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text 2018-07-08 16:46
The Sunday Post: Macbeth Country, well more of it... sort of.

Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more.

By Sinel’s death I know I am Thane of Glamis;

But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives,

A prosperous gentleman; and to be King

 Stands not within the prospect of belief,

No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence

You owe this strange intelligence, or why

Upon this blasted heath you stop our way

With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.

 

- William Shakespeare - Macbeth (Act I, Scene III)

 

 “I wish the Bard had never written his damned play!

- John Campbell, 5th Earl Cawdor 

It's been a stressful and rather frustrating week at BT HQ last which started with some-Brexit induced admin nightmare, which needed me to seek out the an appointment at Glasgow City Council on Monday because none of the council offices closer to home, i.e. on the other side of the country, were able to offer the required services. This was pretty stressful in itself (had to take a day off work on short notice and nearly panicked when sitting down for getting paperwork checked etc. it looked like I might have misplaced a bit of it ... it did re-appear in a different pile ... but that was one long minute of near panic) but a few days after I received a call from the council officer whose only task in this whole process was to take copies: the copies had turned out blurry and could I "pop in" for another round?

 

Erm, ... no.

 

So, several calls with people on withheld numbers and the local Chief Registrar later, we got another plan of action.

As it turns out, if I had submitted my paperwork a few days later, there would have been no need to trek to Glasgow because my local council will start offering the same admin service on Monday. Monday as in from tomorrow. And by local I mean the council office that is is a 10 minute walk away. But of course this was not announced anywhere least of all on the relevant government websites... GAAAAAHH!!!!

 

Tuesday brought with it a minor surgery - nothing serious, but it needed to be done - which went very well apart from some slight discomfort and the weird experience of asking the consultant to stop telling me in detail what he was about to do. I'm not exaggerating when I tell people that I can't read gory horror stories or thrillers... The descriptions really make me queasy. And as I found out, being at the receiving end of even a minor surgical procedure while being told the descriptions and wherefores of incisions etc. does not make me feel any comfortable at all.

Apparently, my request that the consultant stop the narration and get on with the procedure was unusual and a lot of people want to know the details. Well, each to their own. I now know that I'd rather know the plan step-by-step beforehand but not during.

 

The rest of this week was a bit of a mess really, but not being one for moping about in fine weather (even if I wasn't allowed to play tennis - because sutures...), I figured it was a fine day for exploring a castle that I had not been to, yet.

 

Cawdor Castle, near Nairn in the north of Scotland had been on my list for a long, long time. As some of you may know, I have a bit of a thing for Macbeth - both Shakespeare's version and the historical figure - and one of my other favourite castles to spend time at is Glamis (near Forfar), but I just had not had a chance to make the trip to Cawdor (about 3 hours of leisurely driving in good weather). 

 

It was a fabulous decision. I mean just look at this beauty of a castle:

 

And the inside of it was just so ... let me show you because they had no problems with people taking plenty of photos of the amazing place:

 

 

Just look at them BOOKS! It's a lived in castle. The Dowager Countess does still live there and as one lady-in-a-hurry told me in passing, she does do most of the administration of the castle herself.

 

Also, there was a maze ... with a minotaur. :D

 

 

The castle was built in the late 14th, early 15th century. As the official guide book says:

"A new higher, harder site was chosen (traditionally by a donkey rather than by an architect - creatures with much in common), and as this rocky position was water-bearing yet firm, it could provide both a drinking-well and a strong foundation.

The tall, plain rectangular tower-house consisted of four storeys and a garret, served by a turnpike stair, and with one entrance to the outside world set at upper first floor level: the perfect design to keep out tourists."

So, what's the connection with Shakespeare? 

 

Well, Macbeth (1005 - 1057) was real, but he was not a Thane of Cawdor (nor of Glamis btw.). King Duncan was killed, but he was killed in outright battle by Macbeth's troops, not in his sleep while being a guest under Macbeth's roof. 

 

And as for the roof itself: The play was written in 1606 but not printed until 1632, i.e. after Shakespeare's death. However, the places described in the play were apparently added quite late in the play's publication history. So, can we really know whether the locations in the published versions are the ones Shakespeare intended? 

 

Even if so, Cawdor was not one of them. The play notes Macbeth's castle near Inverness, but this could just as well have meant the original Inverness Castle or another castle in the area - there are several - or it could have just all been invented. After all, it's a play! 

 

Most of all, of course, the possibility of the Cawdor Castle being the location of that gruesome midnight murder that lost King Duncan his life, Macbeth his sleep, and Lady Macbeth her mind, blows up in a puff of smoke when you look at the dates: the castle wasn't built until the 1400s and the previous castle near Nairn (about 5 miles away) was also built over a hundred years after Kind Duncan's death.  

 

So, I get that the Campbells, the owners of the castle, get a bit touchy every time some fan of the play takes Shakespeare's play as historical fact. There should be space enough in people's heads to hold both versions and people should have the critical thinking skills to be able to make the distinction between fact and fiction. Otherwise, we are letting entertainment and propaganda form our opinions and write our history books. 

 

Oh, hang on, ... that's already happened, ... and is still happening.

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review 2018-02-04 13:57
Wallace at Bay
Wallace at Bay (Wallace of the Secret Service) - Alexander Wilson

Wallace at Bay was my first encounter with Wallace, chief of the Secret Service, and it was not great. Maybe I should have started at the beginning of the series, but I somehow doubt that this would have changed anything because my issues with the book are not about the lack of background or setting, my issues are simply that the overtones of xenophobia and nationalism spoiled the book to an extent that I would even prefer a James Bond romp to this one. 

"Of course I don't know the district very well," Carter told her, "but it has struck me whenever I've been round this way, that the first house on this side - the one next door to the school - is about the most decayed of the lot. I suppose it is owned by the same landlord, isn't it?"

"Lord bless you, no! There's umpteen landlords own these houses and, if you ask me, they're all as bad as one another. Letting the places go to rack and ruin, that's what they're doing, but I don't suppose they care as long as they get their rent."

"Still," persisted Carter, "tidy tenants can improve even dilapidated houses by growing flowers in the front, banging up clean curtains and that sort of thing. The people in the house of which I am speaking don't seem to have any of what you might describe as home pride."

"Home pride!" snorted the lady behind the bar. "I should think not indeed. Do you know who live in that house?"

He smiled. "No, I'm afraid I don't."

"Foreigners, all the blesses lot of them. And what can you expect from foreigners?"

This is not the only instance - when the officials raid the house to arrest a bunch of "anarchists", the flat is described as a filthy hovel, but what else could one expect? 

 

There are other issues, too:

 

The "anarchists". This book was written in 1938. It does not seem to make sense to have "anarchists" as villains. To me this plot would have made more sense if it had been set pre-WWI, but it clearly isn't because the Cenotaph features in the plot.
In the second half of the book, Wilson seems to equate "anarchism" with "Bolshevism", which is not strictly true either. It would make more sense if he had focused on "Bolshies", but then why would their efforts be limited to the assassination of royalty? 

Of course, all of the villains, all of the "anarchists", are "foreigners" and the general description of the generalised "foreigners" is pretty harsh, and just ...stupid, including the made up accents, which seem to be all the same.

 

Wallace of the Secret Service is a pretentious snob, who is portrayed as the adored hero of all his underlings and the personal enemy of all villains everywhere. This is again ... ill-conceived.

Wallace does lead the operation but the actual story follows Carter, an agent who is at the forefront of all the action. Wallace hardly does anything in this book. It makes no sense for Carter or anyone else to focus on the amazing Wallace, when they're the ones solving all the puzzles. Holy sycophantic hero worship, Batman!

 

It all read like a boy's own adventure story - which it was. Literally. Apart from the two women discussing foreigners with Carter, there is only one mention of another. She doesn't even feature in the story, she is only mentioned! And in that mention, Carter, Wallace and the boys question her ... morals? ... for having a child by the evil chief villain ... who is a dwarf. 

 

I originally gave this story 2* but that was generous. It may been motivated by a sense of curiosity of whether Ian Fleming was aware of this series, because he also loved to display his villains as ugly, degenerate, perverted, or otherwise ... different.

 

In all earnest, tho, I cannot wait to remove the book from my shelves.

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text 2016-10-13 21:26
Bleepedybleepedybleepedybleep

... or for the non-American TV-challenged: Fuckedyfuckedy ... (you get the picture).

 

http://m.memegen.com/o05mj5.jpg

 

So it didn't just turn out one more week, but 2 1/2 f*ucking solid weeks of me and a select few equally fortunate people being chained to conference room chairs and computers, with straight 15-18 hour work days practically the whole time and no time off even on the weekends, not to mention three almost-alnighters (as in: 2 hours of sleep); never mind that the rest of the country was enjoying a three-day holiday weekend at the beginning of this month (while for yours truly, one of the three almost-alnighters fell squat in the middle of said [nonexistant] three-day holiday weekend).

 

The good news is that Elvis the magnum opus we've been working on like crazy has finally left the station.  The bad news is that there's another one looming in our immediate future, though hopefully not quite as involved as this just-completed one.

 

In the interim, I've doubtlessly missed a ton of BookLikes fun in general and Halloween Bingo fun in particular; not to mention the buddy read I'd particularly been looking forward to (The Hound of the Baskervilles).  Well, I'm going to try and come up with a sort of replacement buddy read post at least and see whether there are some aspects of the conversation that it still makes sense for me to join ... though I have no doubt that it's essentially done and dusted -- the novel just isn't long enough for that! :(

 

In other news, hurricane Matthew seems to have ravaged Haiti and a few other parts of the Caribbean while I was exiled on planet work, the mud-slinging contest that passes for this year's American presidential elections seems to have spun yet another bit more out of control ("post-fact politics" anyone ...? Lord, what a concept!), Germany evaded a Paris / Brussels style terrorist attack by the skin of our teeth, thanks to the courage of three Syrian refugees who recognized the terrorist, tied him up in their apartment and turned him over to the authorities (as a consequence of which brave act they and their families are now afraid for their own lives), and the world has lost yet another couple of major cultural and political icons (Dario Fo, Neville Mariner, and Simon Peres, to name just three).

 

But hey, what am I complaining about ... BookLikes is still here!  So yey for that!!!

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review 2015-11-23 01:10
Out of Africa
Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass - Karen Blixen,Isak Dinesen

"There is something strangely determinate and fatal about a single shot in the night. It is as if someone had cried a message to you in one word, and would not repeat it. I stood for some time wondering what it had meant. Nobody could aim at anything at this hour, and, to scare away something, a person would fire two shots or more."

 

There is some truly beautiful writing in this book.

 

When describing the land and the wildlife of Africa, Dinesen (i.e. Karen Blixen) truly shines as a writer and I can only believe that it is this aspect of her book that resonates with so many who rate this book, Out of Africa, highly. I mean, the film of the same title is not really based on and has little to do with this book, so clearly readers must see something else in the book that appeals to them - and I'm guessing it is the lyrical description of the African landscape. If the book contained itself to her impressions of the land, I would have loved this book, too.

 

Unfortunately, no amount of lyrical prose was able to outweigh the aspects of the book that really drove me nuts, none more so than the way author writes about the people of Kenya and, by doing so, what we learn about the author herself.

 

After reading only a couple of chapter I was utterly conflicted whether the author's constant racism was a result of her genuine believe that white Europeans were supreme to the primitive natives or whether her offensive descriptions of "the Natives" was a result of some sort of mistake in articulating what she really meant.

Seeing the she continued to generalise about African people and compare them to animals throughout the book, it leaves little argument against the assumption that Dinesen really believed in the superiority of the white "Immigrants". 

 

So the next question that occurred (and as one fellow reader pointed out also) is, how much of the casual racism was a result of the time that Dinesen lived in?

 

Well, seeing that she lived in Africa between 1915 and 1931 (Out of Africa was published in 1937), it is of course to be expected that her views are reflecting the mores of a less enlightened time, which is somewhat ironic as she fills the book with literary and philosophical references in an attempt to show off her worldliness and pretends to present herself as an enlightened, witty and intellectual woman. This in particular made me want to smack her with a copy Markham's West with the Night. Markham may have had her shortcomings but she did not need to fuel her self-confidence by patronising anyone, least her African neighbours.

 

As much as Dinesen's racism may have been a reflection of her time, it became clear when reading the first story in Shadows on the Grass, that Dinesen's believe of superiority must have been ingrained in her more deeply than just as an expression of a sentiment that was popular within her social circles.

 

Shadows on the Grass was published in 1960. So, at that time Dinesen had not only returned to Europe, but had also widely travelled, was at home in the artistic and literary circles of Europe and the US, and as any enlightened intellectual of the time would have been exposed to current affairs of the world such as the beginning of the civil rights movement in the US, the demise of the colonial systems as a result of the moral issues raised with supremacist theories after WWII, etc. Yet, the first story in Shadows on the Grass contains the same racist bullshit as Out of Africa including the following:

 

"The dark nations of Africa, strikingly precocious as young children, seemed to come to a standstill in their mental growth at different ages. The Kikuyu, Kawirondo and Wakamba, the people who worked for me at the farm, in early childhood were far ahead of the white children of the same age, but they stopped quite suddenly at a stage corresponding to that of a European child of nine."

 

She even goes on to say that she found some pseudo-scientific theory to support her musings on the qualities of different races. Of course, this only takes up one paragraph in the book and she does not present any arguments that may contradict her opinions.

 

How is this supportable by the justification that she was a writer of her time? Had she been "of her time" I would have expected her to move on, but no.

 

What the book also told me about Dinesen is that she had more appreciation and compassion for animals than for human beings. She was against killing animals for sport - except lions (lions were fair game, apparently), which was quite unusual for a member of the society she lived in, and also considering that the love of her life, Denys Finch-Hatton, organised safaris for wealthy big game hunters.  And yet, when confronted with the victim of a shooting accident, a child who had been shot accidentally, all she can say is the following:

 

"When you are brought suddenly within the presence of such disaster, there seems to be but one advice, it is the remedy of the shooting-field and the farmyard: that you should kill quickly and at any cost. And yet you know that you cannot kill, and your brain turns with fear. I put my hands to the child's head and pressed it in my despair, and, as if I had really killed him, he at the same moment stopped screaming, and sat erect with his arms hanging down, as if he was made of wood. So now I know what it feels like to heal by imposition."

 

So, her first instinct is to shoot the child? The second insight she gains is that she deludes herself into thinking she could heal by laying on hands?

 

Actually, there is more about her delusional exploits as a medic when deciding to become the primary medical care giver to the Natives on her farm. Granted, any first aid may have been better than none, but at no time does she pretend to want to find out if what she's doing is of any medical help, and it looks like failures didn't make her stop to think, either:

 

"I knew very little of doctoring, just what you learn at a first aid course. But my renown as a doctor had been spread by a few chance lucky cures, and had not been decreased the catastrophic mistakes that I had made."

 

So, again while some of the writing is great, I just cannot muster any sympathy or liking for the author, who, to me, came across as an ignorant, utterly delusional, racist, ever pretending to be something she was not.

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text 2015-11-21 17:03
Out of Africa - Reading progress update: I've read 20 out of 462 pages.
Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass - Karen Blixen,Isak Dinesen

"Noble found I
ever the Native
and insipid the Immigrant."

 

Yup. None more so than the author it seems. This is going to be a long, frustrating read.

 

I'm only a chapter in but so far Dinesen/Blixen seems naive or utterly stupid at best, willfully ignorant or supremacist at worst.

 

How is this a beloved classic if the first 20 pages already thrive on tripe like this?

 

"The Natives were Africa in flesh and blood. The tall extinct volcano of Longonot that rises above the Rift Valley, the broad Mimosa trees along the rivers, the Elephant and the Giraffe, were not more truly Africa than the Natives were, - small figures in an immense scenery. All were different expressions of one idea, variations upon the same theme."

 

or

 

"When we really did break into the Natives' existence, they behaved like ants, when you poke a stick into their ant-hill; they wiped out the damage with unwearied energy, swiftly and silently, - as if obliterating an unseemly action.

We could not know, and could not imagine, what the dangers were that they feared from our hands. I myself think that they were afraid of us more in the manner in which you are afraid of a sudden terrific noise, than as you are afraid of suffering and death."

 

Yeah, because all "Natives" are basically the same and colonialism was not at all ruled by suffering and death?

Stupid, stupid woman.

 

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