June 2013
29 June 2013 ~ AOL - America Off Line

 I was not surpised to find after a little Googling that AOL has a poor reputation. A Which? survey in 2012 found that 58% of its customers had experienced a problem in the last year, making it joint-bottom with Orange. The comments under the link provided suggest a number of AOL customers are quite bitter.

Further concerns are voiced in another article posted 14 June 2013, including, "Millions of people use AOL email services but many times AOL fans find themselves in between a rock and a hard place when the mails do not reach the recipient, and the received mails severely lack readability."

There is even a Wikipedia section called Criticism of AOL.

Several emails I have sent to AOL addresses have bounced back. More than once this has inconvenienced the recipient as well as me.  It appears from the correspondence below that AOL are either unwilling or lack the know-how to allow a genuine URL to escape their filtering.

The most recent message notifying of such failure to deliver included;  
Remote host said: 521 5.2.1 :  (HVU:B2) http://postmaster.info.aol.com/errors/554hvub2.html

The  web page linked to says that HVU:B2 means, "There is at least one URL or domain in your e-mail that is generating substantial complaints from AOL members. Resolution will require opening a support request."

I submitted via an AOL web page a request for support, explaining that the URLs used as part of my signoff are genuine. This message was  acknowledged by an auto-email on 26 June. Then the following correspondence:


From: Deepti  Sent: 28 June 2013 07:11  To: Paul Burns

Subject: AOL Postmaster Support Request #249109 Update


Hello, I am contacting you regarding the mail delivery issue concerning a URL listed in your email. The domain (site50.net) listed in the email is blocked for high complaints. If you are not the domain owner, either remove the domain from your email or contact the domain owner and ask them to contact us.


Thank You, Deepti, AOL Postmaster

From: Paul Burns   Sent: 28 June 2013 08:33    To: 'deepti@postmaster.aol.com'
Subject: RE: AOL Postmaster Support Request #249109 Update

Dear Deepti, Thanks for your reply. I understand you wish to protect your users from sites that pose a threat.

But AOL is using a sledge hammer where some finesse is called for.

My site is not (site50.net), but (paulburns.site50.net/) It is quite feasible for AOL to program its filters to allow my url to pass unimpeded, as it does through other ISPs.

At the very least, AOL users should have the option of allowing through my emails.

If AOL chooses not to provide a more suitable remedy, it seems my only recourse is to use my influence, blog and websites to advise people against using AOL.


From: Deepti   Sent: 28 June 2013 08:43    To: Paul Burns

Subject: Re: FWAOL Postmaster Support Request #249109 Update


Hi Paul,  I understand your domain is paulburns.site50.net


But the domain which is blocked is the sub domain site50.net. Please have the domain owner contact us so we can look into it.


Thanks,  Deepti


From: Paul Burns Sent: 28 June 2013 09:21     To: 'Deepti'
Subject: RE: FW AOL Postmaster Support Request #249109 Update


Hi Deepti, The website is provided free of charge. The provider does not provide other services, such as the contact that you suggest.


Please provide an alternative route to being able to use the Internet freely.   Paul Burns

From: Deepti   Sent: 28 June 2013 11:12   To: Paul Burns
Subject: Re: FW AOL Postmaster Support Request #249109 Update


Hi Paul,   We have seen very high spam complaints from the domain site50.net which is why the block. We will evaluate the situation and see what best can be done.   Thanks,  Deepti

As you might surmise from this piece, I don't hold out much hope.

28 June 2013 ~ Life and Death - Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum
We loved this exhibition apart from the crowding that happened despite apparent attempts to limit the numbers at any one time. The crush meant frequently waiting a turn to see an item or read the accompanying text. It would have helped if more of the texts were on larger cards and mounted above head height. When people are asked to pay up to £15 to enter, more thought about the flow of  through the exhibition iscalled for.

The items displayed were touching, informative and often amusing. Whereas Victorians kept ancient earthy items in locked cupboards for a few scholars, today's public are trusted not to faint or to be otherwise too shocked. Thus several hugely disportionate phalluses are included and a statue of Pan caught in the act with a nanny goat. There was also a mention of how Romans might make love in the presence of slaves or require the slaves to join in.

In Pan's defence, he had cloven hoofs, fleece-covered legs and horns. Moreover, classical deities often took the forms of animals for sexual purposes. Zeus, for example, became a bull and a swan.

I find it interesting that several modern countries, including GB, have used Greece and Rome as models for and to justify empires. But the view projected left out features of ancient empires that were less acceptable to later sensibilities. The sheer brutality required to dominate others was often glossed over.

21 June 2013 ~ Three Exhibitions on the Euston Road
This morning we started at an exhibition at the Welcome Trust, Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan. We did not stop long as neither of us cared much for most of the items on display. My feeling is, if a gallery wants to exhibit self-taught artists and question the validity of the the distinction between self-taught and those who have studied art, why not use local artists? That way the viewers have more chance of understanding social factors and could hear or what the artists have to say without a translator.

I also would have preferred to have seen an exhibition of the outstanding art produced by secondary school students from London or the UK. Adolescents are also outsiders when it comes to the art establishment and their skills can be unrefined. However, almost every school has a number of students with great talent. I am still delighted by two works I bought at an exhibition twenty years ago by two secondary school students.

At the end of 2011 Unison moved its headquarters to a complex on Euston Road that consists of a pleasant enough ten-storey office block, the former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and what a high-roofed atrium between the two buildings. Part of the ground floor of the hospital is now the  Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery, a space that commemorates the founder of the hospital. The conservation work of the space  is to a high standard and the small exhibition about the pioneer doctor and her achievements interesting.

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion is at the British Library. Unfortunately it is in their “black hole” gallery, which has no natural light and often low levels of illumination. On a number of occasions I waited my turn to examine the contents of glass case only to find the result spoiled by dimness. If this is necessary for conservation reasons, then why not place above the case a back-lit image of the contents, which could also be enlarged?

The exhibition was very wide ranging, which of course limits depth. One of my favourite items was a plasma screen featuring a silent movie from the early 1930s, I think, extolling at a snail’s pace the joys of Australian Wine. Not quite as funny as Monty Python’s take on the subject, but fascinating to see how people were experimenting with a new medium for advertising.

I spent a few minutes browsing in the shop just outside the exhibition. How pleasant it was to see books with posters and other illustrations under ample lighting.

15 June 2013  ~  Soldaten: On fighting, killing and dying & David Larder’s Letter

David Larder wrote to The Guardian on Monday 10 June with an account of his experience 60 years ago as a 19 year-old officer in the British in Kenya.  His letter includes.

I am delighted that the government has given some token compensation for Kenyans who suffered torture). I still suffer from memories of the British apartheid system there and numerous instances of arbitrary killing and brutality by British forces, Kenya police and Kenyan African Rifles. In reality we protected land-grabbing British farmers and enriched UK companies.

He goes on to report atrocities he took part in until sickened by the brutality he left the army.

As it happened, I was part way through Soldaten by the time I read Larder’s letter.  This book is based on secret recordings of German POWs during World War II. A treasure trove of transcripts was discovered in 2001 by Sönke Neitzel, a German historian. What makes the book far more interesting is that Neitzel co-authored it with Harald Welzer, a sociologist and social psychologist. Much of the work seeks to understand how the servicemen interpreted the world and events they found themselves in. And without trying to minimize in any way the horrors committed by Nazi and non-Nazi Germans, the authors reflect on wider events including the Vietnam War and the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Kenya is not mentioned, but it often came to mind. How could troops who ten years earlier had learned of the holocaust and celebrated the execution of Germans for war crimes engage in their own bestial campaign of terrorism?

Soldaten provides some of the answers. It is a difficult book to read in terms of the frequency with which nightmarish events appear and the way descriptions of them seem to slip off the tongues of the POWs as if they were discussing football. But the work is well written and deserves to become a classic along with such books as If This is Man and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

13 June 2013  ~  Catholic Clergy and Sexual Abuse in New Zealand

BBC 4 on Monday had a documentary called Silence in the House of God: Mea Maxima Culpa.  Having complained two days ago about bloated TV programmes, this was 90 minutes long and compelling throughout.  The main story concerned a priest who abused boys at a USA school for the deaf over decades and the local hierarchy's abject failures to deal with what they knew about.  The role of  the Vatican was also examined and not least that of popes and in particular Cardinal Ratzinger as pope and before his elevation.  Review of the film.

One of the documentary's many interesting reports was of anger among the Irish bishops after the Vatican blamed their lack of leadership for the many scandals when in fact they were following the prescriptions of Rome regarding the handling of sexual abuse  to the letter. Two former US priests  appeared who were highly critical of the church. Richard Sipe has studied sexuality among the clergy and long ago had  tried to warn and prepare the church to tackle sexual abuse of children by its clergy. A report  written by Sipes states, "...by 1976 Dr. Bartemeier and I were able to estimate that 6% of all Catholic priests and religious involved themselves with minors. If we could know, I believe the bishops knew as well."

Patrick J. Wall spoke of working as a sexual abuse "fixer" for a diocese, but gave up when he realized the church was not interested in protecting victims.

Father Thomas Doyle, who warned the Catholic hierarchy of the seriousness of sexual abuse within the church 30 years ago, spoke of regularly appearing as an expert witness to help abuse survivors. He regards such work as helping the church because the people and not the ordained are the church.

Sue and I had recorded the programme and watched it last night. It made me curious about sexual abuse by the clergy in New Zealand and in particular by the Marist order. I have long been aware of the stories of sexual abuse by  the clergy in the UK, Ireland, the USA and Australia, but what about where I went to school between the ages of 10 and 17?

I attended a school run by the Society of Mary (Marist) Brothers (clergy who are not ordained)  in Thorndon, a part of central Wellington, after my family arrived in New Zealand in 1960. Fortunately, I was only there for a few weeks before we moved to a suburb. The school frightened me. It bore no resemblance to the Catholic primary  that I had attended in England, which was well resourced, in a modern building and had a sense of order that boosted my learning. The brother teaching my class had little control other than through much use of corporal punishment and the boys seemed to pick up and replicate the violence more than learning. The school  I then went to, Petone Convent, was strict, but far from chaotic. I did well in the two years spent there thanks to its nuns.

Perhaps the sisters taught a little too well. It was my misfortune to win a scholarship to New Zealand's oldest Catholic secondary school, St Patrick's College in Wellington, rather than following my older brother to the local state secondary. (My younger two brothers also went to state secondary schools.) I have few good memories of St Pat's. Bullying was commonplace and many of the teachers unqualified if not unsuited to teaching.
Few had attended a teacher training college. I was taught by two of the three lay teachers and found them competent. The other teachers were Marist priests. One, a maths teacher was exceptionally well qualified and enthusiastic.  But a number of the teachers had gone from  school to seminary to teaching. Despite a daily class in Christian Doctrine, I was an atheist by the time I left after four years. Rather than continue in the upper-sixth to get funding for university study, I worked for two years to put myself through university.

Among the St Pat's staff while I attended between 1963 and 1966 was Father Fred Bliss.

St Pat's had been a boarding school. Long before I arrived the boarding part became a separate school twenty miles away, called St Patrick's Silverstream after the suburb of that name. Most of the Silverstream staff were Marist priests
during the 1960s and 1970s.

What I found on line last night was that a priest called Alan Woodcock, ordained in 1972, had abused students at Silverstream and been allowed to continue teaching there by Father Bliss. I have summarised the details below  based mostly on on   Source A   Source B   Source C  
Source D   Source E   Source F 
Source G. 

Fortunately, many of the newspaper accounts relevant to Woodcock that are no longer available from publishers have been posted on line by the Peter Ellis website, which I recommend to anyone seeking information about sexual abuse of children in NZ.

To avoid any misunderstanding, let me make clear here that my issues with Woodcock have nothing to do with him being gay. The issues that concern me are paedophilia, abuse of positions of trust  and the mishandling of Woodcock as a sexual abuser by clergy in positions of leadership.

Alan Woodcock was ordained as a Marist priest in 1972. His first known act of sexual abuse  occurred in 1978. The boy was in the fourth form (age c. 15) at St John's College, Hastings, which was a Marist Father's school at the time. Woodcock enticed the boy to come with him in his car to choose a location for a school trip. The priest removed the belt from the boy's pants and pulled them down. However, the boy complained, telling him to stop. The boy never said a word about the incident at the time, and Woodcock continued to be a teacher, albeit a mediocre one.

A 1979 report by another priest described Woodcock's teaching ability at St John's as "rather undistinguished ..."The opinion of the staff was that he had much to give but lacked in confidence and the ability to organise himself."  Despite his ability as a musician and composer, "even in this area he was disappointing".

To help Woodcock improve his skills, he was posted to Christchurch in 1979 and enrolled at university to study music.

One might well ask why the university rather than teacher training as he already had expertise in music and was a lousy teacher?

Woodcock, then aged 31, picked up a 17-year-old youth in Cathedral Square and offered him a ride home. Instead, he took him to Canterbury University's chaplaincy's residence  and indecently assaulted him. The police became involved. Woodcock was convicted and given a suspended sentence.
Woodcock's counsel told the court there was a psychiatric background to the offence and succeeded in getting the court to suppress his client's name, but not his occupation.

Documents show the church knew of Woodcock's  court case. The Society of Mary's then Provincial (leader in NZ), Father  Delaney, wrote to the court offering church support for Woodcock.

Seventeen years later, by which time Woodcock's history of abuse as a paedophile as a Marist teacher was long established,  a lawyer for the victim of the assault said, "We would have thought that addressing the needs of the victim ... would be a priority but ... our dealings with the society (the Marists) seem to be treated as an annoyance... We find it unacceptable ... for a victim to have to wait two years and for the victim to have to... continually push the issue."

The year after the sexual assault, 1980, Woodcock was moved to Wellington, where he was appointed to a parish church and attended university to complete his music degree. 

At the end of 1981, he was appointed to St Patrick's College in Silverstream. While there, he abused several boys, enticing them to his bedroom with cigarettes, pretending friendship and concern.
Reports refer to oral sex, masturbation, fondling and groping. Students called him Penis Radiata.

I assume this is a pun derived from Woodcock's surname and pinus radiata, one the most common trees in NZ. Latin was taught at the school and the boys would have known that  in this language pinus is pronounced penus.

However, boys at the school also ostracised those they though had been molested by Woodcock. Karl du Fresne, a journalist and St Pat's Silverstream old boy, who spoke highly of the school in general described the climate he thinks assisted Woodcock.

"If St Pat's had a fatal flaw, it was that it could be cruel and unsympathetic to loners and outsiders. Any boy suspected of homosexual inclinations, for instance, was likely to be subjected to merciless taunting. In such an environment, it's easy to see how someone like Woodcock could identify potential victims. Lonely and vulnerable juveniles naturally attract the attention of paedophiles. Not only are they are likely to be grateful for any friendly interest shown in them, but they are less inclined to seek help when things turn nasty. To complain to someone else would deprive them of the one source of apparent kindness in their lives. To dob in the abuser would also risk even greater alienation from their fellow pupils, especially in an environment fiercely intolerant of homosexuality."
One of his victims complained in 1982 to then college rector, Father Curtain. Reports in 2004 suggest there were several complaints to the college. A report in 2002 speaks of "three complaints".  Another newspaper report says, "When some of the victims did complain, the school head, Father ... Curtain, said he would investigate, but they [students] were instead confronted by Woodcock."

 A confidential memo
on August 22  1982  by Father Curtain to Father Bliss, the Provincial at that time, outlined the actions taken by the church and school after the complaint. The  memo said that Woodcock had put "the name, reputation and future of the school in serious jeopardy".  

Note that in NZ, August is  midway through the school year and that Bliss has been the rector of Silverstream between 1974 and 1980.

Father Curtain wrote of being placed  in an invidious position when dealing with certain boys. "My hands were tied. Thus, in a recent stealing inquiry, if I had judged that one boy (who had stolen and lied) merited expulsion, I could not have done so for fear of the consequences. One other boy told me that he had already spoken to his parents about certain alleged indiscretions that had taken place with him."

Father Curtain went on to outline "certain precautions" that Woodcock had to take. These included: leaving the door to his bedroom open if a boy needed to see him, "unless the visit is of a confessional nature or a similarly private matter". Before the rules were imposed, though, Woodcock had dealings with another boy, a 15-year-old sent to him for counselling!  

Why he was allowed to have any boy in his room after the allegations at Silverstream became known and in the light of his court case has never, as far as I can tell, been explained.

Father Curtain also wrote to the Bliss, "Finally, I suggested that, to cover any possible eventuality, he should make immediate moves to acquire a passport."

In an interview with police in 1995, Father Curtain said Woodcock's antics came to his attention after a complaint from a boy. "I rang the provincial (Bliss) and said that, true or not, the allegations meant that Alan Woodcock should be moved. The provincial said that he would shift him."

But Woodcock was allowed to complete the 1982 school year at Silverstream.

Asked by the authorities why the complaint was never followed up, Father Curtain said: "I suppose there were two reasons. There was a different climate of opinion in those days, (we) didn't expect those things to happen, and whether the allegations were true or false, action had been taken by shifting him and giving him the guidelines".

Note how Curtain was prepared to expel a student for  stealing and lying, but the order were far more lenient with a paedophile priest.

In 1983, Woodcock was appointed to Highden Novitiate, near Palmerston North, a Marist-run centre for young men considering the priesthood.  many of the postulants would  have come straight from secondary school.

Asked if Woodcock was transferred to protect his name, Father Curtain replied: "Ahhh . . . yes". The direction to get a passport "would have been the normal course in those days to take; if we wanted someone to get counselling or help in this area . . . the places to go for counselling were overseas," he told police.

In a letter advising Woodcock of his new appointment, Father Bliss said he hoped Woodcock would take the opportunity to seek "that specialist help in Palmerston North that you need".  He then thanked him for the contribution he had made to Silverstream.

The  Silverstream school yearbook ran a glowing tribute. "Father Woodcock's stay at Silverstream has proved all too short... He quickly established himself as a friend and confidant to those boys with an interest in music and others who came to recognise and appreciate his availability and sympathetic approach."

Imagine how the abused boys and the parents who knew of the crimes  felt reading that.

While at Highden, Woodcock continued to offend, revisiting boys he had abused or met at Silverstream.  In 1984, the church moved him to Futuna, a Marist run retreat centre in  Karori.

Futuna   offered  retreats for a range of groups. There is no reason to believe Woodcock would never have encountered young men if not boys there. And as  Karori is a suburb of Wellington,  he would have found it easy to travel by public transport to see at least  day students or former day students from Silverstream.  

At Futuna, Woodcock befriended a teenage boy and his parents. Woodcock became a regular guest at the family's home. The boy's parents noticed a dramatic change in their son, and eventually he disclosed that Woodcock had sexually abused him.

In 1985, Woodcock was sent back to Highden.  The next year, in February 1986, Woodcock was sent to  Sydney for counselling to help him cope with his homosexuality and associated depression. After almost 12 months of treatment, he returned to New Zealand in December of that year and went back to Futuna. There he  developed relationships with two 16-year-old boys who worked as volunteers at the retreat centre.

During the year, the boys' parents approached the order's new Provincial, Father Connolly, and said Woodcock had abused their sons.

According to Father Duckworth in 2002 speaking as the then  new Provincial,  the father of one of the boys and a friend of the boy's family told Father Connolly they did not want to see Woodcock again. "The friend of the father said, 'Do you understand what he means, Father [Connolly]? We want him out of the country'," said Father Duckworth.

Father Connolly decided the best place for Woodcock was a psychotherapy programme  in Ireland and he sent him there and told him he would never again exercise ministry
Woodcock was banned from practicing ministry in 1987 after even more allegations arose. 

Woodcock arrived in Ireland in 1988 and worked with a specialist priest counsellor. Woodcock lived with fellow Marists to begin with and did voluntary work with drug addicts  

Why allow him access to such a vulnerable group!?!

In 1990, he moved to London and took a job as a crisis intervention counsellor  for passengers and staff at Heathrow Airport.  At the time of his arrest in the UK he was a practice teacher for social workers.

In 1994, a former Silverstream  student, Terry Carter laid a complaint with the NZ  police about Woodcock. The year after that, another old boy of the college came forward, complaining that Woodcock had abused him in 1982.

However, Woodcock refused a request by Interpol for an interview about the complaints and the matter was left  till Mr Carter settled a six-year civil court case with the church. Publicity surrounding the settlement in 2002  brought forward more Woodcock victims and police sought to extradite him from London. Woodcock fought extradition and delayed it for almost 18 months.

He told the High Court in London: "I do not see how I can defend myself against allegations that are so old. I have little recollection of dates and times going back that far. I am not even able to recollect some of the persons referred to . . ."

Yet Woodcock  pleaded guilty in Wellington in May 2004  to 21 charges of abusing 11 boys between 1978 and 1987 when he was teaching at St John's,  Silverstream and Highden and while holding a post  at Futuna.  

The policeman in charge of the case, Detective Sergeant Murray Porter, said, though many of Woodcock's victims have come forward, he believed there are many more who had not. It was unlikely that the full extent of Woodcock's offending  would   ever be revealed. 


The Society of Mary had settled with 10 or Woodcock's known victims by 2004.

In 2004, Terry Carter called on the police to pursue anyone who knew about the offending but did not stop it or report it. Asked in the same year whether anyone else might be charged, Detective Sergeant Porter said the authorities would be reviewing the file shortly.

It appears no further action was taken.

When Terry Carter went to the media in 1994 the church consulted a senior New Zealand judge, Peter Trapski who was a Silverstream old boy and trustee. In a 1994 church document, Judge Trapski is reported to have advised the church to place "confidential material" about Woodcock into his employment file but within a separate envelope labeled secret. Trapski told the church he believed it would be restricted in responding to the media allegations by a 1979 suppression order on Woodcock's conviction for sexual assault.  Trapski received a papal knighthood from the Vatican in 1995.

Karl du Frense described Trapski's tole  thus.

Even when the church seeks help in its clumsy efforts to minimise the damage, it screws up. In the case of Woodcock, the church apparently sought the advice of staunch Catholic layman and former St Pat's pupil Peter Trapski, a former chief District Court judge and member of the Waitangi Tribunal. But it seems Mr Trapski's own judgment may have been sadly clouded by feelings of loyalty to church and school.

His main concern, judging by what has been reported, seems to have been to minimise the harm to the school. A more detached adviser might have been less inclined to pussyfoot around.

In 2002, Terry Carter was scathing about the Society of Mary's handling of his complaints laid several years earlier over abuse that took place while he was a schoolboy at Silverstream.

Carter says he was terrorised and repeatedly caned by one priest at the school and was sent for counselling to Woodcock. When Carter first approached the Society of Mary  "they flatly denied everything" He took them to court and spent NZ$20,000 on legal fees. They settled with him by paying him $45,000.

Carter was still  bitter in 2002. "They are the last people that should be organising their own investigation, because they're the people doing it and covering it up. There's cover-ups on the cover-ups. They've lied the whole way through the Woodcock case."

I can find no evidence on line that those who hid Woodcock's crimes and provided the paedophile with further opportunities to use his status as a priest and a teacher to abuse have faced charges or made public apologies as individuals.

Woodcock was paroled in 2009. 

Fred Bliss has been a professor of ecumenical theology since 1992 at the  Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome, where he also obtained his doctorate. Part of Angelicum's work is preparing men for the priesthood. As Bliss became a professor, it appears his career has not suffered as a result of the way he knowingly exposed  boys to the risk of abuse by Woodcock.

Compare the handling of Woodcock with the work of Father Maurice Crocker in Australia. In 1993, Crocker  ensured that abuse by fellow clergy was dealt with.

The Marist Bothers in Australia have had a similar scandal to that launched by Woodcock. Brother Kostka, a prolific sexual offender,  was allowed  to remain at Marist College in Canberra for six years after the first complaint to the headmaster in 1986.   Source

Fred Bliss SM

The image appears in The Marist Messenger March 2013

The Marist Messenger is a "national devotional magazine, published by the New Zealand Province of the Society of Mary".

In 2002, the Catholic Church in New Zealand acknowledged the following payouts to victims of sexual abuse by priests and brothers. 

Marist priests - $110,000 in total to five people who alleged they had been abused by three priests.

Marist Brothers - $140,000 to victims of five brothers, including $50,000 to two victims of Brother Bryan McKay, former principal of Marist Intermediate School in Hamilton.

St John of God Brothers - $300,000 paid out to five people who made allegations against four brothers, none of whom remain active in the order. One of the brothers, who is retired, strongly denies the allegations against him. Another, Brother Kevin McGrath, served prison sentences in New Zealand and Australia for sexual abuse. The other two have died.

More recently,  a Marist brother  was jailed in New Zealand for sexual offences in the 1970s involving his students at a boarding school.

11 June 2013  ~  Virgin Media  - Junk Mailers Extrordinaire

I reckon we have received in the last four years about fifty letters from Virgin Media inviting us to subscribe to their services. I returned several unopened envelopes to sender to begin with; making clear we were not interested. Then we opted out of Royal Spam, what I call the Royal Mail's junk mail service. This appears to have made no difference to the deluge from Virgin. Anything marked Virgin now goes into the bin unopened. Nor does registering with Mail Preference Service appear to make any difference.

This week one letter from Virgin arrived yesterday and another today. The envelopes were of a different size and colour and one had our address while the other was merely addressed to "The Householder".

I understand companies wish to market, but Virgin Media are  acting irresponsibly. Not only is the paper wasted excessive, they damage the Virgin brand.

We have no interest in adding to the dozens of TV channels already available for free. In any case, most paid for packages involve sports and blockbuster movies, neither of which interest us.

I recognize that selling TV is a tough proposition. There are so many channels and when people do watch programmes with advertising they will often record and skip the ads, a practice that advertisers must be aware of and take into account when selecting media and working out costs. I guess one of the attractions of sport to businesses is that many people prefer to watch it live.

I record most programmes that I watch to avoid the flannel that takes up the first 2 to 4 minutes and skip less interesting parts. Far too many programmes take twice as long as they need to. Is there a market for a TV Digest channel?  One were the fluff is  edited out  to help the viewer make better us of time?

7 June 2013  ~  Lettuce Eat Caterpillars

Sue harvested the first of her 2013 lettuces  and served it in a salad  for lunch. Some salad was left over and put to one side. As I was clearing up I noticed a green caterpillar struggling to climb out of the salad bowl. The oil in the  dressing made climbing harder and I imagine the vinegar was no more welcome.

I took the critter outside and placed him on a foxglove well away  from the lettuce bed.  This  evening I finished the salad.  Sue declined to have any more of it.

3 June 2013  ~  Claire Tomalin  on Chas & Vicky

We went last night to hear Claire Tomalin on the relationship between Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria, a talk given as part of the London Literature Festival at the Southbank. Tomalin is an excellent writer, but her presenting skills are not of the same order.  Let's say she's an adequate public speaker. The hour she spent at the lectern and then seated to answer questions  left me wishing I had spent the evening reading one of her many books. Partly it was the topic. There was not really a lot to say, as the queen and the author met only once and the rest of the documentary evidence is slim pickings.  Not even the questions asked produced much excitement.
The most amusing discovery for me was hearing that Dickens had  been in love with the young Victoria to the point of rolling in the mud outside a palace window. He wrote about this in a letter at the time. I wonder if he was poking fun at the public's swooning at the feet of their new monarch, especially as Tomalin later presented much evidence of his republican sympathies

To what extent was the evening's topic determined by likely ticket sales? If so, it failed, as the Purcell Room had many empty seats. My preference would have been to hear Tomalin talk  about The Invisible Woman, Nelly Ternan, who became the mistress of Dickens towards the end of his life. This is a great book with Tomalin's usual combination of scholarship and readability and the topic has a lot more to say about Victorian society than the non-relationship between Chas and Vicky.

Tomalin said last night that
The Invisible Woman is coming out shortly as a film. Unfortunately, she added it had been produced as a love story.

1 June 2013  ~  Notes from An  Exhibition by Patrick Gale

This novel won the Booksellers' Association Independent Booksellers' Book Prize in 2008. Based on that I took a copy from the library last year.

I gave up  on page 3 after encountering a sentence that contained it four times and which could have been written more elegantly with fewer  words. I felt that if this was the standard of writing in the first  few pages,  why invest time in the rest?

As others in my book club who had read the novel were keen to discuss, it was the text for today's meeting.  Three people who had read  Notes from An Exhibition before said they were disappointed with it second time around. My guess is this has more to  do with the style of writing than with the plot, settings, characters or themes; all of which are strengths. Patrick Gale also has some wonderful figurative language, such as:

"He was always the same, the unchanging pavement under Rachel's weather."

I see the novel's weakness as the way the third person narrative is used. There  are too many potted character histories where  the sense of immediacy is lost through  over-use of telling as opposed to showing. (If these terms are new to you -  see explanation.)

Moreover, there are several places where the reader has to guess if the point of view belongs to the narrator or one of the characters.

The paperback version I have (Harper Perennial, London 2008) contains several errors that should have been picked up by editorial staff. After all, the book's recommended price is £7.99.  The mistakes also make me wonder to what extent Patrick Gale revises what he has written.

P3. “She washed her face, cleaned her teeth, tugged a brush through her hair and fastened it back in the clasp she had been wearing so many years she took it, without even looking at it, from the place she always left it overnight.” Awkward and not just from over-use of it.

P114  “They had exchanged letters. Garfield wrote to Simeon Sheperd initially, attaching a photocopy of Rachel's letter, explaining that Rachel had recently died and that he desired nothing but to meet.” and following. Unnecessary ambiguity from use of they at start of chapter. Odd use of tenses & use of initially.

P117 “An enormous off-white cat glared from discomfitingly yellow eyes on a blanket covered chair in the corner.” Adverb used as adjective.

P130 “She wore a double rope of plump pearls;  her husband was busy to some purpose. Garfield was a bad judge of age but placed her on the kinder side of fifty but the other side of motherhood.” Two parts of first sentenced are not linked, as suggested by the semi-colon. Awkward use of two buts in second sentence.

P169 “She was not above simply taking his neighbour’s seat when they left for the room for a minute and laughing off any objections.” Singular becomes plural.

P238 “It was almost as if Mom needed this one of each thing to make her life complete.” ???

P241 “Joanie had never dated anyone, or not for long enough for it to be serious.” Why use never?

Perhaps the booksellers who awarded the prize were influenced to some extent by the sales figures?