates which was a new and surprising detail, this of course meant more queueing (an unsurprising detail) but it was worth it for this view alone.

In an effort to fly off the end of the orange slide as far as possible, I threw myself down with reckless abandon and as a burnt my back but to balance that out, I did get a cheer from the people at the bottom of the green slide when I exploded off that one, my nose felt like it had been smashed with a concrete slab, it was brilliant!  There was even some really good reception to Skype with my parents later on, as we munched on our squid dinner.

I was lucky enough to be invited once again to Join the Kiwanis crew for more work in the community. If you missed my first adventures with this wonderful charity, you can read about it here, I’ve lost a lot of weight since then.  This time it was a colouring competition and the kids were really talented, I’ll bring you more about the charity soon.

One of my favourite places to go is Tagaytay, The view from up on high at Sky Ranch, with a glimpse of Taal Lake and the many trees, is always a welcome thing to see.  The breeze was lovely and gazing out with the other impressed visitors really brings home the beauty of this country and also the worrying spread of building which threatens places like this.

Further around the lake at Charito’s, there is another beautiful scenic view, with fishing boats, small villages and on the right of the island is Taal Volcano, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes and was active as recently as 2011.  Food and drink is always abundant and full of seasoning, as well as the obligatory rice, but it tastes even better with this sort of scenic vista for company.  When we were in Bali, I really missed the food of the Philippines, and I am eager for you all to hunt out a Filipino restaurant and go sample some of the delights.
Continue reading “Catching Up on Things”