The Ms Oblique Library

LoansFurther to my last blog on “Print Junkies” I was fortunate enough to visit Miss (or Ms) Oblique #1 at the weekend. She and her partner, the erudite Red Rob, have an extensive and growing library, reflecting their varying interests of politics, military history, art, fantasy, SF, young adult fiction and much, much more. As is often the case on these sadly infrequent visits, I returned a stack of books that I had borrowed and came away with an even bigger stack, all recommended by the aforementioned Ms Oblique. This is of very little interest to anybody else, but I wanted to thank her with this brief post and to show the world what a 27 year old doing an MA in publishing thinks her 62 year old father with an MA in Education will enjoy. (She is very rarely wrong.) Thanks, Ms Oblique.


Print Junkies

Many years ago I was privileged to hear Harold Rosen give a talk at Southampton University. (A few years later I was privileged to hear his son, Michel Rosen, give a talk to teachers and read his poetry, in a classroom in a primary school in Winchester. For free. But I digress.)

I don’t remember the title of Harold Rosen’s talk and I remember virtually nothing of its content. It must have been something to do with reading, or literacy before that became a term hijacked by the as yet unborn National Curriculum. (Yes, children, there was a time before the National Curriculum and I was there. I am that old.) I probably took some notes, but these must be long gone, maybe even in the final clearout I made of all but a few sentimental items from my teaching career.

All I remember of the talk is Mr Rosen calling his audience of teachers and academics ‘print-oriented junkies’. He was right about me then and right about me now.

The Bookworm by Carl SpitzwegWhen I was younger I was that mythical person, a reader of cornflakes packets. If we still ate cornflakes, I would still be that person now. I am addicted to print. If cleaning my shoes (which is rare since I stopped working) I have to read articles in the discarded newspapers I am using. Mrs Oblique still gets annoyed, quite rightly, at my habit of reading signs aloud as we drive or walk down the street. I am addicted to print, especially books.

Like any addict, I do my best to avoid being without my fix. The Kindle has helped. I make sure I have books ready on it whenever we go away, but also take a print/ real book “just in case” the Kindle fails. Another digression: I recently recklessly loaded up on Amazon recommendations for my Kindle when we went away for a fortnight, only to find that at least three of them were dross. But anything will do when you’re craving a hit.

If I go into somebody else’s house, I make a beeline straight for their bookshelves. (Why is it a beeline? Do they always fly straight to their target?) Since I decluttered my own library, as documented earlier on this blog, I am sometimes saddened by the losses from mine. I always expected to have a huge, rambling library in my third age, but living with other people involves compromise.

It’s always a pleasure to meet another print junkie. My eldest daughter is one. She says her gateway drug was ‘The Hobbit’. I am delighted that she is now recommending books to me. I don’t look down on people who don’t read, but I wonder what they get our of life.

Addictions or obsessions have their problems. I have on occasion, probably fairly, been accused of ignoring people because I have had my head in a book. Maybe more seriously, I think that being a fluent reader might have handicapped me in my approach to young readers, both as a parent and as a reader. It’s always been hard to empathise with somebody who just doesn’t get reading, no matter what I might claim.

Now to continue with Miss O’s latest recommendation. ‘Ancillary Justice’, by Ann Leckie, as you are so kind to ask.

The illustration is ‘The Bookworm’ by Karl Spitzweg, in public domain. Mrs O. was unavailable for illustrating duties, being occupied making Dockers’ Chutney.



‘The Day of the Triffids’ by John Wyndham

One of my top three SF novels. But has it stood the test of time?

I have no idea how many time I have read ‘Day of the Triffids’ (1951), or when I first encountered it. I can quote chunks of it. John Wyndham has written other novels with a disaster theme, for example ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’, but this is the best known. It has been filmed and dramatised for TV and radio.

20170908_151603Most of humanity has been blinded by a spectacular meteor display, which may be due to human intervention. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the threat of the Triffids soon emerges. They are tall, walking, poisonous plants, grown for their high quality oil. Escaping from cultivation, they take advantage of the blind.

What makes this book such a good read is the logical, reasoned way in which it develops from these speculative elements. It doesn’t invent anything else; it just explores what could happen. Variations in individual morals, from altruism to pure self-interest, cause variations in the way individuals cope. Different communities struggle to survive in very different ways. A great interest is in the human interaction and the effects the disaster has on the country.

Of course, this book has aged; but I would say enjoyably. In many ways, the science is remarkably prescient; nowadays, 66 years on, we would say that the Triffids were genetically engineered. Developments in IT are really not relevant, because of the lack of electricity that would soon develop. Other than the science, there is pleasure in what is now a period setting.

I am not sure how somebody new to this book, especially somebody much younger, would react. It may be that its time has gone, at least until it becomes truly historic. I re-read it with great enjoyment, along with some mild amusement at how it is beginning to date.

The Three Best SF Novels Ever

This is a very personal choice. I like plausible, near future SF. I’m not a great fan of space opera or wild fantasising. All of the three I have chosen start from a believable twist or speculative element, then follow the plausible consequences.

The Day of the Triffids (1951): John Wyndham

An end of the world as we know it story.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Arthur C. Clarke

A alien artefact is found on the moon.

The Martian (2014): Andy Weir

An astronaut is stranded on Mars


I am re-reading these and will write brief reviews. But how can I have forgotten to include a fourth book…….

Neuromancer (1984): William Gibson

The first cyberpunk novel, allegedly.

Bar El Camino, Puerto de la Cruz

In the unlikely event that you should find yourself in Puerto de la Cruz, I can recommend this tapas bar.

Bar 2Bar

It’s right on a steep path of terraces and steps, so passers-by are feet (sorry, a metre or two) away. The seating is limited: no more than seven or eight tables outside and a few inside. The menu is limited: a selection of tapas of the day. We took the line of least resistance the first time and had the mixed tapas. This was so successful we did it again.

20170901_133212We start with cold Dorado beer; hey, this isn’t England and it’s not real ale, you know. Then there’s warm bread and garlicky mayonnise. (A first: Miss O. the youngest eats it.) Then our tapas arrive. There are lovely soft butter beans; goat in a sauce; pork meatballs in a sauce; fish and potato wrapped in batter; potatoes; salad with olives and fish bits. That might be it. I got so excited I can’t necessarily remember. Sorry about the lack of detail, but it was all delicious. Miss O. has Canarian wrinkly potatoes in a spicy sauce and eats all of them. Wow!

BarraquitosWe follow this with barraquitos: layers of condensed milk (really), coffee, Quarante y Trés liqueur, whipped cream and lemon. I think. My Spanish is minimal. “Do you know how to drink this?” the waiter asks. Of course not. “Take a photograph on your phone, them stir it and drink.” It’s sweet, very much a holiday drink. We pay what seems a very low price for the outstanding meal we have had and wander off for a siesta.

(Bar El Camino, Camino de las Cabras, Puerto de la Cruz. Of course, it would be on Trip Advisor, wouldn’t it? I haven’t read any reviews though. Take it from me, it’s great.)

Forgotten Dishes 8: Soufflé Suissesse

This title is cheating. Souffle Suissesse is very much not a forgotten dish. However, I felt I wanted a link of some sort……

I was looking through the Sunday Times magazine, and found a recipe for this soufflé which looked fairly easy. Oh silly me. It’s apparently a Michel Roux Jr. signature dish… but hey, it’s a soufflé! I can make soufflés!

How can I have got it so wrong? Maybe I haven’t got the right dishes. Maybe I haven’t got the right techniques. I’m sure I got the right ingredients. There’s oodles of cream in this. It should be a sure success, even if not perfect.

Well, it was very rich, but as you can see, it was a puddle of rich goo. We ate it; the ever-enterprising Mrs O. even turned the left-overs into a flan. I think I’ll stick to tried and tested cheese soufflé in the future and leave such things to the professionals.


So, what would YOU do about education? Part 5

There was some grumbling in the café of the (apparently) posh supermarket today about school in-service days. In England, these are taken at the discretion of individual schools, for the in-service education or professional development of teachers. Basically the staff are working while the children have a holiday; it can admittedly be very difficult for parents when children are at different schools. This got Mrs Oblique and I thinking about some radical changes which are long overdue in education.

  1. Why not allow parents to send their children in for INSET days? They could play while the teachers are doing whatever teachers do.
  2. School staff ought to be grateful to have these short breaks; they should feel privileged to have electricity, water, gas, etc. provided for them. In fact, they should pay the school for all these facilities.
  3. On second thoughts, this ridiculous professional development idea ought to stop. If teachers aren’t good enough, they should either get out or learn how to do it properly in their own time.
  4. School holidays are clearly too long. Much, much too long. This is the grumble of all parents. Parents actually have to acquaint themselves with their children, which is clearly not a good idea. Instead, we propose that staff should run free holiday clubs on all holiday days. These could start nice and early in the mornings- say 6 a.m.- and end at around 9 p.m. Regardless of ability, these could make sure that all children achieve good progress. It would enable staff to keep themselves active. They must get bored during the holidays. They could also do the cleaning, which would widen their experience.
  5. In fact, let’s extend this idea to weekends.
  6. In fact, school should run 365 days a year from 6 in the morning to 9 in the evening. Whatever do teachers do all the time?
  7. We get the impression that some parents feel that teachers are being inconsiderate in having any time off at all; and some teachers will argue that they won’t have any time to get home. To allay their fears, we are prepared to allow teachers to camp on the school field overnight. We might even provide tents. In return, they can cut the grass every morning. With school scissors.
  8. We have heard ridiculous tales of parents buying £40 and £50 gift tokens for teachers. Ridiculous.  (Do we repeat ourselves? Tough.) We feel that teachers ought to buy presents for teachers instead. £100 tokens for each child in the class should do it.
  9. While we’re about it, the standards in education are apalling. Penalty clauses for underperformance will fix this. Let’s say… £250 for every child who doesn’t hit their targets.

It sounded much funnier when we were coming up with the ideas. I wonder how many people would agree with at least 50% of it. Happy holidays, staff and students.