Archives » 2010 » August


On the way back up from Alnwick we stopped at Berwick to get something to eat. We’d have settled for a chippy but there wasn’t one on the main street or the ones leading off it.

On the way in to the town I had spotted this Art Deco garage but I took the photo from the opposite side of the River Tweed. On the way out I had to recross the river first and discovered it was built in 1937.

The old bridge over the Tweed has nice arches. There were lots of swans on the river.

I took this of the newer road bridge, and the railway bridge behind it, from the old one.

The town itself was down at heel and shabby looking even allowing for the fact that it was latish (after closing time.) This must surely once have been a Woolworths.


This was another building that looks a bit deco.

East Fife 6-0 Dumbarton

League goals against predictor:- 210

SFL Div 2, New Bayview, 28/8/10

League goals for predictor:- 18.

Dreadful. Simply dreadful.

The back four looked like they hadn’t met, the midfield didn’t track runners, the forwards failed to link and had no service. And the goalkeeper fails to inspire.

Apart from that everything was fine.

At least the under 19s can win a game.

We could have done with Chissie out there today. At least he makes some effort. Too many times an East Fife player walked past one of ours as if he wasn’t there.

We had three efforts on goal – all in the last three minutes when it was totally pointless.

During the game I was trying to think if this was the worst Dumbarton team I had ever seen. If it wasn’t then I’ve blanked the memory out.

Jim Chapman’s decisions about retaining (or otherwise) players at the start of the close season are coming home to roost.

Smith when he came on had a few nice touches. Gilhaney flattered to deceive, holding on to the ball far too long when he ought to have passed or crossed. Wilson didn’t do much wrong but was substituted at half time. Ditto McStay. But no-one did much right.

Grindlay is a worse goalkeeper now than he was in his previous stay with us. At the first goal he came for the cross and stopped, fell down, and so provoked a stramash in which none of our defenders thought to hack the ball away. Grindlay was still on the floor when the ball was booted in. He spilled a few straight-forward saves as well. The sooner Michael White is made number one the better.

On second thought let’s just start looking forward to a promotion campaign next season.

In Division 3.

Edited to add:- The only good thing about the game was that I finally met Simon Barrow of the blog Only Just Offside (see also my side bar.)


My review of Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief for Interzone must have been acceptable as I see Jim Steel has it down for what looks like lead review in the Sep-Oct issue.

They’ve also sent me another book for review. This Is Kurt Vonnegut’s Look At The Birdie which is a collection of previously unpublished fiction.

Ever since I read his masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five he’s been one of my favourite writers.

Sadly Vonnegut died in 2007. So it goes.

I must say that the formulation of previously unpublished works issued posthumously doesn’t usually bode well.

I hope this book doesn’t disappoint.

Friday On My Mind 21: Dead End Street

This is a song from the far-from-lighhearted-lyrics-set-against-jaunty-tune genre that The Beautiful South mined so successfully much later. Did Ray Davies invent this as well as heavy metal and prog rock?

The BBC apparently took exception to this promotional film at the time as it was “in bad taste.” (You can see why I didn’t want to post it in the week Pete Quaife died.)

The Kinks: Dead End Street


You may have noticed – see my sidebar – I am reading Harry Turtledove’s Days Of Infamy at the moment.

When I started reading it I showed the book’s cover to the good lady and she said instantly, “They’ve all got it in for me.” (She’s obviously lived with me too long.)

Yet it was also a natural reaction since, while for USians the word has historical resonances similar to those that Chamberlain’s, “I have to tell you no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany,” speech has for Britons, for most British people – of my generation anyway – “infamy” conjures up nothing so much as Kenneth Williams playing Julius Caesar in the film Carry On Cleo.

The very first time I watched the film, as soon as Williams uttered the first “Infamy!” I started laughing: because I knew what was coming. The phrase, “got it in for me,” was inevitable – especially if you were a devotee of Up Pompeii and other Talbot Rothwell creations. Indeed had “got it in for me” not been forthcoming it would have been something of an anti-climax.

The humour arises in a similar way to the custard pie – which I read once was funny purely since it was expected, though I’m not much into slapstick myself.

I’m more an aficionado of the pun, even the excruciating one.

Especially the excruciating one (before everyone who knows me jumps in with the comment.)

Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

Gollancz, 2009. 296p

Lavinia is a historical novel set in mythical antiquity, Bronze Age Italy in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Le Guin has taken a (very) minor character from Virgil’s epic The Aeneid – in the poem Aeneas’s last wife Lavinia has no line of dialogue whatsoever – and given her voice. And a powerful and seemingly authentic voice too. The landscape, homes, religion, politicking, people and battles are all convincingly portrayed. When reading this you feel as if you are there, immersed in prehistory. Even the scenes in the place of oracles where Lavinia talks to the apparition she knows only as the poet – she could merely be dreaming of course – have the stamp of authority. At any rate Lavinia believes in him, and his revelations are borne out by events. There is, too, enough of a body count – foretold by the poet in a long, disturbing list – to satisfy the bloodthirsty.

For Lavinia starts a war. Not by allowing herself to be taken by men, she says (in a beautifully understated inference to the much more famous Helen) but instead by choosing one for herself. I quibble slightly at who actually chooses Aeneas for Lavinia; she is swayed not only by the lack of suitability of the other candidates for her hand but also by her conversations with the poet. Otherwise she is a strong decisive character, who stands up to both her father, the King Latinus, and mother, Amata, and later to Ascanius, Aeneas’s son by his previous marriage.

Given the book’s context the perennial follies of men are an unsurprising theme of Lavinia, the character and the novel.

Despite its setting the book was on the short list for the BSFA Award for best novel of 2009, which on the face of it is baffling, even if Le Guin is a stalwart of the genres of SF and fantasy. I suppose its proposers could argue that since in the book Lavinia speaks with the ghost of a poet not yet born in her time there is an element of fantasy present. (Le Guin uses the spelling Vergil. I know his Latin name was Vergilius but in my youth the poem was always known as Virgil’s Aeneid.) True too, the past is always a different country. Fictionally it takes as much imagination to invest it with verisimilitude as it does to describe an as yet unrealised (SF) future. Except – sometimes – you can research the past.

This is an admirably realised and executed novel, though, whichever genre you wish to pigeon-hole it with.

Or you could say, as I do, that it is simply an excellent novel, full stop.


After Corbridge we headed back up the East coast and took a look in at Alnwick.

The first thing that strikes you on the way in from the south is a huge memorial surmounted by a lion with a long straight tail. Just below, at the road junction, is the war memorial.

A crop showing the war memorial is left. I much prefer these dignified ones to those with angels all over them. Once again many more names from The Great War than from WW2.

The photo (right) is of the tower on the hill crest.

This was apparently erected by grateful tenants after The Duke of Northumberland reduced their rents.

That, on seeing how much they could afford by way of a monument to him, he immediately put up the rents again is seemingly only a rumour. We walked up to it and it is undeniably impressive. Here’s the inscription:-

The base also has lions; at its four corners.

The two memorials are across the road from what used to be Alnwick railway station. The building now houses what claims to be “Britain’s biggest second hand bookshop” Barter Books.

It’s packed with books, to be sure.

In keeping with its setting in the old station there are train sets running around above your head in the middle part of the shop. You can see the “Keep Calm And Carry On” poster from World War 2 in the next photo. I think this is the shop where it was rediscovered.

Had it claimed to be Britain’s most expensive second hand bookshop I’d have been more sure of its right to the title. Old 1960s paperbacks were priced well over £2 and I didn’t see any hardbacks below £9.60. They did have a computerised “search the stock” service if you were looking for a particular book though.

There’s a lovely old entrance arch to the main part of the town just like in York etc.

And what do you know? Just behind where I took the above photo lies an Art Deco cinema.

It’s complete with glass bricks! (See close up of the nicely rounded entranceway: right.)

The cinema also doubles as a theatre. The forthcoming productions were advertised on the windows further along past the entrance.

The bulbous bit halfway along the building – just where the van is parked in the photo – has a nice deco frieze running along it.

British SF Masterworks?

Over on his blog a week or so ago Ian Sales has with some help come up with a list of fifty British SF Masterworks.

The list is below. It has only one book (or series) per author and a “completely arbitrary cut off date of 1995” I suppose on the grounds that anything younger can not yet be called a masterwork.

It’s an interesting set of choices.

The ones in bold I have read.

1 Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
2 The War of the Worlds, HG Wells (1897)
3 Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon (1930)
4 Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)
5 Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell (1949)
6 The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)
7 The Death of Grass, John Christopher (1956)

8 No Man Friday, Rex Gordon (1956)
9 On The Beach, Nevil Shute (1957)
10 A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
11 The Drowned World, JG Ballard (1962)
12 Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

13 A Man of Double Deed, Leonard Daventry (1965)
14 The Time Before This, Nicholas Monsarrat (1966)
15 A Far Sunset, Edmund Cooper (1967)
16 The Revolt of Aphrodite [Tunc and Nunquam ], Lawrence Durrell (1968 – 1970)
17 Pavane, Keith Roberts (1968)
18 Stand On Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968)
19 Behold The Man, Michael Moorcock (1969)
20 Ninety-Eight Point Four, Christopher Hodder-Williams (1969)

21 Junk Day, Arthur Sellings (1970)
22 The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, DG Compton (1973)
23 Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C Clarke (1973)
24 Collision with Chronos, Barrington Bayley (1973)
25 Inverted World, Christopher Priest (1974)
26 The Centauri Device, M John Harrison (1974)

27 The Memoirs of a Survivor, Doris Lessing (1974)
28 Hello Summer, Goodbye, Michael G Coney (1975)
29 Orbitsville [Orbitsville, Orbitsville Departure, Orbitsville Judgement], Bob Shaw (1975 – 1990)
30 The Alteration, Kingsley Amis (1976)
31 The White Bird of Kinship [The Road to Corlay, A Dream of Kinship, A Tapestry of Time], Richard Cowper (1978 – 1982)
32 SS-GB, Len Deighton (1978)
33 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)

34 The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
35 Helliconia, Brian W Aldiss (1982 – 1985)
35 Orthe, Mary Gentle (1983 – 1987)
36 Chekhov’s Journey, Ian Watson (1983)

37 A Maggot, John Fowles (1985)
38 Queen of the States, Josephine Saxton (1986)
39 Wraeththu Chronicles [The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire], Storm Constantine (1987 – 1989)
40 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
41 The Empire of Fear, Brian Stableford (1988)
42 Desolation Road, Ian McDonald (1988)
43 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)

44 Wulfsyarn, Phillip Mann (1990)
47 Use of Weapons, Iain M Banks (1990)
48 Vurt, Jeff Noon (1993)

49 Ammonite, Nicola Griffith (1993)
50 The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter (1995)

I’m sure I haven’t read Frankenstein in the original. I have however read Brian Aldiss’s Frankenstein Unbound but of course he’s in the list for the Helliconia trilogy.

I read Doris Lessing’s Shikasta soon after publication and could not get to grips with it at all. It seemed to me like the classic case of a mainstream writer attempting SF and not bringing it off. Among other things it was too didactic, too preachy, totally unengaging. As a consequence I did not persevere with her SF output; nor indeed the remainder of her oeuvre.

I’m not sure of A Man of Double Deed at no 13 nor A Far Sunset (15). I may have read these out of the library when I was a young thing.

One point of interest. The only two Scottish writers in the list seem to be Naomi Mitchison, for a book published in 1962, and Iain M Banks, 1990. (See my post on the dearth of Scottish SF till extremely recently.) Mitchison was of course more renowned for her non-SF.

Watching The Electrons

You’ve all heard of electrons I assume. Particles within atoms that, among other things, determine the sorts of chemical reactions those atoms can take part in but more importantly without which much of modern life – and the mysteries of the world wide web and internet through which you are reading this missive – could not take place.

They are usually represented as moving in circles around an atom’s nucleus (see some of the pictures here.)

They don’t. The circles are just an easy way to picture how far away from a nucleus they are and how much energy they have.

More accurately they occupy certain volumes of space (orbitals) around the nucleus. Which is to say that the probability of their being in that volume is more than 99%.

This is an outcome of quantum mechanical calculations on electrons and their properties.

One of the ramifications of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle was that you could never know simultaneously both the position and velocity of an electron. If you knew one’s speed you did not know its position, if you determined its position you couldn’t know its speed.

One of my lecturers when I was a student thought that this was unlikely and called the Uncertainty Principle, “the Phlogiston Theory of the Twentieth Century.”

Well, it seems that physicists are now able to watch electrons moving in real time.*

Though the details are quite dense (and probably incomprehesible to anyone without a background in Chemistry or Physics) it’s a measure of how sad I am that I found this information irrationally exciting. It deals more with movement of electrons between orbitals of different energy than of electrons within their orbitals. It doesn’t violate the Uncertainty Principle.

* Thanks to Guthrie at his blog for bringing this to my attention.

Ayr United 1-0 Dumbarton

League goals against predictor:- 140

SFL Div 2, Somerset Park, 21/8/10

Ho-hum. Not even a penalty goal today.

We did score, though. But it was for Ayr, not ourselves.

It was the only one we lost so I lowered the predictor a touch.

Looks like we might have had a left back in the side at last.

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