Sunday, June 28, 2015

midsummer merthyr

My excuse for largely ignoring Father's Day up to now has been: well, its falling on the third Sunday in June means it's never more than a week or so from my own father's birthday, so a card and some minor celebration for that pretty much takes care of it.

Obviously now I am a father twice over I'm all over Father's Day like a rash. To the accompanying charge of hypocrisy I say: guilty as charged. Now bring on the cards, and have my adoring children scrubbed and set before me at a respectful distance.

Since my lovely wife had bought the girls a couple of matching T-shirts this year we decided to go and take some impromptu photos in the garden, which I think came out rather well. We also did a quick jaunt over to the RSPB reserve at Nash (one of our regular haunts) for some fresh air and a short walk punctuated by a couple of impressive threenager-style tantrums from Nia.

Only a few days later it was our fourth wedding anniversary - apparently the occasion for gifts themed around linen, silk, fruit, flowers, or electrical appliances, depending on whose bullshit list of stuff you adhere to. I suppose if you bought your spouse a juicer wrapped in a floral-patterned linen bag that would tick most of the boxes. Anyway, rather than get sidetracked by any of that nonsense, and since the weather forecast was good, we decided to have a day at the beach. As we hadn't been there before and it looked interesting, we went over to Merthyr Mawr between Ogmore and Porthcawl. What you'll discover if you visit is that even if you park up in the car park below Candleston Castle, the nearest point of access, you've still got a walk of a mile or so across some steep sand dunes to get to the beach - no joke if you've got a three-year-old, a twelve-week-old and a load of gear with you. Additionally, since the Ordnance Survey apparently consider the well-established dunes to be a transient coastal feature, they don't bother putting any contour info on the maps, so you really just have to pick your way along whatever looks like the best path as you go along.

The upside of all that effort, though, is that when you get to the beach the likelihood is that it'll be largely deserted - we had the mile-and-a-half stretch to ourselves apart from a couple of horse-riders and a couple of joggers. We managed to find a flatter way back later by walking south-east down the beach, finding a path upstream along the banks of the River Ogmore, and then cutting inland back to the car park.

It was a hot and breezy day, so as a responsible parent I urge you to remember to get plenty of sunblock on your kids. I do also urge you, however, not to do what we did and be so preoccupied with doing this that you forget to put any on yourself. Both Hazel and I were sporting some pretty spectacular sunburn by the time we got home.

Photos can be found here.

Friday, June 26, 2015

what, your hairy tube?

Here's a Headline Of The Day for you, on the face of it an utterly inconsequential showbiz story about two people who may once have been C-list celebs a decade or so ago, but the Daily Mail have managed to slip a bit of innuendo in just to spice things up a bit:

To be fair, I've trimmed a few extraneous words off the end of the headline just to focus the reader's mind a bit, but those are the words as they appear in the headline. I expect he then went on to kiss her in the Shepherd's Bush area, and then took her up the Arsenal, at which point they probably both got off.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

book now to avoid disappointment

You'll have been wondering, after the last post documenting the senseless slaughter of another author, how potent the juju I evidently wield is. Well, that answer seems to be: it varies. While my first victim, Michael Dibdin, lived less than two months after first featuring in the list, others have survived for over seven-and-a-half years, although there does seem to be a cluster of deaths between there and eight years; Gabriel García Márquez at seven years and 284 days is the current longevity record-holder. Doris Lessing is the oldest victim at 94, but there is a cluster of six authors between 85 and 90. Michael Dibdin and Iain Banks are the only two who could really be said to have been taken "before their time".

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 2y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 7y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 7y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 7y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d

So the message seems to be: if you featured in a book review in this blog between seven and eight years ago, and you are now over 80, you are probably fucked. Surveying the book reviews between the middle of 2007 and the middle of 2008 suggests the most likely candidates are Joyce Carol Oates (age 77), David Lodge (age 80) and Milan Kundera (age 86). Keep an eye on the obituaries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

proper bo

I caught most of episode 3 (of 3 - episodes 1 and 2 are here and here) of How To Be Bohemian on BBC Four last night, presented by the lovely Victoria Coren Mitchell, with just the occasional knowingly foxy look to camera as if to say: yeah, I've done a bit of the old boheeming in my time, let me tell you. I concede that I could have imagined that last bit. Anyway, as if to mirror my reaction to people who self-identify as "bohemian", the programme was a mixture of fascinating, amusing and irritating. A couple of things that caught my eye and/or ear:
  • Seasoned stalkers of Victoria Coren Mitchell will have clocked that there would have been a good possibility of her being pregnant at the time the programme was made - it was hard to tell based on the segment I saw as she was spending a lot of time in (presumably chilly) artists' garrets in a selection of large coats. The tiniest amount of research reveals that yes, she was.
  • The programme provided the second recent-ish instance I've spotted of Led Zeppelin's Good Times Bad Times being used as incidental/soundtrack music, this time as backdrop to a bit about the 1950s turning into the 1960s and rock and roll providing a whole new series of more raucous outlets for people's creativity. Presumably it was chosen for its bracingly abrupt opening, representing in some way the shift in the prevailing cultural Zeitgeist, rather than its being specifically representative of the time, since the timing would have been a bit off if so - Led Zeppelin's first album was released in 1969.
  • A moment of annoyance was provided when the lovely Vicky was interviewing everyone's favourite groovy vicar and ex-Communard Richard Coles - Coles seemed to be suggesting that perhaps he could call himself bohemian these days just by virtue of being a Christian, since it's practically ILLEGAL these days what with radical atheism pretty much taking over the world, and seemed to get at least nodding agreement to this utterly absurd claim. Come back when we've got atheist bishops getting seats in the House of Lords, Richard, and then you can have a go at telling me you're doing some radical swimming against the tide. Until then, no bohemian points for you, Jesus boy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

the last book I read

The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban.

Herman Orff is a writer. Of novels, in theory, but having published two to very little in the way of critical acclaim or sales he's been making a living lately writing material for comics. He's planning a third crack at making it as a novelist, but seems to be suffering from a nasty case of writer's block.

Providentially, at this point Orff receives a leaflet advertising a sort of electronic sound therapy which can supposedly lube up the artistic faculties and get the creative juices flowing again. It turns out that this operation is run by a bloke called Istvan Fallok, who it further turns out is an ex-lover of Orff's ex-lover Luise. Orff undergoes the treatment, which prompts an extended waking dream involving Persephone and the girl from Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Well, so far so freaky, but basically not out of the normal run of stuff, you might say. OK, well how about this: on his way home Orff hears a plaintive voice coming from the muddy banks of the Thames, and finds the severed and decomposed head of Orpheus, which he picks up and has a lengthy conversation with, as you would.

Strange things continue to happen as Orff tries to decide how best to cure his writer's block: he starts up a tentative relationship with Istvan Fallok's assistant (and ex-lover) Melanie Falsepercy (false percy -> percy phoney -> Persephone, you see?), he travels to The Hague to try to see the Vermeer painting (but finds it's been loaned to a museum in America) and finds everyday objects (a cabbage, a children's football, half a grapefruit) transforming into the head of Orpheus and talking to him. Hardly surprisingly after all this he suffers an attack of angina and ends up in hospital. Eventually, via his computer, Orff has a conversation with the legendary Kraken, gives up his ideas of trying to re-tell Orpheus' story and decides to pursue something stranger instead.

This is the fifth Hoban to appear in this list and certain common themes do start to emerge, just as they do for regular readers of, say, John Irving. In Hoban's case this seems to include Orpheus (who also featured in Kleinzeit), hospitals (Kleinzeit again), Odilon Redon (briefly mentioned here, also features more centrally in Come Dance With Me), and the idea that reality is like a moving picture, a series of still images that, if it could be slowed down enough, would reveal an underlying reality in the gaps between frames - "the moment under the moment" as it's referred to here, made more concrete as the basis for the "flicker drive" in Fremder.

What The Medusa Frequency is "about" is harder to pin down - it seems to be mostly about the creative impulse, its mysterious origins and the difficulty of recapturing it once it's slipped away. It's also about lost love, the difficulty of hanging on to a reliable memory of something that seemed overwhelmingly important at the time, and the jarring effect of meeting someone else who has a whole separate set of similar memories involving the same person. There's also some serious metafictional shit going on, as it appears that the whole text of the novel is actually the text of the third novel that Herman Orff has been trying to write.

Anyway, I'd urge anyone to get into reading some Hoban - they're smart (but wear their erudition lightly), funny and short (The Medusa Frequency is a skinny 143 pages).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

it's in the trees; it's coming

It is now increasingly obvious that having one of your books featured in what I obviously should have been calling The Electric Halibrary for the last eight-and-a-half years is a curse akin to being slipped the runes, watching a cursed video, or crossing some stereotypical gypsy type and being given the evil eye, and after a mystically-determined period of time has elapsed being duly dragged off to hell.

So you can chalk up another for that list today, as James Salter, whose A Sport And A Pastime featured here just over a year ago, has died. To be fair, he was 90, so if you didn't know better you could just say, well, that's a coincidence

Anyway, the full list now reads:
  • Michael Didbin
  • Beryl Bainbridge
  • Russell Hoban
  • Richard Matheson
  • Elmore Leonard
  • Iain Banks
  • Doris Lessing
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • Ruth Rendell
  • James Salter
I haven't read any of his other books, but there are those who speak highly of The Hunters and Light Years, and he published All That Is, his first novel in over 30 years, in 2013, just before getting a fatal dose of bad karma. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

headline of the day

My recollection of my drinking exploits on my own wedding day are mainly of being bought a succession of pints - mainly of the excellent Kingstone Gold which I'd specifically organised a few barrels of after a rigorous vetting and tasting process - by various people, having a couple of sips, and then putting them down somewhere in order to attend to some official duty or other or have some photographs taken, and then never picking them up again. All of which meant that I was commendably sober for all of the important stuff up to and including the first dance, although once my official duties were discharged I did get my head down and do some serious quaffing.

An approach which the young (and I do mean young - bride and groom appear to be about twelve) man here might have been well-advised to take, given the spectacle he made of himself. Still, judging by the headline, his new family didn't hold a grudge and did their best to make him feel welcomed into the family afterwards.

I am reminded of the popular (but probably apocryphal) story involving former footballer Rodney Marsh and legendary England manager Alf Ramsey, supposedly during what turned out to be the last of Marsh's nine appearances for England:
He played a mere nine times for England. There was a reason for that, too. When Alf Ramsey told him, "If you don't work harder I'll pull you off at half time," Marsh replied: "Crikey, Alf, at Manchester City all we get is an orange and a cup of tea." He was never picked again.

Friday, June 12, 2015

what are you waffling on about

I'll tell you what really grinds my gears: yeah, that's right, potato waffles. I know they may be waffly versatile and all, and moreover capable of being cooked in a toaster if you can't be arsed to use the oven, but there's still a problem.

Look (on the left) at how the individual waffles are arranged in the box - 3 stacks of 4 waffles each, arranged so that the long edges are facing you as you open the end of the box. That's only really a rational arrangement if everyone in the world eats waffles in groups of four, and no-one ever eats one, two or three waffles at a time. Since my elder daughter is the prime waffle consumer in the household - I never eat them, though I suspect my wife of being an occasional clandestine wafflist - and is a girl of fairly modest eating habits, one at a time tends to be how they get consumed. So you're left with one, two or three waffles flapping about loosely in the end of the box, threatening to fall out at any moment and restricting your ability to secure them by folding the end of the box over.

Aha, you're saying, but while all that's true, any revision to the stacking protocol would mean redesigning the box. Well, not so, as it happens. Observe (above right) how each waffle's width is exactly (or near enough, anyway) four times its thickness. So you could just as easily stack the waffles one by one in the box with their faces touching each other, like the slices in a sliced loaf. Then you could take as many as you liked out and immediately be able to fold the end of the box over to the required point to keep the rest from falling out. I am genuinely curious as to why they don't do it this way. And it's not just the cheapo unbranded ones we get from Aldi that do this; the posh Bird's Eye ones are the same, or at least they were back in the heady days when I had the disposable income to be able to buy them.

I was going to preface this brief rant with some sort of humorous crack about OCD, but I'm wary of doing that as it's become a bit of a humorous short-cut, and of course actual OCD (which 99.9% of people who refer unironically to "my OCD" don't have) is a very real and debilitating thing. So instead I'll just say that people who have a liking for things fitting perfectly into other things - and who doesn't? - (no, stop it, it's not what you're thinking), will find this collection particularly pleasing. No waffles, though.

Monday, June 08, 2015

un train peut en cacher un autre

A couple of loosely-coupled trains of thought: I caught a bit of the discussion on Radio 4's Start The Week this morning, another of the various Radio 4 programmes which start at 9am and which I therefore sometimes catch in the car if I'm not in the office by then (which I rarely am). Tom Sutcliffe was presenting this morning, which is good as I think he's a far more interesting and less irritating host than Andrew Marr, as well as being less prone to saying "cunt" unexpectedly.

Anyway, one of the early topics of discussion was Sir Thomas Browne, legendary polymath, author, science enthusiast and alleged coiner of lots of now-common words such as "ferocious", "electricity" and "suicide".

I remembered reading a quite lengthy bit about Browne in a novel I'd read a few years ago; I was distracted from trying to remember which one it was by one of the guests making a brief foray into the traditional pastime of Dawkins-bashing, the point allegedly being that Browne was all about the science and that, but was a bit nicer about it in the areas where it conflicted with religion. Which is a bit of an unfair comparison for both of them, since Browne lived in a time where explicit pointing out of the falsehood of religious claims could get you killed.

Anyway, I managed to remember where I'd read the Browne profile literally a couple of seconds before it was mentioned on the radio: The Rings Of Saturn by WG Sebald. As I recall it's near the beginning, but since Sebald's books contain almost no narrative as such it's hard to remember which order things happen in, inasmuch as anything happens at all.

All of which led me to recall that I'd owned two copies of The Rings Of Saturn, the second one (which I still have) being purchased shortly after I'd left the first on a bus somewhere in Bristol when I was about two-thirds of the way through reading it. Now I'm normally very careful (some might say slightly obsessive) about books, but I can recall a couple of similar incidents. Here's the full list as I recall it:
  • I left a copy of Agatha Christie's 4:50 From Paddington somewhere while I was about halfway through it at the age of about 15. It might even have been on a train, although, I should add, just to be clear, not in the course of murdering anyone. I never have read the rest of it, though judging by the plot synopsis I may as well have just made some random shit up anyway. 
  • I left a copy of Paul Theroux's The Family Arsenal on a Bristol bus - annoyingly, I'd picked up the original paperback for about a pound in a second-hand shop, but then had to purchase a spanking new one for about a fiver to replace it so I could finish reading it.
  • The aforementioned The Rings Of Saturn, left on a very similar bus at a later date. I have a feeling that this was just before a birthday or Christmas and that I managed to wangle getting a replacement as a present. I was OK with waiting as it's not as if Sebald wrote novels of breathless cliffhanging suspense where you simply have to know what happens next, nor indeed "novels" in the usually accepted sense at all.
Other things I have left on trains over the years include a couple of sweaters, a towel and a blue enamel casserole dish. Note that there was not a casserole inside it at the time.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

the last book I read

Not That Sort Of Girl by Mary Wesley.

Rose Peel has made a good, sensible marriage to Ned, a man with money, land, prospects, all that sort of stuff. Only one small cloud on the horizon, really: she doesn't love him. Instead, she is in love with Mylo Cooper, whom she met when he was doing some French tutoring for the sons of some neighbours. This is the 1930s, so Mylo's below-stairs (and possibly slightly foreign) social status and modest financial prospects are a problem big enough to scotch any possibility of them marrying, so good old reliable Ned it is.

Ned is basically a decent man, but he and Rose don't exactly strike up sparks in the bedroom department, if you know what I mean. Partly this may be because Ned is unwilling to give up his habit of occasionally knobbing Emily Thornby, the female half of the oddball pair of twins who live next door to Slepe, Ned's family pile.

So Mylo and Rose are reduced to the occasional clandestine meeting here and there in stolen moments and frantic coupling in various seedy hotels - it being necessary to conceal the affair not just from Ned, but also from Emily and Nicholas Thornby, who would use the knowledge for mischief. As if life weren't complicated enough, not only do both Rose and Emily find that they are pregnant (Rose definitely by Ned, and possibly Emily too), but World War II breaks out. Mylo's fluent French makes him an ideal go-between for helping to spirit French Resistance types back from occupied France, but it's dangerous work, and Rose never knows whether she'll ever see him again.

Eventually the war ends and it transpires that Mylo has survived. Things return to normal, though Rose and Mylo's opportunities to meet are even more infrequent than before, partly because Mylo has married Victoria, a woman from the government department that made use of his services during the war. But they continue to meet on into middle age, until eventually the inevitable happens and Ned dies. Rose is left to reflect on her life, and to wonder what happens now.

The review of The Gate Of Angels listed some 20th-century female authors who'd been late starters, including its own author Penelope Fitzgerald, who'd had her first novel published at the age of 61. Well, we have a new leader in that category, since Mary Wesley was 71 when her first novel Jumping The Queue was published in 1983. It's not entirely clear from her obituary what she spent the previous 71 years doing, apart from doing some intelligence work during the war and embarking on one unhappy marriage and one very happy one. It sounds like a lot of Not That Sort Of Girl (and indeed most of her output, since a lot of the themes seem to be repeated) is based on her life experiences.

It wouldn't be completely ridiculous to group Mary Wesley in with the list in that other book review comprising Penelope Fitzgerald, Penelope Lively, Muriel Spark, Beryl Bainbridge and Alice Thomas Ellis - formidable ladies of a certain age (at the time of writing, most of them are dead now) writing books that appear fairly cosy and orthodox on the surface but which are just a little bit more waspish and subversive than they appear to be. On one level Not That Sort Of Girl is a fairly bog-standard story of long-thwarted love finally freed to express itself, but under the surface there is some sharp satire of the ridiculousness of 1930s ideas of class and morality, and the dreadful bind an intelligent independently-minded woman with a healthy liking for sex could find herself in. The sort-of-joke with the book's title is that Rose actually is that sort of girl, she's just not that sort of girl, you know, the other sort.

There's also something a bit darker going on with the Thornby siblings - it's made as clear as it can be without being explicit that we're meant to infer that Nicholas is the father of Emily's daughter Laura (and it's made clear in the later book Second Fiddle that this inference would be correct). So Not That Sort Of Girl chalks up another entry for the incest list which also features The War Zone, Clea, Invisible, Notice and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

It's not especially groundbreaking, and not that much actually happens, but I enjoyed it very much. It's very sprightly and zesty for a book written by a 75-year-old, and there's some relish about Wesley (evidently a game old girl) writing with gusto about sex and occasionally swearing like a docker.

There is also a lengthy section featuring World War II; the complete list of books in this list featuring that as a theme is too long to reproduce - and in any case I can't be arsed to do the research - but recent-ish entries include TurbulenceFree Fall and The History of Love.

There's a suspicion that Wesley is one of those authors where you don't need to read the whole oeuvre, since all the books cover a narrow-ish range of themes. The book for which she's most famous is probably The Camomile Lawn - which, just to prove the point, features country-house types, World War II and some shagging - which was adapted into a TV series in 1992 featuring the lovely Jennifer Ehle, the lovely Tara Fitzgerald and some splendid nudity. Tara Fitzgerald also appeared in the 1995 adaptation of another Wesley novel, The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

king hell

If you are or have ever been an avid reader of Stephen King's books, and why wouldn't you be, then this is a fascinating little project: the Guardian's James Smythe is re-reading all of King's novels in chronological order of their publication, i.e. starting with 1974's Carrie.

My King-reading history (also alluded to in the Cell review) goes something like this: I read The Shining when I was about 13 or 14 and was absolutely blown away by it, to the extent that I went on to read just about everything he wrote between that book (his third published novel, first published in 1977) and 1991's Needful Things. As I recall it was at the time of the paperback publication of It in 1986 that I "caught up" and started buying the books as they came out. Having been less than blown away by the sequence of The Tommyknockers, The Dark Half and Needful Things I took a breather from buying the books which has pretty much lasted to this day, broken only by 1998's Bag Of Bones (which was pretty good) and 2006's Cell (which was OK).

As I said here, my favourite Kings are the sequence which runs from The Shining via The Stand (note that the standard edition of this now appears to be the 1300-page extended version rather than my 750-page original version) and The Dead Zone to 1980's Firestarter. Anyone with the vaguest interest in fiction in general should read these, and should ignore their usual categorisation as "supernatural horror" or such like. Firstly, of those four only The Shining really falls into that category, and secondly, just like the science fiction/not science fiction thing, it's ridiculous. You might just as rationally decide not to read any books which featured dogs, rivers, the colour yellow or the month of September anywhere in the plot.

Needless to say there'll be agreements and disagreements. Here's a few:
  • Given that I greedily gobbled up everything that followed The Shining, it seems odd in hindsight that I never went back and read either of its two predecessors, Carrie and Salem's Lot. I have however seen the Brian De Palma film of Carrie and the David Soul TV movie of Salem's Lot, both of which were pretty good.
  • Smythe is a fan, so it's no surprise that the verdict on most of the books is that they're pretty good. One that he notes as an exception to this is Firestarter, which you'll recall I listed (and still do) as probably my favourite King of all. One of the main criticisms seems to be that you can summarise the plot in a single paragraph: well, I'm pretty sure you could do that for every King book, and indeed every literary work ever written. Here's The Shining in a single sentence: bloke gets job at hotel, goes mental. See? Easy. 
  • Conversely, he regards the rabid dog story Cujo very highly, whereas I recall not thinking that much of it. I can illustrate that for you by telling you that I'm pretty sure it's the only one of the "classic era" Kings that I own that I've never been back and re-read. Conversely I must have read Firestarter at least half-a-dozen times. 
  • He also lists The Dark Half, which I'd rate as no better than average by King's standards, as his favourite of all. 
  • He's generally quite keen on the early books written as Richard Bachman, and so am I, although I didn't read any of them until they were anthologised as The Bachman Books in the mid-1980s. Interestingly, modern versions of this anthology omit the school-shooting story Rage as there was some suspicion that it inspired at least one copycat incident. My copy includes it, although as it happens I think it's the weakest of the four. I agree completely that The Long Walk and to a lesser extent The Running Man (almost nothing like the very silly Arnie film based on it) are obvious precursors of The Hunger Games and its sequels. 
  • I agree completely that in comparison with most of his other books 1983's Christine is a bit of a turkey.
  • I also agree that his very next published book, Pet Sematary, is probably the most purely horrific thing he ever wrote, for general gruesomeness and NO DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR scariness. 
  • I furthermore agree that the vaguely science-fiction-y lost aeroplane story The Langoliers, the first part of the collection of short novel-length stories Four Past Midnight, is one of the very best things he ever wrote.
  • The notes that monitor the recurring threads in King's books are fascinating: most obviously writing about writers and writing, which he returns to obsessively, but also the various metaphors for addiction that run through the books, again echoing King's own real-life struggles - he claims not to remember the writing of either Cujo or The Tommyknockers.
  • As with any other prolific author whose works you read a lot of, which ones you cherish the most is dependent on a whole host of external factors, most importantly the order you read them in. The first ones you read will tend to make the most impression on you, and over-familiarity with the author's stylistic tics may eventually put you off reading more. 
The key points about all of King's oeuvre are firstly that even the slightly ropier books (Cujo, Christine, Cell - there's a crackpot theory for you; King books starting with "C" are not so good) are absurdly, relentlessly gripping, and secondly that what makes him different from the Shaun Hutsons and the James Herberts is that he writes characters that you can care about, lots and lots of them in the case of the epic books like The Stand, where he juggles 20-odd major characters. Failure to understand that this is what makes him great, rather than the gruesome bits (though he's obviously pretty good at them too) is probably the reason some of the film adaptations are so bad, Pet Sematary being a particularly egregious example.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

no, mr. pond, I expect you to die

Since major combat operations in terms of DIY on our house are now complete (which isn't to say there aren't a couple of niggly things I ought to be attending to but haven't got round to yet), I'm available, in theory at least, for other activities elsewhere. As it happens, my completing our downstairs bathroom coincided with my parents moving to their new house in Abergavenny and deciding that they wanted to tart up the garden a bit. So my father and I have spent various spare days over the last year or so tackling various bits of garden renovation and restructuring, principally:
  • emptying and removing the old pond from the lower level that took up a lot of room and was an obvious magnet for some sort of Don't Look Now-style kiddy death tragedy;
  • levelling the area where the pond used to be and putting some turf over it to make a lawn;
  • digging up a couple of huge spiky triffids from the flower-beds on the lower level and providing a nice well-defined edge between lawn and flower-beds by installing some railway sleepers;
  • building some steps to provide access from the upper-level patio and main barbecue and wine-consumption area to the lower level;
  • rearranging the fence by the barbecue area to provide a bit of extra space to accommodate a giant chimenea;
  • replacing the steep stone steps between levels at the side of the house, and levelling off the easy-to-miss extra step by the corner of the conservatory.

Things that were learnt during this process include:
  • Draining a pond is a lot easier if you have a length of hose, a drain at a lower level than the pond and some knowledge of the siphon effect. Then you can just get the system set up and flowing and retire to a nearby seat with a couple of tinnies (partly medicinal, to wash away the partial mouthful of pond water you'll almost certainly have got while getting the siphon going) while the magic happens, rather than have to shuttle back and forth with buckets of murky water for the next two hours.
  • Those long hex-headed Timberlok screws for fixing railway sleepers together are brilliant.
  • If you want to make steps out of railway sleepers, don't want unsightly screws sticking out of the middle, but haven't got some convenient wooden side rails to fix them to, one thing you can do is: build a brick/rubble base for them to sit on with two lengths of plastic pipe embedded in it (making sure the pipes are free of cement internally), wait for the cement to dry, drill two Timberloks halfway into the underside of the sleeper, pour some runny cement into the pipes and then sit the sleeper on the base so that the Timberloks sit in the pipes. Once that's dried you'll be able to get an elephant down there without it shifting about. Obviously careful measurement to synchronise siting of pipes and Timberloks is essential.
Anyway, photos can be found here.