Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin - Rebus #13 - book review

 I really enjoyed this book. I very seldom give a book five stars but it was about time Ian Rankin had five. Resurrection Men fits the bill because I never thought I could describe a Rebus novel as funny, but this one is, at least in places. It's mainly down to awkward situations and excellent dialogue which is concise and full of humour, black and otherwise.

Convoluted plotting is necessary to get to the conclusion and along the way are plenty of dubious characters - most of them policemen - and a lot of agonising for Rebus and Siobhan Clarke. People get killed, most of them are deserving though not all. Not every plotline is filled with humour, after all this is a Rebus novel.

Basically, the High Hedyins are using John Rebus, an awkward and bloody annoying cop, in a sting operation to get some awkward and bloody bent cops. Inevitably it goes pear shaped. Are Big Ger Cafferty and his sidekick, the Weasel, involved? What do you think?

And if you don't know what I'm talking about, read a John Rebus book. I can recommend most of them,  although this may not be the best one for beginners. It's hard to come by well written detective fiction and I wasn't really a fan until I began reading Ian Rankin's work, which is usually extremely well written. This is an author who doesn't just know exactly what each word means, he also knows exactly how to use it for maximum effect.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The Two Sonias

An interesting new article on 31 Women artist Sonia Sekula and another neglected artist, Sonia Gechtoff, by Marjorie Heins.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Peter Green, RIP

Peter Green, the best guitarist and bluesman I ever saw live, has died age 73.  I have seen quite a few guitarists, the good and the great; John Lee Hooker, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, Paul Kossoff, Mick Abrahams, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Tony McPhee, Jimmy Page, Roy Wood and more.  Greeny I saw many times, onstage his performing was measured, sensitive and mesmerising.

Peter Green formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967 with Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. This was the original Fleetwood Mac and within a year had a line up of three talented guitarists: Jeremy Spencer whose forte was rock ‘n’ roll and slide guitar, Danny Kirwan, a younger latecomer whose lighter touch marked the bands gradual progress away from pure blues and Peter Green, whose pure, unadorned lead guitar was at times astounding and his sensitive vocals and song-writing made the band great. He wasn’t bad on the harmonica either.

Peter Alan Greenbaum was born in in 1946 in Stepney, in a council flat just off the Mile End Road.  He was the youngest of four, with two older brothers and a sister.  In 1948 his father, Joe, changed the whole family’s name to Green, in an attempt to put behind them the flagrant racist and anti-Semitic abuse the family received, it didn’t really help.  Peter picked up the guitar age 10 and the family moved from Stepney to Putney, which did help, a bit.  He was in his first band by 14, with school friends and left school at 15.  He became semi-professional with a dance band, playing bass, while working as a trainee butcher.

A couple of bands later Peter Green joined R ‘n B group the Muskrats  and was very much into serious blues. After tuning pro he joined the Looners, an instrumental band who had residences at London clubs became Shotgun Express, with Mick Fleetwood as drummer.  His big break, with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, nearly didn’t happen.  Eric Clapton had been the star of the John Mayall setup and after he left, Mayall had a rapid series of guitarists who wouldn’t do.  Peter received an offer from Eric Burden to join the New Animals at the same time as Mayall offered him the Bluesbreakers.  John Mayall was the Godfather of the British blues scene in the 1960’s, nurturing and promoting a number of musicians and he encouraged Peter to write, compose and sing as well as to play guitar.  Mick Fleetwood and John McVie also joined soon after. Greeny probably made the right choice.

I saw Peter Green, at Tofts Club in Folkestone, with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, before I even knew who he was, just that he was damn good. Then I saw, and more importantly I heard him several times with Fleetwood Mac, where he was phenomenal, played the blues with a sensitivity like no one else.  He was the star even though he never actually wanted to be bandleader or be a star, he just wanted to be in a good band.  He was in a great band,  but he had other issues. He left Fleetwood Mac in 1970.
Was he, as is usually quoted, another victim of the 1960’s love affair with LSD?  Maybe, he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.  He gave away most of his royalties and though he carried on playing with other artists for much of the seventies, serious mental health problems left him increasingly  Out of Reach for many years.

Lastly I saw him on the ninth of June, 2000 at Sheffield City Hall, in Splinter Group, which was a little too much like a Peter Green Tribute act for comfort, although Greeny, who had not aged well, really seemed to be enjoying himself.  Glad I saw that.

RIP Man of the World.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Red Kites - a Success Story

The striking silhouette of a red kite, soaring above a multi-storey carpark in High Wycombe. 

This is how most of us will see these birds and if you spend much time driving on the M40 between West London and Birmingham you will certainly see a number of them.  They thrive on roadkill and, having been reintroduced into the Chilterns in 1989, that group have lost no time in adopting human road systems as routes for their own travel.

Four-hundred or more years ago, red kites lived throughout Britain and Ireland and were a common sight even in cities, Shakespeare wrote of them stealing underwear from clotheslines. Kites had and still have diverse appetites, eating carrion, insects, earthworms, small birds, rabbits, rodents and amphibians.  Where they used to scavenge on man made rubbish and carrion they were often welcomed as useful in cleaning the streets.
But one hundred years ago the picture was very different.  By then they had been declared as 'vermin' and even had a bounty on their heads. They had been shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence by head-hunters, landowners, farmers and gamekeepers and their eggs were stolen by collectors.  Other birds of prey were treated with the same arrogant brutality, though most survived in larger numbers than the unfortunate red kites. Only a handful of kites were left in the whole of the British Isles, these were all in the West of Wales. 
Today the kites are back. Once they were fully protected, from 1950, the Welsh population  began to expand, though initially quite slowly.  DNA analysis a few years ago showed that the original handful of Welsh kites were all descended from a single female, indicaing how precarious their position was.  Now the Welsh birds number in the low thousands, though for scientific purposes birds are usually counted in breeding pairs, so around 900 to 1,000 breeding pairs.  Non-breeding kites can travel long distances and are impossible to count.  

Birds from this successful Welsh population have been used to re-introduce the species to Eire, and Northern Ireland.  Once known in Ireland as 'cloth kites,' due to a propensity to incorporate pieces of pilfered rag into their nests, they were extinct by the turn of the 20th century.  A successful population has now been established in County Wicklow and Dublin. Re-introductions to County Down in Northern Ireland have also been successful and as kites have no concern for national borders these two populations have begun to emerge and expand.  

In England red kites have been re-introduced in groups, using birds originating in Spain and Scandinavia.  The birds were released in the Chilterns, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire, Gateshead, Northumberland and the Newcastle area and Grizedale Forest in Cumbria.  From these sites they have spread enthusiastically and if you keep your eyes open, there are kites to be seen gliding elegantly above every English county. 

The Scottish population was initially centred around release sites, the first of these in 1989, was at Black Isle near Inverness.  Others were in Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling-shire, Perthshire, Ross-shire, and near Aberdeen City.  These reintroductions have all been successful, though in places the birds are still being killed, sometimes by accident as when they eat poisoned bait left for foxes, but too often deliberately, by people who like killing things. 

There is no justification for killing kites, which are lightweight birds despite their 5-6 foot wingspans.  They are not strong hunters and feed manly on carrion, worms and insects, with small birds, rabbits, rats and mice if they happen to be able to catch them.  They are no threat to farm animals or pets. 
All the re-introduced groups have formed breeding populations and the total number in the UK today is around 2,000 pairs, according to the RSPB, who keep a close eye on them.  Still not a huge number of birds, but where they live, they are quite visible and not afraid to fly over towns and cities.  The first kite for 150 years was seen in London in 2006.  

This is a conservation success, unlike in much of Europe where they are declining.  The red kite is a European bird, with around 50,000 birds, few are found elsewhere.  From a handful of kites a hundred years ago, the British Isles is now home to more than 4,000 of these handsome birds, which is a significant percentage of the Total European population.  

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Compost Bin, the Cons - The Fairweather Gardener

Compost is a constant concern here, I only have space for one plastic bin and a small woodpile. The bin retains moisture and gets cuttings, weeds, trimmings and kitchen scraps and houses plenty of little red worms but also tens of hundreds of big green slugs. Ok I haven't got close enough to actually count them but I take my life in my hands when I heave off the lid, struggling with the weight. I feel I have to feed them every day or they will emerge and devour the garden, which is quite small. 


Saturday, 6 June 2020

When May was July, then June Becomes March - The Fairweather Gardener

The sixth of June feels more like the sixth of March and I take full responsibility. 

Paeony, I can never get a good photo of these flowers, 
must be to do with the spectrum of their colour. 
I should try different equipment - yes I know,
a bad photographer always blames the camera!.
Foxgloves au naturel, self seeded. 
Beloved of bumble bees,
their tallest spire is taller than 
me, so well over five feet.

Red Hot Pokers have done better
than ever, 14 spires so far, but they 
weren't meant to flower until

However the month of May was hot,  sunny,   and  every- thing has flowered including one of my cacti, which normally wait until high summer.  Will there be anything left in flower by July?

I can probably rel
y on the lavender, valerian and my red, white and pink everlasting geraniums. They're  now four years old and have never stopped flowering, some stay outside all year, a couple come indoors for the coldest winter weather.  
More enthusiastic than ever before have been the red-hot pokers, the purple clematis, self seeded foxgloves and opium poppies. The tulips were lovely but mostly over by the start of May which is very early, their  bulbs are now drying out quietly beside the garage. The Clematis Montana, paeonies and the apple blossom came and went very fast, it was probably too dry for them. I expect I won't have many apples this year.

Then there's that rose. Ok there are four rose plants in the garden but only one is worth mentioning, the giant rambler.  It's flowering spectacularly even despite being given a very late prune in early March. This powerful plant grows like billy-oh and I love it! Its masses of soft, white flowers dominate the pergola and threaten to demolish the flimsy rose arch. They're scented and even I can smell them slightly; anosmia may be one symptom of Covid 19, but I've had it for years without ever being tested.

I planted out my courgette plants last week.  There are only two of them, a neighbour had put a row of sad little seedlings in small pots onto their garden wall with an invitation to help ourselves, so I kindly took in two unwanted orphans.  I potted them on and they've been growing happily on the conservatory windowsill in the wonderful May sunshine. 

Then I treated them severely by potting them out into a zinc tub in the garden, with fresh compost mixed with organic plant feed. They perked up after thirty-six hours and one even produced its first flower, at which point the weather decided it was still March. So it's my fault! 

Will there be any courgettes? Who knows, I'm not carrying a fifty litre tub full of wet compost and sad little plants indoors and then outside again if the sun comes out.  Sorry if this amounts to courgette abuse but they'll have to take their chances! 

Strip Jack by Ian Rankin

Not initially a 'whodunnit,' more a 'what has he actually done?' Spoiler - it's a he! Not much of a spoiler though. Flows well, plenty of interesting characters. Strip Jack's well enough written, as expected from Ian Rankin, not my favourite though.
I'm trying to read the Rebus novels in order - a lockdown project - but have already slipped, I read book 5 before starting book 1; will next have to read book 7 as I don't yet have a copy of book 6. Oh well, as Peter Green would say...
Strip Jack is a lot less gory than other Rebus novels I've read. I read a few of the later ones, in a random order several years ago and always remembered the atmosphere and gruesome nature of the stories. This book also lacks some of the atmosphere associated with the series, though scenes set in a tiny B&B and in a detention unit for the criminally insane are engrossingly detailed.
There are just one or two minor glitches in places, repetition of things we already know and, in cinematic terms, a couple of continuity slips. Maybe it was rushed to publication just a week too soon! Note to self - must remember to take off my editing/proofreading hat when trying to enjoy novels which have already been published, and years ago at that!