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Hi Rose. I'm Christine.
I'm Sidonie. Do you know where you are staying?

A bande dessinée that I picked up in Paris a year or so ago, script by Gilles Schlesser who has written a number of non-graphic novels set in Paris and a literary guide-book to the city that has been translated into English. Young Rose comes to the city from Brittany in 1925, and ends up mixing with lots of people including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who she briefly dates; meanwhile her other boyfriend is involved with a complex conspiracy involving his boss's involvement in the drugs trade. I didn't feel this was completely successful as a book - the sepia hue was intended to give a nice period feel to the story, but it gets rather old rather quickly, and both illustrations and plot are very busy. As one reviewer commented, Rose ends up at every remarkable event of the period while pursuing a complicated love life. You can get it here.

This was top of my unread non-English comics pile. Next I think are the final two volumes of Aliénor: La Légende Noire.

Quarterfinals retrospective part one

Well, I wish I had allowed my heart rather than my head to determine my predictions for yesterday. As it was, congrats to huskyteer, trepkos and sevenorora for calling both France and Belgium to win. If I may say so, hooray!

My tweets

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Third act, scenes 1 and 2:

Le théâtre représente une salle du château appelée salle du trône, et servant de salle d’audience, ayant sur le côté une impériale en dais, et, dessous, le portrait du Roi.

Scène I
LE COMTE; PÉDRILLE, en veste, botté, tenant un paquet cacheté.

LE COMTE, vite: M’as-tu bien entendu ?

PÉDRILLE: Excellence, oui.
(Il sort.)

Scène II
LE COMTE, seul, criant: Pédrille ?

A room in the castle known as the Throne Room which serves as an audience chamber. On one side there is a dais surmounted by a throne. Above it there is a picture of the King.

Scene I
Enter the COUNT and PEDRILLO, dressed for riding and holding a sealed package.

THE COUNT [sharply]: Did you hear what I said?

PEDRILLO: Yes, Your Excellency.
(He exits)

Scene II
THE COUNT (alone, shouting): Pedrillo?

I confess I have never got further into Mozart's opera than playing the overture with the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra, and Voi che sapete as a clarinet exam piece, so came to the original Beaumarchais play without any particular expectations. I discovered fairly rapidly that my French wasn't really up to the original and found a couple of helpful English translations, as well as this 2010 BBC Radio Three adaptation from 2010 starring Rupert Degas and Joannah Tincey.

It shows I guess how times change. This was a huge hit in 1778, and it depends on the humour of improbable deceptions and misunderstandings. Two different characters hide behind the same chair in Act I. In Act II, the Count breaks into his wife's dressing room while his page jumps out the window and Figaro pretends it was him. In Act III, Figaro is about to be forcibly married to an older woman when it dramatically turns out that she is his long-lost mother. I really got lost in Act IV. In Act V the Countess and Figaro's girlfriend Suzanne pretend to be each other, with hilarious consequences (at one point the Count aims to hit the Countess, who he thinks is Suzanne, but accidentally hits Figaro instead without noticing). It would require some very ingenious staging to make the various antics of the cast appear in any way realistic, and even then the humour depends a lot on swallowing and digesting eighteenth-century norms of the regulation of sex. Still, I've always liked Mozart and maybe I'll give the opera a go some time. The better English translation is this one.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2014. Next on that pile is Kim Newman's Dracula Cha Cha Cha.

Quarter-finals, more anticipation

Poll #2082993 Quarter-finals, more anticipation

Who will win the third quarter-final?

Sweden will beat England
England will beat Sweden

Who will win the fourth quarter-final?

Russia will beat Croatia
Croatia will beat Russia

You should be able to vote using your Facebook or Twitter account, even if you aren't on Livejournal.

My tweets

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Äckligt, viskade Filifjonkan och skakade sin trasa. Hon lyfte upp fatet och klev ut genom fönstret för att tvätta utsidan. “Horrid”, whispered Fillyjonk, and shook out her duster. She lifted up the bowl and climbed through the window to wash it from the outside.

The last of the Moomin books, this barely has the Moomins in it; instead six characters - the established Snufkin and Mymble, the Hemulen and Fillyjonk who may or may not be the same as earlier Hemulens and Fillyjonks, and the new characters Grandpa-Grumble and Toft, all congregate in the Moomins' empty house in November. I had not read this one when I was a child, and I think a child reading it would be a bit bemused by the absence of the central characters. Of course it's really about death and letting go; Jansson decided not to keep churning out Moomin stories but to write, in effect, about not writing any more. Each of the six protagonists has a little character arc; usually the smart reader can see pretty quickly what it is that they will be learning in the course of the short narrative. I must admit that I too missed the Moomin family, and I'm looking forward to returning to the other books of the series in due course. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book by a woman writer; next on that list is Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters.

Quarter-finals, anticipation

Poll #2082944 Quarter-finals, anticipation

Who will win the first quarter-final?

Uruguay will beat France
France will beat Uruguay

Who will win the second quarter-final?

Brazil will beat Belgium
Belgium will beat Brazil

You should be able to vote using your Facebook or Twitter account, even if you aren't on Livejournal.

My tweets

Second paragraph of third chapter:
The very nature of society in the eighteenth century meant that women were unlikely to become active designers, either professional or dilettante. However, the care and creation of their own gardens was something deemed an appropriate arena of action in a country increasingly dominated by the mores of the ‘polite society’. The garden could thus bring both cultural and artistic fulfilment to complement the more traditional releases of embroidery, drawing, music and conversation. For some women, such as Henrietta Knight, or Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the garden could also act as a release or retreat from the dictates of a society with which they had become frustrated or with which they found themselves in opposition. Other women saw the garden as part of their intellectual spheres, connecting them with cultural coteries revolving around the influential literati of the day. In the case of Jemima, Marchioness Grey, the intellectual and the domestic combined, as she developed the gardens at her family seat of Wrest Park in the fashions of the day, taking responsibility for designers, workmen and gardeners. Whatever their motive for embracing the world of the garden, or their involvement within it, a common thread runs through the gardening lives of almost all these women. For them the garden is not a place in which to parade the accomplishments of polite society but instead a place in which that society might be challenged or evaded. 2
2 I am grateful to Dr Stephen Bending for sharing his thoughts and research into women, gardens and retirement in eighteenth-century society with me at an early stage in my writing. His own academic research, funded by a Leverhulme Grant, will be available in 2006. Another study of the romantic aspect of female gardening is J.M. Labbe, ‘Cultivating One’s Understanding: the Female Romantic Garden’ in Women’s Writing, vol. 4, no. 1 (1997), pp. 37–57.
I knew the author back in 1990-91 when we were both postgraduate students at Clare College, Cambridge; Elizabeth de Clare, the college's founder, gets a shout-out in the first chapter, and I'm glad to say that her devotion to gardening is carried on by the college to this day. I'm not a gardener myself, but many of my relatives (mostly female relatives) are, and I found this a fascinating examination of the role of gardening in a historical and gender context. There's a lot of fascinating stuff here - the particular influence of queens and aristocratic women in creating gardens, which of course had a demonstration effect on other aspiring households; the way in which particular plants get transported from continent to continent; the gardening career of Jane Loudon, better known to sf fans as author of The Mummy!; the study of ferns being deemed acceptable for women, because they don't reproduce through sex; and how particular plants got their names.
Roses appear to be one of the worst flowers for taking the names of females who have had little or nothing to do with their breeding. Lady Hillingdon, the famous society hostess who is said to have coined the phrase ‘shut your eyes and think of England’, gave her name to a pale yellow rose. A climber by habit, Rosa ‘Lady Hillingdon’ is said to be dreadful in the bed but great against the wall.
I thought this was great fun, well-documented and enlightening. You can get it here.

This was, shamefully, the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is The Politics of Climate Change, by Anthony Giddens.

Second round wrap-up

Congrats to drplokta, huskyteer, trepkos and vilakins for calling both of yesterday's matches correctly.

Scores on the doors:

N %
nwhyte 32 56 57%
johnny9fingers 25 50 50%
vilakins 24 50 48%
trepkos 23 42 55%
redfiona99 22 42 52%
coughingbear 15 24 63%
drplokta 12 26 46%
hano 11 21 52%
sevenorora 11 24 46%
po8crg 10 14 71%
mount_oregano 10 20 50%
yiskah 8 13 62%
busarewski 7 10 70%
huskyteer 7 17 41%
pseudomantid 6 9 67%
arwel_p 5 7 71%
dave_gallaher 3 3 100%
tournesolavande 3 7 43%
slemslempike 3 9 33%
infinitemonkeys 2 3 67%
liliaeth 2 5 40%
strange_complex 1 1 100%
jeffreyab 1 2 50%
lexin 1 3 33%
sekvo 1 4 25%

My tweets


Second paragraph of third chapter:
But their idyll was soon shattered. One day, along came a big, bad wolf with expansionist ideas. He saw the pigs and grew very hungry in both a physical and ideological sense. When the pigs saw the wolf, they ran into the house of straw. The wolf ran up to the house and banged on the door, shouting, "Little pigs, little pigs, let me in!"
Like a lot of people, I am dismayed that "political correctness" seems to have become a way of demonising the old-fashioned concept of civility. This book therefore could have been rather awful, but in fact it's not too bad - yeah, it's a bit of a one-joke book, but I think the satire is reasonably well-aimed and some of the stories are given rather better endings as a result. You can get it here if you want.

This was my top unread sf book (fairy tales count). Next on that pile is The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

World Cup, Second Round, Day Five

No matches tomorrow, so no poll today, just congratulations to an unprecedented ten people who got both of yesterday’s results right: po8crg, hano, trepkos, busarewski, arwel_p, johnny9fingers, redfiona99, vilakins, huskyteer and me.

And crumbs, the Belgium match was just a bit more exciting in the second half than the first, wasn’t it???

My tweets

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Monday reading blog

The Way By Swann's, by Marcel Proust
Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, by Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain

Last books finished
Le Mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Rose de Paris, by Gilles Schlesser and Eric Puech
Robot Visions, by Isaac Asimov
The Complete Ice Age, by Brian M. Fagan
Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire
Your Code Name is Jonah, by Edward Packard

Next books
Anno Mortis, by Rebecca Leven
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters

World Cup, Second Round, Day Four

Poll #2082809 World Cup, Second Round, Day Four

Who will win the first match on Tuesday?

Sweden will beat Switzerland
Switzerland will beat Sweden

Who will win the second match on Tuesday?

Colombia will beat England
England will beat Colombia

You should be able to vote using your Facebook or Twitter account, even if you aren't on Livejournal.

Well, yesterday was dramatic, wasn’t it? Most of us expected Croatia to beat Denmark (probably a bit more easily); only coughingbear combined that with predicting a Russia win as well.

My tweets

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Vasectomy, ten years on

I had a vasectomy just over ten years ago, at the end of June 2008. The reasoning was fairly simple. When you have two children with severe disabilities, it’s difficult not to conclude that something is up genetically. In any case I was 41, and we had three children and did not want any more. So the choice was between continued use of contraception, with the non-zero attendant risks of failure, or medical intervention.

And the fact is that a vasectomy is far less invasive than the equivalent procedures for people with wombs and Fallopian tubes, which involve major surgery. It is an uncomfortable day in outpatients followed by a few uncomfortable days of recovery, and then it’s over; and your mind is at rest. And you can’t really compare the discomfort of a few days of exceptionally tender groin swelling to the bodily disruptions of pregnancy and childbirth. (One interesting point on consent - the hospital needed Anne’s signature as well as my own before going ahead.)

In retrospect, I should not have scheduled the procedure for the week before I moved office. My testicles swollen to the size of grapefruit (well, maybe not quite that big, but it sure felt like it) I was reduced to sitting around, in a masterly but uncomfortable way, watching my colleague, aided by a helpful friend and young F (then aged eight), packing and then unpacking boxes and assembling newly bought IKEA furniture. Also, a few days earlier I had broken a back tooth on an olive stone, so I was in some distress at both ends.

But in the end, there are worse things in life. Fortunately we have the technology to safely control our own reproduction; and while not everyone may want to use it, we should strive to ensure that everyone is able to access it when they need it.


World Cup, Second Round, Day Three

Poll #2082784 World Cup, Second Round, Day Three

Who will win the first match on Monday?

Brazil will beat Mexico
Mexico will beat Brazil

Who will win the second match on Monday?

Belgium will beat Japan
Japan will beat Belgium

You should be able to vote using your Facebook or Twitter account, even if you aren't on Livejournal.

Well done to busarewski, trepkos, arwel_p and redfiona99 who all called the winners of both matches yesterday. I drew France and Portugal respectively in our London and Brussels office pools, so at least I still have one team in the running.

My tweets

June Books

Non-fiction: 2 (YTD 27)
Virgins, Weeders and Queens, by Twigs Way
Brexit and the Future of Ireland: Uniting Ireland & Its People in Peace & Prosperity, by Senator Mark Daly

Fiction non-sf): 2 (YTD 16)
Gemini, by Dorothy Dunnett
Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi

Theatre: 2 (YTD 3)
Everybody Comes to Rick's, by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
Le Mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

sf (non-Who): 12 (YTD 61)
The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi
Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee
Penric’s Fox, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Stories of the Raksura vol. 2, by Martha Wells
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty
Introduction to the Stormlight Archive for Hugo Voters, by Brandon Sanderson
The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, by James Finn Garner
Moominvalley in November, by Tove Jansson
Heroine Complex, by Sarah Kuhn

Doctor Who, etc: 1 (YTD 18)
Old Friends, by Jonathan Clements, Marc Platt and Pete Kempshall

Comics: 1 (YTD 16)
Rose de Paris, by Gilles Schlesser and Eric Puech

~6,200 pages (YTD ~39,200)
9/20 (YTD 62/141) by non-male writers (Way, Dunnett, Selasi, Alison, Bujold, Wells, Lafferty, Jansson, Kuhn)
3/20 (YTD 18/141) by PoC (Selasi, Lee, Kuhn)
0/20 (YTD 6/141) reread

Reading now
Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire
Robot Visions, by Isaac Asimov
The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World, ed. Brian Fagan

Coming soon (perhaps):
Your Code Name is Jonah, by Edward Packard
Anno Mortis, by Rebecca Levene
“Slow Sculpture”, by Theodore Sturgeon
The Aeneid, by Virgil
Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, by Abel Lanzac
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
The Man Within My Head, by Pico Iyer
Maigret Loses His Temper, by Georges Simenon
Up Jim River, by Michael Flynn
The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer
Aztec Century, by Christopher Evans
Anno Dracula - Dracula Cha Cha Cha, by Kim Newman
The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgar Cantero
The Martian Inca, by Ian Watson
High-Rise, by J. G. Ballard
Politics of Climate Change, by Anthony Giddens
Aliénor, la Légende noire, tome 5, by Arnaud Delalande, Simona Mogavino and Carlos Gomez
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink
The Flood, by Scott Gray and Gareth Roberts
The Two Jasons, by Dave Stone

World Cup, Second Round, Day Two

Poll #2082748 World Cup, Second Round, Day Two

Who will win the first match on Sunday?

Croatia will beat Denmark
Denmark will beat Croatia

Who will win the second match on Sunday?

Spain will beat Russia
Russia will beat Spain

You should be able to vote using your Facebook or Twitter account, even if you aren't on Livejournal.

My tweets

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This is a set of two Big Finish plays released in 2014, featuring the full early Fifth Doctor line-up - Peter Davison, Sara Sutton, Janet Fielding and for the first time Matthew Waterhouse.

The first story, Psychodrome by Jonathan Morris, is explicitly set immediately after Castrovalva, and features a complex narrative of the Tardis crew dealing with their own images of each other. The guest cast are put through their paces, each of them having to play three different roles - particularly Robert Whitelock, who does three different Doctor-substitutes as perceived by the others. As Peter Davison points out in the extras, it's good to have a bridging narrative from the uneasy relationships at the end of Castrovalva to the relative comfort of later stories.

I spotted Iterations of I in my St Patrick's Day post of Doctor Who stories set in Ireland, of which the vast majority are Big Finish audios. It's set between Black Orchid and Earthshock, Adric in his hubris attempting to pilot the Tardis and ending up on an island off the Irish coast where the crew become involved with a missing person investigation, a strange cult and the awful prospect of sentient numbers, a gonzo concept which is well-used by not being too deeply explored. The wonderful Sinead Keenan is the lead female guest, sadly not depicted on the cover. There's no particular reason for this story to be set in Ireland, but there's no reason why not either.

You can get them both here.

World Cup, Second Round, Day One

Poll #2082711 World Cup, Second Round, Day One

Who will win the first match on Saturday?

France will beat Argentina
Argentina will beat France

Who will win the second match on Saturday?

Uruguay will beat Portugal
Portugal will beat Uruguay

You should be able to vote using your Facebook or Twitter account, even if you aren't on Livejournal.

Yesterday nobody called all four matches correctly. redfiona99 and I failed to foresee Poland's victory, but got the other three right, whereas coughingbear and hano hoped in vain for England not to lose against Belgium, but predicted the other three results.

The state of play after the first round is as follows:

N %
nwhyte 27 48 56%
johnny9fingers 20 42 48%
vilakins 19 42 45%
redfiona99 16 34 47%
trepkos 16 34 47%
coughingbear 11 18 61%
drplokta 10 24 42%
yiskah 8 13 62%
mount_oregano 8 16 50%
sevenorora 8 18 44%
hano 7 13 54%
pseudomantid 6 9 67%
po8crg 5 6 83%
dave_gallaher 3 3 100%
slemslempike 3 9 33%
huskyteer 3 13 23%
infinitemonkeys 2 3 67%
busarewski 2 4 50%
strange_complex 1 1 100%
lexin 1 3 33%
liliaeth 1 3 33%
tournesolavande 1 3 33%
sekvo 1 4 25%
arwel_p 0 1 0%

My tweets

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Daniela will help me make sense of whatever's happening.
I picked this up early last year when it seemed to have some buzz behind it, but have only now got round to reading it. It's a rather impressively done multiple time-line story. Our protagonist gave up a potentially brilliant academic career for the sake of his relationship with his partner; fifteen years on, his alter ego from a different fork comes to displace him. The parallel universe science is a bit wobbly, and the writing a bit staccato in places, but the central question is well put, of to what extent each of us is the sum of our own experiences. There is a thrilling denouement where the narrator turns out to be literally his own worst enemy, many times over; I felt it was generally well executed. You can get it here.

This was the top unread book that I acquired last year. Next on that list is High-Rise, by J.G. Ballard.

World Cup, Day Sixteen

No matches tomorrow, so no poll today. Yesterday was another day of surprises, with nobody expecting South Korea to beat Germany. Most people expected Brazil to beat Serbia; but of those, only coughingbear expected Sweden to beat Mexico, and only sevenorora forecast the Costa Rica-Switzerland draw.

My tweets

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