Friday, 31 July 2009

Thursday 23rd July

[I am now writing this from notes, albeit brief notes, and from memory, rather than typing up what was actually written. It was only a couple of days ago though, so hopefully I won't have forgotten anything important.]

Today, we went to Gloucester Docks. Mum and Dad fancied the Waterways Museum. James was being obstinate, and I quite fancied a soldier museum, but it didn't look so good when we got there, so we all went into the Waterways Museum. The first thing we did was go on a boat ride, which was very good fun. Forty minutes, and the captain gave a fantastic talk about the canal, the boat, and the general history of the area. The boat we were on was requisitioned during the Second World War, and was used first as a harbour patrol boat, then to help evacuate soldiers from Dunkirk. And then came the really interesting bit: during the Blitz, she was used as a floating ambulance. The theory was, the roads got too clogged up, but it's a bit harder to clog up the Thames, so that's how she served during the Blitz, complete with nurses on board. After the Blitz ended she went back to being a harbour patrol boat, and then it was back to her original owner and she was later sold to the museum. The other very interesting thing involves a popular children's nursery rhyme: Humpty Dumpty. (Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, All the King's Horses and all the King's Men, Couldn't put Humpty together again). Popularly depicted as an egg, this seems a rather nonsensical rhyme. But when you discover that Humpty Dumpty was, in fact, a siege gun constructed by Royalist troops trying to get into Gloucester, it throws a whole new light on the matter. The troops were laying siege to Gloucester, and they got fed up of waiting for them to run out of food. So they decided to a siege gun to help knock a whole in the wall, so a bunch of men (a forlorn hope, as the advance party was known), could run in and open it up for the rest of them. Because, allegedly, the siege gun they constructed looked like a particular politician, they named it Humpty Dumpty. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you like the Parliamentarians/Roundheads), when they fired the first shot, it blew up and was unfixable. Thus was born the rhyme about Humpty Dumpty.

After we'd looked round the museum, and my brother had cheered up because there was a water bit demonstrating locks that you could quite easily use to cause a bit of a tidal wave within the simulated canal, we went out into Gloucester. I had a look in an Antiques Centre, because I felt like it, and it's sometimes on Bargain Hunt (yes, I'm sad, I quite like to watch it while I'm eating dinner if I'm at home). Anyway, it was kinda fun and I was tempted by some stamps. Yes, I collect stamps. Or some rather fun looking postcards which illustrated aircraft from the First World War. But then Mum texted me and said they'd found that there was a The Works down the road, so I tootled off down there. I love that shop, but they've closed the one in Preston :(. And there I discovered to my delight four Osprey Aircraft of the Aces books for £2 each! So I had to buy them. And then we popped up to the Cathedral, which was pretty impressive, and ancient (built shortly after the Norman Conquest--William the Conquorer and his nobles had a bit of a thing for building Cathedrals and Monastries). However, I suspect it had rather suffered under the Parliamentarians, who as well as fighting the king were also vandals/iconoclasts, and decided that it was a terrible sin to display lots of pretty statues. I think there should have been statues in all these little holes, so it looked kinda forlorn. And that was about it I think, other than coffee/coke/ice cream in MacDonalds cos Mum was a bit knackered and the Cathedral cafe had been a bit noisy and overcrowded.

Wednesday 22 July

I wonder what I'll call these posts. Maybe I'll just go with the dates. Hmm, we shall see [as you can see, I'm going with the dates].
Anyway, we went into Cheltenham today. Had a bit of a wander anddid a spot of window shopping. We saw the Wishing Fish Clock, which was supposed to be quite something, but it wasn't that impressive really. Then we went back to the van for lunch and a rest cos Mum was knackered and Dad's foot was hurting. He's managed to get a little fracture in it, apparently usually caused by lots of walking and common among army types. Hmm... Not exactly a perfect description of my dad, although he has done a fair bit of walking recently with me. Before his foot started hurting at any rate (and of course, that was a couple of months ago and he's only just gone to see the doctor).
Anyhow, after that we tootled back into Cheltenham, and after much lostness we found the museum. Good fun, it was a nice place. Mum insisted we all do a quiz. Naturally I picked the aviaton one, but it was mega hard. And there was only really one plane on it.
Their furniture stuff (arts and crafts movement) was pretty impressive. There was some stuff about hte Boer and Crimean wars too, I got to see the rifle type they used in the Boer War. It just helps you visualise it a bit more. It's all well and good being told they used such-and-such a rifle, which changed to this one, but it's much better to see them 'in the flesh'. I mean, the text book didn't even tell you if they were breach or muzzle loading (aka whether you had to stand them upright and drop the bullet and a bit of powder in then shove it all down with a stick, or whether you could just put a cartridge in a bit at the side and pull the trigger).
I think that's about it for Wednesday :).

Tuesday 21st July

Well, here begins my paper based blogging enterprise. Technically, today is not the 21st of July. But we'll ignore that little fact. [It wasn't when I wrote this either, this is a pretty much word for word transcript of what I scribbled in a little red notebook].
Today (aka Tuesday--2 days ago), we set off on our summer hols. The weather was about what you'd expect for the start of the British school holidays. Grey, drizelly, and not all that pleasant for my poor dad who had to tow our super-size caravan along the M6 then M5. I sat in the back and read--finished off Agent Zigzag and then launched into Churchill's The World Crisis, which is not exactly what you'd term light reading. I did manage a fair bit, despite being distracted by spaghetti junction in Birmingham, and an inability to focus on the book for too long. It was rather small print, and rather a heavy volume.
So we got here. Here being Cheltenham, right by the racecourse. As in, about 10m from the actual course, with a nice view out onto it. Unfortunately, no races while we're here. Although there are Pony Club folk, so there are horses and ponies in some of the further fields. There's also a fair bit of squealing kids.
We tootled into Cheltenham for a drive round, doing our best to ignore JAmes who thought the site was 'how shall I put this? Awful.'. He was being a grumpy git, there's nothing particularly wrong with the site, though the bog block is not so warm and nice as it could be and is a fair trek (by choice so we had a good view). It's clean enough though, don't get me wrong.
Cheltenham was quite nice. We went into Iceland [frozen food store]. I tried to go in Bernado's Books, only it closed at five and guess what time I wndered in. About ten to five. so I tootled into Iceland and then we went back to the caravan.
A word of warning: don't get bananas from Iceland. We got some and they were BAD. Thankfully, I didn't bite into mine, because it smelt wrong. They were brittle in the middle too. We reckon they'd been frozen. Yuck.


Hi! I'm back earlier than anticipated, as you can maybe see. And I am determined that I will post regularly on this blog. As I am over thirty books behind where I actually am (ie between The Davidson Affair and whatever I decide to read next), that shouldn't prove too difficult. I also have the write up of my holiday to do.

So, why am I back early? Well, if you pop across to the BBC, at the moment they have a fantastic picture of a tent in the middle of a giant puddle. So giant in fact, that ducks and a swan are using it as a swimming pool. Now, we weren't in a tent (thankfully), but we were in a caravan. And for those of you who don't know, that means we were basically in a tent with wheels and plastic sides instead of canvas. Oh, and a toilet (which we try to avoid using, because, well, it has to be emptied, doesn't it???!). So it was kinda miserable when the rain was hammering down, especially on Wednesday when we didn't get out at all in the morning, but more on that shortly.

Monday, 20 July 2009


I'm off on holiday tomorrow, so I'm not gonna be posting for a little while. Which means that when I come back I'll be even further behind than I am now, but I don't feel like trying to catch up twenty odd book reviews just now. I want to read instead. And then I can have even more catching up to do. Never mind. I'll try and keep a diary while I'm away and then just type it up when I get home again. We shall have to see.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

12 Miles

I would like to point out that twelve miles is a long way. Especially when there are hills involved and you are on a bike, and there are various nasty junctions, red lights showing up just as you get to these junctions, and white vans. Especially the white vans. On my way to Bethany, I got carved up by a white van who thought that since I was going straight on and he wanted to turn left that instead of waiting for me to get out the way (and I wasn't even going that slowly), he would shoot ahead of me, veer across in front and then get down the other road. Which was a little startling to say the least--I hadn't noticed him indicating when I was stopped at the lights. But other than that, I made it without too much difficulty. I am now knackered though, probably thanks more to the hilly bits than the actual distance. And it was in three stages. I did three miles into town, stopped there for the library and a browse in Oxfam books which is one of the best places in Preston to shop for books (believe me, I have a lot, and you get to know these things...), and then did the next three miles out to Bethany. On the way home I did it straight. And guess what? It's a lot faster than getting the bus. On the way there, I followed the same route the bus would've done, and it didn't go past until I was actually turning in the road for Bethany. On the way back, I managed the journey in 27 minutes (I timed myself), from when I unchained my bike to when I stopped to open the gate at home. It takes about fifty to get the bus, change, and get the next bus.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Cheese Straws

I made cheese straws last Friday. Or perhaps I should say I attempted to. It was Lorena's house shower you see, so I thought (well, mum told me to think...) it would be nice to take some cheese straws. Very yummy. Unfortunately, I had a little problem with spoons and I used two tablespoons of salt instead of two teaspoons. So they were majorly oversalted. However, I have just made another batch, and this time I remembered to use the right spoon. It is rather a mess in the kitchen though because I couldn't be bothered to clean it all up... Well, the dishwashers full and I'm leaving soon to go to Bethany, and so it's all nicely stacked up waiting for mum and dad to get home and be thrilled...

Lorena's house shower was great fun though. Plenty of food, and a lot of laughing. And I even met Christine's friend who's a writer too! That was pretty neat :D. So, that's about all I can think of for now. I'm gonna cycle to Bethany today, so here's hoping it doesn't rain. And if it does, well I guess I'm gonna get wet.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Band of Brothers

Wow was this good. Non-fiction, but so well written it might as well not have been. I love Stephen Ambrose's stuff, it's brilliant (he was the one who wrote Pegasus Bridge which kept me up till two in the morning). Anyway, this is the story of E Company of the 101st Airborne Regiment, and it is good. Very good. Drawing mainly upon interviews for its information, it tells the whole story of the regiment, from its formation to its disbandment, including what happened to the members afterwards. I don't want to say too much about the actual content, because I really think you should read it. Apparently it was also a film/television series, and I can well understand that. It's a truly brilliant book, telling a fantastically dramatic story, made even more interesting by virtue of the fact that it's true. This is the sort of history book I love reading. Vibrant writing, plenty of action and drama, and you feel like you get to know the characters involved. I love it.

Do androids dream of electric sheep?

This was on the list Martin gave us at the start of the year of Fifty Books You Must Read or You Will Die. Well, I thought the title sounded rather fun, and Rachael as reading it too--she found a copy in the college library, and there were two of them so I took the other. Anyway, I can see why it was on the list.

It really was rather good fun, and also posed some serious questions about what it means to be human. The androids are created for those who flee the damaged earth to reside upon another planet, but some of them decide they don't want to remain as servants to their human owners, and so return to earth. The main character is a bounty hunter, tasked with 'retiring' the androids. He's desperate to earn enough to buy the ultimate status symbol, a real live animal, to replace the electric one he has. He did use to have a genuine sheep, until it died. So when he learns that there's a whole bunch of androids come to earth and he's the one tasked with 'retiring' them, he's pretty chuffed. It's his chance to earn enough to buy a new goat.

But things don't turn out as easily as they might have done, and he finds himself questioning what it really means to be human, and whether androids perhaps have just as much a right to 'life' as he does...

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Matarese Circle

The first Robert Ludlum book I've ever read, and boy was I hooked! I think I was reading this until about two in the morning...

The Matarese are a secret brotherhood, and they're about to take over the world. Two people must team up to stop them. The problem? One's a Russian KGB agent, the other's an American assassin, and there's plenty of bad blood between them. Brandon Schofield wants nothing more than to kill his rival, the Russian now wanted by his own people. Until he realises that he too is a victim of the Matarese, and the only way of getting answers is to team up with the man he would much rather kill.

A wonderfully intricate plot, with plenty of fantastic action. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Just an interesting thought that struck me while I'm reading it--weird how books turn into historical fiction, isn't it? The days of the Cold War are over (well, in theory), but stacks of brilliant thrillers were written during that time. The same goes for the Biggles books--writing about WWI and WWII was what was happening (or had just happened) when they were written. Now they too have become a historical fiction, and are even sometimes used as showing what things were like back then. Not that I'm suggesting the Matarese actually exist, but you know what they say--truth can be stranger than fiction.

Exodus Quest

This is pretty good, by Will Adams, although I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first one (The Alexander Cipher). Part of the reason for this is that it went off on one a bit about how you shouldn't use the Bible/Old Testament as historical evidence and complained about various theories and about populist historians. Which annoyed me a bit because it took away from the actual story. That said, it was still a pretty good example of a genre that is definitely on the small side at the moment. I know of only one other author who I would definitely put into this category (David Gibbins), and Clive Cussler is kind of half in this genre--archeological thriller.

There were some pretty good action scenes, and it was also rather fun to read about these astonishing discoveries. Naturally they supported the theory the author was most convinced by--it's sometimes more fun when they go completely off the wall. I do like the main character, he's got a bit of substance, which is more than you can say for a lot of characters in thrillers. If you enjoy the first, you'll like this one too, but it's not as good, so I suggest you read the first one first (usually a good idea within a series anyway :D).

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


I've spent most of this afternoon working on two model helicopters. One was a Westland Gazelle, which I finished off (only needed to put the transfers on, but that is the hardest bit...), the other is the largest model I've ever built. Not finished, but getting closer. I only have about four steps left to do, which out of over fifty is pretty good going. I decided it'd be smart to put the transfers on that before the rotor blades due to experience with the smaller helicopter, and I'm glad I've started it. But there's still a lot more to stick on. There's about a hundred transfers, many of them (and I'm not kidding here) about 2mm by 4mm. Which is kinda fiddly, as you'd imagine. But it's starting to look really good. I shall post a picture when I've finished it all, but it's putting on the itty bitty little pieces that makes it look so realistic. All the little warning signs and that sort of thing. Hard work, but I enjoy it.

Lancashire: The Secret War

It didn't look like an amazingly interesting book, but I figured it was a bit of local history and it was probably worth reading on that basis. It was fascinating! I had no idea about any of the stuff that went on in my own county during World War II. There was stuff about the development of the jet engine, about radar, about building the bombers, the fact that Chorley was where the bombs for the dambuster raid were filled... It was great to read about local history, it really puts things in context. For once in my life I was reading along thinking 'oh, I know where this place is'!

The camouflage stuff was another interesting bit, all about the creation of dummy factories, hiding the real ones, and persuading the German bombers that things were where they weren't.

And part of it has given me a story idea. I don't know whether I'll ever actually write it, but it was about Churchill's secret army, and how a bunch of men from the moorry areas were asked to stay at home and carry on in their normal jobs, training in secret, in order to repel any German invaders. Since it was secret, these men were insulted in the streets and treated as cowards, when they were training for a war that could be brutal and soul destroying...

I highly recommend it actually. Obviously if you don't live in Lancashire, it's got a lot less relevance for you, but I think it's still worth a read because it reveals what went on behind the scenes as it were, out in the countryside where things seemed pretty quiet.

Oh, before I forget, another interesting thing I learnt recently is that people were actually evacuated out to round here. I don't know where I thought they went, but I certainly never thought they'd get sent out to Lancashire. I think I thought they went to Wales, which is a bit ridiculous, cos people obviously wouldn't all fit in there.


This is an absolutely absolutely fantastic book. I love this series!!! The rather dramatic cover reflects accurately the awesome story you'll find inside when you open it up. Paul Richter is in on a police attack upon a terrorists hideout near Geneva, which goes horribly wrong. Unexpectedly accused of murder, he flees the country while his boss works on persuading his opposing number that using Richter as a scapegoat is a stupid move. A second attack on a terrorist hideout, found with a mysterious tip off, goes wrong again. Hunting desperately for a pattern, Richter discovers an incredible plot.

Perhaps the best thing about the series is the realism of both plots, which feel like they could actually happen (I'm still mulling over the one in Pandemic...), action that is both tense and realistic, and character. I don't think there's really anything else to say. You should all read it and find out the plot for the largest ever non-nuclear explosion, and the result of its discovery... I don't want to spoil it for you.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Find Madigan

I read this one entirely in the Harris library. It was fairly decent. Somewhere further down the line from Madigan's sidekick, but I didn't like this one quite so much. Madigan disappears while on a journey to track down train thieves, and his sidekick gets sent out to find him. Madigan's lost his memory though, so there's no help forthcoming from that end. It seemed a slightly clumsy way of concluding a series (I assume that was the intention), but it filled the time I had to wait fairly pleasantly. I'm sure there were better books around, but like I said, not a bad read.