Sunday, 10 February 2019

The Rocking Horse Diary

The Rocking Horse DiaryThe Rocking Horse Diary by Alan Combes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alan Combes tackles a key 21st century topic in this one. Told through the diary of an 11-year-old boy, it charts the gradual decline into dementia of his beloved granddad. Sounds bleak but it's actually full of laughs. It has had a lot of reviews from schoolchildren. The general view averages around "Sad but funny, and I loved the bit where..."
The author says people, especially children, need to know about dementia. It is becoming a large part of our 21st century world, and he's right. This is something that a lot of young people will be forced to confront, and knowledge will counter fear.
The illustrations are superb.

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Thursday, 31 January 2019

Makeover by Barbara Lorna Hudson

MakeoverMakeover by Barbara Lorna Hudson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Makeover is women's fiction dealing with some difficult topics including abuse and addiction. The characters are cleverly drawn. They match and they clash. Tables get turned in very subtle ways. The book left me with vivid mental images of Lucille and Walter and also of parts of Oxford beyond the traditional old college context. It was an intriguing read. Light without being lightweight. I recommend it.

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Thursday, 17 January 2019

The dangers of becoming disorientated in deep water


Our health services are chronically under-staffed after years of austerity (for which no one ever made a credible case, but that’s a different debate) and we desperately need to train up all the capable people we can. And there are plenty of very capable people, many of whom are already in demanding responsible health-related jobs. They want to take a step up, to take on more senior roles, to gain the skills and knowledge that a healthcare professional needs in the modern world.

They queue in droves to make the leap on to the healthcare professional career ladder by going back into higher education to gain the relevant qualifications, knowledge, skills and experience.

But for many it can seem a leap too far. These are the people who, for a variety of reasons, haven’t been in higher education (or maybe in any kind of formal education) for many years. Some struggled through school battling undiagnosed conditions such as dyslexia, and ended up feeling inadequate, as though their inability to learn the same way their peers did was all their fault.

There is a gap to bridge. Operating at higher education level is not simply a matter of stepping through the door and taking education on board. Basically, it involves reading, writing and thinking. We can all do all three – so how hard can it be?

Consider this: you’ve never done any scuba diving but you’d like to. You know how to swim because you go to your local pool occasionally and do a few lengths; you know how to breathe; you’ve been doing it all your life. So if you wanted to scuba dive in the ocean, all you would need to do is take a boat out to deep water, strap on a tank and jump in. Right?

Wrong (of course). You’d be lucky to survive the experience.

Stepping up to higher education is the same, but the negative effects of getting it wrong are not quite so immediate as the scuba diving example.



You won’t drown or die from the bends or get disorientated in deep water and never see the sun again, but you will feel a sense of drowning in words if you don’t learn ways to read, absorb and critically evaluate huge amounts of information; you will despair at ever putting together a coherent argument if you don’t hone your thinking skills and learn to distinguish fact, from opinion, bias from evidence, and to recognise the tricks that are used to derail logical thought.

Your ability to read, write and think had better take a huge leap forward if you are to keep your head above the higher education waterline.

Preparing for Higher Education Study isn’t just a book title, it’s something you need to do if you want to emerge from the deep waters of higher education unscathed, stronger and ready to take on the world.


Saturday, 8 December 2018

[originally posted on FB]

I thought it was probably a send up when someone said a popular daily newspaper had castigated Dr Who along blatantly racist and sexist lines, but as I like to check out the source material for these claims I took a look. Guess what? It didn’t stop at race and gender, it took a pop at the disabled too.
The DN (as I will call it - the Daily Newspaper) tells us it is speaking up for the poor beleaguered ordinary citizen who, they infer but never say, has not the wit or the gumption to speak up for (or indeed think) for themselves.
What are Dr Who’s sins by DN standards?
After an intro that makes clear this article does not approve of anything about the new series, we are invited by implication  to mock these aspects:
A “stridently feminist” lead with “extraordinary engineering skills” (a woman good at engineering?! In this day and age?!) Add a “racially diverse cast” (shock horror?! In this day and age?!) but not just that, it gets worse. Alongside the “strident” feminist is a “black actor” playing a “dyspraxia sufferer” and another black actor playing an “Anglo-Asian police officer”.
And the bit that made me laugh. It was reference to the “token white middle-aged male”. I mean how can anyone – the subtext reads – even consider watching a programme that is not at least 99% middle-aged white male. Aren’t middle-aged white males the effective majority in much of life. Well yes, DN, they are, and just look what an f***ing mess they’ve made of it.
Oh and the DN doesn’t spare the “token white middle-aged male” because “even [he] is a cancer survivor”. (Oh no, not a portrayal of a cancer sufferer in a TV drama!? Hadn’t we plumbed the depths with trying to portray a dyspraxia sufferer as normal i.e. not totally and constantly defined by his condition?! Whatever next?)
The Doctor herself we are told is “too busy preaching to fight aliens”. It seems the DN at this point was frothing with too much rage to notice that this declaration was the header for a paragraph describing the Doctor’s encounter with “psychotic alien Tzim-Sha” in an earlier episode.
The thing is, they weren’t frothing about the programme pretending that the world isn’t entirely made up of white middle-aged males at that point, they were frothing along different lines, so didn’t spot the anomaly.
Apparently (I didn’t see the episode), the strident feminist had tried to stop the murderous alien by persuading him to reform. It doesn’t work and she was “forced to resort to more drastic action”.
“More drastic action”? Well well, suddenly mealy-mouthed about spelling it out? So I’m assuming that the “more drastic action” could not have been described as “forced to resort to murderous violence with comprehensive collateral damage such as would have been perpetrated far sooner by real men” i.e. the proper white male middle-aged role model seen in so many male-dominated films, programmes and computer games, and not the ‘strident’ woman making out that she’s good at engineering whilst surrounded by a cast of non-white no-hopers.
It doesn’t even stop there, the article froths ever more wildly as it goes on. Dr Who has wide appeal (the DN clearly hates that) and it’s peddling the idea that it’s not the winning that counts. It doesn’t quite say: how dare a programme watched by so many children peddle the idea that losing doesn’t make them worthless pieces of shit for the rest of their lives who should know their place and kowtow to their bigger, stronger, richer, whiter, non-disabled peers whilst being grateful for any crumbs that come their way, unless they have the luck to tip into that elite category at some point, in which case they’d better learn to despise the non-white, non-male, non-able-bodied pretty darned quick or they’ll be thrown out of the club.
But it does say, “To the delight of risk-adverse snowflakes everywhere, the Doctor is a firm believer in the maxim, ‘it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part’.” But give them a bit more leeway and they’ll be spelling it out.
The article ends on the racist seam where it began. The programme has “found room for ... ONE middle aged white bloke” [their emphasis]. They’ve done this “in a bid to prove” they are the “most inclusive show on television”.
Actually, they are one of the most popular shows on television. And what the DN apparently can’t stomach is to have a popular show peddling the message that non-white, non-male or non-able-bodied does not mean inferior being. Wow, all that vitriol! All that pathetic insecurity. All that longing for the good-ole 1950s. White middle-aged male power feeling under threat, is it? Who’s the snowflake now?
I have not linked to the article. They get enough exposure, but here's a book by an actor from previous series which is especially interesting in this context as his recollections really contradict the DN's frothy inadequate attempts to reminisce about days gone by.

My Dalek Has A Puncture

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Impressed by the U3A


I confess to having known little about the U3A prior to the spring of 2017 when, following attendance at an event in Hornsea East Yorkshire, I was invited to speak to the Hornsea branch. The invitation was for a date almost 18 months ahead. The U3A is nothing if not organised.

My philosophy on “giving a talk” is basically that that is not what it’s about. I am not “giving a talk”. I am “giving a talk to a specific audience”. There’s a huge difference.

There are people who keep a bank of talks that they roll out in the various places where they are asked to speak. On the face of it, that’s a real time saver as it avoids the need to create a brand new talk every time, but in my experience, where that strategy works, it works because the person with the Talks Bank does not take them out and use them completely off the shelf. They customise them to suit the audience.

The truth is that a badly judged or ill-fitting talk shows. It becomes clear early on that the speaker knows nothing about their audience and that their talk is pitched slightly askew.



For me it is akin to an invitation to join someone in their home for something like a bridge evening. If I walk in, slump on the settee and refuse to join in other than to drink their coffee and eat their biscuits, I am an impolite boor. If I venture the excuse that I don’t know how to play bridge, I only play whist, then I’m also an idiot. Want to play whist not bridge? Then don’t accept an invitation to a bridge party.

Back to the U3A. I’ve given talks around the world to many different groups on many different topics, but this was my first to a U3A group. I had a vague notion of their origins and philosophy and looked them up to learn more.

The U3A is a thriving international movement that originated in Toulouse University in France in 1973. Third Age University groups in France sprang up, usually attached to a local university, working closely with them in terms of specialist teachers and opportunities for joint research.

As the U3A idea spread, divergent models developed. In the UK in the 1980s, the U3A model was developed as one of peer-learning and self-help, where local groups, such as the Hornsea U3A, are autonomous and self-funding but retain their links and pay a membership fee to an overarching coordinating body that provides access to a vast range of resources. There is now a global network of universities of the third age coordinated by an international organisation.



My talk landed at the point where the local committee had had a significant change of personnel. There were many plates spinning on many sticks as the new guard took over from the old; my long-arranged talk was but a tiny pinprick in amongst the many things that had to be organised. Yet the joins hardly showed. I doubt I’d have noticed at all if I hadn’t had it explained to me by someone concerned that some frayed edges might show.

It all went remarkably smoothly. I was welcomed in, the technology worked, the timing was impeccable, interesting questions came my way and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. My talk was entitled: Contemporary Crime: the problems of researching the present.

It was my first U3A experience but I hope it won’t be my last.

Learn more about Hornsea U3A here
Delve deeper into Buried Deep and come unstuck in Syrup Trap City, just two of the novels I used to illustrate my points.


Saturday, 10 November 2018

The versatility of the chopstick


Out of nowhere I had a sudden desire to knit, not something I’ve done for decades and not something for which I’ve ever had the least aptitude, but hey, have-wool-will-knit – and I had wool.


Alas, a forensic search of the house turned up but a solitary knitting needle.

A bit of lateral thinking took me to the cutlery drawer, and the scarf began life on one knitting needle and a chopstick. 


A car-boot sale later and it was on proper knitting needles – almost but not quite the same size as the original, but then the original wasn’t quite the same diameter as the chopstick anyway.



Now it’s finished. Just needs a few matching tassels and bring on winter!




Thursday, 1 February 2018

I Used to Be: Believably real voices from the two very different women protagonists

I Used to BeI Used to Be by Mary Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I loved this book, but beware it will pull at the heartstrings. The depiction of grief is raw. It’s the story of two women, brought together by chance, very different from each other. All they seem to have in common is that each is as much an outcast as the other. Maude is in her 70s. Kayleigh is barely in her teens. Both voices are authentic. It comes as a surprise to learn that this is a first novel, though the author is clearly an experienced writer. It’s quite a short book, but it’s compelling; it follows an emotional rollercoaster of a journey but is ultimately uplifting.

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