Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The book of the old year: 2013

This is a sort-of chain letter for our family for the year 2013. But really its assembled from a sequence of blog posts I wrote, so its rather heavily biased towards me. Miriam writes lots of exciting diary, but no-one gets to read it except her.

General: Miriam and I continue and even flourish at CSR; work remains interesting and engrossing. Miranda left Coton primary - an emotional event - but is now enjoying her first year at the Perse with new friends, but still keeps up with the old. Daniel took his "early maths" GCSE and got the desired A*, and as the year ends is buried in revision for mock GCSEs and work experience forms.

February: Howard "flee you fools" Roscoe dragged me out winter climbing in Coire an t-Sneachda which was lovely. I'll hope, somewhat wistfully, to do more next year.

March: was an extended family stay at English Heritage properties inside Dover Castle. It was a particularly bleak time of year, weatherwise, but perhaps that allowed us to get into the spirit of how it must once have been.

April: I ran the Brighton marathon for the third time, and got my first quasi-respectable time: 3:46:34. Amsterdam in October was even better; overall, it was a good year for my running.
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May: more climbing, again featuring the Old Man of the Mountains, and all of us: Stanage, Youth. This year has been a year of Daniel taking up climbing; he is now technically slightly better than me, if you discount leading. Even better he is doing competitions with school, and going off bouldering with friends.

May also saw the welcome return of the bees: my old lot didn't survive the very long cold winter, poor things, but a new lot started sniffing around and to my delight moved in.

June saw some flowering in the sadly neglected garden. But peonies are reliable.

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July: as for the last few years, the focus of my life in early summer is rowing, and in particular the town bumps. This year I was effectively men's captain and through a mixture of luck, perseverance, enthusiasm, reliance on home-grown talent and skill we ended up with a good crew: up 3, and it could have been blades if only Nines 2 weren't so slow.

After bumps M+J were once again kind enough to look after the infants for a week and Miriam and I sneaked off to the Stubai to go mountaineering. Woo! It was great. Unseasonally snowy which gave us a hard time trekking between huts and meant I had to retreat off the Habicht, but wonderful anyway.

In August I took our club to Peterborough regatta and I finally got my point! After all these years. And we won it at IM3, too, against a pretty decent Twyk-men crew. If you don't row, it will mean nothing to you; if you're still Novice at 50 you'll know what I mean.

And of course we had a family summer holiday. Having made no plans at all we ended up with a "drive through France and do some climbing" sort of holiday, which worked very well, especially the three days in Fontainebleau.

September saw the end of the rowing season with the Boston rowing marathon in the VIII, and my personal view. You're safe now: there's no more rowing on this page.

October: Amsterdam marathon - even closer to a respectable time -3:43:06. One day I hope to get down to 3:30; I really can't decide if its likely I ever will: at some point my general-fade-off-due-to-old-age will start becoming more important than my improvements from fitness. Miranda came along for the trip, though she didn't run. We stayed with Si+B in their apartment, and Miranda went shopping with Becky.

December: Miranda gets her grade 4 piano with 80/100, which is a merit. We draw a discrete veil over an earlier episode. Grade 4 clarinet is next summer.

Christmas-to-New-Year is the familiar round of staying with my Mother - who will be 80 next year, and I'll be 50, the horror - and M+J. A quiet life, and a pleasant one.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Uncle Tom's Top Hat

He was in the 2nd Border Regiment (or is that the second battalion of the Border Regiment? I'm not sure). I have his brass prismatic compass. The top hat case is a fixture of my mother's house, but it comes from my father's side, the Proctor side.
 

The baggage labels: the "Jamaica Direct Fruit Line Ltd.". Time frame: the 1920s.
 

The hat itself, in its glory. Still pristine after all these years, because unused.
 

And here he is. On the left. I'm the one in the middle. My father, Peter, is on the right. This is taken at Lyndhurst.
 

Me again, and my mother, and Great Aunt Jess. Who isn't actually my great aunt, but I can never remember the true relationship.
 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Book review: Ancient Light

http://xkcd.com/483/.

Alas, there really isn't much more to be said. I gave up about 2/3 of the way through. The book - and the predecessor, Golden Witchbreed - works only when the air of mystery and hints of ancient alien civilisation is played with a delicate touch. In GW she just about survived; but in AL that touch is lost, the mystery evaporates, and all that is left is silliness.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Book review: Ancillary Justice

This is very good.

I've found various reviews that such much what I would, only with more gush, so I'll just annotate them.

Jaine Fenn has a review I like: as it says "SF but not quite Space Opera" which is what I was struggling to say: it has spaceships, it has travel between worlds (as that review says, "travel between worlds is too simple, treated rather like a short sea voyage" but that is fine; see comparison to Cecilia Holland), but these aren't handled the way you'd expect from yer typical male writer. For example, there are no loving descriptions of the hugeness of the ships or the power of their weapons; all that is left aside. It reminds me more of Floating Worlds by Cecilia Holland (which is brilliant; better than this; better than most things).

TOR has a review which I mostly like, and which pushes the pronouns issue, which I agree was well done (though in my recollection she gets it somewhat wrong: I think its just that Breq finds it really hard to tell gender, and usually doesn't care).

One of the nice things about the book is the way it surprised me. Example (somewhat spoiler-ish, so skip if you like): in one of the climatic scenes, JoT has just shot (one instance of) Anaander, and the other AM's have deployed the break-comms weapon, so everyone is on their own. The narrative voice (One Esk 19 I think) then heads off, and I thought "oh well, we're going to have a somewhat tedious fight scene". But no! There's no fight scene at all; One Esk just heads straight for the exit and leaves in an escape pod. Brilliant.

A criticism. The imagined empire doesn't really make a great deal of sense. The problem is that the "annexations" are brutal and violent, and remain that way even after the native population are subjugated. That's necessary for the flow of the book, but it doesn't actually make sense. That level of violence is known - now - to be counter productive and to Just Not Work. Its hard to imagine it being used as described.