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It's always a bit odd reviewing a person, especially when it's someone you've met - ok, twice, and only personally in a very brief sort of way. But it does make for a curious perspective. Emma Restal Orr is a Druid, and an author. She turns up on the radio every so often, she leads huge rituals at Avebury and Stonehenge, runs courses and is blatantly an unfeasibly busy person. If your interested in her as a person, her homepage is http://www.nemeton.demon.co.uk/Bobcat.html - it's interesting, and has some good links to other Druid sites. Emma Restall Orr is the leading light in the Druid Network - www.druidnetwork.org and for a long time was joint leader of the British Druid Order - www.druidorder.demon.co.uk I've read three books by ERO, which I will briefly overview here. The first thing to say, is these aren't 'how to' books. They tend to turn up in Mind Body Spirit sections of bookshops, and in new age places, but they aren't going to teach you how to do Druidry, how to cast spells or anything like that - if that was what you were after, this isn't for you. 'Principles of Druidry' - published by Thornsons as part of their 'Principles' series. This is a book aimed at people who are just starting to consider their spirituality, it's for people who don't know anyhting much about paganism- anyone with experience of paganism, or Druidry is probably going to find it all a tad superficial, although it does include a few gems of ideas that make it well worth reading. If you've looked around and wondered what you're here for, and what it all means, if you've felt a draw towards the image of Druidry, this is the book to read. I would recomend it to others who are further along their paths, but be aware of who its aimed at. It gives you some idea of what Druidry is, how its practised today and how to become involved, but it wont' tell you how to do it, just how to fi nd the path. 'Ritual' - this one's on dooyoo with several very good and detailed reviews, so please have a look at those. This is a more focused book, while not a how to' it does go into a lot of detail both about the natuire of Druidry and Druid ritual, it's point, and some examples of how you might go about doing it. This is a book ideally used to support other learning - if you are part of a Grove, or studying with OBOD (www.druidry.org - they do correspondance courses) or doing some other course in Druidry, then this will be a great aid, full of colourfuld descriptions, vivid writing and good ideas. On its own, it isn't going to teach you how to be a Druid, and really speaking, the nature of Druidry is such that you can't really learn much about it without interacting with others in some way. 'Spirits of the Sacred grove' - later re-published as 'Druid Priestess'. Again, this isn't a 'how to' book, although there's a lot that you can take from it. It's very personal and an exploration of the Druid calender, peppered with autobiographical details. It's beautifully written, intensley moving, sometimes hard to follow and I couldn't put it down. It requires you to have a very open mind about the nature of reality. It's a very interesting read and has given me a great deal of inspiritaiton, coupled with a much better idea of what Druidry is all about. I would strongly recoomend it. I would also say, if you've never read anything about Paganism, much less Druidry, don't start here - it doesn't hand out much in the way of explanations, and I doubt it would be that heklpful for someone totally new to things Pagan. Further to this, ERO has written a huge number of articles, been interviewd countless times etc - a brief internet search on ehr name will give you pages and pages of material. She's an interesting writers, a very unusual person and well wo rth a look.
Standing on the Salisbury plain, Stonehenge is an amazing and iconic site. No one really knows who built it, or when, or why. it was built in stages, with holes in the ground, wooden constructions and finally the stones. The place is far from pristine, with many stones fallen or missing, but even so it is a huge and impressive construction, with giant stones towering over you, casting long shadows. The tourist experience is one that I've seen and can guess a fair amount about - you arrive by car, there doesn't seem to be any option for getting here on public transport, its a fair hike from the nearest town. The car park is large, as you'd expect with a world famous site. there's the obligatory shop with overpriced memorobelia of dubius quality -you know, the little plastic models and the tea towels sold in every tourist trap. The loos are remarkably cold. The car park does afford you some amazing views out across the Salisbury plain. Accompanied by the hum of traffic - Stonehenge is right on the edge of a road, you go under said road, and past the fence put up to protect the site from careless visitors, into the area of the circle. There's a smooth, flat path for you to walk around, suitable for wheelchairs, pushchairs and the otherwise less mobile. Even walking slowly it won't take you long to get round. You can't walk on the grass and explore the earthwork around the edge, nor can you go up to the stones. I wonder how many people are dissappointed by this. I recall going past in a car once, seeing a large number of people walking slowly round the path. it didn't look inspiring. I gather from friends who have done this, that the expereince is not a profound one and that the atmosphere is 'lacking'. My story is a somewhat different one. We set off from Gloucester at about half past eleven, at night, with the roads almost empty. We stopped for a while near woodhenge, to watch the first hints of dawn touching the sky, and then went on to Stonehenge. When we arrived at the car park it was about three in the morning, it was freezing cold, and there was thick mist on the plain - through which the tumuli appeared like small islands. Other people were gathering and already there was an atmosphere of anticipation and possibility. Throughout the year, various Pagan groups have access to this ancient site. The most famous being the summer solstice gathering when people descend in their thousands. This was a much smaller group, meeting some days after. It was starting to get light as we made our way into the stones, at first following the tourist path, and then, where we where directed, moving into the circle. It was peaceful, reverent. I walked clockwise aroud the circle, between the outer ring of stones and the smaller inner one. We chanted, we sang, we meditated and we watched the sun come up through the mist. It was one of the most awe inspiring, breathtaking expereinces imaginable. There's little traffic around that time, and the skylarks were singing in the dawn. Would that everyone could experience the place in such a way - not as a curiosity or monument, but as a living part of the landscape, and a temple of the sun (Ok, it might not have been built as a solar temple or calander or anything like that, but watching the sun come up between the stones is dam impressive anyway.) My advice if you go to Stonehenge during normal opening hours, is to take your time, to close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine how it would be without the cars, the tourists, the continually snapping of cameras. It is an incredible place, a place with the power to stir the soul and ignite the imagiantion. It's also a place people visit to walk round and tick off their list of places they've seen, which to my mind is a waste of any expereince, regardless of the location you visit.
Somewhere in the South West of Britian lies the strange and ancient Ryhope wood. If you circle it from the outside, it's not so very big. Ordinary people live on its permieters and its close to a very old village called Shadox. But those few people who go into the wood, often don't come out again. 'Mythago wood' is a gloriously strange tale of magic, myth and possibility. It's beautifully written, if flawed. One of the problems in talking about it, is that any description of the plot ruins some of the surprises, but I'll do my best to keep it minimal. This is the sort of book where you don't even want to have read the dust jacket! George Huxley is a man of science living on the edge of Ryhope in the 1940s, with his sons. Along with his friend Wyn-Jones, Huxely has been exploring the wood and making notes on its properties. Eventualy, both men seem to simply vanish into the small wood, never to be seen again. Huxley's son Christian seems to know something about it -he's not been on the best of terms with his father, perhaps a murder mystery is at the heart of the tale. Christian has fallen in love with a red headed woman who came out of the wood one day, a woman his father also loved and who sparked fierce rivalry between the two. After a eries of strange events, Christian himself goes into the wood. What role has the ebautiful Guinneth played in the dissappearance of first father and then son? Steven, the remaining child, has to find out, encountering the mysterious and alluring Guinneth for himself. Steven must discover who and what Guinneth is an unravel the mysteries of the wood if he is to have any hope fo reclaiming his lost Father and brother. But Ryhope is a strange place with many secrets, and once a person has entered it, they find it very hard to leave again. When Steven goes into the wood finally, he does so in the company of a young man called Harry, shot down in the war, horribley scarred, and aware of something about the mystery of Ryhope that he's keeping rom his companion. What follows is an incredible tale of adventure, love and emnity. This is an eery and peculiar tale, full of twists, turns and surprising developments. It's richly described and based on some truly fantastic ideas. There's just one flaw - folklore is important in this tale, but Holdstock clearly knows little about it, and to anyone who does, this can be rather frustrating. On the plus side, this is not a problem in the sequel -'Lavondyss' which is much better researched. If you've ever felt other presences in a wood, or wondered what the trees dream of, or whether things always stay just as they are when you aren't looking at them, if you've ever wondered where myths come from and how they stay alive, then this is the book for you. This is fantasy, but it's rooted in our landscape and myths. It's not like any other fantasy novel I've read, it's refreshingly original and a very fine read. Heartily reccommended to just about anyone who doesn't mind having to think about their fiction.
Red Leicester is one of our traditional cheeses, and a very good cheese it is too - versatile, affordable and not too hard to get your hands on. Leicester is a red cheese. In practise this means it tends to be a sort of orangey colour. I gather the process for maknig it is much akin to the techniques that give us Cheddar, and this is not surprising, for the Leicester cheese is, in terms of taste, very much like Cheddar. There are subtle differences, which anyone with a delicate cheese orrientated palate will identify. Generally speaking, it tends to be a tad less salty than Cheddar. While Cheddar comes in a broad spectrum of strengths, the red Leicester you'll find in most shops tends to be relatively mild. If you can get a farm Leicester or one from a small producer, you will find ( as is almost always the case) that it's a very differrent expereince. For most of us though, it depends on the supermarket. If you go through the pre-packaged cheese section of your local supermarket, you will see that there are yellow cheese (allegedly Cheddar) and orange cheeses (allegedly red Leicester more often than not.) If you like bland cheese that tastes faintly of salt and of nothnig else, but doesn't cost much, have one of these. The orange ones are a different colour and frankly that's about all there is in it. These are not proper cheeses. They are lifeless factory pieces. Wander to the deli counter and you'll get something a bit more promising. These aren't going to be state of the art cheeses either, but they aren't bad. Red leicster is quite a common cheese, it's easy enough to find and it tends to be priced quite reasonably. (Sainsburys are often selling it off cheap at my local, and I've been getting it for £2 per kilo, which is very cheap indeed, normally it's about twice that, which even so makes it a cheaper cheese). Leicester is a hard cheese, but its not rock like, squeeze it and it'l l give, role it into little balls in your fingers if you get the urge. It isn't especially crumbly, it has a creamy delicate flavour and is not an acquired taste. If you like simple cheeses that aren't going to challenge you, this one is a safe bet. (If you only like weird cheese with things growing on the rinds and a distinct hint of sheep, then this is probably going to be too ordinary for you!). Normally this cheese won't have a rind on it, but if you keep it too long it does start growing little white moulds, which I wouldn't recomend. It'll happily keep in your fridge for over a week though, it's not a tempermental cheese. That said, it does, like most cheeses, do better if it doesn't get to warm, as it will melt, go limp and sweat out its fats, none of which improve the texture or flavour. Wrap it carefully before storing it in the fridge or it dries out dreadfully and becomes quite grim. Eating options - this is where Red Leicester really comes into its own - it is a very versatile cheese. It's easy to slice so it makes a good sandwich, going well with salads, pickels, mustard or whatever else takes your fancy. It's got enough flavour to make a nice cheese with biscuits after meal snack. It grates easily so you can sprinkle it over salad, pasta, soup etc to good effect. With the bright orangey colour, its a great way of adding colour to meals - it makes an excellent cheese sauce and is very good if you want to brighten up cauliflower cheese or macaroni cheese. It is a very easy cheese to cook with and will give you good results. The bright colour is a real bonus when feeding children. On the whole, a very good cheese indeed - a nice alternative to Cheddar if you are trying to vary your cheese eating a bit, a safe bet with children, god value, easy to store, easy to use and an easy way to lvien up your cooking. I like it, I'd certainly reccomend it.
Druidry, like many other Pagan paths, is rising in popularity at the moment. Emma Restall Orr, one of the leading lights in the British Druid Order, is one of the better known writers in this field. She's written a fair few books about Druidry, and if what I've seen thus far is typical, it's accessible and poetic stuff. perhaps not useful or ideal for everyone, but if Druidry tempts you, its a good place to make a start. 'Ritual' as a word conjures up images of elaborate costumes, symbolic actions, complex scripts and archaic wisdom. Rituals, in most perceptions, are something a bit elite, only available to those who have certain training, to priests and priestesses. It can all be a bit intimidating, or perhaps worse, it can all seem a bit superficial and pointless. The concept of Ritual as presented in this book is very differnt indeed: Ritual as making space in your life to let beauty and creativity in, ritual as a way of communing with people and places. Emma Restall Orr makes it very clear that ritual is something anyone can explore, alone or with friends, in wild palces or at home, with distinct religious beliefs or total agnosticism. 'Ritual' is what you make it, in many ways, and this book offers some excellent ways of thinking about such actions. In this book, ERO is talking about her own kind of Druidy. There are other groups and orders working in very different ways, so this is by no means a definative work. It is aimed for the greater part at people who have not really embarked on a spiritual path, who are fairly new to things Pagan and totally new to things Druidic. For anyone with a greater level of expereince, some of the passages may seem a bit obvious. But this in iteself can be a learning expereince, showing you how far you have come already. I have a couple of gripes, I'l slide them in now. Firstly, there's smatterings of history in here and they're a tad superficial. I like writin g that clearly references its sources, I know this is too academic for some people's tastes, but it niggles me when that sort of detail is mising, and missing it is. ERO has a very poetic writing style. Sometimes this can be very pleasing and evocative, sometimes it can be like trying to walk when waist deep in honey. Taken in isolation, any paragraph will read as being beautifully crafted, but it can be a bit of a surfiet if you're trying to read it in any more than tiny portions. I gather some people find this style very enjoyable, but I did occasionaly find it counterproductive. In the book, ERO lays out her ideas about what ritual is, and what its for. She talks you through the sorts of places you might use and how to go about doing that, about the tools you might find useful, and the sorts of elements you might want to consider. She talks in some detail about key elements of rituals and this is very useful for anyone looking at practising Druirdy. She also works through the eight main festivals - the solsitices, Equinoxes, Imbolg, Beltain, Lugnasadh and Samhain, exploring the nature of each and discussing ways in which these festivals might be honoured. There is also a section dealing with life rites - child welcomings, coming of age, marriage, elder rites and death rites. This section was one of the most interesting for me. (If anyone wants to know more about this sort of thing, there's an excellent organisation called Liferites who 'd recomend, I think they have a website.) So, that's the ritual covered, but what about the other elements in the title? Well, love is an interesting one. This book isn't going to give you love spells or magically get you the person of your dreams, before you start wondering. What it does is offer some very productive views about relationships, between pople, between people and land, people and spirits. ERO preaches connection with a passion, communion of spirit and trust in interaction. She talks about hard work and dedication, and she has a lot of things to say that can only help anyone who wants to broaden their relationships and find greater depth in them. Life - well, the book is in many ways about bringing ritual, tranquility and connection into your life. It's not about doing eight festivals a year, its about changing how you live on a daily basis, about making time for things that matter. It's also about honouring the relationships and transition moments that matter. If you take on board any of the elements in this book and actually try to live some of it, then inevitably your life is going to change. Inspiration - in Druidry, there's a concept called Awen, a flow of inspiration which can be tapped into. part of the point of ritual is clearing away the noise of every day life so that you can ehar the voice of spirit and inspiration. It's not just about inspiration for art or writing or the like, its inspiration to lvie more fully, to love more fully and expereince more fully. Initially I had real problems with this book, I found the first few chapters jarred somewhat and did not fit at all with where I was at the time. I was desperately looking for knowledge, for a better udnerstanding of Druidry, and I wanted something deep and detailed and challenging. But, once I actually got into the book, I found it contained some excellent ideas that I've been thinknig about ever since. While this book is particularly going to appeal to those studying Druidry or otherwise interested in Paganism, it isn't purely aimed at people from this background. My final observation is this. Having attended a ritual lead by Emma Restall Orr, she's a truly impressive person in the flesh, very charismatic and compelling. Her rituals are quite something to expereince.
A bit of background - I have no TV, I don't read tabloids, consequently I knew nothing about this band when I first heard them on the radio. For various reasons, 'All the things she said' really got under my skin, so I ended up with a copy of the album. For the record, I don't give a toss if Lena Katina and Julia Volkova are gay or not, or just using it as a gimick. I haven't seen any of their videos so cannot comment. I like the album. I don't listen to much pop, and I hate the terribly manifactured boy and girl bands, It might be an illusion, but these two just sounded a tad more fresh - maybe its the endearing accents - there's something about songs sung in English with accents that are from further afield (think Abba here). The album is not as long as it might first look, there are 14 tracks, but several of them are second versions of songs. Looking at the sleeve, it looks like the songs are largely written by the same team, but not by the girls themselves. However, there are definite themes - young lesbian love being in there, being interested in someone who isn't going to want you because you're the wrong gender, dealing with a society that isn't going to approve of your love affair. No bad thing I think - there may well be a few young gays and bis who are feeling a lot reassured by this duo. 'Not Gonna get us' was the second single and opens the cd. It's a lively upbeat pop song, quite repetative and probably one of the ones I'm less enamoured with. It's repeated in Russian for track ten, which seems to work slightly better. 'All the things she said,' is a song about the startling experience of being a girl who didn't think she was gay who is in the process of losing her heart to another woman. But even if you aren't embarking on something gay, it does capture the confusion and optimism of an early romance. Repeated as track 9, again in Russian and perhaps the more pasisonate version. 'Show me love' has a mellow ballady verse with an upbeat,poppy repetative chorus. There's two versions, the first is distinctly pop. The second, track 11, is longer and has a somewhat more interesting backing. it's a boppy sort of track, not deeply profound most of the time, although the lines 'Tell me how you've never felt delicate or innocent' are rather toucing. '30 Minutes' has a lovely intro. Sort of sinister musical box, and the song has a fairly catchy tune. This is one of the less repepatative songs.It's a song about deciding something but it never really tells you what. 'How soon is now', is a Morissey cover. Interesting song, not quite the same vein as their other stuff for obvious reasons. 'Clowns' suffers from the fact that their tune writer is a tad short of ideas. It manages to sound rather like evreything else. It lacks anything distinctive and is just forgettable, the sort of song you hear but never manage to listen to. 'Malchik Gay', is incredibly repeptative, but manages to do so in a more interesting and memorable way, it's the sort of song that will getin your head, follow you round and drive you slowly mad!(like that la-la-la Kylie thing did). Track 13 is a remix of this track, and I think it's the better version, the backing is cleaner and a bit heavier with some more interesting rhythms in it. Definitely a funkier version. 'Stars' is without a doubt my favouritte track on the album. It's slow and moody at the outset, and it has a dam good tune to boot. It isn't repeptative, the backing really compliments the tune and there's this very moody sax sound dotted through it. It alternates between anguished melodic singing in English and some angry shouty Russian - its the best song I think, the best written, the most thoughtful and the most original piece. Trac k 14 is Ne Ver, Ne Bosia, apparently their Eurovision entry. It's the only one that doesn't have its lyrics in the sleeve, so I have no idea what it's about. The cover's good, I like the fact that the Russian words are here too even if I don't understand them. The photos are not especially controversial. I've got a poster, which is sweet, but I'm not about to put it on my wall, and I've got a bonus cd rom which I can't watch propeerly at the moment cos my computer isn't really equal to that sort of thing, so I still don't know what all the fuss is about! As pop albums go, not bad. t's no work of genius, but it has its moments and some of the lyrics are touching. I think partly for me it had elements of turning up at a time when it was going to be resonant in some ways, but that's true of a lot of the music I fall in love with. As a package, the cd wih cd rom is a pretty good deal, if you can make use of both. If you can't its not quite such excellent value. It's not a bad album. I must add that my small son loves it, and invariably gets excited when he hears the intro to either version of 'All the things she said' - he bounces up and down, a sort of baby dancing I think. it was worth buying just for him doing that.
'Girl with a pearl earring' is a novel based on a painting of the same name, and it seems to make sense to start by talking about the art. If you scroll back up, you can in fact see the book cover, which I strongly recomend you do. The detail isn't so clear on this website, but it gives you an idea. A girl gazes over her shoulder, looking out at someone, perhaps at the artist who paints her. Her expression is enigmatic; perhaps fearful, perhaps seductive, certainly haunted, perhaps as though she about to say somrthing. It is a young face, but one full of character and emotion. The dress style is eccentric, with the colourful headdress, and the peal earring does not go so well with the dowdy brown of the cloth around her shoulders. But who is she? The artist was Vermeer, but the girl is unnamed and unidentified. If is out of this little mystery that Chevalier weaves her tale, exploring life in the Netherlands in the seventeen hundreds and takign us into the work of an artistic genuis. The story belongs to the Girl, she narrates it. Griet is the sixteen year old daughter of a tilemaker when the story opens. Her father has been blinded in an accident and can no longer work. Her brother has gone for an apprentice, she has a younger sister and her parents are very poor, barely able to survive. Griet is sent to work as a maid, for the Vermeer family. Griet is prtestant, the Venerr's are catholic and strange to her. She has an odd hosuehold to contend with - Tanneke, cantankerous fellow servant, Maria Thins, dominating matriarch and Catharina her unpredictable and jealous daughter, who has far more children than they can afford (eleven in the end). Some of the daughters are inclined towards friendship with Griet, but one, Cornelia, takes an instant dislike and sets out to make the girl's life a misery. And then there is the master, the painter, the man who will not let his wife into his studio. Life is hard for Grie t. Seperated from her family in a city threatened by plague, working long hours until her hands are so sore they bleed, living with a family that has no intention of making life easier for her. Her parents encourage her to court a butcher, it's the only way they can get meat on the table. Her mistress wants to keep her out of the way, at her washing and sewing. Cornelia wants to destroy her, and her master's wealthy patron wants her in his bed. What her master wants is an interesting question, and much of Griet's life comes to revolve around it. She is buffeted around by forces she cannot control, offered choices that are hardly choices at all and never does anyone pause to ask her what she wants in any of this. The detail is amazing, in terms of braod sweeps of historical informaiton and detail of ordinary life. It isn't heavily or awkwardly written though, the narrative has a natural and flowing quality to it that makes it very readable. While the current convention is to put everything on display , with confessional TV, Big brother and the like making ever greater intrusions into people's lives, this book is remarkably subtle. Griet is not about to bleed onto the page or drown us with her tears. She's a pragmatic girl and she keeps her feelings to herself, hinting at them sometimes. Partly because she does not always fully understand them herself, partly because some thnigs are too private. Between what is said and what is not, you can get a good idea of what might be happening. Chevalier creates some incredible tension between the characters, mostly due to their wariness about speaking. Perhaps the most impressive bit for me, is the way in which we are drawn into Vermeer's work through Griet's contact with him. His brief lessons to her are very educational, and the descriptions of his work fascinating. For anyone who enjoys fine art, this will be captivating. Griet's one true passion, I think, is not for any of the men in her life, but for colour This is an exqisitely written story, with beautiful descriptions and imagintive use of language. It isn't fast paced, but there is a lot going on. It doesn't sink into pathos or melodrama, it doesn't become too introspective. It is a skillfully crafted piece of work, and I cannot fault it in any way. I read this book because of Ophelia's excellent review. It's the first book I've bought purely in response to an op on Dooyoo, and I'm just hoping I can inspire someone else to give it a go, because it is well worth it.
Once, a farmer from Moberly way was going to Maclesfield to sell a beautiful white horse. He was stopped on the roadside by an old man who offered to buy the beast, but thinking he could get a better price, he went on his way. He did not sell th hrose, and returnnig home that evening, he saw the old man again, and this time accepted his offer. The old man led him out onto Alderley edge and down into a cave, wherein the farmer saw fabulous riches, and a host of sleeping knights. Each knight had a white horse, save for one. The farmer was allwoed to fill his pockets with treasure in exchange for his horse, and made his way home more wealthy than he could have imagined. Try as he might, he could never find that cave again. This is the legend of Alderley Edge, and places it within the Arthurian tradition, for the sleeping kniights are Arthur and his men, waiting for the time when the country needs them again, and the wizard watching over them is Merlin. It is with this myth that Alan Garner begins his story 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen'. Having set the scene with this tale, Garner moves forward in time, to the early twentieth century. Colin and Susan are siblings whose parents are working abroad. They have been sent to stay with their mother's old nurse, now married to a farmer. The Mossack's are a homely, friendly duo who make the children welcome. Soon Colin and Susan are out exploring the local landscape, and most particularly the mysterious Alderley Edge, full of caves and old mines as well as legends. Without warning, they find themselves thrust into dangers and magic, threatened by dark elves, the svart, rescued by Cadellin, the wizard of the Edge and drawn into a myth that is still living. Garner blends mythological figures like the Morrigan, with beings of his own creation, weaving a tale steeped in myth butstill fresh and accessible. The children are caught up in an amazing adventure, as they try to protect the vital ly important weirdstone from those who would seek to abuse its power. They must flee through the strangest of places and from terrible creatures, finding unlikely allies along the way. It is an exciting, magical tale, and a very well written. Ostensibly this is a tale for children - but I would say it's better for the slightly older child because there's a lot to take in and a fair bit of it is scary. It is very readable if you are the sort of adult who goes for this sort of thnig - anyone who enjoys Potter or Tolkien ought to give it a go. If you enjoy it, there is an excellent sequel - 'The moon of Gomrath.'
Robert Graves was an amazingly prolific twentieth centruy writer. English in origin, he spent much of his life in Spain. I'm a long way short of having read all of his work, but can at least give you something of a flavour. Graves was a poet, a novelist and a scholar, with varying degrees of success. The Novels: On the novels front, Graves is probably best known for his 'Claudius' novels - 'I Claudius' and 'Claudius the God' dealing with ancient Rome and the eponymous emperor Claudius. These are excellent pieces of work that really bring to life a section of Roman history. Fans of this historical writing would do well to look out for the somewhat more obscure 'Count Belisarius' which deals with another real figure, a Roman war leader. In addition to this are 'Homer's Daughter' and 'King Jesus' - Graves has an unmasked fascination with myth and history, most of his works have a touch of both to them. My personal favourite - 'Wife to Mr Milton' deals with the life of the young woman who was married off to Milton (as in 'Paradise Lost' Milton) their tribulations during the war and her thwarted romance with another man - a very moving and imaginative tale, better suited to people you find Milton a total bore! 'The Long Weekend' I know nothing about, as is also the case with 'Lawrence and the Arabs'. 'The Golden Fleece' I have only ever seen references to, but it is another historical one and undoubtedly deals at least in part with Jason and the Argonauts. In addition to this, there are some collections of shrot stories by Graves. I have to say that I find Graves' fictional narratives very readible - he has a very pleasing prose style and a real ability to give you a sense of the historical period about which he is writing. His work is well researched, but it does explore fictional avenues so you can't use it as a history lesson. None the less, I find reading his work normally inspires me to want to have a closer look at the history behind his subject matter. Graves has published collections of Greek and Hebrew myths - again an effect of his fascination with mythology. I've not seen either of these 'in the flesh' but know they are out there somewhere. Poetry: There are several collections of Grave's poetry in existence, none of which seem to be posessed of imagiantive or poetic titles, if the Bibliography I have to hand is to be believed. I did read vast reams of Graves' poetic efforts during my teens, and was not blown away. Some of it is good, the standard of writing is very high, but the collection I read was quite obsessively focused on female figures and I did tend to lose interest. Being tremendously well read and shamelessly clever, Graves does have attacks of showing off, and sometimes the poetry can be obscure to the point of being impenetrable. As a poet, I wouldn't especially recomend him. Scholarly works: Aside from his novels, Graves is famous for 'The White Goddess', and is often more criticised for this work than praised. The book is a poetic exploration of mythological poetry and as such is very interesting. the problems arise because Graves draws too many intuitive conclusions about history from his peotical investigations. As a peice of hsitory, it really isn't very good, as a poetic mythography, it's fascinating. It is a very hard read, and requires some knowledge of the Bible, the Mabinogian and assorted Celtic myths, with a working knowledge of Classical mythology being handy, and some grasp on Greek and Latin being advisable because he doesn't bother to translate quotations written in thse languages! Graves explores the Druidic aphabets, the ogham scripts, and attempts to assemble a history from them. Its a curious exersize, littered with fascinating ideas but ultimately unreliable. The book is further 'u nhelped' by the degree to which is draws on James Fraizer's 'The Golden Bough' which is if anything a more flawed and more frequently criticised text. Graves was a very prolific author who produced some excellent novels and some dubious work in other forms. As a novelist, I heartily reccomend him, as a poet I have some reservations and as a scholar, he needs a lot of stammina and a fair dose of salt.
Eczema is a nightmare, especially on small babies who like to scratch and can't be reasoned with. I spent months trying all sorts of things to help my unhappy baby, and then found this (thanks to my dad). Oilatum exists in adult and child form - I've been using the child version. The adult stuff is probably stronger, but I would imagine has simialr pluses and minuses. Firstly there's Oilatum for the bath. Soaps and detergents tend to make eczema worse more often than not, but you do have to keep the little dears clean. Oilatum contains liquid parrifin, which is remarkably good for this condition. It's a clearish liquid that smells like you could probably get into trouble if you spent too long smelling it. Oily,is the main word that springs to mind. The packaging is simple, functional, easy to get into and easy to use. It comes with totally coherrent instructions. All you do is add a few capfulls to the bath and let the little one have a good long soak. You don't need to use any other cleaning products, even on baby hair - it does work for washing as well as looking after the skin. Oilatum forms an oily scum on the water, and, when you take the little dear out of the bath, you will find their skin is soft, smooth, oiled and generally lovely. You don't get the drying issues normally attendant on baths. It doesn't smell too bad on the skin either - despite first impressions of nose in pot. It helps with eczema, it means that baths don't add to the problem, and can in fact be a tool in easing this skin condition. Having used Oilatum for some months now, I am a fan and would recommend that any eczema sufferer gives it a go. For best effects, you can use the bath product in tandem with their skin cream. There are some problems though, and they are as follows. Firstly the stuff is very slippery, so both baby and bath become slidy. You have to be very careful when lifting an oilatumed baby out of a bath, and an older, more wriggly child can be very difficult to keep hands on. Secondly, it leaves an oily film on the bath and it is hard work to clean off. On the whole, not a major set of issues, although you do have to be a lot more careful to keep your child safe. In theory, it is possible to get this product on prescription, and I think it works a lot better than the parrafin product I was offered - which did work in the bath, but nothing like so well. If you can't get it from your doctor (I couldn't), you can buy it over the counter from your Chemist or supermarket. Prices vary, but expect to pay something in the region of four pounds for 300ml. That said, unless you are giving your babe a couple of baths a day, you should get a month or two out of it, so it isn't bad value for money. They also do a really good skin cream - for five pounds (or thereabouts) and a trip to your Chemist or supermarket youc an procure a 150 gram squeezey tube. The instructions on it are simple and coherrent. You can use this product as frequently as you like - I find about three times a day optimal if the skin is really irritated, and otherwise once a day just to keep things comfy. Oilatum contains paraffin and Glycerol amongst other things. The standard stuff you can get on prescription also seems to be parrafin based (but looks like lard!). Oilatum Junior cream is a thick white substance, and you only need to use very small quantities of it - it spreads a remarkably long way, so the 150g will last a month easily on a small child - obviously, the more surface area you have to anoint, the more tubes you are going to get through. The cream has a faint smell, hardly noticable once on the skin. Any excess you can just rub into your own hands without fear of strange or alarming consequences. having ended up with the odd smattering on my own skin, I can further vouch for the fact that it soaks in nicely, it doesn't leave you feeling greasy and it lasts for some time. I noticed a difference at the first use - Oilatum moisturises the skin and softens it up. The big problem we have is that when the eczema is healing, it gets even more itchy and the babe tends to scratch - Oilatum relieves this and allows the little fellow chance to ehal. It really does seem to help the skin - since I've been using it on James, he's down to only a few areas of skin that get any trouble, and those not half so badly as they used to. Oilatum is so easy to use and so gentle - its been more effective than using steroid cream, which didn't seem to do any good at all. Definitely a product to try on any small child with eczema, seriously dry skin or other itchy disorders.
That a man alive in our own time could have such a tale to tell of poverty and deprivation is bad enough, that he was living in Europe is worse in many ways, because its so easy to develop the happy illusion that we're somehow more civillized - well, if this book is anything to go by, we aren't. Frank McCourt was born in America during the depression, the eldest child of 7, three of whom did not survive. He tells us he was the product of a one night stand, his parent's marriage the unlooked for consequence of that passing encounter. It's not exactly a loveless marriage or home, but it isn't one built on the firmest of foundations. McCourt's memoires follow his family's return to Ireland, their desperate search for somewhere to live, their extreme poverty and the harsh environment they live in. The prejudice displayed in this book is incredible - McCourt senior hails from the North of Ireland, and no one in the South takes kindly to him -admittedly not helped by his being an irrensponsible drunkard who would rather drink away his wages or, more often his dole, than put food on the table for his family. The fear and prejudice dividing people is really surprising at times. As a description of life on abject poverty, this is a startling read - the cold cramped conditions, the fleas, the hunger, the begging and the broken pride - all of it grim. However, there are some much needed moments of light and humour, some flashes of hope and kindness that make the rest a bit more bearable both for Frank and his readers. There were several things about this book that will stay with me, the first is what it has to say about Catholicism - the priests living in luxury while poor people on the streets are starving and children are actually dying for want of food and decent shelter. The humiliating way in which the poor are treated if they seek for aid. The mention of priests talking about people giving things up for lent when the y have almost nothing as it is, the attitudes to sex and contraception that mean more children are born than can be fed. I don't think you can read this book and not see the Catholic church as agrivating the conditions in which people lived, burdening them with guilt, with expenses and with a fear of hell. The second thing is one that impressed me, and that's the way in which the book is written. McCourt has crammed an amazing number of voices into the book. His writting throughout is sugegstive of a child's persepctive - it is not an adult looking back, it is a child telling us how it is. He conveys both what the child sees, and what is actually going on, which is impressive given that he only has one narratorial voice. He captures the voices he heard as a child, the accents and rhythms of language, and this is very effective indeed. There's an incredible amount of pathos in the writing, much of it stemming from a child's lack of understanding. There are things an adult reader will udnerstand that the child narrator does not. There is also a certain degree of alienation from the older characters which saves him from having to really engage with the father who drank away the money and left them in misery, or the mother who seems to have spent more time mourning over her dead children than caring for he ones still living. It isn't an easy read this, it had me in tears a couple of times (dead children are always going to be an emotive subject). It also made me very angry, and did bring out the femenist in me, because the system really has no room in it for abandonned women with children - no way to get money, little scope for work etc. I think it's a good read on the whole, if a challenging one at times. if you like the 'we were poor but happy' kind of tales, usually the autobiographies of those who grew up somewhere rural but impoverished, then this tale is going to be a bit of a system shock.
I have a friend who makes it his business to buy me modern music for my birthday, and this year it was Evanescence. Needless to say, being someone who seldom dips into pop culture, I hadn't heard of them. They are very good though, so I've no complaints. The band consist of three blokes and a female vocalist (more on this later) I'll start with a track breakdown I think..... 'Going Under' - blasts in with heavy guitar chords and intense vocals 'now I'll tell you what I've done for you, 50,000 tears I've cried'. There's lots about falling and reaching the bottom - classic angsty goth material, but with a good tune. There's a lot of 'dirty sound' on this track though and being a bit of a purist, a cleaner sound would have suited me better. A good opening track though, lots of energy and bite. 'Bring me to life' - this rang bells, I can remember feeling like this during my teens (and still do some days, but not so often thankfully) 'wake me up inside, call my name and save me from the dark, bid my blood to run before I come undone, save me from the nothing I've become.'There's a lovely mellow piano opening, the guitars sneak up on you, there's strings and then the rhythm starts to build, eventually its screaming lyrics sung against some very potent snips of rapping. Brilliantly structured, very catchy, a real toe tapper this. 'Everybody's fool' is, I think a song about growing up and realising that you've been misled about shed loads of stuff, that the glamourous illusions are just fake, that you can't really trust anyone. It's a song about the sense of betrayal that comes with finding out how the world actually works. This is another one with a mellow intro, a bit of more sensitive guitar playing and on the whole a more rock than goth sound here. 'My Imortal'is just stunning, a really brooding track, mostly ju st voice and piano with some strings in the background- shades of Enya put with a much more interesting tune. This song angsts beautifully over a troubled relationship - it never slides into being cheesey. The singing is amazing. 'Haunted' - has an opening that might make you think of a bad b-movie horror flick - echoey effects on the voice, slow, haunted indeed. Not one of the most memorable tracks on the album, but good and solid none the less. A close read of the lyrics shows it to be quite disturbing, but I'll leave you to discover that for yourself. 'Tourniquet' - normally anything resembling Christian rock leaves me cold - expereince to date indicates that this is a seriously cheesey genre, all very happy clappy. Tourniquet owes nothing to the Christian rock genre. This is an aguished appeal to a deity who might not even be listening, this is a soul in torment crying out for healing and peace, and its bloody potent stuff. Whether you believe in any god, Christian or otherwise, this song can't fail to touch a nerve. I think it's my favourite on the album, and every time I hear it, I get shivers down my spine. 'Imaginery'- is good, although its hard to follow Tourniquet with anything. A song about dreams and escapism, its cool, not the most musically diverse, but good. 'Taking me over' - another slightly Enya-esque piano intro and then in with the guitar again - seems to be their trademark opening. This song moves between mellow backing with exposed voice, to a bigger sound with more of a rock feel - it does have something of a ballad quality. It's a good track but not when I end up humming. 'Hello' - Voice and piano Enya style again (although Amy knocks spots of Enya if you ask me). It sounds like there's a lot fo story behind this one, the song doesn't tell you much directly though, and its enough to make you wonder. Another haunted, haunting song. 'My Last breath' - if you'd succumbed to the mellow previous track, then this oen will wake you up again - it rocks. fave line - 'Look for me in the white forest, Hiding in a hollow tree'. Tune sounds a bit like some of their other tunes, but its not a bad track. 'Whisper' - is a heavy number to round off with, nothing like a whisper at all - another appeal for rescue, it's a song about trying to stand your ground no matter how scary it gets, about contemplating death. A good finishing track on the whole. There's some excellent layered vocal stuff towards the end of the track, very cool indeed. There isn't a bad track on this album. There are some patterns - the mellow intro that kicks into something rockier more often than not, but on the whole its quite musically diverse for a mainstream product. What really makes the album for me is Amy Lee's voice - amazingly expressive and versatile, she can draw you intot he worlds of the songs and make you feel like you are bleeding with her. The lyrics are pure goth angst, but imaginatively handled, with some strong images and memorable phrases. If your musical pallett includes rock or gothy stuff, this album is a must have. If you only like mellow stuff, find a friend with a copy and listen to 'My Imortal'.
Book five has finally arrived. If you haven't read the first four books, do not begin by reading 'The Order of the Phoenix' as you won't know who anyone is - I wouldn't rely on extensive reading of ops either! If you haven't read the first four, then inevitably this op will have some spoilers in it, but I promise to say nothing that will undermine your pleasures in reading the latest instalment in the Potter saga. Just in case then - quick refresher. Harry Potter is a young wizard, his parents were murdered when he was a baby, he was brought up by the odious Dursleys, at eleven he started going to Hogwarts school for wizards and witches, and since then he's had one adventure after another - rescuing the Philosopher's stone from an evil enemy, unravelling the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets, finding out what really happened to his parents and surviving a deadly interschool tournament, as well as playing lots of Quidditch, spatting with Draco Malfoy and hanging about with best friends Ron and Hermione. Book five finds Harry trying to recover from the horrific events that ended book four, and frantically watching the news for signs of the threat he knows is advancing. To make matters worse, his hormones have clearly kicked in - Harry is becoming a grumpy teenager wih serious angst and girl troubles to boot. All is not well in the wizarding world, with evil Lord Voldermort on the lose and gathreing followers, and no one in the Ministry inclined to believe that its actually happening again. Harry is caught up in a small but determined group trying to fight Voldermort and overcome the apathy that has gripped fellow wizards and witches. It isn't going to be easy - not with new defence agaisnt dark arts teacher Dolores Umbridge trying to thwart Harry's every move, and the Daily Prophet saying that Dumbledore is losing his marbles. Needless to say, lots of action, adventure and plotting ensues. Thi s book brings together most of the characters we've already met, and spends a while exploring the back history - which I found fascinating. The links between characters are closer than you might think, and some are very surprising indeed. (Inevitable really, wizards obsessed with being pure blooded were always going to be a bit inbred). There are a few excellent new characters - Luna Lovegood, who will believe anything as long as there's no evidence for it, and Tonks, an excellent slightly punky witch and a few others who don't get so much attention. There's some new critters - and very strange they are too. We get to learn more about giants, about wizarding politics, and we get to see a few new places including the Ministry for magic buildings and St Mungo's hospital. This is a huge and very tightly written book which never lets up. In places it is laugh-out-loud funny, in others very sad indeed and may have you snuffling into a hanky. Rowling is making the whole good-evil thing a lot more complex, there's a lot of shades of grey creeping in. Rowling's writing style just keeps getting better - this is so much more sophisticated than the first book. My only complaint? Not enough Snape. Ok, he gets a few interesting scenes with Harry and Sirius, but he's clearly doing all sorts of interesting things and we never really get to find out. An excellent book, I couldn't put it down. I just worry how long the next one is going to be, (at current rate of getting bigger, the final book will be imense) and how long it will take to write.
Some series of films, like the Bond films, you can watch in any order and they make sense. Some you can't, and X Men 2 falls into this category. If you haven't seen the first film, this sequel isn't going to make a whole lot of sense because they don't waste any time on that 'previously, in the X men' type intro the iritates the fans. It isn't necessary to have read any of the comics on which the films are based, although I gather from serious devotees that there are more than a few nods to the serious fans. As I'm nice, I'll assume you know nothing and haven't seen film 1 even. The premise goes like this. The next stage of human evolution is here, and with it comes all sorts of random mutations, some of which give people amazing and terrifiying powers. Freeze water at a glance, summon up lightening from a clear sky, teleport at will, strike people down just by looking at the, read minds, move objects.... everything you might expect from superbeings. However, this isn't a cushy superhero future, its troubled. The unmutated people deeply resent and fear the mutants, and seek to repress and destroy them, and there's mutants who just want to rule the world, so for a gentle-hearted mutant who just wants everyone to get along, its not so much fun. Powerful telepath Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) runs a school for mutant children where they can learn to control their powers. Xavier wants peaceful co-existence, as do the older mutants who work with him - Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famk Jansen, I think that's how you spell her name) Cyclops (no idea who the actor is) Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Leading the more militant mutants is Magneto (Ian McKellan) and wonderfully villinous he is too. The second film finds Wolverine returning from his walkabout (started at end of previous film) young female mutant Rogue trying to start a relationship with a guy callled Bobby/Iceman, which is challeng ing because she harms people if she touches them. Jean Grey is feeling deeply troubled, and a kid who calls himself Pyro looks like he might be about to explode. These are minor problems. There's a plot to kill the president, and a mutant is involved, and beneath that, an even darker plan to attack Xavier's school and change the power balance betwen the mutants and ordinary humans. This isn't a neatly divided film about good and evil, there's lots of shades of grey. There's some new mutants about as well as everyone who survived the first film. The more unusual looking Mutants are well handled and look good. It would be fair to say that there's enough plot to keep you busy, a lot of characters doing a lot of different things, some superb fight scenes, and lots of special effects. The script is good - witty without being cringeworthy, and nicely paced. The actors are great - Ian McKellan makes an excellent bad guy, he has a lot of style and is often quite sympathetic. I'm starting to really like Hugh Jackman - he's very interesting to watch on the whole. The special effects an representations of mutant powers are well thought out, creative and visual. It's good to look at, and as many of the younger actors spend most of the film in tight fitting combat suits, heavy on the eye candy as well. If I have one niggle, its this - two hours isn't long to deal with so many characters - at least twelve significant characters. No one gets as much screen time as they deserve. None of the underlying ideas about difference, tolerance and prejudice get much time. The emotional content and character interaction is handled well - a great deal is expressed in a very condensced way, the script is lean and effective, but it does leave you wanting just a little bit more about some individual's motivation and responses. One of the new mutants is in my opinion, totally wasted, we hardly even hear her speak, we never get to find out who she was and why she was there. Somethings are not as fully explained as they could be - especially events surrounding Jean Grey. There are a few gaps. If you watch closely you can work out what happens and why, but it certainly isn't handed over on a plate, and to a casual observer it may well look like certain important details have not been properly dealt with. On the whole, a very watchable film and a good way to spend a couple of hours. This is the sort of thing that benefits from being on a big screen, and even though it lasts two hours, you'll hardly feel the time pass. It's a 12 a, and rightly so I think, there's a fair bit of violence and a few unsettling ideas. There's a lot to take in and a lot of plot to follow, this alone would make it unsuitable for some viewers. I enjoyed it, and would certainly watch it again, although I probably wouldn't make another trip to the cinema to do so.
If you are over a size 16 and female, have you ever had these shopping expereinces? You go into a clothes shop and look around. You realise that everything on display is aimed at people who are about a size ten, and the anorexic teenage girl on the checkout is staring at you like you are some kind of freak. You eye up the lingerie - there's some passable stuff, but when the sales assistant comes over, all she tries to do is get you to buy something that looks like a tent. You find a dress you like but the biggest size they have it in is two sizes two small. You find only one item of clothing you could get into, but its vile and you wouldn't be seen dead in it. You go home feeling demorlaised. I've grown to hate clothes shopping - never finding anything that will suit me, and being faced with marketing that says 'larger women are ugly', 'fashion and beauty require you to be thin', 'if you are over a size 16, you should be ashamed to be out in public, please hide yourself beneath this tent so as not to cause offence to our more beautiful and therfore worthy customers.' It sucks. It's horrible and stupid. being a size 16 or over means you have a female shape - you have breasts, hips, a bum and a bit of curve on your tum - you look like a woman, and this surely should be celebrated not reviled. I know a few larger women - all of whom are really lovely, very sexy and having a lot of trouble getting clothes that flatter and flaunt their assets to best advantage. For the greater part, larger women are offered dull, frumpy clothes. But then there's Evans, and Evans is different. Rather than just scaling up the slim-bint fashion clothing, such that it looks daft, Evans have their own lines, and those lines are designed with real women in mind. If you want clothes that can show off a superb double D bust, and a figure that's all curves, then Evans can do it. They're a highstreet shop, there's plenty of them about and occasionally their lines turn up in department stores as well, although that's not so good because you don't get the same atmosphere. I don't know if its intentional, but unlike most clothes chains, Evans do not employ skinny girls who look like pre-teens to run the checkouts. I've been in several different Evans' and the staff are always normal looking. You never get a frosty reception, no one will look at you like being bigger is some sort of crime. And of coruse, because Evans doesn't sell anything under size 16, you don't get the skiny girls in there, which makes it a much more comfortable shopping expereince. Being an 18, I'm at the small end of the range - there's always a lot of stuff in the twenties and I believe they do go bigger. What they excelle at is making you feel normal and valued, and so we should be. Size isn't everything - quality matters, and Evans are good on this score - lots of lovely natural fabrics, clothes that are well made with good detail, good shape - at the moment there's lots of embroidered cotten and linnen. There's a good range of styles - formal stuff, work wear, casual, and they tend to do some really good 'hippy' type clothes for those of us who are earth-mother types. However, all this comes at a cost. You can easily pay twenty pounds for a top, and there's a pair of trousers I've set my heart on which cost £35. Bargin basement it isn't, but you are paying for something which will last. I've had a fair few articles from Evans - I found them invaluable during my pregnancy, as even maternity gear doesn't seem to come in sensible sizes! I went up to about a size 24, and Evans was the only shop where I could find flattering clothes that I wanted to wear, rather than the ugly tent-like stuff that is normally offered. The clothes washes well, seams stay together, fabric doesn't fray or go in holes unexpec tedly - its good quality stuff, made to last and built for use. If you are pregnant, you'll find that most maternity gear is aimed at women who started out being small, and so there's nothing much for a fuller figured woman whose developped a big bump. Evans do a lot fo clothes that, while not marketed as such, are ideal for pregnancy. I cannot rpaise this store enough - I love their range, their attitude and their freindliness. I actually enjoy clothes shopping in Evans (Contessa is the only other shop I like as much). Its about time the clothing industry realised that small is not the only form of beautiful, that femenine women are sexy and we want good clothes and good service.