Home again

Made it home from our three days in England, various family members suffering from various bugs. I think for once I may go to bed early. Have a good New Year, all.

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December Books

Non-fiction 4

Non-genre fiction 3

sf (non-Who) 2

Doctor Who etc (not comics) 5

Comics 2

~4,300 pages
4 by women (van der Wal, Hodgson Burnett, Jenkins, Moore; but not ‘Tara Samms’); total of 68/341 (19.9%) for 2009
1 by PoC (Jenkins)
Owned for more than a year: The Jesuits, The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Second Annual Collection
Rereads: None

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Books unread

Help me decide what to read next year – I did this last year and the year before and found it very useful! (I will post a poll of the books I have read this year tomorrow, all being well; there are still a couple I may finish in the meantime.)

I included a text box for recommendations for or against particular books when I did this last year, but I think it is better to invite any such remarks to be posted as comments.

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December Books 15) Geschiedenis van het Nederlands, by Marijke van der Wal and Cor van Bree

A very approachable introduction to the history of the Dutch language, aimed at undergraduates. It starts with Indo-European and Gothic and then follows the development of Dutch from the point where it is identifiable (700-1000 AD) to the present. One point that I was not left clear about: how exactly the linguistic frontier between Germanic and Latin became established, and when – was it before or after the fall of the Roman Empire?

The more recent history of Dutch has much more controversy and politics than I had realised. The first attempts to standardise came at exactly the same time as the partition of the Dutch-speaking area between the Spanish and the independent Dutch spate; the standard language therefore started based on the dialect of Holland (ie the province of that name) but with substantial input from Brabant. A fascinating map much later in the book shows that the areas where locals habitually drop the final “n” in infinitives and plurals, etc, reflects this early alliance – the “n” is pronounced in Zeeland and the Belgian provinces of East and West Flanders; also to the northwest, everywhere above a line going roughly from Alkmaar to Arnhem; and in patches of both Limburgs. But it is silent in Antwerp, Brussels and Leuven, as in The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht. As a Dutch student, this is practically the first exception you are taught for the language’s generally phonetic spelling; it is certainly the most common such exception.

Scientists like Stevin and the Huygens family made Dutch an international language of knowledge, as well as of commerce. Much of the following centuries are taken up with debates about how far the written language should reflect its spoken form, mainly resolved in favour of the demotic. It took the French-educated rulers some time to catch up – French was the court language as late as Queen Emma, who was Regent until 1898. It was also, incredibly, not until 1898 that Dutch was recognised as an official language alongside French in the relevant parts of Belgium (not surprisingly the chapter on the Flemish language struggle is one of the longest).

I was a little uncomfortable with the way that the authors slip rather easily and unconsciously into the dialectic of territorial conquest: most of Flanders is now secure, and losses in the Brussels area have been stabilised; Frisian is under control; Indonesia and South Africa (and, cough, New York) may have been lost, but at least the Caribbean is still there (though it seems likely to me that Dutch is an elite language in that last case, with most people speaking Papiamento or other creoles). But I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it; Dutch speakers who want to learn more about the language will find it of interest.

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December Books 14) The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 22nd Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois

This came out in 2005, the year of the Glasgow Worldcon, and I guess that because I felt I had thoroughly chewed over that year’s short fiction in the Hugo process I didn’t urgently need to read this. That was wrong: Dozois has as ever pulled together an excellent set of stories, full of variety of approach and length. As noted below, I had read only the few stories which got shortlisted for the major awards, and one other which I had seen in its original anthology. Of the stories new to me, the standouts were Stephen Baxter’s “Mayflower II” – I often find his prose style annoying but this time it worked – and Walter Jon Williams’ “Investments”, a hard sf story with softer edges. But they are all good, and I should get back into the habit of reading the “Best of the Year” anthologies as soon as they come out.

The lack of overlap with the 2005 (and 2006 Nebula) award nominations is striking. Dozois includes three of the Hugo novelette nominees, and three novelettes and one novella which made it to the final Nebula ballots, but not “The Fairy Handbag” which won both Hugo and Nebula – indeed not a single winner in any category. (ETA: points out that in fairness “The Fairy Handbag” was not science fiction. But the other winners by and large were.)

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December Books 13) Don’t Mention the Wars: A Journey Through European Stereotypes, by Tony Connelly

A well-written account for an Irish audience of the characteristics of ten European countries – Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. In each case Connelly has done some of the essential academic background reading, and interviews locals (and in the earlier chapters also Irish emigrants) to flesh out what makes the Poles Polish, the Germans German, and so on. In addition, he is honest about the fact that the Irish perception of many of these countries is mediated by English media (there is a painful scene in Brentwood with a German standup comedian). I felt he was particularly good on Germany and France, though rather weaker on Italy (where he spends too much time on Sicily). The one country on his list that I haven’t visited myself is Poland, and I learned a lot from his chapter on it (though the main point is to go and read Norman Davies’ book). If Connelly’s journalism is as good as this, then RTÉ have an important asset – not just for the domestic Irish audience, but for explaining Europe better to the English-speaking world (a job which the British media dismally fails to do).

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Linkspam for 28-12-2009

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25 books from 1910 and 1860

A few months back I did a poll on books published in 1959, 1909, 1859, 1809, 1759, 1609 and 1509. For the publications to be commemorated in 2010, I found the pickings much slimmer for the older set of anniversaries, but on the other hand 1960 appears to have been a rather good year (indeed, deserving a poll of its own). Here are the top books from 1910 and 1860 (again ranked by LibraryThing popularity).

(Yes, I know that When the Sleeper Wakes was originally serialised in 1899, but I am assured that The Sleeper Wakes of 1910 is very different.)

I’m in the middle of Framley Parsonage at the moment.

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50 books from (very nearly) 50 years ago

These 50 books were all published in 1960. (I have selected them by the scientific method of identifying the top 46 from that year on LibraryThing, plus another four that I happened to have read myself.)

NB some of these I wasn’t sure of myself and had to check, as follows:
For Your Eyes Only – is a collection of James Bond short stories
Jeeves in the Offing – is the one which starts with Bertie discovering that he is engaged to Bobbie Wickham (when her mother phones up, sobbing, to ask if “the dreadful news” is true); also features Aunt Dahlia, the psychiatrist Sir Roderick Glossop and the Rev. Aubrey Upjohn, but not much Jeeves
A Burnt-Out Case – is the particularly depressing Graham Greene set in a leper colony in the Congo
Dorsai! – an episodic book about Donal Graeme, warrior extraordinaire
The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding etc – is a short story collection mainly featuring Poirot
False Scent – is the one with an aging actress who is murdere with ehr own insecticide
The Clue in the Old Stagecoach – is the one where Nancy Drew searches for an antique stagecoach that, according to legend, contains something of great value to the people of Francisville

Happy to clarify any other cases where confusion is possible…

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Causes of the general backwardness in Religion in that Realm, and how the same may be remedied, &c.

A letter of 22 September 1590 from Adam Loftus, Archbishop of Dublin, to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, recommending fines and imprisonment as a method to force the Irish to accept the Reformed religion. Noted here because Sir Nicholas Whyte is mentioned as a dangerous liberal.

To the Right Honourable my singular good Lord the Lord Burghley, Lord Treasurer of England.

It may please your good Lordship — I have been lately made partaker of your Lordship’s letter to my speciall good Lord, the Lord Deputy, wherein you lament the general corruption of this realm in the cause of religion, and do wish his Lordship and myself to enter into some speedy consideration how thesame may be remedied. I am thereby emboldened, humbly craving your Lordship’s good acceptation, both at large to discover unto you the means and degrees by which this people are fallen into this general revolt and to signify mine opinion how they may be reduced to better conformity.

And looking back unto the times past, I cannot forbear to inform your Lordship of that which in mine experience I know to be true :—that albeit there hath been in this people a general disposition to popery, as to a thing wherein they are misled, ever from their cradle, yet this general recusancy is but of six years continuance at the most, and began in the second year of Sir John Perrott’s government, in the beginning of the parliament holden by him. Before which time I well remember, and do assure your Lordship, there were not in the pale the number of twelve recusants, gentlemen of account. But, since, they have grown to such obstinacy and boldness that it is to be feared—if some speedy remedy be not provided—upon pretence of religion they will shake off all duty and obedience. Before that time they were restrained by the Ecclesiastical Commission, and—howsoever they were affected inwardly in their consciences—yet outwardly they shewed great duty and obedience, in resorting to service, sermons and in receiving of the communion. In the beginning of the parliament, Sir Nicholas White, in the name of his countrymen, moved Sir John Perrott with sundry reasons before the most of this Council, to permit this people to have the liberty of their consciences and the free use of their religion, wherein they had been bred and brought up, assuring Sir John, that granting that unto them, they would not only condescend to the repeal of Poyning’s Act but to any other reasonable motion which should be propounded in the parliament. His good success with the Lord Deputy at that time moved another of his country, one Edward Nugent, a lawyer, to come into the lower house with a premeditated speech in defence of the Mass and Romish religion, declaring the good success her Majesty’s progenitors had while they embraced the Mass and the Catholic religion, as he termed it, and the bad success which pursued the rejecting thereof.

By these encouragements, and by the bad example of some great personages of credit in this state, this people hath ever sithence grown to wonderful obstinacy and therein do persist unto this day — increasing in malice beyond all measure and utter detestation of religion. When we, the bishops of Dublin, Meath, and a few others well affected, perceived this declination, being authorised by her Majesty’s High Commission for Ecclesiastical causes, we convented before us the principal gentlemen and such as we knew to be ringleaders in this cause, seeking to draw them to better conformity. But so soon as they came before us we were forbidden by the then Lord Deputy to deal with them, who told us — but in truth never shewed the same — that he had received direction from their Lordships that this people should not be dealt with for matters of religion. And so we were restrained from proceeding any further. And presently it was bruited throughout the pale, that her Majesty’s pleasure was that they should not be touched for their religion, but should be permitted to use the same at their pleasure, and so they did during the time of Sir John’s government, wherein they took such heart and grew to such obstinacy that now they can hardly be reclaimed. The rather because those noblemen and principal gentlemen by their bad examples do daily draw them backward from the service of God established by her Majesty. And sorry I am that for discharge of my duty I must be forced to note unto your Lordship one particular man, well known to your Lordship, whose example doth of all others greatest hurt in the pale. I mean Sir Lucas Dillon, who, albeit he is both a most grave and wise Councillor and of great experience in this State, yet his notorious recusancy and wilful absenting of himself from the Church these three or four years past (being drawn to this backwardness by his son-in-law, Mr. Rotchfort, a most malicious and dangerous instrument both against religion and this government) is a special provocation and mean to draw the greatest number of this people unto that general corruption wherein they live.

For redress whereof, your Lordship hath most wisely considered that the sword alone without the word is not sufficient. But yet I assure your Lordship their obstinacy now is such that unless they be inforced, they will not ever come to hear the word preached, as by experience we observed at the time appointed by the Lord Deputy and Council for a general assembly of all the noblemen and gentlemen of every county, after her Majesty’s good success against the Spaniard, to give God thanks for the same. At which time, notwithstanding the Sheriffs of every county did their duties with all diligence, and warned all men to repair to the principal church in every county, wherein order was taken for public prayers and thanksgivings unto God, together with a sermon to be preached by choice men in every diocese, yet very few or none almost resorted thereunto, but even in Dublin itself the lawyers, in term time, took occasion to leave the town of purpose to absent themselves from that godly exercise—so bewraying in themselves, besides their corruption in religion, great want of duty and loyalty unto her Majesty, and giving just occasion unto us to conceive a doubtful opinion of them.

For preachers (God be thanked) my cathedral church and these civill dioceses hereabouts are indifferently furnished, but it is almost a bootless labour for any man to preach in the country out of Dublinj for want of hearers—the people are grown to so general a revolt—which thing, notwithstanding, is not so far gone but in mine opinion it may be easily remedied without any danger and with great gain to her Majesty, if the Ecclesiastical Commission be restored and put in use, for this people are but poor and fear to be fined. If liberty be left to myself and such Commissioners as are well affected in religion to imprison and fine all such as are obstinate and disobedient, and if they persist—being men of ability to bear their own charges—to send them into England for example sake, I have no doubt but within a short time they will be reduced to good conformity.

If it be objected that this severe course may perhaps breed some stirs, I assure your Lordship there is no doubt of any such matter, for they are but beggars, and if once they perceive a thorough resolution to deal roundly with them, they will both yield and conform themselves. And this course of reformation, the sooner it is begun the better it will prosper—and the longer it is deferred the more dangerous it will be. All which I leave to your Lordship’s wise consideration, and so, most humbly craving pardon for my wonted boldness, I commend your good Lordship, with my prayers, to God’s best blessings. From Rathfarnham this xxii of September 1590. Your Lordship’s humbly at command. Ad. Dublin, Canc.

From State Papers concerning the Irish Church, ed. W.M. Brady, 1868.

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December Books 12) Slow Decay, by Andy Lane

One of the early Torchwood books – set just before Cyberwoman, I think. Andy Lane has written some good Who novels and this too is excellent; good depictions of all the team (not much Ianto, but lots of Owen), and of how alien tech threatens to infilltrate Rhys and Gwen’s relationship. I was also impressed by the first season Torchwood novel Border Princes, and on the basis of that and this will now be looking out for more of them.

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December Books 11) Wild Sweet Love, by Beverly Jenkins

Another dip into the sub-genre of African-American romance, as told by Beverly Jenkins, whose books are among the highest-rated on LibraryThing. If anything I enjoyed this slightly more than Jewel. Most of the action takes place in 1897 Philadelphia, with the last section in a free black town in Kansas (the fictional settlement of Henry Adams, where a lot of Jenkins’ other books are apparently set). There is not much to the plot; former bank robber Teresa July and businessman Madison Nance are obviously destined for each other, and some detailed and well-written erotic passages explain how they make up their minds to accept this destiny. Jenkins does throw in a fair bit of political commentary as well – the dispute between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, corrupt Republican party bosses, feminism (Teresa’s sister-in-law is mayor of Henry Adams), certainly enough to keep me happy and maintain my interest. It’s really not a type of book I would normally read, but I’ll look out for more Jenkins in the charity bookshops.

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Gibbon Chapter XIV

  • Diocletian’s system does not long survive his abdication. His four succesors squabble among themselves, and at one point there are six mutually recognised rulers of different bits of the Roman Empire. But one of them, Constantine, defeats all the others, through superior statesmanship and military skill. "The successive steps of the elevation of Constantine, from his first assuming the purple at York, to the resignation of Licinius at Nicomedia, have been related with some minuteness and precision, not only as the events are in themselves both interesting and important, but still more as they contributed to the decline of the empire by the expense of blood and treasure, and by the perpetual increase, as well of the taxes as of the military establishment." The whole chapter is an impressive marshalling of historical facts, complex narrative and geography running from Britain to Asia Minor over a period of almost two decades.
    (tags: gibbon)
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Doctor Who

Well, I enjoyed it. RTD tends to do much better with penultimate episodes and then fumble the climax, so I hope that doesn’t happen again this time. Particular comments below the cut, but if you want the collected wisdom of (part of) the internets, check here.



(Further space for spoilers for those reading this on non-LJ platforms)


Stuff I particularly liked:

The best scene, as many others have said, was the cafeteria conversation between Wilf and the Doctor. Bernard Cribbins is generally excellent. What an extraordinary break it turned out to be for Doctor Who, when Howard Attfield was too ill to continue as Donna’s father, and Cribbins was brought back in! 

I also thought John Simm much better here than in Season Three, where (heretically) I wasn’t actually all that impressed by him. There seemed to be more to the Master this time, perhaps because he isn’t in control for most of the episode. The Master transformation (as someone put it, the Tremasization) of humanity was a great concept, and the Obama thing worked for me, though I note not for everyone.

And I unashamedly loved the end. We knew it was coming – we have known it was coming since the first set photos of Timothy Dalton leaked out – but I love the idea of the Time Lords returning. I particularly like the possibility that their return may actually be a Bad Thing which the Doctor will give his life to prevent. I don’t think there is any chance that Claire Bloom’s mysterious lady character is actually Romana; sorry, folks, I don’t think that is how RTD’s mind works. The Deadly Assassin is seen by many (including me) as the zenith of Old Who, as Robert Holmes, its greatest writer, tackled the Doctor’s own origins. RTD has set himself a similar challenge here.

I was a bit more ambivalent about the plot, or lack thereof; my expectations of RTD on this score are fairly low and I suppose they were met. I hope the Vinvocci aliens get a decent shake of the action and don’t come in for just that one scene. I hope the Nathaniel and Abigail plotline also has a halfway decent resolution. I hope poor old Wilf and Donna aren’t killed off. I hope Wilf himself doesn’t turn out to be a Time Lord in disguise, or (as some think) to be concealing the whole of Gallifrey in his mind.

The one bit, well, two linked bits, that I thought over the top were the secret cult of the Master bringing him back – OK, it had to happen somehow I suppose, but it seemed a bit silly; I think I would almost have preferred his unexplained escape from the certain doom he faced at the end of his previous story which was the Old Who approach  – and the resurrected Master having the powers of shooting energy from his hands, which he mysteriously doesn’t actually use to kill the Doctor and which equally mysteriously desert him once Nathaniel and Abigail have got him. But Simm in general made up for it and was creepy and yet comprehensible.

The companionless Doctor: Picking up on the cafeteria conversation, I’ve just been watching both The Deadly Assassin and The Massacre, the former being the only companion-less Old Who series and the latter ending with a scene where the First Doctor’s companions have all left him. The Doctor does need someone, and it’s been part of Ten’s tragedy that it hasn’t worked out. (Incidentally, both stories feature actor Erik Chitty – in The Massacre he plays Charles Preslin, the scientist who conceals the Doctor from the main narrative for three episodes, and in The Deadly Assassin he is Coordinator Engin, in charge of the Matrix, who shunts the Doctor into the alternate world of the Matrix for two episodes.) Ten has now had three TV specials without a regular companion, as well as a large number of books (including the ten-volume Darksmith Legacy series). His slightly silly opening scene (including the dogy line about Good Queen Bess) gives cover for all of those being canon, for those who care about such matters. (And was there also a reference to Netty from Beautiful Chaos?)

Next week, I reckon that we will get the mother of all reset buttons, and not only will the Time War be reversed, but so will all of the Doctor’s incarnations taking us back to Matt Smith as a younger version of William Hartnell. That will of course create problems with River Song’s return, but Moffat is the master of timey-wimey stuff so he will have thought of an answer.

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While I’m asking difficult questions…

…I could never get the missing line.

Yes, I know what the canonical version is, but I don’t really believe it. What should it have been?

(And I never understood why it was always listed as "Boss Cat" in the BBC TV schedules, but that would be an ecumenical matter.)

Top Cat!
The most effectual
Top Cat!
Whose intellectual
Close friends get to call him TC…
[dah dah dah dah diddle de dee]
Top Cat!
The indisputable
Leader of the gang!
He’s the boss!
He’s a VIP!
He’s the championship!
He’s the most tip top –
Top Cat!
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Baffling question, reposted

Young F got this jewel in his cracker yesterday:

Q: What kind of relationship does coral have with algae?
A: A symbiotic relationship.

Now, this answer turns out to be perfectly sound biology (so I at least learned something) but doesn’t seem to me paticularly funny. Am I missing some point about, perhaps, two popular celebrities or fictional characters called Coral and Algy? Or is it just meant to be funny because coral is generally hard and algae generally squishy?

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December Books 10) Doctor Who: Through Time And Space

Yep, I have read the first of my Christmas presents: a nice half-dozen Tenth Doctor stories, originally published as separate comics and here as a single volume by IDW. I really bought it to read the first story, “The Whispering Gallery”, which is by Leah and John, and am glad to say that I enjoyed it and most of the others (the exception being a typically cliched cute robot story in the middle). The standout, however, is Tony Lee’s “The Time Machination”, featuring Ten teaming up with H.G. Wells against Torchwood, with lots of other pleasing references to both New and particularly Old Who. Lee’s The Forgotten was also excellent, and I shall look out for more of his work. And the collection as a whole is excellent value.

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December Books 9) Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut

Rereading this classic, which combines the horrors of the 1945 bombing of Dresden with the sfnal captivity of the hero by the aliens of Tralfamadore. Having first come to Vonnegut via Cat’s Cradle and The Sirens of Titan as a teenager, I wasn’t really sure what to make of this. Coming to it again a quarter-century later, I have a much deeper appreciation of Vonnegut’s savaging of the surrealism of war, and of how trauma throws the rest of your life into a weird perspective. But I also find his attitude to women much more annoying – at least, to the women in the main part of the story, the mothers of Billy Pilgrim’s children, Valencia Merble and Montana Wildhack (and Pilgrim’s daughter Barbara). Having said that, the sanest character in the book is probably Mary O’Hare from the ostensibly autobiographical foreword; and it must also be admitted that most of the male characters are pretty unpleasant too.

Anyway, I can’t think of many other sf novels which take the Second World War as their subject, and this is probably the best in that rather small set.

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Ursula’s birthday concert

Ursula turned seven yesterday. She cannot talk, but is very musical, as I hope this spirited rendering of “Old MacDonald” will demonstrate.

We have no idea what other tunes she is singing – songs she has heard at school or on TV, or just made up in her mysterious little head?

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Christmas letter 2009

Nicholas: I continue to enjoy working as an Independent Diplomat. My office is in the shadow of the Berlaymont and I have been observing the EU’s development with considerable interest. As well as my ongoing work with the Turkish Cypriot team negotiating the reunification of the island – which is likely to accelerate dramatically come the New Year – I ended the year taking on the lead for ID’s work with the government of Southern Sudan, after a somewhat grueling visit to Juba. I went to a science fiction convention in Boston in February, and am also working up a small Irish history project on the side.

Anne: I was sorry to come to the end of the very enjoyable Dutch course just before Easter. Since then I have been busy doing odd jobs about the house. I was very pleased to discover that when Ursula needed specially adapted clothes I could make them myself. I also adapted a second hand television cupboard to try to protect the screen from Ursula. That is still a work in progress as the plexiglass in front of the TV is now covered in little scratches, but it’s a big improvement on what we had before.

We see Bridget as often as we can. Anne takes her for cuddly walks around the farmland where she lives; Nicholas likes to bring her to nearby parks for exercise. She seems to be happy in general. The staff at Delacroix work very hard to discuss any problems with us, look for creative solutions, and find activities that she will enjoy.

Fergal: I went away for a week’s holiday with my school this year, my first holiday without my family. I recently joined the local Scouts, where I’m able to see friends from my old school. I have the same teacher, classmates and classroom as last year, but I get to do music and stories as well as art, and “activity + new things in the activity = need for a new name”: last year it was ‘crea’ (short for ‘creativiteit’, which means ‘creativity’), now it’s called ‘Muzische vorming’ (education in the creative arts); next summer everything will change again.

Ursula too has stayed with the same teacher for one more year. She spends occasional weekends in Delacroix – the same building as Bridget but a different ‘house’ – and seems to enjoy the change of scene and the attention lavished on her by the staff. She spends a lot of time singing and dancing beautifully.

With our very best wishes and love for Christmas and the New Year,

Nicholas, Anne, Bridget, Fergal and Ursula

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Email scam

I was surprised to receive this distressing message just now, ostensibly from one of my cousins:


Am in a hurry writing you this mail, I want to seek your help on something very important and  you are the only one I can reach at this time and I  expect you come to my aid because something extremely terrible and horrible is happening to me now, I need a favour from you, I had a trip to Manchester (UNITED KINGDOM) for a research program.    

Unfortunately for me i was robbed on my way to the hotel where I lodged and the robbers went away with all i had on me alongside with my money, passport, travelling documents and dairy,and ever since then I have been without any money,right now i owe the hotel some money and they are on my neck for their money. So I have restricted access to Internet for now and the phone connections in my room were disconnected due to the bills and right now am so confused and don’t know were to go or what to do.       

Please I need you to help me with £1,850 pound sterling today so I can make preparations and go back home immediately because i have to pay the hotel here their bills and get a new ticket to return back home as soon as possible, I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding effectively to the matter i cant wait another day down here.

please I will return the money back to you as soon as I get home.       Please I will be waiting to hear from you soon so i will be able to tell you on how to send me the money and keep me in prayers because that matters a lot. Our first priority is safety because I do not feel safe or secured.

Thanks for reading


There are numerous clues here to indicate that the message is a fake, the first being that it was sent to me at all – if one of my Irish cousins was really stuck in Manchester, there are at least a dozen other mutual relatives whom it would be more sensible to contact than me. Note also the complete lack of corroborating details (name of hotel, identification of embassy, salutation of recipient). Also my cousin is, as far as I know, unlikely to need to make a research trip to Manchester.

Assuming that my cousin’s email address has been hacked, it would be rather pointless to reply to the scam artist – or are these emails simply sent as harassment, without the expectation of pecuniary gain? I have alerted my aunt and my cousin’s sister, since they all live in the same town, and suggested that the Gardai also be alerted. Though I guess there is a good chance that the hacker lives a long way outside their jurisdiction.

Edited to add [ten hours later, sorry, I’ve been busy] the message originated from which is an IP address registered to Zoom Mobile, a telcom company in, surprise surprise, Nigeria.

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December Books 8) Mr Singh Has Disappeared: A Concussed Novel, by Horst Prillinger

This was pressed on me by the infamous quarsan, and his efforts have been duly rewarded; I really enjoyed it. It is a fairly short novel, told in fragmentary, disjointed style (150 chapters in 135 pages) about the narrator’s investigation of the disappearance of the head waiter of his favourite Indian restaurant. He spends a lot of time stuck down a well, in hospital, and musing on the precise nature of the vindaloo, the biryani and other Indian recipes. It is a real classic of surreal style, very funny in places. Interested to note that it was originally published in blog format earlier this year; the hard copy costs €10 and comes from amazon.de among other places.

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The overnights meme

List the towns or cities where you spent at least a night away from home during 2009. Mark with a star if you had multiple non-consecutive stays.

Newton, MA
Washington DC
New York, NY*
Nicosia, Cyprus*
Cluny, France*
Podgorica, Montenegro
Skopje, Macedonia
Ashford, Kent
Croydon, Gtr London
Loughbrickland, Co Down
Kidderminster, Worcestershire
Berlin, Germany
Juba, Sudan
Storrs, CT

A lot fewer than some years. But also addfour overnight flights – two transatlantic, two between Europe and Africa.

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I don’t have a vote in this one…

…but like a lot of people I’ll be watching with interest for the outcome of the selection process for the next Lib Dem candidate in Cambridge, now that David Howarth has announced his intention to return to his academic career (he is a specialist in tort, if that is the right way to put it). Of the six shortlistees (listed here and also here) the only one I know at all is Julie Smith. I know David Howarth rather better since we were actually next door neighbours during my second year, as well as being Lib Dem activists at the same college. David won in 2005 on his third attempt with a majority of 10%, having eaten substantially into both the incumbent Labour MP’s vote and into that of the Conservatives who held the seat from 1967 to 1992. Assuming (as seems likely) that the Labour vote tanks, the Lib Dems hold steady and the Tories rise but not dramatically, the seat should be holdable in next year’s election

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December Books 7) Doctor Who and the Invasion from Space [by J.L. Morrissey]

I thought I was reasonably well-informed about the history of Doctor Who spinoff fiction, but was rather amazed to discover this 1966 46-page story, in the same format (and by the same publisher) as the Doctor Who annuals, in which the First Doctor prevents an invasion from the Andromeda galaxy with the help of a family who he has rescued (just before the story starts) from the Great Fire of London. Apparently the text is by J.L. Morrissey, who published half a dozen detective novels in the 1930s and 1940s; the artwork is by Walter Howarth, the World Distributors stalwart illustrator. The story itself is standard Who, let down by rather dodgy astrophysics and some awkward phrasing (note extract from first para here). But the characterisation of Hartnell’s Doctor is bang-on.

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ርሑስ በዓል ልደትን ሓድሽ ዓመትን

A friend of mine sent me this greeting:

which apparently means “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” in his native language.

A special prize for the first person to identify that language!

(And a very special prize for anyone who knows how to pronounce it…)

ETA: Well done ! Others may guess anyway by clicking on “reply” without reading what others have written.

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Gibbon, Chapter XIII

  • Another very long chapter, but an excellent read, full of incident and character. Diocletian comes over as one of the best emperors so far – a slave from Illyria who rose to the top, managed it well, and retired in time to enjoy his later years plating cabbages by the Adriatic. In the meantime he puts down Carausius' rebellion in Britain, wins a war with Persia and sorts out the empire by dividing it into four. Of course, that simply meant new structures that could go wrong; but it was a good solution to the problem of unmanageability.
    (tags: gibbon)
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An Earthly Child – spoilers

I feel a bit mean posting this, because the other reviews I’ve seen so far of An Earthly Child are rather positive (without spoilers here and with spoilers here). I think Marc Platt’s scripts are a bit like Marmite – you love ’em or hate ’em. However, to explain why I didn’t like it requires a cut-tag and spoiler warning, thus:


First off, I felt Susan was very badly served by the story. I did not think that her credulity in dealing with the aliens, and her naivety in going behind the back of the government, and then her swiftness to change sides against the aliens, were very believable for someone who has supposedly had her experience of travelling with the Doctor, being married to a freedom fighter and being a political activist herself. Essentially the plot is about her making a pretty huge mistake and the Doctor then rescuing her (and the Earth) from its consequences, and I don’t recall that happening in any of her TV stories.

I also thought that the way she and the Doctor treated Alex at the end was equally infantilising. Sure, parents and grandparents do sometimes treat their 17-year-olds like that, but the Doctor at his best is about emancipating his companions and letting them achieve their own maturity. It is extraordinary to have this out the same month as the end of Lucie Miller’s story in Death in Blackpool.

The scene with the lunar settlers coming back was a bit underwhelming.

Finally, I’m afraid I didn’t think Jake McGann was really up to it. He may well be a fine up-and-coming actor in his own right, but I wonder if (like John Barrowman) he finds it difficult to perform in the recording booth. In a couple of the crucial scenes he sounded rather like he was reading the lines in rehearsal.

Having said that, I thought that Leslie Ash and Carole Ann Ford did very well with the material, and the reunion scene between Susan and McGann’s Doctor was excellent. (Even though McGann was unaware of the back-story.)

As for Gallifreyan / human interbreeding? I detected a couple of hints that Alex is not Susan’s biological son, but adopted from a human mother. There were a couple of other lines pointing the other direction, but I thought the hints towards adoption were stronger. It was, however, unambiguous that Susan is the Doctor’s grand-daughter in Gallifreyan terms (though of course one can speculate about what those terms might be).

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