Two Caravans

Two Caravans Twocaravanswiki.jpg was a romp of a read. It follows the story of russian, polish and african migrant workers getting exploited in the UK. The themes are dark: sex trafficking, exploitation of migrant workers, sexual assault, murder. However, the treatment makes all this seem easy to cope with—the book is consistently upbeat. The success is in the fantastic dialogue and phrases used by the characters, which make the novel so entertaining. The Dog, gets a stream of consciousness which is highly amusing. This follows on A short history of tractors in Ukranian, both by Marina Lewycka.

Just added her third novel, We are all made of glue, to my Amazon wish list!

The Stoneground Ghost Tales

show_image_in_imgtag.php.jpegJon promised I’d enjoy The Stoneground Ghost Tales, by E.G. Swain after reading the Tedious brief tales of Granta and Gramarye. The short stories in better written in Stoneground, and the prose flowed better, so I generally agree. But there wasn’t much in it.

The stories were first published in 1912 by E.G. Swain, a chaplain of King’s college Cambridge. They all feature a rather introspective bachelor, called Mr Batchel, who isn’t afraid of anything supernatural—he’s a bit like the Miss Marple of the supernatural. The short story ‘The Richpins’ was really excellent.

Monkey, 西游记

Raced through Monkey, or better known as Journey to the West. Motivated by memories of the amazing BBC series in the ’70s (mind you the picture below doesn’t quite live up to those memories—what a sad looking bunch).

MOnkey Magic

The book is a great page turned, full of humour and a straightforward plot. A good understanding of Taoism and Buddhism would have helped my understanding. The tale as a whole made sense—never got a feel for that from the TV series. Also, the Heavenly Peach Banquet was fantastic.


Tedious brief tales of Granta and Gramarye

A bit of respite from Don Juan! Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye is a short collection of horror stories set in medieval Cambridge, set in and around Jesus College, just down the road from where I live. Horror isn’t my favourite genre, but the local element really appealed to me. The stories were written by Arthur Gray, Master of Jesus College about 1930. The style of writing is a bit formal and narrative, and that suits the stories rather well and adds to the creepiness.

Of the stories ‘The Everlasting Club’ and ‘The Necromancer’ were the most unsettling—there’s something about a black, spectral cat at the top of a dark flight of stairs that really gives me the creeps!

An enjoyable book to dip into some well-written short stories


Tedious brief tales of Granta and Gramarye

Oleander Press

Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, from Burns to Buchan

Really enjoyed this collection of Scottish Fairy Tales, that David gave me for my Christmas. Each story on its own is good, but the combined collection made a bigger impact. We’ve lost so much of our oral tradition—I knew almost none of these stories as they were told (although the basis for many was familiar from better known Grimm or Anderson tales). The biographies at the back of the book were just as interesting: two of the authors had owned Skye and Canna, and one was a shepherd, another a gypsy. The last, Betsy Whyte (1919–1988) was a traveller around Perthshire where I grew up, and wrote two biographies of her childhood, which will make good christmas presents for my mum and dad.

I almost passed over a lovely poem by Violet Jacob because the dialect was pretty strong, but it was one of the highlights of the book. (Rowan Trees were planted by the front door of houses to ward off evil).

The Rowan, Violet Jacob

When the days were still as deith
And you couldna see the kye
Though ye’d maybe hear their breith
I’ the mist oot-by;
When I mind the lang grey een
O’ the warlock by the hill
And sit fleggit like a wean
Gin a whaup cried shrill;
Tho’ the hert wad dee in me
At the fitstep on the floor,
There was aye a rowan tree
Wi its airm across the door.

But that is far, far past
And a’things just the same,
There’s a whisper up the blast
O’ a dreid I durna name;
And the shilpit sun is thin,
Like an auld man deein’ slow
And a shade comes creeping’ in
When the fire is fa’in low;
Then I feel thae lang een set
Like a doom upon ma heid,
For the warlock’s livin yet—
But the rowan’s deid!

Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales from Burns to Buchan (Penguin Classics) (Paperback) by Gordon Jarvie (Author)

The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer

Michael passed this book onto me to read—it’s a very human account of the life of Alan Turing, well written by David Leavitt. I loved the way the book started off delving into the maths and logic that was Turing’s background and it all made sense (at the time I read it).

It’s fun to read a biography from an accomplished fiction writer—the sense of drama really builds and the camp sensibility of the poisoned apple is brought out right at the end.

I’ve also now signed the Alan Turing Petition:—

Alan Turing was the greatest computer scientist ever born in Britain. He laid the foundations of computing, helped break the Nazi Enigma code and told us how to tell whether a machine could think.

He was also gay. He was prosecuted for being gay, chemically castrated as a ‘cure’, and took his own life, aged 41.

The British Government should apologize to Alan Turing for his treatment and recognize that his work created much of the world we live in and saved us from Nazi Germany. And an apology would recognize the tragic consequences of prejudice that ended this man’s life and career.


The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt (Author)

The old man and the sea

To counter-act the long book I finished this week, I’ve read a really short one, but it was also a great book. There’s a good entry for it on Wikipedia. Michael read this for the book group and I’d have found it a hard book to discuss for long—there’s a lot of symbolism (probably) and ways you could interpret the story, but I read it an a simple tale, and enjoyed it as that. Hemingway won the nobel prize for literature in 1954 for the novel and its narrative excellence.

“The Old Man and the Sea (Vintage Classics)” (Ernest Hemingway)

Byron: Life and Legend

It’s taken me about five months, but I’ve finally reached the end of Fiona MacCarthy’s excellent biography of Byron. There were some times when I thought I couldn’t read on, but always came back to his fascinating character and story. I was reading this in preparation for reading Don Juan, but I may have a go at Childe Harold instead. But first, I need a byron-break, there are stacks of books piled up over the last five months that I want to read next.

“Byron: Life and Legend” (Fiona MacCarthy)

Sailing from Loch Leven to Mull

Showers at the Isle of Glencoe hotel and bacon butties for breakfast, so a good start to the day (except I had to streak in the communal showers in the health centre). We motored out from Ballachulish, under the road bridge where there was still quit a few tidal eddies, and into Loch Linnhe. Lovely sail down the loch, on a beam reach, or a dead run. The weather was lovely, factor 40 suncreen required.

Graham, sunscreen!

We wondered how long Nuala’s expensive nails would last on board (in fact they lasted the whole week—they were unshakable) but they didn’t stop her hauling at ropes and taking a turn on the tiller. Nuala had just come of night shifts, so the fresh air knocked her out, and she founf a comfy space in the cabin for a snooze.

Nuala's nails for sailing

Nuala, asleep

Had a lovely sail up the calm Sound of Mull, the wind followed us round the corner. Lunch on the go. We motored into Tobermory harbour about 4pm, and were immediately pounced on by the Harbour Master for the £20 mooring fee. This included access to the shower block, where we could have a scalding hot shower for £2, and we did.

Nuala, Joel and Freedom

Tobermory Tobermory Harbour

But that was after drinks at the Mishnish Hotel across the harbour from the mooring. We ate back on the boat—some of Joel’s premade and frozen vegetable chilli, which was great. Washed down with wine (and then whisky!).