February  2013
25  February 2013 ~  Findus  Fights  Back

24 February 2013 ~ 
The Starboard Sea – Amber Dermont

A friend recommended this novel. I was not disappointed. At times it reminded me of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Marriage Plot, which is set in an Ivy League college in 1982 and includes along with privileged American students hints at the decadence of the children of spoiled and wealthy Middle-eastern families. Much of Dermont’s story uses the same generation as Eugenides, being set four years earlier in a secondary school for the well to do that specialises in giving second and third chances to students expelled by other elite schools.

Unlike the Marriage Plot, The Starboard Sea held my attention throughout. While it has a rich cast of characters, the narrator, Jason Prosper very much tells his own story and in particular his grief and guilt following the death of his school- and bed-mate, Cal. Had Ms Dermont hidden her gender, I would never have suspected that she was a woman because Jason strikes me as a credible as well as a compelling male.

The starboard sea was a phrase invented by Cal that means “the right sea, the true sea, or like finding the best path in life.” And the novel is very much a coming of age story about a youth finding himself again after a tragic act of betrayal. Along the way he solves a mystery of another friend's death and provides  insight into the world of wealthy but dysfunctional families and the lengths they will go to avoid their children being accountable for their actions.

23 February 2013 ~   Diversity in the Vatican

It’s time




a Pope


from a non-traditional



Provided he doesn’t molest kittens!  Image Source 

22 February 2013 ~   Total Boox - What a great idea!

Have you downloaded a book and then felt cheated? Or have you hesitated to buy because, although a book seemed interesting, you lacked enough information?  And do you fear Amazon's dominance of both printed and electronic books?

If you have answered yes to one or more of these, check lout Total Boox.  Their plan is to sell e-books where the downloader only pays for as much of the book as she or he reads.

I welcome the proliferation of books and the way in which self-publishing is giving the vanity presses a run for their money. The downside is the number of books that would never have got printed five years ago because they are not well written and/or lack editing.

Total Boox seems to be a way of helping book buyers take more risks and will offer an incentive to self-publishers to invest in professional editing. The company is launching shortly. They seek expressions of interests from readers, authors and publishers.  
Total Boox

19 February 2013 ~   Guard Gets Two Years for  Teddy Bear Invasion

Picture released by Studio Total of a trial drop.

Lukashenko, one of Europe’s last dictators
Blew his fuse after two aviators
Parachuted teddies over Belarus
As a protest against human rights abuse
All power to the bears says this demonstrator.

In case you don't know the story - see  A & B.

17 February 2013 ~ Plumb by Maurice Gee

My reading group met yesterday to discuss Plumb. This was the 1978 novel that established Maurice's Gee's international reputation. He was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for it. Other winners of this prestigious award include  D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxely, Muriel Spark, William Golding, Nadine Gorimer, Claire Tomalin and A.S. Byatt.

One of things that makes this book quite remarkable is the fact that, while a work of fiction, it draws to a large extent on the life of Gee's grandfather. The book says a lot about the puritanism that was such a feature of New Zealand life. Oliver Duff, writing in 1941, said:

"It must also be remembered that New Zealand has always been Puritan. It was established in the fear of God. Five out of six of its first generation were reared on the Bible. Even where belief has gone tradition still remains, and one of the deepest-rooted traditions of people with white skins is the shamefulness of the flesh....We are not Puritan enough to take our pleasures sadly, but we take them very seriously, and are not naturally gay."

It was sad to find that such a great novel had gone out of print in the UK. Copies of Plumb were obtained from a New Zealand bookshop.

To help the members of the group who had not visited New Zealand I prepared a set of notes for the novel, which I have added to my Technical Publications page.

16 February 2013 ~ The Captain of Köpenick
    seen at the National Theatre 15.2.13

Two film versions of The Captain of Köpenick exist. The one made in 1956 won many awards. I don’t expect the extravaganza at the NT do the same despite the rich seam of history and folklore that the play is based on.

In August 1906, an unemployed German shoemaker with a long history of convictions, Wilhelm Voigt, acquired an army captain's uniform. He used it to take control of a company of soldiers he encountered in the street, led them to the town hall of Köpenick in Berlin and stole 4,000 marks from the municipal safe. Police arrested him after a week and he received a four year sentence. Part of Voigt’s predicament at the time of the crime was not having and not being able to acquire official papers due to rules and regulations that left him in a Catch-22 position.

Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour? Despite Voigt in effect mocking the obedience that was intricately linked to Prussian militarism, he became a popular hero; to such an extent that the Kaiser pardoned him two years later.

The playwright Carl Zuckmayer embellished the story a little, but it is largely based on the historical events. His 1931 comedy, Der Hauptmann von Köpenick, subtitled “a German fairy tale” lampoons bureaucracy, the military, the police and officials who are corrupt.

The play was quickly released as a film. Both play and film were banned by the Nazis. I assume that the way they make buffoons of those who swagger in uniforms offended Hitler as much as Zuckmayer being Jewish.

So rich pickings for a new theatre production. What went wrong?

The expressionist backdrop did little other than make the set distracting. Yet again a director at the Olivier seemed compelled to use much of that theatre's collection of wizardry: revolving stage ad nauseam, sections of the stage moving up and down ad nauseam, and elaborate three story structures emerging from the stage. Add to this the large cast and the number of times crowds appear  and you get repeated sensual overload. Ask any hypnotist what sensual overload does.

Anthony Sher glowed at times, but overall did not shine as he has in so many other productions. None on the rest of the cast were stars. Audiences expect more than adequate acting from the NT.  I noticed empty seats after the interval. It appears Sue and I were not the only disappointed members of the audience. 

15 February 2013 ~ Why British Telecom Changed a Logo

The following is based on something I saw while I worked in BT back in the days of Buzby . The mocking of the logo was  attributed to HAE's  - hairy arsed engineers.

As a non-engineer I was  impressed by the technicians and managers who had started  as Post Office telecom apprentices.  The apprenticeships were much sought after and this meant that what became BT was awash with talent. 

14 February 2013 ~ RIP Ruby

One of our two cats, Ruby, died last week. The death prompted me to finish a poem started years ago after discussing with a friend how she hesitated to share her grief with some people following the death of her dog.

Some think grief for pets represents

Misplaced love, lack of proportion

Or rampant sentiment


I acknowledge my mourning

For animals that I have known

Without apology or reservation


My feelings of loss for a cat or dog

Does not reduce other grief

But stretches my compassion


To deny the hurt

Or demean the death of an animal

Would reduce my humanity


Bereavement is personal.

What point or consolation

In a hierarchy of sadness?

Ruby is buried in our garden. We bought a dwarf cherry to mark her grave.

13 February 2013  ~ Trump Sues Comedian

Donald Trump has taken  Bill Maher to court following a comedian's jibe. Maher bet  that if Trump could prove he wasn’t related to orangutans, a reference to the tycoon's bouffant red hair style, Bill would fork out $5 million dollars.  Trump quickly issued his birth certificate and demanded the money. He is now suing Maher. Trump seems bent on proving that not only his hairstyle is weird. Reuters

Photo Montage by AZRainman

Trump insisted his dad was pure human
And not as Maher had joked an orangutan.
But it's hard not to snigger
At hair that looks considerably bigger
Than the head of the primate on which it stands

12 February 2013  ~ Tesco Spaghetti Bolognese  60+% Horsemeat

After supermarket food inspectors grew lazy
Suppliers began to act crazy
Mislabelled meat abounded
And customers were astounded
To find donkey bollocks in their Bolognese

11 February 2013  ~ Horse Meat Scandal

I seem to recall some other untraceable horse in Ireland in 1983. Was it a case Beef Shergars?

The discovery of cheap meat passed off as more expensive meat does not surprise me. The more people who contribute to a finished food product, the more opportunities for fraud. And the more purchasers squeeze suppliers, the more tempting it is for them to cut corners or turn a blind eye.

But what about pork added but not declared? We know this has happened to supplies to the Prison Service and that there are two faith groups who abhor pig products. What tests are being conducted to ensure non-kosher and haram ingredients have not been added surreptitiously elsewhere?

And apart from religious sensibilities, what about the secular majority who want reassurance that the label is not fiction.

There's an old joke about abbatoirs using every part of the pig apart from the oink and that's why Wall's have ears. I used to think it was funny.

5  February 2013  ~ Vicky Price  Pleads Not  Guilty

An economist called Vicky Price
Regretted an unusual sacrifice.
When a marriage proves ill-starred
Avoid being hoisted by your own petard
Because playing in a Greek tragedy is unwise.

4 February 2013  ~ Chris Huhne Pleads Guilty

A former Secretary of State called Huhne
Found a driving offence inopportune
His wife he suborned
But forgot that a woman scorned
To spite is not immune.