October Books

Non-fiction: 4 (YTD 45)
Sheelagh Murnaghan, 1924-1993: Stormont’s Only Liberal MP, by Ruth Illingworth
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence
Is There Life Outside The Box? An Actor Despairs, by Peter Davison
Luck and the Irish, by Roy Foster

849FD71B-1A8E-4FF1-AB14-A6DFACBC20E1.jpeg 912DDAAA-AC4C-4F96-94B5-79913BDF93B5.jpeg B47B0334-756F-4C84-9462-B361CF7FF988.jpeg 4578C5AF-5846-4A27-AEFE-9738EB15B8D5.jpeg

Fiction (non-sf): 6 (YTD 31)
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Sybil, by Benjamin Disraeli
The Nannies, by Brian Killick
The Heralds, by Brian Killick
The Bastard of Istanbul, by Eilif Shafak
Beneath The Dome, by Brian Killick

sf (non-Who): 4 (YTD 67)
Cloud and Ashes, by Greer Gilman
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
Be My Enemy, by Ian McDonald
The Computer Connection, by Alfred Bester

Doctor Who, etc: 1 (YTD 26)
The Triple Knife, and other Doctor Who stories, by Jenny T. Colgan

Comics 2 (YTD 27)
Frédégonde, la sanguinaire, Tome 1, by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi
Frédégonde, la sanguinaire, Tome 2, by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi

5,400 pages (YTD 54,400)
7/17 (YTD 79/197) by non-male writers (Illingworth, Shafak, Gilman, Russell, Colgan, Greiner/de Vincenzi x 2))
0/17 (YTD 29/197) by PoC (I don't think Peter Davison counts himself in this category)
4/17 (YTD 27/197) rereads (Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Heralds, Beneath the Dome, The Sparrow)

Reading now
Normal People, by Sally Rooney
The Calcutta Chromosome, by Amitav Ghosh
The Camelot Club, by Brian Killick
Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding

Coming soon (perhaps)
Two Brothers, by Ben Elton
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
A Close Run Thing, by Allan Mallinson
"Catch That Zeppelin!", by Fritz Leiber
One of the 28th: A tale of Waterloo, by G. A. Henty
Halo: The Thursday War, by Karen Traviss
The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville
My Century, by Günther Grass
The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells
Dragon’s Claw, by Steve Moore
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
Les Survivants, vol 1, by Leo
Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, by Stephen Zunes
She Was Good-She Was Funny, by David Marusek
Being Human: Bad Blood, by James Goss
Dragonworld, by Byron Preiss
Excession, by Iain M. Banks
Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson

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My tweets

  • Wed, 12:03: RT @RichardBullick1: Whatever your perspective it’s a remarkable state of affairs and a sign of the times when the Belfast Newsletter sugge…
  • Wed, 12:56: The General Election – identifying the top bellwether seats https://t.co/nssCnhu6oz Apparently Bedford is the average GB seat.
  • Wed, 14:03: RT @Claire_Phipps: Richard Braine quits as Ukip leader after less than three months, “leaving Ukip seeking its seventh permanent leader sin…
  • Wed, 15:07: RT @AmberRuddHR: Funny thing really, as just last week the PM asked me to stand in the General Election. Afraid the Chief Whip has been br…
  • Wed, 15:54: Interesting that in general men are more likely than women to have *both* a favourable *and* an unfavourable view o… https://t.co/CbJoLTfgvL
  • Wed, 16:05: RT @imbadatlife: a unified theory of that chart of pro-EU politicians https://t.co/xEwpuqZsz3
  • Wed, 17:11: RT @leahtriss: Going as Former Gifted Child for Halloween and the whole costume is just gonna be people asking “What are you supposed to be…
  • Wed, 20:08: RT @IanDunt: Jess Phillips to Bercow: “It’s a delight to see your children watching here today. I know that while you have a responsibility…
  • Wed, 20:48: RT @NotLasers: I like saying things in ways that, while entirely true, make them sound far more worrisome than they actually are, i.e. “my…
  • Wed, 20:48: RT @NickyMorgan01: For the first time in 18 years I won’t be a candidate in the next General Election. I’ve loved being #Loughborough‘s voi…

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Blake’s 7, second season (first half)

As promised, I have more or less stuck to the schedule of watching a Blake's 7 episode every two days, and will finish the second season with Star One later this evening. I have been much slower at writing the episodes up as I go, however, so here are the first six for now, with more hopefully to come.

I don't think I had seen any of the second series of Blake's 7 before, apart from one episode which we'll get to in due course. I first thought this might have been because we were living abroad in 1979-80, but actually the episodes were all shown between January and April 1979, and we did not leave until the summer. Maybe I had music lessons on Tuesday nights or something. Anyway, watching most of these for the first time, I was able to rediscover my inner eleven-year-old's sense of wonder without very much difficulty. I'm afraid I'm going to do a lot of Doctor Who crossover spotting here, because it is so much fun.

2.1: Redemption, by Terry Nation, directed by Vere Lorrimer

I found Redemption a really strong start to the series. Though we'll just snark for a moment about the fact that our heroes have acquired some snazzy new threads in the split second between the end of the last episode and the beginning of this.

It's always good to have some back-story, and it turns out that the Liberator is part of an alien civilisation that wants to reclaim it. The crew's loss of control of Zen is spooky and well done, and the episode makes the most of the nuclear power station setting. And of course it is the sister ship that fulfills Zen's prophecy of destruction.

All three of the identified guest cast (there are numerous uncredited guards etc) have Doctor Who credentials. Most notably Harriet Philpin, Alpha Two, was Bethan the Thal soldier in Genesis of the Daleks:

Sheila Ruskin, Alpha One, two years later was Kassia in The Keeper of Traken:

And the unnamed slave, Roy Evans, was one of the alien delegates in the Daleks Master Plan, as well as being two different doomed miners in late Pertwee stories. He was also the Baker in the episode of Here Come the Double Deckers! where Doughnut turns invisible.

The Avon/Blake dynamic is getting stronger here, and the girls and Gan are losing out. As ever the best line is an exchange between Avon and Vila:

‘I’ve got a shocking pain behind the eyes’
‘Have you considered amputation?’

2.2: Shadow, by Chris Boucher, directed by Jonathan Wright Miller

The first episode officially written by Chris Boucher, and it's by far the best characterisation so far: there's a real feeling of discomfort about having anything to do with drugs, and the extent to which this can be justified, Gan in particular showing more depth here than in all his other episodes combined. The moral dilemma is relieved by the disovery at the end that the Federation is Behind It All. I love also the groovy psychedelic moving rocks, and Cally, for once getting to be telepathic, is taken into a mental universe of her own which clearly was a source for the Who story Kinda. And Vila gets to have a good time.

Adrienne Burgess, a bit wet here as Hanna, was a more convincing revolutionary with Michael Keating in The Sun Makers a year or two back.

Vernon Dobtcheff, the big bad guy, was in The War Games of course:

Derek Smith, the ambiguous Largo, was not in Old Who but turned up in Human Nature as the doomed doorman at the village dance:


Vila: Where are all the good guys?
Blake: You could be looking at them.
Avon: What a very depressing thought.

2.3: Weapon, written by Chris Boucher, directed by George Spenton-Foster

Well, well, we have a new Travis. I was not a fan of the character under Stephen Greif, but any fair observer must admit that Brian Croucher's interpretation is rather worse, and we get no explanation for the change in appearance. As you'd expect from Chris Boucher, there's some brilliant stuff here. We have yet another mystic priestess (the Clone Queen):

And isn't the clone Blake getting away with the girl a bit of a precursor to the duplicate Tenth Doctor getting away with Rose?

Is it true, I wonder, that Servalan (in her sexiest costume yet) has Romana's furs from The Ribos Operation,saved by George Spenton-Foster who directed both?

Though switching to costume disasters, it's difficult to know whether this or The Talons of Weng Chiang was John Bennett's career nadir:

Both Scott Fredericks as Carnell, and Graham Simpson as his liaison officer, were in Image of the Fendahl (also directed by Spenton-Foster), Fredericks in the lead role of Stael, Simpson as the hiker who gets killed at the beginning of the story.

Carnell is a great character, and Boucher reused him in the Leela novel Corpse Marker and the audio drama Kaldor City.

I thought everyone was on really good form here, including Candace Glendenning as Rashel (who gets the spare Blake); she was never on Who but did several 1970s horror films.


Jenna: Maybe IMIPAK is another Orac. If we captured it, perhaps we could breed from them.
Blake: What a disgusting idea.

2.4: Horizon, written by Allan Prior, directed by Jonathan Wright Miller

Wow. This was unexpected – the script is pretty basic (this is the first story this season that could just as easily have been in Season One) but this is rather bravely a full-on totally direct parable about colonialism. Unfortunately, as with the similar Third Doctor story The Mutants, the delivery is slightly muffed, but the intention is there. Interesting to see the Liberator crew admitting that they are suffering from stress. Less impressive as they all teleport down in sequence, to land in the same trap. And total costume fail with Gareth Thomas and Michael Keating's manly chests. Brilliant Avon scenes as he decides whether or not to cut and run.

Here's another pair of guest stars who get reunited in the Whoniverse: Brian Miller (Deputy Commissar here, also of course Elisabeth Sladen's husband) and Souad Faress (Selma) are both in the second story of the third series of the Sarah Jane Adventures, The Mad Woman In The Attic, the Harry the caretaker and the eponymous woman (an older version of Rani) respectively. Unfortunately they don't appear in the same scene in Sarah Jane, but I did find one shot with them nicely framed in the background in Horizon. Brian Miller has otherwise been in both Old Who and New Who.

William Squire, in the foreground of the picture above as the Kommissar, was the Shadow in The Armageddon Factor, but as his face was completely hidden in that role, there's not much point in adding a photograph.


Vila : Why don't you go?
Avon: You are expendable.
Vila: And you're not?
Avon: No, I am not. I am not expendable, I'm not stupid, and I'm not going.

2.5: Pressure Point, written by Terry Nation, directed by George Spenton-Foster

This is the one I do remember watching – because of course it is the one in which Gan is killed. Apparently the first idea was to kill off Vila, and what a good thing that they rethought that stupid idea. Gan, poor chap, never got much to do, and I remember being a bit surprised at myself, aged 11, at how little I was upset by his demise. But it does at least show that we are playing for high stakes here. Blake is getting more and more unrealiable, and here his hubris gets one of his friends killed.

It's one of those relatively few episodes with just one driving plot strand, and the concept of the entire Control Centre being a hoax is well delivered. There's also a good exchange about organised religion:

Gan: What is this place?
Blake: A church.
Gan: A church?
Blake: Place of religious assembly.
Gan: Must be ancient.
Blake: The Federation had them all destroyed at the beginning of the New Calendar.

Well, once again we have three Doctor Who cast crossovers, with revolutionary mother and daughter Kasabi and Veron, played by Jane Sherwin and Yolanda Palfrey, appearing as Lady Jennifer Buckingham in The War Games and Janet the stewardess in Terror of the Vervoids.

Not on quite the same level, Sue Bishop, this week's Mutoid, was also one of the Sisterhood of Karn in The Brain of Morbius (but I am not sure which).


Blake: The others have decided to go with me.
Avon: [smiles] I thought they would. Not very bright, but loyal.

2.6: Trial, by Chris Boucher, directed by Derek Martinus

This is not one of the greater episodes. There are two plots: Travis is put on trial (which we all know is a show trial) for war crimes, and Blake seeks absolution for the death of Gan by visiting a planet that turns out to have a mind of its own.

The two sinister senators have both been on Doctor Who, Peter Miles three times, most notably as Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks, and John Bryans once, as Torvin in The Creature from the Pit.

Also John Savident, presiding over Travis's trial, would be the Squire killed off in the first episode of The Visitation.

John Bryans and John Savident will be back.

I have to say I was more impressed with Victoria Fairbrother as Travis' defense lawyer Thania (one of only two women Federation officers other than Servalan seen in the entire 52 episodes), and with Claire Lewis as the alien Zil, the most alien non-human we've had yet on the show.


Thania: You served a full tour with Space Commander Travis, didn't you?
Trooper Par: Five years. He was hard.
Major Thania: But fair?
Trooper Par: No. Not often, anyway.

Anyway, I must say I enjoyed all of these, one way or another; and we still have Robert Holmes to come!

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Tuesday reading

Normal People, by Sally Rooney
The Calcutta Chromosome, by Amitav Ghosh
The Camelot Club, by Brian Killick

Last books finished
The Nannies, by Brian Killick
Luck and the Irish, by Roy Foster
The Heralds, by Brian Killick
The Bastard of Istanbul, by Eilif Shafak
The Computer Connection, by Alfred Bester
Beneath The Dome, by Brian Killick

Next books
Two Brothers, by Ben Elton
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

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My tweets

  • Mon, 12:34: RT @janinegibson: Boris Johnson’s “inflammatory language” tracked to spikes in toxic tweets aimed at MPs, analysis of over 2m tweets by @FT
  • Mon, 12:56: RT @tcpolymath: * Parents died mysteriously * Perceived as a wastrel playboy * Incomparable manservant * All interactions are with people w…
  • Mon, 16:05: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Playful and Profound Letter-Poem to Children About the Power of Books and Why We Read… https://t.co/o3o69i7OS2
  • Mon, 17:11: J&K Block Development Council election results: New Delhi hails new and youthful leadership, but disregards local d… https://t.co/8ryODtiBkS
  • Mon, 17:24: Been out all day and come home to find Brexiters talking rubbish about the Vienna Convention again…
  • Mon, 17:37: RT @AdamBienkov: Boris Johnson addressing the nation last month: “I want everybody to know there are no circumstances in which I will ask B…
  • Mon, 17:46: RT @davidallengreen: From 9 September Tory MPs in tea room had devised “twenty” legal plans to avoid Article 50 extension Twenty, they ha…
  • Mon, 18:50: The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak https://t.co/sWqQK5Ii68
  • Mon, 18:50: RT @JenniferMerode: In the (signed) letter accepting EU extension offer, Boris Johnson says he has responsibility as PM “to protect the UK’…
  • Mon, 19:25: RT @Mij_Europe: Possible hitch to Lib Dem-SNP Bill for 9 December election. Labour MP Stephen Doughty will table amendment calling for 16…

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The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak

Second paragraph of third chapter:

"Please calm down and have a seat, Uncle," Auntie Surpun, the youngest of the Tchakhmakhchian sisters, muttered without directly looking at him. Being the only one in the family who had unreservedly supported Barsam's marriage to Rose, she now felt culpable. Such self-reproach was not something she was used to. A professor of humanities at the University of California at Berkeley, Surpun Tchakhmakhchian was a self-confident feminist scholar who believed that every problem in this world was negotiable by calm dialogue and reason. There were times this particular conviction had made her feel alone in a family as temperamental as hers.

A great book about Istanbul, seen through the eyes of two young women, Asya, who has been brought up in the city by her mother and her three sisters, and Armanoush, an Armenian-American whose Turkish stepfather is Asya's uncle, and who decides to come and experience Istanbul for herself to see where her ancestors lived before the genocide. It turns out, of course, that the two families are much more closely linked than either of the girls realises. I'm afraid I spotted the twist at the end several chapters off, and I felt the resolution was a little too pat, but I very much enjoyed the humour and empathy of the journey to get there; the characters are all deliciously well drawn, and the atmosphere of the different quarters of Istanbul seemed convincing to me, though I do not know the city as well as I would like. You can get it here.

The books dates from a few years ago, before Turkey had started to slide down the authoritarian road it has now taken. As it happens, Elif Shafak has writen today about the danger of this being repeated in the UK.

I was last in Istanbul in February 2018, and got this nice picture of Galata across the Golden Horn:

Also a less impressive selfie with the Hagia Sofia in the background:

This was my top unread book acquired this year, my top unread book by a woman, and my top unread non-genre fiction book. Next on the first of those piles is The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells; next on the other two is The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.

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Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change, 1970-2000, by Roy Foster

Second paragraph of third chapter:

While the party fights within Fianna Fail since the departure of Sean Lemass in 1966 had focused on personal rivalries and hatreds, they also revolved around three enduring themes from past history: politics, nationalism and land. The way these continue to intertwine gives some pause for thought, especially in the era of the hegemony of Fianna Fail and the recent revelations by which that party in its post-de Valera persona will be judged. The party may have become increasingly 'constitutional' in the years when it monopolized power, but descriptions of the Fianna Fail ethos tend to rely upon some qualifying adverbs. 'We were', Charles Haughey remarked in one of his less guarded reminiscences, 'fairly sincere people."

This is a book based on five lectures given by Roy Foster in Belfast in 2004, published in 2007. It is sobering to realise just how different the world (and Ireland) looked before the crash of 2008. Brexit, of course, is the latest twist in the post-crash settling of world affairs as it affects Ireland (the Trump Presidency is more significant on a global scale, but affects Ireland less). In 2004 (or 2007) it was possible to write a book or set of lectures about the recent past, finish the final paragraph and think, job done. I don't think any historian could confidently do that in 2019.

And in fairness to Foster, he sort-of sees it coming – one of his warnings, particularly in the third chapter which concentrates on Fianna Fail, is that the relationship between property investors and politicians was far too close. The story of Charles Haughey's rampant and blatant corruption is always worth telling again, but this was enabled by a political system that saw no problem with linking property development and executive power. He doesn't completely see it coming, of course; in 2003, 2004 and 2005, Ireland's GNI per capita rose by 20%, 26% and 18%, and it was impossible at that point to envisage that the figures for 2009-12 would be -8% followed by three consecutive years of 4% decline. But historians are supposed to tell us about the past, not the future.

Foster's aim is to explain how Ireland modernised between 1970 and 2000. I don't think he quite manages to convey a grasp of the very big picture (he basically puts it down to luck and accident), but each of the chapters is a good scrutiny of important elements of the story. Chapter two is on the change in status of the Catholic Church; chapter three on Fianna Fail; chapter four on the Republic's attitude to Northern Ireland (where I think he is completely right to say that the South accepted Partition in 1926 and is still not seriously contemplating any other arrangement); and chapter five on the arts and literature. It's tremendously well written, and although some might feel that the critique of Charles Haughey is a bit over the top, the fact is that Haughey himself was well over the top. (Younger readers may need reminding that in the summer of 1982, during Haughey's first government, a nationwide hunt for a man who had killed two people in broad daylight with no apparent motive ended with the murderer's arrest in an apartment belonging to the Attorney-Generalget it here.

This was the last book acquired in 2011 that was still on my unread shelves! I finished the last unread book acquired in 2010 in January this year, and the last unread book acquired in 2009 three years ago.

On to 2012 books: the next on each pile are One of the 28th, by G.A. Henty (non-genre fiction, and also most popular unread book from 2012), Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, by Stephen Zunes (non-fiction), She Was Good – She Was Funny and My Morning Glory, by David Marusek (shortest) and Being Human: Bad Blood, by James Goss (SF). I think it will take me longer to clear the 2012 stack than the 2011 stack.

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Why I decided to #backpack

The Lib Dems’ internal elections have rolled around, and I still seem to have voting rights (am honestly not sure when I last paid a subscription). The biggest choice that’s up is the vote for party president, and as I have recorded my votes for that post before (Farron 2010, Scott 2008, Öpik 2004) I shall do so again.

I’m not sure how I know Mark Pack, but I think it was through student politics in the very early years of the Lib Dems (or SLD as they then were). He must be a couple of years younger than me and was at York when I was at Cambridge. We almost became professional colleagues a couple of years ago (our mutual employers came close to merging but called it off). I also reviewed his book on winning elections when it came out. He has a good sense of organisation and connecting aspirations with reality.

I don’t know CJ (as Christine Jardine, the other candidate is generally known), and have nothing against her personally; but she is an MP for a Scottish seat that was regained in 2017; I tend to think that other things being equal, MPs need to concentrate on retaining their seats for the imminent election and not rush to take on other responsibilities.

Often I’ve taken endorsements into consideration when making theses choices. The only endorser listed on either candidate’s website either candidate who I know is Catherine Bearder MEP, who is backing Mark. I also see an endorsement from my old friend Ed Fordham on Lib Dem Voice. So that confirms my general thinking: I’m voting for Mark Pack.

(I see that I voted for the winner on previous occasions.)

Ordinary members now seem to have votes in all the party’s committees, whose franchise was previously restricted to conference delegates. I’m not sure if this is an improvement, but I’m exercising my mandate. For the other committees, I basically chose the people who I knew and ranked them ahead of the people I didn’t know. I knew seven of the candidates for the two international committees, so put Hannah Bettsworth at the top (we need to encourage young activist women) and ranked the other six (yes, if you’re reading this, I did put you second), leaving the rest blank

The other four elections were more difficult. One candidate running in each of them claims to be involved with an organisation that I am also quite heavily involved with. I have never heard of this person, and all of our mutual contacts on social networks are Lib Dems rather than my contacts in that organisation. The candidate’s personal statement is also very badly written. So I felt I should submit a full slate of votes for the other elections, putting this person last in each case.

In three cases I did actually know one or two candidates, so I voted for Neil Fawcett for the Federal Board, Jon Ball and Liz Lynne for Federal Conference Committee and Duncan Brack and Robert Harrison for Federal Policy Committee. I ranked all the other candidates (other than the one mentioned in the previous paragraph) to boost representation from women and minorities, looking also at their number of Twitter followers and quality of presentation of the personal statement. That gave me Susan Juned as my top preference for the one other race where I had a vote.

As a not terribly well informed member with many other commitments, I can only spend a little time engaging. I am very distant from the action these days, but the Lib Dems are clearly on a roll, as well as facing some internal challenges (am very unimpressed with the recruitment of Philip Lee MP for instance). And I must say that in general I was impressed by the number of candidates – even though it makes the job of a conscientious voter much more difficult!

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Frédégonde, La sanguinaire, vols 1 and 2, by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi

Second paragraph of third page of vol 1:

"I never bin asked for so many flowers!
Seems like the new queen's crazy about them."
"Anyone seen 'er?"
"I saw 'er, a real princess!"
Second paragraph of third page of vol 2:

Frédégonde (very pregnant): "Come in!"

I got this because I had greatly enjoyed the six-volume series about Eleanor of Aquitaine (1+2, 3+4, 5+6) also published as part of Delcourt's Reines de Sang (Queens of Blood) range, looking at historical women rulers with reputations for ruthlessness, and I also wanted to educate myself about the Frankish kingdoms in this part of the world between the fall of the Roman Empire and the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire. This is the story of Fredegund, subtitled "the Bloody", set between 560, when her royal lover Chilperic of Neustria marries the Visigothic princess Galswintha, and 584, when she finally kills him off, having killed off numerous others in the meantime (including Galswintha). I thought the characterisation was impressive: more often than I would like, I have problems telling characters apart in graphic novels, but Virginie Greiner's script and especially Alessia de Vincenzi's art was very good at giving the women characters in particular their own voice in the sixth-century urban and rural landscape. (A shout out to Brunhilda, who gets some good lines and action.)

Fredegund has a very bad press historically, mainly because the only primary source about her is Gregory of Tours, who makes no bones about his personal grudge against her. It would have been interesting to get a feminist reinterpretation of the historical record from Fredegund's point of view. That's not what we have here; Greiner's Fredegund is motivated purely by personal lust for power, and in due course for the succession of her children. The first volume is well-paced, dealing with the Chilperic / Fredegund / Galswintha triangle, but the end of the second book in particular feels rather rushed – Fredegund lived another 15 years, and Brunhilda another 29 until her gruesome execution in 613; but we end in 584, with Chilperic being murdered off-stage – why has he not spotted that people who annoy Fredegund keep winding up dead? It seems a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Still, if you want, you can get vol 1 here and vol 2 here.

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Is There Life Outside The Box? An Actor Despairs, by Peter Davison

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The following morning, we meet early to drive to a TV interview happening just up the road, and I'm thinking about making it back to the hotel in time for breakfast. I'm forgetting that this is Australia, a big country, and just up the road is actually a two-and-a-half-hour drive in the heat to the Pinnacles, admittedly a beautiful alien landscape, where they have put a three-quarter-size TARDIS which I can't stand too close to for fear of exposing its lack of stature. The next day I fly to Adelaide for more interviews, and then our first show in the Entertainment Centre. The production team are ahead of me, working hard, and I arrive only two days before the show, in time to meet with Paul Bullock who's directing the Spectacular, to see if he'll agree to my Adelaide 'jokes'. We did the Symphonic Spectacular tour last year, and I think we make a pretty good team.

I met Peter Davison and his wife Elizabeth Morton at Loncon in 2014, and was just a bit starstruck. This was at the pre-Hugo reception, where he was attending in case The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot won (I had voted for it, mainly because it is very enjoyable but partly because I am briefly visible in it at about 08:03, but it didn't win).

I chatted to them for a few minutes, and then Elizabeth's phone rang; it was David and Georgia, who had been dropped at the wrong end of the ExCel building, so I went off to get them.

I've read a lot of celebrity memoirs, including Doctor Who memoirs, by now, and this really is one of the most entertaining of them. There are some major surprises as well, of which the first is that his father was black – or anyway, mixed-race, from Guyana (then British Guiana). Obviously his English mother's genes won out in terms of skin and hair colour, but you can clearly see the resemblance from the pictures below.

The book is told as a series of flashbacks in chronological order, as seen from a tour in 2015-2016. Young Peter Moffett did appallingly badly at school – “Perhaps my greatest triumph was managing to fail CSE woodwork. As my teacher, Mr Bidgood, said in his state of shock: ‘All you have to do is recognise wood.’” He studied at Central, but it took a long time for his career to get going; a brief appearance in The Tomorrow People was followed by a dry spell, and then suddenly in 1978 he hit the big time as junior vet Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. The extent to which this was cult family viewing in the late 1970s and early 1980s cannot be exaggerated; as the world around us appeared to be going to hell, here was a lovely nostalgic visit to a gentler past, where young Tristan was frequently brought up short by his older brother Siegfried (as played by Robert hardy), genially observed by James Herriot (Christopher Timothy).

When he was named as the fifth Doctor in November 1980, it was the first item on the BBC news that evening, ahead of some bloke called Reagan being elected to something or other. It did not last; after Doctor Who, and the subsequent successes of A Very Peculiar Practice and Campion, he had a very slack decade and a second divorce, and his personal life and career only really picked up again around 2000. But now, particularly with the renewal of fannish interest in his earlier years, it sounds like things are on track again.

The anecdotes are great fun, told with a combination of acute observation (mostly sympathetic) of his fellow actors, and self-deprecation (sometimes brutal). When we met in 2014, I asked if he had written anything other than The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, and he said that the only other script he had done was for his video message to Gallifrey 22 in 2011:

I don't know if that was completely true then, or if it's still true now, but based on those dramas and this book, I hope he tries some more writing. It's good stuff, and you can get it here.

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Sybil, or the Two Nations, by Benjamin Disraeli

Second paragraph of the third chapter:

The Greymount family having planted themselves in the land, faithful to the policy of the founder, avoided the public gaze during the troubled period that followed the reformation; and even during the more orderly reign of Elizabeth, rather sought their increase in alliances than in court favour. But at the commencement of the seventeenth century, their abbey lands infinitely advanced in value, and their rental swollen by the prudent accumulation of more than seventy years, a Greymount, who was then a county member, was elevated to the peerage as Baron Marney. The heralds furnished his pedigree, and assured the world that although the exalted rank and extensive possessions enjoyed at present by the Greymounts, had their origin immediately in great territorial revolutions of a recent reign, it was not for a moment to be supposed, that the remote ancestors of the Ecclesiastical Commissioner of 1530 were by any means obscure. On the contrary, it appeared that they were both Norman and baronial, their real name Egremont, which, in their patent of peerage the family now resumed.

This is one of the many novels of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), published in 1845, two years before he was elected to Parliament, seven years before he became Chancellor of the Exchequer for the first time and 23 years before the first of his two terms as Prime Minister of the UK. The only other British prime minister that I know published any novels was Churchillnouveaux riches and it's jolly well time that they got their act together. The working respectable poor live in horrible conditions, exploited by the Whigs and their own local bigwigs. The Catholic church (rather to my surprise) is a strong potential unifying factor, partly because the Whigs hate it but mainly just because. Egremont, noble both in blood and spirit, dares to openly state in Parliament that maybe the Chartists have a point and pays a social price. Sybil, whose father is a leader of the misguided but well-intentioned Chartists, orbits around Egremont and then it turns out – spoiler! – that she too has noble blood as well as noble sentiments. The establishment defeats the Chartists; yet nothing can ever be the same again.

The characters are paper-thin, but there's nice interplay within Egremont's own family (his stuck-up elder brother, his manipulative mother) and the political fixers Tadpole and Taper are quite good fun – as is Mr Hatton, fixer of family trees. I was also surprised by the number of memorable one-liners:

On Ireland in the eighteenth century: “to govern Ireland was only to apportion the public plunder to a corrupt senate.”

About an MP with a bee in his bonnet about foreign policy: “he had only one idea, and that was wrong.”

An old-fashioned lord harumphs: “pretending that people can be better off than they are, is radicalism and nothing else.”

Advice to a trainee lobbyist: “be ‘frank and explicit;’ that is the right line to take when you wish to conceal your own mind and to confuse the minds of others.”

Most surprisingly, on page 415: “Resistance is useless!” (Had Douglas Adams read this?)

Not everything stands the passage of time. “Slowly delivering himself of an ejaculation, Egremont leant back in his chair.” Errrr….

I picked this up (after a long time) mainly as a result of F.R. Leavis' recommendation in The Great Tradition. My main conclusion is that I wonder what he was on, recommending this ahead of most other novels of the nineteenth century? It's entertaining for a glimpse of the political atmosphere of 1845 (with the glaring absence of Ireland), but it really isn't Great Literature. You can get it here.

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Tuesday reading

The Nannies, by Brian Killick
The Bastard of Istanbul, by Eilif Shafak
Luck and the Irish, by Roy Foster

Last books finished
Sybil, by Benjamin Disraeli
Frédégonde, la sanguinaire, Tome 1, by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi
Is There Life Outside The Box? An Actor Despairs, by Peter Davison
Frédégonde, la sanguinaire, Tome 2, by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi
Be My Enemy, by Ian McDonald

Next books
Normal People, by Sally Rooney
The Computer Connection, by Alfred Bester

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The letters of the alphabet

Latin Aa and Cyrillic Аа come from Greek Αα (alpha). Like Hebrew א, Arabic ﺍ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Aleph), meaning ox. (NB that א, and are consonants.)
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning the head of an ox.

Latin Bb and Cyrillic Бб and Вв come from Greek Ββ (beta). Like Hebrew ב, Arabic ﺏ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Beth), meaning house.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning house.

Latin Cc and Gg and Cyrillic Гг come from Greek Γγ (gamma). Like Hebrew ג, Arabic ﺝ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Gimel), meaning throwing stick (some think camel but I am not convinced).
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning throwing stick.

Latin Dd and Cyrillic Дд come from Greek Δδ (delta). Like Hebrew ד, Arabic د and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Daleth), meaning door.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning door.

Latin Ee and Cyrillic Ее, Єє, Ээ come from Greek Εε (epsilon). Like Hebrew ה, Arabic ه and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (He), meaning window (NB that all the Semitic letters are consonants).
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning happy (or a happy person).

Latin Ff comes from archaic Greek Ϝϝ (digamma). Like Hebrew ו, Arabic ﻭ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Waw), meaning hook – also the ancestor of Uu, Vv and Ww.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning mace.

Latin Hh and Cyrillic Ии come from Greek Ηη (eta), even though it is a consonant and the other two are vowels. Like Hebrew ח, Arabic ح and Ge'ez , , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Heth), meaning wall, courtyard.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning enclosure, which also had the right pronunciation.

Latin Ii and Jj and Cyrillic Іі and Јј come from Greek Ιι (iota). Like Hebrew י, Arabic ي and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Yodh), meaning hand. (NB that all the Semitic letters are consonants, pronounced like English y or German j.)
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning arm.

Latin Kk and Cyrillic Кк come from Greek Κκ (kappa). Like Hebrew כך, Arabic ﻙ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Kaph), meaning palm of a hand.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning hand.

Latin Ll and Cyrillic Лл come from Greek Λλ (lambda). Like Hebrew ל, Arabic ﻝ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Lamedh), meaning goad.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning whip.

Latin Mm and Cyrillic Мм come from Greek Μμ (mu). Like Hebrew מם, Arabic ﻡ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Mem), meaning water.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning ripple of water.

Latin Nn and Cyrillic Нн come from Greek Νν (nu). Like Hebrew נן, Arabic ﻥ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Nun), meaning snake.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning snake.

Latin Oo and Cyrillic Оо come from Greek Οο (omicron). Like Hebrew ע, Arabic ع and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Ayin), meaning eye (NB that all the Semitic letters are consonants.)
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning eye.

Latin Pp and Cyrillic Пп come from Greek Ππ (pi). Like Hebrew פף, Arabic ف and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Pe), meaning mouth, well.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning mouth (actually pronounced 'r').

Latin Qq and the archaic Cyrillic Ҁҁ and Фф come from the archaic Greek Ϙϙ (qoppa). Like Hebrew ק, Arabic ﻕ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Qoph), meaning the eye of a needle or possibly the nape.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning monkey.

Latin Rr and Cyrillic Рр come from Greek Ρρ (rho). Like Hebrew ר, Arabic ﺭ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Res), meaning head.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning head.

Latin Ss and Cyrillic Сс come from Greek Σσς (sigma). Like Hebrew ש (which is the root of Cyrillic Шш), Arabic س and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Shin), meaning tooth.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning bow, but frankly it looks much more likely to me to have been , a pond with lotus flowers, which looks similar and has the right pronunciation.

Latin Tt and Cyrillic Тт come from Greek Ττ (tau). Like Hebrew ת, Arabic ت, ث and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Taw), meaning mark.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning mark.

Latin Uu, Vv, Ww and Yy, and Cyrillic Уу, come from Greek Υυ (upsilon). The root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Waw), discussed above under Ff.

Latin Xx and Cyrillic Хх come from Greek Χχ (chi) even though the Latin letter is pronounced differently from the other two. Like Hebrew ו, Arabic س and Ge'ez ሰ, the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Samekh), meaning tentpeg.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , a mystical symbol based on a column of reeds. Frankly I'm not hugely convinced.

Latin Zz and Cyrillic Зз come from Greek Ζζ (zeta). Like Hebrew ז, Arabic ز and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Zayin), meaning weapon.
It's not clear which hieroglyph it came from. Some say , meaning two. I'd have thought , meaning dagger, more likely.

Several letters which were used by the Anglo-Saxons have since been dropped from the English version of the Latin alphabet. This post in in English, so I will look at them too.

The origin of Ææ (æsh or ash) is pretty obvious, and likewise Ðð (eth or edh).

The archaic Ȝȝ (yogh), pronounced in various ways, is derived from Gg. (Sometimes it has survived as a Zz, which is why "Menzies" is pronounced as it is.)

But the letters Þþ (thorn), pronounced th, and Ƿƿ (wyn), pronounced w, were not derived from Greek or Phoenician at all, but from the ancient Germanic runes ᚦ (thurisaz) and ᚹ (wunjo).

Personally, I þink we should revive þ at least. Þere's a lot of scope for it. It is still used in þe Icelandic language.

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What happened to the 1944 Retro Hugos?

As previously discussed, this year's Worldcon administered (1, 2) and awarded 11 Retro Hugo Awards to honour the sf that fans might have honoured if there had been a Worldcon and Hugos in 1944.


We did our best to identify copyright holders during the nomination process, but it was not easy, and (as noted previously) only one author's estate authorised us to use their material for a Retro Hugo voter packet (I will reveal that it was Fritz Leiber), so we did not proceed with that.

I'm glad to say that we did have a few designated acceptors in the room on the night. Apart from those noted below, Betsy Wollheim was on hand in case her father Donald won (unfortunately he lost in all three categories where he was nominated); June and Naomi Rosenblum were there for their father-in-law/grandfather J. Michael Rosenblum; Stephanie Breijo was there for her great-grandfather Oscar J. Friend; and Harper Collins sent a rep for C.S. Lewis. So, for 66 finalists, we had acceptors on hand for 10. Future Worldcons might like to bear that in mind when planning whether or not to run Retro Hugo Awards.

This is what happened with the trophies, in increasing order of the difficulty we had in dealing with them.

1) Best Novel: Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber

The agents for Leiber's estate, Richard Curtis, designated Patrick Nielsen Hayden to accept the trophy at the ceremony, and we shipped it to Richard Curtis's office.

2) Best Short Story: "R is for Rocket" / "King of the Grey Spaces", by Ray Bradbury

Jason Aukerman of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University attended the ceremony and accepted the trophy; we shipped it to him at the Center.

3) Best Professional Editor, Short Form: John W. Campbell jr

Campbell's grandson John Hammond attended the ceremony and accepted the trophy; we shipped it to him, but it was mistakenly delivered to Richard Curtis due to a label mix-up (for which I must take responsibility); Richard Curtis kindly sent it on to the correct destination.

4) Best Novella: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We contacted the office of the Succession Saint Exupéry-d’Agay in Paris, and they agreed to accept the trophy, so we shipped it to them.

5) Best Fan Writer: Forrest J Ackerman

Kevin Burns of Prometheus Entertainment handles Ackerman's literary estate and accepted the trophy.

6) Best Professional Artist: Virgil Finlay

I managed to track down his daughter in Florida, and we sent the trophy to her. She had not yet been born in 1945.

7) Best Fanzine: Le Zombie, edited by Wilson "Bob" Tucker

After some digging it turns out that his literary estate is managed by Curtis Brown, so we shipped the trophy to them. They also manage the literary estate of Ursula K. Le Guin, so uniquely received both a 2019 trophy and a 1944 Retro trophy.

8) Best Novelette: "Mimsy Were the Borogoves", by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

I managed to track down Moore's stepdaughter in California, and we sent the trophy to her. She was already an adult when her father married C.L. Moore in 1963.

9) Best Graphic Story: Wonder Woman #5: Battle for Womanhood, by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter (DC Comics)

We had had good connections with DC's New York publicists; it took a bit longer to get the right contact person in DC's actual HQ in Cailfornia, but we got there in the end and the trophy will be shipped to them as soon as we have corrected an unfortunate spelling error on the plaque. I slightly regret that we did not try to track down the family of William Moulton Marstonwife had two children and he fathered another two with their partner, and there surely must be descendants still around. But our existing contact with DC, who had been pretty proactive about reaching out to us, was a bird in the hand.

10) Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, written by Curt Siodmak, directed by Roy William Neill (Universal Pictures)

Even though Universal won a 2019 Hugo for The Good Place, we could not get a response from them on the Retro Hugos. Eventually I tracked down Curt Siodmak's family, and the trophy will be sent to his 85-year-old son in California.

11) Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Heaven Can Wait, written by Samson Raphaelson, directed by Ernst Lubitsch (20th Century Fox)

Again, there was no response from Fox despite trying to reach them by various means. We also tried to reach the Lubitsch family through several channels, but again heard nothing back. Finally we did get a response from Samson Raphaelson's family, and the award will be shipped to his son (who is 91) in Chicago.

All of this was quite a lot of effort. Again, future Worldcons might like to bear that in mind when planning whether or not to run Retro Hugo Awards.

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Lawrence of Arabia, and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Lawrence of Arabia won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1962 (the first time the award had that precise title, which it retains to this day), and picked up another six: Best Director (David Lean), Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson for Best Adapted Screenplay, beaten in two of those three cases by To Kill A Mockingbird.

The other Best Picture nominees were The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty and To Kill a Mockingbird, of which I have only seen the last. On the two IMDB ratings, Lqwrence of Arabia is second on one of the two IMDB rankings of 1961 films, and fourth on the other, To Kill A Mockingbird ahead of it in both cases and Harakiri and Lolita ahead of it on one. I have seen both To Kill A Mockingbird and Lolita, and also Dr. No, and I think possibly Five Weeks in a Balloon. In the end I think To Kill A Mockingbird is a better film, but perhaps the Academy voters preferred the story of a white saviour to an account of racism in the Deep South. That year’s Hugo Award went again to The Twilight Zone. Here’a a trailer for Lawrence of Arabia:

You will surely be aware that the film is the story of the Arab Revolt; how towards the end of the first world war, T.E. Lawrence persuaded the feuding Arab tribes to unite and smite the Turks, leading to the creation of independent Arab states in the Middle East. As usual, I’m going to start with the actors who are returning from previous Oscar-winning films. Here’s a nice scene with Jack Hawkins (Allenby), Claude Rains (Dryden) and Alec Guinness (Faisal), all of whom we have seen before. According to legend, people in the street mistook Guinness for the real King Faisal while filming on location. This seems improbable, as the real Faisal had been dead for almost thirty years, but the likeness is impressive.

Jack Hawkins was in both Bridge on the River Kwai five years ago and Ben-Hur three years ago. Here he has shaved the front of his head, and dyed the rest of his hair, to look a bit more like the real Allenby.

Claude Rains, of course, was in Casablanca almost twenty years ago:

And Alec Guinness was also in Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he won an Oscar of his own.

OK, the big thing to notice about this film is the almost complete gender fail. There is not a single woman among the credited cast, which is apparently unique among Oscar-winning films and unique for any film of this length. This is way worse than the book, which at least features a few women in the background as well as Gertrude Bell off-stage and precisely one named woman on-stage. Literally the only visible women in the film appear less than ten minutes from the end, European nurses in the Turkish hospital of Damascus. (There may be women in some of the Arab crowd scenes earlier, but completely invisible if so, and I’m not quite sure about the black attendants in the conference scene immediately after the hospital scene.)

Peter O’Toole and his character are both the best thing about the film and provided the point of greatest dissonance for me. I really found the amount of make-up slathered onto his face a bit of a distraction.

We haven’t seen this much make-up on a leading man since the very first film in this sequence, Wings, thirty-five years ago:

Though I have my doubts also about Laurence Olivier in Rebecca, aged 33 and playing a character at least ten years older:

The film is basically a character study of how Lawrence transforms himself from out-of-place British army officer to Arab commander, and it is tremendously well done, also showing that he is already a damaged person who is perhaps bringing that damage to others. O’Toole isfantastic in it, and the scene where he admires his own reflection in his dagger is particularly effective.

At the same time, it’s not exactly critical of the white saviour narrative. And technology is portrayed as a brutal interruption of the noble savages’ way of life, starting with the German plane buzzing the Arab encampment, and culminating with a couple of attacks on the alien trains sullying the desert. (This is a huge contrast with the book, a lot of which is about blowing up trains.) Actual details of geography and wider strategy are skipped over.

It’s interesting that even if Guinness is regrettably browned-up as Faisal, a number of the other Arab characters are actually played by Arabs or at least by non-white actors, most notably Omar Sharif (who was Egyptian) as Sherif Ali.

The flip side of the absence of women is that this is probably the gayest Oscar-winning film so far. There’s a very clear bromance between Lawrence and Sherif Ali.

And the friendship between Lawrence’s attendants Daud and Farraj is obviously close, if not as obvious as in the book (incidentally the actors were Brazilian and Maltese):

Well, the second best thing about the film is the cinematography. The desert scenes are truly gripping, and the film as a whole must have been a major inspiration for Frank Herbert’s Dune, the first part of which was published in December 1963. There are also some very clear resonances with a later Alec Guinness film, Star Wars. The sounds made by the camels are particularly memorable and have surely inspired desert creatures in many a subsequent film.

The absolute best thing about the film is the music of Maurice Jarre (father, of course, of Jean-Michel). Really, he manages to make the desert scenes memorable and support the drama of the other scenes, and turns the whole film into an epic experience. Give it a listen.

I’m struggling with where to place Lawrence of Arabia on my list. It looks and sounds fantastic. But it’s difficult to ignore the fact that it doesn’t just marginalise women, it erases them completely; and the White Saviour theme, and general approach to race, are impossible to ignore. So I’m putting it exactly half-way down my list, in 18th place out of 35, between Gigi and Marty. You can get it here.

Next up is Tom Jones, based on a classic novel which I read some years ago.

I went back and re-read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

This people was black and white, not only in vision, but by inmost furnishing: black and white not merely in clarity, but in apposition. Their thoughts were at ease only in extremes. They inhabited superlatives by choice. Sometimes inconsistents seemed to possess them at once in joint sway; but they never compromised: they pursued the logic of several incompatible opinions to absurd ends, without perceiving the incongruity. With cool head and tranquil judgement, imperturbably unconscious of the flight, they oscillated from asymptote to asymptote.

I first read it in 2008. I wrote then:

This is the story of how Lawrence helped the Arabs revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1917-1918. Its greatest stength is its vivid description of the landscapes of Arabia, Syria and Palestine; I’ve never been to the desert, and apart from one long weekend in Jerusalem I don’t know that part of the world at all, so I found this tremendously compelling. I was left a bit more ambivalent about the human side of the story: on the one hand, Lawrence is aiding a subject nation to throw off their oppressor; on the other, his heroism is undermined – according to his own account, it should be said – by the brutality of the campaign, by his awareness that his British masters will certainly break their word to their Arab allies, and by the casual racism he himself displays toward them.

It’s a very manly book, for values of “manly” that overlap with “gay”. In the very first chapter, we have Arab lads “quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace”. It is a constant theme, and manly love merges intriguingly with Lawrence’s affection for the landscape. There is I think precisely one woman character of note, an old lady who Lawrence rescues from a train wreck (he blew up the train). Apart from her, there are several other memorable female personalities, but they are all camels.

The book falls rather neatly into two parts, the first half being the desert campaign starting from Mecca going up the coast to eventually capture Akaba (=Aqaba), the second half covering operations more closely linked to Allenby and culminating in the taking of Damascus and consolidation of a new Arab regime. I found it very odd that although Lawrence says he was present at the capture of Jerusalem, he reports almost nothing about this key event apart from an argument between the French diplomat Picot (of Sykes-Picot fame – Sykes too makes an appearance) and the British. Of course, he was not impressed by Jerusalem:

…a squalid town, which every Semitic religion had made holy. Christians and Mohammedans came there on pilgrimage to the shrines of its past, and some Jews looked to it for the political future of their race. These united forces of the past and the future were so strong that the city almost failed to have a present.

My grandfather, who was there about the same time for similar reasons, had a similar reactionmore impressed.

For all its faults (some mentioned above, but I’ll add another: it is too long) I found the book also tremendously enlightening in understanding the roots of today’s politics in the region. Lawrence himself is very aware of the contradiction between his responsibility to his country and his moral obligation to his Arab friends and allies, and his personal dilemma can be read also as a comment on the wider international situation. The ruling family of Mecca, who Lawrence helps put in charge of Syria, now rule Jordan (having also had a go at Iraq in the interim). The boundaries of states were mostly drawn at the convenience of the Great Powers, possibly even more arbitrarily than in Africa; it’s not surprising that they are perceived as having shallow roots.

Anyway, a bit of a slog in places (rather like the campaign it describes), but I’m glad I read it in the end.

Compared with the film, we get tremendous detail of geography and strategy, and also a lot more modern technology (he seems to spend most of the book blowing up trains). I was a little unfair about the lack of women in the book, especially in contrast with their absence from the film – there are actually quite a few others apart from Ayesha, daughter of Jellal el Lei, of Medina, the old lady on the train, though none of them is named, and the two other women who are identified by name are either elsewhere (Gertrude Bell, in Iraq) or dead (Tarfa, who “died the year of samh, in the Snainirat, of a puff-adder”). A soldier suffering from an eye inflammation is described as looking “feminine and tearful; a little, said Lloyd, like an abducted nun”. Yuck.

I was intrigued to see if Lawrence and my grandfather had ever been in the same place at the same time. My grandfather was the C.O. of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, part of the 10th (Irish) Division which in turn was part of Chetwode‘s XX Corps which was part of Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary ForceHareira) during the Battle of Gaza and related campaigns in early November; at that time Lawrence was at the far east of the line, blowing up a train. The 6th Dublins participated in the capture of Jerusalem, where Lawrence says he missed the military action but was there for Allenby’s ceremonial entrance into the city on 9 December. Lawrence then mentions the Ottoman counter-offensive in late December, which my grandfather referred to as his final battle (“Our last stunt, when we counter attacked during Turks attempt to recapture Jerusalem, was I think our best effort”). So they probably never spoke to each other, but must have passed each other in the street or in the corridors of headquarters; my grandfather was promoted to lieutenant-colonel just before arriving in the Middle East in September 1917, and Lawrence reached that rank a few months later, in January 1918.

Anyway, it’s a long book, but you can get it here.


Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021) | Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

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David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Peggotty had a basket of refreshments on her knee, which would have lasted us out handsomely, if we had been going to London by the same conveyance. We ate a good deal, and slept a good deal. Peggotty always went to sleep with her chin upon the handle of the basket, her hold of which never relaxed; and I could not have believed unless I had heard her do it, that one defenceless woman could have snored so much.

I thought that this was one of the Dickens books that I had read many years ago, but in fact it was all completely new to me – I guess that the characters of Mr Micawber and Uriah Heep are so familiar that I thought I must have read the book. It's not my favourite Dickens – that is A Tale of Two Cities – but it is still pretty enjoyable. It relies a bit too much on coincidence (central London must be a very small place) and the Murdstones and Uriah Heep are gruesomely irredeemable, but in general it's an interesting Bildungsroman which is obviously autobiographical to an extent. The subplot that was both the most painful and the most compelling to read was Copperfield's first marriage to the gormless Dora. The detail that jumped out at me was the "Roman" bath near the Strand in London, which I must go and look at next time I am in that part of the world.

To my surprise, I discovered a link with Blake's 7:

Anyway, you can get it here.

This was the top book on my shelves that I thought I had read and not reviewed online (though as it turned out, I hadn't read it at all). Next on that list is The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas.

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The Triple Knife, and other Doctor Who stories, by Jenny T. Colgan

Second paragraph of third story ("Into the Nowhere"):

This was a good sign. Definitely boded well. I risked cracking open an eyelid.

Five stories by Jenny Colgan, three of which I had already read in other collections but two new to me. Nice to have them gathered together like this. They are all good. My favourite I think is the title story, which takes Ashildr to the time of the Black Death in 1348; I also very much liked "Picnic At Asgard" with River Song and Eleven. The other three all have Clara, one with Eleven and two with Twelve. You can get it here.

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