May 31st, 2016

Back in the Austin

I’ve had a rough few weeks really; feeling sick and having almost continuous pain in my back and sides, made worse by eating. The pancreatitis has returned and there is little relief from the random spasms and nighttime wake ups. I’ve dropped 4kgs and am down to 64.5 today. A lot of time things have worsened on weekends meaning I haven’t had to take much time off work really, but each day is a crap shoot.

Reading online is not exactly reassuring and it is sobering stuff to read of chronic pancreatitis bringing reduced life expectancy and the challenges of long term pain management.

I don’t believe I’m an alarmist but I have come to accept the seriousness of my position. Things I’ve taken for granted like holidays away or an income until I choose to retire may no longer be options. I feel lucky that my work are so reasonable and understanding…2016 might put them to the test!

I find myself a little emotional about my possible fate and feel for my wonderful wife who has been a helpful and upbeat presence. It’s not been helped by us deciding to put our 16 year old dog down in the near future.

Stopping alcohol in 2013 was a cinch but this time around, the muffins, pizza, chips, pastries and chocolate are a lot harder.  I find myself staring at people in shops and salavating. Wanting to eat but being afraid of the consequences has been the biggest challenge so far.

Let’s see what tomorrow’s x-ray and ultrasound show..I’m not expecting anything but there’s always a chance something might show up.

by dfv | Posted in General | Comments Off on Back in the Austin |
April 29th, 2016

Some easier 2016 goals knocked over

I don’t know what it was about this year which made me write down some Post-It note goals and want to actually do some of them. I’ve read about people hitting middle age and sensing the tightening of time they have left, which leaves them feverish till the end; ambivalent years in their 20s seeming wasteful in hindsite. Maybe I’ve become one of those people.

 

Ommegang

 

Finished a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle which took me about 5 months in the end. It only cost $1 – a shrewd buy from Kim at an Op shop up north. Choosing a 1615 Belgian civic parade or “Ommegang” ticked all the right boxes (historic, low countries, and fine detail) which generally draw me to a picture. At one point it sat untouched for 6 weeks around Christmas, when I’d done all the easier bits (top 3rd) and had to identify maybe 2000 single pieces and place them in their spots – never connecting them all till right near the end. That was exhausting, and the lighting and uncomfortable seating didn’t help. But I’m really pleased I did it in the end – many cups of herbal tea (and dry biscuits) later. Now I want to go see a real one!

pg-38-war-and-peace-1-bbc

Then War and Peace got read. When I heard the series was coming on TV this year, I knew that my 2013 purchase needed to come off the shelf, and at first I was worried with all the French phrasing interspersed amongst the Russian to English translation, but it was quite a pleasure to read really. Apart from a tedious Epilogue which I think Tolstoy intended to prove his rigour but to a modern reader seemed like the same argument twisted 20 ways to fill pages, it was surprisingly breezy and fun. I didn’t really know what to expect, not an anti-war piece; Tolstoy at pains to point out the fate of the naive, seeking glory or the blind worship of the Tsar, and scornful of those wishing to summarise the result as a series of won or lost encounters. General Kutuzov seemed to be the anti-hero, unpopularly retreating again and again to save the Russian Army, at the risk of being un-Russian but in doing so, gaining eventual victory but lifelong ignomony amongst his peers. Loved the 6 part series on the BBC too. 4.5 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books, General | Comments Off on Some easier 2016 goals knocked over |
April 11th, 2016

Foiled by the impatience boss

Looks like my WoW guild has splintered tonight, with typical bad timing for all involved, having seen the last phase of the final boss of the Warlords of Draenor expansion. Two more weeks and he would probably have fallen over! Gah.

Looks like it’s time for me to try a few new things and free myself up on Mondays and Wednesdays, which Kim will love. No idea what will take WoW’s place, but seeing as I started proper raiding in February 2007 and hadn’t stopped since, it’s going to feel weird at first. Looking forward to it really.

Predecimal

by dfv | Posted in World of Warcraft | Comments Off on Foiled by the impatience boss |
January 30th, 2016

Not a bad reading year in 2015

20 years ago, I was mildly stung by criticism by Kim that an expensive hardback I’d asked for as a present was unread (and it remains the case). It’s become a running joke whenever she shells out some dollars on me, and 2015 seems to have been the year I either ran out of personal reading interests, or the year I paid respect to my wife’s tastes. Two out of three of her Christmas books are in the can so to speak, and there are smiles all round.

It was a weird year for reading, where the English history books were losing their lustre a little, the Dutch ascending, and the emergence of a few Running texts reflected recent interests. The podcast listening probably went the same way – no more WoW ones (despite still hanging on by a thread playing the game), and Marathon Talk and local Aussie equivalents got a regular listen. I became familiar with the IAAF and Russian state-sponsored doping! Interviews with local aspirants means I now have heightened awareness of the leadup / qualifiers to the Rio 2016 Olympics, so  I’m looking forward to the big distance events this year since I know the athletes names and follow a few on Twitter.

 

20160130_162604

Back to some books, Russell Shorto’s “Amsterdam” was a $10 Reading book table special I was pretty certain I’d dislike – written by a yank, newly resident in Europe, and starting off with him dropping his child at a nanny’s place, so he could be free to research and ponder earlier times. I thought I’d last 50 pages, but the book ended up winning me over. Well researched and comprehensive – hats off to Russell! 4 stars.

Wanting something a little lighter next, I couldn’t resist the preposterous bestseller “The One Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson. A silly farcical road trip it was, but utterly charming. There are not many books that can lay claim to including a scene about an elephant evading police capture by riding in a converted yellow school bus. The movie just happened to have been released recently, so we watched that too, and it was fun watching how they grappled with the more ridiculous scenes, some of which just couldn’t be executed on screen. Such a fun romp. 4 stars.

“A Gentle Madness” by Nicholas Basbanes took me awhile to get through. Dense and serious, I came to appreciate how long it may have taken the author to establish the credibility to mix in the circles needed to learn the legendary stories of the high-end book buying world and its obsessive collectors. The section on Stephen Blumberg was particularly good due to the criminal aspects and his close access to the man. It was still a wonderful read, full of eccentrics, despite being dry and overly lengthy in parts. Don’t think I’ll ever own a First Folio though… 4 stars.

Why did I read another Dutch book? Kim bought it for me of course! “Why the Dutch are Different” by Ben Coates, a pom who married a Dutch girl in Rotterdam, was a much more modern take on the country. He’s out there travelling around the south, soaking it all up, going to a bunch of Carnaval celebrations in Breda and Eindhoven and asking some of the trickier questions about the limits of Dutch tolerance, the uncomfortable racism of Zwarte Piet, and some of myths of Dutch wartime resistance and narrative. It got a touch repetitive near the end but I really liked this book too. 4 stars.

I heard a decent summary of the battle of Agincourt in a History Extra podcast interview with Anne Curry, so her book “Agincourt” surprisingly had little left to add in it’s efforts to unearth all possible references on the English and French sides. Long debated aspects such as “the sizes of the two armies”, “the importance of the English bowmen” and “whether the French prisoners were killed on the King’s word” were worked through again and again. The problem with such limited source material – often written well after the events, is there really isn’t much of a book in it, especially with someone as scrupulous as Curry at the helm. More interesting would have been an imagining of the events told as fiction. Probably not the wisest choice of a purchase Kim! Too academic for me. 2 stars.

“Two Hours” is Ed Caesar’s well researched history of the Marathon, running physiology and of the current crop of Kenyans who are inching the 26 mile record closer to 120 minutes using previously unthinkable early race aggression, and pacers. There’s some talk of drug use in the sport, and a sense of how far the race has fallen in terms of public awareness and admiration for its stars, now that they are almost always African runners. From what I gather, no other writer has taken the time to get to know the Kenyans, visit their training camps and tell their stories like Ed, so I am full of respect for his efforts. It was a decent book, which reminds that success is brief and hard work is everything. 4 stars.

Ruth Goodman wrote “How to be a Victorian” and its sister book How to be a Tudor because she’s a practical lady with oodles of curiosity and time on her hands to explore yesteryear. Arranged in dawn till dusk order, she takes us through a day in the life of the various classes from the 1830s till 1900, providing personal examples of her attempts to eat, clean, dress and work like a Victorian for what must have been years on end. I think someone told me she was on a “period-reality show” for much of it. Seems like bloody hard (and hot – 10 petticoats anyone?) work. I was never bored, but it was a  touch long maybe – attitudes to bathing, clothing and health in particular were eye opening. 4 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Not a bad reading year in 2015 |
January 30th, 2016

So, with a bung knee..

dfv-finishing-Parkrun

I’ve been running a bit more over the past 12 months thanks to my TomTom watch and it’s auto-upload to Strava. Been really fun seeing the maps and stats and I even started using some of the social features to put me in touch with other locals, since it’s nice to have a running partner on those days you’re less motivated. So, I wanted to log it here that I did my longest ever run a few weeks back after (I think) shrugging off the curse of lifelong shinsplint issues and am able to go around three times a week. I joined a MMM group session around Princes Park and stayed with the slowest runner Jessie for 15k before heading out for quicker 4k to finish off. Such a confidence booster. But I fell awkwardly on some sand on the bitumen and twisted my foot and long story, injured my knee the following week in another 15k run – I will have to start from scratch after 2-3 weeks complete rest. Ah well. I am not too disheartened, even if I had to cancel the 1/2 Marathon planned for Portarlington on 13th Feb. I feel really good about this year though:

Aims for 2016: Coburg (or any) Parkrun 5k in under 20 mins (best so far: 21:35). Multiple 1/2Ms this year, going to try for 1 hour 35 mins. Both are sizeable stretch targets.

Last year I did 93 runs (logged) for 700k, but ramped up significantly in October onwards, so I expect to see a lot more than that for 2016.

by dfv | Posted in General | Comments Off on So, with a bung knee.. |
October 18th, 2015

More books

Some more odds and sods here before I completely forget the gist of them.

 

Oct2015

“Thinking Medieval” by Marcus Bull had delectable front cover artwork and was thin enough to tempt me despite the dry tone and feeling that it was someone’s PHD thesus. The takeaway for me was being aware of the traps for historians examining and assessing a former age and rigour needed to keep an open mind and not make assumptions based on today’s values. 3 stars.

In complete contrast, “The Adventures of Holly White and the incredible Sex Machine” by Krissy Kneen was lurid and thrilling – especially to begin with, but the repetitive sex scenes in Paris became a little wearing and the ending was so wilfully climactic that I don’t even really know what happened. 5 stars for imagination and a willingness to go into unknown surreal territory, but I’ll have to deduct 1 point for the last third of the book which was all over the place in trying to bring the story back to some sort of end. Crazy stuff! So much fun – 4 stars.

There’s nothing by Coetzee I haven’t liked, including his decision to become an Adelaide resident and Australian Citizen, so an $8 hardback “Youth” – the story of his move from South Africa to England in the 1960s was always going to be interesting to me. Every bit as interesting as Clive James, (less funny, but more honest and self deprecating) this was a marvellous read. Who knew his beginnings as an early IBM programmer would be just the antidote needed to force him into writing and a more satisfying life. 4.5 stars.

Footnote: How embarrassing, I read the above book seven years ago and reviewed it more comprehensively here. Sigh.

It took me awhile to read, but the comprehensive and never boring “Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England” by Ian Mortimer contained stories and samples of daily life in the 1300s. There’s not an aspect of life that isn’t covered – from how many shoes people owned, to how many people slept in a bed or where the term “room and board” came from. From mostly horrifying sections on the Law, Medicine, Hygiene and Food to more fun parts about humour, language and pastimes, the crazy facts just kept coming. I loved the small cheats guide to Chaucer section, because I’m never going to read Canterbury Tales anyhow. 4.5 stars – enthralling.

The closest I get to Sci Fi nowadays is Margaret Atwood, and the Oryx and Crake trilogy needed to be completed with “Maddaddam” and it was. Genuinely imaginative, the absolutely necessary matter of fact summary of the first two books at the beginning of the third was a godsend to me. The story is so out there that it’s troublesome to describe to a friend or partner as it reads as part kids story and part dystopian Animal Farm, where everyone has an odd name and copes as best they can with the increasingly dire situation. Atwood tries very hard to be original and succeeds wonderfully – her blue Craker race of genetically modified, simpler, gentler humans being absolutely believable. Although a little sad towards the end, I felt I’d been on a great journey – the Zeb and Adam story was particularly interesting (if a little improbable) and formed the backbone of this third book. 4.5 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on More books |
June 28th, 2015

Mid year update

Now that the free MX magazine has ceased and the temptations of I-spotted-a-future-boyfriend-on-the-South-Morang-3:47pm letters have faded, I’ve been able to focus on my backlog of London Review of Books and the Monthlys. Meanwhile, some bedtime books are getting read too.

wpid-20150628_114353.jpg

Firstly, let me say what a terrible disappointment the Punch books have been. It probably didn’t help that my cheap copy of Mr. Punch goes to War arrived with goop on the front cover, was full of dust and neglect, and when I attempted to clean it, managed to smear the gilt lettering on the cover with green dye. I rated it as disappointing on Abebooks and promptly had a guy all over me selling his arse to get me to change my review. I’d forgotten how important online reputations are to sellers, and didn’t mean any harm – was just an honest assessment of the quality of the book that arrived. So, in the end, he sent me Mr Punch on Tour, which was in better nick, though no funnier. Not recommended, though the pictures were fun. Two stars.

HHHH by Laurent Binet was quite a change in pace, and an enthralling page turner about Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the SS in WW2. Particularly horrifying was the vengeful obliteration of the town of Lidice as a consequence of the attack on Heydrich. I cannot recommend this book enough – Five stars.

The Saturday book is a charming annual (I have mild aspirations towards collecting the set from 1941 to 1973(?) – this one being #23 from 1963) – there’s the usual slightly salacious cartoons and an article about old rude postcards, an article about the origins of ladies bloomers, and a short biography of the creator (Heinrich Hoffmann) of the apparently well known Struwwelpeter (the original Edward Scissorhards I suppose) from the mid 1800s. Finally an interesting look at the eccentric Marie Laurencin and her unique ghostly paintings.

Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers is an earnest expose on the conditions and knife-edge lives of Mumbai slum-dwellers. Completely compelling, though sad, and meticulously researched (in person),  I heard the film adaptation was canned by critics, and came across as clichéd, but the book doesn’t read like that in the slightest. Four stars.

I just loved A Wanderer in Holland by supposedly populist writer E.V Lucas, written in 1905 and filled with forthright statements about the sillyness of certain Dutch towns for their architectural or artistic decisions to not champion world class artists or writers. Primarily a travel guide to the countries greatest artwork and writings, filled with paintings of towns and from galleries, with copious gruesome historical details such as the Spanish siege of Haarlem (and others), it was a wonderful introduction to the country, just as I was doing my dutch genealogy research. I got to read about cities my relatives lived in (Dordrecht and Leiden), whilst the author travelled the country on boats and railways which no longer exist since the destruction of WW1. It made me want to pay some good dollars for a Baedekers handbook for Holland. Four stars.

Bill Bryson’s At Home was also quite the page turner – he covers an awful lot of ground, but does it in an entertaining way. The bibliography is stupidly, snobbishly long and even improbable I think, but the 632 pages were full of early facts about the habits of home life and the surprisingly uncomfortable lives that mankind led up until very recently. Four stars also.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Mid year update |
February 15th, 2015

Solid progress

Rupert Thomson’s teenage years and events after his father’s death, plus a decades long estrangement from one of his brothers in ‘This Party’s got to Stop” was light relief after that Bach book.

party

I don’t know why, but I’d taken some comments in the reviews a little more literally than I should have – anticipating a hostage / life threatening situation, I was on edge the whole time I read it. Surprisingly, it ended with some gentle reconciliation. The thing that set it apart from any old recollection was Thomson’s fearless honesty about his feelings towards his siblings, perhaps motivated by guilt at his own behaviour. An easy read – 3.5 stars.

 

I’ve read a fair bit of history since the last volume of The History of England by Peter Ackroyd, so this time, with “Civil War” (volume 3) I was curious as to how his style holds up. Luckily it wasn’t a struggle – the early section on James I and his miscomprehension of the workings of the English parliamentary system was really interesting, and it was only the rhythmic drudgery of the continual popery accusations and plots in the time of Charles II and James II that it became a little tiresome. Will our current political battles appear similarly when written with sufficient distance? Probably – but with less blood spilt! The constant back and forth battles between Parliament and the king, the need for royal funding, the diplomatic marrying of enemies daughters for peace, but which then gave source to gossip about sympathisers and the possible spread of their religions. It was an exhausting time.

civil war

This history shows Oliver Cromwell as the most competent of the lot, trying many governing options in his new republic, but after a decade, losing out to popular sentiment and a certain melancholy for a royal figure – hence the Restoration. Growing up a Catholic myself, until a few years ago, I’d been largely oblivious about the historic distrust of my kind in Britain – all over a little thing called transubstantiation, which I find completely ridiculous, especially when compared to the more radical Calvinist or Presbyterian faiths of the time. Let’s not forget the Levellers too!

I like how Ackroyd wrote a few small chapters to give context to the times and provide relief. The design of Inigo Jones for the lavish masque sets. The observations of Samuel Pepys about Charles II’s mistresses. The self experimentation of Isaac Newton and the growth of the evidence-based Royal Society in 1660. The small chapter about how people walked, talked, drank and pissed. The observations that Worcester and Oxford were the most royalist of cities.

The book ended with the flight of James II to France, and with most of his men defecting to William (of Orange) and Mary. I really have to read about the Georgians soon, as apart from a mad king, I know nothing about them really. 4 stars.

by dfv | Posted in General | Comments Off on Solid progress |
February 12th, 2015

I need to stop mumbling or something

So, I arrive at my hotel in Perth at 8pm after a slog of a work day which started in Melbourne at 7am.  I’m eating dinner at the equivalent of 11.30pm so it’s a simple room service Fish and Chips.

I wait 35 mins and a lovely tray with a silver platter arrives..wearily I thank the porter(?) and ready myself. It’s been 11 hours since I ate on the plane and I’m famished. A lift of the lid reveals a plate of French Fries.

I eat the fries and rush to blog about it before I neck myself. It isn’t the first verbal misunderstanding I’ve had lately. I would call my wife to whine about it but she’s amidst her REM sleep right now.

by dfv | Posted in General | Comments Off on I need to stop mumbling or something |
January 17th, 2015

Reading catch up

For a year that reading-wise started so solidly, it ended in a whimper, however I’m going to blame a few library books (which I don’t include) for my low throughput. Having said that, two weeks into 2015, I’ve polished off a couple already. I’m really enjoying my reading when I can put my damn phone back in it’s cradle at night. Finding myself in a bit of an Anglophile phase, I’ve been hoovering up 1880’s copies of The Magazine of Art, bound copies of Punch and most of the “Pilgrimages to Old Homes” series by Fletcher Moss, and flicking through them. I find the references to a different time and to lost places charming and it’s sent me to all sorts of daggy places, like watching incredibly unfashionable English TV series like “From Lark Rise to Candleford” or “The Great Fire“. Do not watch these!

 

flood

I made the mistake of reading the second book in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy about 8 years after the first, meaning I could not remember a thing about the former, however the second was a great read – imaginative and sometimes unexpected. “The Year of the Flood” follows the parallel lives of various female survivors after an apocalyptic event, framed as a thriller where I ended up egging them on against difficult odds. I find I can barely read sci-fi any more, and Atwood is my preferred hybrid form of it – not too gadgety and close enough to our current predicament to be believable. She’s pretty much one of the only female writers I seem to like now, since I stopped reading Annie Proulx. Oh – Hilary Mantel, I forgot her.  3.5 stars.

 

peripatetic

I subscribed to the London Review of Books a few years back – lured by an impossibly cheap price and a fortnightly (!) copy, shipped all the way to Oz. In many ways its opened my eyes to more serious literary and historical criticism and made me aware of my many failings as a student. I was lured into buying a reprint of John Thelwall‘s “The Peripatetic” in the LRB by claims of it being a masterpiece of it’s time (1790’s England) and an example of the social and political reform that agitators like Thelwall fought their whole lives for. The introduction by Judith Thompson was worth the $9 (hardback) price of the book alone. Thelwall was pretty much run out of society by the folks he was rallying against and encountered a lifetime of opposition. The language of this romantic period was quite a laugh – many encounters on the road with tramps or hobos, and long florid expositions about the weather. I was never going to be able to finish the damn book, but I’m glad I gave it a fair hearing. 2 stars.

 

saturday

By chance I came across a cheap copy of The Saturday Book (#34), published in 1975 (I believe the last one they made following the death of Leonard Russell the founder) and knowing nothing about it, liking its many pictures and a saucy article about the history of La Vie Parisienne, and sensing another series I might wish to collect cheaply, I nabbed it. What a delight – full of quirky historical and literary curiosities, all designed to be picked up and put down at whim over a year of English weekends until the next annual rolled around. I’d love to collect (and read) a few more. Much fun and easy reading. 4 stars.

 

satta

Switching to Sardinia, a place I will probably never visit, I got sucked in Salvatore Satta’s “The Day of Judgement” after reading it had been compared to Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” which is considered an Italian classic, and which I enjoyed about 10 years ago. This one is set a bit later in the early 1900s, in a remote village of Nuoro, where the semi-autobiographical recollections paint a vivid picture of the corruption, and personalities of rich and poor. Even though I seemed to take forever to read this book, the second half really galloped along and despite the many magical and tragic stories within, it was wonderfully satisfying in the end. 4 stars.

 

fall

Kim managed to find me a Fall biography that I hadn’t yet read, and I pretty much dropped all else to consume this surprisingly thick, plainly written diary “The Big Midweek” by ex-Fall bass player Steve Hanley. The guy is a saint – he lasted 20 years in a band environment that can only be described as toxic and comes out of it with only minor scarring. Despite pulling punches on Mark, you’re left in no doubt about his misanthropic bullying ways, and it only made me wish I had seen them on their 1982 tour – I was just a bit young really. The 2010 gig was pretty average and he was well and truly drugged up, being physically shepherded about the stage by a nervous looking Elena. 4 stars.

 

30bElie.jpg

Finally – I finished a monster, the 400 page (plus 80 page notes/index) kooky-covered “Reinventing Bach” by Paul Elie. The Readings bargain table strikes again. It had me buying a full copy of JS.Bach’s piano works, and I nearly got sucked into buying the cello suites after some loving commentary about Pablo Casals. I already had Gould’s Goldbergs to refer to. I enjoyed learning about Albert Schweitzer and Leopold Stokowski and the roles they played in bringing Bach into people’s consciousness. 3 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Reading catch up |





Powered by Wordpress using the theme bbv1