Letter to The Editor

… of “When Saturday Comes”

Will Hughes will be waved off at the quayside will he? (WSC May 2017 “Continuity Clause”).

Even here at Hastings United we spare players the need to leave in a boat. It’s half a mile or so to the beach and we find cars or buses more the thing. For all its undoubted merits, Pride Park would seem to be even less well-fitted for the maritime “shipping-out” of players.

That said, if Will wants to come and help us get out of Isthmian League South we will provide whatever transport he likes. Maybe Lenny Pidgley would lend him his Beamer.

Inside North Korea

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North KoreaThe Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Important book. Stories from inside North Korea that ring frighteningly true. Kafka and Orwell would have nodded and said “yup”.

The story of how they travelled from NK to the west is also detailed here. Terrifyingly, we don’t know if the author is alive or dead.

I first learned of this book through The History of Literature podcast episode #76 , which is worth a listen.

View all my reviews

Private Eye: an apology

We may have given the mistaken impression over several years that the Private Eye was a scurrilous muck-raking rag fit only to line the parakeet’s cage. (Dave: put a link in to ‘record circulation’ story before this goes out). We are happy to advise our readers that it is, on the contrary, a beacon of truth-finding in an age of fake facts. Long may the ‘Eye’ prosper in this era of falsity and her editor at last receive his richly-deserved gong. 

That said, we still intend to cancel our subscription forthwith. Cheers!

A Start In Life by Alan Sillitoe

A Start In LifeA Start In Life by Alan Sillitoe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never read any Sillitoe before because I had this idea that he was dour, northern, kitchen-sinky and just not for me. I was wrong. Our amoral “hero” features in a picaresque series of events, peopled by colourful characters into whom we just keep on bumping in unlikely coincidences and ludicrous situations. It’s a bumpy ride.
Sillitoe is a fantastic technical writer who always has the right words and expressions at his command. The book shows its age in its female characters who are always complicit in their own dreadful mistreatment, but the book piles along and before I knew it it had gone. Good stuff.

View all my reviews

Try to stay awake

Oh great“, I hear you say (or “Oh greewt” which is what my banana-fingers wrote first of all), “here’s another blog about how the trains are messed up, as if there weren’t more of those every day than there are trains”.

Add pictures for more page hits they said. So here’s a picture of a goose to drive up the stats.

Consider this a vent or rant so that I can get on with my life afterwards. You can get on with your life sooner than that: can I recommend “A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix?

This is not a kick against Southeastern Trains in particular. They are crap but not uniquely so, as shown by the wails of overprivileged rail travellers from all over the land.

We have something in the nature of a contract* with these train people which goes like this: “I give you nearly all my money, and in return you do your level-best to provide me with train services in accordance with the timetable that you kindly provide. I understand that asteroids or bombs will provide you with an excuse to reroute the train and I’m OK with that”.

Most of our railways have been there since before Charles Dickens grew a beard. The advantage of this is that railway companies have had over 150 years to work out how long it takes a train to get from any given station to any other station. If you start at Warrington Bank Quay and want to go to Glasgow Central, 150 years of expertise has shown us that you can do that in about 3 hours. Or, you want to go from Tunbridge Wells to London Bridge, depending on how many stops the train takes in, you should do it in 45- 55 minutes. 150 years of experience has informed the makers of the timetable, that, barring alien attack or the like, you can do these trips within these times comfortably. Experiences of something called “punctuality” have shown us there’s a fair bit of slack built in to these timetables so that trains can spend an extra minute or two at a station if there’s a wheelchair or similar to be loaded or unloaded.

And yet.

If stations were people, they’d be those people who act all suprised when you go to see them even though they knew you were coming, and make you wait outside looking into other people’s back gardens while they tidy away their mucky books.

If signals were people they’d be the people who pretend to be out when you ring the bell, thinking you must be Jehovah’s witnesses.

10 minutes late is the new normal and doesn’t even merit a “sorry”.

Most companies operate a “Delay Repay” scheme, whereby if you are delivered to your destination more than 30 minutes late you can fill in a form to get a bit of your money back. This is by way of compensating you for missing your connection, flight, aunty’s wedding etc. The main effect of Delay Repay is to make ’29 minutes late’ a punctuality target in someone’s Key Performance Indicators and brings no good to the service.

I composed this bilious diatribe in my head while involuntarily inspecting a golf course while stationary this very day. I feel I could play that hole blindfolded, and I don’t even play golf.

* I know it isn’t a contract. The small print tells us this in a small way. Small print is for weasels**.

** unfair to weasels.

Book Review.

The Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His MotherThe Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for His Mother by Ulinka Rublack

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A intriguing book. It sat on my Amazon wish-list from the time I first read about it until I had to admit defeat and buy it myself. It covers topics about which I knew little: Johannes Kepler & the time and atmosphere in which he lived. It isn’t a study of Kepler’s work: for that you have to look elsewhere – to begin with, try the BBC In Our Time episode about him.

It is a story of the world poised between what we think of as medieval superstition and the era of scientific discovery, a time when discovery is still in the service of and constrained by religion and in which inconvenient old ladies can be subject to barbaric treatment, but in which a select few begin to see past that into a rational, humanistic future and lose patience with the old ways. Kepler is caught in the middle, an accomplished astronomer and mathematician who has to set aside his work to save his own mother from torture and the stake.

The visitor to a calm, ordered, quiet old German town today, with its quaint painted Rathaus and cobbles is unlikely to feel that ancient atmosphere of suspicion and sudden lawless terror that was once there, and which is brought out well, if understatedly, in this book:

“Katherina had guarded her attractive daughter Margaretha against young lads who had sometimes ‘pushed in the door of her house [to gain access to] the daughter.'”.


I need only add that the (hardback) book is a pleasure to hold, contains many pertinent illustrations and, er, smells really nice!

View all my reviews