Thursday, 28 June 2007

Am proud

My blog was recently viewed via a search for 'call girl london'.

Please note: am neither a call girl nor based in London, though was once one of those things*.

I've also been found via a search for 'stationery closet', and '"Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?" accents', which I am quite curious about.

*hint - I went to UCL...

The Single Helix - Steve Jones

If you only ever read one pop science book, make it this one. I've been a fan of Professor Jones' since my UCL days (I fell asleep less frequently in his lectures than anyone else's. This was my first year, you see, and there was an awful lot of 'socialising' to be done). When I picked this book up I knew it was different from his other works, as it includes segments from his highly varied column published in the Telegraph.

His writing is utterly inspired, such as explaining how elements transition from one physical state to another using the Florida Electoral College from the 2001 US election as an example - pure genius. I also learned that slugs in Northern Europe are genetically identical, due to reproducing without the sex in which their southern cousins indulge to make baby slugs. Many other gems can be found within it, some of which are suitable for dinner conversation, although there are quite a few about snails. There are also some particularly good arguments to be tested on any creationists you may come across, with irrefutable examples of evolution to bolster the cause of science.

Monday, 25 June 2007

The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney

I like the cold. Snow and ice is more inviting to me than sun and sand, mainly due to my tendency to burn if in the sun for more than a moment. This book made me feel cold, but in a good way, as I could feel the frozen Canadian winter gradually taking hold while I read. The mystery itself is equally chilling, with the casual assumptions thrown around regarding the indigenous population undoubtedly accurate for the time but no less horrifying for this. The search Mrs Ross undertakes, first for her son, then for the truth, is all the more haunting when she finds herself falling in love with the man who aids her hunt.

Mrs Ross is the only first person POV character, making the book seem to be about her journey, but the other characters who are shown through the third person in their own chapters are equally compelling. I also found it interesting that the Seton girls subplot was only half-solved, but it felt right that the ends were not tied too tightly. Another loose end that really couldn't have gone anywhere other than into the Canadian wilderness was the bone tablet with possible Native American writings. A fascinating idea, highlighting the perceived disparities between the cultures of the native peoples and the 'invading' Europeans.

Friday, 22 June 2007

The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood

Many years ago I studied 'The Odyssey' for Classics GCSE, learning bizarre mnemonics to remember the order of the stories and giggling terribly immaturely at the frequent mentions of the 'rosy-fingered dawn'. When I picked up 'The Penelopiad' I assumed I would be fairly familiar with the story; Penelope sat at home weaving with her maids, trying to put off the Suitors while waiting for Odysseus and when he came back there was something about moving furniture? I had never really considered the backstory of Penelope's family and her marriage to Odysseus, and was surprised that Helen was her cousin, and that Odysseus had competed for her hand in marriage before moving on to Penelope after Menelaus won. The dynamics of a complicated family life with the in-laws living together (albeit in a palace) are captured in a wonderfully grating way, with Penelope's insights into her famously stunning cousin showing her self-awareness tinged with jealousy.

The story of the maids, their grisly end and Penelope's part in their actions was intriguing and contradictory. I guess Dr House is right - 'Everybody lies'. I've loved Margaret Atwood's work for years, and this glorious mix of poetry and prose, life and death, myth and home-truth has to be savoured. My only complaint is that it's short enough to read in a day - I wanted it to go on and on.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Frustration vs procrastination

I'm quite contrary. When I'm given seemingly perfect circumstances in which to do something, I am prone to dither and watch TV (especially now I've discovered TV Links and can watch TV on my laptop without annoying adverts). Then, when I'm in a meeting, on a train, talking on the phone, or doing something which really deserves my full attention I have an overwhelming urge to do what I should have been doing when I got the chance. This weekend was a perfect example. S was working a lot of the time, there wasn't anything urgent I needed to do so I planned to settle down with my laptop and do some serious work on my blog and write reams and reams. Hmm. After linking all the Novel Racer blogs I felt rather blogged out - there are many, many people! So I deserved a break for an episode of Bones. Then my flat got far too hot to do any thinking so I watched House. This carried on pretty much all weekend...

I did manage some research for a little while, typed up some notes I'd made on the train last week, and updated a couple of scenes, but it was hardly the workathon I had hoped for. On the train home from work last night, I had lots of ideas and was happily jotting them down to type up and flesh out when I got in. Then I realised I wouldn't have any time to do that because last night was Knitting Circle (my first time, so glad I went, lots of fun and an excuse to finish the scarf that's been sitting reproachfully in my understairs cupboard for at least 18 months...). S is working this evening, so really I'm going to be in the ideal situation to get done all the work I really wanted to do last night but couldn't, though I get the feeling that when I arrive home I'll be feeling strangely like, ooh, maybe some House, then Bones, then whatever random stuff I manage to find which is exactly the opposite of what I should be doing. Argh.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


For our very first wedding anniversary S and I headed down to Stratford to stay in the gorgeously gothic Ettington Park Hotel set in beautiful grounds (bunnies included!), with a 12th century partly-ruined Saxon church just in front of the tennis courts. It seemed very relaxed and family-friendly (though as S still believes children are inherently evil this wasn't necessarily a good thing...). Actually, some of the staff were so relaxed that it may have taken several days and possibly semaphore and a beacon to attract their attention, so I was glad we weren't eating in the restaurant.

'The Seagull' may not seem particularly anniversary-appropriate, but the other option at the RSC was 'Macbeth', so we went for the one with the lower body-count. Despite this, it's still pretty dark, though interspersed with sparkling comedy. The production made use of recorded birdsong, so most scenes were accompanied by a chorus of chirrups and tweets, though I don't remember hearing the distinctive cry of seagulls. It was not Sir Ian McKellen's night to play Sorin (the role is shared with William Gaunt), but having seen Sir Ian at the pinnacle of his career - Widow Twankey in Aladdin at the Old Vic - this was not a problem. The cast seemed really tight, probably due to having previously done a run of King Lear, so everything seemed incredibly slick and comfortable. That said, as the action continued the tension rose to the point I was leaning forward in my seat, gripping the rail and trying not to breathe by the end. Fabulous!

The next day we pottered slowly back up north, stopping for a pub lunch, and to watch some narrow boats going past on the canal. This was all very relaxing, which is my excuse for falling asleep in the car (sorry S!) on the way home.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Coming out of the (stationery) closet

I am a writer. Officially, I have been for about 2 years, although my job title inserts a handy 'Medical' in front of writer, to make sure that (during office hours at least) I concentrate on non-fiction. Apparently if you add a little fictitious sparkle when you're writing up a clinical trial they call it 'falsifying evidence' and it's terribly unpopular. How dull! Anyway, I got over this revelation by realising that they don't mind if I let the more creative aspects of my writing out to play after work (or at least not in something that's due for presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual congress), so I picked up the habit of scribbling fervently in my many notebooks, and it felt good. I've always had an inner monologue whispering to me 'If this was a book, then this would happen, and she would say that, or they would do this...', and now I've started letting it out on a regular basis, I've found that I have to distract myself when I'm not in a position to write things down to stop thinking of things that I'll just forget before I get to a pen.

Writing is something that I've always found comes easily. I did actually write a novel when I was 12 (terribly Enid Blyton-esque), and my little brothers loved it. Well, they were in it. Since then things like exams and deadlines have got in the way of finishing anything, but things are different now. I have invested in a shiny new laptop, joined the Novel Racers, and even told a couple of my friends what I'm up to. I think that was the hardest thing for me to do. Writer's block (touch wood) has only ever affected me when faced with a blank piece of paper, and just getting something down sorts that fairly soon. But acknowledging that I want to write fiction feels exceedingly scary. Why is this? It's an ambition, everybody has them. Why are creative ambitions so much harder to admit to than more concrete ones? Everyone I've told so far has been supportive and interested, and I have no reason to believe that any of my other friends will laugh in my face and tell me not to be ridiculous.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Typhoon Alert!

If Chicago is the Windy City, may I nominate Manchester to be the Rainy City please? I just got TOTALLY drenched on my way from Piccadilly Station to my flat (a distance of, ooh, about a third of a mile!). The only item of clothing I was wearing that didn't get wet was my pants, and I was outside for less than 10 minutes. I must admit that I forgot my umbrella this morning, but was wearing a sturdy Haglöfs jacket (though this would probably have been a little more watertight if I had remembered to close all the pockets...). Navigation became a bit of an issue, when my glasses started filling up with water due to my inclined head. When I tried lifting my head slightly, my eyelashes got so clogged with water it was like trying to look where I was going in a swimming pool. Nice. Am now dripping gently over my flat, finding puddles from where I put my bags down, but thanking my lucky stars/any listening deity that I remembered to close my big windows this morning before I left for work.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon - Richard Zimler

I started this book when I was on holiday at the end of April, and it's taken me until today to finish it. This wasn't because it is particularly long (313 pages) or dull, just that for some reason I just didn't connect with it. The story is a murder mystery set in sixteenth century Lisbon, supposedly written by the protagonist many years later as he tries to understand the context of his uncle's murder.

I think part of my problem with this book was my unfamiliarity with Jewish customs and kabbalah, and though there was a helpful glossary I didn't actually discover this until I was over halfway through. There were also an awful lot of characters who popped up for one scene and then disappeared for 150 pages only to have a critical role in the denouement, which I did find confusing. I had to do a far bit of flicking back to work out who was who. The writing was generally very poetic and evocative, conjuring up an era of intense uncertainty, where the Jews (or 'New Christians' as they were dubbed following their forced conversion by the Portuguese authorities) lived an utterly precarious life, never knowing who to trust. I have Richard Zimler's next book, 'The Seventh Gate', and I will be interested to find out if I am drawn more easily into a story with a modern setting.

The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl - Belle de Jour

I have followed the Belle de Jour blog for a while, though over the last few months it seems to have petered out. I ordered the first book by Belle to make up for this lack of blog, and received it from amazon on the same day that she posted for the first time in months. Nice coincidence. I whizzed through the book, mainly because an awful lot of if was very familiar. I'd read it in the blog. Now I'm sure there were some sections that had been updated, lengthened, titivated, primped and plumped, and there may even have been some completely new material (I wasn't going to go through the blog and match up entries with the book), but I did keep thinking 'I remember this..'. I do love her writing though; it's charming and whimsical but not afraid to say the things that just sometimes do need to be made clear (though are usually left unsaid). 'The Intimate Adventures' is definitely worth reading even (especially?) if you haven't ever seen her blog. Not for the faint-hearted though...

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The Prestige - Christopher Priest/Christopher Nolan

I read the book a while ago, and have been meaning to see the film since then. We don't watch as many films as I would like, mainly because S finds it so difficult to stay awake during anything longer than about 40 minutes. I suppose he works quite hard... Anyway, he's in London living it up with the Bank of America so I was free to watch a Proper Film. How exciting! Having read the original novel and marvelled at its twists and turns (like in nature to the proverbial 'twisty turny thing') it is reasonable to say that my expectations were high. Although the film does remove an entire section of narrative, it does it in such a way that I couldn't tell that it was missing until I racked my brains a bit. The brain-racking was slightly hindered at the time though, as I spent a good proportion of the film going 'Was that really David Bowie?!'. It was.

And now for the really geeky bit... I have a weird thing about accents. No, not a fetish, I just get really irritated when accents aren't consistent or are badly researched. Hugh Jackman kept it together most of the time, only slipping in a bit of Aussie elongation and flattening during his death scene, which I suppose is permissible. Scarlett Johansson was most impressive, getting the English vowels and (harder) consonants perfectly, though her speech rhythms were sometimes still a bit American. I was slightly confused by Christian Bale's accent, which seems to wander around all over the place, that is until I watched the extras. He really talks like that...

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The saddest thing

I saw a pigeon fall over while I was walking home from work today. It was weaving across the pavement in front of me, and seemed to trip, then fall on its side. After this little mishap, it recovered fairly quickly but it seemed so sad. The sight of this nearly made me cry, which with hindsight is rather strange - I don't like pigeons really, and I'm not the slightest bit pre-menstrual.

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