Saturday, 27 March 2010

'A Kind of Intimacy'

I just finished reading Jenn Ashworth’s novel,‘A Kind of Intimacy’, and it’s a book which I think is going to stay with me.

The novel is told in the first person by Annie, whom we first meet as she moves, with her cat, Mr Tips, into her new home in Fleetwood, Lancashire, to start afresh following - what? A nasty divorce? An escape from an abusive relationship? A personal tragedy? At first, both to the reader, and to Annie’s unfortunate new neighbours, Annie appears naive, vulnerable, clearly clumsy (both socially and physically) but hopeful, and trying to better herself. She is not the most attractive character, but in her clumsy efforts to broaden her own horizons, and to move forward, she initially attracts sympathy, not fear.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Annie’s past, and present, the dissonance between Annie’s interpretation of events, and the reader’s understanding of them becomes greater and more disturbing, but without Annie’s voice ever becoming lost, and without the reader ever completely losing a sense of her as a person.

The book has it’s darkly comic moments, and many more where all but the most self-confident reader will have an uncomfortable sense of familiarity.

A gripping, if not altogether comfortable read.

Full disclosure: I received this book free as a review copy, and I’d very glad I did, as I doubt I would have picked it out otherwise, which would have been my loss.

Just - don’t give it to your new neighbour as a welcome gift. . . .


It's been another long week - we had our annual meeting (of partners) at work,which went as well as can be expected, and I also spent a day updating my training - 1/2 a day on Child Law, 1/2 on pensions, which turned out more interesting snd useful than I'd expected, although I did end up with a stiff neck from sitting awkwardly to watch powerpoint presentations, and somewhat weary afer my train home was delayed for 20 minutes, which meant I spent almost 40 minutes sitting on a rather chilly platform...

I'm still very tired - haven't been sleeping well - and keep waking in the early hours of the morning and finding myself unable to get back to sleep, which is annoying.

This morning, however, turned out to be a beautiful sunny one, and when I went out into the garden to hang up some washing, I found that the first primrose is out! What with this, and the clocks going forward tonight, it must really be the end of winter!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

A (Mostly) Relaxing Weekend

Friday was my older sister's birthday, and Tuesday is my younger sister's, and on Thursday I got a message from E (Younger sister) inviting me to visit for the weekend, and telling me that she had invited K (Older sister) too.

The plan was to have a "Spa Day" at a hotel near her home, then go out for a meal in the evening, so I drove up to Birminham on Friday evening, and on saturday morning the three of us headed off to Henley in Arden for a day of relaxation.

The deal was that for the day-fee you got full access to the liesure facilities (pool, hot-tub, sauna, gym, squash courts), plus lunch, and then various treatments could be booked in addition.

Due to a few organisational delays, E's friend P & I I didn't have any treatments booked, although E & K each had a facial, and E a massage, too.

On the whole, we had a very good day; after a little healthy exercise in the gym we concentrated on the serious business of relaxation - moving from pool, to sauna, to seam room, to hot-tub, with lots of lying on loungers, talking, and reading the selection of magazines which P brought with her, and light novels.

The hotel spa could do with improving their customer service a little, though - the spa was quite busy, and seemed rather understaffed, and then at the end of the day, when we were all in the final stages of getting dressed to leave, one of the staff members came into the changing room to chivvy us up to check out & pay, because they wanted to close up the tills! Bearing in mind this was more than 15 minutes before the end of the day, and it was very obvious that we were leaving (we were all fully dressed and packing up our bags) it seemed rather gauche, and not terribly condusive to a nice relaxing day. The fact that we then had to wait while they finished their conversation before they could be bothered to actually process our payments did add insult to injury just a tad...

Still, poor staff aside, we enjoyed spending time together and the facilities weren't bad!

Then for the evening the three of us (Self + 2 sisters), together with K's fiance C (Who had spent the day working hard on essays, rather than coming with us and sharing in the girly bonding...) but without P, who had othr commitments, we went out to a great Indian resturant - Asha's - where we had supurb food, some lovely cocktails, an excellent waiter, and, when they heard we were there to celebrate K & E's birthdays, free chocolate cake. it was an excellent night out, alhough having eaten late and well, we were all far too full to go straight to bed, so ended up sitting around, talking, and half-wtching the Star-trek movie until past 2 a.m. ..

A lovely day, and we decided that another Spa day might make for an excellent hen-party for K's wedding, in due cours, and that perhaps we we owe it to her to do some practical field research, to ensure we find the best possible spa day/weekend...

Of course, I am now utterly exhausted, having spent the pst 2 nights (a) staying up foolishly late socialising with my family and (b) then trying, with limited success, to sleep on an airbed.. I think an early night (or 2) is now in order.

But I am glad I went.

And just after getting home I had a call from my cousin H to say she is pregnant, and so she and her husband will, all being well, having their first child this autumn. VERY good news!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Bimbling along

This week has, so far, not thrown up much blogging material - I have not been sleeping well for the past couple of weeks, as a result of which I'm not really doing anything outside of work as I haven't the energy.

However, BOTH of my sisters hav birthdays in the next few days, and have suggested tht we meet up, and go for saunas and swimming and lunch, which sound like a plan, even if I do ave to drive to Birmingham to do it... So that should take care of Saturday, and I shall probably stay over on Saturday night)

Next week we have our AGM / business meeting at work, which is always fun, involving as it does long discussions about the accounts, and I seem to have booked mysef on a course about tax, which I am sure will also be utterly fascinating and delightful.

And I am sure theere will be the usual quota of shouty clients, and similar pleasures..

So, nothing to see here, but maybe more after the weekend.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Flowers that bloom in the Spring (Tra La)

Yesterday was bright and sunshiny - in fact, for the first time this year it was warm and sunny enough that I was able to put my washing outside on the line. A small thing, but enough to show that Spring is on it's way.

I walked into town, where I found crocuses (Crocii??) blooming outside the library, and snowdrops in the park, as well as the beginnings of various buds on the trees and bushes, and some daffodils which are not quite out, but which will be in another day or two.

No primroses yet, but I'm sure there will be, soon.

I'm sure that this isn't 'it', that we will have more cold weather (even in the last few days, we've had frost) but this does feel as though winter is, finally, coming to an end.

And about time too!

Today also turned out to be bright and sunny - a bit chilly outside, but there are mornings when having an east-facing bedroom window, a book, a cup of coffee, and a cat is enough for happiness....

I also have a housemate for the next week or so - unexpected, but welcome. Tybalt, after all, is good company, but short on conversation!

Friday, 12 March 2010

More Authors, and a Ukulele!

Another post which is almost a week overdue - sometimes real life does slow down the posting!

This was my last Bath Lit Fest event, and was different in that the

others were all to see people I knew of, whose work I'd read or was familiar with - this was one I went to as I read the information in the festival programme and thought it might be interesting. It was a reading / conversation with two authors,Ali Shaw , talking about his first novel, The Girl With Glass Feet and Mathias Malzieu, talking about his book The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart.(Which has apparently also been made into an animated film, due out in France in October)

It was a much smaller event than the previous ones I've been to - it was in a smaller side room, and there were, I guess, around 30 people there.

Mathias Malzieu was accompanied by Sarah Ardizzone, who translated the book into English and was interpreting where necessary.

Both authors started by reading from their books - I haven't yet started reading my (shiny new & signed) copy of The Girl with Glass Feet, but I bought it on the strength of the extract which Ali read, as I loved the description, and the idea behind the story, of a girl slowly turning to glass from the feet up, so I have high hopes!

I am not sure of their literary significance, but I also feel I shold mention Mathias Malzieu's beautiful red patent leather shoes, which I was vert sad to find I had failed to capture in any of my (colour) photos of the event..

Mathias and Sarah read from the beginning of 'The boy with the Cuckoo-clock heart' and Mathias talked a little more about the plot, which as well as making me want to read it, gave me the opportunity to practice my French comprehension! He also played and sang (He has another career as a rock-singer) It was fun.

I've started reading the book which, as the title suggests features a boy whose heart is replaced by a cuckoo-clock far I'm liking it, although despite appearance it is not a children's story.

At the end, there was an opportunity to meet both authors, and Sarah Ardizzone, although I chickened out of trying out my spoken French, for fear of making a fool of myself..

I wonder who will be coming to Bath in September, for this year's Children's Literature Festival?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Is it Me?

I admit, I am not a webdesigner, but that doesn't mean I can't spot incompetance when I see it (although in fairness to the poor codemonkys, I suspect that a lot of this is due to being designed / approved by committee, and a government funded committee at that, rather than the individual involved in sticking it together and sending the poor, maimed thing ut into the world)

We have (at work) to apply for a new contract to continue to provide publicly funded services. This has to be done via an e-portal. Which, as I say, appears to have been put together by a large group of people none of whom are on speaking terms with each other. We spent most of Thursday morning doing this. Time I could have spent doing something more interesting and enjoyable, like watching paint dry or repeatedly stabbing myself in the eye with a blunt stick.
  • Some parts of the application can be filled in directly on-line
  • Despite the fact that most of the information required for this part of the form is information which we have already submitted (mainly in electronic form) and that we have unique reference numbers identifying ourselves to this organisation, they have no auto-complete functions (even for non-sensitive information such as our address)
  • at random intervals in the forms which can be filled in on-line, there are further forms which have to be downloaded, saved, filled in offline then up-loaded as attachments to the exisiting on-line forms
  • about half the random forms requiring downloading and reuploading are in the form of microsoft excel spreadsheets and the other half as Word documents. There is no discernable reason for this given the type of information required. The notes for guidance are in adobe. Because nothing is more fun than having 3 different formts open at once.
  • where the forms can be filled in online, each question requires clicking through 3 different screens, plus one more to get back to the list of questions (and for the record, these questions are mostly only one sentence long. Two at the most) But it is:Screen showing list of questions (not actual qustions, it literally says "Question 1, Question 2, etc.) Click on the number of aquestion. See a screen telling you what the question is going to be. Click to next screen. See the actual question (which is slighl differently worded and therefore has a signifigantly different meaning to the one on the previous screen). Select multiple choice answer. Click to return to list in order to be able to move on to the next question. Repeat until you reach the end of the list, or lose the will to live, whchever happens sooner.
  • My personal favourite? The question offering accessibility otions for viewing the site is the FINAL question in the registration process, which is designed so that you can only answer the questions in chronological order . Just as well I didn't actually need the accessibility options.

And the purpose of all this? To see whether they will gie us a new contract in order to continue to do the work we have been doing for years (and have been assessed by them as doing extremely well) but at lower rates of pay....

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Their main website is possibly the worst-designed website in the history of websites, and has a search acility which frequently failes to find things even if you know the exact title (and reference number) of the document you re looking for...

Still. It's not their fault. They only have a £200million annual budget. It's clearly unreasonable to expect them to spend any of it on making dealing with them rational. So much better to use the admin budget for really important stuff, like re-re-redesigning forms to ask the same question in three slightly different ways instead of two..

it does make you wonder though, whether somone once tried to imlement the thought experiement with the monkeeys and the typewriters to see if you get Shakespeare's works, and found that ctually what you get is government websites... It would explain an aweful lot, don't you think?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Family & Culture

I had a call from my sister, to ask whether I would be around on Friday and Saturday, as she & her fiance would be in the general area and would like to pop by. This may have something to do with the fact that it was forecast to be a VERY cold weekend, and at times like this, one can see the appeal of visiting friends and family who have central heating, rather than staying at home on a boat which is sitting in a big heap of cold water. I'd like to think that some of it was because they'd like to see me, tho'!

Anyway, I thought that sounded like a good idea, and so on Friday I left work very promptly in order to come home & start cooking Boeuf Bourginon. (I misread the cooking time at the list-writing stage, and had to skive off a little early in the hope of getting to eat sometime before midnight)

K&C arrived bearing sparkling wine, on the basis that an engagement cannot be celebrated too much, and we had a most convivial evening (and the Boeuf Bourginon turned out to be yummy, although it was a little late by the time we ate it)

On Saturday, after breakfast, K&I girded our loins and set out to look at Wedding Dresses. It seems that just down the road from here is one of Oxfam's bridal centres, and K thought that that would be agood place to start looking to get a feel for different syles etc, without the pressure you get in a 'real' bridal shop. I'm not normally a huge fan of shopping, so I will admit that I had some reservations (I well remember from our teenage years that I tend to reach my 'get-me-out-of-here' point a LOT sooner than K) but she is my sister, and she wants to get married, so, off we went.

It was actually more fun than I expected. It turns out that the bridal department was on the third floor, and so they basically showed us a room full of wedding dresses and let us get on with it. We spent the next 2 hours slotting K in and out of dresses, with my role being to do up zips, buttons and laces, to striaghten skirts, and then undo them all again. (And some of those dresses, you could get lost in...)

Because they are al 2nd hand dresses in a charity shop they are not precious over the designs, so we were able to take lots of photos so K can hone her thoughts about what style she fancies, and how to achieve it, and although she didn't have an 'o god this is so amazing I'm buying it right now' moment, we both got a look more girly and excited than we had expected!

Although I must confess that after 2 hours I was ready for a break, which was fine, as after 2 hours it was time for us to go home and lunch. (C had stayed home, doing his homework and the washing up)

All in all, it was lovely to see them both, and to have some time with my sister. K&C left after lunch to spend some time with C's parents, and I had a few hours to relax before heading back into Bath for another Lit. Fest. event - this one with Michael Frayn, who was there to promote his new book - Travels with a Typewriter which is a collection of articles which he wrote for the Observer (in order to pay the bills) in between novels. My familiarity with Mr Frayn comes from having read his novel Headlong, and from occasional reviews etc on the theatre pages, but I thought the evening might be interesting, and it was.

Mr Frayn was 'in conversation with' Sheena MacDonald, who is a journalist - I found her a little irritating as several times, she interrupted a perfectly good anecdote with an unrelated question.. (she also fidgeted a lot, which when you are seated on stage with lots of spotlights focussed on you, is rather noticable!)

However, despite this, it was an interesting and entertaining event - Mr Frayn started out by saying that he thought all fiction writers ought to spend some time as journalists in order to remind them of the messiness of real life, and then went on to talk about his early experience working for the [Manchester] Guardian, which included telephoning all the local fire stations and police stations every hour during the night to check whether anything had happened... he was an engaging speaker, very entertaining - he learned Russian as part of his National Service (Which has stood him in good stead, as he has translated a number of Russian plays in addition to his own writing. He cliamed that he keeps turning down invitations to go back to Moscow as he doesn't want to expose his poor spoken Russian!

The Q&A included one question from another ex-National Serviceman who had done the same, and started his question with a comment in Russian, although this was not translated for the benefit of the remainder of the audience!

I had been in two minds as to whether to attend, as I have only ever read one of his books, but I'm glad I went, as I enjoyed myself, and will definitely look out for any productions of any of his plays in the future.

Friday, 5 March 2010

A Quite Interesting Evening

It's March, which means that the Bath Literature Festival is back in town. This year, there were fewer events which I wanted to see - at least, fewer which were on evenings or weekends and which I was able to get to, so although the festival has been running for a week, the first event I went to was on Thursday evening.
Billed as "QI: Book of the Dead" it featured John Lloyd and john Mitchinson, who are the co-creators of the TV programme "QI" (nd who have written several books together, including the most recent one, The Book of the Dead, (which is a book of potted biographies).
John Lloyd was also involved as producer of 'Blackadder', created 'the News Quiz', co-wrote 2 episodes of the original 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'
John Mitchinson is a former publisher, and head researcher for QI.
The evening was highly entertaining - both Johns talking about various interesting facts - John M talking about Florence Nightingale, including her invention of the PieChart, and all of the different things which people have speculated may have caused her to spend the last 50 years of her life in bed. John L spoke a lot about teaching, and in particuar the fact that he believes that we remember things we find interesting, so teaching ought to focus more on fnding the kind of interesting, counter-intuative facts we get on QI, so as to stimulate interest, and encourage children to ask more quesrtions, and more challenging questions, rather than focussing solely on learning and remembering facts.
He had a rather nice quote (unfortunately I failed to make a note of whom he was quoting) that we "spend the first 12 months of out children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next 12 years telling them to sit down and shut up" with the comment that as a result children learn to stop asking the difficult questions...
although there were serious points being made, the event as a whole was very funny. (and I learned that there are no such thing as fish...)
After the talk, I was able to briefly meet both Johns and thank them for the evening, and also swap a few lawyer jokes with John Lloyd, (who was a lwyer in early life...)
All in all, well worth going. On my way back to my car, I went past the Abbey, and took a few photos, as it in unusual to see it without dozens of people around, and it was looking rather dramatic!