Archives » 2008 » December

Mumbai Dreams

The recent events in Mumbai were tragic and dangerous. The immediate response of citing elements within the Pakistan government for aiding the attacks was predictable and maybe ought to be resisted because that was probably part of the thinking behind the attacks, one of whose perpetrators’ intents was most likely to be to try to foment strife between Muslim and Hindu (more strife than there is already I mean) as well as damage India’s tourist industry and get back at Brits or Yanks.

But both the Indian and Pakistani governments have a “terrorist” problem. Both could address them by working together to obstruct the terrorists’ aims.

However the present situation is not of the two countries’ sole making. In too many senses it is our (Britain’s) fault. Not just the presence of British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq inciting some Muslims – which certainly does not help. [By the way did no-one in the UK government or its advisors know any history? What were they thinking? We were chased out of Afghanistan several times in the colonial era, the Soviet Union was booted out much more recently. The Americans armed the mujahideen to help bring this about. They then morphed into the Taliban with the results we know. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend, guys. Afghanis have never taken kindly to outside interference. Nor, it seems, do Iraqis. And why not? Nor would we.]

Were it not for Britain there would be no Pakistan (nor Bangladesh.) We partitioned India along religious lines (causing untold misery then and in the 60 years since) so that we could up and leave in as short a time as possible – too short in hindsight. It was a selfish act. The history of rivalry and war between the two countries since, and further partition – of Bangladesh from Pakistan – makes dismal reading.

Without partition would India (all-India) have felt the need to have the Bomb? Maybe, perhaps, just, as a defence against China – but that is an unlikely scenario. Without partition there would be no institutional focus for Indian Muslims to aspire to nor for Hindus to set themselves against. Without partition the running sore of Kashmir would not have opened – and any Sikh separatists would have had no encouragement.

Is the forced partition of a country ever a reasonable solution? Ireland, Palestine, the sub-continent, Korea and Vietnam have not been good advertisements for it. Okay, the two Germanies never had outright conflict and did remerge on the first opportunity – but that was an artificial partition in the sense that neither of the Germanies felt the other was really not German and the partition was propped up by outside forces. (Arguably the latter was/is so in the cases of Vietnam and Korea – even Ireland if you look at it from one side of the fence.) The separations of Norway from Sweden in the 1900s and of Czechoslovakia in the 1990s were not analogous, being amicable. Further back the Partitions of Poland did last well over a century, but it was sandwiched, and cut up, between three Empires which were Great Powers at the time.

India’s dogged adherence to democracy since partition is admirable. Pakistan’s road has been more shaky but the military never seem able to hold democracy down for long. Too many years of mutual mistrust make any wider accommodation between the two countries difficult. That must be the terrorists’ hope (and inspiration?) We can only hope the two will work together and the terrorists end up disappointed.

Dumbarton 1-2 Ross County

The Rock, 15/12/08

Ah, well. That’s the 10th Jan free for the Cowdenbeath game, then, since our prospective opponents, Shire, and Stenny, who were to play Cowden, are otherwise engaged.

Not a bad result tonight, considering. After all, we’ve never won at home against County.

So only the league to occupy us now.

At least there was no extra time and the players have nearly four whole days to recover from tonight’s exertions before the trip to Annan.

The Shire and Cowden have a big game on Saturday at Ochilview where Shire’s recent “home” record is outstanding. Plus Stenny at Forfar isn’t a given.

It’s all very interesting at the minute.

Postscript on Postgate

Further to my lament on the passing of Oliver Postgate:-

In The Guide part of the Guardian on Saturday Charlie Brooker gave a most eloquent and refined tribute to the man and his collaborator Peter Firmin’s genius for story telling.

Trojans

The Trojan Horse wasn’t.

Trojan that is.

So why are computer programmes (or anything else) designed to undermine systems from within called trojans?

It’s always bugged me that the word trojan is used in this way.

It’s a strange transference because it was the Greeks, not the Trojans, who actually built the horse. The Trojans were the victims, not the perpetrators. It wasn’t their horse.

But try referring to the Greek Horse and see if people look at you as if you’re the one who is daft.

The Trojan Laocoon, on seeing the wooden horse, is said (in Virgil’s Aeneid) to have uttered the phrase, “timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” (translated as “I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts”) as a warning to reject the gift. This was before he was killed and the Trojans wheeled the horse in.

Given what happened to the Trojans “I fear the Greeks, especially when they bring gifts” would be an even more powerful sentiment. For here was certainly a case for looking a gift horse in the mouth! (There is, I know, a different origin for this latter phrase.)

Maybe all this trojan nonsense is because the Greeks won, albeit only by trickery, and history is written by the winners (or, in the Greeks’ case, by their successors and admirers the Romans.)

Of all the Trojans Cassandra in particular has subsequently got the worst press. (For being what Margaret Thatcher would have called a Moaning Minnie.)
But Cassandra was right, Troy was doomed. (Thank you, Private Fraser.) It was just her misfortune to be disbelieved.

Woe, woe and thrice, woe.

Dumbarton 3-0 Forfar Athletic

The Rock, 13/12/08

A clean sheet. A CLEAN SHEET! Wonders will never cease.
Just as well since otherwise the Shire would have caught us up on goal difference.

Good to see all the strikers we fielded today getting a goal, especially Chissie.

Given the other results this was a good win to get.

On to Monday’s cup tie now. I wonder how Ross County’s defeat this afternoon will affect them.

Four Random Things About Me

Big Rab tagged me with this and I’ve been stuck for a response as I’m pretty boring really (the good lady has a lot to put up with) and I can’t think of many things even vaguely amusing, interesting or unusual about me – beyond the obvious one of being a published author of fiction.

Except:-

I once performed an impromptu Hokey-Cokey in Soviet Russia.
I was on a school cruise which stopped in Leningrad, as it then was. A few of us were taken to the Pioneers’ Palace – Pioneers being described as the Soviet version of Scouts – and they performed some sort of Russian folk dance for us. To reciprocate we Scots did the Hokey-Cokey as it was the only loosely dance-based thing that the adults present thought we would all know.

As far as I know I was the first person ever to discover an incidence of that weakish attractive force that is called a hydrogen bond from a hydrogen atom that was bonded to a sulphur. (Usually they only occur when H is bonded to N, O or F atoms.)
I made a thiol substituted camphor derivative compound which had the hydrogen atom bonded to the sulphur close enough in space to the oxygen atom located elsewhere in the molecule for it to be attracted enough by that oxygen that the hydrogen was effectively weakly bonded to the O as well. The infra-red spectrum showed this as an unusually sharp line.

I have twice appeared on television by accident.
Once on the terraces at Firs Park when the BBC filmed a Shire-Dumbarton Cup tie and I could be glimpsed in a background shot. The other time was years earlier. I was the only passenger on Renton railway station when some TV show or other was recording there for some obscure reason.

I’m only two handshakes (or maybe conversations) away from Adolf Hitler.
Some years ago now I met a (still youngish) bloke who’d guarded* Rudolf Hess at Spandau.

I can’t think of anyone to tag with this. If you’re offended by this omission let me know and I’ll add you!

*Since Hess (if it was Hess – there are conspiracy theories) died a while ago now my acquaintance must have been one of the last to do this. He said the Russians treated the prisoner pretty poorly; so they obviously thought he was the real Hess.

End Of The World Blues by John Courtenay Grimwood

Gollancz, 2006

End Of The World Blues cover

After catching up with Grimwood’s early work I thought I’d read his latest. As progressively in the Arabesk trilogy and Stamping Butterflies, in End Of The World Blues the short staccato sentences of Grimwood’s really early books are (thankfully) gone. The prose here flows, the reading is consequently easier. This is the sign of an author totally in command of what he is doing. (But Grimwood still favours using sat as a participle. I wish he would kick that habit.)

Grimwood seems to like what are (for SF) unusual settings. In Arabesk and Stamping Butterflies he gave us North Africa and (some of) China. Here we get a bit of Japan, or at least Tokyo, before the action moves to London and then back. The violence in this one is noticeably less gratuitous than in the early books even though End Of The World Blues has plot up to its armpits.

Christopher Newton calls himself Kit Nouveau and has run away from his home and youthful indiscretions (not to mention any possible responsibilities) in Britain to live in Tokyo where he runs an Irish theme pub with his high-art-pottery-making Japanese wife. He also works part time as a teacher of English to local individuals, who include a gangster’s wife with whom he is having an affair. Kit’s pub is blown up and his wife dies. Then his old girl friend Kate’s mother turns up from Britain and tells him Kate has apparently committed suicide but her father doesn’t believe it and she asks Kit to find if Kate is still alive.

The above represents only a little of the convolutions of the plotting, but everything is clearly set out and there is no difficulty in keeping up with what’s going on.

Grimwood’s penchant for adolescent (or pre-adolescent) female characters is once more to the fore. Here she is Lady Neku, a smart street kid whom Kit occasionally buys coffee and who later follows him to London. Except Neku is also an aristocratic clone of a clone of a clone of a clone… from a rope world floating above Earth somewhen at the end of time.

However, despite being marketed as such – and winning the BSFA award for a novel in 2006 – this is not really a Science Fiction novel at all, but is instead at heart a thriller. None of the elements of the main story rely on any science fictional extrapolation whatever. The SF floating rope world elements seem tacked on and Neku could just as easily have been an ordinary Japanese cos-play, as she is in effect only a hook on which to hang the London end of the plot, though Grimwood takes care also to weave her into the Tokyo plot web. Moreover, it is the sections of the book set on the floating rope world that are the least convincing.

That said, the plot is gripping, the major – and minor – characters are all well drawn and their motivations are entirely believable. If you like tightly plotted thrillers with decent characterisation then check this one out.

Oliver Postgate RIP

I was sad to hear this morning of the death of Oliver Postgate, who, due to the animated films he produced for television in the 1960s, was one of the subliminal influences on my youth.

He is perhaps most famous for Bagpuss and The Clangers but my personal recollection of his best work is of Noggin The Nog, one of whose characters, Nogbad The Bad, provided the nickname for a teacher of French at my school. Its source material, Norse sagas, made it somehow exotic. The sonorous voice-over at the beginning only added to its charm.

His films, made in collaboration with Peter Firmin, were understated, gentle, but also quietly subversive and the animation technique in the early works – Ivor The Engine as well as Noggin – while apparently basic, was expressive.

With The Clangers he entered all our subconsciouses – what a delightful, surreal world that was.

In these days of shoot-em-ups and CGI his work maybe seems anachronistic; but children of all ages everywhere would surely still respond to it.

Oliver Postgate 1925-2008. So it goes.

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 7. Nardini’s Cafe Largs

I caught an item on Reporting Scotland last night to the effect that Nardini’s Café in Largs has reopened. After some time in restoration the upgrade has been completed and the new façade and interior looked brilliant. Unfortunately the programme wasn’t available on the iPlayer when I checked and I don’t have pictures of the redevelopment which, if anything, is even more Art Deco than before it closed.

Here’s a view of the dilapidated door when the place was out of business, however.

Nardini Cafe

Check out the picture here for a view in its former glory.

The refurbishment was reported by the BBC in 2006.

The original opening was in 1935.

It seemed a bit strange for an establishment that was famous for ice cream to be reopening in the middle of December but there were delays in completion. It also sold/sells fish and chips and is a café so they’ve got that to fall back on till the summer and the ice cream trade builds up.

None of the original Nardini family is involved in the new venture but I wish it well.

Guantanamo Bay

I heard on the news today that some of the prisoners at Guantanamo want to plead guilty to the September 11th murders at the World Trade Centre.

Two things:-

1. They were tortured. Can a confession after torture ever be relied upon?

2. They seem to wish to be martyrs. Now; they do face the death penalty if found guilty so martyrdom (as they see it) would inevitably follow a guilty verdict.
In that case it would be much, much better to deny them the death they seek (even if they are truly guilty) otherwise you are merely playing into their hands. Keep them alive and in jail for life, and thereby deny them the satisfaction of their desires. This would have the added benefit of not giving others of their like any more pretexts than they already claim for themselves for behaving the way they do.

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