Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pacy action thriller spoilt by ending

I've just finished reading Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn.

This book has a lot going for it.

The protagonist is a likeable, funny, brave boy called Joe on a quest to solve the mystery of his mother's tragic death. The support cast include a loveable but smelly Ukrainian ex-convict, Joe's geeky but clever best friend Bailey and his gangsta elder brother, a young Ukrainian refugee girl, a nice university professor, Joe's horrible aunt and some evil thuggish villains.

There is humour, mystery, action and pace - the pages kept turning as the pace was stepped up and mystery deepened.

The threads of the complex mystery are successfully drawn together in the exciting climax.

So why didn't I give it more than 3 stars? I wanted to. Halfway through, I thought it was on track for 5 stars. But the ending just went on and on and became totally cheesy by the end. Don't get me wrong - I like happy endings. I like it when things are resolved. But this was just too much...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Iron Curtain Trail

Today was a typical cold wet November day, so I spent some time dreaming and researching potential cycling holidays for next year.  One cycle route in particular caught my eye:  The Iron Curtain Trail - approximately 10,000km route from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea tracing the route of the fortified border between Western Europe and former communist states in Eastern Europe.

I'm only planning to attempt a very small chunk - probably in Germany and/or the Czech Republic where the trail follows old military roads that were built all along the border.  Apparently there are preserved concrete bunkers and watch towers, as well as museums and information about the escapes over the border.

There is a wide green corridor along the border route corresponding to the Forbidden Zone, an area which was formerly off limits to civilians who could enter the zone with a special pass.  During the communist era, high barbed wire fences ran along the border and the area was cleared area of trees and bushes, creating a scar across the landscape which is still visible today in forested areas.  I saw a bit of it last year in the Harz Mountains.  In the 1950s high voltage fences were added and parts of the border were mined.

I've ordered the guide books from Amazon and will do more planning when they finally arrive.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Nearly a third the way across the English Channel

I have been logging all my swims in the pool on the Swimfit website.  It is quite motivational - you can set targets (in distance) such as the English Channel, Around the Isle of Wight, the Thames, Loch Ness and Lake Windermere.

My current target is English Channel and I'm currently 31% of the way across.

Do you the one top tip for improving your swimming technique (and also enjoyment)?  Take swimming lessons, particularly one-to-one lessons.  After just four lessons, I am proficient at breast stroke and my front crawl has come on in leaps and bounds.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Planted 300 spring bulbs this month!

Yesterday I planted the last of the spring bulbs I ordered a month ago - 300 bulbs in all this time.

I love to see spring bulbs finally come:  snowdrops crocuses, alliums, anemone, chionodoxa, muscari, tulips.
Each year I plant a few more, but with no planning in mind.  I can never remember where I've put all the others anyway, so I find a space and bung another bulb in.

I know it is a sort of cliche, but the first of the snowdrops is a message of hope, that spring is around the corner, that winter won't last forever.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Plane crash in Epping Forest - 30ft in front of us

We had to spend today - a gloriously sunny Sunday in November - doing something outdoorsy.  So off we headed to Epping Forest to walk among the falling yellow leaves and soft mud.

Earlier that day we saw an emergency ambulance taking a injured walker to hospital.

Then a few of hours later, we were shocked to witness a plane crash - less than 30 ft in front of us! Fortunately no one was injured but the plane was severely damaged.  It looked a write-off - the nose was crushed, a wing had detached and parts of the engine was strewn the ground.

As we approached the wreck, we were joined by the owner, and we commiserated him on this loss of his model aircraft.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Pachelbel's Canon on a guitar

I was at Barts today for my 3 weekly intravenous infusion of Herceptin.  As I went up the escalator at St Paul's station, I heard a busker playing Pachelbel's Canon on a guitar.

Pachelbel's Canon is my favourite classical piece - I could listen to it for hours.  The guitar rendition was slightly unusual as it is more commonly performed with cello and harpsichord or organ.  It must be very difficult to do well on a guitar but it really fitted my mood.  I went back down the escalator and gave the busker some coins and continued to listen until he'd finished.

The canon was written around 1680 and Johann Pachelbel's most famous (or perhaps only famous) composition and is one of the popular Baroque pieces. It was largely forgotten for centuries and only rediscovered in the early 20th century.

What is a canon in the musical sense?  A canon is a piece of music characterised by repetition.  Pachelbel's Canon begins with one melody which is repeated in different registers, growing and evolving each time.

The canon is joyful, serene but lively. I find it both intoxicating and soothing.