Sunday, 1 June 2014

Irene - Pierre LeMaitre

Following on in the UK is this translation from the original French by Frank Wynne and it's a good one.

The first section of the book gives detail of the difference to the French judicial system to the English. In France a judge can be allocated as part of the investigating team to a particular crime. When the case gets to court the judge is part of the prosecuting team rather than on the bench. After being part of a team against a defendant the judge is not allowed to act as judge at any time in the future against this person.

Despite th fact that this is the second book in the UK it is the predecessor to Alex which proved amazingly popular.
This means that those people that have read Alex have an idea of the ending. I was one of them. I did skip straight to the end to confirm and also to get what was likely to be extreme gruesomeness out of the way.
Then it was back to the beginning retaining the uncomfortable knowledge of the ending. Or so I thought.
The police team consists of the diminutive Commandant Camille VerHoeven (male) and his subordinates, Louis- extremely rich and Armand, extremely frugal, embarassingly so and Maleval, the gambler. All of them overseen by LeGuen.
Someone is killing women. they're leaving behind a clue in the form of a fingerprint and sending messages to VerHoeven to taunt him. As well as investigating he has to deal with the press who are ahead of the press releases somehow. Commandant is spending more time than is ideal batting away press hassle and his boss demanding answers.
At the same time he's trying to keep his family situation sane as his wife prepares to give birth to their first child.
Clues accumulate on the murders and gain attention of locals who are able to help. This all muddies the waters as far as suspects are concerned.
Multiple murders and multiple strands to the investigation alongside the main players relationships make a very entertaining book and a book well worth reading even if you've read Alex.
All of this culminates in one humdinger of an ending which hits the reader full on towards the end. I can definitely see this one as an excellent film. Tom Cruise would make a perfect VerHoeven :)
Buy it here

Publisher - MacLehose

The Skeleton Cupboard - Tanya Byron

A travel through the evolution of a clinical psychologist, from initial wonder as to how the brain works to years of experience.

Tanya Byron has taken cases from each step of her progress to illustrate the case, her dealing with it and, in the earlier cases, her mentor's assessment of the case and her reactions.

Put together these aspects make an educational and, at times, heart-rending read. Despite being about health it is nowhere near similar to the misery literature clogging up bookshelves at the moment.

The reader can feel the frustration of investing such a large amount of emotional commitment and time into a career only to find the mentor appears to be disinterested as Byron struggles to believe in her own ability and searches for affirmation of her skill. You get no impression of the author having written only for the purposes of blowing her own trumpet. Reading may mean that you are able to be a bit more generous in your perception but not necessarily that you'll be able to jump in and help in any given situation. Unless you're already a health professional.

Empathy with the new psychologist comes into it when there's a case that is doomed fom the start and unusually for this type of book not all of the cases are out and out successes. Across the seven chapters they range from a married pensioner couple whose story is simply heartbreaking and beautiful to transgender individuals to drug addicts.

The book has the same readability of  Tori Hayden without the congratulatory self-patting on the back. I predict this one will fly higher and soar longer than Hayden.

All in all it's a must read- especially if you think dementia is as simple as forgetting things when you're older.

Publisher - MacMillan

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Tropical Wings Zoo - South Woodham Ferrers

When you're running in a slightly aged campervan it's a good idea to stay close to home. So off I went to a fairly local Britstop at Battlesbridge.

There's a whole village load of antiques, a pub, several cafes and a tea room at the very top of a 5 storey mill 
but even better than that there's a zoo within 3 miles.
And it's a humdinger of a zoo called Tropical Wings.
It's relatively small, the wolves haven't arrived let alone escaped and there's no big cat in sight. Not even a Clacton big cat.
But there are experiences to be had meeting these creatures....

Feeding them...

Watching them hatch....

Seeing them fly (or sit in front of you if your camera's not fast enough).....

Have a wander in with the lemurs. Meet the other animals, creatures, get steamy in the tropical house with it's free flying birds and butterflies before seeing the truly yellow, orange and blue poison frogs.
All included in the entrance price. A magical, magical day out in an environment not completely jam packed that goes out of it's way to make sure you go away feeling you've had true value for money. At £10.95 per adult with family tickets available. Spend it, you'll be pleased you did.

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - George Moore Films

You heard correctly.
At last.
Listen again....
Free film.

Perfect - Rachel Joyce

I admit to loving Harold Fry. I loved the tweeness, the sentimentality and it made a welcome change from the crime thriller that graces my bookshelves and infiltrates my reading time. I even passed it on.
So Perfect was a book I was wary of. How would an author follow a book as different as Harold with something equally leftfield and yet so different as to be beyond compare. Difficult to do.
Rachel Joyce introduces us to Byron at a time when he's in his youthful element, full of what ifs and whys.
When 2 seconds are added to a day he's not slow in realising that anything could happen in that space of time that until then would have been denied it's opportunity. And it does.
With no official notification of when the 2 seconds are added Byron nevertheless notices and registers the events with dismay.
Can he be the only one aware? Should he stay that way or tell?
With a mother desperate to keep up with the neighbours and a father who pops back home now and then to check that she is Byron resorts to his best friend James. Despite previous impressions of Byron James is the nerdy one!
Alongside events unfolding in the 70s (+2 seconds) we are told the story of Jim who is employed in a local cafe and struggling with OCD. The only smile in his life comes from a rebellious colleague who ignores his differences and gives him a semblance of confidence.
How do the two lives relate? Do they overlap, crash, imitate?
Whilst very different from Harold the book is written in the same gentle style. In Harold the point of the tale could not be missed, with Perfect the nuances are much more subtle.
Personally I preferred Harold but I'm honest, that's because I don't necessarily want to overanalyse a book, I simply want to read it.
Which was your preference and why?

Jumbo Tower - Colchester


On 29th May 2014 Jumbo Tower in Colchester was sold to local ex? poultry farmer Paul Flatman.
Despite brave and impressive efforts from Balkerne Tower Trust who managed to raise £40,000 or thereabouts in the space of 4 weeks simply by asking they were beaten easily. They are still accepting donations towards the general aims of the Trust.
It will be interesting to see the ideas Mr Flatman puts forward for the tower. Hopefully they will involve some maintenance to safeguard the building while his ideas are progressed.

Best of luck!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Highfield Hotel - Idle, Bradford

Two sides to the same hotel. Is it bad or is it great? That depends on which type of guest party you're with....
A weekend trip up to the Haworth 40s weekend with Diamond Holidays called for an overnight stop. For 28 people and their coach driver.

The party ranged in age from early 20s to mid 70s and comprised couples, birthday groups of friends and a mother and son duo.

So quite a range.
We'd checked out the the Highfield Hotel beforehand so we knew it had American sized rooms, a well rated restaurant, a gym for hotel guests and a swimming pool. It is also only 8 miles away from our final destination of Haworth.
Not bad for a coach trip weekend we thought.

On arrival we were greeted by two young girls who appeared to have no experience of working on a hotel reception. We all had to fill in a form including our car number plate? So a slow process. Then it was up to the huge rooms for an hour before dinner in the hotel restaurant rather than the well rated one. Rooms are massive. American sized. And you could easily imagine a large American spinning around just because the space is there. Coffee and tea tray with 3 Bourbon biscuits, shower gel, shampoo, bubble bath, soap, body lotion all provided in a bathroom with shower and bath. 
 Large alcove with table and mirror, double bed, wardrobe and a flat screen tv on the wall opposite the bed. Binoculars needed.
This time there were 4 inexperienced youngsters. They told us this was their first shift. It may well have been the hotel's first coach booking as well. Service was with a smile, they tried their best but they were on a loser from the start. Beef and carrots arrived. 5 minutes later potatoes arrived. Another 5 mins and peas. Another 5 and gravy. In Yorkshire and no Yorkshire pudding. 5 minutes and mustard. That equated to one person with a meal. The routine was repeated.
Pudding meant a waiter holding one plate walking the width of the room to ask at every table until the owner if the plate was found.
The following morning we were told by one youngster that not only was it the first shift but it was a 14 hour one as well.
Breakfast was, for the coach party, a fry up and an excellent one too.
The buffet bar, we were told, was for 'hotel guests'. Or not us. Coffee and tea however were in the breakfast buffet area. Go figure.
Overall as a coach venue this didn't work well. But. And its a big but...
If I travel to Yorkshire again (and I do regularly) this is a great place to stay. The room rate including self service breakfast bar is £55 for a 'king' sized room.
Breakfast bar covers porridge, fruit, yoghurts, cereal, muffins, toast, French pastries, juice, coffee, tea and I may well have missed some things. There's also the pool and gym and it's own car park. Conveniently located for the jewel that is the World Heritage Location at Saltaire Village, Shipley, Bradfrod itself and Bronte country it's a great spot for touring.
Hopefully the staff there this weekend will stay on and progress, they certainly were keen enough and smart enough. The hotel seems to have accepted a contract it wasn't ready for but it has the ingredients ready to make the grade. Possibly if coach companies didn't barter them down to nothing we'd all end up better off.
Worth a visit.