Groningen Railway Station

Groningen Railway Station is an architectural confection, superficially a bit like St Pancras. A Cathedral to steam.

This is its exterior from the ring road:-

It’s the interior that’s the gem though.

Apparently until quite recently all this lovely brickwork and decoration was covered up by plasterboard or something. When that was stripped off they discovered what they’d been missing. (There’s a couple of pigeons up there somewhere in these two photos.)

This is the cupola in the roof of the entrance hall:-

This is the vaulted roof in a side corridor!

And here is the stained glass in the windows round the entrance hall:-

More stained glass:-

Oscar Pistorius

At time of writing I do not know what sentence Oscar Pistorius has received for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. (My personal view is that only custody for a reasonably lengthy time would be sufficient punishment.)

My main bugbear though is the nature of his defence.

As I understand it he pleaded not guilty on the grounds that he thought he was shooting at a burglar.

So his defence against murder is that he was deliberately shooting someone?

How does that work?

Is it a tenet of South African law that you can freely shoot burglars? That notion strikes me as bizarre.

Groningen Museum (Groninger Museum)

First a word on pronunciation. You might think Groningen is enunciated as Grown-ing-en. It isn’t.

Since the letter g in Dutch (certainly at the start and end of a word) is pronounced more like the Scottish “ch” sound – as in loch – and the final n is not emphasised, the name actually sounds more like HHrrrown-ing-ih. (I assume Groninger – HHrrown-ing-er – is an adjectival form meaning “of Groningen.”)

Anyway the museum is one of those modern architecture buildings that seems to have bits sticking out everywhere. I liked it. It reminded me a bit of the Imperial War Museum North.

It’s prominent from the ring road.

We didn’t have enough time to go in as we were going on a boat trip round the canals that encircle the town centre. You can’t go to The Netherlands and not go on a canal. This is the museum from the boat jetty.

And this is from the canal as the boat comes back to its starting point. That colour scheme could make your eyes go funny.

The Professor of Truth by James Robertson

Hamish Hamilton, 2013, 259 p.

 The Professor of Truth cover

James Robertson has published a series of novels dealing with Scottish themes, The Fanatic conjoins a present day tale with one set in Covenanting times, the testament of Gideon Mack has a modern day Kirk Minister meet the devil, Joseph Knight examines the (in danger of being forgotten) colonial and slave-owning legacy, while And the Land Lay Still deals with the rise of the Scottish independence movement in the late twentieth century. Scottish themes also abound in Robertson’s short fiction, of which I have read these and these.

The Professor of Truth marks a slight digression. While not dealing explicitly with Scottish subject matter – though its narrator is an Englishman living in Scotland – it takes an oblique look at an incident from recent Scottish history.

Alan Tealing is a lecturer in English literature in a university “of no great age located in a part of Scotland that positively groans under the accumulation of history.” Many years before the events of the novel his wife and daughter were killed when, while over the Scottish Borders, a bomb exploded in the aeroplane in which they were travelling to her parental home in the US. During the course of the trial of the men accused of the act, held in a foreign country, Tealing, despite wishing the reverse, becomes convinced of their innocence. His life since has been dominated by his search for the truth of what happened. This brings him into conflict with not only the authorities, but also the families of other bereaved, of his dead wife, and even his own mother, father and sister.

The inspiration for this scenario is not hard to discern but Robertson is at pains to avoid specifics. The place for the supposed “ingestion” of the bomb onto the aircraft is only ever referred to as “the island,” the town the destroyed plane descended on is never named, likewise the country the accused came from. (The incident also occurs around Thanksgiving rather than Christmas and the names of the accused are amended.)

The trigger for Robertson’s story is the appearance at Tealing’s house, one snowy day, of “Ted Nilsen,” a dying man attached to one of the US agencies which dealt with the aftermath of the bombing. Their discussions of the “narrative” of the atrocity, a narrative which evolved over time from a revenge attack by a terrorist cell in Germany funded by a Middle Eastern country which itself had had a plane downed (in an error of confusion) by US action even earlier, to a newer, less important to avoid annoying, Nearer Eastern country, are well laid out.

Tealing’s early life, his meeting with his wife, his learning of the tragedy, his trip to the Borders to try to find out if his wife and child are still alive, his subsequent disillusionment with the trial and lack of engagement with the world – barely ameliorated by a sporadic relationship with a colleague – are described in alternate chapters to his discussions with Nilsen. In his academic life, Tealing has a sense of being fraudulent, as, while he can discourse at length about them, he remembers almost nothing of all the books he has read. This fear of being found out in one’s inadequacies is a very Scottish trait, however. For Tealing, “Too many people write books. Far, far too many people write novels.” In his search for truth he consults a lawyer who tells him a courtroom is not a search for truth, it’s a venue for a fight between two sides. Justice may be done, truth may come out, but that isn’t the point.

All this is superb, but when “Nilsen” leaves the house, the book takes a less cerebral turn. Tealing travels to Australia, in bush fire season, to try to talk with the witness who was essential to the conviction (and who was subsequently well rewarded and given a new identity for his efforts.)

Aside. The details of the fluctuating “narrative” and the payment to the witness will be no shock to those who took a close interest in the real-life model for the bombing.

In Australia Tealing first encounters the witness’s Vietnamese wife – who has a tragic back-history of her own but agrees (perhaps a touch too willingly for suspension of disbelief) to facilitate the necessary meeting. The morphing of the story into one where a bush fire becomes an immediate threat was odd – though it gives Tealing the opportunity he had craved to engage with the witness. These bush fire scenes were reminiscent of something else I’ve read – almost Ballardian in tone.

Tealing and the witness (who now goes under the name of Parr) are never on the same level. Finding out Tealing’s occupation Parr says to him books are, “Like noise on paper,” and their discussion make Tealing remember one of “Nilsen”’s questions to him, “Were you even alive before the bomb went off?” which is an epiphany of sorts.

Pedant’s corner. In a book written by a Scot and published in the UK why is “medieval” spelt the US way?

Hibernian 0-0 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Easter Road Stadium, 11/10/14

For a 0-0 this was quite entertaining. Not that either side made much in the way of chances. Hibs had a few efforts from headers in the first half which all drifted past.

In half an hour Colin Rhyming Slang had won more headers than in all the previous games I’ve seen him in – both in attack and in defence. Moreover he was getting free-kicks for the way Hibs players were challenging him. He had our nearest effort on goal in the first half too, with a looping header.

The main first half talking point was the penalty. I wasn’t sure there had even been a foul, though Andy Graham was booked for it. It certainly wasn’t a clear goal scoring opportunity as there were two Sons defenders in a position to block any shot. The taker didn’t look all that confident but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Danny Rogers did well to get down even if it was fairly poorly struck. The ball squirmed under him and almost crossed the line – but not all of it, maybe five-sixths. That means it wasn’t a goal.

In the second half two Hibs players went down in their box after they clashed heads. A bit up the park Mitch Megginson called for the trainer too. On the resumption neither Hibs player had left the field as you’re supposed to if the trainer has come on – yet Mitch had had to. What was that all about?

Hibs stepped up the pace towards the end but still couldn’t break down our defence/get past Danny Rogers, who was pretty comfortable throughout. Even if he had to tip a few long range shots over the bar his positioning was always good. He was Sons man of the match, no question; but everybody gets full marks.

It was my first look at Kieran MacDonald who came on as sub. He looked confident and attempted a dribble at one point.

Glenn Cornick

I just read today of the death of Glenn Cornick, first bassist for Jethro Tull. This was at the time when the band had a very bluesy sound.

At first I thought of marking his passing with Driving Song, the B-side of the Living in the Past single, but its last line isn’t very appropriate in this context.

Instead I’ve chosen Tull’s first – albeit minor – hit.

Love Story was the first time I’d heard Tull – it wasn’t till a few years later and the Living in the Past compilation LP that I realised there had been two singles before this; their first was credited erroneously as by Jethro Toe!

Jethro Tull: Love Story

Glenn Douglas Barnard Cornick: 23/4/1947 – 28/8/2014. So it goes.

Ian McEwan

There’s a interesting post over on Christopher Priest’s blog about Ian McEwan‘s writing.

Reading between the lines it seems that the acclaim McEwan received at the start of his career is related to the fact that he seemed to be a promise of a wonderful future – and that among not many candidates – and that few have troubled to revise their opinion since.

What is more problematic are the inspirations for his published pieces. Originality may be difficult to achieve and all sorts of things – conscious and unconscious – bleed into any work of fiction but there certainly seem to be question marks over the decisions that go into McEwan’s writing.

Now, I’ve not read much McEwan (and what I have read did not enthuse me much.) Though I have one of his books on the tbr pile – it’s been there ten years or more – I’m now not too minded to alter that fact.

Reelin’ In the Years 94: Have a Whiff on Me

A song with a venerable past and many variations on the title.

Very catchy, but not one of Mungo Jerry’s hits, though. It didn’t get much air time for some reason…..

Mungo Jerry: Have a Whiff on Me

There’s a video here of the band performing Have a Whiff on Me on TV but the picture quality is dreadful.

My Second Jay

While in Surhuisterveen we spotted a house with a viking ship for a weathervane. The house itself has a distinctive style. I like the railings on the balcony.

While manoeuvering to get a better shot of the weathervane than we had originally we saw a jay on the roof. My second jay! It’s perched on the thatch just above the window.

It moved to the edge of the roof and I got this shot.

Here’s a close-up of the weathervane.

What a great thing to have on your roof.

Was by Geoff Ryman

Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks, 2005, 456p. First published 1992.

Was cover

As I posted in my review of the same author’s Air (or Have Not Have) I didn’t much take to Ryman’s earlier (short) works. I remember Colin Greenland at an Eastercon pointing this book out and saying, “You’ll have read this.” I shook my head and said I had a blind spot where Ryman was concerned. He seemed taken aback. When I saw this recently in a second–hand bookshop I thought I might give it a whirl.

Following her mother’s death a young girl called Dorothy, along with her dog, goes to live with her Aunty Em in Kansas. Any similarity to a well-known film (and slightly lesser known book) is entirely intended. Was is suffused with references to them. But this is no mere retread. Ryman takes the opportunity to illuminate life in late nineteenth century Kansas and so contrast his realistic approach to the smoothed out film version.

Dorothy Gael’s life in her new home is harsh – and unremitting. She does not get transported by a tornado to a more colourful world. Moreover, there are enough wicked witches in our own to suffice for anyone – and not only witches. Dorothy’s lack of understanding of her new environment only exacerbates her estrangement. The main focus of the book is on Dorothy’s experiences but there are chapters setting out Judy Garland’s life as viewed by herself as a child, by her make-up artist on The Wizard of Oz and by her mother after her success, with quotes at chapter heads from various sources commenting on the making of the film, the book on which it was based or the history of Kansas. Topping and tailing it all is the tale of a 1980s (HIV positive) actor trying to find traces of Dorothy Gael in historical documents.

Ryman’s imagining of Dorothy’s story has her surviving into the 1950s where, as a troublesome inmate of a home, she is befriended by a young man who goes on to a successful career in counselling (and one of whose later clients is the actor.) Dorothy tells him, “People are the only thing that can make you feel lonely,” and that Was is “a place you can step in and out of. It’s always there.”

Yet Fantasy comes to the book late. For the most part the tone is resolutely realistic and until very near the end any intrusion of the strange can be taken as imagination or illusion.

In what is perhaps a touch of overkill Ryman has The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s author, L Frank Baum, encounter Dorothy while employed as a supply (Ryman uses the term substitute) teacher – but it does precipitate a further deterioration of Dorothy’s young life. After this, “Dorothy needed magic….. She began to have another fantasy… walking backwards through the years… back home… away from Is into the land of Was.”

As a re-examination of, a commentary on, the mythology of Oz, this is a fine work. It’s also a damn good read.

Ryman’s afterword, where he discourses on the relative utilities of realism and fantasy, of the necessary distinction between history and fantasy, is also worth a look.

Pedant’s corner. Apart from the USian in which the whole book was produced, it was page 246 before I came across an irritant – laying instead of lying, which occurred once more. Unusually, I didn’t spot any typos. This may be because the book is a reprint.

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