Thursday, June 26, 2014

There's a thread over at the sffchronicles forum entitled 'The 5 Most Influential Books in My Life'.  Here's my list.  As you would expect from a group of SF and Fantasy enthusiasts there are a lot of SF and Fantasy books in people's lists and a lot of 'this book changed the way I looked at the world' titles.  Here's mine:

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard - a 1957 book about media manipulation and advertising techniques that turned my 12 year-old self into a hardened cynic and really really difficult to sell things to. Reading that book has saved me a lot of grief and money over the decades.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by neurologist Oliver Sacks - confirmed my belief (which is obviously true) that my subjective reality is as weird as yours and no one can prove anything from their own subjective experience and that God is therefore unprovable and obviously therefore does not exist.

Tokyo Style by Kyochi Tsuzuki - a thick, small format book containing hundreds of pictures of Japanese house interiors. Not nice, elegant, classically traditional, Zenny interiors but cluttered, everyday, untidied messes. Unmade beds, and piles of unwashed pots. When I get depressed, fed up with the state my kids leave this house, I go read it for a bit and cheer myself up. All the text is in Japanese. I have no idea what 99.9% of the words mean - but wanting to know is one of the reasons I'm trying to teach myself the language.

{Turns out there is an English language edition.  Same pictures.}

The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne - the first book which made me cry like a baby at the end of it. And then I turned back to the first page and the characters were still there and it hadn't ended. I could repeat the experience! It was a revelation!! I was in my mid-twenties; I think I must have been stoned out of my box. (It was still a revelation though.)

Have Space Suit Will Travel by R A Heinlein. The Golden Age of SF is 12. I read all Heinlein's 'Juvenile's when I was 10/11/12. The Sense of Wonder those books generated in me is something I will never recapture - partially because I went and read The Hidden Persuaders so it's my own fault - but I miss it. Been looking for it ever since.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Another Brief Snippet From the Screenplay of my Life


A cosy domestic interior.  DADDY is heading towards the washing machine carrying a basket of almost dirty clothes discarded in various locations around the house by the female members of the family.  Some of them nearly need washing. 

EBEN is sat on the sofa calmly and contentedly staring into space.

What are you doing?

Waiting for my sixth birthday....


Monday, June 16, 2014

I Bought a Plant Today - Oh Boy!

Holly and I are turning Japanese.

Her obsession with all thing Japonical is catching - not that its flame needed much fanning in me.  I have always had a mild fascination with Japanese Art and Culture (me, you, and the rest of the Western World) but, recently  with Holly singing insane Hatsune Miku songs all day: 

and watching Anime and reading Manga and eating ramen and sushi and onigiri and... and... and...

I've become sucked in too.

My contributions to the Japanification of my life - apart from buying Number One Daughter a couple of Kimonos - is to convince myself I can learn the language.  I have no idea why.  I'm pretty pants at languages and from what I've read Japanese is not the easiest. But any language that has four different alphabets: Katakana, Hiragana, Romaji, and Kanji (which has 10,000+ characters!); and can be written in two different directions: in vertical columns read top to bottom, right to left across the page, or left to right top to bottom like western script has to be worth exploring.  It's a bafflingly fascinating puzzle.

Today we were in Morrisons supermarket buying ingredients for a Japanese food taster session Holly is preparing for her classmates. (Chicken yakatori: salmon maki, a potato based salad, and a fruit yakatori with strawberry dipping sauce.) As we were leaving, Holly in her usual blissful unawareness of anything not right in front of her eyes way, managed to nearly run our shopping into a middle-aged couple's trolley.

A Japanese middle-aged couple.

I yanked Holly into a less dangerous direction and managed to get out a couple of  "sumimasen"s ('So-sorry's すみません) in their direction and hurtled off after Holly before she ran into anyone else.  They smiled and bowed in reply.  I think I made their day.  It made mine.  I'd used my very very limited conversational Japanese in a minorly stressful situation and not been run through with a katana. Woohoo!  My contribution to world peace and global understanding for the week.

The plant came a little earlier.  On the way to the checkouts we passed a display of garden plants containing several very small acers.  I like acers.  I love the red of the leaves in autumn.  Very Japanese too.  The treelets were on offer.  Reduced form a paltry £3 to a even paltrier £2.50  but what reall sold me,  what really made this my spindly wee tree a must buy item was the label stuck on the pot:

 Garden plants are not for human consumption

Apart, obviously, from those that are, like: runner beans and strawberries and apples and pears and blackcurrents just to name the first few that came to mind.  I'm really struggling to work out how anyone - even some working in a supermarket's legal department with not enough work to do on a wet Thursday would thing it necessary to stick a label on a pot which, in essence, says: Do Not Eat This Tree!

If someone has the intelligence and  experience to be able to read and understand the label 'Garden plants are not for human consumption' (I mean there's a twelve letter word in there!  Intellectual stuff!) they must surely have the intelligence and experience to know that eating trees is probably not going to do them a lot of good.

I am not going to eat the tree. 

Though it does look tasty....

Monday, June 02, 2014

Time Travel

I'm reading old magazines again.  At the moment I'm working my way through a pile of 1977 Photoplay film mags.  A lot of it is dreadfully gushy tosh.  There are a lot of articles that look like studio press releases reworked to fit the available space.  One of the joys for me is the regular 'Please Tell Us' page in which Betty Jennings answers 'your queries about the stars'.  In the days before the internet and wall to wall mass celebrity culture infotainment, finding out about  film actors must have been a laborious process.  These days it's three clicks and you can read their entire CV on IMDb and a couple more to find close-up shots of them in their underpants at

Back in the 70s, British housewives, weak at the knees at the thought of Patrick Mower or Melvyn Hayes, had to write to hacks at monthly magazines to help fuel their stalking habits. In February's magazine (de Laurentiis's King Kong on the cover) Betty Jennings describes Jodie Foster as a 'fast-rising young star' and answers the following question from a Carolyn Warburton from Stalybridge, Cheshire:

Could you answer the following questions on Tim Matheson and Kurt Russell of  [TV show] The Quest please?  What age are they, how long have they been acting, where do they live and are they married?
To each other?  (In those clothes it wouldn't surprise me) but back then it would be almost inconceivable that anyone would have thought that.  But back then, Jodie Foster was a 'rising young star' and not the out, proud, and still successful gay icon she is today. The present is a strange country, we do things differently here.  Hurrah!

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