Groningen from the Canal(s)

Like most Dutch cities/towns Groningen is built round canals. (Or they were built round it.)

This is an unusually wide expanse of water where at least two of them meet:-

I include the one below mainly for the flag on the prow of the boat in the picture. It’s quartered in red and blue, the quarters centred on a white cross with what at first I thought was a blue cross within. (I’d seen it at a distance flying on a house just outside Opende.) I worked out it was the flag of Groningen Province after seeing a different flag, blue with white diagonal stripes containing red hearts, which was obviously that of Friesland. On seeing Groningen’s flag closely the central cross is green.

There are lots of lovely buildings on the canal:-

The Martini Tower used to be the tallest bulding in Groningen. It still is for the town centre but a taller one now lies on the outskirts. It was very difficult to snap the tower from the boat. Street furniture kept getting in the way.

Or splashes on the boat’s windows!!

Another wide expanse of canal allowed this of the tower in the distance:-

This is the tower from the town centre:-

It has a sundial about halfway up:-

Another striking building:-

We were told this is the smallest house in Groningen. It’s the one in the right-hand part of the white building (and the right half of that):-

Interesting corner building here. Not to mention the statue of the kneeling figure:-

Many of the bridges over the canals in Groningen have to open up to allow the boats underneath. This is one of them:-

Fleck: a Verse Comedy by Alasdair Gray

A Comedy in Verse Derived from Goethe’s Tragedy of Faust. Two Ravens Press, 2008, 104 p.

Fleck cover

Gray is multi-talented; playwright, novelist, artist. A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, he illustrates his own books (and those of others) in a distinctive style. His first novel, Lanark, instantly established him as one of the most important Scottish novelists of his or any generation. His left wing politics are not hard to discern and his enthusiasm for Scottish independence and Scottish culture has displeased some.

Fleck does what it says on the tin; reworks Faust in a modern idiom with the main character recast as a Scottish scientist, Fleck. Other characters include God, Nick and the journalists Pee and Cue. The book also includes a postscript by the author where he discusses the appearances of the devil in the Bible (there are only two,) Satan’s co-option by the established church to police sensuality, the evolution of the Faust story and its influence on Gray personally, and the drawbacks of Goethe’s version. Finally there are five Gray poems which deal with God. A packed 104 pages then.

Verse is a surprisingly good vehicle for Gray’s updated tale. (Or perhaps not surprising if you think of Shakespeare.) The rhythm of the iambic pentameter is a fine motor. And it throws up nicely judged juxtapositions, “Broadcasters think the public is a fool/ so sounding stupid is their golden rule.”

Very little that Gray has written is not worth reading. Fleck is no exception. Not just the play but the postscript and poems too.

Pedant’s corner: Labelling a year as Anus Domini looks like it may be a misprint but I wouldn’t put it past Gray to have used it deliberately. But oughtn’t tug-of-wars for supremacy be tugs-of-war? Bismark for Bismarck.

Jezebel by Irène Némirovsky

Vintage, 2010, 199 p. Translated from the French by Sandra Smith. © Éditions Albin Michel 1940. First published in English as The Modern Jezebel by Henry Holt and Company 1937.

Jezebel cover

I hadn’t intended reading a Némirovsky again for a while but the good lady picked this up in one of our local libraries – there are five within easy distance; one walkable (but not as walkable as Kirkcaldy Central was when we lived there) – so I took the opportunity to delve once more into her œuvre.

At the start of the book Gloria Eysenach is on trial for the murder of a young man whom she visited frequently in the weeks before the shooting. The trial is described along with Gloria’s inadequate efforts to explain her actions. Thereafter the novel tracks back to her earlier life and follows the train of events that led to her being in the dock.

For a while I felt that this wasn’t Némirovsky at her best; things seemed to drag, the set-up felt almost banal. However with the circumstances leading up to the death of Gloria’s daughter, Marie-Therèse, my interest was regained; though by that point the exact identity of the murder victim wasn’t too difficult to fathom.

Perhaps the most affecting sentence in the book is, “Life is sad when all is said and done, don’t you think? There are only moments of exhilaration, of passion…”

Jezebel ends up as a fine portrait of a selfish woman, too vain even to be aware – still less take care – of the interests of her own children. This is something of a theme for Némirovsky and she is perhaps better when she avoids it. Jezebel is still a fine novel though.

Art Deco in Groningen (ii)

Just across the road and up a bit from the stunning possible cinema in Groningen is Pension Tivoli.

There’s a good curved canopy on this at the door but I got my angle wrong for showing it properly. The pillars at the door have a fine style as well. You can just see the top of the canopy and pillars at the door in the crop below. Fine windows here too.

This next shop was only a few doors along. Lovely curved wall and window. Good leading on the other windows:-

A couple more doors along. Note stained glass:-

Back in towards the town centre again was this, which has good trianguloid windows.

These can be seen to better advantage here:-

Good detailing on the brickwork:-

Hunkemoller is minor deco. Nice round metal frame bits in the windows though:-

Huis de Beurs is on the corner of the Vis Markt. Great colour. It was almost impossible to take a photo without a cyclist in the way. Spot the detailing on the roof line.

One shop had beautiful tiling on its entrance:

The Race by Nina Allan

NewCon Press, 2014, 251 p

The Race cover

This seems to be marketed as a novel but is in fact a set of four tenuously connected novellas the succeeding ones of which cast doubt – or light depending on your viewpoint – on the events of at least one of the previous ones. Three are first person narrations, the third (appropriately) is in third person.

The book starts with Jenna, whose title character narrates a tale of smartdogs – greyhounds upgraded (initially illegally) with some human DNA – and the handlers who can communicate with them telepathically via a chip inserted in the brain. The setting is the town of Sapphire, hard by an ecologically damaged area off Romney Marsh. The plot kicks off when Jenna’s brother Del’s daughter Luz Maree is kidnapped, ostensibly for money which Del hopes to procure by running his smartdog Limlasker in the season’s big dog race the Delawarr Triple, but in reality because she can interact with the dogs without an implant. In this segment Allan employs the phrase “going to the dogs” perfectly straight, but on its first appearance I initially read it as “in decline.”

Christy is set in a recognisable “real-life” Hastings but we are invited to believe the town of Sapphire which we met in Jenna is an invention of the eponymous narrator, who retreats into the stories of her imagined world – subsequently achieving publication with them – when her overbearing brother Derrick, a nasty piece of work, damages her life too many times. One of his girlfriends disappears, another called Linda enlists Christy’s help to leave Derrick for her former boyfriend Alex. Derrick reacts violently. The parallels between Christy’s life and Jenna’s are plain. Too much so. Having even a fictional writer write about stuff so obviously inspired by her own life stretches credulity too far. Fair enough in the general case (and then only if a writer’s sources are invisible to the ordinary reader) but here the artifice undermines the effect of Jenna as a story. One of the overlaps between these first two stories is a focus on gloves but this does not carry over into the final pair.

In the third person narration, Alex, again set in our universe, it seems Christy’s fears about what may have happened to Linda are unfounded as, years later, Alex tells her he saw Linda some time after the violent incident. (But the reader may think he was mistaken. The writing is sufficiently ambiguous to allow for either possibility.)

By contrast with the first and last in the book, both these middle two novellas are apparently set resolutely in the real world. Unfortunately the outcome of this is to dilute the effect of the other two stories. I know it is Allan’s intention to make us question the narration and the reality of the everyday – each novella has a scene where other worlds intrude on the milieu, parallel worlds are explicitly mentioned at times – but what it means is we cannot trust any of them. The connections we make slip away.

The last story, Maree, also has smartdogs, but they are off-stage (except for Maree remembering one called Limlasker.) This world has some familiar town names – Inverness, Faslane, Madrid – but also invented ones, Asterwych, Charlemagne, Lilyat and the countries of Crimond, Thalia, Farris and Espinol. Our narrator, one of those who can communicate with smartdogs without implants, is about to make the dangerous sea voyage from Crimond to Thalia to become part of a research project to help decipher the language of a strange set of signals from space. We discover Maree was taken from her parents when young. Her Dad was named Derek and he has a sister called … Christy. The set piece here is an encounter with Atlantic whales – not our familiar species, but strange creatures, aloof from and disdainful of humans. Like the dog race in Jenna, though, this apparent centrality is only background to the story. It is as if the SF in The Race isn’t SF. That’s fine, in fact I’m all for it – but don’t rub our noses in it.

Throughout all four sections of the “novel” information dumping, although necessary, is a bit intrusive and the foreshadowing verges on heavy-handed.

Despite all of the book, bar Maree’s sea voyage, being set in Britain (or, in the case of Crimond, an altered Britain) various USianisms spatter the text – veterinarian, semester, jerking off, sneakers, airplane (though aeroplane is employed more often,) outside of, wedding band, a raise – which I’m afraid detract from the verisimilitude. At times there was some awkward syntax, “a vegetable I’ve never tasted before called aubergine.” “The house was on Emmanuel Road, a solid Victorian terrace with a weathered front door.” The terrace has a front door? And it may be Allan has a problem with endings. Except for Maree, they seemed rushed. I noticed a similar tendency in the same author’s Spin.

As a whole The Race is a hall of mirrors, of distorting mirrors. Nothing is reliable; even its unreliability. It might even be said to be less than the sum of its parts. Which is a pity as Allan can write well and empathically.

Pedant’s corner:-
A “span,” brooch spelled as broach, double English (in a primary school?) “I think that was he was counting on,” “We lived of frozen fish fingers…” “pretending they was invisible,” “that 1 now knew,” “Tim had has name down for Oxford,” “I decided I to Laton Road,” “Recounted the final days an old piano teacher dying in Aberystwyth,” “accustomed Maclane’s presence,” “Faslane shrinks and dwindles, … first a … smudge on the horizon, then disappearing altogether. We are still in the mouth of the loch, not in the open sea at all yet.” Faslane has “disappeared” but we’re still in the mouth of the loch, not the open sea? (Aside: the Faslane I know is near the mouth of the loch it stands on – it’s a small loch – and disappears very quickly; when the necessary turn on leaving the loch is performed.) “The pattern templates were …. carefully folded and each once sealed within a white paper packet.”

Not Friday On My Mind 24: RIP Jack Bruce.

And today it was Jack Bruce. I heard him on the radio about six months ago promoting a new album and while he sounded a bit fragile he didn’t seem to be ill. Sad.

I remember Cream from the rather unCream-like Wrapping Paper on through I Feel Free to Badge which was no 15 in my “Friday on my Mind” category.

Bruce’s bass playing is more to the fore on this song.

Sunshine of Your Love

John Symon Asher (Jack) Bruce, 14/5/1943 – 25/10/2014. So it goes.

Art Deco in Groningen (i)

Groningen was a happy hunting ground for Art Deco. On the way in to the town centre past the Museum I saw the side of a building that looked a bit deco (vertical features) but made of what I thought was modern brick so passed on.

Just further along though I came on this very Egyptianate (and so true deco) shop. Le Souk:-

Not too far on was this:-

Just off the Vis Markt (fish market – absolutely heaving the day we were there) was Sumo:-

This was later, from across the market after we had circled round Groningen:-

Some time later we got back to the lane we had come up from the Museum and I realised that the earlier brick building I mentioned above was Deco. Might it be a cinema? Brilliant verticals and horizontals, flagpole, little square windows, detailing picked out in red and yellow. Delightful.

I had hoped the photo would show the vertical brickwork in the lane but sadly it hasn’t. What had alerted me to it was this stunning window on the main road:-

Reelin’ In the Years 96: RIP Alvin Stardust

A few days ago it was Raphael Ravenscroft, now Alvin Stardust. In the words of another 70s song, “They’re dropping down like flies, man.”

I don’t remember Alvin Stardust’s first pop incarnation. (Apparently on his comeback, Tony Blackburn – who has a running joke with Graham Norton that he still hasn’t been arrested – bumped into him backstage on Top of the Pops one week and said to him, “Didn’t you used to be Shane Fenton?) I’d heard the name but couldn’t put a tune or face to it.

I do, though, remember the 1970s records and leather clad appearances on TV – complete with outrageous size ring worn outside his glove – and thought he was rather sending up the rock hard man schtick.

I haven’t opted for either of his two big hits, Jealous Mind nor My Coo Ca Choo, though.

Alvin Stardust: Red Dress

Bernard William Jewry – aka Shane Fenton; aka Alvin Stardust. 27/9/1942 – 23/10/2014. So it goes.

Interzone 252, May-Jun 2014

Interzone 252 cover

The Posset Pot by Neil Williamson1
Possibly the unexpected results of a Large Hadron Collider type experiment, bubbles from elsewhere or elsewhen are intersecting the Earth, excising parts of it when they disappear. The narrator navigates the ruins of Glasgow, looking for provisions, hoping for the chance to be reunited with the lover he lost to one of the bubbles years before. An unusual apocalypse this, made more so by the familiarity (to me) of its setting.

The Mortuaries by Katharine E K Duckett2
Another apocalypse, this one based on global warming. The remaining human population lives on a gloopy foodstuff named noot. The titular mortuaries are more like mausolea. A man called Brixton invented a process which could embalm bodies and keep them fresh. Viewpoint character Tem grows up not fully understanding the world around him until he visits the “bad” mortuary. The pieces of the story didn’t quite cohere. In this world of shortage would there still be enough resources for the upkeep of the mortuaries – not to mention cars and motorbikes for people to flee the doomed last coastal city?

Diving into the Wreck by Val Nolan3
A story about the discovery of the lost Apollo 11 lunar ascent module, Eagle, crashed somewhere on the Moon, and of the necessity for mystery. I wasn’t quite convinced by the (unnamed) narrator’s final decision but this is a fine tale of what it – sometimes – means to be human.

Two Truths and a Lie by Oliver Buckram4
This describes a doomed love affair – one of whose participants may be an alien – couched as a series of short paragraphs each followed by three propositions of which the story’s title and preamble invite us to believe only two are true.

A Brief Light by Claire Humphrey5
Ghosts are appearing in everyone’s houses. Ghosts which sometimes have the attributes of birds. This causes complications in the marriage of Lauren who is contemplating a lesbian affair with Jo. The ghosts interfere in both their lives.

Sleepers by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam6
Strange white creatures with hooves have started to appear randomly. An insomniac woman whose father is in hospital seeks one out to see if it perhaps a version of him. While the present tense narration is perhaps justified by the ending it seemed to strike a false note in the second paragraph.

1 sheered for sheared and “cookie jar.” Cookie jar? Unlikely from a Glaswegian I’d have thought.
2 Written in USian
3 A wyne of hay may be a misprint for wayne. There was also the sentence, “Here so the long culmination of selenological time.” What????
4 I had to look up “s’mores.” It’s some sort of USian confection.
5 Ditto “toonie” – a Canadian two-dollar coin.
6 Written in USian

Reelin’ In the Years 95: RIP Raphael Ravenscroft – Baker Street

Sad to hear that the man who really played the signature saxophone solo of the 1970s, Raphael Ravenscroft, has died.

Apparently he wasn’t satisfied with his famous contribution to Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune,” he said. “Yeah, it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.”

Judge for yourselves.

Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street

Raphael Ravenscroft, 4/6/1954 – 19/10/2014. So it goes.

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