Oliver Twist, bumps into A Tale of Two Cities…

I’ve just been through a Dickenisation, after reading two of Charles Dickens classic tales – Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. Both very good novels, very good stories, sometimes clouded with long and rambling descriptive prose but I would have to say both these stories are must reads.

Oliver Twist (1838) has been retold hundreds of times since its publication in, in many ways, from radio plays to films. I had never read, seen or heard the story before, so reading the original story first was probably the best introduction. I had seen the classic clip of one of the black and white films where Oliver asks for more but hadn’t appreciated the depth to the story, or the range involved.

This is a roaming adventure, set over many years. The long descriptions can at times be slightly hard work, but the scenes which Dickens sets are vivid and interesting, always with the undertone of dark events just around the corner. The atmosphere of Victorian squalor is amazing and the sheer drudgery of life then for 99% of people must have been incredible.

I’m really drawn to the classics as a way to find out about 18th and 19th century history and particularly what the living conditions were like. The Sherlock Holmes stories were great and this was another layer.

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) was a more complex tale, set over a wider area, including more characters and a lot more historic complexities. There is an incredible attention to detail, character development and a central female character which represents purity and light, against which many of the other characters are set against. This contrast brings the story to life, alongside the events of the French Revolution, which provides a very real and dangerous setting.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” (First line)

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” (Final line of novel)

An incredible book and one which I really wouldn’t have appreciated or enjoyed had I been much younger and not had a sense of history or an interest in it. Certainly one of the classics and another ‘free’ books on the Kindle.

Roll on Les Miserables!


(Recent) ‘book club’…

I haven’t done one of these book clubs for a while but…

Classics on Kindle…

1) Journey to the Interior of the Earth by Jules Verne

2) From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne

3) The Time Machine by H. G. wells

4) The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

5) The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells


6) Battle Earth l, ll and lll by Nick S. Thomas

7) Bruneleschi’s Dome by Ross King

8) Surface detail by Iain M. Banks

9) Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (in progress)

All of the above were read on the Kindle except 7) and 9). All are well worth reading and if you haven’t read the classic sci-fiction books they also offer a unique historical perspective . The Battle Earth books were the light reading ones on the list but very good, even if the 2nd and 3rd books lost their edge a bit.


‘Pompeii’ by Robert Harris…

I’ve just finished re-reading Pompeii by Robert Harris.

A novel which provides a story around the eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Pompeii in AD 79. Again, a good history related story which gives a gripping account of the events leading up to the eruption, including lots of historical information and details. The characters are believable and it’s another reminder of how powerful the forces of nature can be.


A History of the World in 100 Objects…

Ok, my Kindle has officially packed up. Yes, first it just froze, then started working again a few weeks later, then while on the camping trip to Bucklegrove, the screen has gone.

Anyway, it’s paper books all the way for a while till that’s fixed. Either way, the Kindle wouldn’t have been able to present ‘the history’ in anywhere near the same high quality way, compared to the paper version. If I had an ipad, I could have downloaded it in full colour.

But, A History of the World in 100 Objects is well researched and interesting, with some very good images. There is a good background section to each of the objects and each is used to explain a period of human history, from the Stone Age to our present.

If anyone I know wants to borrow it then be my guest – it’s fairly expensive but well worth a look, especially if you are interested in history or human psychology. As a printed format, it works well and i’m not convinced that the original radio format was the best way to convey the details, given that seeing the objects is a major part of the experience of an object, for most people. A picture is worth a thousand words.


Book shelves…

A great idea for book shelves for below our pin board…


This means we can have more easily accessed books and also rotate them. It would also be just the right height for the boys.


Pipe-cleaner bugs…

Some cool pipe-cleaner bugs which turned into straw bugs (as we didn’t have any pipe-cleaners).

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From the book ‘365 things to make an do’ (Usborne Activities). Some great ideas in there and the boys seem quite inspired by it.


‘Hull Zero Three’ – Digital Greg Bear…

Just finished Greg Bear’s latest book – downloaded as a treat to my Kindle! It was only £4.50 so what the hell. Anyway, i’ve read most of his other sci-fi books which are excellent. The Forge of God and Eternity and two of the best books i’ve read but hadn’t read him for ages.

This one is more surreal and dark and quite poetic. The language and story are both mysterious and there are some interesting ideas in there for the sci-fi fan.

In search of a new home planet, people from Earth travel at 0.2c (speed of light) towards a distant star system. Before they arrive a war breaks out on board the ship, which lasts for centuries…


Digital Robinson Crusoe…

‘Although commonly referred to as simply Robinson Crusoe the book’s complete, original title as it appears on the title page of the first edition is The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.’

Well, whatever Daniel Defoe wanted to call it, it still remains one of the classic tales. I’m not surprised it has more editions than any other book (apart from the Bible and a few others!) – it’s a good story of adventure and excitement. My second digital book.

It was written in 1719 and so would have been a very exciting tale indeed and there are some interesting historical references in there. I imagine the main reason it’s been reprinted so many times is the strong religious content. Apparently Defoe’s follow up books with Robinson as the main character turned into rambling moral and religious sermons, but the original book would have mass appeal to Christians and there are many moral struggles in there. It’s a tale of his path into the ‘light’ after seeing the error of his ways – and in the process, making a HUGE amount of money, partly from the slave trade! Double bonus – salvation and wedge.

Anyway, ignore my sarcastic tone – it’s worth reading but it does veer off course in parts! I also liked the ‘self-help’ aspect and he turned into a very handy person to have around the place.


Pink hallway…!

Ok, yes, it is as crazy as it sounds!

Claire has been wanting to paint the hallway and kitchen more exciting colours for a while and we’ve sort of decided to go for it. We bought a strong red paint for the kitchen a year ago but haven’t got around to painting it yet, but will once the render work is done and the last few bits are finished in the bathroom.

So, she came back the other day saying she wants a bright blue in the hallway, to which I said, ‘anything but blue – it’s soooo cold!’. I even suggested pink would be better! Well, I should really keep my mouth shut.

We’ve looked through the Dulux and Crown hard finish paints and the colours are generally more muted and dull than other paint ranges. There are only a few which stand out, Red Mid and Shocking Pink (both Crown Ultimate) being 2 of them! The current favourite is Cheeky Wink (Easyclean). This sounds crazy but it might just work.

We also want to stamp a bit more of our creative spirits onto the house, now that we’ve gone a long way to getting the structural/building things done (insulated render, solar panels, bathroom moved upstairs, landing area plastered, living room insulated – storage areas made – doors blocked up – walls plastered – shelves put up – stove installed etc etc). We’ve painted the rooms but have only just put some pictures up in the living room and want to do more.

So, a couple of ideas to go with the vivid hallway area colour is to create some large scale art/mural type decoration, maybe in the form of a twisting tree which will start at the ground floor hallway and spread over the walls and up the stairs to the top landing area. The ‘tree’ could be made up of letters and words, maybe from songs or stories we like. Black and white letters would both contrast well and stand out against the pink background.

A black swirling pattern could also be added behind the main word tree. This would create a nice range of strong forms in complimentary and contrasting colours: black, white & pink.


Digital Dracula…

I finished my 1st digital book a couple of weeks ago – Bram Stoker’s Dracula! I’ve previously seen the 1992 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, but had missed the book.

So, given the massive selection of free Kindle e-books, all of which are out of copyright, i’ve started to work through them. Dracula was written in 1897 so the pace and language of the book is somewhat different to modern styles, but I found this quite refreshing. It was slightly long-winded in parts but there was definitely an underlying tension or feeling of suspense, which made me want to read it every night. I can imagine when it was first published, it would have been quite shocking.

The interesting approach was to tell the story from the actual diary or journal entries of the characters, meaning each section had a different style and perspective. Very well thought through. I would rate it as 8 out of 10 and rightly one of the classic books.

My next trip into the free book store is Robinson Crusoe (1719), so i’ll review that once i’ve got through the final 70% of the book.


Book club…

I haven’t updated the old book club for a while so here it is…

I finished Alex Ferguson’s Autobiography a while ago and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in football or post-war British history.

As a Liverpool fan, I wasn’t sure about even reading it(!) but I read Jamie Carragher’s autobiography last year and he said it was the best book he’s ever read, so that was enough of a reason for me. Sir Alex is basically the most successful football manager of all time (again, that pains me to say it!), and i’m very glad to have read the book. There is so much in there about his past experiences in Scotland and how those experiences have formed the present day club that is Man United.

For anyone interested in history, there is a lot in there about British industry, particularly about the docklands area of Glasgow, around Govan. He paints a detailed portrait of life in general in Glasgow which was amazing to read. He also goes into a lot of detail on particular games and he seems to have an amazing memory.

I’ve also just finished Brunelleschis Dome, by Ross King. It’s the story of the building of one of the great structures, the dome of which is the largest masonary dome ever erected – Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence. Certainly on my list of European cities to visit with the family. Again, a book not just about the main subject, but about history and civilisation. Well worth a read and an inspiring book.

Also in exciting Christmas-based book news, my generous Mum gave me a Amazon Kindle, which i’ve already downloaded a number of digital books for. It’s amazing! So far i’ve downloaded Darwin’s Origin of Species, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dante’s Inferno – all for free! There’s an amazing ‘top 100 free’ books section on the Kindle store with a huge range of classics. More on all that soon.


Book club catchup…

Since I finished Imperial Life in the Emerald City maybe 4 months ago, i’ve just been working through the cornerstones of western civilisation’s literary classics… Well, as you can see from the list, the term ‘light reading’ is probably a better description!

High Society – Ben Elton

Congo – Michael Crichton

The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton

Digital Fortress – Dan brown

Iain M. Banks – The State of the Art

Kim Stanley Robinson – Icehenge

Pamela Stephenson – Billy

I’ve found that I only get a chance to read anything last thing at night before bed, which means i’m generally tired and not in the mood for digesting anything remotely complicated or challenging.

I started The China Study (Dr. T. Colin Campbell) ages ago and have only just picked it up again. I’m really glad I have, given it is a seriously important book for anyone interested in their health, or the health of their families. The study is the biggest and most comprehensive study of nutrition ever carried out and the results are quite incredible.

When I finish reading it, i’ll post a proper review.


Amazon Kindle…

I was getting quite excited about the new Amazon Kindle…until I realised I didn’t need one!

But, the idea is a good one. The Kindle is basically an e-book (but it also displays newpapers and magazines), but it also has internet browser and MP3 player and is small enough to fit in the pocket. The Amazon digital library apparently has over 400,000 titles and the Kindle can hold 3,500 books!

There have been many of these types of ipad/PDA devices, but i’ve never been tempted to jump on board, until now! E-book + MP3 player + Internet browser…ideal.


I’ve read a few articles recently about the impact of the printing industry, particularly newspapers and magazines, in terms of the waste and chemicals used to make them. That in itself is a good reason, and if prices come down in 6 months or so, even better.

I’m also not a fan of huge amounts of books – bad reaction to my growing up with thousands of my Mum’s books which are left to die in piles + just the waste of space! I’ve shifted so many boxes of books around in my life and that has certainly led to an annoyance with their bulkiness & weight and amount of space they take to store!

It seems the technology has just made the ‘next stage’ leap from the basic concept and initial stage, to the more mass-market stage, including much better performance. This is also reflected in the price, meaning you get far better value for better overall features.