Tag Archives: books

These chickens are fish in a barrel

1. I watch both Elementary and the BBC Sherlock and I enjoy them both, and I’m not usually one to make a huge fuss over straying from canon, but in both shows I could really do without all the wishy-washy stuff about how Holmes really loves Watson deep down but has trouble expressing his feelings. Rot. Conan Doyle made it very clear (minus the psycho-babble) that Holmes is a sort of high-functioning borderline sociopath who has no need or desire for intimacy. I want my Sherlock Holmeses to be amusing non-fuck-giving assholes who solve crimes in clever ways. That’s it. I’m sorry but I don’t care how Sherlock Holmes is feeling. More code-breaking! Less soul-baring!

2. I’m the only person I’ve ever met who never plays any sort of games at all. Not at any time ever. I hate all games. I don’t play video games or card games or board games or drinking games (Jesus WHAT IS THE POINT of drinking games I am perfectly capable of putting alcohol into my mouth without bouncing a ping-pong ball into a Solo cup first). And I’m sure it’s an absolute riot but no, I don’t want to play Cards Against Humanity. It’s not just a mild aversion, either – on the odd occasion I let myself be press-ganged into playing Scrabble or whatever I’m fine for about twenty minutes and then I start to feel angry and resentful and trapped. There are just a million things I would rather be doing than arranging tiles on a board for points. Especially at social gatherings. Can’t we all just talk and interact normally? Isn’t that the whole point of us being here? Instead I have to do that and and at the same time concentrate on performing some stupid arbitrary task? NO. WHY. People are weird.

3. I very randomly ended up at a gig in Shoreditch recently and I saw these guys and they were amazing. Like, amayyyyyyzing. (They were also very gracious when I told them so afterwards.) How are they not super-duper famous? Help me correct this injustice!

4. I recently said to an English person that they had “lucked out” and they weren’t sure what I meant. They thought “lucked out” sounded like it should be a bad thing. After all these years I’m still coming across expressions that haven’t made it over the pond, or subtle differences like “blowing someone off” vs “blowing someone out”. If I broke plans with someone, I would say I’d blown them off. British people think this sounds hilariously filthy.

5. If you are a heroine in a Victorian novel who has married the wrong person, don’t despair! He will inevitably die. Here is a very abridged list of Victorian heroines whose ne’er-do-well husbands have conveniently snuffed it:

– Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch
– Mercy Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit
– Agnes Grey in Agnes Grey
– Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda
– Emily Wharton in The Prime Minister
– Bathsheba Everdene in Far From The Madding Crowd

Don’t mess with Victorian heroines is the moral here, I guess.

When you rock and roll with me

1. I don’t remember ever crying over a celebrity death before, but I had a proper ugly-cry about David Bowie. Musically he was my north, my south (Robyn Hitchcock is my east and west – I nearly sent him a message through Twitter this morning to make sure he was safe and well. I couldn’t handle losing them both in close proximity). I’ve been listening to Bowie since primary school. He was the first artist I officially considered myself to be a ‘fan’ of, and the first record I ever bought, age twelve, was Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, which I found in a charity shop for $2. I used to lie on my living room floor with my eyes closed and play it over and over again as loud as I could get away with (sorry, Mom and Dad). I bought all his albums (even Never Let Me Down, which nobody likes but me), and tracked down stuff like Philip Glass’s ‘Low’ Symphony and the soundtracks to Christiane F and The Buddha of Suburbia. I saw him play live back when I lived in Ottawa, and I’m so glad I did. More than any other artist, he’s been the soundtrack to my life. Man. It seems surreal that he was even mortal. Surely DAVID FUCKING BOWIE can’t just DIE, can he?


One of my favourites from the criminally underappreciated Lodger.

2. A Lidl has opened in Huntingdon, right on my route home. This is big news. The second the doors opened the entire population of Huntingdon was in there like a shot, myself included. The prices are worryingly low. Surely in order to produce a 39p tin of soup you must be doing something terrible to the environment or Malaysian child labourers or both. Morals are expensive, though. I will eat my surprisingly tasty 39p soup and try not to think about it.

I’d never shopped at a Lidl before. It’s a strange experience. The store itself is very no-frills. There are no automated checkouts (which means I have to speak to other humans, AAAUUUGHH) – not even an express checkout queue. In some areas, instead of shelves they’ve stacked crates on top of each other, and in addition to selling food, there’s a central aisle which is just a row of big tubs full of the Deal of the Week, which so far has included thermal blankets, bird feeders, storage heaters, air beds, neck massage cushions, karaoke sets, ceiling lights with built-in Bluetooth speakers, and electric planers. I appreciate the Soviet randomness of it all.

3. I enjoyed the BBC’s new production of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It was sort of a gritty reboot, because by law everything has to be a gritty reboot these days (it’s strange to see characters in an Agatha Christie story shagging and swearing), and starred Aidan Turner, who is so ridiculously hot that it hurts to look directly at him. I nearly fainted when this happened:

Aidan Turner

There was no real reason for this, plot-wise. All the other characters were wearing dressing gowns, but he just stood there all HELLO TORSO for like ten minutes, burning holes in my retinas. Clearly the BBC knows which side its bread is buttered.

4. I just finished reading What She Left by TR Robinson. I hated it. The story was fine, but the writing annoyed me so much I started dog-earing the worst bits so I could make fun of them for you. You’re welcome. One of the characters was meant to be a pompous professor, but the prose came off like a first-year creative writing student was trying to make a character sound pompous by having him refer to himself as ‘one’ all the time and swapping ordinary words for longer ones:

It wasn’t exactly ‘research’ I embarked upon, not in the traditional sense. That’s too grandiose a description and alludes to a more methodical approach than I was able – or inclined – to apply. ‘Obsession’ is a word others were quick to use and perhaps there was some verisimilitude in that.

‘Verisimilitude’ means ‘the quality of seeming real’. It is a not a synonym for ‘truth’. Just say ‘truth’. And then this, from another character:

Dr Edwards, my tutor, … reckons I’ve got – and I quote – an extremely mature appreciation of Austen’s work. ‘You’re a sensitive reader, Alice,’ he told me. ‘You’ve also self-evidently got a soft spot for doomed heroines.’

First of all, something that is ‘self-evident’ can be understood to be true without explanation or proof. You mean ‘evidently’ or ‘obviously’. Also, there are no ‘doomed heroines’ in Jane Austen’s novels. Every single one of her protagonists ends up happily married (what else could a woman possibly want??).

Richmond uses the word ‘scuttled’ about six times, and ‘transmogrified’ twice within three pages (again, you mean ‘transformed’. Or better yet, try ‘changed’).

This is all stuff the editor should have caught, but it gets on my nerves, especially since the book was plastered in rave reviews. Book reviewers get paid to notice these things! Why won’t anyone pay me to notice these things? I’m a natural born nitpicker.

I hit my last number and walked to the road

1. I’ve started giving blood on a regular basis, which is great because I get to feel like I’m doing something altruistic while sitting down. As it turns out, though, I’m not very good at bleeding. Every time I go to donate, I get all set up and five minutes later some nurse wanders over and remarks that things are going a bit slowly (are we on a schedule here?) and then they faff about with the needle, which PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. We will get there in the end! Leave me alone to trickle in peace!

2. I’m reading a French detective novel called L’Âme du mal which is set in Portland, Oregon. The first thing to say is that this book is terrible. Do not read this book under any circumstances. The protagonist is repeatedly described as wearing a leather vest, despite not being in any way affiliated with a biker gang. (The book was written in the 90s, but still. There is no excuse for a leather vest.) The second thing is that the author doesn’t seem to know how English names work. Here is a list of some of the characters:

Bentley Cotland
Lloyd Meats
Parker-Jeff
Craig Nova
Scott Scacci
Paul Launders
Troy Subertland
Fred Chwimsky

Are you just randomly putting letters together, guy? What made you think ‘Meats’ is a name a human would ever have? I think ‘Parker-Jeff’ is supposed to be a sort of hillbilly name, like ‘Jim-Bob’, but he hasn’t quite got the right combination.

3. Although my landlord is being his usual invisible self, the folks at my letting agency are actually being really nice about the insect situation. They sent round a very enthusiastic young fellow from pest control who identified the beetles as woodworm. It’s good news that I’ve got woodworm and not carpet beetles, as woodworm only infests rotten wood and therefore probably won’t destroy my furniture (fingers crossed!). However, according to pest control guy, the whole building is probably infested, and a specialist is going to need to come in and like rip up floorboards and stuff.

The building is also infested with clothing moths – pest control guy reckons that birds have got into the attic and the moths are feeding on old nests. The critters in my flat are coming through the fan vent in the bathroom, which is apparently not hooked up to anything. It should lead out to an external vent somewhere, but it doesn’t – all the hot humid shower air is just being pumped into the space between floors. (Nice! Really, really nice.) The letting agency are trying to get this fixed to make conditions less favourable for insects, but are of course being totally stonewalled by the landlord.

The pest control guy told me that I should start seeing see fewer of the woodworm beetles in a few weeks as they breed seasonally; in the interim I’ve covered the fan vent with tinfoil. (All my improvised DIY solutions involve tinfoil, gaffer tape, blu-tac or crazy glue.)

I know there’s no way in hell the landlord is going to deal with this properly – he’ll just keep collecting rent until the building falls down. About two months ago I agreed to stay on for another year, and the agency sent me a contract to sign and return (not included in their £125 processing fee: return postage). Because I am super crafty, I never actually signed or returned the contract, and so far they haven’t noticed. I’ve started looking around for a new place, but there’s nothing available around here at the moment (although my old flat – remember, the one with the mould all over the walls? – is up for rent again, unsurprisingly).

4. Here is a song for you. Be happy.

Alone above a raging sea

1. My job is insane these days. INSANE. Working in the funeral service industry (which I sort of do, tangentially) really brings home the fact that people die in the winter. They die and die and die! Funeral homes must be stacking corpses like firewood. On top of this (pile of corpses) I’m trying to train a new starter. I am terrible at this. I’m good at my job, but bad at giving coherent verbal instructions. Sorry, new guy. Anyway, MAN. I’m sleepy.

2. Reading eulogies all day makes me think of the many, many things that will not be said at my funeral. Here is a small sample:

– Selfless
– Generous
– Good-natured
– Cheerful
– Always a kind word
– Lived for others
– Never complained

My eulogy will have to be all tactful, like, “She had…definite opinions. And she always…kept the care home staff on their toes.” (Read: miserable old bitch.) If I was a different sort of person this knowledge might make me want to live a better life, or something. But I’m not. Get off my lawn.

3. At the moment I’m reading nothing but French detective novels in an attempt to put myself through a vocabulary crash course (so I can talk back to Radio France more fluently while I’m cooking supper, I guess?). Detective novels (called “polars” in French, oddly/charmingly) are good because they’re generally light going and it’s easy to get caught up in the story, which makes it easier to concentrate. However, the words I’m learning tend to be along the lines of “poignardé” (stabbed) and “objet contondant” (blunt object). I will probably end up speaking French like a forensic technician. Which obviously would be awesome.

4. Speaking of detectives, remember how I said there should be a show about the Pinkertons? It turns out there totally is one! It started just a couple of months ago. I’m not sure how well it’s doing – I can’t find it to download anywhere, and there aren’t even any photos on IMDB. That can’t be good, right? I will be so sad if it sucks.

5. Music time! First, some sinister, stripped-down techno from Shxcxchcxsh. Calling yourself ‘Shxcxchcxsh’ means that you give exactly zero shits about radio play or word-of-mouth publicity, and amuses the hell out of me. (When asked during an interview how the name is pronounced, they clarified that the Hs are silent.)

And thanks where thanks are owed for the introduction to The Clean, Kiwi psychedelic jangle indie lo-fi groundbreakers. I love them so much. And you’re about to.

We’ve been crying now for much too long

1. At this point, I’m mostly sticking with the internet dating thing for the lolz. Recent highlights include an expression of interest from a guy who had listed ‘hygiene’ as one of his hobbies (OMG me too!!! Soap, right???) and this guy:

Sorry

“Sorry to ask” – excellent. In retrospect I wish I’d strung him along a bit more, because now I’m dying to know which response he was hoping for. Would me being bisexual have been a titillation or a turnoff?

2. I feel compelled to read all of Sophie Hannah’s books even though they piss me off. Her thrillers constantly get slaveringly positive reviews, and I’ll concede that they’re very page-turny, but as far as the nuts and bolts of writing are concerned I don’t think she’s any great shakes. Her dialogue is poor – she falls into the trap of writing dialogue in full, complex sentences. No one talks this way. People mostly speak in short, choppy phrases. Having your characters speak in long, convoluted sentences makes it sound like they’re in a Jacobean play. And her whole plotting schtick is these extremely bizarre setups, which would be fine if the final resolutions were satisfactory, but to me they’re just not – they tend to hinge on characters doing things that no human being would ever do. For example (mild spoilers, if you’re planning to read any of her books), the resolution of one book involves a couple regularly referring to a house they want to buy by the address of the house next door as an in-joke nickname following some sort of mix-up. Eh?? HILARIOUS. Another plot point hinges on two people arranging to meet at 11:11 on the 11th of November, which a detective decides is ‘flirty’. Yes, because nothing is sexier than arranging a romantic rendezvous on the exact anniversary of the First World War armistice. Wearing nothing but a poppy and a gas mask, right? Phwoarrr.

3. Everyone loves detective dramas, and everyone loves period dramas, so why oh why isn’t there a show about the Pinkertons?? Someone make this happen, please. There have been Pinkerton-related storylines in Boardwalk Empire, Ripper Street, Penny Dreadful, and Deadwood, just off the top of my head. The whole ‘detective agency case files’ premise is a plotting cornucopia. Someone is seriously missing a trick here.

(Whoa, maybe it hasn’t happened because the Pinkerton Agency still exists, creepy logo and all. Did you know that? I did not know that. How I would love to have a rifle through their filing cabinets.)

4. Latest collage sheet: Old Houses printable 4″x2″ labels – ideal for DIY wine labels. Click here to view on Etsy or here to view on Rowan Tree Design.

If brain surgery and rocket science had a baby

1. It took a long time, but I now feel like I ‘get’ Twitter. (It’s so complicated! It’s like if brain surgery and rocket science had a baby!) Before I was always like “What, why, I don’t need to know all this, what is ‘hashtag’, what is ‘RT’, what is the point” and didn’t really follow anyone and basically couldn’t be arsed. Then I started following some proper funny bastards like Brian Gaar (@briangaar) and Peter Serafinowicz (@serafinowicz) and voila! I’m obsessed with Twitter and the illusion of connection with celebrities that it generates. I know when Nick Frost has a roast dinner! How did I ever live without this information? Of course I now feel under all sorts of self-imposed pressure to read ALL THE TWEETS and get mildly panicked when I go a full day without checking in. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making a rod for my own back.

A few people I’ve followed, however, have been a disappointment. Armando Ianucci is at the top of this list. Of all the people you’d expect to be a source of constant pithy wit, right? I mean: The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle…the man is the King Midas of comedy. You’d think his tweets would be gleaming nuggets of pure hilarity. And yet no. He pretty much only ever tweets things like “New episode of Veep airing tonight!” Really, Armando? I could get this information from the TV guide. You’re breaking my heart here. You are one of the funniest humans alive! I know you can do better.

2. I’m getting close to tackling À la recherche du temps perdu. (Not in French, mind you. I have other things to do before I die.) I feel like the time is almost ripe. I am gearing up. Girding my loins. Has anyone out there read it, in whole or in part? Any recommendations for a good translation? I’m thinking of tackling one volume every six months or so, which would mean I’ll be reading it for three and a half years. (‘In search of lost time’ indeed.) I find that weirdly comforting. I like big books and I cannot lie.

Next stop, Moby Dick!

3. Here are some photos of my flat, in case you want to imagine me in my natural habitat, which, who knows, you may do. Now that I’ve replaced the horrible mildewed curtains (at my own expense; the landlord of course was like “Eh, your problem”) it’s starting to look almost like a civilised adult lives here. If it wasn’t for the noise, THE NOOOOOISE, which is making me go all Quasimodo, and the fact that I live in Huntingdon, I’d almost be content with my living situation.

2013-11 flat 2

2013-11 flat 1

Fire walk with Daisy Miller

LIFE LESSONS LEARNED FROM HENRY JAMES NOVELS

If you discover that your husband is cheating on you, acting like everything is completely fine will eventually make him stop cheating on you (The Golden Bowl)

If you are governessing some kids and suspect they are being haunted/molested by the ghosts of dead servants, but the kids repeatedly deny having seen or experienced anything, shouting at them will not do a lot to convince people you are not insane (The Turn of the Screw)

Hanging out with Italians of questionable character will result in social exclusion, illness and death (Daisy Miller)

Sending your impoverished fiancé to seduce a dying heiress in hopes that she will leave him her fortune might conceivably not end well (The Wings of the Dove)

Full stops are overrated (ALL OF THE NOVELS)

OH HELL YEAH

Did you know that Olof Dreijer from The Knife released several solo albums as Oni Ayhun? If you didn’t, and if like me you are a fan of music that goes ‘click click beep whirr’, then YOU’RE WELCOME.

THE NORWEGIANS ARE LEAVING! THE NORWEGIANS ARE LEAVING!

I’m watching Twin Peaks from the beginning because when it came out I was like twelve and my parents were like NOOOOPE* and somehow I never got round to watching it. So I’ve now seen the pilot and it’s…yeah. It’s David Lynchian. (Does he instruct all his actors to think of how a normal human being would deliver a line, and then do the opposite of that?) Mostly I’m mentioning it because of this scene:

My Viewing Companion: I’m not surprised! It’s got no legs!
Me: HAHA HA HA HAHAHAHA

That is all.

*Yes, I have been watching Archer A LOT. Danger zoooone!

Spinoffs and letdowns, and new 1in circles collage sheet

1. The Morse money machine rolls on! First there was Lewis, and now there is Endeavour. They both make me roll my eyes a little bit, but only during commercial breaks. Wouldn’t want to miss anything. That Shaun Evans ain’t hard on the eyes, either. I do like ’em mushroom-pale, gangly and ever so slightly effete.

2. Never Let Me Go is a very good name for this book because I could not stop reading it. HOWEVER. (I am about to complain in a fairly spoilery way, so avert your eyes if you’re planning to read this or see the movie.) I find it a bit hard to believe that none of these people, who are explicitly told that they have been created solely to have their organs harvested, ever consider making a break for it. Yes, they’re raised in a closed community and trained from birth to accept their fate as ‘donors’, but they aren’t policed or locked in, and yet none of them ever even thinks of doing a bunk? Really?? So the doctors are all, “We’re going to take out your liver now” and they’re all, “Okey dokey!” Every single one of them? I’m not sure I buy it. (People make the same sort of comment about the Jews in World War 2, but at least the Nazis are universally acknowledged to have been intimidating types. With guns.) I had an easier time buying into the clone organ farm in The Island, where the clones are told that they’re in training to go to a special magical fun place, and only realise the truth when they’re strapped to a gurney.

And there is a maddening lack of detail about the whole extraction process. There’s mention of some people surviving to their fourth ‘donation’, but no clarification about which organs have been removed. Are there three organs that can be taken out without causing immediate death? A kidney is the only one I can think of. Can you survive without your liver? Spleen? A lung, maybe? I NEED TO KNOW.

AAAANNNNNNDDDD I found the dialogue really wooden. To sum up, I think someone should have asked me before shortlisting this thing for the Booker, because obviously I know best.

3. At long last I’ve finished a new collage sheet: Out, Damn Spot! 1in Circles – Blood-Stained Ephemera. Click to view on Etsy.

Digital Collage Sheet OUT, DAMNED SPOT - no. 0217

Digital Collage Sheet OUT, DAMNED SPOT - no. 0217

I wish I could promise more soon, but my computer is going screwy and I have a feeling very expensive problems are in the offing. God forbid every single damn thing not go wrong at once, right?

Russian suffering, and new instant download service

1. I got my hair cut on Saturday (I found a place that does it for £11, which, thank goodness, because I can’t afford any more than that) and decided to be a crazy revolutionary and not bother making small talk with the hairdresser. Having to make small talk with hairdressers causes me distress. I am terrible at small talk and I don’t see the point of it. (How does learning that my hairdresser enjoyed her holiday in Lanzarote benefit either of us?) I actually avoid making hair appointments because of this. So on Saturday I gave the whole thing a miss and sat mostly in silence and it was great.

I did overhear the following exchange: the British Legion were having a parade up the high street, and someone mentioned that it was in celebration of St George’s Day. “Oh,” said my English hairdresser. “I don’t really know what that is.” It is your NATIONAL DAY. This country is hilarious.

2. I’m currently reading a travelogue about the history of the Vladimirka Road, which I picked up because a) I will read absolutely anything about Russian suffering, and b) look at the cover. BAM. As IF I’m not reading a book with that cover.

But…nnnngggghhh. The author’s writing style (I will not provide his name because he strikes me as the type to Google himself) is getting on my nerves. Too many adjectives. Too much unnecessary emoting. (The great thing about writing about victims of the Gulag? Is that there is very little need to add dramatic effect.) And a lot of just…no.

The picture – The Vladimirka Road, a landscape painted in 1892 – was sitting cool and sullen on that day that seems so long ago now, as bleak and unpeopled as ever, its stark severe beauty a sly challenge to the casual eye. I studied it hard; I squinted at it, trying to imagine it was a view from my window. I stepped back, then again drew closer. Look at me, it seemed to say, do you know where I lead? … I moved closer still, my ear to the canvas, but, of course, could hear nothing but silence, for paint and canvas and a gilt frame are as mute as the land.

Shuuuut uuuuuuuuuup. There are seven adjectives describing that painting in the first sentence. SEVEN. Also I do not believe that he put his ear on a painting in the National Gallery. Not without getting chucked out into Trafalgar Square. (On his ear! LOL) Helpful of him to point out that the painting doesn’t actually talk, though. Otherwise I would have been like WHAT DID IT SAY????

He pushed my hand aside and thrust his own into the trunk of the tree. Huffing and puffing and becoming increasingly red-faced, he pushed more and more of his arm into the hole, as if he were a lover attempting to steal, without the benefit of words either written or spoken, the heart of the woman of his dreams.

Remind me never to go on a date with this guy.

Still reading it! I am truly a hardcore Russian-suffering junkie. They’re just so GOOD at it – you know, like the way the Germans are good at inflicting suffering on others? (Which is why Barbarossa was such a perfect shitstorm!)

3. Etsy, keeping up with the times like champs, have recently introduced an instant download service for digital files. Three cheers! This means no more waiting for your collage sheets, and no more worrying about things getting lost in spam folders! Good old Etsy. I’m in the process of converting my listings – they should all be changed over by Monday.

New digital collage sheet – Summer Fields

Time for the annual Snow Freakout. This pretty much says it all (click for full size):

(I wish I could give credit, but I have no idea where it came from.)

Now it’s time for some more fucking snow pictures.

Snow

Snow

Kids around here waste no time when snow is involved. This is the closest thing to a hill anywhere near St Ives, and it has been sledded down to mud in two days.

Snow

I’m getting on with Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest

…And really enjoying it. (Thank Christ, because there are still nearly 500 pages left to go. See that second bookmark? That’s for the footnotes, some of which run to ten-plus pages and have FOOTNOTES OF THEIR OWN.) The situations are outlandish but the characters act and talk and think like real people and a lot of it is very very funny, so if the book is making me smarter and more cultured (fingers crossed!) at least it’s doing so painlessly. And oh how I love the expression “howling fantods” (a Stage Four case of the heebie-jeebies). Yeah, so far so good, though the conversation between the Unspecified Services agent (undercover as a woman) and the double or possibly triple agent from the Quebecois Separatist Association of Wheelchair Assassins* out in the Sonoma desert seems like it has been going on for EVER.

* A+ for Canadian content, even though it is 100% made up

Here’s my latest collage sheet, which I made to help me remember that sometimes it is not cold. Summer Fields digital collage sheet – digitally altered photos of fields, grasses, flowers and meadows, ideal for ATC or ACEO backgrounds. Images measure 2.5″x3.5″. Visit my Etsy shop for details.

SUMMER FIELDS Digital Collage Sheet - no. 0209

SUMMER FIELDS Digital Collage Sheet - no. 0209