Friday 27 December 2013

Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

Woman in the Dunes


Kobo Abe


Whilst the plot is straightforward, a man visiting a coastal area is tricked into staying overnight, then is illegally detained and made to work, the novel as a whole is not.The plot is thin, that was it in a nutshell, but the novel is rich vivid and thought provoking.

The reader is told only enough about the background of the man to make him plausible and real enough. We know nothing about the woman with whom he shares his predicament, not even her name. We follow his feelings as he realises the true nature of his situation, at first incredulous, amazed by what has happened, then annoyed, then fearful etc. I wonder whether it is the man or the woman who is the central character here, because it is through his changing attitude to his situation that you learn more about him but also about her, as she is uncovered so his emotions towards her and his captivity change from contempt, to pity, to desire, to affection. The man’s emotional turbulence in contrast to his scientific, analytical approach to the study of insects, sand and escape makes for a wondrous interplay between this emotional landscape and landscape of the dunes, both in a visual, geographic and a scientific sense, with his insight into and analysis of sand particle size and fluidity.

One analogy used in the story and told as a reference to a supposed folk song is about the “Round Trip Ticket Blues”. Chapter 23 starts thus,

“Got a one-way ticket to the blues, woo, woo….”

“If you want to sing it, sing it. These days people caught in the clutches of the one-way ticket never sing it like that. The soles of those who have only a one-way ticket are so think that they scream when they step on a pebble. They have had their fill of walking. “The Round-Trip Ticket Blues” is what they want to sing. A one-way ticket is a disjointed life that misses the links between yesterday, today and tomorrow. Only the man who obstinately hangs on to a round trip ticket can hum with real sorrow a song of a one way ticket. For this very reason he grow desperate lest the return half of his ticket be lost or stolen; he buys stocks, signs up for life insurance, and talks out of different sides of his mouth to his union pals ad his superiors. He hums “The One-Way Ticket Blues” with all his might and, choosing a channel at random, turns the television up to full volume in an attempt to drown out the peevish voices of those who have only a one-way ticket and who keep asking for help, voices that come up through the bathtub drain or the toilet hole. It would not be strange at all if “The Round-Trip Ticket Blues were the song of mankind imprisoned.”

Upon finishing this novel I reckon that it is about the change in the man from a Round-Trip Ticket to a One-Way Ticket kind of guy.

I wonder how people who have read this and Emma Donoghue's Room would compare the two?


ashramblings verdict: 4* an unusual, addictive read

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Joyeux Noel

Christmas Yule Log

Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Natal, Merry Kirsimeti, Meri krisamasa, Maligayang Pasko,

Merry Christmas

Monday 23 December 2013

Playing with Lightroom (1)


When I was on my photographic overland trip earlier this year I was complete blown away by the effects you could achieve with a simple photograph, so I downloaded a trial version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and began to play.


Original 1


Original  2



Original 3


Play 1


Play 2


Play 3


I also have a free photo editing tool, Photoscape, and am also playing with it

Play 1-1


Sunday 22 December 2013

“Points in Time” by Paul Bowles

Points in Time


Paul Bowles

A series of short snippets and vignettes become a series of points in time within an overall impressionistic account of Morocco, Moroccan life and history. It is almost biblical in its writing style. I particularly like the love across the religious divide tale, *****SPOLIER ALERT****even with its sad ending, the story of the European man sentenced to loose his teeth after hitting a local woman and dislodging hers. Spaniards, French, Americans, Jews, Christians and Moslems all feature herein as Bowles subtly shows how misunderstandings can occur across racial, cultural, religious and economic divides and leaves you thinking that perhaps nothing much has changed over time in this respect.

ashramblings verdict:  3* poetically evoking the historical and social landscape

Saturday 14 December 2013

Halesworth–a little gem

Halesworth’s Portas Bid
As I discover more about my new home town of Halesworth I find they made a Portas Bid in 2012 but sadly weren't selected.
Folks ask me why I moved here and I tell them my story - On returning to the UK I was looking for a place to live which was on the train line, where eventually I would be able to do without a car, where I could walk to the shops, where I was close to the sea and the coast, which had a cinema and a good library. Loving the Suffolk coast but knowing I couldn't afford a place on the coast, I was looking along the Ipswich to Lowestoft train line when the estate agent selling my place near Saffron Walden said "Have you looked at Halesworth yet? You'll like it it is like a mini Saffron Walden" So I came, sat in the Coffee shop and watched the town go bye, walked up and down the Thoroughfare and loved it.  There are two fruit and veg shops, two butchers, a fish stall in the weekly market and a traditional ironmongers and household goods shop which is rapidly becoming my favourite place to find things in and The Cut Arts Centre. For me having my daily shopping needs on the doorstep, some 5 minutes walk from my new home, is amazing! People here are very friendly. In this country,  I have to go back to my childhood to have been in a place where I knew the shopkeepers by name and they knew mine.
The biggest issues raised in their video were the cost of parking which was felt to be a real deterrent to shoppers and the lack of variety in the shops. Parking is free for the first hour now, so hopefully that should help local trade and fingers crossed that some entrepreneurial youngster will bite the bullet and open an old fashioned traditional drapers for those ladies in the video who need to buy their smalls somewhere :) So far to me Halesworth has been a little gem.
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Wednesday 11 December 2013

A Simple Story by Leonardo Sciascia


A Simple Story




 Leonardo Sciascia




Following a recommendation for this author I was initially disappointed to find only one book in English translation in my library system but went ahead and ordered it through our interlibrary lending. When it arrived I quickly read the Forward by Paul Bailey (no idea who he is) and the Introduction by the translator Howard Curtis whilst eating lunch and was immediately hooked. So much so that it displaced my current reading and occupied my afternoon. Both the forward and the Introduction set the scene by telling me about the author and about his writings and his style.

Sciascia was Sicilian by birth and a prolific writer, novelist, dramatist and political commentaries. He stood for and was elected to local, national and European political office. He is described as a regional writer, which may explain why so little of his work is available in translation. But if you are wanting descriptions of Sicilian landscape, of hot Mediterranean days and nights, his is not he writing for you. Instead for Sciascia, Sicily provides a backdrop to his study of injustice/justice, corruption and power which pervade Sicilian society and its politics.

A Simple Story was his last book  published on the day he died. It is short, only 40 pages, but from the go his sarcasm, humour and scathing political sideswipes shine through. I did not find the plot twists expected and absolutely  loved the ending – but I won’t say more about that in order to entice you to read this little gem.

Also in the copy I got is a second, longer book, Candido, which I have still to read. It was written during his political period and is a parody on Voltaire’s Candide.

ashrambling’s verdict: 4* little gem.

Thursday 5 December 2013

War Music by Sheila Ash

While browsing my Facebook friends today I read the following poem written by Fadi Alansary on one of my Liked Pages

Je n’aime pas la guerre.
La guerre prive le nouveau-né de sa mère.
La guerre retire aux enfants leurs pères.
La guerre détruit la terre.
La guerre menace le savoir-faire.
La guerre emporte ls braves.
La guerre éteint ls rêves.
La guerre tue le sages.
La guerre ne connait pas d’âge.
La guerre c’est la rage.
Je n’aime pas la guerre, un mauvais message.
Je n’aime pas la guerre, elle meurtrie les cœurs et bloque les passages.
La guerre affame les innocents, elle les rend orphelins.
La guerre est un marasme.
La guerre traumatise les refugies, les rend impuissants dans l’attente d’un sauvetage.
Je n’aime pas la guerre.
Fadi Alansary
I was so moved by it I wrote the following echo response
J'ai trouvé votre poème d'inspiration et écrit son écho

I love music
Music binds people in love
Music helps children have fun playing games
Music heals the souls of the sick
Music calms the troubled brow and stirs the passionate heart
Music knows no age
Music from the sweet voices of innocent little children
Music of a bygone age brings back memories and consolidates reminiscences
Music brings disparate people together
Music overcomes absence and loss
Music feeds the human spirit
The music is still playing
Music never dies
Sheila Ash, 2013

Tuesday 27 August 2013

I’m the King of the Castle…..

 I’m the King of the Castle




Susan Hill










I found this a very disturbing story of bullying and the vindictiveness of children to their peers, a world which adults fail to enter or understand. Charles’ mother takes on a new position as housekeeper and Charles is confronted by Edmund Hooper, quite the embodiment of the weak at core bully who immediately recognises Charles’ sensitivities and vulnerability and plays on these to sad and final ends. The book concentrates on the relationship between the children, the peaks and troughs of realisation, of weakness and of strength that Charles encounters as he struggles to survive the summer back from boarding school in a strange house of the Hoopers, father and son. The adult drama is played out along side the children’s but is seen mostly from the children’s viewpoint with only enough foreays into the personas of Mrs Helena Kingshaw, Charles’ mother, and Mr Joseph Hooper, Edmund’s widowed father, as they find solace and a future in each other’s company.

How often did we hear the taunt “I’m the king of the castle and you’re a dirty we rascal” when we were young?  On reflection, now as an adult, I find it interesting that the first half of this phrase can be used to express success, achievement and yet using the whole sentence has such a different connotation of looking down on another, disparagingly, all the taunting name calling of children in the playground.

ashramblings verdict – 4* a disturbing, sad but memorable read from an expert craftswoman. Highly recommended.

Saturday 15 June 2013

AIF5 Okavango Delta

a fish eagle watches over the lagoon
its silence softened only by sporadic splashes
of poles punting their makoros
along hippo highways created nightly
through the swaying stands of papyrus

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Moment in Oulu,Finland

I was  there in February on a work trip

Stands of silver birch
upright legs from off the snow
table cloth over northern soil
a frozen downie over sleeping waters
ice locks a stranded boat which stands forelorn as woollen heads gloved and booted make warm bubbles bobbing through the midnight moonlit day

AIF4 - It's all in the name

Various unusual and comical establishment names seen during our travels through Zambia

Golden Pillow Motel
Bit by bit grocery
Flambouyant  School for Specisl Children
Plastic Groceries
Pimpers Pub
Sparkles Car Wash
Eaten today thank the farmer
Greenbelt Fertiliser
Bullion Bureau de Change
Top  view Minga Rags (clothes shop)
A bus called Better Days
Bit by bit restaurant
Mfuwe Lesa Hair Salon

Friday 24 May 2013

AIF3 - Animals seen

We are spending tonight aside the Kavango River on the Namibian side looking over to Angola before heading into the Okavango Delta ,one of my must visit places list. 2 weeks into the trip so thought I'd list the main animsls we've seen thus far as I listen to crickets screaming and hippis grunting....

The list of animals seen so far...
Red Haartebeest
Bat eared fox
Spotted hyena

Goliath Heron
Cape Starling
Red Breasted Shrike
Kori's Bustard
Chiff chaff
Guinea Fowl
Pearl spotted Owl
Grey go away bird

Trap door spider

Black Rhino
Spotted Hyena
Banded Mongoose
Black Mongoose

And hopefully lots more to follow :)

Tuesday 21 May 2013

AIF(2): Snaps, photos and camera art

The whole purpose of this trip is to learn about photography or to improve your photographic skills. There is a wide range of skills and experience on the trip, from novices like me to real photography nerds: from those of us with new entry level cameras, to folk with several lenses and some expensive kit. Our guide is really knowlegeable and the group is such that everyone helps and learns from others.

During our first week we had an introduction to the basic principles of photography. For me this was great, starting at the basics and trying to get to grips with the interplay between aperture, shutter speed, ISO settings in order to move away from snapping with   the Auto mode of the camera to using the Manual mode to construct planned photographs and even onto  more  'arty' works using on camera retouch and editing or through using software such as Photoshop, Photo Elements etc

Our first 'supervised' session was on night photography where we shared tripods and took pictures of the stars at our camp on the Orange River. Brett , our guide, took us out in small groups to give individual instruction and assistance.

Our next session was on White Balance: and then on impromptu one on how to photograph around a fire: using our camera's fastest shitter speed and largest aperture it is possible to capture really interesting effects in flames. Using a flash enables a photograph of fire and people to be taken.

In Namibia we visited Deadvlei. This is an amazing place to be let loose with a camera. It is a dried up river basin amongst the dunes and is full of dead trees. Their stark shapes against the sand plain in the bright blue sky of a desert afternoon heat is somewhat other worldly, even a bit  eery, but in the end I could have spent much more time there than the  couple of hours we had. Again our guide was not just on hand but was proactive in spending time with each of us individually to help us with different aspects. For me this meant an introduction to macros, close up photography.

The truck is equipped with  Mac pc  enabling everyone to download all there photos to disk. I can't believe how many I am taking and have filled my 4gb card already, As per Africa in Focus's suggestion I have brought a external hard drive with me and I am already glad I did. Most of the photos I have taken will be consigned to the waste bin ventually as I am experimenting with different settings and am keeping almost all of them for now as I am due a one to one session with our guide to critically review my work and get pointers for improvement.

Pictures will follow later

AIF(1) : Stars shining bright above me ...

Day 1 saw us motor out of Capetown heading north for a leisurely drive to camp at an ex-overlander's grape farm on the Oliphant river. Their grapes make the Klawer wine which we sampled and some stocked up with for taking home and for later in the trip. Out of their chenin  blanc, pinotage and sparkling wines I surprised myself by preferring the dessert wine. It was a pleasant evening,an easy start to the trip allowing folks to mingle,get used to each other, our truck (effectionately called Malaika) and putting up our tents.

My companions are an English couple,an Australian couple, a Anglo-South African lady, a younger Canadian guy and a Scottish woman who coincidently comes from my home town - small world.

Day 2 - a early start to drive to the Namibia border. Because of regulations our UK registered truck is not allowed to transport passengers through the border crossing so we are transferred to a Namibian vehicle with our luggage which promptly has a tyre blow out! Otherwise the crossing is comparatively uneventful.

Onto our night stop on the  banks of the Orange River where we are  given our first photography session - star photography.  I never imagined being able to take such pictures of the sky without professional kit: but with borrowing a tripod I was able to take a photo of the night sky.

NOTE: I will add photos to my posts as and when  I get a decent internet connection speed.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Off I go again...

This time on a belated 60th birthday  present to myself - a vacation travelling Capetown to  Kigali with Africa in Focus. Nice to have someonelse do the organisation, the driving etc. As the company specialise in photography oriented tours I have bought my first digital SLR camera, an entry level Nikon D3200  and will be attempting to learn some technical aspects of photography, although I won't let fiddling with settings hinder my actual seeing, taking in and enjoying the sites which hopefully will include some big game.
More posts as and when I can , or in bunches, over the next 10 weeks.