Reading time #book review

It’s been a while since I did some book reviews but there’s no time like, well, now. So, with no bleating around the  bush, here we go (note: each heading will take you to the book’s page on Amazon)

Porter Girl – First Lady of the Keys by Lucy Brazier

porter-girl

The blurb:

‘Porters are not the carriers of bags, they are the keepers of keys!’

As one of the most ancient and esteemed establishments of the academic elite, Old College is in for something of a shock when it appoints its very first female Deputy Head Porter.

She struggles to get to grips with this eccentric world, far removed from everyday life. PorterGirl, the proverbial square peg in the round hole, begins to wonder quite what she is doing here.

PorterGirl – First Lady Of The Keys is a touching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, glimpse into a world that is usually reserved for the upper echelons of society.

Whether she is chasing after naked students, drinking copious amounts of tea or getting embroiled in quaint, polite murders, Deputy Head Porter is never far from adventure.

I came to this via the author’s blog. It promised to be the sort of tortuous book with comic absurdities that I enjoy. The narrator is a charming if tea obsessed young woman at first at sea and then finding her feet in Old College. The bizarre characters around her are well crafted and, for anyone who has experienced tertiary education anywhere let alone a medieval institution like an Oxbridge college this has resonance. I found myself happily turning the pages and reading on, always a good sign. The pace doesn’t flag though the plot does veer too far for me towards the unlikely and absurd. I really don’t buy unexplained deaths being kept from the police. But then I never went to Oxbridge. So if you enjoy a smile (it’s not laugh out loud for me but humour is personal and anything that turns up the corners is a good thing) a twisted plot and an easy read this one is one to try.

White Picket Prisons by Phil Taylor

white-picket

The blurb:

A group of friends with a penchant for goofy nicknames return to their hometown for a funeral and what had been a pleasant, albeit melancholy, reunion quickly escalates into a fight for their lives with an enemy they didn’t know they had. Putting up with each others quirks with good humor they must unravel a mystery that may have started thirty years ago. They unwittingly stumble and fumble their way into a life or death showdown that could kill them all. The question is not whether they will survive the bad guys, but will they survive each other? One reader likened the characters to “the kids from Stephen King’s classic ‘Stand By Me’ but grown up.” This story will make you miss those goofy high school friends from years ago.

Now I liked this a lot. It has a sort of changing room musk to the plot that while not necessarily sweet has a charm and a memory jog all of its own. The author has done a good job with his characters – one fears for his past and present that he knows men together so well that Chuck might just be based on him, I have no idea but there’s something there in the love with which this hapless chap goes about things. As for the plot, well, sure there’s a little of the stretching credibility going on here but it’s such romping good fun that, hey, what the heck let’s go along for the ride. If you want to read about guys together and some of their thinking even in extremis – for instance the fact that Cooper could even think about giving Chuck a wedgie while in mortal danger is so true, I had to laugh – then this is for you, what ever your sexual preferences.

Don’t Touch (Null City Book 2) by Barb Taub

null-city

The blurb:

Hope flares each morning in the tiny flash of a second before Lette touches that first thing. And destroys it.

Her online journal spans a decade, beginning with the day a thirteen-year-old inherits an extreme form of the family “gift.” Every day whatever she touches converts into something new: bunnies, bubbles, bombs, and everything in between.

Lette’s search for a cure leads her to Stefan, whose fairy-tale looks hide a monstrous legacy, and to Rag, an arrogant, crabby ex-angel with boundary issues. The three face an army led by a monster who feeds on children’s fear. But it’s their own inner demons they must defeat first.

Barb Taub has a way with her words, her images, her sass. Her main characters are all flawed irritating people who you love because they know it, they irritate themselves and they find, if not answers, then some sort of life ointment that makes them bearable. The relationship with George the nearly frozen cat is a perfect metaphor for this book. They annoy each other but they need each other. Like so much in life too, we lean on those we have to, not because we want to but because they happen to give the best support. Enjoy the imagination of the author, the witty one liners but mostly enjoy the fact she writes a damn good story.

The Saturday Secret and Other Stories by Linda Huber

saturday-secret

The blurb:

 Fifteen tales of life, love, and family – perfect for a coffee-break! Previously published in UK national magazines, the stories are about relationships within the family and without – some are humorous, some bittersweet; all are upbeat and emotional. 

The Party Partners:: Belinda and Phillip have fun at weddings, engagement parties and all sorts of celebrations. But anything more personal was out of the question – or was it?
Family Matters Gary shares Sharon’s dream of having children – but as far as he’s concerned, it’s something for the future.
Corinna’s Big Day: It was the most important day in baby Corinna’s life, but for Madge, it was one of the saddest…
Lucky for Some: You might say drawing number 13 in the cycle rally was bad luck. You might say falling off was bad luck, too. But Hilary knew better!
Patiently Waiting: Mike woke up after his operation and saw the girl of his dreams. The problem was the engagement ring she wore on a chain round her neck…
The Saturday Secret: What was she up to? The whole family wanted to know! But Gran wasn’t telling…
And many more…

I so enjoyed this. I read it over two days, which for me is exceptional. The author tells a great story and her characters are immediately recognisable and well drawn. I’ll be the first to say I’d normally not be drawn to romance and happy endings but these are so well told with some neat twists that it’s very easy to be hooked and move through to the conclusions, even if they are going to be upbeat! If I had to pick a favourite it was Speedy the dog, a character that deserves a wider audience.

Death by Pumpkin by Noelle Granger

death-by-pumpkin

The blurb:

At the annual Pumpkin Festival in the coastal town of Pequod, Maine, Rhe Brewster, an ER nurse and Police Department consultant, responds to screams at the site of the Pumpkin Drop. Racing to the scene, where a one-ton pumpkin was dropped from a crane to crush an old car, Rhe and her brother-in-law, Sam, Pequod’s Chief of Police, discover the car contains the smashed remains of a man’s body. After the police confirm the death as a homicide, Rhe embarks on a statewide search to identify the victim and find the killer. During the course of the emotional investigation, she survives an attempt on her life at 10,000 feet, endures the trauma of witnessing the murder of an old flame, and escapes an arson attack on her family’s home. There is clearly a sociopath on the loose who is gunning for Rhe and leaving bodies behind. With Sam unable to offer his usual support due to an election recall and a needy new girlfriend, Rhe realizes that the only way to stop the insanity is to risk it all and play the killer’s game.

Maine’s most tenacious sleuth is back, this time to confront a menace that threatens to destroy her life and those closest to her. The latest installment of the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Death by Pumpkin, is a murder mystery and thriller that tests the limits of Rhe’s strength and resolve like never before.

I read the first Rhe Brewster mystery a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. I wondered how the author would get on in the series – would the characters be compelling? Would the story be as well constructed? I am glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. This is far more gritty more subtle and with more depth. The story is multilayered and the continuing battles with her nemesis well-drawn – comparisons with Patricia Cornwall aren’t far off the mark. Death stalks our heroine and you wonder, Game of Thrones like, which of the main characters might go next. I read this book quickly, it is a page turner. Where I do take slight issue is at the ending. I don’t want to plot spoil but the tracking device arrangements didn’t work for me; that said the final chase was well constructed and I will definitely read the next in the series. I just worry who will die…

Glimpses by Hugh Roberts

glimpses

The Blurb:

‘Glimpses’ allows the reader a peek into the lives of everyday people who are about to have life lead them on an unpredicted path. From a mysterious deadly iPad app, to a hole in the fence that is not all it seems, to a strange lipstick that appears to have a life of its own, you will encounter terror, laughter, sadness, shock and many other emotions on journeys which promise a thrilling and gripping climax.

If you are a lover of shows such as ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales Of The Unexpected’, then you’re in for a real treat with this first collection of short stories from Hugh.

Dare you take a glimpse into the lives of these unsuspecting characters?

A compelling set of tales that take you from warmed cockles to frozen hopes via laugh out loud funny through the frankly bizarre and back again. The truth app is a stunning story but it would be invidious to single out just one in what is a fine first collection

Hinting at Shadows by Sarah Brentyn

hinting-at-shadows

The Blurb:

No One Escapes Life Unscathed Delve into the deeper reaches of the human condition and the darkness that lives there. A girl haunted by her sister’s drowning. A boy desperate for his father’s affection. A woman forced to make a devastating decision. A man trapped by his obsessions. Experience tales of love, loss, murder, and madness through this collection of flash and micro fiction. Take a peek behind the smile of a stranger. Get a glimpse inside the heart of a friend. Scratch the surface and discover what is hidden beneath. These stories will open your mind, tug at your thoughts, and allow you to explore the possibility that, even in the brightest moments, something is Hinting at Shadows. Author’s Note: Each selection is approximately 100 words, with a bonus section of Microbursts in which each story is told in 50 words or less.

It is hard to believe so much can be packed into so little; this is a new genre: Tardis literature – at its finest. Brentyn has limited herself to almost starvation levels of words and yet crafted such functioning characters and scenes that the stories stay with you, rolling around in your head for a time after. When I picked this book up I thought ‘one afternoon and I’m done’ but how wrong was I. Of course that is possible but each story makes you stop and think – some even make you stop halfway through and ponder what is behind what we are told. Often the ‘hinting’ is almost a cruel tease; on other occasions it’s like a worst nightmare from which you wake desperate to remember the rest but knowing it is out of reach without more work. This is a book where the author expects you to do a lot of the work, not for, but with her and the pleasure in that shared revelation is her special skill. She is not afraid to show enough and rely on we the reader to do the rest. That takes supreme confidence and skill.

Posted in Book review, miscellany | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

I Won’t Deny It – I Loved It #filmreview #denial

img_0046

Another day another film. Denial this time. A BOTS (Based on true story) of the libel trial between Holocaust denier David Irving, a British ‘historian’ and Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt an American academic who called him out.

It’s a court room drama, a tried and tested formula where the outcome is well known so it’s the characters’ journeys that are the thing that holds the story together. That is a challenge for any movie, especially one where a number of the main players still live, and more so when there is precious little action beyond some harmless scuffling outside the Royal Courts of Justice and a visit to Auschwitz.

I was a lawyer (holds his hand up, admitting a grievous sin) so some of the action between client and lawyer retains a certain compelling interest. Even so, it isn’t a lawyer’s film and I would recommend this to anyone who likes a movie that makes you think. The best movies stay with me – not as in the blood splatte ones that give me nightmares or the egregiously bad ones that make me question  my sanity in going in the first place – but which have some theme, or conceit even, that rumbles around inside my head, asking questions, probing at my certainties with an unsettling stiletto.

The thing that sorts this out from what might be just another movie about a legal battle is it’s current resonance. We are told we live in a post truth era where the main news bodies can’t be trusted and social media and the made up news factories are where news is being distributed and consumed today. The POTUS tweets himself horse, even calling out the media for failing to report terrorist atrocities across Europe because it fails to meet their agenda of demonising (his words) his travel ban policy. So much for a free press.

There is a compelling piece of cinematography. Towards the end (spoiler – ish so skip to the next paragraph) where the judge queries whether  someone can be held to have distorted the truth if they hold a view, which they believe honestly, even if it is wrong. It encapsulates one of the criticisms of those attacking Irving: that the legal action in effect justifies a curtailment of the freedom of speech, the right to hold and voice opinions that are unwelcome and many find intolerable and, indeed, may be factually wrong.

The acting is good, Timothy Spall would have to work very hard not to be and Rachel Weisz perfectly fits the role of the confident American academic unwillingly but eventually gratefully brought to heel by expert lawyers. The most interesting part is that of lead solicitor Anthony Julius, famous for acting for Princess Diana in her divorce. He comes across as dry, hard bitten, lacking sympathy with any views not his own but brilliant, clever and tactically astute. How we root for him at the end is perhaps the cleverest piece of directing.

You might argue that this is more the subject of a documentary, maybe but it wouldn’t have such a wide audience and it is a message that needs to be heard, sometimes fiction does that better.

Go see it. I forgot my ice cream and, you know what? I didn’t miss it.

Posted in Film, miscellany, review | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

When Trouble Is Brewing In Fairyland #microcosms #flashfiction

Microcosms this week gave these three prompts Politician, Palace, Fairy Tale. Click here to find how you can join in. 

His High Mufti, the Archdread of Twee hurried across the jellied courtyard. As Minister of Works and Cake his days usually involved assessing the calorific content of building materials – gingerbread, marzipan and so on. But the report he’d just read changed that.
Ahead the Palace of Brioche, Twee’s ancient Parliament loomed large, brown and comfortingly solid, if a touch crusty. But appearances were deceptive. As the report made clear, the chocolate grouting had begun to leak away, the iced mullions were crumbling and the gingerbread walls beginning to bow alarmingly.
Colin, for that was his name lowered his head against the sugar-high greetings of the populous. Why did it have to be here, in the one democracy in Fairyland that an iconic structure like the Brioche should be threatened? Other places, run by benign kings and perky princes would just channel magic to a rebuild, and damn the consequences. But not here. Magic was needed for universal health care and keeping yellow-brick roads free of potholes. The Sweet Party would insist on lowering the sugar content; the Grand Old Pastry would try and form a coalition with the Tea Party on a platform of keeping out foreign bakers; and the ruling Sugar and Spice confection would split, as usual, along sweet-savoury lines.
The choices were stark: close the Brioche, call in all grandmas to a Grand Bake On but lose part of the export drive that had been carefully negotiated to keep the other kingdoms Cake-dependant or keep the Brioche open while a employing a Cake a Day strategy to replace the weak parts. But this, he knew, would cost much more in the long run.
They would all hate him. So much for that old cliche: all political careers have happy endings.

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Weather Whether #writephoto

This week’s prompt from Sue Vincent, below, generated a somewhat longer piece than usual. Hope you enjoy this week’s #writephoto

img_0053

Crichton Jolly pulled back the curtains. Approximately 127 million other people were opening shutters, raising blinds or throwing back doors at the same time. And wherever they were in the world what greeted them was the same: a sepia sky, no clouds, no sun, no wind.
Was Crichton the only one to blink, mouth agape? As senior meteorologist at the London weather centre, when he went to bed the forecast – no the damned certainty, he thought – was an overcast drizzle of a day; certainly not this, this nothing. And what was with sepia? When did the sky do sepia without egregious quantities of sulphates?
‘Jim? It’s Crichton.’
Crichton chewed, alternately, a bacon brioche and his fingers while he listened to the on-call manager explain the uniformity of the weather. ‘Thing is, Crichton, it’s not really weather at all. It’s empty. No wind, rain, snow. And..’
‘Yes?’ Crichton hated pauses like the last one. The eventual answer usually triggered his IBS.
‘There’s no sun either.’
‘Sunshine?’
‘No, I mean the sun’s gone. We can’t see it. No one can.’

Far away – if only in the sense that there was a distance between where Crichton stood squinting at the dull outside and where Vent, supreme god of all weather resided which no one except Vent could ever cross – Vent enjoyed his moment. Gods shouldn’t hate mortals but he hated Crichton in a way he had never hated anyone, including that utterly irritating god of the earth, Quake. Crichton had undermined Vent’s whole raison d’être. He had perfected forecasting to such a level that there was no uncertainty anymore. The forecasts were always right. Not like bloody Quake, he thought. No one yet knew when one of his volcanoes would blow or tectonic plates clash. Why hadn’t those pesky mortals spent their hard earned on that? After all while Quake massacred hundreds, thousands, he, Vent only blew away a few, froze a few more and helped the demographics with a cull of the elderly in a heatwave or two. Certainly nothing on the scale of that egocentric psycho, Quake.
For months now the forecasts had been spot on and whatever Vent tried – shifting round the Gulf Stream, redirecting El Niño – that smug sod was always a step ahead.
Vent stared at the poster on the wall. God Rules. Rule one. A god is always capricious. How can you be capricious if the bloody mortals can foresee what was coming? That’s the question that beat inside his head over the last weeks.
And then it came to him. Take away the surprise. Everyone relied on there being weather. So what if the question they asked was not ‘what weather’ but ‘whether weather’?
‘Vent? The boss wants a word.’
Vent scrapped some ambrosia off his tie and straightened his toga. He could do with losing a couple of pounds but, damn, he still looked good for a god. Not for him the craggy look and unkempt hair. Being out in all weathers had taught him young to moisturise, leaving aside the tangles in your hair during tornados if you didn’t keep it neat. He pushed open the door and entered into the Magnificence.
‘Hi Boss. All good?’
He’d imagined this conversation many times. The praise. The astonishment at the idea, so novel, so simple and…
‘What in all my universes were you thinking? No weather. NO WEATHER? We need uncertainty, fear, goddammit they can’t get used to us.’
‘But they know what’s coming. They have worked out…’
‘Listen sonny. If you can’t get them back to awe or at least a decent level of wonderment we’ll need to rethink your current position. The tooth fairy is getting on…’
Vent goggled.
‘And if you can’t then I’ll step in. Let’s see what they think about plagues of toads and raining hellfire, huh? Now sort it, ok?’

Crichton studied the data. Everywhere it was the same. It couldn’t be but it was. He made a few calls. Rivers seemed to be full despite no rain. Crops grew without the sun and even the wind turbines spun with no wind. It was madness but a madness that meant only one thing. Redundancy. After dedicating his life to precise forecasting…
‘Mr Crichton. A call on line one. He’s very insistent.’
‘Who is?’
‘A Mr Vent. Says he’s, erm, the god of the weather and you need to speak.’
‘Gloria I really don’t need crank..’
Inside Crichton’s head a voice sounded. ‘Mr Jolly? Look sorry I thought you’d prefer the phone but we can do telepathy if you wish. It is quicker only…’
‘What the hades? Who’s doing this?’
‘Vent. We’ve not met but I’ve watched you for years. You’re a clever bugger, aren’t you? And..’
‘Vent?’
‘Yes. Do you like it? It’s French but also means…’
‘How are you in my head.’ Crichton looked up at Gloria, whose face indicated imminent astonishment with terrified intervals and the occasional gust of incredulity. He rapped his head. ‘A voice. In here. I…’
Gloria nodded, turned and left. Crichton blinked. How rude.
‘Not rude. I asked her to go. She won’t remember this. It may make her feel a little peaky.’
‘Peaky?’
‘More insane actually. Now…’
‘How are you in my head?’
‘You don’t need to speak. I can read your thoughts.’
‘My thoughts? Like…’
‘Like you regret not bidding for Claudia Schiffer’s garter that time.’
‘I never… I mean, it’s not like…’
‘No your wife wouldn’t understand, would she?’
‘Ok, look, where are you? This is some trick so you have to be somewhere. Is it the camera on my computer? Is that….’ Crichton leapt back as his screen burst into a dizzying set of images, from pictures of him as a child to when he went to university including the one of him on Bournemouth pier comparing sizes with Reginald which he was sure he’d burnt.’
‘Reggie has the negative.’ Vent’s voice couldn’t hide the snigger.
‘Has? You mean still?’
‘Fraid so. I can get rid if you wanted.’
‘Really? I mean it was just a youthful prank and…’
‘No, she wouldn’t understand, would she?’
‘Who are you?’
‘Gloria told you.’
‘She did?’
‘Yes. I run the weather.’
‘Ha well you buggered that then, didn’t you? What weather? It’s all gone.’
‘I know. I did that.’
‘You did? But why?’
Crichton heard a sigh. It sort of echoed around his head. Trying to focus on where the voice came from made him feel pretty dizzy. ‘Maybe we can do the phone.’ He held the handset to his ear. Vent’s voice sounded far away.
‘You are too good, Mr Jolly. What I don’t need is you knowing the weather exactly. You need to reinstall incompetence.’
Crichton hadn’t wormed his way up through the civil service without an instinct for when a superior was in a panic. ‘What if I don’t?’
‘Frankly? We’re both out of a job. Crichton we need each other. But mostly I need you to get it wrong. And you need your employers to think they still need you.’
‘But if I go back to the old days they’ll think I’ve failed.’
‘Not necessarily. We could cheat.’
‘Cheat?’
‘Yes. Look, what if we agreed you’d get it right but let them know there was a bug in the system. I then throw in a storm, something nasty in the Cromaties you tell them you need to make some coding changes and off we go.’
‘It could work only…’
‘Only…?’
‘Can you, erm, sort out Bournemouth this August? Mrs Jolly is rather unforgiving if I can’t choose a sunny week for our holiday.’
‘You could buy her that garter?’
‘Let’s just stick to some old fashioned sunshine, shall we?’
‘Ok Mr Jolly, you have yourself a deal.’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Watching #flashfiction

Charli Mills prompt this week is 

February 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a watcher. It can be a sentinel like the Watchman formation that overlooks Zion Canyon, or a Big Brother conspiracy theory. How can you use a watcher to set a tone or present a twist?

Who is watching who?

‘Mum please.’

‘It’s just a painting. It can’t watch you.’ Mary smiled at her daughter’s scowl.

Penny turned away. ‘It just does, like it’s possessed or something.’

‘You watch too much TV. Well the wrong sort.’ She followed her daughter into the kitchen. Penny had picked up her father’s laptop bag. ‘What are you doing?’

Penny said nothing until the computer was on the table. ‘There’

‘What’s that?’ Mary studied the piece of tape on the edge.

‘Dad says it’s to stop anyone watching him through the internet.’

Mary picked it off. ‘You’re both as bad as each other.’

If you want to catch up with Mary and Penny click here

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction, miscellany | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Dubious About Dubai, concluding and flying home #Dubai

20170219_111430.jpg

The chance to use the metro – I like all sorts of trains, well at least once – and visit the Dubai museum seemed a perfect combo. We – the Lawyer, the Beautician and I – were meeting for lunch (lawyers doing lunch? Who knew?) so I had the morning to explore at leisure.

20170219_104323.jpg

First the metro. It’s not complex, two lines and a couple of interchanges and it’s very modern, swish and clean. A lot is above ground affording nice views out towards the sea. They even turn off the travellators outside of commuting hours to save power. Another first.

20170219_104311.jpg

The trains themselves have a gold carriage at the front for those paying extra, two women and children only carriages and the rest. Lest you think this is strict segregation it isn’t. The woman can and often do travel with the men – there were a lot of business people of both sexes moving around the financial district as I went through. I don’t see the need or approve of this idea (though I can think of some female friends having been hassled on the tube might well enjoy a separate car) but if you are doing something like this, this is an enlightened version of the traditional separation. And in my two short journeys three men gave up their seats to women – a better ratio than I’ve seen in London recently.

20170219_110616.jpg

The museum itself is in the old district. On the Creek it is an 18th century fort made of mud and sea rocks. The surrounding streets are narrow and properly souk-like in the narrowness and overwhelming smells.

20170219_113934.jpg

The Grand Mosque is here (not very grand and not a patch I’m told on the $6 billion one in Abu Dhabi) as is a Hindu Temple.

20170219_114044.jpg

Only here was I accosted by vendors trying to ply me with those staples of existence: ‘watches, bags, scarves’.

Outside and inside, the fort was charming. Not spectacular, not bought in grandiosity, just a simple telling of a small piece of Middle Eastern history stretching back several 1000 years BC, and changing in style if not size with the rise of Islam.

20170219_110559.jpg

And then the 50s came, the British were told to bugger off, oil was found (that may have been the other way round) and the Emir began to spend the wealth on making Dubai regionally significant.

20170219_111344.jpg

The museum has photos of the 40s and 50s and little changed but then, whoosh.

20170219_110941.jpg

Water storage

Back in the museum there are dioramas of how the souks would have looked in days gone by, how the economy ran, the games played by the children.

20170219_111832.jpg

It was neat, compact.

20170219_110849.jpg

My gran had something almost exactly like this. Used for drying fruit like dates

An on going excavation of a site 10 km outside the city was the centre of one display; another told of the pearl diving industry; another the process of building a dhow.

20170219_110113.jpg

An hour tops but delightful.

20170219_112929.jpg

So you’ve done lunch, had some culture and find yourself with a couple of hours to kill. The Beautician and I were having a friendly debate about whether Disney made better films than Pixar, back whenever and before you could say supercalifrag… we were queuing to see the new Batman/Lego movie. I know, how come? It happened, ok?

If like me part of your youth were those awful TV versions with KERPOW and ZAP superimposed over a fight, this is for you. It’s written for adults, even if kids might enjoy the action. Batman, the self obsessed narcissus and the Joker as his neurotic co-dependent are excellent constructs. There are times when there are so many visual gags involving the history of baddies – gremlins, daleks, Kong, Voldemort, Sauron – that you want to stop the film to check you’re not missing any.

Somehow I ate a lot, too. Cheesecake and chocolate mousse to name check the less healthy options. Still, I’m home today and home means a tighter control on all excesses, which will save me from myself.

By the end of this trip, there was still stuff for me to do; a gallery here, a museum there – some iconic buildings to view – the Burj al Arab for one – and the man made islands in the shape of the world – the bar is on Lebanon someone said which feels suitably ironic – apparently they are still pretty bare of buildings – and the palm tree resort built like a peninsula. So better to leave while I’m ahead. After all Pakistan play some of their cricket here so I’d love to come back for that….

Let’s end with a poem. I’m sitting in Dubai airport waiting my flight. 7.5 hours in another sardine can. I wrote this about a long haul flight some while ago. Since I have to endure the flight you can endure my poetry

Flight 

 

Somehow the sense of entrapment

Is increased by the narrowness:

The seats

For size zero models,

With asylum constraints.

Legroom

 For amputees,

Aisles

 For crabs,

Toilets

For forward entry

And reverse exit

And no manoeuvres.

Seat trays

Set to garrote.

The food is swaddled,

The entertainment grips

Your head

And somewhere

Constant, unremitting

Gas

Pours in.

It can’t be air

In this man made sheaf.

Hissing, fizzing, buzzing

Pressing in.

It’s all part of this holding down

Pressing in.

This pressure.

On your face

Your hair,

Inside your ears.

In your mind

In your sleep.

I bet they squeeze your dreams.

But no system of restraint is perfect.

Behind your eyes you watch as

They smile and continue the communal fiction

Of a safety record better

Than any transport system,

Whisking you with bland encouragement

And a narcotic safety demonstration

To your destination.

Behind your eyes

You feel the minus 60 outside

Your sense the forward rush at 500 miles an hour

You sway at the giddy altitude of

35,000 feet.

It may happen rarely

But when it does

You don’t count the survivors.

We all play along.

If we didn’t

We’d all need stronger stomachs,

And a tighter sphincter.

 

Posted in Film, poems, poetry, review, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Dubious about Dubai – day 3 #travel #Dubai

20170218_151824.jpg

Ok so three days in Dubai is no way to judge a place. But you do gather impressions.

This is a place that’s uninhibited in its excess and only limited by its overall size, the need to import everything, few natural resources, an Islamic code that is bent in many ways but still holds I think because of the proximity of a Saudia Big Brother and unstable entities like the Yemen nearby. As someone put it, in England if someone spent £1 billion on a building, it would be ‘how much’ coupled with muttering of value for money; here there would be a note of pride in their voices. That’s the philosophy. Arrogance or an abhorrence of false modesty? That’s for everyone to make up their own made but I’ve yet to visit a country that doesn’t big itself up in some way so…

20170218_145327.jpg

They show off. They like showing off. They can show off. But that doesn’t make them bad or even wrong. Let’s face it every nation that can, does. And these guys don’t do it by trying to take over the world. They’re a bit like the weedy kid at the back of the class who waves his hand – look at me, look at me – and then gets the coolest jeans because he can and suddenly he’s befriended.

20170218_152138.jpg

Despite my reservations – and I don’t really get excess in any form except when watching days and days of cricket – I had a sneaking regard for here. You may well not agree with the conspicuous consumption, the flagrant way power is burnt off, the fossil fuels expended; you may have severe reservations about the nature of the treatment of women and minorities all of which I understand and echo. But these are a people making a place for themselves. In Britain we spent decades building fuck you stately homes and civic marvels to show off and did our best to turn the world red because we thought we were doing everyone a favour (really? It was that noble? Nothing to do with controlling the resources and markets we needed to be Creosus wealthy?) It took us far too long to see it for what it was. Should we really be surprised at how some others do the same when they get the chance?

So ok, it’s fair to point out the failings but I will give a bit of credit for the attempts to drag themselves forward.

‘So what are we doing today?’

‘After you ate all that cheesecake, dad? The gym.’

20170218_125019.jpg

He meant it too, the tyrant. But after, we had a trip to the red desert, to view the rolling dunes and dress for the gusting wind that blew up eddies of sharp edged sand to exfoliate anyone in seconds.

wp-1487429849878.jpg

The only thing about the Lawyer, though, is he doesn’t like easy. Oh no. If we were going to see the desert, it was like this.

wp-1487429885436.jpg

Quad biking, dressed like a failed extra from some male perfume advert. ‘Don’t break the machine,’ said the smiley mechanic, ‘or you pay.’

20170218_160107.jpg

I thought that harsh. I mean don’t they know me? Aren’t they aware they will give me a dud, even if it is in all innocence? Wasn’t I the father who accompanying the Vet on a horse ride in St Lucia was given a horse called Macho even though I’d insisted I was a total novice? The beast lived up to his name. What’s that line from the Elbow song ‘only good for glue?’

https://g.co/kgs/qmMIi6

wp-1487429632830.jpg

Quad biking for the uninitiated is an exercise in cojones. Balls. Especially in sand. Going straight, even up and down is not tricky but try cornering, in particular on a slope and the slower you go, the more careful and considered you are, the more you end up heading in entirely the wrong direction – usuallly downhill and sideways. My buttocks cramped, my tennis elbow returned like a del Porto forehand and I’ve seen less white knuckles on an albino polar bear. But I did learn and it did work.

wp-1487429727340.jpg

I told everyone I had a great time. That’s me at the back, simply buzzing amongst the Lawyer, the Beautician and their friends. I did.

wp-1487429806076.jpg

The scenery was just what I hoped it would be – sitting and staring towards the mountains, I think in Oman, you could see why it was easy to get lost, disorientated.

wp-1487429590483.jpg

I just wish I was a natural at these sorts of things like the younger generations seem to be.

20170218_195901.jpg

We ate well; we were hungry. The setting, by the sea, was in the main, I think, a residential area. It was bloody parky and the restaurant staff gave us blankets and that was okay. After all it’s good to be surprised.

My final day was always going to involve the museum of Dubai. The Lawyer will back to the legal grind, the Beautician sorting out some last minute things before she flies back with me tomorrow and anyway they have been there. What, one wonders, does Dubai make of its history? Have they sanitised it or embraced it…? I’ll let you know.

I will finish with an anecdote-as-metaphor. In my first post from here I mentioned we played some golf. I am not a golfer. I’ve watched masses, I can explain grips and stances and playing a sand wedge. I even know what a nibblick is. I’ve paid homage to Tom Morris. But of the game itself I have avoided it. Too addictive for one such as me. I’ve hacked around courses maybe 20 times in my (cough) few years on the planet.

20170217_100020.jpg

This was a 9 hole par three course for rank amateurs. It was beautifully maintained (best not to ask where they find the water) and we agreed if we took more than 6 shots at each hole we’d call it six. As we approached the 5th my card read: 6,6,6,6. Devilish, eh?

20170217_095853.jpg

The 5th is the one hole where your first shot has to clear the water. Since 3 of 4 tee shots had left my choice of club like low flying howitzers – frankly I was pleased to connect at all – I wasn’t confident. The Lawyer, already 2 or more shots to the good indulged in some cheery banter as he sent his tee shot high curving to the left of the green.

There was an element of ‘beat that old man’ in his strut back to the bag of clubs. I addressed the ball, whispering a small and, in all honesty, a bit too late prayer to just clear the water, and let rip.

As per usual the ball shot away like a .303 bullet but it was immediately apparent it was dipping towards the still calm of the small lake.

Ah well I thought I suppose…

Fate, faith, some capricious god, the echo of Barnes Wallace, I know not but the ball clipped the water and skipped. One bounce and it rattled into the far bank and spooned high in the air.

Now devoid of velocity the parabola described was one of astonishment for ball, the Lawyer and me. It landed with a soft ‘pfft’ and rolled in a stately but determined way into the hole. A hole in one. Watched with eminent restraint by the Lawyer, before he hugged me, picked me high in the air and echoed his grandfather on the many occassions when I have avoid scrapes ‘you lucky so and so’.

20170219_081621.jpg

And the metaphor. Have a go. Things often work out in odd ways. Try and you might be surprised to find the occasional gems amongst the dross. Like here, maybe.

Posted in miscellany, travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 29 Comments