February books

Rather fewer than usual this month – consequence of several trips where I wasn’t able to read much either in transit or when I got there.

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 9)
A People's Peace for Cyprus, by Alexander Lordos, Erol Kaymak and Nathalie Tocci
The Sinn Féin Rebellion As I Saw It, by Mrs Hamilton Norway
The Insurrection in Dublin, by James Stephens
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Fiction (non-sf): 1 (YTD 3)
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

SF (non-Who): 5 (YTD 17)
Tik-Tok by John Sladek
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson
The Magic Cup, by Andrew Greeley
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Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 8)
Short Trips: The Muses, ed. Jacqueline Rayner
Citadel of Dreams by Dave Stone
The Sword of Forever, by Jim Mortimore
The Legends of Ashildr, by James Goss, David Llewellyn, Jenny T. Colgan and Justin Richards
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Comics: 0 (YTD 5)

3,300 pages (YTD 10,600)
7/15 (YTD 25/44) by women (Tocci, Hamilton Norway, Kingsolver, Jemisin, Wilson, Rayner, Colgan)
1/15 (YTD 6/44) by PoC (Jemisin)

Reread: 0

Reading now
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Coming soon (perhaps):
Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey
Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park
Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
Legacy: A Collection of Personal Testimonies from People Affected by the Troubles in Northern Ireland by BBC Northern Ireland
Gorgon Child by Steven Barnes
The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst
1491 by Charles C. Mann
The Unwritten Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words by Mike Carey
Selected Stories by Alice Munro
The Quarry by Iain Banks
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
How Loud Can You Burp? by Glenn Murphy
Het Spaanse spook by Willy Vandersteen
Walking on Glass by Iain Banks
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
A History of Anthropology by Thomas Hylland Eriksen
The Ragged Astronauts by Bob Shaw
Master Pip by Lloyd Jones
See How Much I Love You by Luis Leante
Short Trips: Steel Skies, ed. John Binns
Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker
Another Girl, Another Planet by Martin Day

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Interesting Links for 29-02-2016

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Street sculpture: a walk on the Woluwe side

I had a rare Sunday excursion into Brussels this morning, to meet a friend from out of town who was visiting his sister in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre; and my eye was caught by the striking sculptures erected on street corners in the area as I navigated the last few turns. My friend agreed to go for a brisk walk around the neighbourhood, and we both snapped away on our phones. The Woluwe-Saint-Pierre commune, God bless them, have published a guide to their sculptures which I have cribbed from below.

This lady celebrates the morning. (It was a cold morning this morning.) She is a copy in Carrera marble by contemporary artist Patrick Crombé of an original plaster work by early 20th-century sculptor Arthur Dupagne (the original is apparently in the possession of the commune of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre). You'll find her on the corner of Avenue Jules César and Avenue de l'Horizon; she has been there since 2012.

This is simply a Woman With Falcon, by contemporary sculptor Anne-Marie Morelle. She is at the intersection of Avenue des Volontaires, Avenue General de Longueville, Rue du Bemel and Avenue de l'Oiseau Bleu, facing east. She has also been there since 2012.

Continuing the bird theme, we have storks bursting from an egg; but the message is a grim one, because this is a memorial to the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It is a collaboration between Belgian artist Tom Frantzen and Rwandan artist Epaphrodite Binamungu. Since 2004 it has been at the intersection of Avenue Roger Vandendriessche, Avenue Jules César and Rue Père Eudore Devroye, and remains controversial.

A much more venerable piece, Les Fiançailles (The Engagement/Proposal/Betrothal) sits at the intersection of Avenue General de Longueville and Avenue Jules César. He has popped the question and she is answering. (I'm not entirely convinced that she is saying yes.) It was apparently designed by early twentieth-century artist Henriëtte Calais, who lived nearby, but constructed only after her death by Charles Verhasselt and inaugurated in 1962 (moved here in 1966).

We approached this high thin obelisk from behind, down Avenue Jules César to its intersection with Avenue de l'Atlantique, and were mystified about its significance. But when we got around to the front it became clear: this is the monument to the Belgian volunteers who were killed fighting for the UN in the Korean War between 1951 and 1955. It is by Xavier de Crombrugge, and has been there since 1966.

This isn't strictly in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre – it's across the communal boundary in Etterbeek – but I passed it on my way home at the intersections of Avenue Boileau, Avenue Edmond Mesens and Avenue Nestor Plissart, and felt it fitted more or less with the theme of the morning. It commemorates the Belgian aviator Edmond Thieffry (incidentally answering my question about who the metro station was named after), a First World War ace who tried in vain to set up a regular air service between Belgium and the Congo, and was killed in a plane crash in Tanganyika in 1929, aged 36. The monument was erected in 1932. Etterbeek is less detailed in its records than Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and I wasn't easily able to identify the artist. Given Belgium's difficulties about its colonial past, Etterbeek may prefer to let this one sink into obscurity.

And finally a couple of busts of writers by the same artist, Akarova (Marguerite Akarin). She was actually better known as a choreographer and dancer than as an artist and sculptor in her lifetime, but of course the art remains after the performances have faded from memory. The two busts were both commissioned in 1957 by Etrimo, the construction company which created the European Quarter in Brussels. The first, at the junction of Avenue des Géraniums and Avenue des Camélias, is of Walloon activist Charles PlisnierAugust Vermeylensine qua non to avoid disaster.

That was just the result of a random Sunday wander around the streets. Who knows what we might have found if if we had actually planned an expedition?

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#GE16 – FG *will* win more seats than FF

Another dramatic Irish election, with the exit polls proving to have underestimated the substantial fall in support for the government parties. Fianna Fáil have lurched back to within 1.2% of Fine Gael as largest party, 24.35% to 25.52%, and overnight the two were both on 28 seats. That's the sort of margin where you can get the party with fewer votes ending up with more seats once the local factors in each constituency come into play. But I've crunched the numbers this morning, looking especially at tight races for FG, FF or both, and calling them against the former and in favour of the latter; and I reckon that FG should end up with at least a three-seat margin as the largest party, possibly more.

Detailed table of results so far (on the left) and how I think it could end up (on the right):

Progress FG FF SF Lab Inds AAA-PBP Green Soc Dem My call FG FF SF Lab Inds AAA-PBP Green Soc Dem
Carlow-Kilkenny 5/5 2 2 1 2 2 1
Cavan-Monaghan 1/4 1 tight FF/FG 1 2 1
Clare 2/4 1 1 2 1 1
Cork East 4/4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Cork North-Central 1/4 1 1 1 1 1
Cork North-West 3/3 1 2 1 2
Cork South-Central 2/4 2 1 2 1
Cork South-West 3/3 1 1 1 1 1 1
Donegal 1/5 1 1 2 1 1
Dublin Bay North 0/5 1 1 1 2
Dublin Bay South 0/4 SF transfers decide last seat between FF and Lab 2 1 1
Dublin Central 3/3 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dublin Fingal 2/5 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dublin Mid-West 4/4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dublin North-West 2/3 1 1 tight FF/FG 1 1 1
Dublin Rathdown 3/3 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dublin South-Central 3/4 1 1 1 close between FF and AAA-PBP 1 1 1 1
Dublin South-West 5/5 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dublin West 4/4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dún Laoghaire 4/4 3 1 FG Ceann Comhairle automatically returned 3 1
Galway East 3/3 1 1 1 1 1 1
Galway West 0/5 FG have chance of getting one of two Ind seats 1 1 1 2
Kerry 1/5 1 1 1 1 2
Kildare North 1/4 1 1 2 1
Kildare South 3/3 1 2 1 2
Laois 3/3 1 1 1 1 1 1
Limerick City 4/4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Limerick County 3/3 2 1 2 1
Longford-Westmeath 1/4 1 1 1 1 1
Louth 0/5 2 1 2
Mayo 1/4 1 2 2
Meath East 3/3 2 1 2 1
Meath West 3/3 1 1 1 1 1 1
Offaly 3/3 1 1 1 1 1 1
Roscommon-Galway 3/3 1 2 1 2
Sligo-Leitrim 0/4 close between FF and FG 1 2 1
Tipperary 1/5 1 1 1 3
Waterford 4/4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wexford 3/5 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
Wicklow 3/5 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
Total 95/158 28 28 13 4 14 4 1 3 48 45 24 7 23 6 2 3

Those numbers represent a floor for FG and a ceiling for FF. If FG rather than FF wins the marginal seats in Cavan-Monaghan, Dublin North-West and Sligo-Leitrim, and FG hold off the second independent in Galway West while FF lose to Labour in Dublin Bay South and to the AAA-PBP coalition in Dublin South-Central, then the margin between the two parties will be not three seats but twelve; either outcome, or anything in between, is a decent result for a gap of only 1.2% in first preferences.

Assuming that Fine Gael does not immediately decapitate Enda Kenny (who has at least kept them as the largest party), a lot will then depend on his political judgement. If I was leader of either large party, I think my strategy would be to ensure that there is another election fairly soon that can be blamed on the independent TDs, in the hope that voters will punish them and return to stability. This has worked before (in 1927, 1943-44, and 1981-82). However, as the New York Times noted yesterday in a different context, times have changed…

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Interesting Links for 28-02-2016

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Scooper Strikes Out: Episode 8 of Here Come The Double Deckers

Episode 8: Scooper Strikes Out
First shown: 31 October 1970 (US), 5 March 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writer: Glyn Jones
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner, the Cook, the Dormouse and the Cheshire Cat
Jane Seymour as Alice
Bunny May as the White Rabbit
Tim Barrett as the Mad Hatter
George Benson as the Caterpillar
Ruth Kettlewell as the The Duchess
Joan Sterndale-Bennett as the Queen of Diamonds
John Barrard as the King of Diamonds


Scooper is knocked unconscious learning to play baseball, and finds that the gang's den has been transformed into Wonderland, with Alice played by up-and-coming actress Jane Seymour.


"Welcome to the Party", by Ivor Slaney and Glyn Jones, sung by Tim Barrett (Mad Hatter), Bunnie May (White Rabbit, replacing the March Hare from the book), Melvyn Hayes (the Dormouse) and Jane Seymour (Alice), which is used by Jones to fill in narrative for those viewers unfamiliar with his source material. Jones had many skills but I don't think he was a great lyricist.

Glorious moments

Glyn Jones had aspirations to great writing which were not always fulfilled, but here he's taken a single idea and just run with it to the limits of the time allocated, and he fills that time well, paying homage to his source material and working up a somewhat surreal story around it. Jane Seymour, only 19, overshadows the rest of the guest cast. Peter Firth and Melvyn Hayes are effectively backing her up here. It's interesting because actually the script makes it Scooper's story – but that's not how it comes across on screen.

After last week's rather conservative episode, here we have a critique of the justice system, with the crazed Queen of Diamonds issuing arbitrary death sentences. We'll get more on the justice system in a couple of episodes.

Less glorious moments

Ow, the baseball scene at the start… look at them quaint English kids trying to learn real sports!

As noted above, the song is not brilliant.

What's all this then?

Well, it's pretty obvious what this is drawing from. Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland (1865) is the source for Alice, the White Rabbit, the tea party, the trial scene, the croquet and the jam tarts. But Alice is also a key text for the Swinging Sixties, with its themes of altered consciousness induced by ingesting strange substances, and I bet the elder brothers and sisters were giggling a bit as they watched this episode with their younger siblings, before sneaking off to listen to Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit".

Having said that, Alice has long been a favourite of screen and stage (the first theatrical adaptation known to Wikipedia dates from 1886). Three adaptations that must have been in Jones' mind as he wrote this episode are the 1951 Disney movie1965 television version adapted by Dennis Potter with future Doctor Who star Deborah Watling in the title role; and the 1966 Jonathan Miller adaptation with a cast of a thousand stars. The tea-party scene in Double Deckers is particularly reminiscent of the Dennis Potter equivalent.

I do wonder if you could assume the same familiarity with Alice of today's younger viewers? (Come to that, I wonder if Jones was right to assume familiarity with Alice on the part of the viewers of 1970?)

Where's that?

Entirely filmed in studio.

Who's that?

Jane Seymour (Alice) must be the highest profile performer to have appeared on Here Come The Double Deckers. She was 19 when this was filmed; as far as I can tell it was her first TV role. Born in 1951, her first screen appearance was as an extra in Oh, What A Lovely War (1969) but she hit the big time as Bond girl Solitaire in Live and Let Die (1973) and never looked back. These days she is best remembered for the title role in Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman which ran from 1993-98 (twenty years ago! Incredible!) and is still working, most recently as the title character's mother in erotic spoof Fifty Shades of Black, coming soon to a cinema near you.

Having said that, Peter Firth (Scooper) went on to have the most successful acting career of the seven main characters. He almost didn't get the part; Glyn Jones recalls in his memoirs:

Peter Firth who hailed from Pudsey in Yorkshire and had the strongest Yorkshire accent played the leader of the gang. He was my choice from the beginning. The Americans were dubious over the accent saying no one in the states would understand a word he said but we pointed out that that was what dialogue coaches are for. Peter, I could see, was getting more and more disgruntled with the whole process and I was silently willing him to just hang in there, the part was almost his, as it eventually was.

Firth went on to make his name on stage in Peter Schaffer's Equus in the mid-1970s, and also briefly overlapped with Jane Seymour on stage as Mozart and Constanze in Schaffer's Amadeus. He was Dominick Hide in the two BBC plays of 1980 and 1982 about a time-traveller from a more mellow future, and in The Hunt For Red October (1990) he plays political officer Putin (yes, Putin!) who is killed off by Sean Connery in an early scene. He appeared as Sir Harry Pearce in all 86 episodes of the BBC spy series Spooks aka MI-5 from 2002 to 2011.

Apart from Jane Seymour, the other guest stars are not particularly remarkable.

  • Bunny May (the White Rabbit) had a string of minor roles in his career.
  • Tim Barrett (the Mad Hatter) had had a couple of leading roles in obscure late 1960s films (Talk of the Devil, O.K. Yevtushenko, both in 1968) and eventually Terry's boss in Terry and June (1980-1983).
  • George Benson (The Caterpillar) appears in The Prisoner as the labour exchange manager in the third episode; his career otherwise peaked with a supporting role in the Christopher Lee / Peter Cushing horror film The Creeping Flesh (1973).
  • We met Ruth Kettlewell playing a different Duchess a couple of weeks ago (though perhaps we are meant to see them as the same character, confused in Scooper's stunned mind).
  • This was almost the last screen role of Joan Sterndale-Bennett (the Queen of Diamonds) who had had a string of similar roles (though she lived another quarter-century).
  • John Barrard (the King of Diamonds) had a minor resurgence in the 1980s most notably as Dooley in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985); he had earlier played a shopkeeper in the 1964 Doctor Who story The Reign of Terror.

The two pages sitting at the feet of the Queen of Hearts are rather cute, but uncredited.

See you next week…

…for Robbie the Robot

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Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Mother of Eden, by Chris Beckett
The Magic Cup by Andrew M. Greeley

Last books finished
Alif the Unseen , by G. Willow Wilson

Last week’s audios
[Seventh Doctor] Terror of the Sontarans, by John Dorney and Dan Starkey
Welcome To Night Vale ep. 80

Next books
Alice's Adventures in Wonderlandand Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Books acquired in last week

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Interesting Links for 26-02-2016

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Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

I bought this soon after it came out, but didn't get around to reading it until now. I really enjoyed it; a witty sexy Islamic virtual reality novel with djinn in, set in an unnamed Gulf princedom this year or next, with a flavour of the diversity and depth of the local culture – Arabic with many other infuences too. It was good to come to it so soon after reading the Arabian Nights and also at a time when I've been seeing (but not reading properly) a number of comment pieces about how and why the Arab Spring failed. I found it interesting that Wilson inserts herself (or someone very like her) into the book as a significant character; difficult to get away with, but I felt that it worked as a way of getting us to think about how we engage with the story ourselves. I see that it won the World Fantasy Award, which I should perhaps start tracking a bit more closely.

This came to the top of my reading pile as the most popular book (according to LibraryThing) that I had bought in 2014 and not yet read. Next on that list is Lila, by Maryann Robinson.

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Interesting Links for 24-02-2016

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Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

A really lovely story, this, of three parallel narratives of lonely people finding their own paths in an Appalachian backwater community, the three stories turning out to be closely linked together (in a gutwrenching but joyful revelation on page 400). Lots of lovely observations about nature and human nature, with the core character a half-Palestinian, half-Polish widow who realises that she can adapt to her new environment and make it adapt to her. I was unaware that the American chestnut was all but wiped out by imported fungus in the early twentieth century; one of Kingsolver’s characters is striving to undo that historical mistake, but by producing something new and better rather than retreating into the past. Greatly enjoyed it.

This came simultaneously to the top of three of my reading lists – the most popular unread book that I acquired in 2015, the most popular unread non-genre fiction book, and the most popular book on my unread list by a woman. The next books on those lists are respectively 1491 by Charles C. Mann; Master Pip, by Lloyd Jones; and Selected Stories, by Alice Munro. (“Popular” in all cases means as measured by LibraryThing ownership.)

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Interesting Links for 23-02-2016

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Shortlist season these days: the Kitschies are out. Here are the two novel shortlists, ranked by Goodreads ownership.

The Red Tentacle (Novel):

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood 49,751 3.38 537 3.52
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin 31,607 4.34 321 4.37
The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts 689 3.98 81 3.52
The Reflection, by Hugo Wilcken 487 3.46 12 3.5
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson 461 4.28 32 3.88

The Golden Tentacle (Debut):

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan 12,770 3.63 251 3.58
The Shore by Sara Taylor 4,428 3.55 131 3.81
Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett 1,875 3.69 16
The Night Clock, by Paul Meloy 872 3.13 9
Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson 87 3.9 8 4
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The Cosmonauts Exhibition

This is Vostok 6, the space capsule in which the first woman in space, 26-year-old Valentina Tereshkova, travelled out and safely returned to Earth in June 1963.

This is Voskhod 1, the first spacecraft to take more than one person into space, Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin Feoktistov and Boris Yegorov being the three-man crew on its brief mission in October 1964. It looks to my eye even smaller than the Vostok capsule in the next case. There was not enough room for spacesuits.

This is Soyuz TM-14, the first Russian (as opposed to Soviet) space flight, launched in March 1993 with two Russian cosmonauts and a German. They docked with the Mir space station; the German stayed only a week, but the Russians stayed until August and brought a more recently arrived Frenchman home to Earth with them. When they landed, the capsule ended up upside down and they hung suspended in their seats until the recovery team reached them.

This is a memorial bust of Sergei Korolev, the Chief Engineer who made Soviet space flight possible.

Working in politics, my instinct is to provide an ideological critique of all of this (and there is plenty to critique). But sometimes one should take a step back and appreciate the achievements of humanity.

The Cosmonauts exhibition runs only until 13 March in the Science Museum in London. Worth a detour, as the Michelin guides used to say.

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The Legends of Ashildr, by James Goss, David Llewellyn, Jenny T. Colgan & Justin Richards

Maisie Williams’ Ashildr didn’t turn out to be Susan as I had once hopedThousand and One Nights,in a story that both respects the original tradition of nested and linked narratives, but also throws in some gender subversion. Colgan’s story of the Black Death is surprisingly bleak. Llewellyn mashes up Columbus and the Hunger Games. Richards wraps it all up at the end. It’s a good collection, perhaps aimed at a more mature readership than is immediately apparent. Let’s hope for more.

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Interesting Links for 22-02-2016

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The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

Now on the Nebula shortlist (where it’s second among Goodreads, third on LibraryThing) this is one of the most buzzed novels of last year. I very much enjoyed the world-building, both the existence of a minority with powers of manipulating rock and other elements, and the politics of how that works out in practice. I was less excited by the plot and characters, and lost track once or twice. If it gets onto the Hugo ballot I shall give it another try.

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Interesting Links for 21-02-2016

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Nebula novels nominees, ranked by Goodreads/LibraryThing stats

The Nebula nominees are out. Full list is here. I've read three of the novels, four of the novellas, three of the novelettes, four of the short stories, and none of the Andre Norton nominees. (And seen two of the Ray Bradbury nominees.)

The novels, ranked by Goodreads ownership (which is almost the same as LibraryThing ownership except for a swap in second and third pace), are as follows:

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Uprooted by Naomi Novik 97,850 4.18 761 4.25
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin 31,351 4.34 318 4.37
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie 15,719 4.25 448 4.34
The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu 13,127 3.76 246 3.84
Updraft, by Fran Wilde 3498 3.71 81 3.52
Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, by Laurence M. Schoen 2223 3.9 28 5
Raising Caine, by Chuck Gannon 258 4.17 14 4

I'll probably try to read the others, once I've finished my BSFA reading.

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The Pop Singer: Episode 7 of Here Come The Double Deckers

Whole episode dubbed in French (except the songs):

Episode 7: The Pop Singer
First shown: 17 October 1970 (US), 4 February 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writers: Harry Booth and Glyn Jones
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner
Anthony May as Sidney, The Cool Cavalier
Ivor Salter as the Policeman


The gang find a man sleeping in their bus. He turns out to be an unsuccessful musician, a singer of protest songs; they rebrand him as "The Cool Cavalier" and hold a successful concert, ending only when Brains' musical machine explodes. But he decides that the musical life is not for him after all.


"Life Is A Wonderful Thing", by Ivor Slaney and Glyn Jones. For me this is a rare musical mis-step by the show. The song is set too high for the kids to sing comfortably, and the political message is conservative – this is the point in the story where the gang persuade Sydney not to bother with protest songs. It's another example of the gang being Billie and her backing singers, but there is nothing wrong with that. Judge for yourself:

"Following You" (instrumental), by Ted Atking and his orchestra

This isn't listed in the end credits, nor wasa it included on the album of music from the show, but it's an amazing piece of orchestral groove. (You could probably date the episode to the month of 1970 in which it was filmed by the clothes of the dancers.) Full version on YouTube here.

"I Gotta Get Through", by Ivor Slaney and Michael Begg

I'm not well enough acquainted with 1970 crooning hits to know which other great works of pop culture this is paying homage to, but it's performed with sufficient confidence that it must be firmly rooted in the Zeitgeist.

Glorious moments

The efforts of the gang to rebrand the unfortunate Sydney are a great bit of youthful cooperation and ingenuity. The disco scene, a little beyond the ken of the episode's target audience, is rather well done for what it is. The ending, with Sydney deciding to give it all up and go home, is probably the saddest of any episode, but manages not to jar the overall feel of the series.

Less glorious moments

I don't think you could get away with a homeless man turning up in a children's den with such benign plot consequences today…

My radical heart is saddened by the notion that there is no place for protest songs in a well-ordered world.

It seems implausible that the police would a) take an interest in the gang's disco in the first place, and then b) let it go ahead if they were concerned.

What's all this then?

This is the first real attempt to get to grips with contemporary culture, apart from the hovercraft in Tiger Takes Off. The visual references are obviously Top of the Pops on the one hand, and the Three Musketeers (and perhaps the Royalists of the English Civil War) on the other. But at the same time, the message of the episode is to neutralise the threat of pop culture and demonstrate (to anxious parents?) the virtues of a retreat to traditional values.

There was a 1970 biopic of Oliver Cromwell, starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness, but it came out in August which would have been after this episode was made. Cromwell's son Richard was played by none other than Anthony May, the Cool Cavalier. So he changed sides at some point in 1970.

Where's that?

All in the studio this time, apart from Albert handing out leaflets in Shenley Road, Borehamwood.

Who's that?

Anthony May (Sydney, the Cool Cavalier) was born in 1946; his biggest hit was a couple of years before Double Deckers as the unnamed male lead in cult short film Les Bicyclettes de Belsize. He hasa long string of TV, film and theatre credits, including the voice of the King of the Dead in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and had a bit part in Angelina Jolie's Maleficent in 2014. Apart from this episode of Double Deckers, he doesn't seem to have done much singing.

Ivor Salter (the policeman) was born in 1925, and had a string of minor parts, possibly peaking as a farmer in Crossroads in the late 1970s. He was in Doctor Who three times, first as the Morok Commander in Glyn Jones' story The Space Museum (1965), then as Odysseus in The Myth Makers (also 1965) and finally as another policeman, Sergeant Markham, in Black Orchid (1982). He died in 1991.

Peter Miller wrote two other episodes of Here Come the Double Deckers, Robbie the Robot and The Go-Karters, which are two of the best of the lot; he wrote various other comedy and thriller episodes for TV, but nothing since 1986. His peak was possibly a six-part early evening sit-com called The Square Leopard in 1980, which is panned here.

See you next week…

…for Scooper Strikes Out

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Bektashi humour – repost from ten years ago

Originally posted by at Bektashi humour

In memory of the late Baba Tahir Emini, I’ve been reading up on his sect, the Bektashi. I was aware, from my conversations with him and with others, that they are of a mystical Sufist tradition, preach tolerance, love, and peace, and consider some of the traditions of orthodox Islam regarding the role of women and the use of alcohol to be distractions from the truth. I was unaware that they are also associated with a particular sense of humour, and that there are a whole set of Bektashi jokes told by the faithful about themselves. Some of them don’t translate awfully well, but one of them I feel sure I’ve heard in an Irish version:

One day the Sunni friends of a Bektashi dervish insisted that he go to the mosque to pray the Friday prayer. As he took his seat in the congregation the hodja spotted him. Wanting to embarrass the dervish, the hodja began to lecture on the evils of alcohol. He began describing in detail all of the natural and religious reasons why drinking any alcohol at all is bad. To prove a point that even animals won’t drink liquor the hodja asks “If you put a bucket of water and a bucket of raki in front of a donkey, which will it drink?”

Someone in the crowd answered, “The water of course.”

“Why so?” enquired the hodja.

Unable to hold himself, the Bektashi exclaimed “Why so? Because it’s a donkey!”

There are other jokes that I think could not be told in any other context than an Islamic one:

A Bektashi was in a mosque one day listening to the hodja give a sermon. He was half asleep when the hodja began talking about the pure virgins that awaited the faithful in heaven.

When he heard the word heaven, the Bektashi came to himself and asked the hodja excitedly, “Hodja efendi will wine and raki be served to the faithful in heaven?”

The hodja became furious and shouted back, “You pagan, what do you think heaven is… a tavern?!”

The Bektashi replied likewise, “Hah! What do you think heaven is… a whorehouse?!”

But I am particularly intrigued by the jokes with a certain universailty, but which also presuppose a very close connection between the Bektashi mystic and God, to the point that certain things are expected as of right from the relationship:

One day, the weather grew very hot. Burdened with thirst, a Bektashi dervish decided to buy a watermelon with some change he took out of his pocket. With watermelon in hand, he found a beautiful shade tree to sit under where he proceeded to slice up his watermelon with great appetite. However, after putting the first piece into his mouth, he found it so sour that it was difficult to eat. He began shouting complaints to the Creator, “Alas my God! Are you so stingy that you can’t even put a little sugar in this watermelon. You always bestow favors on Your servants, but never with what is really needed!” Thus swearing, he finished off the watermelon in spite of its tartness and threw the rinds to the side.

After a while he saw a poor waif, half dead with hunger and thirst, approaching. Not wishing to be bothered, the Bektashi sat still and pretended to be asleep. The poor man came close, saw the watermelon rinds and began to eat them. Discreetly, the Bektashi observed the poor man out of the corner of his eye. He saw with astonishment how each time the poor man took a bite of rind he exclaimed, “My God, many thanks to You! You nourish me in spite of everything with this watermelon rind. You have ensured my subsistence!”

Hearing this, the Bektashi became furious and rose up. He shouted, “Enough of this! I ate the inside of that melon even though it was bitter and torturous and believe me, I let Allah know it. But you! You eat the foul-tasting rind and you thank Him for it? It’s this kind of cheap flattery that encourages Him to keep making poor quality watermelon!”

Anyway, my research will continue.

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Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson
Mother of Eden, by Chris Beckett

Last books finished
The Insurrection in Dublin, by James Stephens
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
The Legends of Ashildr, by James Goss, David Llewellyn, Jenny T. Colgan and Justin Richards
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

Last week's audios
[Torchwood] One Rule, by Joe Lidster
[Seventh Doctor] The Warehouse, by Mike Tucker
[Seventh Doctor] Terror of the Sontarans, by John Dorney and Dan Starkey

Next books
The Magic Cup, by Andrew M. Greeley
Alice's Adventures in Wonderlandand Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

Books acquired in last week
(SF Humble Bundle, some of which I already have)
Damnation Alley, by Roger Zelazny
Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber, by John Gregory Betancourt
Wild Cards Deuces Down, ed. George R.R. Martin
The Deceivers, by Alfred Bester
Dragonworld, by Byron Preiss
The Last Defender of Camelot, by Roger Zelazny
Robot Visions, by Isaac Asimov
Roger Zelazny's Chaos and Amber, by John Gregory Betancourt
Roger Zelazny's To Rule in Amber, by John Gregory Betancourt
Wild Cards Death Draws Five, by John J. Miller
The Computer Connection, by Alfred Bester
Isle of the Dead/Eye of Cat, by Roger Zelazny
The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, by Roger Zelazny
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Robot Dreams, by Isaac Asimov
Roger Zelazny's Shadows of Amber, by John Gregory Betancourt
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
Arthur C. Clarke's Venus Prime 1, by Arthur C. Clarke and Paul Preuss

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Interesting Links for 19-02-2016

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The Sword of Forever, by Jim Mortimore

I’ve seen some rather negative reviews out there of this Bernice Summerfield novel, but I really enjoyed it: Benny gets caught up in acnient Templar-style conspiracy theories involving a sentient velociraptor and her own mummified finger, across several timelines. Sure, it veers in a somewhat different direction of future earth continuity and Benny’s own marital life, but as I am reading these books in order I find it a refreshing difference. A bit bleak in tone, but that tends to be the case with Mortimore. Could be recommended to a tolerant potential convert to the Bennyverse.

Nest up: Another Girl, Another Planet, by “Len Beech” (Steve Bowkett) and Martin Day.

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Interesting Links for 18-02-2016

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Citadel of Dreams, by Dave Stone

One of the Telos novellas whose quality was sometimes a bit variable, this one with the Seventh Doctor and Ace separately in a city with a timewarp and a deep hidden secret. It’s had some positive reviews but pretty much bounced off me; I’ve liked other work by Dave Stone, but won’t be recommending this other than to completists.

This was the next in the sequence of unread Seventh Doctor novels and novellas on my list after Relative Dementias. Next in line is an early Past Doctor Adventure, Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry

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