If you travel down (or up) the B824 between the roundabout at the northern end of the M9 (where it turns into the A9 for further travel north) and the small town of Doune in Stirlingshire you can see off the road the statue of a lone figure. The signpost names it as the David Stirling Memorial.
It’s in a lovely location on a rural hillside with views of rolling hills. And a wind farm. (I don’t think wind farms are eyesores, by the way. People who moan about them probably wax lyrical about windmills to which they are the modern equivalent.)
Why site the statue in such an out of the way spot?
Well; Stirling was a local. The Parish of Lecropt, where he was born, lies between Bridge of Allan (over the M9 near the town – now city – of Stirling) and Doune. There is a Carse of Lecropt and a Lecropt Kirk signposted as you leave Bridge of Allan heading towards the M9.
David Stirling’s Wikipedia entry shows a family connection with the Lord Lovat who led a brigade on to Sword Beach during the D-Day landings. Lovat famously ordered his personal bagpiper to pipe the commandos ashore. The defending Germans reputedly didn’t shoot him (the piper) because they thought he was mad.
That last bit about the Germans may be an urban myth but makes a great story.
Well, this was a first. Never before have I thought of a Brookmyre novel, “this is a bit slow.” There have been digressions and lacunae interspersed in the plots but these have always been leavened by the humour permeating his writing. Once the action gets going this one does perk up a bit but then slows down again before picking up once more.
Two chapters (crucially including the first) are almost entirely devoted to information dumping disguised as back story. Where such information is essential to the plot (and here some is) it would be better unfolded in the narrative, shown to us rather than told. Admittedly that would have made the book even longer than it now is, but still.
The plot itself revolves around a worker in the arms industry, Ross Fleming, who has invented a device that threatens to turn that murky world upside down. The heroine, though, is his middle-aged and previously homely (yet ex-punk) mother, Jane, who is “recruited” by the team tasked with the job of recovering Ross after he disappears suddenly.
In the end it all becomes more than a little unbelievable – and Jane’s transformation into Action Woman is too quick – but Brookmyre plots have never really withstood much close scrutiny.
The book is still characteristically readable but somewhere along the way the author’s distinctive humour seems to have been mislaid. It is almost as if Brookmyre might have thought his usual comedic approach is somehow unworthy and he was making an effort at being a more “serious” writer. There are still flashes, though; a nice aside on the Catholic Church’s propensity to move doctrinal goalposts and a rant on the disproportionate contribution of Scots to human progress.
If I were recommending a starting point for potential Brookmyre readers I’d suggest other books of his, though.
I thought the Tories were supposed to be the party of law and order.
Yet I well remember Tim Yeo once speaking up for those who, due to the use of speed cameras, had been caught breaking the law. Yeo talked as if the law were something to be neglected or set aside, as if people who broke the speed limit were not law breakers, which quite clearly they are.
At least at the time Yeo was merely a Member of Parliament (if a spokesman for the opposition.)
Yet on Sunday he incited parents to take part in a mass act of law breaking by volunteering to keep schools open during the proposed strike tomorrow by teachers. (This does not affect Scotland – and Northern Ireland I expect. I’m not sure about Wales but I think education is a devolved power there too.)
Quite apart from the fact that Gove thereby declares that teaching is easy and anyone can do it without training and so demeans those who are effectively his employees (he should perhaps try it sometime) teachers are not only trained but thoroughly vetted before being allowed near children. The procedure is known, in Scotland at least, as disclosure and is specifically designed to protect children from potential danger or harm. (As some recent cases have shown it does not always work, but it is a sensible precaution.)
Gove has in effect incited parents, and any Head Teachers who permit this to take place, to break the law, since, if an undisclosed person is placed or places her- or himself in front of the children an offence has been committed.
As Secretary of State Gove ought to be aware of this law. If he was, then he has deliberately encouraged an act of law breaking – become an accessory before the fact. If he was not so aware then the law does not hold ignorance as an excuse and he is still guilty.
(The cover shown on the right is different to my copy’s. My Library Thing link showed the correct one.)
This is a collection of 19 short stories – some very short indeed. Their settings lie mainly in Scotland and explore a variety of domestic and other situations but a few consecutive ones are set in the USA (where some gentle fun is poked at USians feeble grasp of the geography of the wider world) and one features Australia.
The most successful are the longest two A Little Irony, where a female artist uses photographs of her narrator boyfriend’s penis in an exhibition, and What Do You Want, How Do You Feel?, about a marriage going through a rocky patch. These feel more rounded perhaps because their length gives room for character exploration. The latter also comes closest to providing the standard twist that people used to expect of a short story.
The social background of Bottle, wherein ne’er-do-weels are employed inside bottle banks, could almost be read as SF. As indeed could Problem, where a man’s wife reveals that she is in fact (or has somehow become; it’s not quite clear) a man. Within the story this sort of transformation appears to be a wider social phenomenon.
Robertson can certainly create atmosphere. The first story, Border, isn’t about much (a young boy travelling north by train looks for the border point after Berwick) but says it well.
If I have a criticism it is that a lot of the stories tend to peter out rather than end. Indeed there is one which finishes with the words, “Any time now something would happen.” Isn’t it the happening that a short story should be about?
Despite this stricture, Close is a well rounded and diverse collection.
Two very minor pieces of deco on Kirkcaldy High Street. I’ve never been inside either of them.
Above is a close-up of the building housing “Artistry” which as you can see now hosts a hairdressers’. I’ve no idea what it was originally. The windows can’t be original but I like the stepped roof. The street frontage is a typical modern glass and steel effort.
This is further along, beyond the pedestrianised part. As you can see this one hosts a cafe (which has been refurbished recently.) It has a nice wavy stepped frontage but seems to have been squeezed in between two others. Modern windows again. Curiously the cafe’s entrance is not from the High Street but rather up a side street and in round the back.
The recent outbreak of food-borne disease in Germany caused by the organism E. coli has had me groaning at the utterings of the news presenters and reporters.
To be clear: E. coli is a bacterium. To refer to disease-causing bacteria is incorrect in this context unless there is another, different, organism also involved in spreading the disease.
An individual E. coli organism can of course rapidly produce copies which mean there are loads of them about but they are still the same species, the same type of bacterium. There is only one bacterium involved.
Curiously nobody seems to get confused about this sort of thing when a virus, rather than a bacterium, is the problem. Reporters will say for example, “the virus is spreading.” (Compare “the bacteria are spreading.”)
But then, unlike bacterium, the word virus has an English plural, not a Latin one.
In her preamble to this collection of stories and poems which feature animals Le Guin refers to the denigration talking-animal tales receive at the hands of “grown-up” critics and theorists. They are seen as children’s fare and not worth serious consideration. But of course it is in pointing up the differences and similarities between species and their use in morality tales that their usefulness lies. And that usefulness is no small thing. It is to the credit of fantastic fiction – perhaps its glory – that only in its area can such things be fully explored. To know what it is to be truly human we must contemplate the non-human.
Le Guin has of course investigated the many different ways in which humans can be human beings, and in particular altered in sexuality, throughout her career, so this is no departure.
The lead tale here, the award winning novelette Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight, is I suppose a fantasy wherein a human girl, never named throughout, the sole survivor of a plane crash, is taken in by a community of animals. The animals appear to her to live as humans – and they talk of course – but have animal behaviours, especially in terms of waste disposal and sex. Their attitudes and behaviour are the norm here though and it is this simple transference that highlights the peculiarities of our species, our detachment from nature, our oddness. The strangeness of the milieu, the fact of the animals being animals, their kindness and the child’s simple acceptance of things is essential to the story’s success. It is, in the original sense of the word, fabulous.
The Wife’s Story and Mazes are stories of transference in which we get almost to the end before the true natures of the protagonists are revealed. The Direction Of The Road has an unusual narrator, a tree, and is a fine exemplar of the working through of an initial premise.
Trees are something of a Le Guin theme. There was of course The Word For World Is Forest and in (Hugo Award nominee) Vaster Than Empires And More Slow – in this collection – there are arboriforms which turn out to be part of a planet wide intelligence.
The White Donkey and Horse Camp are slighter tales which are nevertheless effective. Schrödinger’s Cat considers a third outcome to the famous thought experiment beyond the either/or that quantum theory appears to suggest. The Author of the Acacia Seeds and other extracts from the Journal of Therolingiustics is an amusing dissection of the academic style as well as a thorough exploration of the possibilities of language in the non-human world. May’s Lion is presented first as a true story then as fiction while She Unnames Them is a strange piece about the power of names to circumscribe, or provoke, thoughts and actions.
Included in the nineteen poems by Le Guin is one which is her own translation of one of Rilke’s.