Archives » 2010 » November

End Of The Beginning by Harry Turtledove

ROC, 2005. 519p

A Churchill reference for the title this time rather than a Roosevelt one but it remains the same Turtledove.

The inhabitants of Hawaii are still coming to terms with the Japanese occupation which occurred in Days Of Infamy. Food is scarce, much of Hawaii’s land is now given over to growing rice, but for the US POWs it is less than scarce; plus they are being worked to death. Despite the harassment by submarine of the supply shipping from their home islands – at one point Turtledove alludes to the US breaking of Japanese codes which makes this easier – the Japanese forces are confident of holding off any further US attempts to retake the islands. On all sides, Japanese, native Hawaiians and US citizens alike, there is a sense of marking time – or holding on – until the inevitable renewed US attack. Meanwhile in the US there is a steely determination to regain the islands.

The lack of jeopardy to the characters which seemed to pervade Days Of Infamy is more than made up for here. In retrospect that may have been because the former book was an exercise in setting up this one, characters needed to be in place. End Of The Beginning explores the earlier book’s ramifications, one of which is that the fate you always felt Turtledove had in store for Jane Armitage (which was not so much foreshadowed as put up in lights) indeed comes to pass.

The US onslaught, when it comes, is of course overwhelming. (Admiral Yamamoto’s knowledge – and fear – of US industrial might and Japan’s relative lack of preparedness to withstand it is discussed more than once.)

The naval battle scenes are reasonably convincing and seem to pass quickly. The treatment of the Japanese resistance on Oahu feels a bit perfunctory, though. We hear about it but don’t witness much of it.

Turtledove is undoubtedly correct in not ignoring the Japanese enslavement of “comfort women.” Also reflecting the nineteen forties there is an element of misogyny – and maybe racism too – in the post-liberation treatment of the woman of Chinese origin who kept house in their brothel in Wahiawa. While two males suspected of being guilty of collaboration escape relatively freely, she does not.

Overall the book is curiously readable. Whether it was more familiarity with the characters and scenario or due to more incident it seemed to flow more freely than Days Of Infamy. But both books are marshmallow reading, very little thought is required.

Whose Side Are You On, Ref?

No ref, no game. (Bob Marley should have written that.)

It’s a farce isn’t it? The SFL brought to a standstill because of a dispute in which it is not involved. (As far as I’m aware no SFL club has complained of any referee bias against them – or even of incompetence.)

Yet the SPL, one of whose members it is which is causing all the fuss, has its games go ahead?

Okay our game might have been off anyway due to the weather but the prime reason is the referee’s strike.

I see from this report that the Polish refs whom the SFA was going to bring in have also called off. Pity; I was wondering what the Polish for, “Who’s the mason in the black?” is.

I saw Mark McGhee on BBC Scotland on Thursday night saying that it was a dangerous precedent, what if the foreign refs turn out to be better than ours.

I don’t think Scottish refs are perfect but I also don’t think they are biased or corrupt, merely mistaken at times – as are all refs.

So what, Mark, if the foreign refs are worse?

That might actually tell us something.

It would be marvellously ironic if today Celtic were on the wrong end of an important decision. But if they are on the right end of one it proves nothing – beyond the possibility that the ref just doesn’t fancy an earful from Neil Lennon, or snide blustering from a certain Dr John Reid.

Let me be clear. All clubs suffer from poor decisions at times. Yet it is simply ridiculous for either of the Old Firm to say they do not benefit in the majority of cases in Scotland.

A similar situation occurs for all big clubs everywhere. (Manchester United rarely have penalty awards given against them at Old Trafford. I have no doubt Real Madrid benefit from this effect in Spain.) In Europe it is the Old Firm who are small beer and suffer accordingly.

As things stand it seems Celtic’s management now have what they wanted; an atmosphere in which decisions against Celtic cannot be made for fear of the consequences.

The SFA has not been strong in this. Member clubs should be told only to question decisions via the SFA and not the media. Persistent complaints, such as those we have seen, should engender a points deduction.

Club managers should be banned from the touchline for the remainder of the season (or half the next if in March, April or May) for any nose-to-nose confrontations with match officials. Players mobbing the ref should mean a club fine.

I’m not holding my breath for any of that to happen to either of the Old Firm.

Friday On My Mind 34: Last Train To Clarksville

Not more Monkees, I hear you cry.

Yet in many ways this one track sums up the music of the 1960s. A pitch perfect pop song which is at one and the same time catchy yet profound, capable of being taken on its own surface terms as light and inoffensive but hinting at the darkness underpinning the decade.

A protest song by The Monkees? About the Vietnam War?

It may seem unlikely (it may not even have dawned on the band members themselves and certainly not on their handlers I’d have thought) but the song’s composers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were undoubtedly alive to its subversive nature.

Apparently it wasn’t intended specifically as a protest song as such (but it is amenable to that interpretation.) For there are several Clarksvilles in the US, all near military bases, though the name itself was chosen for its euphony.

Consider verse 2.
“Cause I’m leaving in the morning and I must see you again,
We’ll have one more night together till the morning brings my train
And I must go. Oh no, no, no. Oh no, no, no.
And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

That recurring last line is rendered more poignant by that context.

The Monkees: Last Train To Clarksville

Rangers 0-1 Manchester United

Champions League,* Ibrox Stadium, 24/11/10

Paint could have watched this game dry.

What a (lack of) advert for the football tournament proclaimed to be the world’s best. Even better than the World Cup, forsooth.

I don’t normally bother with it, in televised club football I prefer Europa League – UEFA Cup as was – matches; but this was a Scotland-England contest. Or rather it was a seven-or-eight-plodding-Scots-plus-some-equally-plodding-mercenaries – bunch of overhighly-paid-mercenaries-made-to-look-pedestrian contest.

I’ve seen football that was more creative in the Scottish Third Division.

* So-called.

Tamara Drewe

We don’t go to the flicks much, especially since the last local outlet dedicated to cinema was closed and it required a trip to Dunfermline to ogle the silver screen but the good lady fancied seeing this so we hied ourselves off to the local part time not-flea pit otherwise known as the Adam Smith Theatre.

Tamara Drewe started out as a serialised graphic novel written by Posy Simmonds which appeared weekly in the Guardian a good few years back now. As far as I can remember that original, the film closely follows its plot.

The story concerns the disruption to the lives of the succesful author Nicholas Hardiment and his much more competent and business-like wife, who together run a writers’ retreat in Devon, plus their handyman Andy when successful journalist and former village resident Tamara Drewe returns – complete with nose job – to her earlier home in the farm next door.

The goings on are witnessed and affected by a pair of local schoolgirls who hang about the local bus shelter – the buses have long since been withdrawn – and moon over pop stars’ pictures in magazines.

Their boredom is transformed when Tamara takes up with – and brings to live in the village – the very drummer whom one of them finds so attractive.

There were excellent performances all round, with occasional cartoon moments from Dominic Cooper as the drummer, but especially good ones from the two youngsters and from Tamsin Greig as the much put upon wife of Hardiment.

The film starts off comedically – there are plenty laugh out loud moments – but becomes darker as the plot unfolds. The conventions of fiction are followed to the extent that the “baddy” gets his come-uppance.

The film has a 15 certificate and that obviously means you can include people swearing and even show them having sex; as long as there’s no full frontal nudity.

The film isn’t profound, not saying much that hasn’t been said before, but it is entertaining.

The Wee Red Gig

I mentioned before, Writers’ Bloc’s attempt to broaden the spoken word scene in Edinburgh. Well, it’s tomorrow (24th November.) Go along and enjoy.

WRITERS’ BLOC presents The Wee Red Gig

WHAT: Live readings of original fiction

WHO: Writers’ Bloc spoken-word performance group and special guests

WHERE: The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh Art College, Lauriston Place, Edinburgh EH3 9DF

WHEN: 8.00 p.m., Wednesday 24 November 2010

HOW MUCH: £3/£2 concession

The Wee Red Gig on Wednesday 24th November at the Wee Red Bar will showcase a number of new voices, all delivering their own material to an enthusiastic audience.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Sceptre, 2004. 529p

Cloud Atlas has an unusual structure consisting of six separate narratives all in different styles – journal, epistolary, thriller, realist (for want of a better term,) interrogation transcript and memoir, wrapped round each other in a way which the author compares at one point to a matrioshka (what in my youth was called a Russian) doll and another as a successive series of interrupted musical phrases which are recapitulated and developed – in order – later. The second is a more accurate comparison as the tales are not truly enveloped one within the other. I would rather say they are ensleeved. (Or even enleaved: as in a book.)

While each section is perfectly fine on its own the connections Mitchell makes between them can be a touch tenuous; even a little forced. The breaks between the sections sometimes, disconcertingly at first, occur in mid-sentence; which admittedly is a brave move.

In order the stories concern a nineteenth century American heading back across the Pacific to the Californian gold rush; a post-Great War English musician acting as an amanuensis to a better known ex-patriate composer; a 1970s female reporter getting herself in too deep in a conspiracy involving a nuclear power company; a small time (contemporary?) English publisher, who is fleeing from gangster-like creditors, being trapped in a care home for the elderly; a fabricant (cloned) slave in a Future Korea who is “transcended” for revolutionary purposes; and an apologia pro vita sua from a man in an even further future post-lapsarian Hawaii.

The latter two segments employ distorted language. The Korean set one has “x” where we have “ex” (for example “xample” and “inxistent”) and stripped down spelling (“brite”) while the Hawaiian section is written in a more extremely evolved language – reminiscent of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker – which is strange to read at first but soon becomes familiar. The inclusion of these two narratives allows the novel as a whole to be considered Science Fiction, and categorised by me as such, though Mitchell may disclaim the description.

Each of the six sections is totally self-consistent and does not depend on any of the others for its individual resolution and each is as engaging as the next. Mitchell’s ability to portray character and deliver plot is unquestionable.

The over-arching structure could be viewed as an excuse to cobble together six novellas which might have been unremarkable if kept separate; but that would be a little harsh. While it certainly demonstrates Mitchell’s mastery of various writing styles, whether it constitutes a coherent whole is another matter.

Cloud Atlas is an impressive enterprise, though, whichever way you consider it. A true novel if you will, worth anyone’s reading time.

Dumbarton 1-2 Morton

Scottish Cup, Round 3. The Rock, 20/11/10

Being beaten by Morton in a cup is no novelty. However, we usually take them to penalties or at least extra time. But then we usually don’t score against them so that’s a welcome departure.

No chance of a clean sheet: Grindlay was playing.

This may be the first time this season we’ve gone ahead in a game and lost it. We’ve certainly never gone behind in a game and gone on to win it.

Alloa at home next up. They had a good win yesterday. It will be hard.

Jim Cruickshank

Former Queen’s Park, Hearts, Scotland and, briefly, Dumbarton goalkeeper Jim Cruickshank has died.

He was probably the best goalkeeper Hearts have ever had and ought to have played more times for Scotland than he did.

I can’t remember at all well the 1977-78 season during which he played for the Sons but I suspect I did see him between the sticks for us. He was past his prime by then I suppose, but had fallen out with Hearts for some reason; a rift which apparently was never healed – which is sad as he is definitely a Hearts (and Scottish) legend.

Jim Cruickshank: 13/04/1941-18/11/2010. So it goes.

Art Deco Glassware

Last Saturday the good lady and I went to the B2B Edinburgh Antiques and Collectors Fair held in the Royal Highland Centre Ingliston (thought I’d give them the full puff.)

Occasionally we had to dodge the cameras filming BBC 1’s Bargain Hunt.

One of the stalls had a lot of deco stuff including some unusual glass cabinets.

The nearer one is tall. It had empty flower pots in it suggesting that it might be intended as a terrarium. (Spot the Bargain Hunt crew’s microphone boom in the photo’s background.)

The further pair were the image of each other and very deco, having curved edges at one end and an off centre towered part with mirrored sides.

These had gravel in the bottom so may be intended to be terraria as well. They’re a bit large for anywhere but a greenhouse I’d have thought. Our greenhouse is well stocked and we wouldn’t have room elsewhere for anything like them.

I have to say I didn’t see much else to pique my interest so didn’t buy anything all day. (The good lady did, though.)

The next such Fair at Ingliston is in February (12th and 13th.)

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