Saturday reading

Kings of the North, by Cecelia Holland
AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, ed. Nnedi Okorafor
Tolstoy, by Henri Troyat

Next books
Angels & Visitations: A Miscellany, by Neil Gaiman
Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past, by Paul Cartledge
Short Trips: The History of Christmas, ed. Simon Guerrier

Books acquired in last week
The Past Through Tomorrow, by Robert A. Heinlein
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
Who Killed Kennedy: The Shocking Secret Linking a Time Lord and a President, by James Stevens
Aurora: Beyond Equality, eds. Vonda N. McIntyre and Susan Janice Anderson
Fools, by Pat Cadigan
The Harem Of Aman Akbar, by Elizabeth Scarborough
Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Doctor Who: 365 Days of Memorable Moments and Impossible Things, by Justin Richards
Doctor Who: the Time Lord Letters, by Justin Richards
P.I.G.S., by Cecilia Valagussa

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Interesting Links for 29-10-2016

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Nate Silver is my secret boyfriend. (Did I say that out loud?)

Every Friday, Nate Silver's brilliant FiveThirtyEight site, which mainly deals with electoral and sports statistics and probabilities, poses a mathematical puzzle for readers. Usually I must admit they stump me completely, but this week his colleague Oliver Roeder has posed two lovely gerrymandering questions.

The first is easy. Can you draw five equally sized, contiguous, non-overlapping electoral districts in this grid so that the Blue party, with nine voters, wins more seats than the Red party, with sixteen?

If Blue has a bit more than 25% of the votes, there is usually a solution available that can give Blue more than 50% of the seats. In this case Blue has 36% of the votes. One we create two homogenously Red districts, Blue has 60% of the remaining voters and it's just a matter of finding lines that work. My solution is below, but it may not be unique.

But that's only the hors d'œuvre. The main course is this map, loosely based on the real geography of Colorado: 140 squares, 51 Blue and 89 Red.

You must draw 7 districts of 20 squares each. The two questions are: What is the most districts that the Red Party could win? What about the Blue Party? You are allowed to call ties within a district as wins for the party of your choice, which makes things much easier.

Gerrymandering for Blue is straightforward. Once you lock up two homogenous Red districts, you have 51 Blue votes and 49 Red, and you just need to draw boundaries for the remaining five seats that in four cases are a 10/10 split and in the fifth 11/9, giving Blue five seats out of seven (56%) on 36% of the vote.

(By the way, the Republicans won 13 of 18 congressional seats [72%] in Pennsylvania in 2012 with 48.8% of the vote; the Democrats won 5 out of 18 [28%], with 50.3% of the vote.)

Drawing the boundaries to suit Red is a little trickier, but only a little. With Blue controlling only 36% of the voters, it is not too difficult to build seven seats that reflect that and give Red a clean sweep of all seven. In fact, when I started by creating seats with 11 Red voters and 9 Blue, I found I ran out of Blues towards the end. As you can tell, I constructed this map from the bottom up (or rather from South to North):

(To balance my previous comment, going back again to the US Congressional elections of 2012, the Democrats won all nine seats in Massachusetts with 66% of the vote.)

Readers will probably be aware that I prefer proportional representation. If you have a multi-party system, as most mature democracies do, single-seat elections will mean that many political options end up just not being represented. Single-seat elections also raise the bar for getting under-represented groups their fair share of representation, no matter how fair the system for redrawing boundaries may be.

Nate Silver is still my secret boyfriend.

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Interesting Links for 28-10-2016

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Interesting Links for 27-10-2016

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Winter Song, by Colin Harvey

Second paragraph of third chapter:

"The Mizar Quartet are Sol-type hydrogen-fusing dwarf stars-"

I didn't know Colin Harvey well, but I met him and enjoyed his company at P-Con in 2007. I know that he was a good friend of many friends of mine. This was his second last book, published in 2009, in the middle of his very short publishing career from 2006 to 2011 (excepting his first novel of 2001). He was only 50 when he died; if he had lived, and kept writing at the same pace, he would have doubled his output by now.

I liked this book a lot: protagonist from sophisticated spacefaring society crashes into Viking-style world, and then must track down the long-abandoned spaceship to break out of the surly bonds of the planet Isheimur and bring about the seeds of a new society. There's plenty else in there – commentary on polyamory (good), libertarianism (bad), being nice to trolls who turn out to be differently evolved humans (good). There are dramatic chases across frozen landscapes with 'orrible creatures snapping at our heroes' heels, and a seat-of-the-pants rocket launch with barbarians complaining about weightlessness. Lots of good stuff, and I think he'd have got better.

This was the shortest remaining unread book on my shelves bought in 2009. The only remaining unread book that I bought in that year is now Last Exit to Babylon, a collection of short fiction by the late great Roger Zelazny.

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Interesting Links for 25-10-2016

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Short Trips: The Solar System, ed. Gary Russell

Second paragraph of third story ("Earth", by Jim Mortimore)

It hunched on a plain of black glass beneath a dully shining, blotched red globe which covered three quarters of the sky. A human being from the twentieth century might have recognised the creature as an ant, though they certainly wouldn't have recognised the cool, bloated orb which the hot yellow sun of the twentieth century had swelled over time inconceivable to become.

I'm way behind on bookblogging – I think it is more than two weeks since I finished this. It dates from the far-off time of 2005 when Pluto was still regarded as a planet, so there are 10 stories (including the recently discovered Sedna). A number of them are standard space romps, but I thought the Jim Mortimore story set on Earth with the lone Fourth Doctor brought a new perspective to the far future, and Craig Hinton's Uranus story, the last he wrote before his untimely death, with the Seventh Doctor and Mel, nicely ties into The Daleks' Master Plan. There's also a fun pairing of the Neptune and Sedna stories, by Richard Dinnick and Andrew Frankham respectively, both featuring the Third Doctor and linked by an unlikely companion from outside the TV series. Actually worth getting if you want to test your tolerance for the Short Trips series.

Next in this series is Short Trips: The History of Christmas, edited by Simon Guerrier.

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Interesting Links for 24-10-2016

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Northern Ireland Boundary Commission proposals 2016 – my observations

This is my initial submission to the Boundary Commission of Northern Ireland's 2018 review. It is very long, but has lots of maps. I had a (fairly accurate) guess at what the Commission might come up with in February, and gave some initial comments to the BBC last month.

Dear Commissioners,

  1. Introduction

I maintain the Northern Ireland elections website at, the most substantial archive of electoral information regarding the region available anywhere. Although I have not resided in Northern Ireland since 1997, I maintain a strong interest in these matters; I am a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Social Science at Ulster University, and was invited by BBC Northern Ireland to participate in their live telecasts of the election results in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016. I was a candidate in North Belfast in 1996, and electoral agent for a local council by-election in 1995, but am not at present a member of any Northern Irish political party. The views expressed below are my own and should not be attributed to any other organisation.

  1. Overall observations

The Commission functions under a number of important constraints, of which the most important is the requirement to keep the electorate of proposed constituencies between 69,401 and 78,507, and also the use of ward boundaries as the building blocks for proposed constituencies. Both of these constraints are tighter than in the aborted 2011-2012 review, when the permissible size of constituencies was broader (70,583 to 80,473) and the wards were more numerous (there were then 582; there are now 462). I have further comment on both of those constraints below, but for now I acknowledge the very real difficulties faced by the Commission in executing its mandate.

I agree with several crucial elements of the Provisional Proposals. First, it is clear that Belfast cannot sustain four parliamentary constituencies, and must be reduced to three. Second, I agree that the Foyle, Newry and Armagh, and South Down constituencies, which are all at or near the electoral quota, should have only minimal changes, mainly to reflect the new ward boundaries.

I am concerned, however, that the Provisional Proposals seem often, and wrongly, to prioritise simple geographical contiguity of the electoral wards, without taking into account other important factors – in particular, the disruption to existing boundaries, and the fact that communication along the coast is often better than between the coast and the areas immediately inland. It should also be recognised that any ward with a non-urban element (ie most of them) will contain clusters ofpopulation internally, rather than a uniform spread.

Several of the constituencies proposed by the Commission are, frankly, awful. The union of Dungannon with Craigavon in the proposed Upper Bann and Blackwater seat, the West Antrim seat which stretches absurdly to within a mile of Belfast Lough, and the awkwardly balanced Dalriada seat all breach natural communities and lines of communication. The major changes to Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and to Upper Bann, in the Provisional Proposals are unnecessary, and most of those two existing constituencies can be preserved.

That of course has knock-on effects all around the map, with consequences outlined below, but in general I think the seats I propose have more manageable shapes and respect organic communities and internal linksbetter than those proposed by the Commission. In the specific cases of Belfast, Foyle, Newry and Armagh, and South Down, I largely agree with the Commission's proposals apart from a ward here and there.

I make these proposals not from the point of view of the interest of any political party, but with the goal of maximising satisfactory geography and minimising disruption to the current arrangements (which, alas, must still be substantial).

In summary, I propose that:

  • The proposed major change to Fermanagh and South Tyrone should be dropped. Only minimal changes are necessary.
  • Newry and Armagh should include most of Blackwatertown rather than Mahon.
  • South Down should include Ballynahinch, and Crossgar and Killyleagh, but not Loughbrickland or Rathfriland.
  • Upper Bann should lose Banbridge but gain Mahon (and a part of Blackwatertown) and Moira.
  • North Down should include the Ards Peninsula rather than Dundonald.
  • Strangford should include Dundonald and Carryduff, but not the Ards Peninsula.
  • Lagan Valley (which need not be renamed West Down) should include the urban core of Lisburn, and the rural heart of County Down including Banbridge, Loughbrickland and Rathfriland, but not Carryduff.
  • I agree to the proposed changes to Belfast, except that I would include the North Down and Ards ward of Loughview in East Belfast and would move Belvoir to South West Belfast and Ballymurphy to North West Belfast.
  • Foyle should include Claudy in Derry and Strabane District.
  • West Tyrone should be expanded to include the neighbouring wards of Park from Derry and Strabane District, and Donaghmore, Oaklands and Pomeroy from the Mid Ulster district. “Sperrin” might be a more appropriate name.
  • Glenshane should include the remainder of Mid Ulster and most of five wards from Causeway Coast and Glens.
  • A new Causeway Coast and Coleraine constituency should unite Limavady and Coleraine.
  • East Antrim should include the Glens, and Ballyclare rather than Newtownabbey.
  • West Antrim should include both Ballymena and Antrim town, but should not include Newtownabbey.
  • South Antrim should include most of Newtownabbey and the territory between Lough Neagh and Belfast.

  1. The numbers

But before getting to the detail, there are two important observations to be made regarding process.

First, the Commission states that "The legislation requires that…each constituency shall have an electorate of between 71,031 and 78,507". This is not true. As conceded later in its own report, the Commission has the discretion to define seats with an electorate as low as 69,401 if it deems that the higher limit would “unreasonably” impair its ability to draw up seats.

The wording of the Provisional Proposals suggests that the Commission regards this as a high bar. But as far as I can tell, exactly the same considerations under Rule 5 apply to the 69,401 threshold as to the 71,031 threshold. The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland has been given greater freedom of manoeuvre than its counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, and it should not hesitate to use that freedom; it has no obligation to consider any question relating to constituency size, other than ensuring that a proposed constituency has more than 69,401 and fewer than 78,507 electors. A couple of my own proposals below do need the extra flexibility of the 69,401 threshold, and in my view any arrangement which takes due note of local ties is very likely to need that flexibility.

Second, the Commission should not feel obliged to respect ward boundaries. The wording of the legislation on this point is notably weak: it is required only that the Commission "shall have regard" to ward boundaries. It makes sense to use the wards as starting blocks, but that need not survive to the final map.

The current wards are for the most part very recent creations, used for the first time only in the 2014 local government elections, and they do not necessarily reflect natural communities. In my own proposals I tentatively suggest two ward divisions (Blackwatertown and Altahullion), but I want to observe here the general difficulty of getting satisfactory boundaries, particularly in Counties Down and Tyrone, using the new wards, which are too big to be sufficiently flexible. The Commission should be ready to split wards (as I understand has been already proposed by their counterparts in England and Wales) to design better boundaries.

  1. Proposed alterations to the Provisional Proposals

3.1 Fermanagh and South Tyrone

The Commission’s Provisional Proposals err, as last time round, by optimizing the shape of the constituency for a single centre of gravity around Enniskillen. This is presumably the consequence of using naïve clustering software which prioritises contiguity within the geographical ward jigsaw over actually existing ties. In fact the constituency has always had two centres, Enniskillen and DungannonCounty Tyrone have much stronger links towards Omagh than to Enniskillen, let alone the Clogher Valley. There is no need to breach those links, since the constituency can be preserved almost as it is.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone should therefore include the following 22 Fermanagh and Omagh district wards with 44,892 electors (but it should not include Dromore, Drumquin, Fintona, Newtownsaville or Trillick, which should remain in the seat based on the current West Tyrone):

Ballinamallard 2084 Florence Court and Kinawley 2117
Belcoo and Garrison 2062 Irvinestown 2110
Belleek and Boa 2267 Lisbellaw 2192
Boho, Cleenish and Letterbreen 2328 Lisnarrick 1948
Brookeborough 1852 Lisnaskea 1804
Castlecoole 2095 Maguiresbridge 2379
Derrygonnelly 2028 Newtownbutler 1881
Derrylin 1867 Portora 2056
Donagh 1960 Rosslea 1734
Ederney and Kesh 2056 Rossorry 1717
Erne 2308 Tempo 2047

It should also include the following 12 Mid Ulster district wards with 26,146 electors:

Augher and Clogher 2456 Fivemiletown 2105
Aughnacloy 2246 Killyman 2156
Ballygawley 2292 Killymeal 2053
Ballysaggart 1947 Moy 2125
Caledon 2467 Moygashel 1874
Castlecaulfield 2328 Mullaghmore 2097

These are essentially the Dungannon and Clogher Valley areas, excluding Coalisland as at present. The Commission’s Provisional Proposals keep five of these wards in Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Augher and Clogher, Aughnacloy, Ballygawley, and FivemiletownFermanagh and South Tyrone already include most or all of the other seven (Ballysaggart, Caledon, Castlecaulfield, Killyman, Killymeal, Moy, Moygashel, Mullaghmore).

There is no need to include any wards from Derry and Strabane district. Those which the Provisional Proposals would add look north rather than south.

This gives a total electorate of 71,038 which is (just!) within 5% of the quota.

3.2 Newry and Armagh

Newry and Armagh should continue to include 11 wards from Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district with 38,060 electors:

(Blackwatertown) (3825) Navan 3508
Cathedral 3040 Richhill 3442
Demesne 3447 Seagahan 3656
Hamiltonsbawn 3471 Tandragee 3430
Keady 3492 The Mall 3232
Markethill 3517

This varies from the Provisional Proposals by including Blackwatertown and excluding Mahon. The Provisional Proposals would have separated the ward of Blackwatertown from its natural links to Armagh, and Mahon from its natural links to Portadown, and my proposal reverses both errors.

The top spike of the Blackwatertown ward gives a very inelegant boundary, and it should be divided at the level of Blackwatertown village itself, the townlands of Blackwatertown, Mullanary, Kilmore and Grange Blundell remaining in Newry and Armagh, and the townlands north of and including Tullykevan, Drumask, Drumarn, Keenaghan, Aghinlig and Lisasly moved to Upper Bann. I don’t have electorate figures, but it cannot be many voters; the population of Charlemont, the largest settlement in the northern spur, is given as 109 in the latest census.

Although Loughgall ward is mainly inside the current Newry and Armagh constituency, I agree with the Boundary Commission that it must be excluded to keep the constituency within 5% of the quota.

Newry and Armagh should also continue to include 13 wards from Newry, Mourne and Down district with 37,329 electors:

Abbey 2635 Fathom 2802
Ballybot 3165 Forkhill 2796
Bessbrook 3013 Mullaghbane 2829
Camlough 2822 Newtownhamilton 2703
Crossmaglen 2746 St. Patrick's 3211
Damolly 2859 Whitecross 2726
Drumalane 3022

These are the same as in the Commission’s Provisional Proposals.

The total electorate of these wards is 75,389, which is within 5% of the quota, even if a couple of hundred electors in the northern tip of Blackwatertown are moved to Upper Bann.

3.3 South Down

Here my proposals vary more from the current boundaries than do the Commission’s Provisional Proposals, but with the virtue that they respect and restore local ties. I propose to add the Newry, Mourne and Down wards of Ballynahinch, and Crossgar and Killyleagh, to South Down, as those all look naturally to DownpatrickArmagh, Banbridge and Craigavon wards of Loughbrickland and RathfrilandBanbridge than it does to Newry, let alone Downpatrick. The constituency would therefore consist only of the following 25 wards all from Newry, Mourne and Down district, with a total electorate of 72,705:

Annalong 2959 Hilltown 3234
Ballydugan 2620 Kilkeel 2455
Ballynahinch 2884 Knocknashinna 3037
Ballyward 2986 Lecale 2916
Binnian 2949 Lisnacree 3162
Burren 2834 Mayobridge 3295
Castlewellan 2766 Murlough 3045
Cathedral 2738 Quoile 2754
Crossgar and Killyleagh 2884 Rostrevor 3103
Derryleckagh 3114 Strangford 2783
Donard 2657 Tollymore 2856
Drumaness 2820 Warrenpoint 2977
Dundrum 2877

The electorate of 72,705 is within 5% of the quota.

3.4 Upper Bann

The proposal to use the River Blackwater, which has functioned as a county and electoral boundary for centuries, as one of the spines of a new constituency, rather than a boundary between them, is the weakest element in the Provisional Proposals. The existing Upper Bann seat is only a little above the electoral quota, and it is straightforward to find a core of wards mostly within the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district that creates a constituency geography which both respects local ties and meets the other criteria. Compared to the current Upper Bann, these boundaries lose the Banbridge area, but gain Loughgall and part of Blackwatertown from Newry and Armagh, and Moira from Lagan Valley.

Upper Bann should therefore include the following 21 Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district wards, with an electorate of 70,041, which is within the variation allowed for Northern Ireland though not within 5% of the quota:

Aghagallon 3408 Knocknashane 2972
Ballybay 3008 Lough Road 3328
Bleary 3326 Loughgall 3676
Brownlow 3681 Magheralin 3372
Corcrain 2946 Mahon 3151
Craigavon Centre 3349 Mourneview 3256
Derrytrasna 3367 Parklake 3394
Donaghcloney 3290 Shankill 3760
Gilford 3250 The Birches 3743
Kernan 3257 Waringstown 3734
Killycomain 2773 (Blackwatertown)

I have added the wards of Bleary, Donaghcloney, Gilford, Magheralin, Mahon, and Waringstown to the Commission’s recommendations for Upper Bann and Blackwater, but obviously have removed all of the Mid Ulster district wards.

As noted above, the tripoint between Upper Bann and Newry and Armagh can be made neater by dividing the Blackwatertown ward, with its less populous northern tip also moved to Upper Bann and the southern part remaining in Newry and Armagh.

I am normally wary of breaching district boundaries, but Moira is a special case – it is literally twice as close to Lurgan as it is to Lisburn, and there seems little harm in the new Upper Bann boundary reflecting that reality. Upper Bann should therefore include a single Lisburn and Castlereagh district ward:

Moira 2534

There is no need to include any of the Mid Ulster district wards that the Commission proposes for its Upper Bann and Blackwater seat.

The total electorate of Upper Bann will therefore be 72,575 which is within 5% of the quota, plus perhaps a couple of hundred if the northern tip of Blackwatertown is also included.

3.5 North Down

The Provisional Proposals expand the North Down constituency by adding Dundonald, with the reasonable observation that it was part of the seat until the 1990s. (I myself remember campaigning in the 1995 parliamentary by-election, which was fought on those boundaries.) However, the former North Down borough has now been united at local government level with Ards rather than with Castlereagh, so it seems preferable, if local ties are to be respected, to add to the existing seat a substantial new bloc of voters from within North Down and Ards district rather than elsewhere. Such a bloc can be found in the Ards PeninsulaBangor than to Newtownards. I therefore propose that the North Down seat should include only the following 27 wards from North Down and Ards district, with a total electorate of 76,561:

Ballycrochan 2602 Harbour 3006
Ballygrainey 3202 Helen's Bay 2790
Ballyholme 2891 Holywood 3117
Ballymagee 2995 Kilcooley 2714
Ballywalter 3161 Kircubbin 2920
Bloomfield 2804 Loughries 2830
Broadway 2768 Portaferry 2559
Bryansburn 2863 Portavogie 2569
Carrowdore 2917 Rathgael 2462
Castle 2772 Rathmore 2890
Clandeboye 2717 Silverbirch 2867
Cultra 2915 Silverstream 2531
Donaghadee 2890 Warren 2952
Groomsport 2857

This adds six more to the Provisional Recommendations (Ballywalter, Carrowdore, Kircubbin, Loughries, Portaferry and Portavogie) but removes Loughview, which I propose should be moved from North Down to East Belfast.

There is therefore no need to include any wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh district.

(Map included after my Strangford proposals.)

3.6 Strangford

If Strangford loses the Ards Peninsula as I propose (or indeed Dundonald, as the Commission proposes), it must gain electors from somewhere else. The obvious resource is Carryduff, which in fact produces a seat of just the right size, especially if Ballynahinch (which looks south anyway) is moved to South Down. I therefore propose that Strangford should include the following 12 wards from North Down and Ards district, all of which are in the current Strangford seat (and all of which the Provisional Proposals would also retain), with a total of 33,969 electors:

Ballygowan 3063 Glen 3056
Comber North 2738 Gregstown 2537
Comber South 2750 Killinchy 2590
Comber West 2681 Movilla 2549
Conway Square 2886 Scrabo 3078
Cronstown 3198 West Winds 2843

Also 3 wards from Newry, Mourne and Down district, which are also in the current Strangford constituency (and which the Provisional Proposals would retain), with 8,743 electors, but losing the wards of Ballynahinch and Crossgar and Killyleagh which look to Downpatrick:

Derryboy 2920 Saintfield 3006
Kilmore 2817

And 13 wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh district, bringing in the Dundonald area (which is much closer to Newtownards than it is to Bangor) and Carryduff (which cannot be retained in a Belfast seat), with a total of 30,375 electors:

Ballyhanwood 2228 Enler 2175
Beechill 2396 Galwally 2304
Cairnshill 2385 Graham's Bridge 2139
Carrowreagh 3081 Knockbracken 2488
Carryduff East 2490 Moneyreagh 2126
Carryduff West 2320 Newtownbreda 2000
Dundonald 2243

This adds nine wards (Ballyhanwood, Beechill, Carrowreagh, Carryduff West, Dundonald, Enler, Graham's Bridge, Knockbracken and Newtownbreda) to the Provisional Proposals for Strangford.

3.7 Lagan Valley

The Commission’s proposed seat of West Down stretches from Carryduff to Banbridge, and snakes through central Lisburn. My proposal transfers Carryduff to be in the same seat as its natural neighbour Dundonald, and I think achieves a better solution for Lisburn, keeping it with Hillsborough and Dromore and adding Banbridge, the main towns on the A1 road between Belfast and Newry.

Since the River Lagan remains the core of the Lisburn end of the seat, and my boundaries contain almost all of the river’s course outside Belfast, I propose that its name should remain Lagan Valley rather than West Down (the Lisburn elements are of course from the former County Antrim anyway).

This should therefore include the following 18 wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh district, with 42,097 electors:

Ballymacash 2290 Knockmore 2519
Ballymacbrennan 2293 Lagan 2339
Blaris 2201 Lagan Valley 2083
Dromara 2440 Lambeg 2291
Drumbo 2214 Lisnagarvey 2223
Harmony Hill 2257 Maze 2211
Hilden 2449 Old Warren 2397
Hillhall 2584 Ravernet 2258
Hillsborough 2545 Wallace Park 2503

Compared to the Commission’s proposed West Down, this removes Beechill, Carryduff West, Knockbracken and Newtownbreda to Strangford, and Moira to Upper Bann, but adds Ballymacash, Harmony Hill, and Hilden to the west of the River Lagan.

It should also include 9 wards from the Banbridge end of the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district, some of which are in the current Lagan Valley, with a total electorate of 29,738:

Banbridge East 3148 Gransha 3290
Banbridge North 3129 Loughbrickland 3790
Banbridge South 3311 Quilly 3012
Banbridge West 3623 Rathfriland 3313
Dromore 3122

This gives a total electorate for Lagan Valley of 71,835 which is within 5% of the quota.

3.8 East Belfast

I agree in general with the reasoning and conclusion in the Provisional Proposals that only three seats can be justified for Belfast, and that the natural dividing line between East Belfast and the rest of the city is the River Lagan.

I disagree on the inclusion of Belvoir ward in East Belfast. Although it is physically east of the Lagan, the major settlement is the Belvoir estate which is geographically at the top of the Malone Road, and therefore looks to South / South West Belfast rather than East. The 20 (rather than 21) Belfast wards which I would include in East Belfast, with a total electorate of 68,579, are:

Ballymacarrett 3528 Merok 3085
Beersbridge 3443 Orangefield 3405
Belmont 3534 Ormeau 3409
Bloomfield 3474 Ravenhill 3062
Connswater 3532 Rosetta 3636
Cregagh 3150 Sandown 3207
Garnerville 3478 Shandon 3755
Gilnahirk 3563 Stormont 3667
Hillfoot 3588 Sydenham 3333
Knock 3658 Woodstock 3072

This leaves East Belfast more than 5% under the electoral quota and also below the 69,401 threshold; I propose to add the Loughview ward from North Down and Ards district.

Loughview 2846

This is a more compact solution than the Provisional Proposals, with its total electorate of 71,425 within 5% of the quota.

3.9 Belfast South West

As noted above, I propose to move the Belvoir ward into the new South West Belfast seat. This makes it rather large; it also seems to me that Ballymurphy is a better fit with Beechmount, Clonard and Falls (which I agree must move to North West Belfast) than it is with Turf Lodge and Falls Park. If Ballymurphy is moved, South West Belfast would therefore contain the following 20 Belfast wards:

Andersonstown 3641 Malone 3399
Belvoir 3422 Musgrave 3472
Blackstaff 3682 Poleglass 3677
Central 4342 Shaw's Road 3816
Collin Glen 3888 Stewartstown 3566
Dunmurry 3774 Stranmillis 3832
Falls Park 3646 Turf Lodge 3472
Finaghy 3406 Twinbrook 3338
Ladybrook 3632 Upper Malone 3470
Lagmore 4409 Windsor 3804

With a total electorate of 73,688, this is within 5% of the quota.

3.10 North West Belfast

As noted above, I largely agree with the Commission’s Provisional Proposals for this seat, but would add Ballymurphy as well, as it is more closely linked to Beechmount, Clonard and Falls than to its southern and western neighbours Turf Lodge and Falls Park. North West Belfast would therefore include the following 20 Belfast wards with 70,215 electors:

Ardoyne 3645 Duncairn 3731
Ballygomartin 3994 Falls 3237
Ballymurphy 3377 Forth River 3112
Ballysillan 3333 Fortwilliam 3290
Beechmount 3497 Innisfayle 3700
Bellevue 3386 Legoniel 3540
Cavehill 3295 New Lodge 3310
Chichester Park 3688 Shankill 3997
Cliftonville 3574 Water Works 3757
Clonard 3665 Woodvale 3087

And, as the Commission proposes, 2 wards from Antrim and Newtownabbey district, with 4,428 electors. It is unarguable that Valley ward functions in many ways in practice as an extension of North Belfast. It is less clear that Collinbridge is as good a fit (considering where its populations actually lives) but including it here helps the map elsewhere.

Collinbridge 2,222 Valley 2,206

This gives a total of 74,643 electors, which is within 5% of the quota.

3.11 Foyle

Turning to the west, Foyle presents an interesting situation where the existing constituency is pretty much within the permitted limit already, and the Provisional Proposals  respect the existing boundaries, updated for the new wards. I would add the Claudy ward (which surely looks towards Derry City before anywhere else) to pull the total electorate closer to the quota and therefore create more space elsewhere. The Foyle constituency would thus include the following 28 wards from Derry and Strabane district, with a total electorate of 73,934, which is within 5% of the quota:

Ballymagroarty 2606 Foyle Springs 2585
Brandywell 2544 Galliagh 2734
Carn Hill 2316 Kilfennan 2729
Caw 2742 Lisnagelvin 2554
City Walls 2356 Madam's Bank 2412
Claudy 2536 New Buildings 2753
Clondermot 2661 Northland 2855
Creggan 2698 Shantallow 2752
Creggan South 2641 Shantallow East 3027
Culmore 2943 Sheriff's Mountain 2409
Drumahoe 2845 Skeoge 2770
Ebrington 2496 Slievekirk 2480
Eglinton 2688 Springtown 2478
Enagh 2667 Victoria 2657

Incidentally, Foyle is surely sufficiently compact and densely populated – particularly if my proposal of including Claudy is not accepted – that it could be considered as a borough constituency.

3.12 Sperrin / West Tyrone

If we keep Foyle and also Fermanagh and South Tyrone pretty much within their current boundaries, the current West Tyrone seat must be the base of the last of the western Border constituencies. Its current electorate is well below the quota; I propose to add the four neighbouring wards that are the most geographically contiguous with the West Tyrone base. These are Park from Derry and Strabane District, and Donaghmore, Oaklands and Pomeroy from the Mid Ulster district.

West Tyrone, however, is no longer appropriate as a name for the seat. Park is not in Tyrone, and Donaghmore, Oaklands and Pomeroy are not in the west of the old County. If these boundaries are accepted, “Sperrin” would be a more appropriate name.

Compared to the Commission’s proposed North Tyrone, this proposal has the benefit of being more compact and serving the hinterlands of Omagh and to an extent Strabane rather better. The Commission’s proposal stretches uncomfortably across the map; it is well over an hour’s drive between its two extremities, Strabane and Ardboe.

The Sperrin seat should therefore include the following 12 Derry and Strabane wards with 30,008 electors (the Provisional Proposals would include eight of these in North Tyrone, three in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and one in Glenshane):

Artigarvan 2564 Glenelly Valley 2406
Ballycolman 2570 Newtownstewart 2283
Castlederg 2472 Park 2494
Dunnamanagh 2461 Sion Mills 2610
Finn 2807 Strabane North 2513
Glenderg 2435 Strabane West 2393

It would also include the following 18 wards from Fermanagh and Omagh district, with an electorate of 35,662 (13 are in the Commission’s proposed North Tyrone, five in its proposed Fermanagh and South Tyrone):

Beragh 2015 Gortin 2028
Camowen 2182 Gortrush 2090
Coolnagard 2184 Killyclogher 2070
Dergmoney 1711 Newtownsaville 1999
Dromore 1955 Owenkillew 1970
Drumnakilly 2053 Sixmilecross 1980
Drumquin 2066 Strule 1705
Fairy Water 2157 Termon 1832
Fintona 1786 Trillick 1879

And three wards from Mid Ulster district with a total electorate of 7,432 (all three are in the Commission’s North Tyrone):

Donaghmore 2559 Pomeroy 2552
Oaklands 2321

The total electorate of this seat is 73,102 which is within 5% of the quota.

3.13 Glenshane

The remaining parts of the Mid Ulster district leave us well short of the electoral quota, 25 wards with an electorate of only 59,252:

Ardboe 2622 Lissan 2459
Ballymaguigan 2614 Loughry 2033
Bellaghy 2556 Lower Glenshane 2249
Castledawson 2517 Maghera 2280
Coagh 2282 Stewartstown 2162
Coalisland North 2383 Swatragh 2377
Coalisland South 2476 Tamlaght O'Crilly 2467
Cookstown East 1974 The Loup 2704
Cookstown South 2206 Tobermore 2481
Cookstown West 2270 Town Parks East 2320
Coolshinny 2554 Valley 2406
Draperstown 2055 Washing Bay 2417
Glebe 2388

We have exhausted the resources to the south and west, and Lough Neagh (and the Lower Bann) constrain us to the east; the only way is north, and I propose to add five wards from the Causeway Coast and Glens district with a total electorate of 11,715:

Altahullion (2205) Garvagh 2287
Dungiven 2401 Kilrea 2530
Feeny 2292

This is not elegant, but it is sufficient, with a total electorate of 70,967 which is within the variation allowed for Northern Ireland though not within 5% of the quota. The northern spur of Altahullion ward is rather inelegant. It splits rather neatly by taking the townlands north of and including Leeke into the next seat to the north (see below), the townlands of Ardinarive and Straw then being the northernmost in the Glenshane part of the ward, the Leeke Water forming the division line. I do not have access to the census figures, but I doubt that this would pull the seat as a whole below 69,401.

This constituency leans much further south than the Commission’s proposed Glenshane, but it preserves enough (and includes the eponymous pass) so that I feel Glenshane remains a good name. The Commission’s Glenshane would include all five of the Causeway Coast and Glens wards that I propose to include, and 15 of the 25 Mid Ulster wards. (Of the others, 7 would be in the Commission’s North Tyrone at the Lough Neagh end, and the other 3 in the absurd Upper Bann and Blackwater seat.)

I must admit I regard this as the least satisfactory of any of my proposed sets of boundaries. I still think it is better than either the Commission’s proposed Dalriada or the ridiculous Upper Bann and Blackwater. It includes Coalisland, Cookstown, Draperstown and Dungiven which are all reasonably well linked by the A29 and A6 roads.

3.14 Causeway Coast and Coleraine

The effect of keeping the Blackwater as a constituency boundary works itself out fifty miles to the north. With the other adjustments proposed above, it is now possible to propose a northern coast constituency which includes 30 wards, all from the Causeway Coast and Glens district, with a total electorate of 72,383 which is within 5% of the quota. These wards are:

Aghadowey 2528 Greysteel 2896
Atlantic 2463 Greystone 2306
Ballykelly 2318 Hopefield 2491
Ballymoney East 2153 Macosquin 2389
Ballymoney North 2483 Magilligan 2269
Ballymoney South 2190 Mountsandel 2415
Castlerock 2546 Portrush and Dunluce 2197
Churchland 2590 Portstewart 2175
Clogh Mills 2638 Quarry 2514
Coolessan 2038 Rasharkin 2600
Dervock 2405 Roeside 2085
Drumsurn 2354 Route 2322
Dundooan 2448 University 2127
Dunloy 2494 Waterside 2801
Giant's Causeway 2448 Windy Hall 2700

21 of these are in the Commission’s proposed Dalriada constituency, and nine in Glenshane. The Commission’s proposed Dalriada unites odd parts of the coast with odd parts of the inland territory; the proposal above brings together wards from within a single local government district, based around the population centres of Ballymoney, Coleraine and Limavady.

As proposed above, the ugly salient of the Altahullion ward can be split at the Leeke Water.

3.15 East Antrim

The Glens of Antrim actually look south, along the east coast, at least as much than they look west; whatever the map may tell us, Carnlough is psychologically closer to Carrickfergus than to Coleraine. The remaining four wards of Causeway Coast and Glens district have 9,770 electors, and contra the Provisional Proposals should be included in East Antrim:

Ballycastle 2360 Lurigethan 2108
Kinbane 2579 Torr Head and Rathlin 2565
Loughguile and Stranocum 2518

The eastern part of the Mid and East Antrim district has 20 wards with 50,575 electors, and I agree with the Provisional Proposals that they all should be included in East Antrim and the rest of their district should not:

Ballycarry and Glynn 2617 Greenisland 2363
Boneybefore 2389 Islandmagee 2353
Burleigh Hill 2220 Kilroot 2889
Cairncastle 2623 Kilwaughter 2946
Carnlough and Glenarm 2244 Love Lane 2453
Castle 2625 Sunnylands 2642
Craigyhill 2552 The Maidens 2524
Curran and Inver 2469 Victoria 2657
Gardenmore 2491 Whitehead South 2546
Gortalee 2338 Woodburn 2634

And six Ballyclare and Jordanstown wards (the latter having been in East Antrim since it was created) make up the numbers from the Antrim and Newtownabbey district, with 15043 electors:

Ballyclare East 2580 Ballyrobert 2469
Ballyclare West 2647 Doagh 2389
Ballynure 2519 Jordanstown 2439

The Commission’s proposals include only Jordanstown in East Antrim, and then another nine Antrim and Newtownabbey wards to the south. I found that Ballyclare was a discrete building block which makes up the numbers. The southernmost border at Jordanstown is a little untidy, but I think it is better than the Provisional Proposals which dances through the streets of Glengormley.

This gives a total electorate for the new East Antrim of 75,388 which is within 5% of the electoral quota.

3.16 West Antrim

The Provisional Proposals for West Antrim are pretty awful, Ballymena and Antrim town both divided from their northern hinterlands and a weird salient reaching east as far as Glengormley, which is not usually regarded as being in the west of the county. This is unnecessary; a perfectly viable constituency can be created around the western ends of the two local government districts concerned.

This means 20 western (Ballymena) wards from Mid and East Antrim with 45,731 electors (the 15 that the Commission would include in West Antrim, plus Cullybackey, Glenravel, Kirkinriola, Maine and Portglenone):

Academy 2110 Galgorm 2370
Ahoghill 2576 Glenravel 2446
Ardeevin 2344 Glenwhirry 2280
Ballee and Harryville 2299 Grange 2631
Ballykeel 2159 Kells 2417
Braidwater 2099 Kirkinriola 2242
Broughshane 2650 Maine 2275
Castle Demesne 2030 Park 2137
Cullybackey 2043 Portglenone 2318
Fair Green 2023 Slemish 2282

And 11 Antrim wards from Antrim and Newtownabbey with 26,061 electors (six of these are in the Commission’s South Antrim, and five in the Commission’s West Antrim):

Antrim Centre 2583 Shilvodan 2456
Cranfield 2300 Springfarm 2924
Fountain Hill 2090 Steeple 2135
Greystone 1934 Stiles 2356
Parkgate 2365 Toome 2541
Randalstown 2377

For a total of 71,792 which is within 5% of the quota.

3.17 South Antrim

Finally, the South Antrim of the Provisional Proposals winds from odd streets in Glengormley around Belfast to odd streets in Lisburn

A better solution is to combine the core of Newtownabbey, other than Jordanstown, Ballyclare and the two wards in North Belfast, with the territory east of Lough Neagh, north of Lisburn and west of Belfast. Much of this area is already united inside the Antrim and Newtownabbey district, from which we take these 21 wards with 49,111 electors (this includes six of the twelve Antrim and Newtownabbey wards that the Commission proposes to be in South Antrim, six of the sixteen that it would place in West Antrim, and nine of the ten that it would put in East Antrim):

Abbey 2281 Glengormley 2318
Aldergrove 2524 Hightown 2087
Ballyduff 2332 Mallusk 3217
Ballyhenry 2107 Monkstown 2242
Burnthill 2454 Mossley 2502
Carnmoney 2109 O'Neill 2154
Carnmoney Hill 2280 Rathcoole 2144
Clady 2489 Rostulla 2452
Crumlin 2457 Templepatrick 2420
Fairview 2110 Whitehouse 2118
Glebe 2314

The remainder is eight wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh with 21,386 electors (all of these are in the Commission’s proposed South Antrim):

Ballinderry 2693 Maghaberry 2701
Ballymacoss 3064 Magheralave 2318
Derryaghy 2616 Stonyford 2122
Glenavy 2394 White Mountain 3478

As observed above under Lagan Valley, my proposed boundary through the northern fringes of Lisburn is not fantastic, but I think it is an improvement over the Provisional Recommendations.

This seat would have 70,497 electors, which is more than 5% below the quota but above the 69,401 threshold.

  1. Conclusion and other observations

The new system of boundary reviews after every Westminster election cannot but be disruptive to the ties between voter and representative. The Commissioners’ current mandate is to reduce Northern Ireland from 18 seats to 17. Given the massive pre-referendum increase in voter registration in England, Scotland and Wales in the first half of 18, which was clearly not matched in Northern Ireland, it must be considered very likely that the 2023 review (like the aborted 2011-12 review) will be for 16 seats rather than 17.

There is little that the Commission can do about this, but it might be appropriate to note the considerable disruption to local civil society which will be caused by the application of the current legislation. It is not just political parties (though the impact on their internal structures is real and will cause serious inconvenience to the democratic process).

It is no longer the responsibility of the Boundary Commission to recommend the numbers of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly to be allocated to each constituency; that is set by legislation at 6, falling to 5 for the next election. This means that Assembly representation will also be subject to the same change and uncertainty as Westminster representation. It would surely be better to allocate Assembly seats proportionally between the new local government districts, whose boundaries are unlikely to change.

As I reside and work in Belgium it is unlikely that I shall attend any of the public hearings. I wish the Boundary Commissioners and their staff well in the coming months.

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Saturday reading

Kings of the North, by Cecelia Holland

Last books finished
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in honour of Jack Vance, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
SPQR, by Mary Beard
Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

Next books
AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, ed. Nnedi Okorafor
Angels & Visitations: A Miscellany, by Neil Gaiman
Tolstoy, by Henri Troyat

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Interesting Links for 22-10-2016

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Interesting Links for 21-10-2016

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Baptism and family

Yesterday I became a godfather for the second time. My cousin L had a baby boy, E, in June. He was christened in the same robe worn by Sean Murray, grandfather to both me and L, when he was baptised over a century ago, in an Ireland still under British rule. (Many later additions to his family subsequently wore the robes for their baptisms, including me.)

Our grandfather lived to become the second most important civil servant in the Irish state and died suddenly in October 1976, leaving nine children by two marriages. My grandmother had died in 1946, shortly after the youngest of her four children was born. My grandfather’s second wife bore him five more children and survived him by two decades, until Christmas Day 1998. (They all three rest together now in Deansgrange cemetery.) My mother is the oldest of the nine (two of whom we have sadly lost in recent years); I am the oldest of the 22 grandchildren. (For completeness: my father had only one sister, who had no children. My paternal grandfather, however, was one of fourteen, and that’s where it gets really complicated.)

My daughter B, who turned 19 in June, is the oldest of Sean Murray’s 24 (so far) great-grandchildren, though not by much; L’s niece K, born a few months later, is now 18 and (like my son F) in her last year in school and pondering university options. I was thrilled to be asked to be little E’s godfather, and also delighted that his first cousin K is his godmother. It seemed nicely symmetrical that the oldest of the grandchildren, and the oldest great-grandchild who is able to do so, should take lead roles together in a rite of passage for one of the newest additions to the family.

I say one of the newest, because in fact three of my other first cousins have had babies this year, two of them since little E was born. The most recent baby of the lot is my first godson’s fourth child. (I was a 14-year-old godfather; now I am 49. My first godson’s godmother is one of our mutual aunts.) I don’t know (and it’s none of my business) if he or the others have decided to have their children baptised, and if so, if they have decided to have relatives as godparents. We ourselves broke with family tradition and asked friends of own generation to do the honours for our three. At the same time, I can see a strength to using the baptismal godparent/godchild relationship to slightly subvert and cut across the ordinary family ties of age and affinity.

I no longer count myself as a practicing Catholic, but I’m relaxed about participating in events like this. It is probably a tradition as old as humanity to have a welcoming ceremony for a new addition to the wider family, including the designation of special sponsors for the child in its later life; and whatever its other faults, the church in Ireland is at least still capable of implementing these rituals competently. In most of the country, it would be quite time-consuming to find or create an alternative, and it’s entirely legitimate to go with the local institution that has been providing baptismal rites in Ireland since 432 AD. And I’m very glad to have been standing there with little E, with his first cousin K, with his mother L, with his father (another E), and to just say in public that we would be looking out for him.

Interesting Links for 17-10-2016

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Saturday reading

Late due to crappy wifi in hotel.

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in honour of Jack Vance, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
SPQR, by Mary Beard
Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

Last books finished
Seventeen, by Booth Tarkington
Winter Song, by Colin Harvey
The Joy Device, by Justin Richards

Next books
AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, ed. Nnedi Okorafor
Kings of the North, by Cecelia Holland
Angels & Visitations: A Miscellany, by Neil Gaiman

Books acquired in last week
A Short Guide to Irish Science Fiction, by Jack Fennell
Jerusalem, by Alan Moore
Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, vol 1 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
The Great Glowing Coils of the Unierse: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, vol 2 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
A Cold Day In Hell, by Simon Furman et al
Brain Fetish, by Kinga Korska

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Interesting Links for 14-10-2016

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Seventeen, by Booth Tarkington

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Thus a shrill voice, to his ears hideously different from that other, interrupted and dispersed his visions. Little Jane, his ten-year-old sister, stood upon the front porch, the door open behind her, and in her hand she held a large slab of bread-and-butter covered with apple sauce and powdered sugar. Evidence that she had sampled this compound was upon her cheeks, and to her brother she was a repulsive sight.

Seventeen: A Tale Of Youth And Summer Time And The Baxter Family Especially William was the best-selling novel in America a hundred years ago, in 1916. If its author is remembered at all today, it is for The Magnificent Ambersons which came out in 1918, won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted to become an Orson Welles film in 1942. Seventeen was also filmed, in 1940, starring Jackie Cooper and Betty Field though not in their best known roles. (I note that one of the minor parts is played by a "Hal Clement"; presumably not the sf author, who would have been a Harvard undergraduate in 1940.)

Anyway, it is the story of seventeen-year-old William Baxter of an unnamed town in Indiana (though Tarkington was an Indianapolis man), during a summer when the lovely Lola Pratt comes to stay with the neighbours, and William along with the other seventeen-year-old boys of the neighbourhood decides to pay court to her.

I was rather turned off by the book at first because William is pretty callow even for a seventeen-year-old in literature, and Lola, whose entire conversation consists of baby talk with her dog, is even worse. There's also some good ol' racism in the treatment of the local black odd-job man, Genesis. But actually once I got into it, I started to appreciate some of the characters a bit more – William's mother, who tries to mediate between her son's actuakl and perceived needs, and especially Lola's host, Mr Parcher, who is at the sharp end of observing her infantile behaviour and her court of admirers. There's a lovely moment for him at the end of Chapter 27, as the farewell party for Lola reaches its end:

 At half past one the orchestra played “Home, Sweet Home.” As the last bars sounded, a group of earnest young men who had surrounded the lovely guest of honor, talking vehemently, broke into loud shouts, embraced one another and capered variously over the lawn. Mr. Parcher beheld from a distance these manifestations, and then, with an astonishment even more profound, took note of the tragic William, who was running toward him, radiant—Miss Boke hovering futilely in the far background.
   “What’s all the hullabaloo?” Mr. Parcher inquired.
   “Miss Pratt!” gasped William. “Miss Pratt!”
   “Well, what about her?”
   And upon receiving William’s reply, Mr. Parcher might well have discerned behind it the invisible hand of an ironic but recompensing Providence making things even—taking from the one to give to the other.
   “She’s going to stay!” shouted the happy William. “She’s promised to stay another week!”
   And then, mingling with the sounds of rejoicing, there ascended to heaven the stricken cry of an elderly man plunging blindly into the house in search of his wife.

And even the treatment of Genesis improves, especially as William's annoying (but much more sensible) little sister Jane becomes an ally in subverting her brother's plans.

At the same time, it's curiously innocent in some ways. William's parents' worst fear is that he might take it into his head to elope with Lola and marry her, a possibility of which he is only vaguely aware and in which she appears utterly uninterested. The prospect of pregnancy (let alone contraception) is simply not mentioned, except when Genesis reminisces to the uncomprehending Jane and William about his early life. (Later in 1916, Joyce published a book in which his teenage protagonist has sex.) Although William and his rivals are supposedly in their later teens, they are somewhat infantilised – and Lola even more so. And the author's humour at the expense of Youth tends uncomfortably towards sneering rather than gentle.

Anyway, I've read this, so you don't have to. It is mercifully short.

Front cover is very dull so this is the poster of the 1940 film.

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The Peterloo Massacre, by Paul Magrs

Second line of third episode:

The Fifth Doctor: "Cathy? From Hurley Hall…?"

A straight historical story from the pen of Paul Magrs, dealing with the infamous attack on protesters in Manchester on 16 August 1819 by what we would now call security forces, in which 15 people are known to have died (though the real number was probably more). I realised writing this that I walked through the scene of the attack in central Manchester every day over the Easter weekend while at Mancunicon – it took place roughly where the Radisson Blu Edwardian is now, and I was staying down Oxford Street which turns into Peter Street as you approach the city centre.

Other reviewers have raved about this as being one of the best Big Finish plays for years. I can't quite rise to that level of enthusiasm – I liked it well enough, and I thought Peter Davison in particular nailed his Doctor's moral outrage very well, and Sutton and Fielding also strongly rise to the occasion. The soundscape of early nineteenth-century England is also very well realised from the technical viewpoint. But I found it all a bit didactic, and yet not quite delivering the substance of what the protesters were protesting about; I also wasn't completely satisfied by the impact of the massacre on the contemporary characters in the final episode. Chacun à son goût.

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Interesting Links for 10-10-2016

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The Dinner, by Hermann Koch

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I was standing in the doorway to his room. He wasn’t there. But let’s not beat around the bush: I knew he wasn’t there. He was in the garden, fixing the back tire of his bike.

This is a novel about an uncomfortable family meal in Amsterdam (which I read, with impeccable timing, immediately after a weekend in Amsterdam with my siblings and mother). Serge is in the running to be the next prime minister; Paul, the narrator, has become aware of a heinous crime that their sons committed; their wives Claire and Babette are in the conversation; the dinner is interrupted at various points in various ways; the technology of the mobile phone plays a key part in the narrative. It’s intense and a bit unpleasant, but gripping reading. I often find unreliable narrators a bit annoying, but this one worked for me.

This was both the most popular unread book I acquired in 2016 and the most popular unread non-genre work of fiction on my shelves. Next on those lists, respectively, are V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and The Innocent Man by John Grisham.

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One in three thousand: me and the European Social Survey

I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to get a letter from our local university, informing me that I am one of 3,000 randomly selected residents of Belgium who is invited to participate in the European Social Survey, a multinational project to discover what the Plain People of Europe Really Think. (I note that 3,000 is more or less the square root of the total population.)

Last time round, Belgians gave our health service the highest score of any country’s respondents. I had looked at the previous questionnaire and was expecting to answer questions about television and drinking habits, but they were not asked this year. Instead there was a substantial section on energy policy and climate change, as well as the core questions about politics (including immigration) and general well-being.

Obviously I am a bit of an outlier on various important metrics, but I guess that they will average my answers in with the other 2,999 across Belgium, and indeed the others across Europe, and come up with the necessary statistics comparing Belgium with the other 24 participating countries. The whole process lasted an hour and a quarter – probably went quicker because I had done my homework – and is probably the longest conversation I have had in Dutch for many many years. (The interviewer complimented me on my taalkennis.) I am already looking forward to seeing how my answers correlate with those of the population as a whole.

I hope the UK stays in this initiative post-Brexit – non-EU states have always participated, but of course this project means engaging with experts, some of them foreign, so I guess we can’t take it for granted.

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