Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wet, wet, wet

C'mon, what's happened to the weather, it's supposed to be August!  This is what it's been like in London...

The garden is positively verdant ...but that's not right in August, right?  Turns out the Shetland Islands have been the sunniest place to be in the UK this August with Lerwick enjoying 136 hours of sunshine compared to the next nearest of 100 hours in Wittering, Cambridgeshire.  Unlike poor old Bournemouth, which had a lot less sunshine and a bit too much of this...


Still, 10 days or so to go until the children go back to school - there's got to be one good day in between, right? 

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Reading update

As I suspected, the Kate Atkinson series of Jackson Brodie detective novels are unputdownable page-turners...with the result that I have now read 3, with only the newly published 'Started early, took my dog' to go, which will have to wait until it's a paperback !

In a neat piece of serendipity, I am now reading 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfeld, which was Kate Atkinson's favourite book of 2009.   It was one of those books I picked up at a church fete for 25p and promptly forgot about...until yesterday.   It's almost as if there was a plan!

Empowering Parents, Empowering communities

Nice piece in the Guardian today about this successful parenting project in Southwark, although to be fair it is only at the half-way stage.  Worth noting too that despite the climate of cuts facing the Authority, a decision was made to fund the research project jointly with Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Trust earlier this year.   It's also worth reading the terms of reference for the study which interestingly point out that the facilitators are parent peers - so the whole process becomes a virtuous circle.    Watch this space for the final judgements of the research project, published probably September 2011.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Childhood horizons

I've been mulling this over recently and have come to no firm conclusion either way: when I was growing up, in fact let's broaden this and say, to people of my generation (ie early forties now) growing up in the sixties and seventies,  the world beyond our families, school and places we might visit on our holidays seemed like a vast unexplored place of wonder - at least it did to me.  Sure, I read about other countries and learned about them for the purpose of passing examinations but apart from some descriptive prose and a few textbook photographs, foreign travel was largely unknown.

Then in the 1980s, with the freedom which came with living away from home and earning a living came the possibility of travel to these mysterious places (via an Inter-rail card to begin with).  Before the advent of no-frills airline travel, believe me exploring Europe felt like an adventure in itself!  Continents beyond Europe seemed to me at least, to be tantalisingly unexplored places but the time involved and the cost of travel was at that time prohibitive.  Those considerations aside however, the world was still full of possibilities and challenges. 

What I'm getting at I suppose is, I wonder how today's children and young people view the world, when those opportunities for exploration are so different.  For a start, they could virtually (in the truest sense) visit their destination without ever leaving home.   In addition, with the idea of gap years so prevalent that adults my age now want in on it, what is there left to do that is novel and because of that, is it possible that they are therefore driven to take more risks to achieve novelty than our generation might have done?

I don't know myself but it must be a challenge to any younger person to think of new ways to define themselves other than 'travelling' to South America or Asia or Africa, when those trips are so well prescribed and described by the countless others who have been there before them and broadcast their experiences online.  Has the internet, in other words made it harder for people to experience travel to foreign lands as a true novelty and something capable of wonder ?  

Or maybe I'm looking at this from the wrong angle.  Is it possible that the lack of novelty in that sort of travel might prompt a new interest in space exploration?  The final frontier, as a famous Vulcan put it.

Whatever happened to...Lloyd Cole & The Commotions

From 'Rattlesnakes', another album soundtrack of my youth...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tony Blair's donation to the Royal British Legion

Am I the only one who thought when hearing of this:  gosh what a generous thing to do?  I'm beginning to think I was.

It seems that nothing, even this donating all of his advance and all of the worldwide earnings of the book post publication, will satisfy either the left or right-wing media.  In Comment is Free today, Hadley Freeman writes a price which is pure fodder for the 'Bliar Bliar pants on fire' brigade.  Over at the Telegraph,  more of the same from a different angle.

I'm tired of the constant references to an 'illegal' war.  Pay attention folks, Lord Goldsmith the Attorney General at the time, gave the decision to go to war the green light and then (here's the important bit)  Parliament voted for it.  So enough with the accusations of illegality, war crimes etc.  You may disagree with   Lord Goldsmith's advice and question its provenance, which is what Parliament was there to do on your behalf (and indeed the Chilcot Inquiry is examining), but fundamentally according to the rule of law in this country, it was a legal war.

While I may have a healthy sense of scepticism about political motives generally, nevertheless one cannot live a life constantly second-guessing and therefore I am inclined to accept that Mr Blair acted in the best interests of this country and Iraq throughout his time as PM.    That doesn't always mean that he made the right decisions but I do not autmatically infer into those decisions some sort of dark, ulterior motive as the conspiracy theorists would have it, connected to America and its imperialist ambitions. 

The sort of revisionism I see now from so called leading lights of the Labour movement and elsewhere, make me frankly sick.  Fine if they were opposed to the war initially, made that publicly known and importantly, voted against it.  But many of them didn't and what they are doing now smacks of rank opportunism rather than any kind of real leadership.

So back to Mr Blair - he has by all accounts done a very generous thing and it also appears that he put a great deal of thought into the donation, with negotiations going on over several months.  Why seek ulterior motives in that gesture ?  Is it not enough to accept (and God knows he has taken plenty of flak for it too) that he has made plenty of money from other enterprises as his entitled to do,  post public office and now wishes to make no profit from his recollection of events during that period in office?   Let's see what Mr Brown does with the proceeds of his memoirs and for that matter, I wonder what  Mr Tony Benn did with the proceeds of his voluminous diaries or indeed the many others who have profited handsomely from their time in public life.

On a more basic level, surely in order to function as human beings and as a society, we have to believe in the intrinsic goodness of other human beings, and it worries me that the response to Mr Blair's announcement was not one of welcome and thanks (apart from the Royal British Legion) but suspicion and almost derision.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Holiday reading

I made the (understandable) mistake of assuming that the weather would be atrocious as usual and therefore did not give much thought to packing some decent reading material before we left.   The result was that I:-

1.  Finished 'Any Human Heart' by William Boyd.
2.  Read 'Case Histories' by Kate Atkinson
3.  Read Irish versions of the Sunday papers, Times, Observer and Telegraph
4.  Read Colm Toibin in LRB on Catholic Church

From this I have learnt that William Boyd is very clever and book clubbers, sorry I missed the discussion on this because I can now see that it would have been interesting.

Case Histories was a find because it's good of course but also it's the first of a series involving Jackson Brodie, private investigator.  I love it when I discover something I like and that there's more to come.  I suspect that the author has constructed Brodie as a sort of fantasy ideal man but what's also interesting about that is that the stories are about to be filmed, and Jason Isaacs has been cast in the lead role.   Okay, he's easy on the eye but there's always a difficulty when a prose character becomes alive on screen.   I suppose we'll have to wait and see and in the meantime, I can now look forward to 2 more books in the series!

Irish papers and radio so far as I could tell, were full of stories of petty and not so petty political corruption - no change there then.    As long as I have been aware of Irish politics, there was always a whiff or stench from Dublin.  What's different about the stories last week was the fact that corruption had been uncovered in local councils up and down the country.  Certainly no poverty of ambition on the part of those involved, in the scale of what passed for political favours.

Finally Colm Toibin on the Pope wearing Prada  - that's not a joke, he actually does.  Read it on the ferry coming back so technically still part of the holiday and it did take my mind off the crossing.    CT carries on the debate that Andrew Sullivan and others have been having for some time now about the complicity of the Church (ie the institution) in the abuse scandals which seem to be never-ending not least because of the Church's badly botched PR operation.    Beautifully written piece whatever about the subject matter.
Pretty heavy going really.    I need something human and lighter over the next couple of weeks - must find the new Barbara Trapido or maybe Anne Tyler.  Will keep you posted.

No wi-fi, no cry

So there was no wi-fi, not much of a TV signal, a satellite signal which came and went and a house full of 4 adults and 5 children under 10...uh oh, recipe for disaster you might think.  But you'd be wrong...because we also had that rarest of ingredients in an Irish holiday...sunshine!  Lots of glorious, life-affirming rays of warm sunshine!  Whole days were spent at the beach and it rained once, for 10 minutes. 

I would just point out that over the years I think we have earned this week of benign weather, having endured holidays where it rained every day, throughout the day.  Driving through Easkey, Co Sligo 3 years ago (which was flooded in August) to get an ice-cream, is seared in the memory...

Never mind, this week may have made up for that.  This is the view from the house where we stayed, overlooking the River Suir

and this is the beach at Duncannon, Co Wexford where things got a little competitive with the sand castles

close up of the houses and church coming up

They got a bit carried away on account of the sand sculpting competition elsewhere on the beach.

BM took the opportunity to catch up on some reading but more of that later.  For now, without turning into Maeve Binchy, it's fair to say that this was one of the best holidays we have had and certainly the best in Ireland.    

BTW, the lady who owns 'The Pines' where we stayed is thinking of selling up, Euros 450k if anyone is interested...

Saturday, 7 August 2010

BM...On the road again

Okay, so there was a slight miscalculation with the estimated length of journey from Bermondsey to Pembroke dock...we left at 05.30hrs, assuming a couple of stops along the way, ETA 13.00hrs.  In fact, we had the stops and still got to Pembroke by 11.30.  There may have been some resentment expressed about the ungodly hour BM required everyone to get up and out but hey - we were first in line in the boarding queue! 

We are in the (less than) sunny south-east.  It rained 3 times on the way from Rosslare.  The countryside looks suspiciously green and lush.  People are nevertheless defiantly wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops...under raincoats. 

Second contingent from the north-west arrive later today.  On the scale of excitement and anticipation, kids are set to 'dangerously high'.  Further reports to follow, energy and wi-fi permitting.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

BM...out and about

Yesterday we visited Bradford-upon-Avon - by canal boat or should that be 'launch' ? This is how we travelled

It was a certain person's 70th birthday hence the balloons and gift bags. 
Along the way, we passed by this noble bird

We navigated through this very narrow lock and bridge

and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere 

Lovely and sloow way to travel.  Lots of fun with the steering.   There were no accidents.  Some running alongside on the towpath but no-one fell in.  Remarkable and sort of cheering I suppose, how busy it was on a Tuesday...albeit in August.
The birthday person, who is a bit of an expert on all things maritime and inland waterways too, gave a gentle history lesson to the younger generation on the type and variety of canal boats we saw.  Observed the usual courtesy between canalboaters along the waterway, although I suppose given the leisurely pace, it would be hard to pass within 4 inches of another slow-moving boat without saying something friendly.   At least all of ours were friendly.  

 We stopped for lunch at the Lock Inn Cafe (highly recommended) and then executed a neat 18 point turn mid-canal to make our way back to base.  

Lovely day.  Home in Bermondsey by 8.30pm - London traffic is so quiet in August ... 

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

What's happened to...Michael McDonald

Punk didn't happen for BM in the furthest reaches of western Ireland in 1979. Instead this, and other Doobie Brother hits, was part of the soundtrack to my youth...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A new Whovian in town

Okay so you think you know people:  I mean in the sense that you read their blog and newspaper articles, you link to them in your blog (right hand column) and then out of the blue, comes confirmation that they are in fact also connected to you by the fact of their Whovian status!   I'm talking about Andrew Sullivan, who revealed today (at least it was not previously known to me) that he is and has been a lifelong DW fan.

For those of you who didn't already know, I am surrounded by Dr Who fans/obsessives/followers (delete as appropriate) and it's/his influence pervades our everyday existence in ways you might not be aware of.  For instance, dressing habits of a boy from the age of 3 and a half entirely dictated by DW.  Bear in mind that this was before the revival by Russell T Davis and therefore consisted of recycled beige shorts, cricket sweater and (my) old raincoat, which when it fell apart, was succeeded by a grey John Lewis dressing gown.  That look lasted for almost 2 solid years. (I blame John Lewis, they make them to last...) This was the Peter Davison look you see (with celery stalk).  Not easy to pull off and not the easiest outfit to wear on a beach in 28C heat...Anyway, every sartorial decision made by the boy, now 9, revolves around which Doctor is currently part of his ongoing and very real, fantasy life.  Between that and B Husband's lifelong devotion to Time Lord, I long ago decided to give in and go with it.

But because it is actually very good drama, I have come to admire it too.  Best thing about it for me is that DW is (conventionally) unarmed but wins every time, for reasons which Andrew Sullivan sets out lovingly in his article. I can't link to it because of the Sunday Times paywall, but if you link to his blog on the right, he usually posts his articles there anyway.  Enjoy!  

Bermondsey acoustics

It's a feature of where we live that not only can we hear the roar from the Lion's Den when Millwall are at home, but we can listen in on what's happening at the Carnival Del Pueblo at Burgess Park too...I have to admit I had forgotten it was on until the beat and rap echoed across the Old Kent Road towards this part of Bermondsey.     For those not in the know, Elephant & Castle has the largest population of South American inhabitants in London and today, I suspect, in the UK.   It sounds like they are having a great time!