Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sound Quality matters

Placebo are one of our favourite bands and we were really looking forward to seeing them in concert last night. Their tracks are guaranteed to get us on the dancefloor and we have most of their albums. They're brilliant musicians and lead singer Brian Molko has an anazing voice. So to say we were disappointed by the appallingly bad sound quality at Edinburgh Corn Exchange is an understatement indeed.

The band played a great selection of songs but it all just sounded like noise much of the time.

This wasn't some local band playing in a basement bar which isn't set up for gigs and where good sound quality is a bonus if you can get it. This is a major band, excellent musicians with a very distinctive sound in a venue that likes to think it's one of the best in Scotland.

So Edinburgh Corn Exchange, what are you going to do? Can I suggest sacking the sound engineers?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

This is a must read book for anyone who has had a stroke, needs to care for someone who has had a stroke and particularly for anyone who works in the medical profession. Actually it's a must read book for anyone with a brain.

Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist, At the age of 37, she experienced a rare form of stroke that left her so disabled that she could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of her life. This book gives an account of how she observed her brain deteriorate during the stroke and how she (with the assistance of her mother and medical professionals) helped her brain to heal, to eventually, after 8 years, make a complete recovery. 

Her stroke occured in the left hand side of her brain so she lost her language and mathematical abilities and found herself in a state of 'feeling at one with the universe' as her right brain took over. From this 'euphoric nirvana' she had to bring her left brain back into action. It is incredibly inspiring to read how she did this! Obviously her training in neuroscience meant that she was able to be much more informed and helpfully analytical about her brain than most people would be, but her insights are helpful for everyone, whether recovering from a stroke, helping someone else who has had a stroke or just in terms of interest about your future brain health. 

Before telling her own story, Bolte Taylor outlines some brain science and at the end of the book she outlines practical things that people who have suffered strokes need to help them make a full recovery. Plus she gives advice on how to be kind to your brain and how to maximise the value of both sides of your brain. These parts of the book would be particularly useful for people in the medical profession to help ensure that the best possible care is given to people who have had a stroke.

As well as being helpful and practical though, this is a totally inspiring story about how someone can recover from a major stroke and live the life they want to live, though it does get irritatingly new-agey in parts. In Bolte Taylor's case that is educating people about their brains and creating, anatomically correct stained glass brains.

(This is a book that seems to inspire very different reactions in its readers, as you can tell if you read the reviews on Good Reads).

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor published by Hodder.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Sun Breaks Through

I was delighted today when a copy of The Sun Breaks Through arrived on my door mat. This is the long awaited anthology of writing from the Write On Course (based at the Ripple Project in Lochend). I currently teach the Write On Course and was delighted to edit this anthology that contains wonderful poetry and short stories from class members.

A Bit of a Breeze by Dot Stuart follows an autumn leaf as it floats above Edinburgh to finally land in the Lochend Community Garden.

In The Most Amazing Thing Happened Kathleen Byron shows us how the tar sands of Canada affect the surrounding communities

We meet an unusual and melancholy character in Louise Bankhead's The Wooden Peg

St Jane is a poem from Elaine Pomeransky about a Scottish nurse who died in Auschwitz

Margaret Bruce tells us the story of a missing person in I Was Alarmed

[at falling tide on islay] is an atmospheric poem from Louise Bankhead

Everything is not quite as it seems in Kathleen Byron's Where Did You Hide the Body?

The Trams are just the starting point for Dot Stuart's story of reminiscences

and finally Lindsay Oliver shares a story I Love Leith.

The anthology is available from the Ripple Project and costs £3 if you buy it in person or £4 (including postage and packing) if you order it by post from an address within the UK. For overseas orders, please contact the Ripple Project for information on postage rates. The Ripple Project contact details are on their website.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell

Would you be drawn to a book that had a picture of a man wrestling with a question mark on the cover? Have you ever read a novel written entirely in the form of questions? How do you think you would feel reading a book written entirely in this form? Would you read this sort of novel quicker or slower than a regular novel? Do you think you would try to answer each question in the text before moving on to the next one? Do you think you would enjoy a novel that includes the following extract?

Are you a sweater person? Do you suppose it's the case that damming some rivers is not an ecological hazard but damning others is? So you picture the days of the week on a calendar in your mind?

Do you think that in a book written entirely as questions that some of the questions would seem rather tortuous and meandering? Would you read them anyway? Do you think reading this kind of novel would annoy you or stimulate your mind?

Do you think I might be recommending this book to you?

The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell, published by Profile Books

Friday, September 26, 2014

Two films about social activism

I came out of today's screening of Everyday Rebellion feeling strangely deflated. It's a film about non-violent resistance across the world, but it gave us snapshots of too many different groups, some of which, including Femen (the Ukrainian feminist activists) weren't really given enough screen time to fully articulate their campaign aims. So we got lots of footage of half naked Femen protesters covered in marker pen slogans and crowds on demonstrations at Occupy Wall Street and across the world. There were some quirky awareness raising ideas (for example writing Freedom on ping pong balls and then lettting them loose in the middle of a city), some great quotes (eg "If you want to defeat a boxer, challenge him to a game of chess) and some impressive cartoons and graffiti. However overall, it felt to me too disjointed and overlong and lacking in real emotional engagement. 
(Having said that the Everyday Rebellion website looks like a great resource for protesting on issues of social justice).

Last night however I had come out of the screening of Pride crying from laughter and emotion and feeling a real sense of the power of solidarity between unlikely groups. This is a drama, based on real events from the 1984 Miners Strike when a group of Lesbian and Gay Activists in London decided to support the a mining community in Wales. Initially there is a lot of distrust between the two groups but gradually they move towards understanding and a shared community spirit, having a lot of fun along the way. It's hilariously funny, emotionally engaging, incredibly moving and ultimately very hopeful and is an example of how drama can often be much more powerful than a documentary.

Everyday Rebellion was showing as part of the Take One Action Festival, which is happening in Edinburgh and Glasgow while Pride is on general release at the moment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jutland to Junkyard by S C George

When we last visited one of Crafty Green Boyfriend's aunts, she had just come back from a holiday touring some of the Scottish Islands. While talking about Orkney, she told us how she knew someone who had made his fortune from salvaging the German navy ships drowned  at Scapa Flow. (All of us have seen the remaining ships that stand as memorials in Scapa Flow to this day and our aunt used to live in Rosyth where the metal from the ships was ultimately salvaged).

Later that afternoon, in a second hand shop, I found this book, which is the story of how those very navy ships were salvaged. It seemed such a wonderfully serendipitous finding that I immediately bought the book and will have finished reading it by the next time we see this aunt and I'll give it to her as a gift!

In May 1916 the German Navy surrendered after the battle of Jutland. Their boats were towed all the way to Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, to the north of Scotland, which was the base for the British fleet. On 21 June 1919, the German navy scuttled (deliberately sank) their ships. At first the British Admirality left them there but eventually (due to the ships causing obstructions in the shipping channels and a lack of scrap metals) the ships were brought up from the sea floor and towed to the shipyards at Rosyth, in Fife where the metals were salvaged.

The bulk of the book looks at how each individual ship was salvaged, often with quite a lot of technical detail. There are some fascinating stories woven into the overall narrative

"Next day Hindenburg was beached in Mill Bay. Mrs McKenzie, wife of the salvage officer, found the crow's nest of the ship a delightful place to occupy for her reading and knitting"

The salvage was a long, painstaking process that lasted years and resulted in the loss of several lives.
A fascinating part of history, which I had only been vaguely aware of.

Jutland to Junkyard by S C George published by Birlinn.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Freedom of speech

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” 


Something both sides need to remember in the current debate around the forthcoming Referendum for Scottish Independence. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

Subtitled the Biography of a Language, this brilliant book traces the development of the English language from it's earliest days as a dialect of an obscure tribe in northern Europe to its current day status as global language.

Bragg is excellent at weaving the history of the language in with all the strands of history around it. He traces for example how English more or less went into hiding during the French speaking days after the Norman conquest and how the adventurous nature of the American Wild West lead to an adventurous period of development in the English language. He explores how the use of English changed church history in the British Isles and how Shakespeare changed the language forever.

He looks at different Englishes spoken throughout the world, including Australian English, Indian English and American Englishes as well as the pidgins and creoles that have developed particularly against a background of slavery where people with various different native languages would try to create something mutually comprehensible from a common (though poorly known) language. Also the way that English has affected the other languages it has come into contact with.

I felt the book cound have benefited from a section about the forms of English spoken in Africa and that in general most sections of the book could have been extended. I just found it totally fascinating and wanted to find out even more about this amazing language we speak! 

So anyone who's interested in the English language, how it's developed and ow it fits into the general history of the English speaking world, should read this book.

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg published by Hodder and Staughton .

Friday, August 15, 2014


I was delighted to win these Godzilla coasters in a recent Twitter competition organised by Dosankodebbie. Debbie shares her wonderful etegani artwork at Dosankodebbie's Etegami Notebook.

The coasters are still in their packaging as they're a gift for Crafty Green Boyfriend, who is a huge Godzilla fan. He'll love them of course! So thank you Debbie!