Archives » 2012 » April

Another Kirkcaldy War Memorial

This is to the men of the Forth Royal Garrison Artillery who fell in the Great War.

Forth Royal Garrison Artillery Memorial, Kirkcaldy

It’s located in Hunter Street, Kirkcaldy, on the wall of the Territorial Army building there. The Terries (and the Artillery) now – along with all the other old Scottish regiments – have been amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I had to poke my camera through the railings to avoid metal bars in the shot.

This is a close-up on the plaque.

Close up of Forth Royal Garrison Artillery Memorial, Kirkcaldy

Stirling Albion 2-1 Dumbarton

SFL Div 2, Forthbank Stadium, 28/4/12.

So for the second year in a row our post-season destiny is settled with a game to spare. And we’re in the play-offs!

This is an outstanding end to a campaign where I’m sure most Sons fans would have been happy with survival in the Division. Very well done to Manager Alan Adamson, the backroom staff and the players.

The game itself wasn’t a classic. There was perhaps too much riding on it with Stirling hoping to avoid relegation. We had the better of the first half with Pat Walker coming close twice early on, Brian Prunty almost converting a Scott Agnew cross-come-shot and Stirling only the one really threatening effort on goal.

Their goal was well taken if a little out of the blue. Stirling hadn’t really looked threatening with too many wrong decisions on the ball and misplaced passes or shots.

Arlan Mptata came on and looked skillful, if perhaps too inclined to elaborate a bit – at this level players sometimes get in the way by accident rather than design – but he glided past his defender with ease a couple of times.

Our equaliser was bizarre. It’s the sort of goal you lose when you’re bottom of the Division, nothing is going for you and you’re doomed to relegation. A cross was headed into the air by Stirling’s no 2, it looped up and the keeper grabbed it as it came down but it had carried over. The lino flagged straight away. The keeper was maybe hampered by the injury he’d sustained earlier in the half but both should have dealt with it better.

After that Stirling threw the kitchen sink at it, playing men up. They had a four on two at one point where the attacker still managed to let one of the two get in a tackle. They also had what looked a penalty from where I was sitting up the other end but the ref blew for a dive and booked the attacker. A let-off I thought, but seeing the footage on Sons Player the ref got it spot on.

Then in stoppage time, at a corner, sub Craig Dargo was left totally unmarked to head the winner. Third in the Division sewn up – our highest finish in the SFL since 2004.

So there’s a nothing game next week against Brechin but the boys need to keep focused.

Then the play-off with Arbroath. Not a team we have an especially good record against.

Halting State by Charles Stross

Orbit, 2010, 376p, plus author interview.

 Halting State cover

Since Christopher Priest’s bemoaning of the Clarke Award shortlist in which Halting State’s sequel Rule 34 is included I bumped this up my reading list.

The usual caveat applies to this review. I did see an early version of the first chapter or so, back in the day. The author is a fellow member of the East Coast Writers’ Group and of Writers’ Bloc.

The setting is a near future independent Republic of Scotland in 2016 or so. A bank in an on-line game is robbed, despite the levels of encryption involved. A panicked employee of Hayek Associates (the Edinburgh company overseeing the game) calls the local police. This leads to the involvement of our first viewpoint character, Detective Sergeant Sue Smith. The other two narrators are Elaine Barnaby, an insurance fraud investigator, and Jack Reed, an IT specialist just sacked from his previous job and on a bender in Amsterdam. An unusual facet of the book is that all three strands are written in the second person – a notoriously difficult authorial trick to pull off. Here the conceit is mostly effective. It only falls down a few times and after a while becomes almost unnoticeable. (Sue Smith’s narrative voice jars, though, at the times when USian creeps in – Defence with an “s,” “out back” for “out the back,” “fit” for “fitted.”) As the story proceeds layers of complication add in, as not all is what it seems, even in the real world.

The dangers of writing SF set in the near future are apparent even only four years after original publication (2008.) The banking-crash-induced recession and our present day austerity are entirely absent and the ubiquity of the location software, of driverless vehicles and so on feels a bit premature. Not to mention that a Scottish Republic is unlikely in the short term. However, if read as an Altered History (which will actually be necessary in five years’ time) these problems disappear.

Such technologies’ vulnerability to hacking/decryption is foregrounded, highlighting our growing dependence on such things. (I would add that they are equally vulnerable to a simple loss of electricity supply to servers etc.)

One of Christopher Priest’s complaints was that Stross uses “Och aye” dialogue. On this ground I acquit him. The book is set in Scotland after all. Not being Scots born it is more than commendable that Stross makes the effort to convey local speech – he still lives in Edinburgh – even if sometimes his ear is not perfectly attuned. (Oh, and the word dreich doesn’t have a “t” at the end.) He even has one of his narrators display the Edinburgher’s antipathy to all things Glaswegian.

The book is clearly aimed at a target audience of games players in addition to SF readers. Small portions consist of the MMORPG which was hacked into; these integrate well with the main thrust, as indeed does game playing. In this respect, pace Mr Priest, outright literary quality might be considered to be a drawback. Horses for courses. Halting State is not deep and not pretending to be, but I enjoyed it. Whether a “light” novel like this deserves an award, though, is surely a matter of subjectivity.

New Review: Fever

Fever cover

My latest review book for Interzone has dropped onto the doormat.

It is Fever by Lauren DeStefano.

I reviewed Ms DeStefano’s previous novel Wither for Interzone a few months ago and published that review here just last week.

Reelin’ In The Years 40: Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3

Ian Dury was another who partly surfed the punk wave, but did so with added humour and wit. The lyric to Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, as well as being a showcase for uncommon rhyming, contrives to be both meaningless and profound at the same time while still carrying a strong undertone of sleaze but the song is perhaps too well known for use here.

Reasons to choose this instead? Dury mentions Wee Willie Harris.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads: Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3

Then there’s What a Waste, with its immortal line, “I could be the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station,” a perfect iambic heptameter – as are several others in the song. Sublime.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads: What A Waste

There’s a pretty muddy sounding video of the band playing What a Waste, live on Revolver – introduced by the incomparable Peter Cook.

More War Memorials in Fife

War Memorial , Coaltown of Wemyss, Fife

On the left is the Coaltown of Wemyss War Memorial which is the one I missed when I photographed the other Wemyss War Memorials back in March.

It’s set into the wall of the Miner’s Institute.

The more striking Methil War Memorial is below. It’s set on a greensward which is not what I normally asssociate with Methil but is a fitting site. It was quite rainy the day of the photograph which gives a bit of a reflection.

A bit further along the coast is the burgh of Elie and Earlsferry, whose War Memorial is set into the external corner of the churchyard at the sharp turn at one end of the High Street and is pictured last. The church tower can be seen in the background.

War Memorial, Methil, Fife

Methil War Memorial

War Memorial, Elie, Fife

Elie and Earlsferry War Memorial

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 22. Honeywell Factory and Industrial Estate, Newhouse

You can’t miss the Honeywell Factory if you drive along the A8 at Newhouse, Lanarkshire.

Honeywell Factory, Newhouse from right

I first saw this and was struck by it as a young teenager. I took the opportunity to photograph it when I was at Cliftonhill a few weeks ago. (It’s not far from Coatbridge.) The modern additions (to the right above) spoil it a bit.

This is a zoom on the central part.

Honeywell Factory Close

I tried motoring round the estate but it was fenced off with signs and stuff. There was a road up the left hand side, though, so I got this:-

Honeywell Factory, Newhouse from left

I really wanted to get closer to the entrance block round the front. The guys at the gatehouse told me you needed permission for photos from the grounds so I didn’t pudh it.

There is, however, such a photo on flickr – taken by someone who likes to have their dog in the picture. I wonder if he/she had permission?

Honeywell factory

There was a minor deco factory building further round the estate, MET Fabrications.

MET Fabrications and Finishing, Newhouse

Strong verticals and horizontals here and typical 30s windows. I like the offset stairwell.

 MET Fabrications and Finishing Detail, Newhouse

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Penguin Red Classics, 2006, 563p. Translated from the Russian, Master i Margarita, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 1997.

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita displays its oddness from the start. A stranger appears to two men in the Moscow district of Patriarch’s Ponds and makes predictions of weird events – including the death of one of the pair. These predictions, of course, come true; and in short order. For the stranger – accompanied by someone who appears as a large black cat – is the Devil. Thereafter we are treated to all sorts of wonderful happenings: instant transition to Yalta, various illusions disguised as fantastic stage tricks, flying witches, a man transformed into a donkey, a party at the Devil’s house.

The Master of the title is a would-be author whose novel about Pontius Pilate has been roundly trashed in the press (despite it not having been published.) Margarita – married to a man she does not love – is the Master’s mistress, resentful of the effect the novel’s reception has had on him and of those who caused it. Extracts from this novel (an account of the torment Pontius Pilate undergoes as he is forced to condemn one Yoshua Ha-Nozri – who avers that all men are good – for comments about Cæsar) are intermittently included in the larger narrative. This is an excellent piece of writing in its own right, especially the descriptions of Yershalaim (Jerusalem.) Other recognisable names here include the priest Kaifa and one Judas of Kiriath. This internal novel (whose manuscript has been burned by the master) is apparently responsible for the Russian phrase “manuscripts don’t burn” – as the Devil tells the master in the main narrative when returning it to him – but its contents intrude into the main body only twice, when Matthew Levi, Ha-Nozri’s sole follower, pops up in modern Moscow and when Pilate is finally reconciled.

Reflecting the Stalinist era in which The Master and Margarita is set there is much talk of possible arrests (some of them for foreign currency violations, though, which could be irregular in any polity) but the apprehension of the police and the necessity for secrecy are never far away.

Any work of fiction is an attempt to describe circumstances to which the reader has no other access but whether the full flavour of a novel such as The Master and Margarita is ever captured by any translation is problematic. The cultural assumptions under which it was written are always different to those of the reader. In the end, for me, the characters lacked sufficient agency as the fantastical elements of the book overpowered all the others. As a metaphor for lack of political and judicial accountability, though, violation of cause and effect is fair enough.

Art Deco Oxford (ii)

We strolled along the road (St Aldate’s?) which led to Christ Church College and I pointed out the Cornish Pasty Company’s outlet. Pasties being in the news the good lady said, “Do you fancy a pasty, then?” I assented and we bought pasties for the first time since we were in Cornwall nearly 20 years ago. She had a pork and apple and I chose lamb with mint. Very nice they were too. A bit pricey mind. I wouldn’t want one for lunch every day.

Here’s another Art Deco building I found.

O'Neills, Oxford, Oxfordshire

Then there was this blocky Odeon Cinema.

Odeon, Oxford, Oxfordshire 1

Its brick built nature reminded me of the former Embassy Cinema in Braintree.

The window above the entrance is striking. The frieze above that seems to have lost its surrounding (and Fanatical its F.)

Odeon, Oxford, Oxfordshire 2

Down the lane past the entrance was a square with a market. In one corner was the deco-ish Old Fire Station.

Old Fire Station, Oxford, Oxfordshire

Art Deco Oxford (i)

I hadn’t researched Oxford much before going there. I assumed it would be a bit like Cambridge with some Art Deco in the town centre but I wasn’t expecting to see something stunning like this in amongst all the mediæval stuff in the University part of town.

New Bodleian Library, Oxford, Oxfordshire

It was obviously being gutted/refurbished – the insides were all gone and turned into a building site; as witnessed by the crane. It looked even better from the corner!

Full View of New Bodleian Library, Oxford, Oxfordshire

I have since discovered it’s the New Bodleian Library.

More conventional deco was to be found in the shopping areas.

This is the New Theatre.

New Theatre, Oxford, Oxfordshire 1

The facade extends along the street.

New Theatre, Oxford, Oxfordshire 2

There was this set of shops

Giraffe and other shops, Oxford, Oxfordshire

I wasn’t quite sure whether the Job Centre was deco or not. It has a nice doorway whatever.

Job Centre Doorway, Oxford, Oxfordshire

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