My introduction to the novels of Patrick Gale

I have always enjoyed reading, and since I started using a Kindle some years ago, I have extended my range of authors, often influenced by social media and interactions with the authors themselves. For the last few years, I have mainly read novels from the crime and spy genres, but recently I felt the need to try something new, which might be a bit more emotionally satisfying.

In mid-April, Angela and I were travelling to London for a short break and to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. Angela was reading the May issue of ‘Woman and Home’, and showed me an article about an author by the name of Patrick Gale, describing his latest novel (see below). She thought it might be of interest to me, and sure enough I downloaded it.

Woman & Home piece
Taken from ‘Woman & Home’, May 2015, page 206

‘A Place Called Winter’ is based on the author’s family history. It describes how his maternal grandmother’s father emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada, leaving his wife behind. As a result of this, she had a rather sad childhood, especially when her mother died, leaving her to be brought up by a succession of nannies. Why her father emigrated was unknown to any living relatives, but the author manages to fill in the gaps and create an excellent and totally credible story. I don’t want to say any more, for fear of giving too much away, but I recommend this novel highly.

Since reading ‘A Place Called Winter’, I have read two more of Patrick Gale’s novels. ‘Rough Music’ describes events that took place in two family holidays to Cornwall separated by more than 40 years. The story alternates between then and now, and the consequences of what happened all those years ago for present day events are described vividly. I loved this book, and didn’t want it to end!

‘Notes From An Exhibition’ starts with the death of an emotionally troubled artist, and pieces together her life and the effect of her creativity and bouts of depression on her family over a period of some forty years. I enjoyed reading it, but preferred ‘Rough Music’ in that it seemed to reach a slightly more satisfactory conclusion.

To conclude, an article in a magazine that I wouldn’t normally read (Woman and Home) introduced me to an new author, and a set of new novels. I’m continuing with these, and I’m going to read ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ next.

Goslar, Clausthal and Nottingham: research and external examining, June 2015

June has often been a busy month for me. Two years ago in June 2013, for example, I found myself doing two external examining trips and a PhD viva in a short space of time, which was made more interesting by the fact that the viva was in Amsterdam!

For the last few years I have been external examiner at two institutions at the same time; first it was Surrey and Kent, and then Kent and Nottingham Trent (NTU). Now that I have finished my four years at Kent (which I particularly enjoyed), it leaves NTU, more of which later.

I’m going through a rather lean spell of research collaborations at present. My collaboration with Brazil continues (and I’ve been hosting a PhD student from there), but I haven’t been able to work with my colleague there for some time. Hopefully we can arrange to get together before too long, but for now, our collaborative projects are effectively on hold. I was pleased therefore to be contacted by some ‘old’ collaborators from the Technical University of Clausthal in Germany, who invited me over there for discussions about a new project, and for me to give a seminar. Because of their commitments, there was a tight timeframe for the visit, and I travelled there on 2nd June, returning on the 4th.

To get to Clausthal requires some ingenuity: a flight to Hannover, then a train to the city centre, followed by another train to Goslar. Then a lift to Clausthal is required, unless you are sufficiently confident to use the local buses! Having previously had some issues with flying to Hannover with BA from London Heathrow, the last time I went there, in February 2014, I used FlyBe, who fly there direct from Manchester. It worked well then, so I did it again this time. Because the flight is in the evening, I booked a hotel at Hannover Airport. It was just as well, because the flight was two hours late in leaving Manchester (but not delayed enough for any compensation, of course). But I got there OK, and spent a comfortable night in the Maritim Hotel. The next day I travelled to Goslar and on to Clausthal as described above. The trip and seminar went well, and I am hopeful that it will lead to collaborative research and possibly some indirect funding.

Having got back from Germany, I had a few days turnround before heading to Nottingham for my external examining at NTU, from 9th – 11th June. This is my 3rd year of looking at their Forensics courses that have Chemistry/Physics content, and I am at last beginning to feel familiar with the system they operate, and what they expect from external examiners, which is different from the previous institutions I’ve served at. One of the problems with NTU is getting there; the campus I visit is located outside Nottingham (in Clifton), and the hotel they tend to use isn’t particularly close to either the city centre or the campus! So there is a lot of taxi usage, which I don’t particularly like (although of course the cost is covered). But putting that aside, it was a successful trip.

Now I am back at base. The Summer Vacation has started, but under our ‘new’ academic year, the next few weeks will be punctuated with exam boards. Unusually, I don’t have any conferences coming up. So hopefully I’ll be able to make use of this valuable time to carry out some new research, and complete some papers for publication.

Labour’s leadership election process – no lessons learned?

History does seem to be repeating itself. Last night I tweeted:

‘Sorry @UKLabour but I fear the same mistakes are being made as in 2010. A new leader is needed asap. September is too long to wait!’

It all takes me back to 2010, when a similar decision was made. Then I posted my concerns here,  and these concerns equally apply now. I prefer what the LibDems are doing; at least they will have a new leader in place in July!

There’s also been a lot of hand-wringing about what direction the party should take. I return to my point made many times that Labour can’t win if it only appeals to its ‘traditional’ voters (many of whom deserted them for UKIP this time round anyway). New Labour managed to appeal to a wide cross-section of voters, and while I’m not necessarily advocating a return to New Labour, the party has to position itself carefully. Ed Miliband may have been perceived by some to be too left wing, although that’s not my view.  But whoever takes over would be well advised to learn some lessons from the way New Labour were able to win three elections. Otherwise there will be a long period of opposition.

Foursquare/Swarm: return of badges, and mayorships (but not yet)

It’s almost exactly a year since Foursquare changed from its old form, and introduced the Swarm app for checking in. Since then both apps have evolved, but when mayorships were removed, Foursquare lost one of its best features.

I’ve continued to use both apps, checking in on Swarm, and occasionally adding reviews etc on Foursquare.  I have more or less got used to the new system, but now change appears to be in the air!

Last week, Swarm’s update on Android included some quite big changes. Full details are here, but essentially old badges that you gained from checking in are back (but now called stickers), and when you check-in somewhere you can search through your stickers to see if there is one to add to a particular check-in. And you can get new stickers through checking in to particular places (it didn’t take me long to get a bar-related one, for example!) The local crown stickers, for the most check-ins at a location among your friends, seem to have gone, but they were pretty meaningless anyway. Finally, the blog promises that mayorships will return ‘soon’. It seems that (at last), the Foursquare team realised that they had missed a beat by withdrawing them. I look forward to their return!

Post election thoughts and analysis

So, 3 days after the election results became clear, I finally feel able to put my thoughts into words. Although I made it clear in previous posts that I don’t take much notice of opinion polls, mainly because percentage vote share doesn’t neatly relate to our first past the post system, I didn’t expect them to be so completely wrong.  As a result I was somewhat shocked, to say the least!

I have reblogged Angela‘s post, or you can read it here. She makes some very good points, and I recommend you read it.

As for my thoughts, well it was clear that Cameron played a clever trick, using the politics of fear to paint Labour as being totally dependent on the SNP, and in spite of Labour’s protests, much of the electorate were taken in by him.

In Scotland, Labour probably paid the price for going in with the Conservatives and LibDems in the No campaign, although it is hard to see what else they could have done. I was very impressed by the words of Tom Harris, defeated Labour candidate and former Labour MP for Glasgow South, who said: ‘Let me just say one thing by way of an attempt at political analysis: it’s (probably correctly) assumed that Scottish Labour has paid the price for its support for the No campaign in last year’s referendum. If that is indeed the case, then I have to conclude that it was a price that had to be paid. I and many Scottish Labour colleagues lost our jobs last night, and that’s to be regretted. But if we had lost the referendum, we would have lost our country, and that would have been far, far worse.’ I totally echo these sentiments. We still have the union, and Scottish Labour can rebuild.

As for Labour in England, I don’t subscribe to the view that there is some great crisis that will take years to get over. Ed Miliband did a decent job in the campaign, but throughout the last parliament, and in the campaign itself, not enough was made of the fact that the financial crisis was actually a result of the banking crisis, and that things would have been far worse had Gordon Brown not acted as he did to shore the banks up. Some of these points are made by John Prescott in his Mirror article which appeared over the weekend.  Instead, Labour need a new leader (soon, let’s not wait until September like last time), and a period of strong opposition needs to start. There are many unpopular policies (the bedroom tax to name but one), and the Tory majority is not large.

The European Union referendum is also cause for concern, and a concerted effort needs to be made to emphasise the benefits of our membership. The debate will not be balanced, with so much anti-EU sentiment in the right-wing press, but I am encouraged by the work of groups like British Influence who are already campaigning strongly.

Now it’s time to move on. I will be doing what I can to support Labour’s cause, and the UK’s continuing membership of the EU.  And as if that wasn’t enough, the SNP will probably push for another Independence Referendum in a few years. Difficult times lie ahead indeed.


Rob Jackson:

This was written on the day after the election, and says it all. I am still struggling with writing my own post-election blog post, but it will undoubtedly draw on this one for inspiration!

Originally posted on angiesallsorts:

Prime Minister David Cameron has more than the minimum requisite number of seats to hold a Conservative majority government. The outcome seems to have surprised the TV pundits who expected days of negotiations to form another coalition alliance. My more politically savvy husband Rob is absolutely crest-fallen at the election results, although he admits that I sagely predicted weeks ago the shock waves that have reverberated from this vote.

In 2010 Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg faired very well in the 3 party election debates, and gained far more seats than expected as a result. This enabled his party (third in size) to form a partnership with the Conservatives to govern the country. However, that un-holy alliance I believe caused the support harnessed five years ago to disappear. Thus the 57 seats from 2010 have diminished to just 8 today. Areas deemed a bastion for Liberal Democrat support have…

View original 412 more words

Pre-election thoughts

With the election a few hours away, it’s a case of being patient and controlling expectations. The polls suggest a close result, but as I’ve said before, I don’t take much notice of them, since percentage vote nationwide may not correspond to the results of our first past the post system. I discussed this in detail in a previous post.

For me, the worst outcome would be the Conservatives being returned with enough seats to form a government outright. I’m very concerned about the possibility of a EU referendum (which they have promised), because the result could well be that we leave the EU. (There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the benefits of our EU membership, but that’s a discussion for another day). Another coalition with the LibDems would be a slightly less scary scenario, but it remains to be seen how many seats they get this time. Whether they would have enough political muscle to prevent an EU referendum probably depends on this.

I hope that Labour don’t do as badly in Scotland as predicted (again, see a previous post). A sizeable number of SNP MPs in the Westminster parliament only hastens, in my opinion, the formation of a separate English parliament, and further devolution.

So, while there’s still a chance of Labour getting enough seats to form a government, there’s hope. But it’s a tough call. More once we know the result.

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