Category Archives: Misc.

Thoughts on the death of Terry Pratchett

For those of you who visit this blog regularly it won’t come as a surprise that I feel a deep sense of loss at the passing of the great man that was Sir Terry Pratchett. I didn’t know him personally of course, but there are many out there feeling sorrow who likewise never were lucky enough to meet him, and were instead simply touched by his words, his stories, and his characters. I have been absent from this blog for a little while, and his passing has brought me back. I need to talk about Terry Pratchett.

Credit: The Telegraph

He was, and remains, my favourite author. I looked forward to every new Discworld book that was released, excited for the clever satire, the gentle puns, the sarcastic asides. Mr Pratchett created some of my favourite fictional characters, and it hurts that I will never read another one of his original tales.

Like many people, my favourite strain of Pratchett’s world were the stories that followed the Nightwatch of Ankh Morpork, especially when there were scenes that featured Commander Vines and Patrician Vetinari (extra points for when Carrot and his seeming inability to lie were involved). Terry Pratchett created worlds seemingly effortlessly, with political structures and ways of life portrayed in such a casual way. His casual dismissal of democracy, viewed in Ankh-Morpork as no way to run a civilised society, was in fact one of my favourite things about his fictional world.

Completely removed from Discworld, Good Omens, which Terry Pratchett wrote with Neil Gaiman, is in fact my favourite book (tied with the much darker Catch-22), again because of the excellent characters and easy wit. Crowley and Aziraphale are maybe two of my favourite literary creations of all time.

And of course no one can mention Terry Pratchett and not mention how he seemingly re-created Death (or should that be DEATH?) – he managed to make the spectre of doom awkward, likeable and even relatable, as when Death tries to work on his customer service skills or takes time off from his job of collecting the deceased.

His passing is greatly saddening for me. I will miss his work, his campaigning and what he brought to the genre of fantasy. Let the legacy of this great author live on.

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Good Omens: The Radio Version

For anyone who’s interested, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens has just been aired on BBC Radio Four, and is available to listen to worldwide. Yes, that’s right. Worldwide. That means little old me in France didn’t have to suffer the crushing disappointment of having my favourite book be turned into a radio series and not be able to listen to it because I was in France; no, instead geography did not stand in my way and I was able to listen to every episode. It was glorious.

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For anyone who has been following my blog since June, you may have realised I love Terry Pratchett, probably because I stated, more than once, that I love Terry Pratchett. I think he’s great, and, yes, Good Omens is my favourite novel (tied with the equally brilliant but quite different Catch-22). Therefore I was worried this radio series would be a disaster – surely it wouldn’t live up to the greatness of the book! Well, it didn’t, but it tried really hard and was very entertaining.

I was tied between think that Peter Serafinowicz and Mark Heap were perfect for Crowley and Aziraphale, and then at some points thinking they were not quite right. I know the book so well so maybe some of the line readings weren’t as I had pictured them in my head. However their chemistry as the frenemy demon and angel was insanely good.  Anathema and Newton were great, as were Shadwell and Madame Tracy. All their scenes I just loved.

Less convincing, for me at least were the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse and the Them (Adam, Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian). In the novel they are such big characters I was underwhelmed, I think. But that’s the thing about adaptations, especially ones that haven’t been adapted for such a long time since they were released, that I have read over and over and over again until I know it off by heart, and whose characters I had such vivid images of, at least some aspects were always going to disappoint. It was the same with the Harry Potter series when they were turned into films – they would just never live up to the books (especially when the first few missed out bits that seemed insignificant but would prove to mean a lot more later on, but I digress).

As it was with the characters, so it was with the scenes. Some scenes were just spot on, like the opening scene with Crowley and Aziraphale at the gates of Eden, and when they fed the ducks (and again, this is what made these two characters work despite some different line readings – Serafinowicz and Heap had such chemistry). Once more, it was the Horsepersons’ scenes that underwhelmed, maybe because they varied from the book and I wanted everything to be the same, even though I knew it couldn’t be. The biggest disappointment for me though was the scene where Agnes was burnt – nothing about it worked for me, and I can’t quite place my finger on why. Again, it may simply be line readings, though I think the pacing was off too.

Despite my  rather wishy-washy attitude to the whole series, I enjoyed each episode and looked forward to the next one being released the next day. Honestly, it was never going to be able to live up to the book that I hold so dear, but I liked it anyway. If anyone wants to hear it, it will be on BBC iPlayer (available worldwide!) for the next 3 weeks.

Blogging with no internet – a bit difficult

So I usually try to post twice a week, maybe three times. Friday is the day when I absolutely must post something, being the last day of the week and all, and last Friday I was getting ready to type. Luckily, I was even feeling in the mood to write, ready to commit to paper (or screen) a riveting post on the American rail company Amtrak (I will repeat, riveting).

But then I experienced something that happens to everyone on the road at some point in their travels/life – quelle catastrophe – no internet.

I know. The horror.

Even in a fixed place this can be a problem for those off on their travels, especially in the more remote destinations. For example, I am not exactly remote, but being in a mountain range – a location not naturally suited to internet cables – means that the web connection isn’t as reliable as, say, in the middle of a town in the UK. And travelling around America I had to have a lot of forward planning if I wanted to post something because I had no SIM card and was therefore completely reliant on public internet in hostels and McDonalds to update my blog.

This has been an unusually long stretch without the web, and it is bad how reliant you become on it, but what I have missed the most is communicating with my family (and Instagram, but mostly the family stuff). I missed blogging too, but the break may have done me good. I was starting to feel a bit thin, like I was running out of ideas. But a week and a half with no WiFi has forced me to read, something I would say I didn’t have time for had I had internet, and think about things to write that are both interesting and that I want to write about.

So, my painful stretch in the WiFi-less wilderness has led me to see that while I may love to write a detailed post on trains in America, there may be more interesting things that I’m dealing with right now in France that I’ll let take the front seat. No worries though, that Amtrak post is coming, and it will knock your socks off. I promise.

Off to France

So this is going to be a short and sweet post, because I’m busy getting ready to go to France for 5 months to work a ski season. (!!!) I am a bit excited.

I don’t know how I’m going to fare – I hate the cold (and it is going to be really cold), but I love France, and I love working abroad so hopefully it should be as amazing as everyone tells me it will be. I’m busy doing my final pack, getting all my big fluffy ski stuff to fit in one tiny suitcase, so I’ll leave you with this clip of Jake Wood and Janette Manrara doing the Samba on Strictly this week. Did it deserve the two tens it got? Maybe not, but Jake was twerking for heaven’s sake! So much fun to watch.

For the love of jazz

As some of you may know, this past summer I travelled across the US by train making stops in cities as I went. In a two week long trip I visited five cities so, as you may expect, this resulted in almost whistle-stop experiences in these cities, with certain elements of the places having more of an effect than others. In Chicago and New Orleans that effects was music, more specifically – jazz.

I have never been much of a jazz enthusiast. Honestly, I think something gets lost between the transfer of the live act and the recorded product. All I had heard, if I’m being honest, when I listened to recorded jazz was a lot of noise and different instruments doing their own thing. Listening to jazz live though – that is something else entirely.

The stage at the Millennium Park.
The stage at the Millennium Park.

In Chicago I caught the beginning of a jazz festival. This is when the love began – sitting in the Millennium Park, having the music wash over me. The festival was an international one, and the band were from South Africa. They had amazing songs about Nelson Mandela, sung by singers with such beautiful voices and the music was so… smooth. They were just practising – the festival started properly the next day, these were the free practice sessions – but that made it even more exhilarating; they would try different things, not playing it safe, going off the script, laughing together if it went a bit wrong. The whole atmosphere was just so chilled, and there was such a wide variety of people gathered, from kids chasing each other around to old couples sitting together, holding hands.

These guys were amazing. Absolutely my favourites.
These guys were amazing. Absolutely my favourites.

But nothing in Chicago could prepare me for New Orleans. I love this city. Frenchmen’s Street is one of my favourite streets in the world. Unlike Bourbon Street which is insane (and more than a bit disgusting), Frenchman’s is a lot more relaxed, with cool little bars, small clubs and markets where you can buy trinkets and artwork. Yet, what I absolutely loved was how there was just amazing music playing on the streets, with crowds gathered around the musicians, so close to the artists. There was one group, my favourite, that even had a tuba player – I hate to think where he lived to have to drag that with him all the time. The music just brought everyone together, and seemed to give the city an incredibly relaxed feel. Jazz could be found everywhere – I saw jazz musicians by the river, in the market place, in burrito restaurants; the music happily invaded the city.

My time in America – in these two cities especially – has made me love jazz (live jazz, I still can’t quite love the recorded version). I would love to go back to both cities for longer than just a few days (and with more money!) so I could spend more time hunting for smaller, more intimate settings in Chicago instead of a music festival, and find the really crazy jazz in New Orleans, where people just let go completely and play something truly amazing and unique. Until then, however, I’ll just have to search out jazz at home, and anywhere else I travel.

How do you feel about jazz? Do you think there’s a difference between the live and recorded final piece? Let me know!

What I’m watching, reading and have viewed: Part 2

What I’m watching: The Fall

The show that follows a serial killer, and the police investigation that’s trying to catch him.

What’s it about? Gillian Anderson is a MET Detective Superintendent sent to Belfast having been assigned to review the investigation into a single high-profile murder, but who ends up heading the hunt for serial killing Jamie Dornan. You see both her investigation, his daily life, but also the things that do happen in a murder case that you don’t usually see on a TV show – the finding of the body, the heartbreaking call to 999, the simple logistics of attending a crime scene (“stepping plates where applicable”).

Why watch it? It is the latter point – the things you don’t usually see – that have drawn me into the The Fall. In most police procedurals, even those about people whose job it is to collect evidence from a crime scene, there isn’t much evidence of the procedure actually happening, it’s all about the mystery. I do like the pragmatic air this show has in that sense. On the other hand, The Fall is insanely creepy – Jamie Dornan has given me nightmares. Don’t watch if you’re going to be sleeping home alone.

What I’m reading: Harry Potter et le Prisonnier d’Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

It’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban … but in French.

What’s it about? If you actually need to ask what Harry Potter is about, I may have to ask where you have been living for the last decade and a half. Even living under a rock wouldn’t excuse you from not knowing about the phenomenon that is J.K. Rowling’s series about the boy wizard. The Prisoner of Azkaban is the third in the series though, really, you should know that already.

Why read it? The PoA is my favourite of the Harry Potter series – I adore this book. Reading it French then was a no brainer for me, as it would help me to know what is actually happening while trying to negotiate French idioms. (Who knew that to ‘pick’ a lock translates into ‘crocheting’ in French? Not me.) It’s also fun to see how the names and places that are so recognisable in English are changed in French – Snape is now Rouge, Hogwarts is Poudlard, and – my favourite – Hufflepuff transforms to Poufsouffle. A lot of fun.

What I’ve viewed: Wadjda

Watch a young girl negotiate the streets, her school and her home in Riyadh.

What’s it about? The first feature length film to come out of Saudi Arabia, this story follows Wadjda who desperately wants a bicycle so she can race her friend Abdullah, and is told by almost everyone that girls don’t ride bikes. She decides to enter the Quran reading competition in order to win the money that will pay for the beloved green bicycle she has set her eye on.

Why see it? This is such a heart warming and sweet film. All the actors are great, even – especially – the kids, and the story is so engrossing. The film is much more than just a sweet story, though, especially on repeat viewings. For example, in a country that seems to be so restrictive for women there are surprisingly few men in the story – three in fact, and and only one is a main character. It is worth seeing the film to watch how women are complicit in restricting themselves: for example, everyone tells Wadjda that women don’t ride bikes, but the shop sells girls bicycles, and Wadjda is desperately worried her chosen green one will sell. This is one example of a plot that is much deeper when you look past the simple story, and forget some of the pre-conceived ‘facts’ of Saudi Arabia.

Also, Abdullah is adorable. Watch just for the scenes between him and Wadjda.

Where I’m travelling: France. In less than two weeks I’ll be working in the Alps -I’m so excited/nervous!

Have you seen any of these? Does The Fall become even creepier? (I have trouble believing that’s possible!) Let me know.

British Things: Remembrance Sunday

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In Britain, on the Sunday closest to the 11th of November, at 11.00am, we hold a national 2 minutes silence to remember those who fight for our country. Evolving from Armistice Day – the end of the fighting in the First World War – across the country services are held in the street to remember the fallen. Poppies, because of the poppies that bloomed on Flanders battlefields, are worn on the day, as well as in the run up to Remembrance Day, as a mark of respect and to support the British Legion charity. Wreaths of poppies are laid in towns and cities, for all to see.

Lest we forget.

I don’t know how common this practice is across the world, having a day to honour your country’s fallen soldiers. I would guess it would be very common. This is how Britain honours this day. How do your countries?