It’s that time of year again. Generally I make a resolution not to make any resolutions. However, this year I intend to make a few. The first is to shamelessly promote my books and services in any way and to become a grumpily amusing commentator on micro publishing. And another thing I need to do is to lose quite a lot of weight. In order to do that I must give up the demon alcohol and go on a diet I can stick to. Cursed be the desire to fill up on stodge during the cold weather.
We went off to see The Desolation of Smaug at the local arts centre, the Courtyard Theatre in Hereford. In a surprisingly underpopulated small venue we watched two and a half hours of Peter Jackson’s second part of The Hobbit. Tolkien’s children’s book has been stretched beyond recognition. That is no bad thing as I don’t much care for the book, truth be told. The filming was as dramatic as ever and the dialogue not too stodgy. Steven Fry appears as a shifty small town boss and Smaug the dragon is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems to get everywhere. I was suffering a bad cough and cold, sucking cough sweets to stop me ruining it for everyone else. As I was suffering you might regard this review as being a bit biased. In fact the film was a considerable improvement on the first film. Jackson strayed into Lord of the Rings territory, with Sauron making a prequel appearance. The best thing is to forget that the book exists and just let it all wash over you. The scenery of the Southern Alps is stunning and the cinematography luscious. Some of the sub-plots were a bit daft – actually the entire concept is a bit daft – but overall it was entertaining, so I’ll give it three stars. Make that four to show I’m not reacting too much to my suffering.
If you get the chance, or the DVDs, watch Parade’s End. Benedict Cumberbatch again! The series was brilliantly scripted by Tom Stoppard. Cumberbatch is somewhat miscast but still excellent as genius aristo Christopher Tietjens, socially crippled by outmoded moral values, and Rebecca Hall gives a show-stopping performance as his wife, Sylvia, at the same time reptilian and attractive. This mini series, based on the Ford Madox Ford novels merits five stars.
For those of us who follow the western festival dates and the Gregorian calendar, this is the last few days before Christmas. For myself, I do not even claim to believe in God, let alone the distinction of being a Christian. Yet there is much cultural background in my upbringing which I cannot ignore. I was born into a Christian family, baptised and went to a Church school, so I am definitely in the Christian tradition. Of course there is much in being a Christian, of whatever denomination, which is derived from the Church rather than the teachings of Jesus. There is also a cultural background which is older and deeper than the reformation of Henry VIII. Go back far enough and you end up with the story, or folk myth, of Abraham and the laws of Moses. This background is common to Jews, Christians and Moslems. We are all the children of Abraham. Look at the sixth commandment and you find one of the least equivocal law imaginable, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Subsequent law makers have been attempting to add exclusions to that law since it was presented to man. Somehow I can’t help thinking the original form of the law was best.
Yesterday two men were sentenced for the murder of a musician in the British Army, Lee Rigsby. Rigsby had been run over deliberately and was hacked to death in public view and under the unemotional eyes of security cameras. One of the perpetrators was challenged by a brave woman, and press photographers recorded the grizly scene where the killers attempted to decapitate their victim. The defence given in court was that they were soldiers of Islam, taking revenge for western actions against Muslim nations. Even before being arrested the guilty pair wished to be shot by armed police, but they were only wounded. They wished to be killed and to become martyrs, as they saw it. They will now face a lifetime in prison, with no hope of remission. Both were recent converts to Islam and had been radicalised and both were known to the British security services.
There is no point here trying to apportion blame to the security services while ignoring the reason for the existence of the security services, notably the maintenance of a society which is relatively free. The attack was crude, desperate, stupid and ultimately counterproductive. The desire of the planners of the attack was to sicken people and so undermine western society. What has happened since is the universal condemnation by Moslem clerics, of all persuasions, of the excuse for the attack. There is no justification in religious laws. Such crimes are entirely political and can in no way be justified by any reference to any religion. The perpetrators should not be executed as they desire to be martyrs. That wish should not be granted, even if their definition of martyr is beyond any reason or understanding. It is a perversion of humanity.
Please take careful note that I do not associate Islam with terrorism. All religions have as much to be ashamed of as to be proud of. The Crusaders skinned prisoners alive more for the sadistic pleasure than for any other reason, and the foot soldiers of the First Crusade resorted to cannibalism. Moreover, when they stormed the walls of Jerusalem, they slaughtered almost all the inhabitants, Islamic, Jewish and Christian. This was done using the excuse of religion. The state of Israel came about after a campaign of terrorism. The blowing up of the King David Hotel cannot be thought of as anything other than a terrorist act. Various leading terrorists later became leading politicians and even statesmen.
To return to the beginning, this is, in the largely Christian west, a time of peace, or it should be. Let us reflect on what we have in common, our humanity. For the children of Abraham, let us try to understand what we share rather than concentrating on what separates us. So, a happy Christmas to everyone, and let us hope it will be peaceful.
Apologies in advance for the rant, but this subject has become an axe for me to grind. There are serious discussions on expanding capacity at one or more London airports. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants a new airport built in the Thames Estuary and to have it as a hub for Europe. One plan is to expand Heathrow to have a 4000 metre long runway and have planes landing and taking off at the same time.
The arguments that the airport has to be in London are spurious, the results of blinkered thinking, circular arguments and an unwillingness to make simple links to other developments, specifically HS2. Land values around London are sky high and it is already the only part of the country which is nearing capacity. Britain is a small country, and almost all significant developments in the last thirty years have been around London, merely exacerbating the problem of having a growing population there. Furthermore, we have put all our eggs into one basket, the financial services market which is almost entirely in London. The banking crisis should have shown us that, as a nation, we need (to mix the metaphor), another string to our bow.
Despite all recent developments, many times more people live outside the London catchment area than in it. Having to get to Heathrow from outside the south east is inconvenient, to Gatwick or Stanstead is much worse. Only London has a serious number of international flights, yet the demand is largely (despite the skewed statistics of the advisors), from OUTSIDE London, or at least the numbers are greater, no matter which way you put them.
There is a mindset from those with influence and control which insists that all development has to be in London because that is where the money is. Doh! The reason the money is there is because all the developments in over a generation have been there, and development is what drives economic growth. At the same time, the high speed rail link to Birmingham and from there to Scotland is planned. This still benefits London, but it could benefit other regions too. All it needs is some joined up thinking, some planning on a larger scale. Why not expand Birmingham Airport and link it to HS2. The journey time from Birmingham to London is due to be cut to 35 minutes, which must be quicker than into London from the Thames Estuary or by taxi from Heathrow. Land is much more plentiful and cheap around Birmingham than London and such a development would both relieve the pressure on land around London and provide some benefit to other regions.
On Friday night Hazel had her office Christmas party. I took her into town and collected her afterwards, well past midnight. Last night we went for dinner at a neighbours, staying until midnight. Yesterday was quite a busy day. Not too surprisingly I an feeling a bit tired today. That is fine as I will not have to go to work tomorrow. Christmas and all the celebrating around it is great, but you can get partied out, or I can, at least. The lead up to Christmas seems to get longer every year, and there are sales in the shops even before Boxing day, and that feels decidedly premature. There is still food to buy and presents to wrap, but I am beginning to get into the mood, so, a merry Christmas to all my readers! I am hoping to shift more copies of the books on Kindle over the next few days. The printed copies can be provided at a reasonable price from the website http://www.chelonist.com
I have just finished my first book signing, locally of course. It went pretty well as i sold enough to more than pay for the minor expenses and had a cup of coffee too.
The books are beginning to sell and there is an offer on Kindle for them for a few days. Look for Most Secret and Down in the Flood by Jon Wakeham on the Amazon Kindle store, where they can be obtained for the beggerly sum of 99c each.
If you were not aware of this silly situation, there is no VAT (Value Added Tax) on printed books, but 20% on eBooks. This is because eBooks are regarded as a species of computer software rather than literature. My Kindle steadfastly refuses to run programs, other than a most basic form of browser. If the medium is regarded as the message, then readers of eBooks are to be regarded as 2nd class citizens. Actually, the vast majority of the books I have downloaded were free, and twenty percent of nothing doesn’t amount to much. Many of these books have been scanned in and processed through OCR (Optical Character Recognition). The quality of these is variable, dependent on how well the work has been edited afterwards, to correct errors. Still, I suppose you get what you pay for.