Archives » 2011 » December

End of Year Revelries?

Well. I’ve got some shortbread in (thanks to son no. 1) and I bought a cherry cake. Also on the table will be some cider for the good lady, beer and Irn Bru – my favourite advert for which remains this one:-

Hogmanay’s all sorted then.

The Accidental by Ali Smith

Penguin, 2007, 306p

The Accidental cover

Reasonably successful writer Eve Smart, her philandering lecturer husband Michael and their family are renting a house in Norfolk when they are intruded upon by a female stranger called Amber, who proceeds to inveigle her way into their home, befriend Eve’s twelve year old daughter Astrid and seduce her teenage son Magnus.

The novel is split into three sections, The Beginning, The Middle and The End in all of which each family member has a narrative strand. Astrid’s narration is initially irritating as she has a habit of using ie (or even id est) in circumstances which do not warrant it. Thankfully, she – or Smith as the author – grows out of this by The End. Each section is preceded, and hence followed, by a framing narrative in the first person from Amber’s viewpoint. (This does not illumine Amber’s behaviour overmuch.) The unravelling of the Smart family’s life under Amber’s influence is the meat of the book.

There are several infelicities. Not only are a couple of characters unsympathetic but the changes of viewpoint initially jar and for a long time the lack of justification in the text irritated me. The ragged right hand margin was too much of a distraction. By The End, though, the characters (apart from Amber) are more established and these concerns fade.

I noticed that the “cloud” on my Library Thing tags this novel as Scottish Fiction. (According to the book’s blurb Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 but now lives in Cambridge.) Fantastic Fiction also designates her as Scottish. There is nothing identifiably Scottish about The Accidental, though; not its setting, its themes, its dialogue nor its vocabulary. Mind you, the same could be said about Allan Massie’s The Sins of the Father or Andrew Crumey’s Music, In a Foreign Language both of which I read recently. Interestingly enough, Library Thing has those two books tagged as Scottish Literature.

Reelin’ In The Years 27: I Can See Clearly Now

I always liked this song. It’s maybe the optimism of the thing. But the long sustained cadence over the word “skies” in the middle eight is quite a feat for a pop singer.

Johnny Nash: I Can See Clearly Now

Giant Storm on Saturn

This was Astronomy Picture of the Day on Monday (26/12/11.)

The storm apparently has 18 times the surface area of the Earth. It’s one of the longest lasting storms ever recorded. (It can’t match Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, though.)

I like the way Saturn’s rings show up here as a thin blue line right across the middle of the photo. Their shadows are impressive too. There also seems to be the shadow of a moon on the lower left.

Giant Storm on Saturn

Kirkcaldy’€™s Art Deco Heritage 12. Nicol Street.

I’ve been waiting a couple of years to post this one. When I first photographed this building it looked like this:-

Former Vogue Furniture Shop, Nicol Street, Kirkcaldy.

Prior to having been left more or less to rot for a good few years it had been a Vogue Furniture shop – in fact the good lady and I had bought a chair from it not long after moving in to Son of the Rock Towers. Long before that I believe it had been a garage, with those doors that opened very wide so that the cars could be driven in and out. That was many years before we moved to Kirkcaldy, though.

It’s been undergoing refurbishment recently and has now opened as an Undertaker’s – the business moving from a hundred or so yards away round a corner.

So now it’s much more spruce. This one shows a bit of the railway bridge over Nicol Street. And the clock on the wall.

Revamped formerVogue Furniture Shop, Nicol Street, Kirkcaldy, showing clock.

You’ll notice the flagpole has gone. Quite why an undertaker’s needs a clock I don’t know. Here’s the front view. There’s a high tech steel staircase inside that you can barely see due to the reflections.

Revamped former Vogue Furniture Shop, Nicol Street, Kirkcaldy.

Crosbie and Matthew seem to call themslves Funeral Directors. (At least it’s not morticians.)

Two more photos – one of the dilapidated building, the other of the refurbished one – are on my flickr.

East Fife v Dumbarton – Postponed

SFL Div 2, New Bayview Stadium, 26/12/11 (not.)

I had intended to go to this but high winds intervened.

At least, thanks to the internet, I learned about it before I set out. The last two times we’ve had a game postponed at Methil I’d got to the ground – and listened to the football programmes on the radio on the way; without a peep from them about any postponement.

I might not be able to make the rearranged fixture whenever it takes place. I don’t suppose the crowd will be as large as today’s could have been either. A holiday afternoon in balmy temperatures will always beat a freezing cold winter’s evening; which it almost certainly will be.

It seems ages since I’ve seen a game.

The Higgs Field

I’m not a physicist so I can’t pretend to understand subatomic particles in any but a superficial way but now that some evidence from the Large Hadron Collider has been adduced for the Higgs boson I must confess it seems a bit weird.

Now, all subatomic physics is weird – solid objects are >99.99% empty space, they can behave like waves and like particles simultaneously, they seem to be in instantaneous communcation with each other all over the universe – but the action of the Higgs boson seems to be dependent on a field dragging on certain kinds of particles. Well such fields are fine, I can conceptualise magnetic, electrical and gravitational fields easily enough, but when I first heard it explained to me the Higgs field did seem to me to sound a bit like the 19th century concept of the luminiferous aether, long since discarded in favour of relativity and quantum theory.

If the Higgs is found to exist, fine, there’s another field to add to the list.

If it doesn’t, though, that’s a whole potentially more exciting new ball game.

One More Christmas Song?

Well Tull at Christmas is almost a tradition here, now, isn’t it?

Jethro Tull: Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow

Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie

QPD, 2005, 398p

Shalimar The Clown cover

After the relatively disappointing aberration of Fury this novel sees Rushdie return for his setting to the locales and interests from which he made his name. He treated with Indira Ghandi’s India in Midnight’s Children, Pakistan in Shame and Islam in The Satanic Verses, before returning to (modern) India with The Ground Beneath Her Feet. In Shalimar The Clown it is Kashmir on which he focuses. In this sense the novel’s start is misleading as it begins in California with the daughter of a former ambassador in the days leading up to his assassination by his chauffeur/factotum, the titular Shalimar the Clown.

The book ranges far and wide with many digressions. In a strange resonance with the previous book that I read the ambassador, Maximilian Ophuls, [why Rushdie chose for his character the name of a film director is somewhat obscure; to me at any rate] was a (Jewish) native of Alsace forced to flee, leaving the family printing business behind, after the Germans took over in 1940. He became a leading member of the French Resistance, was involved in US-French relations, emigrating to the US at the end of the war, and was appointed ambassador to India in the 1960s. This novel is not without incident.

The story arc of the book deals, though, with the relationship between Noman Sher Noman and Boonyi Kaul (both of whom, along with Max and his daughter are given sections of the book – I was going to say to themselves, but other characters pop up all the time all over the book, in typically Rushdiean profusion) and the two villages in Kashmir, Pachigam and Shirmal, where they grew up. It seems all of life is here; the picture of a community, a way of life, is detailed. The plot of the novel is almost buried at times – yet this is true of every section. And is the placid, comradely, nature of existence there before the tensions between India and Pakistan led to strife in the region a touch overplayed? Whatever, the growth of Islamic fundamentalist influence, the deterioration in the situation and the horror of communal conflict is well depicted. Neither the Pakistan backed Muslim terrorists nor the Indian Army are spared implicit criticism.

When Ophuls visits the villages Boonyi seizes her chance to escape, only to end up in a different kind of entrapment. Noman meanwhile burns for revenge. He is recruited as a terrorist and suppresses his character while training. In this context the use of his name (no man) as a signifier seemed perhaps a little trite.

A short review can only touch the surface of the myriad elements which go into a novel which, like this, tries to deal with a big issue. There has to be some kind of story on which to hang the subject matter but at times, here, the human dimension is lost in a surfeit of detail. Do we really, for example, need to know the history of the main characters’ parents? This is a trope which Rushdie has employed in previous books. (A similar trait annoyed me in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead where, every time the author switched to a new viewpoint, we were treated to the character’s whole life story to that point, fatally interrupting the novel’s flow.) In Shalimar The Clown moreover, many passages are told rather in the style of a historical narration than a novel. I shall not reveal the true identity of Shalimar, even though it’s not hard to guess.

While I could have done without the ascent into fantasy in the final section, Rushdie’s sympathies are always in the right place and, despite the various horrors the book describes, overall it is, as perhaps all fiction should be, life–enhancing. After Fury, it represents a return to form.

Birthday Greetings

On this day, in Nineteen Hundred and long time ago, I was born.

My birth day greetings to you all. And many happy returns.

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