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Goodbye 2012

I don’t usually do end of year round-ups – mostly because most folk write theirs before Christmas and that offends my sensibilities. The year ends on 31st Dec, not before.
Whatever, I looked through all the fiction books I read this year and found twelve that stood out. In order of reading they were:-

PfITZ by Andrew Crumey
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown
the Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
New Model Army by Adam Roberts
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
D’Alembert’s Principle by Andrew Crumey

That’s four by women and eight by men, which is a pretty high strike rate for the distaff side compared to my fiction reading as a whole, 12:45 – is that shockingly low or a reflection of publishing? Four were SF, eight not; though that ratio alters if you count the fantastical – the Lord, the Obreht, the Bulgakov, and the Crumeys which feature stories from a city made up within one of the two. Only the Robertson and the Pamuk lie wholly within the realm of the naturalistic.

I don’t propose to rank the twelve in any way.

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M Banks

Orbit, 2012, 519p.

The Gzilt are of an age with the Culture, were part of the negotiations involved with its founding but declined to join and went their own way. Now they are set to Sublime from the Real – to become Enfolded into a disembodied sort of afterlife from which it is possible to return but few (except an odd AI) do. Gzilt citizens carry, not a watch, but a time-to, counting down the days to this event. Each chapter of The Hydrogen Sonata is subheaded by a letter S followed by a minus sign and number indicating the time left to the Subliming.

The Gzilt religion is based on The Book of Truth, left behind by a previous civilization, the Zihdren, who themselves Sublimed before the Gzilt even made it into space. This was reckoned to be the only holy book to be demonstrably true as it had successfully predicted events in the Gzilt’s development. The (extremely thin) plot of The Hydrogen Sonata revolves around doubts as to the Book’s genuineness and the knowledge of it that an extremely long-lived and reclusive individual may or may not have. This is carried out against a backdrop of petty but lethal squabbling over the material legacy the Gzilt will leave and immature political manœuvring.

Despite the high body count and mayhem Banks is mostly playing this for laughs, as is evidenced by the verbal exchanges between the Culture ships.

I was predisposed to disliking this novel from page one when gases appeared spelled as “gasses” (this also occurred twice more in the following two pages.) Later there was a “miniscule,” a “euthenise”) and instead of piggybacks (or pick-a-backs) “pickup-backs.”
I did read on, as Banks does have a facility for telling story. But this is wispy stuff.

And The Hydrogen Sonata of the title?

It’s a piece of music written for “an instrument yet to be invented” – which of course by the time of the book’s setting has been – the Antagonistic Undecagonstring; a device which not only requires its player to have four arms but also to sit inside it. The word undecagonstring is a spectacularly ugly construction. Since the device is also of a certain shape I suppose eleven-string – as in six-string, twelve-string – would be too limited, though.

Falkirk 3-4 Dumbarton

SFL Div 1, Falkirk Stadium, 29/12/12.

Well, I wasn’t at the game but this is noteworthy. It’s only our second league win all season. It seems to have been much the same line-up as usual as well.

I couldn’t see us getting anything from this. After all, they had just come off beating (away) the team second from top and we had played only one game in the five weeks since losing comprehensively to that same team.

I heard the half-time score on the radio and wondered if we’d scored first but we had actually equalised in first-half stoppage time (unlike us, I know.)

When I next checked (on Sportscene) were 3-1 up and then suddenly 4-1. Still time for Falkirk to score three I thought. Then James Creaney’s sending-off came up and I watched the inevitable unfold. At 3-4 I couldn’t keep the channel on and switched to Flog It! for relief. I came back five minutes later and it was still 3-4 with the game unfinished. I hastily switched over again.

But all was well in the end.

We’ll need to curb our habit of losing three a game, though.

Perhaps I should stay away from games more often.

Unfinished Business

Not only was Margaret Thatcher less than forthright in her testimony to the Franks committee, it now seems she intended to dismantle the welfare state. She apparently claims in her memoirs that she was only horrified at the proposal by the thought it might be leaked, but it was all of a piece with her known predilections.

Well, contrary to her dictum, I think that there is such a thing as society. I only wish it were more cohesive.

The country I knew and grew up in was devastated by her policies. The United Kingdom is a harsher, less compassionate, more squalid place as a result.

Her heirs and successors in the present Government are well on the way to completing the demolition project.

You’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Falklands Invasion Shock

I’ve been hearing all day on the news about Margaret Thatcher’s “shock” on being told of the intelligence about the imminent Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

Why is this being presented/spun as being to her credit? She is said not to have believed that the Argentines would invade. Yet this is despite the fact that she must have had advisers who had warned her of the possibility.

It was only some months after the war, during the Franks inquiry, that she said the things being quoted. She certainly professes shock. But then she had to. She also told the inquiry that immediately after the invasion no-one knew whether Britain could retake the islands. “We did not know – we did not know,” she said.

May I provide a translation? “I’m afraid for my job here. If I don’t wriggle out of this I’ll have to resign.”

Never forget that it was her Government’s decision, for reasons of economy, to withdraw prematurely the Antarctic Survey ship HMS Endurance that sent the signal to the Argentines that Britain was no longer interested in its southern domains and gave them cause to believe the Falklands were theirs for the taking (and keeping.)

Many people at the time (some, like the good lady, still to this day) saw this as Thatcher engineering the conflict. If she is innocent of this charge and that act was simple incompetence then she was – and is – still culpable. I well remember David Owen, Foreign Secretary in the previous Labour Government, saying in a television interview that they had at one time despatched a nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic to warn the Argentines off – a fact which must have been in the minds of Civil Servants in Thatcher’s time.

I also remember Mrs Thatcher quoting the Franks Report in her contribution to the Parliamentary debate following its publication that, “No-one could have foreseen that the Argentines would attack at that time and on that day.”

As I said at the time to whoever would listen: I cannot foresee the exact time and day that it will rain again; but I do know that it will.

Reelin' In The Years 62: On Ilkla Moor Baht'at

I first heard this parody on the radio. Along with my elder brother I used to listen regularly (every week without fail) to the comedy programme I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (1964-1973) which along with Bill Oddie, the purveyor of this ditty, featured John Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall and David Hatch. I can still utter quotes from it even today. (Once heard, who could ever forget the strains of the Angus Prune Tune?)

Episodes from the series can be found on the BBC’s Radio 4 Extra pages. Relistening, it is now obvious from where I got my love of outrageous puns.

The track is a reimagining of a traditional Yorkshire song about the dangers of wandering on Ilkley Moor without a hat utilising the style Joe Cocker employed in With a Little Help From My Friends. It was eventually released as a single in 1970 but I’m sure must have been in a late 60s episode of the radio show. As I remember it the radio version carried more bite, though.

Bill Oddie:- On Ilkla Moor Baht’at

The B-side was another parody.

Bill Oddie:- Harry Krishna

Art Deco Postcards Plus

One of the presents I received (from my eldest son, for my birthday, not Christmas) was this:-

240 pages crammed full of reproductions of Art Deco postcards of World’s Fairs/Expositions, Public Structures, Places to stay/live, Restaurants/cafés, Cinemas/entertainment buildings, Business/industrial premises, Travel/transport. Plus eight push-out and postable postcards that I shall not be pushing out.

One of my favourite buildings from it is Ocean Terminal Southampton, sadly demolished in 1985, which I had seen portrayed in a jigsaw once. Below is a slightly different view from the one in the book.

Ocean Terminal, Southampton, Hampshire

I was surprised by the fact that the two German buildings featured and the one from Kharkov in Ukraine are survivors. I had thought they might have been blown to kingdom come in World War 2.

Unilever House Memory Book

Also given me (by the good lady) was the book shown right:-

Unilever House Memory Book.

This contains images from the – at time of publishing – 72 year long life of the Art Deco Unilever House, Blackfriars, London.

Thunderbirds Are Gone

So today it is Gerry Anderson who has died.

Though he had produced television programmes earlier I was first aware of his work with Fireball XL5 – mainly due to the theme tune (which one of my mates had running through his head during a University term exam years later.) Then came Stingray and the iconic Thunderbirds.

After that, through Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Joe 90 I was perhaps a bit too old.

However, when these series were repeated in the 1990s my own sons were the perfect age to enjoy them – and the toys! (We still have those toys somewhere.)

Anderson moved on from the puppetry and “Supermarionation” of these fondly loved shows with the live action UFO and Space 1999. Those of a cruel disposition jested that the actors here were more wooden than the puppets had been.

All have dated perhaps badly (but nothing dates as quickly as the future.)

I was watching the BBC news channel when I heard the news. Emily Maitlis tried to interview Brian Blessed (who’d worked with Gerry a few times) over the phone. That was a mistake. Despite trying, she couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

Many will remember Gerry and his creations with a great deal of fondness.

Gerry Anderson, 14/04/1929-26/12/2012. So it goes.

Happy Yuletide, Everyone

(What it says on the tin.)

Tull at Christmas: We Five Kings

From their Christmas Album (2003) this is We Three Kings rearranged into 5/4 time and so (apparently also because there are five members of the band) retitled.

Jethro Tull: We Five Kings

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