Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results

In Belgium, rumour has it that the latest pair of royal informants to take on the role of forming a federal government is looking to make a coalition proposal which could consist of the Francophone socialists and the Flemish nationalists.

The elections were held in May of last year and there have been several (failed, obviously) attempts to assemble a government.

The problem here is that Belgium has no national parties — the Flemish parties campaign in Flanders and the Francophone parties campaign in Wallonia. Because of this, national elections look more like a pair of regional elections that happen to be held at the same time. This is compounded by the fact that Wallonia tends to vote left and Flanders tends to vote right, and exacerbated by the fact that none of the Francophone parties trust the separatists of the N-VA, who are the largest party in Flanders by some distance.

We’ve been here before. I’m far from convinced that things will be any different this time around.

In 2019 I was mostly listening to…

Mustard Plug. Or so says Last.fm, which has counted up all the tracks I scrobbled over the course of the past year in order to tell me what I like.

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I have been mainly listening to Ska, Rock and Ska Punk and that the band I have listened to more than any other was the aforementioned Mustard Plug.

The album I have listened to most was Life Sucks… Let’s Dance! from Reel Big Fish but the track I have spent most time listening to was Box from the incomparably awesome album, Evildoers Beware.

And here it is

The Harry and Meghan Show

Did you know that divorce rates typically shoot up after Christmas? It’s true.

More time is spent with in-laws, which for many spouses is not a pleasant experience, and soon the pressure on the relationship starts to build up. There is in many households a higher consumption of alcohol which can result in things that were held back being vocalised, or to inappropriate behaviour in the family setting or at a work party.

And so to the ongoing press meltdown (in the UK, at least) over the news that the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have decided to step back from their royal roles.

The royal watchers in the press seem to be at a loss as to while a couple at whom they have hurled abuse, every week, for the past three years might not want anything more to do with the press. So let me offer my first (and possibly only) opinion on the monarchy.

I have no idea how much time the Royal family spends together over the Christmas period, but I have no problem in imagining that, at some point, Prince Harry looked at his uncle Andrew and realised that, if he didn’t do something, that was what he had to look forward to.

It has been rare for anyone who marries into the monarchy to survive the unrelenting attention of the media and, in Meghan Markle’s case this is exacerbated by the unrelenting racism of many parts of the British press.

In choosing to put the needs of their own family ahead of those of those of an institution of which they will never be a significant part, Harry and Meghan have undoubtedly made the right decision.

Quote of the day: A Vainglorious Revolution

Having initially been bemused by the Referendum result, and then confused by the political crisis that followed, the election result has now cemented the new reality of Britain’s place in the eyes of the world – a “diminished” figure, being taught daily that it just isn’t important enough or powerful enough to exert much “control” over anything.

— Chris Grey on what “taking back control” really looks like.

Five Things #20

Water: A History by KJ Kabza is a remarkable and moving story of human colonists on the planet of Quányuán which is arid to the point of being uninhabitable. Wetness is a concept left back on Earth but this doesn’t stop one elderly woman from stepping outside the safety of the colony whenever she can for the brief opportunity to fully experience the outside world.

Christine McLaren meets the citizen scientists in Australia who are reforesting the ocean.

Denzil visits The See-Through Church of Borgloon.

Steve Royston reminds us that political movements are fine, as long as they’re regular.

Chris Grey looks ahead at what happens next with Brexit and the battle between remembering and forgetting.

Reading Highlights of 2019

I started 2019 with the intention of blogging about every book I read. This is an intention that eventually fell by the wayside because there are some books about which I really don’t have anything to say. These were the books that were neither great nor terrible, and about which all I can say is “that was okay”.

This post is not about those books.

I also read some really, really good books, and these are the books that this post is about.

Among these were two novels by Sarah Pinborough: The Shadow of the Soul and The Chosen Seed. These are the second and third parts of the Dog Faced Gods trilogy and, if you like dark urban fantasy, this series is well worth a read. The series is both dystopian and apocalyptic and keeps you hooked from beginning to end.

I also read a couple of (completely unrelated) novellas by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Expert System’s Brother is a science-fiction story masquerading as a fantasy and, while short, packs a lot of detail into the page count in a way that manages to be both immersive and gripping. The second Novella was Made Things which was a short and very readable tale about trust, loyalty and friendship. The question of what it means to be a person is a theme that often appears in Tchaikovsky’s writing and is one that is very apparent in both of these stories.

2019 was also the year in which I discovered C.J. Cherryh by way of Foreigner, the first book in her eponymous series. Foreigner is a first contact novel wrapped in a thriller, the twist being that, this time, it’s humans that have landed on an alien planet and having to navigate a completely alien culture. I cannot believe that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Invader yet — I shall have to rectify this very soon.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor utterly blew me away. At less than 100 pages, this was a very quick read but there is so much packed into this novella that it really is worth going back and reading it again. The synopsis I saw for this made it sound like a fairly unexceptional space opera. What makes it stand out is that by drawing on her Nigerian roots, Nnedi Okorafor manages to look at questions of culture and cultural identity is a way that is (to me) utterly original.

Another novel that felt completely new to me was The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Again, by not relying on the usual white western stereotypes, Jemisin presents a densely detailed world that is like nothing I have read before. I have already read the second book in this (The Broken Earth) series, and will be picking up a copy of The Stone Sky just as soon as I have the time.

And finally there is The Jennifer Morgue by The Jennifer Morgue, the second book in the Laundry Files series. This is, subversively funny, often unnerving and absolutely spot-on about PowerPoint.

The End of Christmas

Today marks the end of our Christmas break. The visitors have all gone home, the spare bed has been folded up for another few months and now all that remains is to clear up a bit and start getting ready for school and work tomorrow.

The tree is still standing, of course, but it will be disassembled and put into storage before too long.

But first, I shall start scrolling through the long list of articles and blog posts that I haven’t gotten around to over the past couple of weeks and start catching up.

How’s your 2020 going so far?

Call Me

I was going to start this post by claiming that a Rockabilly band with a name like The Hillbilly Moon Explosion must be Italian. It’s a good thing I checked, because it turns out that while the singer, Emanuela Hutter, is half Italian (the other half being Swiss), the rest of the band comes from elsewhere in Europe.

Their song, Call Me is a cover of the Blondie song of the same name, and is really rather good.

Five Things #19

Shades of H. P. Lovecraft in Nesters by Siobhan Carroll.

Was it just luck that Earth has plenty of oxygen? Lewis Alcott and Benjamin J. W. Mills suggest that breathable atmospheres may be more common in the universe than we first thought.

Luke at Start Your Meeples examines the enduring popularity of Carcassonne.

Ryan Billingsley suggests that if you want your kids to read, you should let them read whatever they want. This is a view I can wholeheartedly endorse.

And James Parker considers the joy of being middle aged.

That was the year that was

This is not a resolutions post, because I don’t do resolutions. That said, now is as good a time as any to take stock of where I am right now.

Looking back at where I was this time last year, I am quite pleased to be able to say that I do now have my weight under control. When I was younger, and cycling to work every day, I used to be able to eat and drink whatever I wanted with no need to worry. I’m older now, and commuting by car and by train, and back in 2018 I finally had to admit that it wasn’t my shirts that were shrinking.

I needed to lose a few kilos and, importantly, I wanted to do this in a manner that would be sustainable. I know what I’m like and I know full well that gym memberships and calorie counting are not things that I will continue with for any length of time. Instead, I have attempted to make some changes to my lifestyle and behaviour (more walking, less snacking) and it seems to have worked. My weight has fallen from 92 kilos to a near-optimum 81.3 kilos. I am not planning to make any further changes to my behaviour and, if I stick with my current habits, I should be able to stay reasonably healthy for the foreseeable future.

I also wanted to catch up on my unwatched DVDs. Finding time for this is still a bit of a struggle, although as my eldest son gets older, the range of films that can be added to our Saturday night film is slowly growing. I have stopped buying DVDs though and am no longer mentioning films when people ask about Christmas and birthday presents.

I am pretty much caught up on my unread books list and did reach my target of reading 30 books in 2019. That said, some of the books were very short — some of them not even long enough to be called a novella — so this feels like a bit of a cheat. I will give myself the same target in 2020, but this time with the aim of reading two and a half actual novels a month.

I’m still rubbish at Go. Improving, slowly, but I still lose way more than I win. I am not really trying to improve my game either at the moment, just playing for the fun of playing and seeing how things go (pun intended).

And that’s it really. I am going into 2020 much the same as 2019, but more so. There are other things I would like to fit into my life, but the challenge is always working out where to find the time, so I’m not mentioning any of these until I have some idea of the how.

All that’s left, therefore, is for me to wish everyone a very Happy New Year.

See you in 2020