Monthly Archives: May 2014

Winter in Madrid C J Sansom

So I love this persons work with the excellent Shardlake series. If you haven’t heard of it, Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer in Tudor times, specifically, Henry 8. He is a great character who gets into all sorts of strife and then gets out of it. Winter in Madrid is a departure from Tudor times and bangs us into the Spanish civil war. Just goes to show that a great author can move through time and space and give us a ripping yarn. And that is just what this is – a ripping yarn well written. If that is your bag – ( a ripping yarn in the historical fiction genre ) then go for it. You won’t be sorry. Promise.

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The Lower River Paul Theroux

I should read more of his books as I always enjoy them. Having said that, I nearly ditched this one a couple of pages in. The theme: Old guy returning to a place where he was happy as a young guy. I think we all know you can’t go back anywhere without being disappointed. These days it seems if you turn your back on somewhere for more than 5 minutes, it will have changed for the worse. And our hero is going back to a very small remote village in Africa after about 40 years. It was never going to go well.
Anyhow, I persisted and was rewarded with a great yarn. I’m not going to give you anything of the plot as anything would be a spoiler. So long as you are happy that the main character is a rather ordinary old guy, then give this a go. Not ripping yarn material, but very readable and rather intriguing.
You may as well know it is a bit cynical, so here’s a quote:

“That seemed to be a feature of life in the country [Malawi]: to welcome strangers, to let them live out their fantasy of philanthropy – a school, an orphanage, a clinic, a welfare center, a malaria eradication program, or a church; and then determine if in any of this effort and expense there was a side benefit – a kickback, a bribe, an easy job, a free vehicle. If the scheme didn’t work – and few of them did work – whose fault was that? Whose idea was it in the first place?”

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Morality Play Barry Unsworth

The only bad thing about reading a Barry Unsworth novel is that there is now one less for you to read in the future, given that the author is dead as a dodo. I particularly enjoyed this short novel set in Medieval England. It is a kind of murder mystery (it isn’t that much of a mystery) that gives a great account of the life of an actor in those times. Narrated by a young monk who, bored with his job, has had a quick escape from an adulterous fling and joined in with a troupe of actors.
In these times, actors were pretty much on the poverty line and stuck to tried and true plays representing parts from the Bible. The troupe lands in a village where a woman is about to be hanged for the murder of a boy. The troupe decide that they should make good coin for putting on a play about the murder. They gather information and in the gathering find major flaws in the case against the condemned woman.
The novel represents major changes in the Arts of the time – from plays about Adam and Eve and the temptation to plays based on current events – these changes will lead to Shakespeare and so on. The language used is archaic and the plot moves slowly.
Such a pleasure to read this novel – it was like taking a trip in a time machine.
Here’s a sample:
The player is always trapped in his own play but he must never allow the spectators to suspect this, they must always think that he is free. Thus the great art of the player is not in showing but concealing.
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Groovy Pad continues

And so building goes on. And on. Just as well we are still having a good time in La Studio, but oh! for a flushing toilet. The external cladding is on and plasterers are working hard on the inside. Tomorrow I shall be discussing the delights of solar panels for the roof. Funny how solar companies sell several brands and tell you how they are all really, really good but prices differ substantially for the various products. Anyhow, we shall see.
Everything is on budget, which is great. And the deck looks fabulous (at least to us). Planning for the kitchen and the Responsible Adults’ extra large walk in wardrobe are underway. So it’s all good and we should be in before July. Meanwhile, the weather is staying warm at least during the days, but I’m not sure how comfy La Studio will be if it gets cold. Here’s a pic:
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Staying On Paul Scott

Another Booker winner read and enjoyed. This one won the gong in 1977. Set in India after independence, it starts with the death of one of the main characters, Tusker Smalley. We then travel back a few weeks to see the incidents leading up to his death. The Staying On title refers to the main characters, Tusker and Lucy, staying on in India after the withdrawal of British troops. Lucy has not forgiven Tusker for not returning to England. Tusker is a very grumpy old man and his character made me cringe about my own old man grumpiness. I shall endeavor to do better in this regard. But back to the novel. This is not ripping yarn material but the characters are great and so I had no trouble maintaining an interest in the novel. It seems this is the end of a series of four books written about India and the end of the British Empire. I would be happy to check out the others in this series.

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The cheap and cheerful Chinese shower

Well we’re having a terrific time in La Studio while the Groovy Pad is being built. It is all a bit primitive but we are loving it. So, it came time to work out what to do about a shower. I had a look on line and found that the Chinese are manufacturing small instant hot water systems powered by electricity. The costs varied, but most were around the $100 mark. I paid about $120 but it is red and I work on the theory that red ones must be hotter. So I started off by concreting in some posts. Then I ran a water line from our old recycled water pump to a garden tap. Hooked it up to the shower and off we almost went. These things suck a lot of power so it knocked out a couple of power boards until I plugged in directly to a power point and we were right. It needs a heavy duty extension cord – I’m using a 10 amp lead. The heat selection is turned to full on. It takes about 10 seconds to heat up and then it is a bit hit an miss for the temperature. It depends on the flow rate and with a water pump, you can’t get a steady flow. But the minimum is about 32 degrees Celsius and it can get to over 50 degrees, which is a bit warm for my delicate paddock worker skin. Anyway, it is working out just fine and so long as the easterly breeze isn’t too strong, it is all good.
Here’s what it looks like:
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Hero of Rome Douglas Jackson

Well written ripping yarn material. Set in Britain during the rule of Nero, this novel takes us through the politics of the time, tosses in a bit of romance and plenty of action. Our hero, part of the invading force, is intelligent and brave. While remaining loyal to Rome, he sees that only by looking after the locals will permanent peace be achieved. The blokes in charge are greedy and not so bright. It could be any stupid empire doing stupid things in a foreign land. The characters are well drawn and believable. You will come to like our hero who, I’m happy to know, will go on with his adventures through more books. I can’t help feeling that the author has drawn on 20th Century US international politics to set the scene, but it is probably just a well told yarn that could apply to any nation that invades another country – it’s pretty hard to win the hearts and minds of the locals with soldiers and weapons.

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Azure Bay Kingfishers – a Royal visit

So Wills and Kate were in Oz recently, but we had a right royal visit from a pair of Kingfishers. Their majesties rolled up one morning and hung about our dam for a while. I really hope they like the look of the paddock and are planning to build their palace here. If so, I should be seeing them again any day soon. They take about a week to knock up a palace fit for baby Kingfishers. In the meantime, I am really chuffed to have seen these rare royals outside La Studio. Here’s a pic:

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