Monday, 18 December 2017
One morning I awoke to Strange Kingdoms.
Christmas treats. Five excellent books of the imagination I've read in the last few years that are easily the equal of any of the well known children's classics. Alice, Oz, Pooh, etc... I would even hesitate to call them children's/ young adult books as they can be read and thoroughly enjoyed by anyone of any age. This post is a homage to them.
Philip Pullman- Northern Lights..... Already a well known modern classic. This can stand alone or as the first book in a trilogy. Terrific read and great memorable characters.
Wicked. Gregory Maguire..... Once you get past the first chapter and start to develop a sense and feel for the olden style language used, this book is a marvel. Funny, poignant, moving, intelligent and profound. The story of the green witch in the Wizard of Oz but also a mirror held up to society at large. Are people who are simply born different into a closed community automatically destined to be labelled evil in some way by others? Are they likely to find themselves subjects of gossip, suspicion, and conjecture throughout life just for being so and thereby judged and found guilty by speculation and gossip without a shred of evidence or even a voice of their own in return? This book gives a credible answer. Utterly brilliant writing and imagination used to fill out the many blank spaces in Oz.
Itch. Simon Mayo.... A real surprise find. A teenage boy obsessed with the Periodic Tables and collecting elements is plunged headlong into a world of danger, darkness, and intrigue through his hobby. A cracking fast paced thriller and very different from anything else I've read over the years.
Cold Magic. Kate Elliott.... Enter another world completely- like post medieval, dawn of industrial age central Europe but with marked differences. Reassuringly familiar yet also very exotic and strange in turn. I loved this book.
Flood and Fire. Emily Diamand.... A true children's story as good as any before or since. It's the year of our lord 2216. A young girl and her pet cat travel through a partly submerged London holding the last working computer from the teknological past on their boat. Chased by outlaws, pirates and warring factions they plot a course that may change the drowned city and the reverted half- savage people around them. A lovely creative book for any age. Winner of the Times children's fiction competition.
Tuesday, 12 December 2017
As I've been through to Paisley several times in the past few months I thought I'd do a gallery on Scotland's largest town and hopeful UK City of Culture 2021 bidder in the run up to Christmas. Originally there were eleven towns and cities in the draw which soon got whittled down to five- Swansea, Paisley, Stoke on Trent, Sunderland and Coventry. It's a big tempting prize to play for as previous winners Londonderry and Hull experienced major investment projects and up to one billion pounds generated in funding and revenue for ongoing social and economic regeneration. In the end, despite Paisley being the bookies favourite the title went to Coventry but that's not why I,m doing this post.
It does still have a legacy of amazing architecture though and is well worth a visit. Dozens of new colourful murals have sprung up around the town over the last year but I'll cover them in another post. This one is devoted to Paisley's Christmas lights.
As my last light show walk along the banks of the River Clyde a few posts ago was apparently a big hit with friends Anne and Belinda I now had others in tow. Three young children called Rachel, James and Sam and two other adults- Jean and Peter. I was now a semi official tour guide to Paisley's City of Culture highlights so the pressure was on to show them the best the town had to offer.
Like any large town I'm sure Paisley has some anti- social elements in it but if you wander round between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm when it's still busy with shoppers it has a safe and friendly feel. Even late on I've never experienced any problems in Paisley just wandering around.
This video seems appropriate given the age of some of the tour group walking round Paisley. And it's near Christmas :o)
Thursday, 7 December 2017
On our bothy trip to Tunskeen, Carrick and Galloway forest districts we had to pass through the pretty village of Straiton to get there. This was created as a model village in the mid 1700s , a pet project by a local earl and it shows in the neat street layout and uniform style of the white washed cottages. As many of Ayrshire's inland villages were built to serve long gone coal mines where money was needed for day to day essentials rather than improving the surrounding scenery this area and village has a very different vibe when contrasted with nearby Dalmellington, Bellsbank or Patna- former coal mining community's now surrounded by bleak scarred hillsides or blanket pine forestry. Strictly utilitarian housing and landscaping resides here, although, as a mere visitor, I've always admired the open plan bleak honest austerity of these other villages as well and have enjoyed walking around them over many years. Interesting industrial mining relics around Waterside and a coal heap park/ bing in Dalmellington. Very reminiscent of my own happy childhood during the 'good old days' in the pub heavy, hard punching, hard drinking, former old mining village of Nitshill in the 1960s or indeed any other similar communities worldwide during current bleak times or future bleak times to come. Not pessimism just cold reality.
Anyway, its a lovely golden bubble this area around Straiton, in an otherwise unremarkable rural or small scale post industrial landscape and largely left behind inland village economies. From numerous trips I believe that to be a fair and accurate assessment of this inland district of Ayrshire as an outsider to the area looking in, but if I'm totally wrong feel free to correct me. I always try to get it right in my musings and travels and present an unvarnished but hopefully balanced view. In the 50 years or so I've been around to observe them, former industrial areas, ex- coal mining villages and many coastal towns do not usually experience much of an upswing in fortunes once the industry or tourist numbers evaporate. Not in small places like this anyway. However, lovely hills surround and shelter Straiton village and on one sits a tall prominent monument to an Ayrshire MP and dead solider from long ago. This is the hill we intended to climb.
Finally, without being prompted, John was keen to climb this modest 1000 foot pimple... albeit because he had a temporary injury to his leg and the larger hills were out for now. At last a chance to get up there presented itself. Everything, eventually, comes to he or she who waits, apparently. If not it's a solo mission.
Here's a very good local link to the walks and cycles in this area, an interactive map with photos and a proper history of the district. Worth a look.
Instead of a video here's three cracking books I've read and really enjoyed that I'd imagine anyone would appreciate getting in their Xmas stocking. All have been best sellers, have won other awards, and get largely positive five star reviews.
A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett. A young Scottish miner in the mid 1700s rebels then embarks on a epic journey against brutal living conditions and a life of slavery down the pit that will eventually take him to London then America. Well researched fantastic page turner that left a deep impression on me of life at that time.
A Tap on The Window by Linwood Barclay. Situated near the Canadian/USA border and the Great Lakes this is an excellent modern crime story in a memorable setting. I've read loads of fictional crime novels over the years as its a very dominant and successful genre for writers but this one stands out from the surrounding pack. Great story- really well constructed- moves like a galloping racehorse without any slow moments at all.
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson. A successful music composer returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his childhood- buys a house there then slowly becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the former female owner and her mysterious death. Quite simply one of the best, most haunting books out there. Haunting not in ghost terms but only that the memory of this fine story might well stay with you for life... as might all three books on this list. A no 1 bestselling crime novel and crime thriller award winner.
All three are brilliant, no rude bits or swearing in them, and should appeal to most folk, irrespective of age- around 15 to 90.