Sunday, 4 December 2016

Pagan's Crusade




I’ve been wanting to read Catherine Jinks for quite some time. I saw her talk at my local library quite a few years ago now- it must be more than 5- and have been keen to read her work ever since. A friend is a fan and especially enthusiastic. Although I must admit that this title in particular wasn't really in my sights, and the cover doesn’t really do it for me. 

Twelfth century Jerusalem is really an odd choice of setting for a kids book isn’t it? It did put me off a bit, but then I really wouldn’t want to read adult books covering this era either. It’s also not a setting or time that I know an awful lot about, and I presume most kids wouldn’t either. Although my copy published in 2000 shows it was reprinted 7 times since 1993, i.e. roughly once a year, so it must have been quite popular. 

So, our story starts with 16 year old Pagan Kidrouk joining up to become a squire with to Lord Roland Roucy de Bram, a Templar Knight. It’s clear that Pagan needs a job quickly and is in some sort of difficulty. Pagan describes himself as “godless mercenary garbage”. Pagan was raised in a monastery and has the rare skill of being literate and educated in a time when most people aren't and even Lord Roland himself cannot read. 


'My lord, with all respect, you shouldn't take my learning too seriously. It might look impressive to be able to read, but that's because you can't read yourself. When you learn to read, all you can do is read.'


The story is told in three parts, each quite separate really, occurring over several months in 1187, with the mounting threat of invasion by Saladin- a real historical person and event, but who I'd never heard of before, and it felt a little Lord of the Rings to me (not that I've read that, only watched the movies).



It's a peculiar feeling- like a cold wind on your heart. The fact that it's actually happened. It's actually happened. You live with it all your life, like a cloud on the horizon, and suddenly the storm is overhead. They've come at last, after all this time. The Infidels. Practically on the doorstep. And it's not a surprise. That's what's so awful. Everyone born here- we all knew they would come. Everyone born here is born waiting. 

Pagan's story is told in his first person rather modern voice, which I think I found a bit discordant to start with but by the middle of the book I was almost swept up in the story, and did find it quite humorous. 
I do really like Catherine Jinks’ descriptions. And this one of an alley is astonishing.


It’s like entering someone’s intestines. Narrow, slimy, smelling of dung. A cloud of flies settling like a cloak over your head and shoulders. Bones. Rats. Sludge from the nearby tannery. 

I ended up enjoying Pagan's Crusade much more than I expected to, settling in enough to find the humour, especially in the middle pages, and found it a bit evocative of Monty Python's Holy Grail in places. Pagan has an oft repeated refrain "Christ in a cream cheese sauce" which I found really odd. Would they have had cream cheese sauces in medieval Jerusalem? I suspect not. Indeed why call your main character Pagan? Would people have been called Pagan then? Did it mean something else? Catherine Jinks is very clever, it must mean something, and I'm just not clever enough to work it out. 

There came to be five books in the Pagan series, so these stories of medieval Jerusalem clearly had a broader appeal than I would have thought. I do think that if I read Pagan's Crusade again that I'd like it even more. I'm very glad to have dipped my toes in Catherine Jinks' work, and look forward to reading more of her in the future. 

302/1001


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Thursday, 17 November 2016

Twelve Books to Read About Paris

A wonderful Parisian list created for Good Reading September 2015 by Patti Miller, a longtime Paris devote, who wrote Ransacking Paris (see my review).

Patti describes this list as an 'amuse-bouche', and warns us that once you have begun "There is never any ending to Paris." It's far too late for me to read those words, I've been well and truly drawn in by Paris, and indeed there is never any end to Paris for me. 

It does seem that I have lots of reading left to do...


Paris: The Secret History - Andrew Hussey



The Hunchback of Notre-Dame - Victor Hugo

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - Patrick Suskind

Old Goriot - Honoré de Balzac

Missing Person - Patrick Modiano

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter or The Mandarins - Simone de Beauvoir

A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women in Paris - Lucinda Holdforth

This is Paris - Miroslav Sasek

Un Peu de Paris - Sempé



Writers in Paris - David Burke

2/12

A particularly dismal effort. I did take both Notre Dame de Paris and The Elegance of the Hedgehog to Paris on different trips but always spend too much time holidaying to get to reading much at all and so they remain unread.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Borrowers



I just finished a re-read of The Borrowers, and enjoyed it just as much as I remembered it. Mary Norton's classic story came out in 1952. I first read it as an adult, only about 5-10 years ago I think. I remembered that the Borrowers were a family of tiny folk that lived hidden away in a grand house and “borrowed” the things that they’d needed from the house, but I wasn’t able to really remember any of the specifics. I remembered that I’d liked it, and was happy to find that I really liked it again on this rereading.

The basic setup feels quite a lot like The Secret Garden (see my review), where a lonely child who grew up in India is rattling round a big old country house. But this is where the similarities end, and here one day the boy finds a family of small people who live under the floor boards, the Clocks. But the child is not the hero here, it is the Borrower daughter, Arrietty, a lonely girl who is the only child of the solitary family of Borrowers left in the house. 


'Oh, I know papa is a wonderful Borrower. I know we've managed to stay when all the others have gone. But what has it done for us, in the end? I don't think it's so great to live on alone, for ever and ever, in a great, big, half-empty house; under the floor, with no one to talk to, no one to play with, nothing to see but dust and passages, no light but candlelight and firelight and what comes through the cracks.'

Arrietty's father, Pod, is the Borrower for the family, and he generally has the run of the place because there are only three humans inhabiting the house- Great Aunt Sophy a bedridden invalid who likes to partake of a decanter of Madeira each night, Mrs Driver the cook and Crampfurl (a most splendid name) the gardener. That is until the boy comes to stay, and Arrietty’s father Pod is "seen".

The Borrowers is such a wonderful, make believe world, vividly told, it makes me wish that there were little people living under my floor borrowing from my possessions to survive. 

There have been a number of film versions of The Borrowers over the years. All seem to need to update and modify the original story in some way. A 1997 movie has John Goodman as a developer looking to knock down a Borrower house. A 2011 BBC telemovie starring Stephen Fry and Christopher Eccleston is a Christmas themed adaptation. Happily I found it lurking unwatched on my hard drive recorder the other day. I've watched it now, and even better I find it is available on youtube complet en francais! 



Saturday, 5 November 2016

A History of the World in 100 Objects





On our recent trip to the South Coast Master Wicker and I had a quick stopover in Canberra where we caught a couple of fascinating exhibitions. I showed you Bigger on the Inside last week. We also went to the National Museum of Australia to see the amazing A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum

It was really worth work a look. We spent about two hours there, although I think Master Wicker was done in about an hour. I don't think I've ever seen an Egyptian mummy before, and I'd certainly never seen the chronometer from the HMS Beagle, or realised how very small the worlds first coins were. I will share some of the objects I enjoyed most, or found particularly fascinating, and were easy to photograph. 

A great deal of information can be discovered through the close study of a single object. Individual things, when approached in the right way, can unlock an understanding of how people lived- from how they worshipped to what they ate. 

It was fascinating to see the remnants of the earliest writing. Incredible to see these 5, 000 year old objects so remarkably preserved, and the origins of reading and writing that I hold so dear. 


Early writing tablet
3100-3000 BCE
Southern Iraq
Clay

A cuneiform tablet showing part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, "the first great epic poem in world literature". A man is warned by God of an impending flood, and told to build a boat to save his family. It predates the Old Testament story of Noah and his Ark. 


Flood tablet
700-600 BCE
Kouyunjik (Nineveh), Iraq
Clay
Axes were the principal tool of early humans for about a million years! This beautiful one is near perfect and thought not to have been used. 


Jade Axe
5000-3600 BCE
Biebrech, Germany
Statue of Ramses II
About 1280 BCE
Temple of Khnum, Elephantine, Egypt


Bust of Sophocles
About 150 CE
Lazio, Italy
Marble


Head of Augustus
27-25 BCE
Meroë, Sudan
Bronze, glass, calcite

I learnt that Buddha's long earlobes is a sign of his rejection of wealth - because he was born into wealth he had worn the customary heavy earrings which stretched his lobes, and we see this still after he has renounced the world to seek enlightenment. 


Seated Buddha from Gandhara
100-300 CE
Gandhara, Pakistan
Stone

Master Wicker's favourite object. 


Arabian Bronze Hand
100-300 CE
Yemen

 I think this statue was my favourite object, even though it is quite grisly.


Statue of Mithras
100-200 CE
Rome, Italy

The museum folks have done a great job with the installation of the exhibition- it's a stunning mix of old and new, the objects from antiquity displayed with modern accents, there's a great feel to the space, it's lovely just to be there, despite the admiring hordes. 



Naturally I had an audio tour as I'm an audio tour kind of gal but there was really very good introductions to each area, as well as printed descriptions of each object. Some objects also had short videos displayed nearby introducing the objects by staff of the British Museum. All very informative.



I tend to think of blue and white porcelain as Delftware, but this is a Chinese plate, and the cobalt blue used was imported from the Middle East, possibly Iran, so apparently the Chinese call it Muslim Blue. Which makes sense when you think of all the old mosques decorated so beautifully with blue and white tiles. 


Chinese blue and white dish
1330-1350 CE
Jingdezhen, Jiangxi provence, China
I really liked Dürer's Rhinoceros too- beautifully done, and all the more amazing because naturally he'd never seen a Rhinoceros in 16th century Germany. There was a very cool hologram Rhinoceros nearby. 


Albrecht Dürer's Rhinoceros
1515 CE
Nuremberg, Germany

North American Frock Coat
1800-1900 CE
Canada
Painted moose skin, porcupine quills and otter hair


War Shields
1990-2000 CE
Wahgi Valley, Papua New Guinea
Painted wood, metal, rubber, fibre

Outside the exhibition is a wonderful tactile table where you can touch replicas of some objects. There were also Braille descriptions of the objects next to the English. 


We nearly missed this, make sure to search it out. 








National Museum of Australia
Canberra
$20 adults/ $15 concession / $8 child / $45 family / $60 season pass
September 9 2016 until January 29 2017

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Thursday, 3 November 2016

Top Ten Books To Read If Your Book Club Likes MG

This week I came across this most excellent list and thought it worthy of a Listmania post. It's a Top Ten Tuesday post from YAYeahYeah.

Five Children on the Western Front - Kate Saunders

Jane, the Fox & Me - Fanny Britt, Isabelle Arsenault (illustrator)



Murder Most Unladylike series - Robin Stevens

The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge, Chris Riddell (illustrator)

The Riverman - Aaron Starmer

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place - Julie Berry

The Summer of Telling Tales - Laura Summers

The Wickford Doom - Chris Priestley, Vladimir Stankovic (illustrator)

The Wolf Wilder - Katharine Rundell, Gelrev Ongbico (illustrator)

Twerp - Mark Goldblatt



No, I haven't read any of these books, although have had my eye on some of them for a while - The Lie Tree, The Wolf Wilder (although I really want to read her Rooftoppers more) and Jane, the Fox & Me in particular. I'm particularly taken with the idea of Twerp which I've never heard of before. My library doesn't have any of these books, well apart from Five Children on the Western Front, which I already own. Hello, Fishpond...

Monday, 31 October 2016

Flowers for Mrs Harris


I was in the mood for another Paris read after I read The President's Hat recently (see my review). Although I guess I'm quite often in the mood for another Paris read, and happily I had this little novella sitting about the house and knew the time had come.

Flowers for Mrs Harris is the slightly preposterous but rather charming story of a British cleaning lady scrimping and saving for several years to follow her dream to go to Paris and buy a Dior frock.

Up to that magic moment of finding herself hoisted off the face of the earth her life had been one of never-ending drudgery, relieved by nothing more than an occasional visit to the flicks, the pub on the corner, or an evening at the music-hall.

Mrs Ada Harris is a widow in her late 50s who despite her "drab and colourless" existence "had always felt a craving for beauty and colour" which had previously manifested in her "great love for flowers". This was to change dramatically after  after she sees two Dior gowns in the wardrobe of one of her clients, Lady Dant. 

It had all begun that day several years back when during the course of her duties at Lady Dant's house, Mrs Harris had opened a wardrobe to tidy it and had come upon the two dresses hanging there.  One was a bit of heaven in cream, ivory, lace and chiffon, the other an explosion in crimson satin and taffeta, adorned with great red bows, and a huge red flower. She stood there as though struck dumb, for never in all her life had she seen anything quite as thrilling and beautiful. 

I did enjoy Flowers for Mrs Harris, although I suspect that if Paris was not involved I might have not liked it quite so much. While much of it is about Dior and dresses it is also a shrewd study of character.

Mme Colber smiled a thin, sad smile. She might almost have guessed it. 'Temptation' was a poem created in materials by a poet of women, for a young girl in celebration of her freshness and beauty and awakening to the mysterious power of her sex. It was invariably demanded by the faded, the middle-aged, the verging on passé women.

I've come to realise that I've never been to Avenue Montaigne, and clearly I need to remedy this situation on my next trip to Paris tout de suite, even though I'm not going to be coming away with a Dior gown like Mrs Harris. But I could pop in to the Hotel Plaza Athénée  for lunch- a rather long held dream. 

Dior on Avenue Montaigne, so pretty

I do wonder at the timing of the story. Dior famously launched his New Look in 1947, and he was at the peak of his powers in the 1950s. Sadly Christian Dior was to die suddenly on a skiing trip to Italy in October 1957 aged only 52, and Flowers for Mrs Harris was published the following year in 1958. 

In America the book is known as Mrs 'arris Goes to Paris, and there is a 1992 telemovie starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs Harris. I'm going to have to watch it when I can find it, it seems pretty unavailable. There's even a new musical theatrical version this year in the UK!

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Saturday, 29 October 2016

Bigger On The Inside

On our recent trip to the South Coast we had a quick stop in Canberra. We had a lovely stopover, but with rather miserable weather so we generally sought out inside activities. 

Master Wicker has pretty much outgrown his Doctor Who obsession and I never really had one (although I always enjoyed the David Tennant era), but we both enjoyed Bigger On The Inside at Canberra Museum and Gallery

Bigger On The Inside is a display of one man's passion for all thing Dr Who. Timothy Kirsopp has been collecting Dr Who memorabilia since the early 90s. He has amassed over 3,000 individual items, and this display is an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Collection of Dr Who Memorabilia. 

Master Wicker immediately set about figuring if he had anything that was not included in the collection. He thinks that his K9 keyring from the Dr Who Experience in Cardiff wasn't there! 



Naturally there was every size of Tardis

I found the Doctor Who Toby Jugs a bit freaky

But not as freaky as the crocheted Ood mask...
Why?

Yep


Why wouldn't you want a Cyberman toothbrush?

There were many levels of tragic

And a whole lot of stuff...
I'd love to know what he does with it all in his house




You can even help lengthen the Endless Scarf

Canberra Museum and Gallery is free and always worth a look. We visited in the school holidays and they had some great free activities for kids, such as an area to make amazing paper flowers like these. 



Bigger On the Inside
Canberra Museum and Gallery
16 July - 20 November 2016
Free

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