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This is the second novel that I’ve read by Amy Tan and I’m beginning to realise that a pattern is forming. I have previously read ‘The Kitchen God’s wife’ and now in ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’, Tan’s narrative again tells the story from both the perspective of an American woman and her Chinese mother. This format, I have discovered, is prevalent throughout most her novels. Don’t be put off however, with Tan’s repetition of narrative and plots that encompass all her novels. ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ is wholly unique from both her other novel that I’ve read and other fiction available on the market. ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ tells the story of three generations of women. The first, Ruth was born and raised in America and lives with her partner and two stepdaughters. Her mother, LuLing, having been born in China, moved to the US in her twenties and married an American. The next generation of women that Tan includes is Precious Auntie, who was LuLing’s nursemaid when she was growing up in China. The narrative alternates between Ruth’s concern for her elderly mother who seems to be showing signs of dementia and LuLing’s story of her past. The novel opens with the vague confessions of LuLing, and immediately paves the way for a multitude of secrets that are gradually exposed throughout the narrative. Within ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ are a number of themes, which develop the novel and engages the reader into the story. The most prevalent is that of the relationship between mother and daughter, closely followed by differences in culture and superstition. The relationship between Ruth and LuLing is rather strained and based purely on the ties of family. It appears to Ruth that there no similarities between her and her mother; they lead separate lives with differen
t cultural identities. Her mother being Chinese and Ruth being wholly American. One of the most interesting aspects of the novel, is the exploration and presence of curses or superstitions. LuLing is convinced that a curse has been placed on the family; something Precious Auntie instilled in here when she was young. Tan’s analysis of curses is truly magnificent and the idea of the curse is central to the character's development, and shapes their lives in many ways. When LuLing’s first husband comforts her, his is the voice of reason “There are no such things as curses…those are superstitions, and a superstition is a needless fear. The only curses are worries you can’t get rid of”. And so, LuLing’s curse, or “needless fears” engulf her life until she reveals the secrets of her life to Ruth. This is a complicated novel, told with simplistic ease. There are so many details and stories that entertain the reader that it is an addictive novel to read. I was again, amazed by Tan’s writing ability and her breadth of knowledge. What readers do realise from reading ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ is the extraordinary nature of Chinese culture. LuLing’s story begins in 1920’s China, where the appropriate girls were groomed and grown up to be ‘picked’ to be good wives. It could be argued that this was much the same as Victorian Britain, however the women in China were merely subservient possessions where foot-binding was still the fashion. I can highly recommend this novel both for its entertainment value and the many things that can be learnt of differing cultures, relationships and ideologies. Amy Tan brings a light humour into the idiosyncrasies of her characters, and especially with the Chinese women she writes about, but in a purely affectionate way.
What can I say about Argos that hasn’t been said before? It is this nations (well, the UK’s) shopping institution, but for those who live in faraway lands or are visiting from the planet Zorg here is a brief rundown of what Argos means to the lives of many in this ‘ere nation. (Who are incidentally going to win both the Eurovision Song Contest and the World Cup - in Subuteo, of course). THE ARGOS VISION In the 80’s, long before surfing only referred to beach bums in Newquay, a strange phenomenon emerged on the shopping high streets in the UK. These shops were open-fronted, but only seemed to display an inferior range of products inside and a lowly sales desk at the back. On closer investigation, Argos was a new-fangled idea combined with a traditional one, which brought together high street and catalogue shopping: the idea was borne and here emerged the ‘catalogue shop’. The idea was ingenious. Customers could pick up a store catalogue or browse the catalogue in the shop, chose what they wanted, pay for it and it would be surreptitiously delivered to you within a few minutes from ‘Upstairs’. Unlike normal shopping catalogues, there was no waiting for 28 days or more for your order to arrive, and what was totally amazing was that the range to chose from was better than good old fashioned Woolworths or most small-sized department stores. And Argos was cheap! Today, the Argos ethos is exactly the same. Stores can be found in most towns and cities selling items ranging from toys, kitchen equipment, furniture, white electrical goods, televisions and DIY equipment. Items are bought and brought to consumers in exactly the same way as they did in the beginning, but with a greater choice in the range of products plus more convenient delivery and ordering options. THE CATALOGUES There are now two catalogues available which both have two editions a year (Spr
ing/Summer and Autumn/Winter). The original Argos catalogue sells the same range of products that it always has. The second catalogue, Argos Additions, sells mainly clothes, both top-branded and the more obscure and cheaper brands. It also sells an additional range of furniture, home textiles and white electrical goods. Both catalogues are easy to follow with departmental content overviews at the front and a more detailed index section at the back. All products are given fairly detailed descriptions, with sizes where appropriate; clear photographs are given for every item and prices are well displayed. But why do they insist on repeating some products in both catalogues? You will notice when browsing through the Argos Additions catalogue that there are in fact many items that appear in the original Argos catalogue. The sense of which, I can’t really fathom. And I do find it a particular annoyance that when looking for particular items, such as curtains, that I have to open both catalogues to browse the different selections, including duplicates. ORDERING AND DELIVERY There are now three ways to order from the Argos and Argos Additions catalogues: The traditional way of going into a store, filling in a slip of paper with the items number, paying at the till and then collecting your item from one of the Collection Points. The second method of ordering is over the telephone where goods can either be delivered direct to your home or can be collected by yourself at your nearest store. Thirdly, the all-important internet shopping. Goods for both Argos and Argos Additions can be ordered online at their website, which is very user friendly. I have used the online ordering method on two occasions. Once for delivery to my home and once for goods to picked up from my local store. When goods are to be picked up from the store itself, it is the responsibility of the staff at the store to phone customers once th
e item has arrived at the store. There is a problem with this. Will all staff at all stores be bothered to phone customers? I was telephoned by my local store once my item was ready to be collected. However, I still find this a dubious method and would prefer an email to be sent via the website, as I had shopped via this method. I do know someone, who ordered in exactly the same way at another store, and was not contacted by a member of staff once her item was ready to be collected. Therefore, this method clearly doesn’t quite work, and it makes me wonder whether items are tracked throughout the whole process of the order. There are some items that are Home Delivery Only and cannot be collected from the store – but this mainly applies to large or bulky items. Orders over £100, either from the Argos or Argos Additions catalogues, are delivered free of charge, however items ordered from different catalogues are treated separately as two different orders. For orders under £100, a £3.95 delivery charge is applicable. Most items are delivered or available for collection within 48 hours of the order being placed, however Argos recommend that 14 days should be allowed for Home Delivery Only items as these normally come directly from the manufacturer. On previous form, I have found Argos delivery particularly good and they have stuck to the day and timeslots quoted. THE EXTRAS As well as a store credit card, Argos have their own loyalty scheme, Premier Points which can be collected either by using their credit card or through their partners i.e. BP, Choice Hotels, Family Hampers and some utility companies. Full refunds can be made on any products bought, as long as they are returned within 16 days of purchase. Argos also offer a Wedding Gift service and extra insurance cover for jewellery, domestic and electrical items. THE CONSUMER Yea, that’s me. Over the years I
have bought countless goods from Argos, and most recently on their website. In recent months I’ve been buying bits and pieces for my flat, and have had mixed experiences. Firstly, my last purchase was a window blind for £12.99. Good value and the description was promising. “Easily trimmed to size…Complete with fittings and instructions”. What it failed to mention was that the fittings were plastic, the draw cord was a plastic beaded contraption that came apart and was also too short for my window, despite the blind having ample length. A disappointing buy, which was incidentally one that’s delivered direct from the manufacturer. Another purchase was a Canvas Effect Wardrobe costing only £29.99. Basically a wooden frame with a canvas ‘effect’ cover which protects the contents of the wardrobe from dust. This was a flat-packed little gem which was not only difficult to put together, but the wood was cheap and split and quite frankly doesn’t look to stable when it’s put together. Another ‘direct from the manufacturer disaster. One of the good buys I’ve received from Argos was a Daewoo 21-inch television. After hunting around online, Argos actually provided the best TV for the best price and delivery was free. Delivered, directly to my parents, it was delivered on the correct day and within the timeslot quoted. And, I hasten to add, there have been many more great things that I’ve bought from Argos. THE VERDICT Ok, so you’ve got this far. You’ve read the facts and figures, but how does Argos really shape up in comparison to their competitors and the expectations of consumers? In recent years, Argos has had to really struggle to keep hold of their consumer base. Similar to Marks & Spencer, Argos products were once considered dowdy and old fashioned. The competitive market increased with the emergence of Index in
the catalogue shopping sector; IKEA in the cheap but fashionable furniture and homewares sector and Wilkinson’s dominating most towns and cities with it’s all-round cheap home and garden goods. Suddenly, everything wasn’t looking as rosy in the Argos garden. So now they have a telephone and online ordering. Two things that many of their competitors still don’t have (IKEA being one). They have also become fashionable, with a range of homewares and textiles that will appeal to most tastes and a range of furniture designed by Lawrence Llewlyn Bowen. The only problem I have experienced is the quality of some of the non-branded goods – those that come from obscure manufacturers. Beware of these, and beware of goods that appear too cheap. However, the reassurance is that you can always return anything that doesn’t match up to your expectations within 16 days of your purchasing it, as long as it complete of course. Maybe the future is looking brighter for Argos…
There are some books, where after I have read them, I am compelled to consult my bookshelves and re-read another book that echoes the plot or style of the one I have just read. After reading ‘Birdsong’, I re-read ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. One of these, I concluded, is a great novel and the other I’m afraid, just falls short of greatness. It is 1910, and Stephen Wraysford is visiting a small town in France on business. He stays with a local textile entrepreneur and his family, the Azaires’. During his stay he falls in love with Madam Azaire, and she reciprocates the feeling. They elope, but through guilt, fear and an unexpected pregnancy Madam Azaire runs away to her sister’s and Stephen is left with a proverbial broken heart. His life dramatically changes when war is declared and he enlists to join the British Army and fights on the front line in Flanders. As a distraction to the events of war, halfway through the novel the time leaps to 1978, where the narrative describes Elizabeth Benson’s search for the identity and history of here Grandfather who fought in the First World War. It isn’t surprising to learn that her Grandfather was Stephen Wraysford. And the sporadic interjections of her search complete the essential backbone of the plot. You can probably guess what most of the 500 pages of this novel describe throughout, as it is essentially a ‘war novel’. Most is certainly not intended for the faint-hearted, as Faulks graphically describes life in the trenches that is now so notorious of this particular war. Faulks’ characterisation of Stephen is to be congratulated upon. He’ s a lonely man when, like many during the time, circumstance and terror change his life. It is often easy to recognise and understand how his feelings develop and his detachment from his fellow soldiers and the world outside. He’s an atypica
l anti-hero who (unlike many of the other character’s within the novel who despise and fear the war) merely welcomes it and thrives on its hardships in an almost masochistic way. The additional characters that Faulks creates are exceptionally broad and an integral part of the development of the story. One of these, Jack Firebrace is a tunneller and Faulks dedicates a few chapters to Jack’s thoughts and life in the trenches. Again a character that offers a different perspective to the narrative than that of Stephen Wraysford, Jack has left behind a wife and sick child in London. It quickly becomes apparent that the person that others perceive him as and his own personality are of conflicting versions of the same man. An extrovert in public; always the one to provide entertainment for the others. The private reality is his fear of not seeing his son again, his loss of faith in humanity and his devotion to the men who surround him. In a heartfelt moment whilst he watches in horror as the soldiers go ‘over the top’ during a futile and pointless offensive all he can say is “Boys, boys…Oh my poor boys”. It is the contrast between Stephen and Jack that Faulks uses to demonstrate just how indifferent Stephen and the others are to what they have to do and what Jack sees as the futility of their occupation. I am somewhat bemused by Faulks’ use of Elizabeth Brown’s narrative in finding out about Stephen Wraysford 60 years later. It is certainly common for members of a generation to want to know about relatives who participated in these events, but I feel that Elizabeth’s story doesn’t integrate very well into the novel. Firstly, her mother knew her father but Elizabeth doesn’t ask her about him, and Faulks doesn’t really give a credible explanation of why this is. Instead Elizabeth goes about translating Stephen’s old notebooks that he wrote in a secret language, and
tries to find out about his army career in contacting the Army and finding any men who served with him. However, despite this the parts in the novel devoted to Elizabeth’s discoveries are somewhat short and hurried and it isn’t until halfway through the novel that she is introduced as a part of the story at all. By this time, I was left in no uncertainty that this was going to be less off a detective exercise for the reader and more of a focus of Elizabeth’s shortcomings in her life. A novel’s ending is imperative to its overall impact, and unfortunately ‘Birdsong’ does not end on a particularly good note. Well, actually it does in the sense that there is the story of an unlikely rescuer and a birth, so it does. However, I would have felt more satisfied by not reading the last fifty or so pages and it ending on a more neutral footing than the saccharine-sweet one that Faulks has written. I can see Hollywood possibly making this into a film without having to change the ending to suit the tearful, but relieved audiences coming out of the cinemas afterwards. Of course, it isn’t just left as positively wonderful as that. I was left in no doubt whatsoever that the war had changed lives, and even on Armistice Day the casualties didn’t stop. Those who ‘survived’ in the ‘not dying’ sense had to live with what they had seen, the people they’d become and the reality of life outside the trenches. And in comparison to ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’? Faulks’ contribution is essentially another powerful perspective of the First World War, with many wonderful descriptions and a hard hitting reality of the futility of warfare. However to me, the inclusion of the modern day sub-plot failed to inspire me beyond what I already felt for Stephen’s story during the war. It has to be noted that the novel was published in the 90’s, and is therefore not f
rom first-hand experience, although I suspect that as Faulks was a journalist he would have researched the subject heavily without just relying on textbook history and other works of fiction. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ however was written by a survivor of the war, Erich Maria Remarque, albeit not published until 1963. As I said previously, ‘Birdsong’ reminded me of this novel and I had to read it again to see the similarities, apart from the fact that ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is written from a German point of view. In fact, once I’d finished it, I felt that Faulks’ novel did resemble what I had read by Remarque, however simplistic you’d regard his novel to be. But Faulks’ has elaborated in his own style to create more rounded characters and a plot that would make a more original piece. I don’t mean this as criticism but merely something I noticed. I find it difficult to rate Faulks’ novel. Without the modern interjections, or if Elizabeth Brown’s narrative had been embedded deeper into the novel, I would have loved it. It is an exceptional novel that succeeds in portraying the full horrors of war and how it effects people in different ways, but with my disappointment with the ending I can only recommend it with some reservations. But maybe I’m just being my usual cynical self…
“Take the National Express when your life’s in a mess It’ll make you smile. All human life is here From the feeble old dear to the screaming child.” ‘National Express’ by The Divine Comedy Who would have thought that someone would accurately capture the whole coach travelling experience in a song? Not I! But how true the above lyrics are. Coach travel, and in particular, National Express (NE) has long been thought of as the preferred method of travel for students travelling home and laden down with dirty washing; little old ladies visiting their grown-up children; and bands of families (comprising of at least 6 kids) on their holidays to Llandudno. I myself, as a student many years ago, travelled by coach due to financial restraints. Last weekend however, I dared to experience the NE phenomenon once again. Had things changed? Mmmm, let’s see… My decision to go by coach, was purely one based on convenience (believe it or not!). My journey was to take me from my hometown of Leek to London. After a bit of searching online on the train websites and Gobycoach.com (the National Express website), it became horribly obvious that if I was travel by train I would need to make so many changes, take so many buses and have to take the Underground once in London, that a straightforward coach journey would probably actually take less time than the rigmarole of the rail service. As an added bonus the coach would pick me up from my town’s bus station and drop me off, without changes, at Victoria Coach Station, which was the area in which I was staying. So, a booking was duly made on Gobycoach.com. The tickets that are issued, either by using Gobycoach.com, by telephone or purchased through agents, are always very clear and give details of the times, destinations, service numbers and details of any changes that need to be made en route. On the m
orning of my outward journey, my coach was 20 minutes late in arriving. Fortunately, being a sunny day I wasn’t too perturbed by this and my pick up point is sheltered anyhow. This is one of the disadvantages in coach travel, when looking at it logically. Despite their best efforts in allowing enough time to get to destinations there will always be unexpected delays such as accidents, especially on motorways, and traffic build-up in general. A few years ago this was a major disadvantage in coach travel. Today though, if I mention delays to train timetables, then you might understand why I take these coach delays as a pinch of salt: Rail travel no longer has the upper hand on reliability and promptness. The thing that struck me on the initial stage of my journey was the scenery that I was able to see from a coach, which I wouldn’t normally be able to see on a train. Our route took us through some of the spectacular places in Derbyshire, and when travelling through Ashbourne, it reminded me that it would be a lovely place to visit in the summer months. Of course, not the entire journey allowed me to take in the views of the English countryside. Once we’d picked up at Leicester it was the usual motorway travelling down to London. For those of you who have travelled by coach, my perceptions so far probably don’t match up to your own experiences. My apologies, I got a bit carried away with the positive aspects of coach travel. But now it’s down to the real nitty gritty. I was fortunate in that for all of my outward and most of my return journey, I had a seat to myself. Even though the coach wasn’t too crowded (and it was a Bank Holiday weekend) a great deal of single-occupancy seats were being filled. The space factor on coaches certainly hasn’t improved. It is always preferable to have a double seat to yourself, but when that fails you certainly find out how little space is allowed per passen
ger. Firstly, I’m a fairly short-legged person, but didn’t find there to be a great deal of legroom. Seats can be reclined, but becomes a nuisance to other passengers (imagine a domino effect, whereby one person reclines the seat and so the person behind has to as well, and so on…). So space, as in physical comfort is a problem. More importantly, the mental strain that can sometimes result in travelling on a coach. Unlike trains, everyone has to sit in very close proximity to one another. Imagine for example, that you are sitting on a train and the man sitting next to you as a problem with body odour. What do you do? You move. On a coach it isn’t quite that simple. On a coach you can smell everything, whether it be a lack of personal hygiene or a whiff of their curry they ate last night. Not pleasant. It isn’t just smells that are offensive when travelling on a coach, but other anti-social habits that some people possess. Anything can constitute anti-social behaviour from annoying mobile phone ringtones, loud personal stereos or a group of people talking together (or shouting!). There is something that National Express seems to have done away with on a lot of their coach services and that’s the on-board refreshments. Admittedly, I remember buying limp sandwiches for over £2 before now. But it was always good to get a coffee on-board, so I was rather disappointed. NE’s policies however do shine against those of rail operators. The main one being their ‘No Alcohol’ policy. Passengers are forbidden from drinking on board all NE services. This policy even extends to passengers boarding who are deemed to be intoxicated. NE’s policy reserves the right to disallow any passenger to board who is deemed to be drunk and who may potentially be a nuisance to other passengers on board. A policy which I wholeheartedly applaud as I have travelled on trains with football supporte
rs (and I hate to use this example, but it’s true) where I’ve felt threatened by their behaviour, much of which is exemplified through drink. So, you have a few of my experiences of a NE. To me, it still doesn’t rate too highly as an alternative to train travel. Maybe it’s because I’m not a particularly patient person and many of other peoples habits annoy me, but I have found that in some instances travelling by coach can be as easy and convenient as travelling by train. On their website, NE claim to make 1,000 departures a day to over 1,200 destinations on the UK mainland. They also run many services to European destinations and from UK airports. In my case, living in a small town without a train station, coach travel is far more convenient to some destinations I merely have to walk to the bus station, get on a coach and the step off again somewhere else. Coach travel though, as I have highlighted is not for everyone. If you can’t put up with the potential of screaming babies, bodily smells and other behaviour that you deem as being anti-social then maybe you should stick to the freedom of travelling by train. Useful links: www.gobycoach.com
As I make my debut in this ‘ere section, I must first apologise for my rustic methods and haphazard quantities (but hang on, if Jillmurphy can do it then…). You see I’m one of them ‘experimental’ cooks – a bit of this, a bit of that. Cookery books? What the ‘Anthony Worall-Thompson’ are they? So, bear with me here, my food critics as I divulge the secret of my success, of being the one who can seduce women just by talking about my egg whisk (please believe me…). And here, is one of my particular favourites for pulling the birds (I mean ladies). [Cheesy cookery program presented by cheesy chef] HOT Summer Night Pasta Smoked Salmon Pieces (the off cuts) – a good handful Soured Cream – medium pot, so about 248ml Spinach (preferably fresh) – large bag of Tagliatelle – although Linguini is rather good as well Lemon Juice – fresh lemons are better, can use for garnish as well Nutmeg – freshly ground if possible (about 1teaspoons) An easy-peasy one pot meal this. One tip – use a large saucepan. Cook the Tagliatelle as per the packet’s instructions - usually about 12 minutes so it’s just ‘al dente’ (cooked but with a slight bite). Strain in a colander once cooked, and put to one side. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the saucepan and add the spinach (this is why you’ll need a large saucepan) and put on the lid to allow the spinach to steam. Check after a couple of minutes and stir. If the spinach is drying out add another tablespoon of water. Once the spinach has cooked (it’ll be a lovely dark green colour and look as though 2/3 of it has disintegrated!) take off the heat. Grate and add the nutmeg, the soured cream and the juice of 1 lemon and stir well, then add the cooked Tagliatelle. Pop back on the heat to warm through. Once fully warmed, add the smoked salmon
(which will cook slightly from the heat of the rest of the concoction). Serve on two plates and deliver to your awaiting lover, accompanied with… SENSUAL Salad Rocket leaves Lolo Rosso Lettuce (Alternatively, Sainsbury’s do a very nice four Frisse lettuce leaf lettuce bag that contain all of these) Coriander 2 slices of white sliced bread (preferably stale!) 1 garlic clove 2 rashers of bacon Olive Oil Cut the crusts off the slices of stale bread (it’s easier to work with than fresh – don’t ask me why, it just is, alright!) and cut slices into 1 inch cubes. In a small frying pan, heat a drop (just a drop) of Olive Oil and add some crushed garlic. Add the bread cubes. Shake the pan occasionally to dislodge any croutons that insist on sticking and burning to the pan. Once light golden in colour, remove from the pan and drain on a piece of kitchen roll. Using scissors, cut the bacon (either smoked or unsmoked, it’s entirely up to you), into thin strips. Still using the frying pan, dry-fry the bacon remembering to move it around the pan using some sort of kitchen utensil (fingers aren’t advised). Once the bacon is crispy, remove from the heat and drain on kitchen paper. In a large salad bowl add the lettuce leaves (left whole), roughly chopped coriander, croutons and bacon and mix well together. Voila!!! Serve the Pasta and salad accompanied with the obligatory fresh crusty bread (because let’s face it, if you haven’t cooked enough, bread will fill you up!). Sit back and admire your creation and the admiration on your lover’s face as you sip chilled Chablis on a hot summer’s night…and dessert? Use your imagination! Cost: less than £10
Let’s face it, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) are about as interesting as choosing a pension or watching the washing machine whilst in spin cycle (it’s quite fascinating when it’s doing a slow wash!). We are here because of them and the internet wouldn’t exist without them. Choosing an ISP isn’t exactly a life-changing experience, nor is it detrimental if you first choose the wrong one and decide to experiment with various others. And that is exactly my philosophy with ISP’s. As offers and prices are changing constantly, it doesn’t hurt to shop around and try different ones, providing they don’t tie you down to a minimum term contract that’s more than 1 month. After a fairly long stint at AOL, I decided I needed a change. For starters, my initial decision to subscribe to the AOL un-metered service was determined by the fact that I was governed by an NTL cable line at my last abode – and as some of you might know, non-BT lines can be highly restricting when choosing an ISP. My decision to change was mainly due to the amount of space that the AOL software took up on my rather old, ‘hard disk-challenged’ PC and that most of the AOL features, including the browser, I never used anyhow. My criteria were simple: un-metered access ( a monthly charge without phone call charges) ; a simple dial-up connection to use with my Internet Explorer browser and no additional software to be installed; and most importantly CHEAP. My hunt for this illusive ISP ended after searching in 08whatever.com, a site that will search for ISP’s that meet your requirements after the completion of a few questions on your internet usage and experience of accessing the internet. My relationship with Free24-7.net was born. Free24-7.net, as they say in the About Us blurb on their site, is a subsidiary company of V21.net, another provider. Free24-7 offer a ‘no frills’ alternative to common ISP’s, who offer tonnes of web space, email addresses, safe surfing for kids and portal pages for shopping, chat etc. On initial inspection of the homepage, Free24-7 did seem to meet all of my criteria for my next ISP. For a monthly charge of £7.99 I would have unlimited access without the usual paraphernalia of other ISP’s: no email addresses, web space, child safety features or even a default homepage. All I got on registration was my account number, confirmation of my user name and password, dial-up number and POP server (incoming server) and SMTP (outgoing server) addresses in order to reinitialise Outlook Explorer. Eureka! An ISP without the hassle. Registration itself was quick and easy, and by using a debit or credit card I was able to start surfing using Free24-7 within 10 minutes of registration. For the first couple of weeks everything was running smoothly. The cut off time was 3 hours and inactivity cut off was 10 minutes – enough time to leave my PC to grab a coffee and visit the ‘conveniences’. I was however beginning to become a little concerned by the increasing difficulty of dialling up on some evenings where it would maybe take a dozen attempts to get connected to the server. I still wasn’t hindered however, as once I was on I stayed on and didn’t experience any painful and untimely ‘booting off’ until my 3 hours. The crux had to come though, and it was evident that Free24-7 was unable to provide an un-metered service at such a competitive price. One month after my initial registration, I received an email informing me of the ‘exciting new changes’ to the Free24-7 packages. From the beginning of April, the packages for internet usage were being changed to several packages to suit different users. In the changes the £7.99 package remained, but was no longer ‘unlimited
217; access but would now only allow up to 28 hours of un-metered access a week. The further packages would be £9.99 for up to 42 hours for the V21 Lite; £14.99 for up to 56 hours for V21 standard; £24.99 for up to 77 hours for Nethead and various other business packages. The first thing I noticed was the integration between Free24-7 and V21 – ok, it made sense as Free24-7 was no longer a cheap alternative to the V21 holding. Secondly, the packages for £9.99 and upwards now included the obligatory email addresses and web space, something which I wasn’t terribly fussed about to begin with. Despite my despondency and my utterances of “All good things must come to an end” I did decide to persevere with Free24-7 (or is it V21?) with their Lite package for £9.99 a month. Now each package offers a contention ratio (a ratio showing the amount of people vying for network access at any one time). And as one would expect the more you pay the lower the contention ratio is. And surprisingly enough the £7.99 package’s ratio is 20:1 (only 1 in 20 subscribed users can access the internet at a time). Not so bad for the Lite package at 15:1, Standard 10:1 and Nethead at 8:1 (I’m beginning to sound like a betting forecaster now!). This might all sound like double-Dutch but the contention ratio is an important factor in dialling up a connection to the internet – it’s the difference between getting on and happily surfing or trying for over half an hour (or more) just to send an email. The proof is in the pudding, as they say and since my recent change to the Lite package I have had mixed fortunes. Initially, I had a few bad days (mainly Sunday evenings) when I could try dialling for an hour and wouldn’t get on. But through perseverance (and let’s face it, we all need it for using any ISP) the service seems to have improved and I am no longer plagued by to many atte
mpts to get on here to read opinions! At the moment my impressions of my ISP, are still rather mixed. On a positive side, there still isn’t the unnecessary amount of facilities, which I hate in comparison to other ISP’s. Logging on to my account is easy, and details such as personal and payment details can be amended fairly easily. There are also a couple of interesting sections with the account facility. One of which is the ‘Server Status’ link that allows users to view the projected and actual contention ratios for the previous week – most of the projected ratios are higher than the actual ratios, (which is good). I can also access my ‘Connection Log’ which lists the time and duration I have used the ISP, with a running total and an indication of the number of hours I have left for the week. However, technical support for Free24-7 is charged at a hefty £1 a minute. Now, one would think that this isn’t the ideal ISP for newbies to the internet, but luckily Free24-7 offer Gold Membership, whereby if you expect to make a number of technical calls in one month you can pay an extra £2 a month on any package for unlimited technical support at local call rates. There is also the problem for those who by chance, stumble across Free24-7’s homepage, which still seems to be advertising the £7.99 service for unlimited access, which must have misled a number of recent subscribers. What has concerned me most is that I’ve received emails from Free24-7 for two consecutive weeks informing me that I have used 80% of my allotted hours for that week and that whilst not being threatening it seems to suggest that they don’t really want people to be using all of their hours for their particular package. A snippet reads “If you do happen to reach your account type's total use allowance, we will notify you once again and ask that you upgrade to an account more suited to
your expected usage level.”. The fact that I would not be allowed to access the service after I reach my maximum hours, seems to suggest that a certain amount of bullying might be employed to move me on to a higher tariff if I continue to use 80% of my allowance per week. I’ll keep you posted on this one. I can’t recommend Free24-7 as an ISP for all. In fact it probably isn’t an ISP for most people. Connecting to it sometimes takes time and you haven’t got the other add-ons that you would expect with other ISP’s. But it is an experiment on my part just to see how cheap an ISP can get whilst still proving a reliable connection without constant booting up the proverbial backside when the servers get too frantic. We’ll see…. Useful site for researching ISP’s: 08whatever.com. Minimum package charge for Free24-7.net: £7.99 for 28 hours per week.
I am rather surprised that Anne Rice hasn’t already been hung by a mob of religious zealots, or been branded a ‘devil on earth’ by the Pope for her unique and often disturbing novel, ‘Memnoch the Devil.’ For the uninitiated, or for those who haven’t seen either ‘Interview with the Vampire’ or ‘Queen of the Damned’ it’s broadly about vampires (come on, I’m not going to do a complete synopsis of the story so far!). So, the story so far (ok, ok)…. Lestat the vampire is a very bad vamp indeed. Not only does he kill people to drink their blood (excusable for a vampire I think), but he also breaks all the ‘vampire’ rules – he became a rock star; revealed the secrets of vampires through the published word, and swapped his body for a human’s. And now, poor old Lestat could face his nemesis when he is stalked by ‘the’ Devil a.k.a. Memnoch, who wishes to recruit him to be his assistant in Hell. One would expect the usual ‘God and Heaven equals Good: Devil and Hell equals Bad’ analogies, but you’d be wrong dear readers. Rice presents a range of tangible ideas of what God and the Devil represent and an explanation for those who believe, but are unsure of what they believe in. Memnoch appears to Lestat as an Ordinary Man with the proposition of explaining and showing him why he wishes him to become his assistant. The novel continues with the story of Memnoch: his state of grace with God; his downfall and the circumstances that lead to God becoming his “adversary”. Memnoch takes Lestat through time and dimension from the creation of the Universe to the crucifixion of Christ, and from Heaven and Hell. The ideas and perceptions of God within the novel might make uncomfortable reading for some. In ‘Memnoch the Devil’ God is neither omniscient (all seeing and all-know
ing) nor self-less. The idea being that the creation of the universe and humans is a form of entertainment and show of power by ‘our creator’, with God not knowing how humans are different from other animals he has created. In an example, with persuasion from Memnoch, God decides to visit the world in the form of Christ. He agrees to discover what makes humans different, and to decide for himself whether we suffer more than any other species on the planet. His ‘idea’ is to sacrifice himself to pain and death and die to ‘prove his love for us’, but with the full knowledge that He is God and will rise to his place in Heaven. In this, Memnoch believes he misses the point, an idea that God refutes. “…humans cry out against suffering and they are conscious of it when they suffer, but in a sense they behave exactly like the lower animals, in that suffering improves them and drives then towards evolutionary advance…Humans can actually be improved within one lifetime by suffering.” A God who understands? A God who is non-experimental? A God who is omniscient? A loving God? I find Rice’s concepts in the novel enthralling, and find my self asking the age-old question “Why do we exist?”. In the novel, it is Memnoch’s love of humans and his doubts about the knowledge and actions of God, which cause his downfall. This is the Devil, which can be sympathised with. Rice’s representation of him is as one who is misunderstood, purely because of the arrogance and ignorance of God. This is an idea, which she has presented continuously throughout her other novels of vampiric tales: There is no singular definition of evil and there can be justification for all acts that are perceived as being evil. It amazes me every time I read an Anne Rice novel, how thought provoking they are. Before reading Memnoch the Devil, I had my usual perceptions of what God and De
vil I would be reading about. What did I get? A Devil who I sympathised with and a God who knows less than a shopping centre CCTV camera! Of course this is fiction and is unlikely to wholly represent the views of the author. But how often have theologians, philosophers, the regular church-goer and the antagonists argued over the will of God and our creation (or evolution, if you prefer) and how often do we look for other logical arguments. Many reading the novel will actually find themselves with a great deal to think about. And Rice’s offering in comparison to her other works? With her usual mixture of horror and reality, the novel truly encapsulates the best of Anne Rice. Even in her description of Heaven and Hell, she manages to avoid the many clichés and popular myths by creating a vague image of the two realms and allowing the reader to fill in the detail. One might say that Rice has avoided having to write about such a widely-perceived but unproven theme, but as in all literature it is the reader’s imagination that is used to animate a story, and this obviously depends on our own beliefs and imaginations. Recommended? Most definitely Memnoch the Devil would appeal to both Anne Rice fans and those who have never read a word from the pen of Rice. Despite it being part of the Vampire Chronicles, the novel could quite easily be read independently. And life after death? Who knows………? Price comparison: RRP £6.99 Cheapest price though bookbrain.co.uk inc. delivery: swotbooks.com £4.31 plus £2.40 delivery per order Amazon: £4.59 (Ballantyne Ediction) plus delivery
I hate the word volunteer, when referring to volunteering per se. It gives me the impression that any other work is done through coercion and ultimatums. It’s also a very weak word. ‘Volunteer’. Kids volunteer to be monitors at school (no milk, Maggie, no milk!). I might volunteer to cook the meal tonight (If I don’t, I starve!). But ‘volunteering’, as in working for no pay for the benefit of others who could not normally afford your services, has much more impact than that I have already described. Question: Are Category Assistants on Dooyoo, ‘volunteers’? Well yes, they volunteer for the position, of course. Benefit? Endless benefit to the ‘community’ through advice, assistance, co-operation, reporting etc etc. Benefits to them? Mmmmm. Recognition maybe: financial nope. What about Mrs Smith who pops in to see 84 year old Mrs Jones every day. She makes sure she’s safe; collects her pension (without pocketing a tenner for herself!); does a spot of cleaning; has a coffee and a chat… Is that ‘volunteering’? Of course it is! Why am I defining this ‘job’ called ‘volunteering’? Because, firstly ‘volunteering’ may, to some people, not be a job. Secondly, it isn’t only organised volunteering that counts and thirdly, it’s the end result that matters. The end result being a safer and friendlier Dooyoo or a happier, safer Mrs Jones. Onto what volunteering has meant to me. When I was 17, I was involved in doing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and was working towards my Silver award. As part of gaining the award I had to participate in three months Community Service, either through helping an organisation or a local project. Our DofE group was connected with the local youth club that had a once-weekly youth group for 11-14 year ol
ds. Another DofE bod and myself decided to set up a ‘Tuck Shop’ for the youth club for our Community Service. With a £20 loan from the youth club funds, we bought stock from a Cash and Carry, pricemarked items, set up and sold our meagre selection of wares. Within a few weeks, the tuck shop was breaking into profit very quickly and within 3 months we were keeping £100 worth of stock and had paid back the loan. Our 3-month stint for our Community Service came and went, but we continued to run the tuck shop. After a year, others were becoming involved and we were making a tidy profit (which was being used to buy equipment for the youth club). Quite a success from humble beginnings, I think. I know we’re hardly talking Richard Branson material, but we actually got a buzz out of the amount of profit that we were making and the extras that we were providing for the members (which not only included the footballs, CD’s for the jukebox, Disco hire and other things we were able to buy, but also a good variety of sweets, drink and crisps that they could buy at cheap prices). It all sounds like I was complete goody-goody when I was a teenager (I had a dark side as well, honest!), but I did have selfish reasons for continuing to co-run the tuck shop for 2 years. Firstly, I did get a buzz out of it, as I mentioned. But secondly, in today’s competitive job market, I knew that any ‘extras’ I could put on my CV would be a massive advantage – voluntary work looks good on anybody’s CV! Now, let’s fast-forward 6 years… After a period of long-term illness I am getting bored, restless and worried about my future employment with a long period of sickness and as a result, not working for a number of months. A suggestion is made to me by friends and family, “What about voluntary work?” So, off I pop to the local Volunte
er Bureaux and find out about filling some of my spare time. Volunteer Bureaux’s are wonderful places! They are so welcoming and believe that anyone can offer some sort of skill or time to work for an organisation that would be grateful for the help. I was able to specify the number of hours I would be prepared to work a week and the types of work I wanted to do. As a result I was given details of the Portsmouth Crafts and Materials Bank, run by the Beneficial Foundation, and asked to go along and talk to the manager there about working for them. My work there mainly involved manual, repetitive work, but was exactly what I wanted. The people were friendly and GRATEFUL for my help. When I started I only worked 1 day a week, but later I requested to work another day a week as well. Ok, it was hardly a full-time occupation, but it was a great way of getting back into work. Yet again, I had a worthwhile thing to put on my CV and a good reference. But it wasn’t just an accolade I wanted. I wanted to feel worthwhile again. I wanted to feel part of something. By working voluntarily, it improved my self-esteem, confidence and gave me structure. So, there you have it. My experiences of ‘volunteering’. What does it show you? I hope you have a wider perspective of what volunteering means and what YOU can get out of volunteering. Volunteering doesn’t have to take over your social life: Hours are usually to suit. Volunteering does pay! Ok, forget about a salary, although expenses are normally paid for costs incurred for travelling. Think of payment in an extra-special detail on your CV; increasing self-esteem and self-fulfilment. It can also be a good way of looking into a new career path or to further a hobby interest. Many different people do voluntary work in all sorts of capacities. As well as the two examples I’ve given above there are opportunities to work in charity sho
ps (my mother was one of those in Oxfam, although not old –ooo, heck!), schools, the NHS (hospitals have an amazing amount of volunteers!), schools, women’s shelters, animal charities and even working abroad for organisations such as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). There are normally no qualifications needed for doing voluntary work, although for some jobs, work experience would be needed (i.e. accounts, homes repairs etc). Most organisations will insist however that volunteers provide the details of two referees and for some positions, you would need a police check (i.e. when supervising children). So, there it is. This isn’t a bullying tactic to encourage you all to become ‘volunteers’, but if you ever find yourself with spare time on your hands, do consider it as an option. Maybe Mrs Jones down the road would appreciate it… Useful links for volunteering: www.volunteering.org.uk - Information, advice and resources for those who wish to become volunteers. www.millenniumvolunteers.gov.uk – Scheme for 16-24 year olds wishing to volunteer. www.vso.org.uk - Voluntary Services Overseas www.btcv.org.uk – Conservation holidays For further sites just enter ‘Volunteers, UK’ into Google. Contact your local council for your nearest Volunteer Bureaux.
…It began long ago in a galaxy far, far away. One woman struggles relentlessly in her quest for the ultimate wonders of the universe. To seek out new fortunes. To discover the hidden treasures of a yesteryear. And after years of arduous searching, with countless risks upon her life she discovers a New World. The future (ED: Have you had enough build up yet?). She discovers ‘eBay’. And here she tells her story in her usual melodramatic and irritating style in the sequel to ‘Tales from an Arctic Victorian Auction Room’ in ‘EBAY: THE DISCOVERY OF A WARMER PLACE!’… “Captain’s log. Stardate 17893695689900 (ED: Get on with it!). “Today, I was calculating the atmospheric pressure of a new planet in sector 7, when a bug caused a glitch on my interface and displayed a puzzling new selling portal created by intelligent lifeforms. Its name is eBay and can be found at co-ordinates www.ebay.co.uk. They call this means of selling ‘auctions’. Looking back at ancient texts written by The Old Ones, auctions allow beings to sell goods to the highest bidder. Most items have either been used by the seller previously or are bought cheaply to sell to others at the portal at a profit. (It actually rather reminds me of a race of species called the Shaggians who would sell their dead woolly animals, once they had been used for whatever purpose, to the Carnivons who would feed on them). “At the gateway (or homepage, as it is called by users) to eBay there are a variety of examples of goods that are being sold at that moment. This homepage is very simple, but has a great deal of information, which I could browse in order to learn the selling habits of these creatures. “First of all, there are comprehensive guides on the portal of how to buy and sell on eBay. Most of this information seems fairly logical but there is advice on how to bid and pay for items ̵
1; something that I will explain later on. “The first thing I had to do was register. Even though I didn’t have to in order to browse. But for bidding and selling the registration process has to be endured. “Registration is very straightforward and requires only basic details and a creation of a username and password. Afterwards I received an ‘email’ that requested me to click on a link so that they knew that my email address existed. “Once registered, I had my very own section of the site, which would allow me to keep track of items that I was bidding on and items I was selling. There were other additional sections, which also seem very useful. One of them allows me to save my most used searches. Another allowed me to list my favourite sellers. But more interesting than that was a feedback page. “The feedback page on the site allows other buyers and sellers to comment on how well you buy and sell on eBay. Once an auction has closed and you have either paid for an item or have sent an item you are selling to someone who has paid, feedback can be left in order to let other people know how good you are. I find this somewhat self-congratulatory, but I am assured by others on the site that it is useful to know when you send someone money and they have a good feedback rating that they are fairly trustworthy. “After registering, I wanted to probe this phenomenon further. What can this thing really do? What can I sell and what can I buy? “Again, at the homepage I discovered that there’s a vast array of categories of items that are sold. Anything from CD’s, Books, Computers, Collectibles, Antiques, Clothes and even Food. “When clicking on one of the categories, lists of items being sold are displayed, where the most recent to sell is at the top and the longest date is last. When I went into CD’s, Tapes and Records there were over 57,00
0 items being sold! On this discovery I thought that I would be here for the next millennia going through all of these items, but I then noticed that there is a ‘search facility’ which allows me enter keywords in a box using text, where all results would be listed which include my keywords. “So, using the search facility I typed in the keywords “Star Trek” and again the results were startling with 2,170 items listed. Items can however be narrowed down into results from sub-categories such as Collectibles, Videos, Books etc. “The results that were listed were extraordinarily detailed. Each auction listed gave the name of the item being sold, the starting price, current price and how much longer the auction has to run – even down to the last minute. When I found an item I was interested in I could just click on the title and I would get a full description, it’s condition, and delivery costs of the item. I am told though, and have noticed that some sellers aren’t very good at this and don’t include enough details for you to make an informed decision. There are also links where I could view the sellers other auctions, their feedback and even to ask them a question about the item they’re selling. This I found particularly helpful when sellers hadn’t included enough information. “At the bottom of each item description is the area where bids can be made. It gives the current price of the item and the minimum that can be bid. Also, there are various increments that bidding is done in, dependant on how much the bid is currently at. There is also a very useful facility which allows a bidder to state their maximum bid on an item, which is known as ‘Proxy Bidding’. Here the system on eBay is rather clever. Even though I may bid over the next bidding price, my bid will remain the same unless another bidder bids higher than me, in which case my bid will automatica
lly increase to out-bid the other person. This will only continue until the next increment or until I have reached my maximum bidding limit or I am outbid over my maximum bidding limit. It sounds rather confusing, but for example. If I was to bid on an item that is currently at £5 and set my maximum bid at £10. Unless another person bids after me over £5, my bid would remain at £5. If then a person bids at £7.50, my bid would increase to £7.50 but I would be the highest bidder as my bid was entered first. If then someone bid at £10.50, I would be out-bid and my bidding would end. However, the clever thing about this is that if I am outbid, eBay will send me an email telling me, and I could go in and bid again. “Another thing I can do is ‘Watch’ items that I might want to bid on at a later date. “‘Watched’ items are stored in my own area (called ‘My Ebay’) in my Bidding page. I can choose to watch items and view these on this page to see what the current price of them are. If I then want to bid on them I can click on the item title and I will be able to place a bid on the item description page. Again, when I watch items, eBay will send me an email reminder 36 hours before the item is due to close. A very handy facility, I think. “I have to admit, I was lucky enough to win the bidding on an item today, and so I’m in a position to explain the rudimentaries of what happened when an item is won. “Firstly, I received an email from eBay informing me that I was the highest bidder. I understand from their policy and from what I know of this race’s Laws that this is a legally binding contract in their land and that if I refuse to pay for an item I have won, the seller would be within their rights to take me to something called a ‘Small Claims Court’. “When the bidding has ended it is the responsibility of the buyer and seller to arrange for pa
yment and delivery of the item. In the ways of these people, it appears to be good manners to email each other. For the seller to email the buyer to let them know what forms of payment they accept and the final amount due (as postage and packaging is usually extra), and the buyer to email the seller to confirm the method of payment they will use. “In this civilisation there are various ways to pay for goods and it is up to the seller which forms she/he accepts. The usual ones are by personal cheques or postal orders, but there are additional payment methods that some sellers accept that are more convenient. One of these is called Billpoint and is apparently a payment method that is recommended and co-run by eBay. With Billpoint, transactions can be paid electronically using credit or debit cards. This means that the buyer can pay instantly and the seller receives their money straight away. It also means that most items will be received by the buyer within a couple of days after the auction has ended. Other payments are Nochex and Paypal, which work on the same principle as Billpoint. “Once goods have been paid for electronically, or cheques that have been sent have been ‘cleared’, goods should be dispatched by the seller to the buyer. On completion both the seller and buyer leave feedback for one another, praising each other’s efforts in buying and selling. “As a test of this sites capabilities for selling items, I decided to sell a few items of my own: My own Mogolian Crystal collection and a rare Tubacian Foot with all claws in pristine condition, dating back nearly 2 million years. “I read the selling tips before I commenced putting my items on the site for auction. Incidentally, they have some very useful links in this section which include postal carrier companies, although I think I will have to arrange to deliver my items to the successful bidders (Royal Mail doesn’t seem to collec
t items from Quadrant 6 in the Hebridis galaxy). “Once I’d clicked on the link to sell I had to choose how I wanted to sell my items. There are two options. The first is for a standard auction; the second is to sell an item at a fixed price. It appears that most items are sold in the auctions, and it seems more fun that way. “I then had to select a category where my items would be sold. By browsing the site previously I got a feel of where items are put (this I would advise), and decided to put them the Crystals in ‘Collectibles’ and the Tubacian Foot in ‘Antiques and Art’. I could then choose sub-categories for my items, which seemed very comprehensive and covered all aspects of those particular sections (i.e. Decorative Arts, Maps, Maritime, Autographs, Stamps, Royal Commemorative etc). “After selecting the categories I could enter the details of my items. First of all, eBay advise that the title should be eye-catching and self-explanatory. In the description I could elaborate on the title giving specific details of dates, features etc. On the following page I can state the minimum price at which I would like to start my auction. This isn’t necessarily the minimum price that I would accept though as I can put a reserve price on my auction, where I can specify an undisclosed minimum price at which I would be prepared to sell (the reserve price is not disclosed to the bidders until it has been ‘met’). “There are various other things that I can do to attract bidders to my auction. For instance I can include a photograph of the item in my auction, which is free to place. Additional photos can be used but will cost extra. I can highlight and use bold text for my auctions, but again this is at extra cost. “After including details of the payment methods I accept and which countries I would be prepared to send my items, I was ready to submit my aucti
on. This all took about 10 minutes for my first listing, but only took less than 5 minutes for my second listing as I was used to the format by then. “I could review the layout and details of my auction and change details where necessary before my auction went ‘live’. “Even though eBay doesn’t charge bidders to buy items on their site, sellers have to pay fees to sell items. For items where the starting price is less than £5 this is only 15p per item. Additional highlighting or photos is extra. If an item is sold, then there is also a Final Value Fee, which is 5.25% of the final selling price (excluding P&P costs that may be added by the seller). “Sellers however do not pay these fees as they are charged. The fees for each auction are recorded by eBay and are billed to the seller once a month. The seller can then pay these fees in one go either by sending a cheque to eBay, by credit or debit card, or they can set up a Direct Debit where fees will automatically be taken from a banking account on the billing date. “Once my items were successfully listed, I could then go to My Selling page in My Ebay and view my auctions. The list of items will include the date and time the auction starts and ends, the current price and the number of bids that have been made. It is useful that when no bid has been made the listing is highlighted in red and when it has been bid upon it is highlighted in green. “I noted that this form of selling could be open to abuse. Winning bidders may not pay for an item or if they did, a seller may not send them the item they have paid for? This was a concern to me, but eBay does have very good policies and facilities in place to prevent these things happening, or from happening too often. “Firstly, the Feedback facility, where others on the site leave feedback on their transactions with others, is a good indication of the trustworthiness of
other users of the site. Secondly, eBay has a team of staff who check that illegal or illicit items are not sold, or that fraud is limited. “For bidders who don’t pay or sellers who don’t send items, users are encouraged to report these people and a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy is adopted. For sellers who don’t receive payment, eBay will refund the Final Valuation Fee, and when an item isn’t sold the first time, sellers can re-sell and if it is sold a second time they will receive the second listing fee back (this applies to items which don’t sell or to items that don’t sell because a bidder doesn’t pay). “It is however, still a slight risk that is taken when using this form of selling portal. And the responsibility lies with the bidders or seller in the minority cases where transactions are not completed satisfactorily. “I have, in my short time in using the site befriended a mortal called happybunny75 who has been both selling and buying on the site for over two months and has given me a list of advice on using eBay:” As when making any purchase, research what you are buying by comparing prices with other sites or high street stores. If you are bidding on an item, look at whom you are buying from and read their feedback. A new member without any feedback should not put you off, but anyone with a large proportion of negative feedback would be best to stay away from. Read and re-read the description that the seller has written. What haven’t they said? Remember that descriptions are written by sellers who want to sell their items for the maximum amount possible. If you have any doubts about an item, send the seller a question to clarify details they have written. When you receive a reply, keep it safe - just in case! Look for hidden costs. Most sellers will quote in the item description how mu
ch they will charge for P&P. If they haven’t it may not mean anything sinister (they may not have had chance to weigh the item before starting the auction), but send a message through eBay to find out. N.B there are authorised shops on eBay who may not include VAT or administration charges for larger items, in the bidding price. Do not send items to winning bidders until funds have cleared i.e. until a cheque has been paid into your bank account and has cleared (normally 3-4 working days). When selling items try to include as much information as possible about the item. If it is rare, say so. Try to always include how much you will be charging for P&P. When selling, choose the right category for the item. You could search to see if the items you are selling, or similar items are already being sold. This is also a good way to decide how much your starting price should be. Keep a track of what you sell, by creating a spreadsheet on Excel – include eBay charges and P&P costs. It’s interesting to see how much profit you’ve made. What a wonderful experience I have had. This is so much better than my meeting with the Galaxion in the Hormonic bath spa last year. “Computer. End transmission…” EXAMPLES OF ITEMS FOR SALE (AS AT 22/4/02) Playstation 2 with 50 games £120 (15 hours until end) The Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ CD album £4.99 (5 hrs 18 mins) Phillips 32” Widescreen TV £260 (4hrs 15 mins) ‘A Child in Time’ by Ian McEwan £1.99 (2 hrs) Swinging Sixties CD Album 55p (51 mins)
Oh dear, happybunny75 talking about love…lurve…amour…. whatever you want to call it. Let’s face it, what we’re talking about here is meeting people online who you eventually care about in more ways than you can ever imagine…that’s what love means isn’t it? (Ooh, feeling queasy). So, in good old Jackanory style let me tell you how I found that one I care about, online. Let’s start with chatrooms. Chatrooms are an interface where people from any part of the world can talk through in text in real time. That’s where I began. My reasoning for going into chatrooms are hereby listed: a) I was bored. So the idea of going into a ‘room’ with lots of other people talking about different things grabbed my attention. b) I was lonely. I wanted to talk to other people in order to feel less so, but sub-consciously I also wanted to meet other ‘like-minded’ women (before I go on here, this wasn’t some kind of S&M chatroom I went into, but a gay chatroom. Hence the like-mindedness. Now you can keep your smutty comments to yourself). Two fairly good reasons, but two reasons that fell down within a few weeks of my chatroom initiation. Firstly, chatrooms don’t necessarily cure boredom. If you have ever trudged around the chatroom menus i.e. MSN or Yahoo it’s a bit like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack – you know that what your looking for is in there somewhere, but hell, I can’t find it! Secondly, talking in chatrooms doesn’t cure loneliness and in some cases it exasperates it. For hours I would go into chatrooms and hope so strike up some kind of reasonable conversation with someone, but more often than not would always get a message asking “R U horny?”….[cough, cough] ….I don’t think we’ll go there. So you see, without even l
ooking beyond the rather dirty surface of chatrooms (let’s talk about sex…no, no, let’s don’t) I wasn’t really that impressed by chatrooms… …Then…the lights dim, Barry White’s earthy (unearthly?) tones fill the airwaves and the candlelight flickers by the open window…. and in walks the lady of my life-to-be into the above said chatroom and I’m captured, never to be released again…. (For God’s sake, pass me the sick bag!). So, I met my bird (sorry woman) in a chatroom. After a couple of brief nights chatting in there we start going further into the realms of Instant Messaging (I like to take things slow). We then progress to the ultimate stage of TALKING ON THE PHONE! AGGGGGHHHHHHH! “Hi, yes….errr…yea…it’s me…errr…Nicky. How are you? Er, sorry? Oh sorry, did I ask you that online over 3 hours ago? Sorry” Do sweaty palms ring any bells? Believe me, the gradual approach is by no means, the easiest. Ok, so things are going well. We like each other. We get on well and have plenty to talk about (and yes the phone bill for that first month did go into the three-figure sum!). So, the next stage is…yes…you guessed it…we exchange music tapes.WHAT? Ok, I have this fascination with peoples’ tastes in music. Just as some people like to nose in other’s shopping trolleys’ to see whether they’re married/single/refined/a slob, I like to know what people’s favourite songs are…so we progress to the favourite music stage. Once we passed each other on this score (although I think she felt pity for my inclusion of the Orville Song I’d put on her tape), we progress that one bit further to…. photos (bloody hell woman, get on with it). Photo swaps are indeed make-or-break time. Photo’s which include bad poses, dodgy smiles, r
ed eye or a pasted on body, face or both (or how you’d tell with both the pasted body and face) are a definite no-no (one tip: go to one of these photo booths that transform your body into a Chippendale/Page Three Girl, for the more body-conscious of you). And guess what? We both passed the photo stage. So, after advancing past the photo stage we reach the ultimate of sacrifices and pee-in-your-pants moments…THE MEETING. We met at the airport (seemed logical to me as my other half and me are separated by a lot of water). A nervous moment I must say, for both of us. What would we say? How would we great one another? Where shall I take her? When do I ask her to shag me…no, no, no. Honestly, no. Everything, suffice it to say, went well. We hugged upon meeting. We talked. We watched each other’s movements and gestures. We knew it was right. 18 months later……. Ok, so I skipped the vital information about first kiss and the other firsts (you are a load of dirty-minded individuals!), but the firsts are still continuing as far as I’m concerned. A lovely and very special relationship started with that woman I met 18 months ago and still continues. We may not live together or even live in the same town, county or country, but we manage to spend as much time together as we can and we talk both on the phone and online. Have I found love on the Internet? Yep, I think I have. Happy Anniversary my love. *** The names of all concerned have been changed to respect their anonymity… this includes Abraham Lincoln, The Queen, Geri Halliwell and Kate Moss*****
Imagine a world where Germany is the single most powerful nation. Imagine a United Sates run by Joseph Kennedy. Imagine a world where Adolf Hitler, the ‘Fuhrer’ of Germany, is approaching his 75th birthday….. Robert Harris’s ‘Fatherland’ is a ‘what if?’ scenario of what could have happened if Germany had won World War Two, and claimed occupation of eastern Europe to form the Reichland. My interest in reading the novel evolved from the screening of the film of the same name on TV, which like all good films, I had missed most of. Bugger! The concept of the film intrigued me, so after finding out that ‘Fatherland’ was a novel written by Robert Harris I got my own copy. Let me first point out that, despite my initial perceptions of the novel, ‘Fatherland’ is not simply “ life in Nazi Germany during the 1960’s”. Harris avoids Orwell’s ‘1984’ scrutiny of a world of Big Brother. You can imagine that there are similarities. Xaviar March is a homicide investigator for the German police. After the discovery of a suspicious death, he discovers that a larger conspiracy involving top-level ministers and the Gestapo is afoot, what he doesn’t realise is that the secrets being kept have the potential to change history. But whom can he trust? What is fascinating about ‘Fatherland’ is the factual content that Harris uses to justify what Germany could have been like, in such a believable way it’s frightening. Without giving too much away about the novel, if you watched the BBC Drama ‘Conspiracy’ with Kenneth Branagh, then you will enjoy ‘Fatherland’.
I’m not sure what my fascination is with Anne Rice. Before reading Interview with the Vampire, the only other horror novels I’d read were Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’ve never even read a page of a Stephen King novel! Shocked? Well, I am. I have an innate desire for horror of this kind: realism and humility. Not the bad monster-type that relies heavily on a ‘science fantasy’ imagination, but Anne Rice’s type that interlinks with society, religion and that the vampires of Rice’s novels live with us. Chilling concept: that vampires exist? No, no. That isn’t what I mean. Rice’s vampires have personalities, they differ: they suffer, they ‘live’, they philosophise, they’re kind, they’re greedy: they epitomise, what it is to be human, both good and bad. And never is this more obvious than in The Queen of the Damned. The vampires of Rice’s world personify, and are even morally superior to the human world. The novel is the third part of the Vampire Chronicles that Rice has written, and follows on from The Vampire Lestat, where Lestat has become a modern day icon, through being a rock star and publishing his autobiography which reveals the secrets of vampires. Of course, the human population doesn’t catch onto the fact that all of it is true and that Lestat’s identity is not fiction. Akasha, the Egyptian queen and mother of all vampires, has been awakened from her 6,000 year sleep by Lestat’s outspoken behaviour, and has designs on her own infamy: Akasha, wishes to be goddess to the world and to eliminate all vampires and humans who get in her way. What ensues is an unlikely collaboration between the remaining vampires to stop Akasha; the reunion of Marius, Armand, Louis and Lestat and the First Brood vampires; a dream that haunts the vampire world and its
human sympathisers that needs explanation; and an understanding of the fine line between good and evil. This really is a triumphant novel which brings together all myths and personalities from the previous two novels in the series. Rice, has an uncanny imagination which doesn’t breach the rules of reality. For example, the explanation given of how and why vampires were created is believable even in a fictional novel. This is in essence, how Rice grips the reader in her writing. Although, the subject matter is for most of us, truly unbelievable, it is difficult for the reader to dismiss what is being written purely as fantasy. It is the relation between what cannot be believed and fact that Rice plays upon within her writing. In Akasha’s plan to be accepted as being a deity she tries to justify her actions to the remaining vampires. “...there will be universal peace if the male population is limited to one per one hundred women. All forms of random violence will very simply come to an end. The reign of peace will be something the world has never known.” Despite the evilness of her plan of destruction, Rice presents Akasha’s motives not simply as random acts of violence but an ‘ideal’ that is almost sweet to swallow. It is this philosophical tone that continues throughout the narrative and causes the consciences of the vampires to be studied, and that of our own human world. Previously Rice’s style has been ‘autobiographical’ in style told by her vampire authors. The Queen of the Damned however is a collection of witness accounts and first person narratives, which really integrates the thoughts of all those involved within the plot. After all this is the truth of the vampire world! Rice really shouldn’t be confined to the horror fraternity. What the Vampire Chronicles, and in particular The Queen of the Damned is concerned with is how human nature transcends through
the ages and that fiction can disguise the truths of what is wrong with humanity and our world.
Oh no, my friends. Would I honestly read such a book? Although, we’re not talking about a pulp fiction romp (or should I say rump?), Desert of the Heart, is one of those love stories between women that I grew up with and came out with. My first introduction to the genre of ‘lesbian love stories’ was through the film Desert Hearts, which was based on the aforementioned novel. Directed by Donna Deitch, the film of the book was released in 1985. The novel surprisingly was published in 1964. Surprising? With the subject matter and the way in which it is written, yes it is. Evelyn Hall, a university professor, arrives in Reno, Nevada for a stay of six weeks, to dissolve her marriage of 16 years. In the boarding house in which she stays she meets Ann Childs; 15 years her junior, carefree and independent. Through Ann’s world Evelyn learns about herself, her environment, life and love. “Awwww, isn’t it sweet” you say. Well, it sounds it, but it really isn’t a sickly, soppy romance. Nor is it, what I would term, a ‘coming out’ book. Anne Rule links the lives of Ann and Evelyn with the landscape of the Nevada desert (hence title you see). The isolation and expanse of the desert are a metaphor for Evelyn’s loneliness, both in her arrival at Reno, where she knows no one, and her previous life through the isolation she felt with her husband. This however, isn’t an excuse for Rule to exploit Evelyn as being someone who hadn’t come to terms with her sexuality. At no point in the novel does Evelyn regret her marriage or claim that she finds her true identity through her newfound lesbian relationship. Let’s face it, we’ve heard it once too often before. In Ann Childs, Rule presents an anti-heroine who rebels against expectations. She has had relationships with both men and women and works at Frank’s Casino. She has
had a past relationship with Bill, the manager of the casino, which ended when she refused to marry him. The unlikely pair of Evelyn and Ann, of course begin a relationship. In small town Reno, it is secretly guarded, but Rule doesn’t fall into the trap of concentrating her efforts on the illicit relationship and the gossip of others, but instead relies on the other real issues that the pair face: The practicalities of living so far apart, the worry of Evelyn’s pending divorce and their concerns about their own ‘baggage’ that they both bring to the relationship. Real lives. Thank you Rule. It is also the presence of other characters and the character of Reno itself that adds depth to Desert Hearts and transcends the genre of being purely lesbian fiction. In its array of characters, each takes his/her role in the development of the plot within the novel. On the boundaries of Evelyn and Ann’s lives are an eclectic mix of characters that Rule uses to guide the reader into their own ideas of the novel. Such as the issues of lesbianism that I have alluded to above, and the idea of divorce which Evelyn seems to regard as failure on her part. Interestingly as the town is renowned for being a divorcees haven, divorce, separation and relationships play an important role, with the old traditional view versus the unconventional. And in the southern US as well!! Sex, Sex, and Sex? No, No, No! I told you, it’s not that sort of book. Just because something appears in the Gay and Lesbian section of a bookshop doesn’t make it a book that is exclusively intended for a gay audience. As I read in another opinion recently – pigeon holing is a sad thing, it deprives others from good entertainment. Desert of the Hearts is not yet another trashy lesbian novel, with pages of female lusters, entangled in perpetual lovemaking (sorry lads, you won’t get your kicks here
). All can enjoy Rules’ descriptions of the Nevada desert, her keen eye for characterisation and moving story. If you can get yourself a copy, then I advise you to take a look.
Last week I went to my first auction, and felt that I’d found a secret Aladdin’s cave. Auctions can be found in most towns and cities, selling an assortment of items or specialising in particular items. They can take place in a richly decadent auction room (e.g. Sotheby’s) or at remote outdoor locations (e.g. Farmer Giles’ cow-dung infested field). My visit took me to the auction house in my street! Despite living here for 9 months I’d previously not had the courage to enter Victorian ex-school (2 classrooms which echo the same sense of centrally heated standards of the Victorian era, therefore absolutely none at all) which are now known as Heritage Auction Rooms in Leek. But having a curiosity for the obscure and a nose for a bargain, I entered the doors on the preview day and browsed its contents. This particular auction offered household items and effects (e.g. house clearances of dead old people or individuals who were having difficulties selling items in the usual way). What a clutter of memorabilia, antiquities, attractive furniture interspersed with a whole heap of junk! Anything from solid wooden furniture; garden tools; boxes of books (and junk); electrical items, especially washing machines; mirrors; china; glassware; pictures…would you like me to continue? Well, interested readers, it just so happens that I have been on the lookout for a new sofa. Well, when I say ‘new’, I mean a sofa that I could buy dirt cheap and cover with throws to hide the fact that it’s 30 years old and is probably covered in unknown stains of a yesteryear. And what I also mean by ‘new’ is that I didn’t actually have a sofa, but a very uncomfortable futon to sit on. So, to cut a long story short, I wanted a bloody sofa! Ok? Ok, my intuitive reader, you may have noticed that the past tense had slipped in there. You did? Good. Well yes, happybunny75 was indeed very su
ccessful in purchasing a sofa, which was even more stupendous than she bargained for! “Get on with it!” My first visit to the auction rooms was on Wednesday, the day before the auction took place. Preview, or viewing days are common amongst auctions and I would seriously advise you to attend one, even if you know you’ll have time immediately before the auction to browse. I immediately spotted two sofas and a number of other smaller items that I was interested in. The two sofa’s could be distinguished by saying that one was quite old and tatty, but would have sufficed with the addition of some obligatory ‘throws’, however the other sofa was a wonderfully new, metal, spring action sofabed – I was in love! My quandary however was that the sofa of my dreams was a lot after the ‘tatty brown one’. Do I take a gamble with my ‘dream sofa’, with the risk of walking away from the auction with none at all? So, I went away that night and considered my options. Having looked at the Argos catalogue to do a bit of research, I realised that a new sofabed would cost me at least £200. On the basis of this and with my determination to get ‘my’ sofa, I opted to gamble and set my maximum bid at £70. On the day of the auction, I arrived at the auction rooms at 10am to register, giving my name, address and telephone number, and in return was given a numbered card – unlucky number 13! I then had a chance to look around the auction room once more to finalise which Iots I was going to bid for, and to make sure that there wasn’t anything I’d missed from the previous day. And more importantly, I had brought a pen and notebook with me so that I could write down the lot number, the description of the item and the maximum bid that I was putting in. At this stage, upon viewing two particular lots again, I had decided that I was no longer in
terested in them. The first part of the auction started, in what used to be the playground of the school, where rows of garden furniture, tools and slightly less quality furniture were displayed. The auctioneer walked from lot to lot followed by a mass of people: some who were bidding and others who were curious to see what was being sold and at what prices. Let me try and describe to you how I felt at those first moments of my first auction. I was in a state of fear. It isn’t until you actually take part in an auction that you realise how quickly lots are sold and that you really need to concentrate, but having arrived early I had plenty of time to observe tactics, translate the mumblings of the auctioneer and to indulge in a bit of people watching. At this particular auction, there were the obvious dealers; whether of the antique, second-hand shop or professional car-booter’s variety. There were however, I number of ‘locals’ who were after a bargain. I even started chatting with a few people, who are avid auction bargain hunters, and gave me stories of their buys. One woman told me that she’d bought a washing machine once for £3, and it lasted her 2 years! All of the electrical items at the auction I had attended had been tested beforehand, which is interesting to note. After around 30 minutes I no longer felt intimidated by the occasion and enjoyed watching one old metal child’s car go for over £300 and a table and chairs of the 70’s variety going for £1 (no, that isn’t a typo). The first lot that I was bidding for came up. It was a set of two old wooden stepladders. My limit was set at £4. Unfortunately, someone had bid at £4 after I’d bid my £2, so that was that. But, this first bid did give me the confidence that I needed. I’d made one bid and was happy that I was able to shake my head to the auctioneer once I’d reached my limit. I
continued later and bid for a large brown-framed mirror, which no one else was interested in and so got it for a whopping £2! Now, it was ‘my’ sofa time. The auctioneer started first bids at £20. I waited. He went down eventually to £5. Two people then put bids in so I came in at £15. £20 from the other side. I lifted my card confidently and bid £25. £30. £35. “£35, £35 anymore bids at £35. Sold” I had won my bidding at £35! After, I had recovered from the fact that I was now the proud owner of a bloody good sofa for £35 I went to the payments area and paid what I owed. Giving them my numbered card they were able to bring up all my winning bids on a laptop and printed out an invoice, which included a buyers premium of 10%. I paid, and was able then if I wished, to collect my items. After my great buys, obviously I will be going again. It wasn’t just the fact that I’d bought items that I really wanted for bargain prices, but it was also interesting to watch others participating. So, if you are interested in going to an auction (of whatever variety) here are a few tips that I’d either picked up during the day or were passed onto me by the very friendly staff and fellow bidders. VIEW If you are able to, attend the auction viewing at least a day before. You may see lots of things that you’re interested in, but do you really want or need them? Give yourself the night to think about it, then… RESEARCH How much would you expect to pay for the item elsewhere? If it’s an item that is sold in high street shops or catalogues, look it up. Find out how much it costs and then decide on… COST How much are you prepared to pay for it? Not, how much it is worth, although you want to consider that as well. You need to decide what your maximum bid will be on the day, based on how much you want the item and then how much it is realistically worth.
KNOW WHAT YOU’RE BUYING Either on the viewing day or the day of the auction take a pen and paper. Write down the lot number, a description (so you remember what it is) and your maximum bid. GET TO KNOW THE AUCTION If it’s your first auction, spend some time on the sidelines. Watch and listen to the auctioneer and other people bidding – auctions and auctioneers will vary – get to know the protocol for bidding and the tone and speed of the auctioneer’s voice. If you’re unsure of something ask a member of the auction staff, or if you’re idylly talking to someone, sound them out about things you don’t understand. GETTING READY TO BID Make sure you’re not hidden away and that the auctioneer can see you. If you have a bidding card, hold it up prominently when bidding – if you’re not a regular they might mistake your half-hearted bid as the mistake of a novice. Once you're bidding, listen carefully. Don’t jump in. An auctioneer will start the bids at a price he/she states. That won’t necessarily be the starting price though. If no one bids, they will lower the price until someone starts to bid. If you have taken time to listen to other bids previously, you will be able to tell when the auctioneer won’t go any lower, then will be the time to hold up your card, unless someone else already has. Once you’ve expressed an interest in the bidding, the auctioneer will look to you if you are ‘out’ of the bidding. If you wish to continue, you can just nod your head to acknowledge that you still want to continue bidding, or if you feel happier, raise your card again. If you no longer wish to bid any higher then shake your head so that the auctioneer doesn’t mistake any other body language you make as being a bid. It’s such an obvious thing to say, but don’t go over your maximum bid that you’ve already set for a lot.
You should have already calculated what you can afford and what you’re prepared to spend. If the bidding goes over that then it can’t be worth it. Remember that bidding at an auction is a legally binding offer to purchase the item – don’t bid over an amount that you aren’t prepared to pay. DON’T BE SUCKED IN BY UNSELLABLE LOTS The temptation is that when other lots aren’t being sold and you can get a piano, for instance for £1, then you want to bid for things that you wouldn’t have previously been interested in. Don’t! Yes, they do seem ridiculously cheap, but do you really want to go back home with a load of stuff that only cost you a £1 each, that you wouldn’t want or use, just because it was a bargain? PAYMENT Remember that when you pay for goods, there will be a Buyer’s Premium and possibly VAT added to the bidding price of items. Make sure that you aware of how much this is before you set your maximum bids. Methods of payment will vary from each auction, but if you can only pay in cash, ensure that you either have enough on you or that there is a cashpoint near by. If you can pay by cheque, take your chequebook and a cheque guarantee card. COLLECTING YOUR ITEMS You will usually be able to take your items as soon as you’ve paid for them, even when the auction is still in process. If you’ve bought large items, then check how long these can be left until you can collect them. At the auction I went to I had to collect my sofa by 12 noon the next day. Most of all…ENJOY! If you don’t know anything about antiques or selling second-hand goods, then don’t buy things for a profit. Just buy for yourself and enjoy the experience and what bargains you could possibly come away with. RESOURCES Check local newspapers for details of auctions near you. Some Estate Agents, have separate trading wings dealin
g with auctions, that aren’t necessarily property auctions. www.auctions.co.uk give a brief list of auction houses that have online catalogues. For antiques, check out www.theantiquesdirectory.co.uk
Reading Orlando was a bit like watching Dallas. Remember when Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower, when his wife Pam, woke up from a dream which lasted for hundreds of episodes? Nobody remembered her dream starting, but we were reliably informed by the press that what we had actually witnessed for the past few months (or was it years?) was a very badly construed dream sequence that even the writers hadn’t envisaged at the beginning. And so, when reading Orlando I was hoping throughout the novel, that Woolf would then say “It was all a dream, what in fact happened was…” and I would laugh and say “You had me going there”. Orlando is regarded as a classic of the 20th Century and was written as a tongue-in-cheek dedication to Vita Sackville-West, who was Virginia Woolf’s ‘part-time’ lover. It is a fictional biography of Orlando who was born a boy at the end of the 16th Century and changed into a woman in the middle of the 17th Century where her life is charted up until the time of writing, at the beginning of the 20th Century. Ok, two things strike the reader here. The first is that how can a man, suddenly change into a woman? The second is he/she lived for over 200 years, and by the end of her biography she is only 36 years old? The doubting amongst us can only view this as poetic license. But to me, there is fantasy and then there’s obscure fantasy. What I mean by obscure fantasy is bending the rules of reality too much to suit the continuation of plot and the ideas, which are being conveyed within a narrative. It was almost as if Woolf, felt that in going in one direction she was backed into a corner, and instead of reversing out of the corner, she just turned round and carried on, expecting the reader to accept the dead ends without question. Ok, to show you what I mean, let’s get on with the plot. Orlando, a member of the ar
istocracy becomes a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. He is also a frustrated poet who is haunted by his own work ‘The Oak Tree’. After a fraudulent love affair and an unwanted lover, he seeks a position at the embassy in Constantinople and becomes Ambassador. At the time of civil unrest, he falls into an unconscious sleep which lasts for a week, the revolutionaries, who think him dead, leave him and then he awakes to discover, without any horror that he is a woman. And so, the biography of her life continues through the ages. As far as plot is concerned then that is essentially it. The rest of the novel is concerned with an age of change and discovery. Change in the sense though of literature and society and a discovery of Orlando’s womanhood. The narrative is written from the viewpoint of a biographer, but with interjections and with fictional descriptions by Woolf, which are sometimes incredibly poetic. However, it is this which makes the novel even more tedious sometimes when reading, as with most novels which grasp for plots. Which then makes me think that I’ve missed something, which is integral to the themes of Orlando. Thematically, there are of course the issues of gender and age. The issue of gender is dealt with in much the same way as the Shakespearean comedy plays, but instead of gender-bending men dressing up as women and vice versa; it is with a suddenness that ‘he’ becomes a ‘she’. As I stated earlier, it is this where Woolf turns into the dead end, but carries on mindfully without making it an issue within the novel. Not that it is wrong to do so, but this sort of non-explanation and lack of consequences, which are missing in Orlando, make this a rather ‘unreal’ novel in the sense of how the reader has to accept what s/he is being told. Contrary to popular belief though, this is not just a novel centred around gender. Woolf it seems, is critical of literatu
re and of pre-novel, poets. In his/her life Orlando meets the likes of Pope and Dryden and decides that “the high opinion poets have of themselves; then the low one they have of others; then the enmities, injuries, envies, and repartees in which they are constantly engaged” and so Orlando continues throughout in the same vein of the arrogance and boredom of writers. An ironical concept considering that Virginia Woolf was a member of the Bloomsbury Group! And so dear reader (as I wish to call you that as you’ve read this far!), I am not particularly a fan of Orlando. Call me a heathen if you wish. To say that Virginia Woolf was a groundbreaking novelist, I will not disagree. You could read this, and take a totally different stance from me and read and enjoy the descriptions, which Woolf is so good at. But if like me, you want a solid novel with a plot and explanations, you may find the same problems that I’ve had – that even Dallas and Orlando can seem closer than you think…