Fury From The Deep

This was occasional soundtrack while driving from Belgium to Ireland (in between various favourite music CDs). Perhaps it was not the ideal story with which to introduce my wife to the delights of the Troughton Era. It was not long before she started to mime the evil mutant seaweed, causing me some slight distraction and no doubt alarming passing drivers who saw her doing it. She also developed an animus against Victoria (“She’s so wet!”) from a very early stage in the plot, and started making “bang bang” gestures at the stereo speakers every time Deborah Watling’s voice was heard. The punchline – that the evil mutant seaweed is killed off precisely by Victoria’s screaming – made her incoherent with laughter. I do have the DVD of Tomb of the Cybermen with us, but persuading her to watch it may be a tough sell.

However I found it grew on me. There was a lot of padding (helicopters for the sake of helicopters, for instance), and the whole plot would barely have filled 45 minutes of New Who. But it picked up once arrived to sort things out. I’ve written about dodgy accents in this story before, but even Van Lutyens started sounding more Dutch (or at least less like anything else) as the story went on. And it’s a pleasant novelty to have a Who story in which everyone survives.

Victoria’s departure – the Victoria/Jamie relationship was an opportunity never taken up by the programme’s writers (or, interestingly, by fanfic writers). Jamie clearly fancies her rotten in The Power of the Daleks, and at the end of the first episode of The Ice Warriors he is trying to persuade her to wear the more revealing fashions of the locals (when their conversation is interrupted by the waking monster). But nothing more seems to have ever been made of it. NB that the next two female companions (Zoe and Liz Shaw) were both brainy. Then back to screaming, with Jo Grant.

As Anne said as the title music faded at the end, “So the evil seaweed menace that was threatening to take over the world was defeated by a few loud noises? Not awfully threatening then, was it?”

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July Books 22) The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

22) The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams

Ah, much more fun. For me, the original radio series remains the one and only canonical version of the story, so it’s interesting to review how different bits of it were cut up and pasted together for the novelisation. One bit of good writing that is strikingly out of place is the introduction of Max Quordlepleen, the compère at Milliways: an unusual piece of character-sketching from Adams, which is original to the book, and then doesn’t really go anywhere. (But the Disaster Area section is also original, and delightful.) Interesting that here Zarniwoop is left alone with the ruler of the universe by Zaphod and Trillian, his offence being, as far as I can tell, that he was being a boring git – rather different from the radio version’s dramatic denouement of Arthur abandoning everyone else after he discovers who really was responsible for the destruction of the Earth.

Anyway. Reading the final sections I begin to inderstand why some people are drawn to Ford/Arthur slash, a concept I don’t think I could have imagined until I got to know . (For instance.)

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July Books 21) Henderson the Rain King

21) Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow

Read this as part of my effort to improve my knowledge of Nobel Prize-winning literature. My penguin edition described the book as “a comic novel…a hilarious, often ribald story”. I confess I missed the joke; there didn’t seem to me a sinlge laugh-out-loud moment in this first-person narrative of an American who atempts to go native in Africa. Plenty of food for thought on the human condition; Henderson’s moral decay is contrasted with his physical vigour, and his unflitered deliberations on the meaning of life in general, and his own in particular, added up to a much more convincing portrait than the central character in The Red Badge of Courage. I enjoyed the book. But I remain worried, not for the first time, that I have failed to grasp American humour.

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The Ice Warriors

Actually finished listening to this mid-week, but due to pressure of other things have been only slowly catching up with reviews. Four out of six episodes survive, and perhaps I should give it another chance by watching them (I may even spend some time on the BBC’s photonovelParanoia role-playing game. And the technobabble and had-waving science was pleasingly incomprehensible, thus not getting in the way of enjoying the show.

So, willing to be convinced about this one, but not yet convinced I’m afraid. We are listening to “Fury From The Deep” while driving at the moment. Irritatingly my car stereo doesn’t play my MP3 CDs of the two Yeti stories. Are they reasonably easy to convert into ordinary CD format and re-burn? Or should I just listen to them on the computer?

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July Books 20) The Lady of the Shroud

20) The Lady of the Shroud, by Bram Stoker

The only time I have ever been to Israel was for a conference on European foreign policy, in Caesarea five years ago. The only other participant with Balkan expertise was a Serbian journalist based in Berlin (who I last saw in Strasbourg a few years later) who stunned me by describing a novel by Bram Stoker set not in the eastern Balkan environment of Dracula but in the western Balkans, in what was then the future Yugoslavia (and is now, of course, the former Yugoslavia). I spotted and bought the book, The Lady of the Shroud, just over a year ago in Hampshire, and read it last weekend.

At least, I thought I had read it; and then, as I was preparing to write it up here on Sunday night, checking out the on-line text on Project Gutenberg, I discovered that there was a whole chunk of the book missing – the Arrow edition of 1962, whose 1974 version (with cover shown to the right) was the one I had bought, had hacked off the last quarter of the text, without explanation! Extraordinary. I don’t mind buying an abridged version if it’s marked as such, but it was a shock to discover I had been cheated of such a substantial amount of the content. (Though since I only paid £1.60 I can’t complain too much.)

Anyway. The book is set in the present day (ie 1907). It is about a Rupert St Leger, an Irishman who has become a citizen of the world, who unexpectedly finds himself a major landowner in a fictional Adriatic territory, the Land of the Blue Mountains, which should not be confused with any country named after mountains of some other colour with which I might be familiar. He gets entangled with a mysterious and chilly lady who appears wearing only a shroud (the exciting cover – wonder who the artist was? – shows her standing up in a water-borne coffin, in what is in fact the book’s very first scene). The plot is complex and exciting, but is resolved with his rescuing her father from captivity using an aeroplane (which is pretty bloody advanced for 1907) and it turns out that the only element of the supernatural not otherwise explained away is Celtic rather than Balkan, in that Rupert’s aged Scottish aunt has the Second Sight.

At least, that’s where I thought the book ended. However, in the substantial section censored from the 1962/1974 edition, the story continues directly into the political rather than the supernatural (perhaps the reader of the 1960s was deemed by the publishers to be more interested in the horror elements than the politics). Rupert uses his vast fortune, and the mineral wealth of the Land of the Blue Mountains, to unite the entire Balkan peninsula under his moderate and constitutional rule, defended by a fleet of – get this – radium-powered aeroplanes.

Yes, the author of Dracula wrote a book with nuclear fuelled aircraft. Set in the Balkans. In 1907.

Digging around the internet a bit, I was thrilled to discover that there is a respectable school of thought suggesting that when Stoker wrote about the Balkans, he was really writing about,er, the Balkans, rather than whatever other undercurrents of sexuality, Irishness, etc may be attributed to him. (See especially essays on Dracula here, here and here, with the middle essay looking also at The Lady of the Shroud.) His younger brother George served in the Red Crescent in Bulgaria, and wrote a book about it (With “The Unspeakables”: or, Two Years’ Campaigning in European and Asiatic Turkey, published in 1878). There are several substantive monographs and essay collections on Stoker’s sources for Dracula. I may have to start reading some of them.

I must say I had not expected this book to be quite so intriguing. I certainly got more than my money’s worth anyway.

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Friday Five

I have never done this before, but has inspired me:

1. Are you named after anyone? If so, explain.

Yes. There were a large number of Nicholases in the Whyte family tree, going back to Sir Nicholas Whyte/White, an Irish judge in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who died while a prisoner in the Tower of London.

2. Do you have your children’s names picked out already? If so, is there any significance?

B’s name was chosen originally because it was original, and Irish, and we didn’t actually know anyone with that name. – who has almost certainly forgotten this – convinced me retrospectively that we had named her in honour of a 14th-century Swedish saint who famously moved to Rome to try and improve the moral behaviour of the Pope.

F was also chosen as an Irish name, and because we didn’t know anyone else with that name, but this time there was a deliberate reference to an eighth century Irish saint, a bishop of Salzburg, who famously believed that the world was round.

U was named after a favourite aunt, who died in 1998. My aunt, oddly enough, had been named after the wife of an earlier Nicholas Whyte (not the Elizabethan judge, but his grandson).

3. If you were born a member of the opposite sex what would your name have been?

Don’t know.

4. If you could re-name yourself what name would you pick and why?

I have occasionally toyed with rechristening myself with my middle name, which is Henry, but it doesn’t really work. I think I would choose something unabbreviatable and difficult to mis-spell (see next question).

5. Are there any mispronunciations/typos that people do with your name constantly?

Absolutely. People call me “Nick” even though I always introduce myself and refer to mjyself as “Nicholas”; in writing, the “h” disappears from my first name, the “y” turns to “i” in my surname, occasionally if I’m spelling it down the phone to someone who is only half listening the “h” disappears from my surname as well. And because I work in a slightly multi-alphabet environment, my surname can be either Γουάιτ or Ουάιτ in Greek, and in Cyrillic it can be Уайт (Russian) or Вајт (Balkan). And I’ve seen an Albanian interview where I was “Nikolas Uajt” – even though it is theoretically the same alphabet.

Still, it could be worse. At least I’m not like the guy from “The Hunting of the Snark”, who had “wholly forgotten his name”:

He would answer to “Hi!” or to any loud cry,
Such as “Fry me!” or “Fritter my wig!”
To “What-you-may-call-um!” or “What-was-his-name!”
But especially “Thing-um-a jig!”

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July Books 19) The Mark of Ran

19) The Mark of Ran, by Paul Kearney

Paul was good enough to send me this after a brief encounter at P-Con earlier this year. I very much enjoyed it. It’s the first in a series, so includes a certain amount of coming-of-age narrative: our hero, Rol, sees his family massacred, gets trained as an assassin, and becomes a successful naval warrior. The contrasting environments – especially the city where he gets his training, and a long desert interlude in the middle of the naval section – are very vividly realised. Possibly this demonstrates my own ignorance, but I felt no particular problems with a 17th-century-at-latest-plus-magic urban environment coexisting with 18th-century-at-earliest naval warfare in the same world. Will look out for later books in this series.

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The Evil of the Daleks

Spent most of this afternoon driving to the Ardennes and back, so finished listening to The Evil of the Daleks, the last story of Patrick Troughton’s first season as the Doctor, and the one voted the Best Ever Doctor Who Story by readers of Dreamwatch in 1993. Only one episode out of seven survives on video, and I haven’t seen it (yet).

I have to say that I was very unsatisfied with the plot of this classic story. The Daleks’ plan to manipulate the Doctor, and the Doctor’s attempts to manipulate Jamie, are both unrealistically convoluted as well as being very out of character. We never find out how the Daleks got photographs of the Second Doctor, whom they otherwise met only on the planet Vulcan, and of Jamie, whom they did not otherwise meet at all (unless you believe the Season 6B theory). (We also know that the first two episodes of Evil of the Daleks are contemporaneous with The War Machines, so the Daleks would have been better off trying to grab the First Doctor who was elsewhere in London at the same time.) When we hit the nineteenth century, Arthur Terrall’s presence is not very satisfactorily explained, and the fact that he is a robot is just left hanging (or rather, Ruth is told to take him as far away as possible, as if this will somehow cure him of being mechanical). And it seems difficult to imagine that the Daleks are so bad at keeping track of individual units, however de-personalised they may be, that they simply lose track of the first three humanised Daleks. (The Discontinuity Guide further asks, “Why not just kidnap the Doctor and Jamie? Why does Terrall get Toby to kidnap Jamie? Since Jamie is so essential to Dalek plans, why are the traps set for him so lethal?”)

Having said that, the acting is great, and it’s clear from the BBC photosnaps that the series looked fantastic (Maxtable’s beard!!!!!). It’s also a really great idea to return to the Dalek City on Skaro (apparently the first time the Doctor had ever been seen to return to any planet except Earth). And I loved the Victoriana; I especially liked Waterfield’s horror-filled explanation, “We had opened the way for them with our experiments. They forced me into the horror of time travel, Doctor” – sounded very HP Lovecraft! And the references to Poe were clear (and even at one point explicit). And Troughton is great, dominating every scene (and this partly accounts for the flagging pace of episode 4 when he was on holiday).

So anyway, more good than bad, but I’m very sorry not to have actually seen any of it.

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Dangers of blogging

I’m sure those of you who care about such things will be aware of the travails of La Petite Anglaise, the blogger sacked by her employers (the Paris branch of British accountancy firm Dixon Wilson) for, well, blogging. Most commentators have been pretty sympathetic, and so am I. She had never once identified herself or her employers on the blog, and never ever referred to the substance of her work (though did refer to two or three humorous work incidents, this supposedly being the cause of her dismissal). Most of her blog entries concerned life as an expatriate single mother, her relationships, and the usual stuff, told in a very human way. I am not a regular reader, but have skimmed from time to time.

There are lines between professional and unprofessional conduct that can be (and sometimes are) crossed by bloggers, and La Petite in my view stayed scrupulously on the right side of them. I’m delighted to read the analysis of French legal blogger Eolas (here and in more detail here) who reckons that Dixon Wilson don’t have a hope in hell of winning the employment tribunal case she has taken out against them. The ironic thing is that she was sacked for bringing the firm into disrepute through her blog; in fact their sacking her has resulted in far more negative publicity, with articles in all the main British papers, than the blog on its own would ever have achieved no matter how vitriolic she had chosen to be.

One cannot help but feel, as Eolas put it (and I translate freely), that Dixon Wilson panicked at the discovery that a member of their secretarial staff had a) a private life and b) a brain.

There are better ways of dealing with this than Dixon Wilson’s approach. About a year ago I disovered a blog written by an intern in a politically sensitive line of work, which talked perhaps a little more freely about the office environment than was wise. The line manager of the intern happened to be a friend of mine, so I took it on myself to mention the matter over drinks one evening; the relevant blog entries have now disappeared, but the intern got a full-time contract, so I assume that a request to take down the relevant entries was made and acceded to. That is what Dixon Wilson should have done; requested that the relevant entries be removed, and let her off with a caution. (Having said that, she might well have been within her rights in French employment law to refuse such a request, but it would have been a more sensible approach.)

And my advice for bloggers – switch to a system where you can post but lock your entries, such as livejournal. Though even then (as a recent incident on my f-list confirms) you have to take sensible precautions…

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“Lest we forget” – who’s been forgotten?

The Guardian has an article today taking the first steps in “constructing a true record of Britain’s ignored, decaying and under-resourced radical heritage … to celebrate the insurrectionary meeting places, non-conformist chapels and martyrs’ memorials of the people’s history”. The places/events he suggests commemorating (subject to future reader input) are:

  1. St Peter’s Fields, Manchester Scene of the 1819 ‘Peterloo massacre’
  2. Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, scene of the National Covenant of 1638
  3. Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey: Site of the martyrdom of Emily Wilding Davison in the cause of female suffrage, 1913
  4. Cardiff race riots, 1919
  5. Kennington Park, London, Scene of the Chartists’ monster rally in 1848

It strikes me that there is a part of the UK – at least, as the UK was in 1819, 1848, 1913 and 1919 – which is completely missing from this list. I’ve posted about this kind of thing before, but perhaps the Guardian could remember also that things happened outside England, Scotland and Wales as part of the United Kingdom’s political history?

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Picspam souvenirs

One nice souvenir I picked up while in Montenegro, which I can now share with you all thanks to the new scanner:

A folder with this cover:

13 July being independence day, celebrating the recognition of the country by the Great Powers in 1878, and the start of the resistance against the Nazis in 1941.

Inside was this envelope:

“nezavisnost” means (not surprisingly) “independence”; “prvi dan” means “first day”.

All is explained on the back of the envelope:

The latter two images are a little bigger than the original – the first one, about the same size.

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Bike ride via chapels

Took the camera with me, but the batteries were flat, so these are tourist website photos.

I determined to strike east and then south from our village, but realised that I had got confused in the woods and gone more southeast than I intended when I emerged in Vaalbeek, right beside the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene:

Its oldest parts and decorations are 16th century, but it was extended in the 18th and again in the 19th centuries. There were people inside preparing for the annual open-air religious rites on the fourth Sunday of July. (Why that date? 22 July is the feast of St Mary Magdalene.)

That was probably a shortcut: I pressed on along the main road, passing a monument to some Belgian sappers killed while clearing unexploded German mines in 1946, and reached my goal, the Chapel of St Theresa in the middle of the woods:

This rather intriguing shrine dates from the 1930s, built in gratitude for the miraculous healing of a boy from the village of Nodebais a few km to the south. I know no more details than that. It was, sadly, closed up.

I came back through the forest, fidning it surprisingly easy going, and before I had expected to reached the Chapel of Our Lady of Steenbergen:

Built in 1652, protected by a local fraternity and by the state: they are gearing up for the candle-lit procession around the pools of Zoetwater (sweet water) on August 15th – this is also where the Beltane ceremonies took place.

And so back home. About 13 km, I reckon, and surprised by how well my body seemed to take it. Though I still needed a nap after lunch!

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The Power of the Daleks and The Rescue

Actually, before I get into my own listening/viewing, go and read ‘s commentary on the last Sixth Doctor story, The Ultimate Foe. Confirms me in my resolve not to bother watching any more stories from that period than I already have.

Funnily enough both the stories I got through recently were landmarks in the history of the series. The Rescue, a two-parter, was the first introduction of a new companion – followed immediately after The Dalek Invasion of Earth. I know I said I wasn’t going to watch any more Hartnell, but it was only two episodes, so surely it doesn’t really count. More significantly, The Power of the Daleks was the first introduction of a new Doctor, as Patrick Troughton took over from William Hartnell.

The Rescue is pretty light stuff, but fortunately survives in its entirety on video (if rather poor quality). The Tardis crew find a crashed spaceship on the planet Dido with only two survivors, apparently menaced by two peculiar monsters, neither of which turns out to be quite what it seems. One of the survivors is killed off, the other becomes the new companion, Vicki. What I liked about it most was the Doctor’s knowledge of the planet as it had been on a previous visit – and then he finds that it’s all changed as the natives have been (almost) wiped out. Also, of course, the travellers’ adapting to Susan’s absence at the beginning, and the confrontation scene between the Doctor and the main villain at the end. The monsters, I’m afraid, were a bit silly, and there were a couple of implausibilities in the plot.

I loved The Power of the Daleks, sadly available on audio only (or BBC photonovel here). I was busily spotting foreshadowings in the first couple of episodes – Lesterson, the scientist who has recovered a crashed Dalek spaceship, is a combination of Henry Van Statten (from the Ninth Doctor story, Dalek) and Davros (from Genesis of the Daleks, not the later inferior versions), and some lines seemed to me to have been lifted direct from here to the later stories.

The suspicion of Ben and Polly as to the credentials of the new man in the Tardis are entirely understandable, particularly given his habit of referring to “the Doctor” in the third person. But confusion of identity is rather a theme in the story anyway: the Doctor is immediately taken by the colonists of Vulcan to be the Examiner from Earth; the Daleks are pretending to be helping the humans (few more chilling lines than the mendacious “I am your servant!” chant which ends episode 2); the humans themselves are so factionalised that nobody seems entirely sure who is on which side.

Robert James as Lesterson was particularly good, undergoing transition from blinkered scientist, to seeing the error of his ways, to breaking down completely. I was also impressed by Pamela Ann Davey as Janley, an actual serious role for a female character. Polly does not appear in epsiode 4 (presumably Anneke Wills was taking the week off? Obviously anticipated since she is kidnapped half way through the previous episode); Ben, irritatingly, keeps wanting to go back to the Tardis and get out of the place. But Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, perhaps a little uncertain at first (and hiding behind that annoying habit of playing the recorder) comes into his own pretty quickly, and by the end of the story you know who’s Who.

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What happened when I was in the Balkans

It was a warm Mediterranean evening. We all gathered on the lawn of the President’s villa. There were perhaps 300 guests. The mood was festive, everyone shaking hands and embracing. The moment eventually came when the President and his wife walked down the lane to the podium, followed by the top guests: the Prime Minister and his wife, and the President of Serbia, the President of Croatia, the Serbian foreign minister, and various other dignitaries. Given that they had just seceded from Serbia, and had been at war with Croatia not all that long ago, the presence of the heads of neighbouring states was pretty remarkable.

The guards played a fanfare, and then a young man began to sing the new/old nation’s anthem, joined in the second verse by a young woman, without any other accompaniment, their voices trembling with emotion. For the first time in nine decades, Montenegro was celebrating its traditional independence day as an independent state. They didn’t drop a beat, or miss a note. It was one of the most electrifying things I have ever witnessed.

The President then made a speech – mercifully brief, in that he was aware that many of his guests don’t have a good grasp of the local language (whatever it may be called). He referred to July 13th as the historical date when Montenegro was recognised by the Great Powers of Europe as an independent state in 1878, but enlarged much more on the other anniversary commemorated, the beginning of the Montenegrin rebellion against fascist occupation in 1941. This was smart politics; the most bitter internal opponents of independence were those who felt particularly loyal to Tito and the Partisan legacy. Having said that, most of us in the audience probably appreciated the brevity more than the content.

So that was the highlight of my week in the Balkans – one of the most impressive receptions I’ve ever been to (and as has been noted, I enjoy such events). Apart from the above, I chatted with most of the Montenegrin cabinet, the EU Special Representative for the Balkans, the leader of the opposition in Slovenia, the two Slovak diplomats whose interventions were crucial in untangling the Montenegro question, and various others.

Apaprt from that the rest of the trip was routine: frantic meetings on Monday evening in Skopje, on Tuesday and Wednesday in Pristina (highlights – the new president a huge improvement on his predecessor; the international official who was having so much fun talking to us that his aides more or less had to drag him out of the room to his next meeting). Then a fantastic car journey to Podgorica, with a former colleague who just happened to be staying in the same hotel as me in Pristina. The Wednesday evening reception as noted above, then a quiet Thursday and Friday (Thursday afternoon spent at the beach reading). And since then I’ve been here.

If you can read this you’re on my special filter for politically sensitive entries; there’s a few new people on it, so I just ask that you exercise the normal courtesy regarding locked lj posts – ie feel free to comment if you can see it, but please don’t link to or refer to anywhere else.

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General update

Apart from book reviews, reviews of old Doctor Who series, and the odd meme, this lj has been a bit quiet of late. This basically reflects the fact that it has been so sweltering hot recently that apart from work and commuting (in the blessedly air-conditioned office and car) I have only had the energy to read books and write about them, and have been deliberately choosing short books at that.

Anyway, I went out and bought a new TV today. The old one had never had great picture quality, and then the remote control packed it in a few weeks back; it was still within a few weeks of the two year guarantee, so I brought it back to the shop this morning. They promised to fix it, but mentioned a minimum repair period of three weeks. Thinking of my poor square-eyed children, unable to feed their addiction, I consulted with Anne by phone and decided to buy a new one – we can always sell on (or indeed give away) the old one to a good cause.

I immediately spotted the ideal new LCD TV in Fnac, but they refused to sell it to me as the one on display was their only one in stock. I bought a scanner off them anyway, and went exploring. Krëaut were ruled out due to having no staff presence and no serious explanation of which models were best. Vanden Borre got my custom due to very good customer service, both from staff and in terms of explaining what features each model had on the labels attached. Not that it really mattered, as they had the model I had already decided on in Fnac.

So, bought it, brought it home, plugged it in. I was slightly surprised to hear that both daughters had been waiting eagerly for this – I knew that U is a total addict to Fimbles and Miffy DVDs, but one never knows exactly what B is taking in. We were all rather more concerned to find that the new LCD TV was having problems settling in – colour faded within minutes to black and white if you were lucky, then various screen glitches began to manifest until you turned it off in disgust; when turned on again it functioned perfectly well for a minute or so and then the old problems resumed.

Much anxious fiddling with cables and scanning of the internet ensued, with the only plausible solution apparently to unplug it for an hour or so. So I did.

And now it works perfectly.

In the meantime I had bollocksed up the internet connection for the home computer and spent another frustrated hour tinkering with that before it too came right. And then I installed the scanner successfully. So I am feeling like I am Super Tech Man right now.

Plus I bought a headset so I can Skype from home. F now wants a demonstration tomorrow morning. I hope it is a bit cooler. may be interested to know that the second thunderstorm did indeed turn up in the end.

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New Toy

Just went out and bought a scanner (along with a nice new TV). No doubt this will eventually lead to serious picspam, but for now I start with some culture by my progeny:

F’s depiction of Puss In Boots

F’s portrayal of Puss In Boots

Now, where did I put that 17th-century document…

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July Books 18) The Haunting of Hill House

18) The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Picked this up at P-Con, partly inspired by my memory of Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery”, and was prodded into reading it by ‘s write-up. It was also on the women writers meme that was going round a few months back. Abigail Nussbaum didn’t like it.

Anyway, I loved it. Not in fact a particularly short book (246 pages in my edition) but a real page-turner. Written and set in 1959. Professor invites people to spend the summer in a suppsoedly haunted house with him. The viewpoint character, Eleanor Vance, is obviously somehow affected by the environment, much more so than the other two guests, a young man who is related to the house’s owners and a woman who is taking a break from her (we assume) girlfriend (though her lover’s gender is never specified. The caretakers, and the professor’s wife who arrives with entourage halfway through, make up the numbers.

The pace is kept up very well throughout. Horror isn’t really my thing unless it’s done well, and this certainly is.

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July Books 17) Under the Devil’s Eye

17) Under the Devil’s Eye: Britain’s Forgotten Army at Salonika 1915-1918, by Alan Wakefield and Simon Moody

Today was a public holiday in Belgium, so I took another step in my efforts to familiarise myself with the Macedonia campaign of the first world war. This is much more of a grass-roots story compared to Alan Palmer’s geopolitical survey, livened up by direct accounts from the soldiers themselves, either from contemporary letters or from memoirs. It also concentrates exclusively on the British, with one benefit being an entire chapter on the Struma Valley battles of 1916 which Palmer almost ignores. The maps are by far the clearest of any of the books I’ve consulted so far (though I do wish I had access to the colour maps which graced Cyril Falls’ first edition).

The true discovery of this book for me was the poetry of Owen Rutter, who wrote an epic called “Tiadatha” (“Tired Arthur”) in the style of Wadsworth’s Hiawatha, itself of course based on the Kalevala, which really caught my eye (not just because of my own recent efforts). There are some particularly moving passages which I will save for a later occasion, but for now his description of the city at the centre of the campaign will do:

Tiadatha thought of Kipling,
Wondered if he’s ever been there
Thought: “At least in Rue Egnatia
East and West are met together.”
There were trams and Turkish beggars,
Mosques and minarets and churches,
Turkish baths and dirty cafés,
Picture palaces and kan-kans:
Daimler cars and Leyland lorries
Barging into buffalo wagons,
French and English private soldiers
Jostling seedy Eastern brigands.

Rutter went on to make a name for himself as a travel writer, and was a district administrator in Borneo; his novel “Lucky Star” was filmed as “Once In A Blue Moon” in 1935, and IMDB rates this as having been sf; who knows?

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July Books 16) The Red Badge of Courage

16) The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

Had vaguely been meaning to read this for ages after I bought it last year. I think I had seen some references to it in one of Joe Haldeman’s novels, or something similar. I must say I thought it was rather good. It’s the story of a young soldier in the US Civil War, with a very strong psychological perspective on his frame of mind as he goes into his first battle (and indeed runs away from it, but goes back and tries again). As well as the exploration of the central character’s inner life, the descriptions of landscape and of the battle scenes are vivid and colourful. My one reservation is that the tight third person point of view is somewhat let down on the few occasions that Fleming actually speaks; his words as reported just don’t seem completely consistent with the character whose complex runimations we have been pursuing. Apart from that, good even-handed stuff. (The author was born in 1870, years after the war ended, but based it on interviews with veterans and the battle is generally supposed to be Chancellorsville.)

I’ve linked above to the LibraryThing page for the book; not sure if I will do this regularly but it may be a useful jumping-off point for people.

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July Books 15) Galactic Patrol

15) Galactic Patrol by E.E. “Doc” Smith

After I read Triplanetary, the first in the famous Lensman series of early sf novels, and didn’t like it, several people told me that I should have started with Galactic Patrol. So I’ve been struggling through it for the last couple of weeks.

Sorry, folks, but this is really not for me. I found the writing turgid and the characters unengaging; and the setting may have seemed fresh and exciting in the 1930s but now seems underdeveloped. The only really interesting character is Kinnison’s alien friend. I have another two Lensman books on the shelf but I think they are going to stay there (until someone relieves me of them).

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The Tenth Planet

I know, I know, I said I was finished with the First Doctor a while back, and today a whole load of Second Doctor goodies arrived for me from Amazon – audio versions of The Power of the Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen/The Web of Fear, The Ice Warriors, and Fury from the Deep, and also the DVD of Tomb of the Cybermen. But my guilty secret is that I have in fact been watching The Tenth Planet over the last few evenings.

And it is much better than I had been told. Lots of things to really love about this story. The special title sequence, with a cybernetic theme. The role given to an actual black actor, playing the more sensible of the two doomed astronauts (this was Earl Cameron, who more recently played President Zuwanie opposite Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter). The “base under siege” story, which later became such a cliche of the series, but I think this was in fact the very first Doctor Who with this theme (and anyway it still works well, as we saw this year with The Satan Pit). The sinister appearance – for the first time! – of the Cybermen – who still have human hands; whose voices are a painful electronic lilt, much closer in some ways to their 2006 relatives than some of their intervening representations. Sure, the costumes aren’t great, but they are a significant improvement on the standard man-in-rubber-suit monster. The horrible difference between Cybermen, with their disregard for human life and emotion, and Ben, who regrets having to kill them.

There are problems with it too. The science of the plot – parallel Earth? which nobody can recognise through a telescope?? (Except Polly???) Energy drains???? just doesn’t work on any serious level of analysis. While Pedler and Davies get good marks for internationalism (the stereotyped Italian apart) the only two female characters are Polly (who makes the coffee) and the unnamed secretary to the blok in Switzerland. And the Cybermen are strangely vulnerable to bright lights and uranium rods.

But the Doctor, as so often, is central to this. For the first two episodes Hartnell is doing great – grumbling and sniping at the militarists of the base; pulling out essential pieces of knowledge at – or before- the right moment. Then he disappears, ill, for the third episode; for the fourth, judging from the reconstruction, he seems to be mostly back on form. And as he and his companions stagger out of the Cybermen’s spaceship where he and Polly have been prisoners, past their disintegrated captors, he seems abstracted:

Ben: Hey, come on Doctor, wakey wakey!  It’s all over now.
Doctor: What did you say, my boy?  “It’s all over.”  “It’s all over.”  That’s what you said.  No… but it isn’t all over. It’s far from being all over. [at this point, one of the few surviving video clips, he appears to be addressing the audience through the camera]
Ben: What are you talking about?
Doctor: I must get back to the TARDIS immediately!
Polly: All right, Doctor.
Doctor: Yes…  I must go now.
Ben: Aren’t we going to go back to say good-bye or anything?
Doctor: No!  No, I must go at once.
Ben: Oh well, you better have this. [offering a scarf] We don’t want you catching your death of cold.
Doctor: Ah, yes! Thank you. It’s good. [almost inaudibly] Keep warm.
And with that odd echo of his exchange with Polly in the first episode (Polly: “Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?” Doctor: “Oh, like toast, my dear.”) the Doctor staggers wordlessly back to the Tardis and Ben and Polly are briefly shut out; when they get in, the Doctor collapses, the Tardis engines start, and the Doctor’s face begins to glow; and, shockingly, when the glow fades, it is someone else’s face.

OK, we have been through this eight times since (though of course with only six real regeneration scenes), and it’s a scene that we are now used to (see various regenerations here – though having said that, the very first regeneration is technically the best apart from the most recent two). But having watched various First Doctor series over the last while, I found it easier to get into the mind-set of the 1966 viewer for whom there had only been one Doctor, and suddenly we were in a whole new situation – a feeling of both bereavement and renewal. Those who got into the show for the first time in 2005 must have had much the same feelings when watching The Parting of the Ways.

Well, I think I’ve done my duty by Hartnell, having watched or listened to ten of the 29 stories of his time (he made more individual stories than any other Doctor except Tom Baker!). My favourites were The Edge of Destruction, The Dalek Master Plan, and The Tenth Planet. The only one I thought more bad than good was The Chase. (The others – all definitely more good than bad – were The Daleks, The Aztecs, The Dalek Invasion of EarthThe Crusade, Mission to the Unknown and The Massacre.) Roll on the Troughton era…

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This time last week…

…this time last week I was at one of the most extarordinary diplomatic occasions I shall ever attend.

My Balkans trip was pretty much designed around this one event, a reception to mark Montenegro’s historical independence day, for the first time as an independent state since 1918.

I flew into Skopje (in Macedonia) on the Monday, and did a bunch of meetings in a cafe next door to the presidential offices (one presidential aide and three former colleagues who have gone on to other things), ending with a dinner with Dame Audrey arranged by , and drove up to Priština getting in around midnight (it’s an hour and a half from Skopje). Over breakfast on Tuesday morning, I was delighted to discover that I was sharing the hotel with L, a former colleague from my NDI days, who has worked in Montenegro for eight years and who was therefore the likely answer to my minor problem of getting out of Kosovo the next day.

An intense day and a half of meetings in Kosovo followed. The new president is a massive improvement on his predecessor, who had a terrible tendency to bleat on pompously at great length. (He did at least give vistors rocks from Kosovo as souvenirs. I have several.) The new guy speaks a little English and better French. I was rather surprised that he had kept the presidential office very much as a memorial to his predecessor who died in January. (Especially as his predecessor tended not to use the office but to receive guests in his villa elsewhere in town.) We also met, among various others, a French two-star general who enjoyed talking to us so much that his aides practically had to drag him out of the room to his next meeting. Also in the course of the day I bumped into an old friend who used to be a background figure in Fine Gael but has dedicated his life to Kosovo politics for the last few years. I hadn’t seen him since 1998.

Then on Wednesday it was the long five-hour drive with L from Priština to Podgorica. The first hour or so, across the Kosovo plain, is pretty dull. But then you hit the mountains. It has been said that Montenegro, if you ironed it, would in fact be the size of Brazil. (OK, only said once, and by a friend of mine who was trying to be funny, but you get the point.)

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Do this if you like (from )

Please copy and paste the following and reply to this entry with everything (or not exactly everything, it’s up to you) filled out:
first name/nickname:
where are you from:
your age:
an interesting fact about you:
(some)things you can’t live without:
why do you visit me/my journal:
recommend me someone’s lj that isn’t on my flist:
if you could travel in time where would you go?:

See my answers to her here.

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Moldova – centre of world hopes for peace

From today’s Financial Times:

Europe And US Are Lost On Road Map To Nowhere, By Gideon Rachman

In a crisis people fall back on familiar instincts. So, as the fighting in the Middle East escalated, the Americans defended Israel, the French condemned Israel, the British searched for the middle ground and the United Nations called for restraint. The Group of Eight in Moscow nonetheless managed to issue a joint statement. But this facade of unity could soon crack. The fighting has broken out at a time when Americans and Europeans were already facing an unusual number of serious and worsening security threats. The latest – and possibly gravest – crisis will severely test an unheralded new period of transatlantic co-operation, which had been quietly closing the divisions opened up over Iraq.

On the day the Israelis began to bomb Beirut airport, I met a European Union diplomat in Brussels. In an effort to lighten the gloom, I asked him if he could think of a part of the world where western diplomacy was working well. After a long silence, he said: “Moldova”.

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July Books 14) Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu

14) Buddha, Volume 1: Kapilavastu, by Osamu Tezuka

Another one of Time‘s top 25 and the first graphic novel I’ve read in almost six months. Originally published in 1974, this is the first of eight volumes retelling the life of the Buddha by one of Japan’s greatest manga artists, known as the “Walt Disney of Japan” because of his involvement in anime (he invented the “large eyes” style).

I’m therefore rather sorry to report that this didn’t do much for me. The Buddha himself barely appears in this first volume (born about two-thirds of the way through, still a baby at the end); the other characters seemed to me never to move much beyond going trhough the mythic motions, in a way that reminded me of why I am ususally left unsatisfied with books retelling the Cuchullain or other Irish legends. The female characters were difficult to tell apart, apart from the (unnamed) mother of the central character, Chapra, who can be distinguished from other women in that she is permanently topless for some reason. The one intriguing character, a child thief called Tatta, was also somewhat infuriating in that he had the magical power to transfer his consciuousness into animals – a pretty effective mystical trick that didn’t really seem to fit with the otherwise rather gritty and realistic setting of the story.

I did like the fight scenes, though, which are not easy to draw effectively. But unless you guys can convince me otherwise, I’m not going to invest in the other seven books of the series.

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G8 latest

The Bush/Blair conversation in full.

Blair/Bush exchange: transcript

Bush: Yo, Blair. How are you doing?

Blair: I’m just…

Bush: You’re leaving?

Blair: No, no, no not yet. On this trade thingy…[INAUDIBLE]

Bush: Yeah, I told that to the man.

Blair: Are you planning to say that here or not?

Bush: If you want me to.

Blair: Well, it’s just that if the discussion arises…

Bush: I just want some movement.

Blair: Yeah.

Bush: Yesterday we didn’t see much movement.

Blair: No, no, it may be that it’s not, it may be that it’s impossible.

Bush: I am prepared to say it.

Blair: But it’s just I think what we need to be an opposition…

Bush: Who is introducing the trade?

Blair: Angela [Merkel, the German Chancellor].

Bush: Tell her to call ’em.

Blair: Yes.

Bush: Tell her to put him on, them on the spot. Thanks for [INAUDIBLE] it’s awfully thoughtful of you.

Blair: It’s a pleasure.

Bush: I know you picked it out yourself.

Blair: Oh, absolutely, in fact [INAUDIBLE].

Bush: What about Kofi? [INAUDIBLE] His attitude to ceasefire and everything else … happens.

Blair: Yeah, no I think the [INAUDIBLE] is really difficult. We can’t stop this unless you get this international business agreed.

Bush: Yeah.

Blair: I don’t know what you guys have talked about, but as I say I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is, but you need that done quickly because otherwise it will spiral.

Bush: I think Condi is going to go pretty soon.

Blair: But that’s, that’s, that’s all that matters. But if you… you see it will take some time to get that together.

Bush: Yeah, yeah.

Blair: But at least it gives people…

Bush: It’s a process, I agree. I told her your offer to…

Blair: Well…it’s only if I mean… you know. If she’s got a…, or if she needs the ground prepared as it were… Because obviously if she goes out, she’s got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.

Bush: You see, the … thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.



Blair: Syria.

Bush: Why?

Blair: Because I think this is all part of the same thing.

Bush: Yeah.

Blair: What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way…

Bush: Yeah, yeah, he is sweet.

Blair: He is honey. And that’s what the whole thing is about. It’s the same with Iraq.

Bush: I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to Assad and make something happen.

Blair: Yeah.



Bush: We are not blaming the Lebanese government.

Blair: Is this…? (at this point Blair taps the microphone in front of him and the sound is cut.)

Thanks to Ian.

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