Five Things

This is a bit of an experiment and, as such, I am not making any promises about whether it becomes a regular (or even an irregular) feature on this blog. The motivation comes from the fact that, as I trawl various corners of the internet, I often encounter articles that are interesting but about which I have little or nothing to add.

I don’t want to descend into writing endless posts that say no more than Look At This, so I plan on pulling them together so that I can say Look At These. We shall see how, or if, this works.

First up is the short story that started me thinking about this type of post. Compost Traumatic Stress by Brian Koukol explores a once-sterile alien world seeded by the blood and guts of battle and follows the traumatized veteran tasked with keeping this alien fauna under control. It’s an effective and often moving exploration of the aftermath of war and well worth a read.

Taking a quick look at the ongoing disaster that is British politics these days, Jonathan Calder is exasperated with Heidi Allen and Nick Cohen is horrified at the way in which party politics have been allowed to undermine representative democracy. Personally, I think Parliament should insist on a vote of confidence for whoever the Tories select as the next Prim Minister. Regardless of how a party picks their leader, if that leader can’t demonstrate that they have the confidence of Parliament then they shouldn’t be able to form a government.

If Asian cinema has ever appealed to you (and it should) Paul Bramhall has a fascinating article on The General’s Son trilogy and the birth of the modern Korean gangster movie. I really need to carve out some time in my week to start making a dent in my DVD pile.

And finally, Susan Biali Haas suggests that working with your hands does wonders for your brain, which is all the excuse I need to spend more time pulling up nettles.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home follows on from the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and deals with the consequences of the events in those films. It’s probably best seen as an epilogue to those films and, this being the case, I don’t think I can talk about this film without spoliering the films that have gone before.

So if you haven’t seen the Avengers films, I suggest you stop reading now.

If you have seen everything up to this point, or just don’t care, there’s more after the jump.
Continue reading “Spider-Man: Far From Home”

Le Grand Depart

The Tour de France kicks off this weekend and, this year, it starts in Brussels. The race itself starts on Saturday but the events start today with the official presentation of the riders. This includes a ride-through of the city this afternoon and the police are clearing the roads already.

Stepping out of Centraal Station this morning to see no randomly parked cars and much less — and much calmer — traffic on the road was almost pleasant. They should organise this sort of disruption more often.

I’m in slightly the wrong place to see the cyclists go past but I will try to catch some of the race on TV. I say this every year but haven’t been able to find the time to properly follow the tour since I was a student — I doubt that this year will be any different.

It’s a shame because I used to quite enjoy following the race, and it is an event that really needs to be televised.

I went to see one of the stages of the Tour of Britain back in the early 90s. This involved standing around for several hours until a mass of cyclists shoot past far to quickly to make anything out.

Watching the tour on TV, with the cameras following the race, means that you can actually see how the race is developing — who’s pulling ahead, who went too soon and so on — and it can become remarkably gripping.

It’s also quite nice to follow the event with my feet up.

Men in Black: International

I really liked Pawney. This pocket-sized alien, voiced brilliantly by Kumail Nanjiani had the best lines and the best jokes and was, by far, the funniest character in this film. And the fact that a one-joke CGI comic relief character was able to upstage both Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, who formed such a great double act in Thor: Ragnarok, rather neatly sums up Men in Black: International.

Men in Black: International revolves around Agent M, played by Tessa Thompson, who has finally found her way into the MIB organisation after a childhood encounter with an alien. She is promptly sent to London where she manages to pair herself with the reckless but heroic Agent H (Chris Hemsworth). We have threats aplenty, a suspected mole in the MIB organisation and a whole bunch of subplots that don’t really go anywhere.

It’s been a few years since I watched the original Men in Black but if I remember correctly, that film didn’t make a huge amount of sense. What it did have going for it, however, was Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and — probably most importantly — a director that was willing to stand back and let the two leads develop a chemistry that is unforgettable.

The problem that Men in Black: International has is that there is just too much plot, which insists on constantly reminding us that none of this makes much sense. This is not helped by the fact that the scriptwriters don’t appear to have been able to decide whether the film is about the rookie Agent M or the failure and redemption of Agent H. Consequently, the focus keeps switching and the plot threads keep clashing in a manner that makes it a bit of a struggle to enjoy the ride.

Men in Black: International isn’t a bad film, it’s just not a particularly good film either. The film is at it’s best when Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth are allowed to bounce off each other and recapture the sense of fun that so imbued the original film. But all too often they are dragged down by an overly convoluted plot that frequently serves only to suck any and all the life from the film.

Class of 2019

Congratulations are in order to Macsen for having graduated from primary school. The ceremony was yesterday and, although he still has two more days of school, none of the planned activities can be described as being in any way academic.

This is going to be quite a big change, for all of us. Until now all of the pre- and primary schools the kids have gone to have been in the same town (I call it a town, but large village would probably be a more accurate description) and all of these schools have been within walking distance of home. For secondary school, however, he is going to have to travel to the next town, so September will see him navigating bus passes, cycle routes and a whole new social milieu.

The twins are going to see a fair bit of change as well. Although they’re still at the same school for another three years, the school is due to be renovated, remodelled and largely rebuilt over the summer.

September is going to be interesting.

The Chosen Seed

With The Chosen Seed, Sarah Pinborough brings the Dog Faced Gods trilogy to a spectacular and suitably apocalyptic finale.

First his nephew was kidnapped, now DI Cass Jones has been framed for murder. But he’s about to get help from a very unexpected source. Detectives Hask and Ramsey are searching for the killer behind the lethal virus sweeping through London, which has thrown up clues that Cass might be innocent after all.

Somehow it’s linked to Mr Bright, and to the organisation which manipulates everyone from the shadows. So Cass Jones is going up against The Bank and it’s sinister employees one last time. He needs every ally he can get, and this time he means to find answers. And the more he learns, the more everything hinges on finding Luke…

Although Cass Jones is still the central character and the plot is largely driven by his attempt to locate Luke, his missing nephew, this installment of the trilogy is much more about the origins and motivations of Mr Bright and the organisation he leads. As such the fantasy elements come right to the fore this time around.

It’s not hard to see where things are going and the ending is not a huge surprise. What makes the novel stand out, for me, is the strength of the plotting and seeing how Sarah Pinborough deftly pulls together the various threads into a narrative that keeps you hooked right up to the end.

The attention to detail applies not only to the plot but also the characters, with every one of them fully rounded and each of them displaying a set of motivations that are fully consistent with both the setting and the events.

As with The Shadow of the Soul, the events in The Chosen Seed follow directly from the previous novel with no time taken to recap the earlier events. As such, you really need to have read the first two novels before embarking on this one.

The books are all well worth your time, though, as The Chosen Seed makes for a powerful ending to an excellent trilogy that has, throughout, been both gripping and thoughtful.

The Shadow of the Soul by Sarah Pinborough

Somewhere around three-quarters the way through this book, I found myself thinking that there was no way that Sarah Pinborough could possibly wrap up all of the various plot threads before the end of the novel and that this second book of the trilogy would end up doing little more than set the scene for the final instalment.

How wrong I was.

There is a lot going on in here but Sarah Pinborough does a superb job of bringing everything together in a manner that brings together the various threads without feeling rushed of leaving too much dangling.

DI Cass Jones is still dealing with the fallout of uncovering a major conspiracy within his own police station when a terrorist attack rocks London and he finds himself called on to help with the investigation. At the same time he has his own investigation to worry about: young people are dying, apparently committing suicide – and they’re all linked by the phrase Chaos in the Darkness, scrawled or sent as their last message to the world.

Then he’s given a note from his dead brother Christian, written before his murder: the three words – ‘They took Luke’ – opens up a whole new can of worms, because Cass knows immediately who They are: Mr Bright and the shadowy Network. His dead brother has set him a task from beyond the grave – to find the baby, his nephew, stolen at birth.

And as Cass tries to divide his time between all three investigations, it’s not long before he discovers links, where there should not be. The mysterious Mr Bright is once again pulling his strings, and there’s nothing DI Cass Jones hates more…

A Shadow of the Soul is the middle book of a trilogy and you do need to have read the first book, A Matter of Blood, to properly understand what is going on. In A Matter of Blood, we were introduced to a near-future dystopia with hints of supernatural horror. A Shadow of the Soul retains the police procedural structure of the previous book but, now that the supernatural element has been revealed, takes the time to delve further into the motivations and methods of the beings of The Network.

We have conspiracies within conspiracies within conspiracies as the central character, Cass Jones (a wonderfully, and believably, miserable individual), attempts to make sense of what is going on around and to him.

While this is the middle book of a trilogy, it also stands up on its own merits as a well contained story. If the series stopped here, I would be reasonably happy but there is a third entry and I shall be reading this very shortly.

Squelch

We had a bit of a storm last night. And it struck, inevitably, as I was walking back from the bank. In fact is struck so hard that I was almost knocked over by the horizontal wall of water that hit me.

On the plus side, being on foot meant that I was able to easily navigate around the tree that had fallen across the town’s main road.

Once home, I discovered that the noise had awoken one of the twins and he was being reassured by his mum. The mood instantly lightened when I walked in, because seeing a drenched dad squelch into the house is so funny that all fear is forgotten. So I squelched a few more times provoking enough laughter to awaken the other twin.

At this point my sympathetic partner mentioned that she had heard the outdoor furniture being blown around, her bike was still outside and, since I was wet already, could I go out and check.

Squelch. Squelch. Squelch.

It doesn’t look like there was any significant damage — a few branches were blown down and the terrace is a bit of a mess, but if that’s the worst of it then I won’t complain.

I have to admit that I saw a lot less devastation this morning on the way to work. The roads were reasonably clear and the trains were running, although delayed because one of the lines was closed.

The weather forecast is predicting more rain tonight but, thankfully, not another storm.

Chickens

Way back in 2014, we acquired a trio of chickens. Chickens don’t live that long and when the first one died, Eve decided to go out and buy three more, and so we had five. Of those five, three grew old and died and two decided to up sticks and move in with the rooster next door.

This left us with no chickens at all. Until Friday.

And now we have three again and, I’m promised, these are a bit tamer than the last lot and less inclined to climb over, under or bite through the fence that should keep them safely in their chicken run.

We shall see.

Apenheul

With Thursday being a public holiday, we took a trip to the Netherlands to visit Apenheul, a zoo of free roaming primates. It’s exactly what it says it is and is really rather good.

What you have is essentially a large forest, through which you follow a path allowing you to see the animals close up and in a pretty-much natural state. This is particularly true of the smaller monkeys which can, and do, come very close to visitors. Larger apes, such as gorillas and orangutans are a little more separate, being housed on islands that put them a bit more out of reach.

We turned up at about 11:30 intending to eat first and then explore. It didn’t quite work like that because as soon as the boys saw the monkeys, and realised just how close they would come, all lunchtime thoughts were forgotten. It took us two hours to make it to the restaurant and, by the time the zoo closed at 5:00, we still hadn’t seen everything.

It took us two hours to get there, which isn’t too bad, and the boys are all keen to go back. If (when) we do, however, will will probably leave a little earlier and try to find some food on the way as the food in the zoo is not that substantial — it’s all chips and sandwiches which is fine for a snack but not much of a meal.

That said, there is a restaurant — De Boschvijver — close to the car park, and it turned out to be very nice indeed. The outside terrace, especially, provides a great opportunity to enjoy dinner while looking out over a lake.

Apenheul is also involved in several nature conservation projects around the world through their Apenheul Primate Conservation Trust (APCT). Being a big coffee drinker, the Yellow-tailed woolly monkey project is the one that appealed to me most.

By providing local people with a sustainable way of producing coffee, we get their support for our conservation goals. Farmers who previously had to cut down hectares of the forest for their livestock, now only need a one hectare coffee plantation to generate enough income. We buy this coffee at a fair price and then serve it to our visitors!

The coffee is called Lazy Monkey, and it’s pretty good.