Monday, 30 March 2015


Image result for lucy

DINA in A fine Balance [Rohinty Mistry]. One of the greatest creations in fiction, Dana is the young, beautiful wife of a musician. All she wants is to marry, have children and live in harmony with the world without the stricture of her suffocating, misogynistic family who believe a woman’s place is in the home, breeding and skivvying. But it isn’t to be. Put upon, patient, resilient beyond our imaginings, Dina threads her way through forty years of hell and comes out the other side like the angel we all hope to meet someday.  

PAMELA in Drop City [T C Boyle]. Hard to explain Pamela without giving away an essential plot element but she meets her soul-mate, Sess Harker after an auction for a new wife, and she is just perfect. Never read a plot-line like that before or since and God, is it brilliant or what? Fabulous character.

DANA HALTER in Talk Talk [T C Boyle]. Talk Talk is a novel about identity theft, set in the USA. Dana is a deaf English teacher who is robbed of her identity, credit cards and so on by a career thief and sets out to find him and punish him. She is a wonderful, dogged character who is already handicapped but never lets that handicap get in the way and never ever feels sorry for herself or wishes that she could meet him on equal terms.

MERCADO in 50 Grand [Adrian McKinty]. I am a big McKinty fan but he doesn’t as a rule write women well. Here however in this long black tale he creates a young Cuban police detective hunting a killer in Colorado and you are with her every step of the way. She is exactly as you would imagine her to be; razor-sharp but out of her depth in modern America.

GEORGIANA JUTLAND in Dirt Music [Tim Winton]. I liked this novel, it was runner-up in the Booker the year [2002] it was published but the ending kind of lets it down. You should always know your last line, Tim before putting pen to paper. Georgie is a convincing character, an older woman with attitude who, possibly, takes things too far. Can’t say I liked her much and I felt a lot of the time that she was based upon a real person disguised for the sake of the book. But interesting.

LISBETH SALANDAR in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [Stieg Larsson]. An anorexic who can fix computer problems, I guess Lisbeth fulfils all the criteria for the tough-but-fragile abused survivor heroine of the Girl trilogy. But I don’t like it, or her. I read somewhere that she was based upon an actual person, Larsson’s niece, an anorexic who was able to hack computers but it is prurient; sexual degradation smuggled into the story-line under the guise of strong disapproval.

However, I am in a minority on this.

DAENERYS TARGARYEN in A Song of Ice and Fire [George RR Martin]. Very popular heroine, Daenerys but not for me. I don’t watch Game of Thrones, another gratuitous television show smuggling in sex and violence under the guise of what? Under the guise of reality, ‘this is how it was/must have been’. Ivanhoe with all the blood and guts and cruelty left in. Yeah, yeah, great production values and script and maybe when I was a lot younger I would have read it and enjoyed it but I no longer regard this kind of thing as escapism. It feels like dumbing down, to be honest. Derivative dumbing down and as someone else observed recently, it has diminishing returns; it feels toward the end like an elaborate exercise in plate-spinning because the plot has nowhere to go. Except the next instalment.

EILIS LACEY in Brooklyn [Colm Toibin]. I like Colm Toibin, the earlier books anyway; the one set in Uruguay is excellent. Can’t remember what it was called, off the top of my head. Some people cant stand his literary style and some people just don’t like Irish fiction but he writes very well, I think. Having said which, I found Brooklyn contrived and the sense of research hung over it rather than experience. Sorry. But she’s definitely a Great Fictional Woman written by a man , albeit rather a passive one, and so has found her way into this list.

LUCY [Luc Goddard]. Yes I am cheating but it fulfils the requirements of the brief; a fabulous heroine, written by a man. Carrie Matheson is a fabulous heroine written by a committee, otherwise she would have made the lists. Tess [of the d’Ubervilles] by Thomas Hardy could have made it but [a] she dies and, [b] the book is like wading through treacle. Lara dies.  Anna Karenina again was written by a man but again, she dies. Not allowed. I will never kill off Kikarin.


Just a lovely image to finish March, my favourite month.

Image result for lavender field

Monday, 16 March 2015


Image result for letter envelope

The counties

But I want to write to an Essex girl,

greeting her warmly.

But I want to write to a Shropshire lad,

brave boy, home from the army,

and I want to write to the Lincolnshire Poacher

to hear of his hare

and to an aunt in Bedfordshire

who makes a wooden hill of her stair.

But I want to post a rose to a Lancashire lass,

red, I'll pick it,

and I want to write to a Middlesex mate

for tickets for cricket.

But I want to write to the Ayrshire cheesemaker

and his good cow

and it is my duty to write to the Queen at Berkshire

in praise of Slough.

But I want to write to the National Poet of Wales at Ceredigion

in celebration

and I want to write to the Dorset Giant

in admiration

and I want to write to a widow in Rutland

in commiseration

and to the Inland Revenue in Yorkshire

in desperation.

But I want to write to my uncle in Clackmannanshire

in his kilt

and to my scrumptious cousin in Somerset

with her cidery lilt.

But I want to write to two ladies in Denbighshire,

near Llangollen

and I want to write to a laddie in Lanarkshire,

Dear Lachlan …

But I want to write to the Cheshire Cat,

returning its smile.

But I want to write the names of the Counties down

for my own child

and may they never be lost to her …

all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire...

Nicked from Carol Ann Duffy without permission

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


Image result for bowes railway

Bowes Incline is a unique Victorian rope-drawn railway designed in 1826 by George Stephenson. A short 3-mile section, which includes the track, wagons and winding gear has been preserved at Springwell, nr Gateshead and is maintained by a small staff of volunteers. We went there on Saturday; it is so interesting and you walk where George must have walked and see what George must have seen.
It was designed and built to take coal from the North Durham coalfields to the staiths at Jarrow on the River Tyne. Previously, the coal was transported using rope-drawn wagons driven by a stationary, steam-powered engine further up the line but Stephenson’s system used the Bowes incline that rose across the summit of the hill at Springwell to lower full trucks down toward the river and as the full trucks were dropping the empty trucks were rising. Then getting filled; emptied; filled; emptied.  
It’s a scheduled ancient monument and is the world’s only preserved standard-gauge rope hauled railway.
I had to tear myself away.
 Image result for bowes railway

Monday, 9 March 2015


Image result for italian pizza

We went to Pizza Express yesterday for a meal; we had a discount voucher.
It was absolutely wonderful, best night out I have had in ages. Food was so-so, the pizzas cooled quickly and to be honest weren’t much like real pizzas that you get in Italy but the wine was nice and the figs with mascarpone was delicious. What made the evening special however was that we were allocated a table right next to the open-plan kitchen, where you could watch them making the pizzas.
There were four of them; a dough-maker; a pizza-maker who scattered all the ingredients onto the pizza base; an oven-man, who pushed the pizzas into the hot ovens [three of them] and pulled them out again when they were ready and a sort of chef, who did everything else; starters; side-dishes; my figs, or scattered rocket on the hot pizzas. What a team they were; they swapped jobs after an hour then swapped again an hour later. And they worked at such a pace. This was a busy Friday night at 8.00pm and I should imagine life in a pizza kitchen doesn’t get more hectic than this. The oven-man just never took his eyes off the ovens; full-time one-hundred percent commitment. That is a big ask in any trade, for an hour.
About eight waitresses and I didn’t count them but probably a hundred and fifty maybe a hundred and eighty covers? It was ceaseless, non-stop 21C pressure. All with a smile. Just brilliant.
Can I just add that as an exercise in how to make money it was incredible. Five pizzas a minute? Something of that order; maybe every two minutes, but not more. The cheapest pizza on the menu was £9.00 each, so fifty-quid every two minutes for say four hours? Okay it isn’t like that every day, even on a Friday but it is still seriously impressive.