Pre-digital world

Researching your ancestors is a lot of slog, interspersed with exciting finds. The internet has reduced some of the slog, but the best finds, for me, are when I discover what historians call primary sources; actual stuff from the time. This was one of my exciting finds. It is a photograph of the wedding of my maternal grandparents, in 1924 in Brighton. It features three of their parents, my great-grandparents. None of the people in the photograph are now alive; in fact I can think of only a few people I know who ever met any of them.

Pre-digital world 1

It is the only photograph of the wedding of which I am aware. At some time in the distant past, my mother must have shown it to me, because I have a diagram of some of the names.

Going even further back, I have a photograph album of my paternal grandfather’s family. It’s a beautiful album, with a wonderful collection of photos. The problem I have is that I am very vague about some of the faces. I have a few notes from a discussion with my uncle. There is a very old photograph of a very nervous looking old gentleman; could he be my great-great-grandfather? I may never know- probably will never know.

Pre-digital world 2

Pre-digital world 3

Bear with me; I am coming, very tortuously, to the point. I have a lot of photographs of my own wedding. This too was in a pre-digital age. However, weddings I now attend are photographed exhaustively and exhaustingly. There must be literally hundreds of photos taken both by professionals and by guests.

I said more on this in my previous blog, “Digital World”.

So now everything is recorded exhaustively on digital media, whereas only a few precious moments survive from 1924. Further back, no photographic records survive at all.

We are, I think, evolving completely new visions of the world, looking at it in a completely different way from our ancestors, even recent ones. There is no great moral or insight here. I have no opinion on the change (which I am tempted to call a paradigm shift, simply because I love that phrase) apart from again suggesting that we should all sometimes just enjoy the moment.

Oh, yes: LABEL YOUR PHOTOS! Thinkl of poor future researchers who have no idea what they are looking at. And BACK THEM UP!


Digital World

The Obliques recently went to a party. This is an uncommon occurrence It was a very pleasant party, involving food, drink and plenty of people to talk to. But I digress. It was a fancy dress party, and perhaps because of this there was a lot of photograph taking.

Of course, this is not unusual. There is generally a lot of photograph taking. Concerts are a good example. It seems almost compulsory to take photographs of them. Look at any big gig (no, of course I don’t mean classical concerts, although…) and you will see a plethora of phone cameras being used.

For more examples, look at the news. Yesterday I saw film of Pope Francis at a convention, surrounded by phone cameras. Apparently the Queen finds it “strange” to see nothing but the backs of mobile phones whenever she looks up. Look at film of her nowadays and you’ll understand what she means.

I do not claim to be any different. I’ve just had a quick look at the ‘My Pictures’ file on my laptop, and there are apparently 6000 photographs in it. I’m sure there are more than this floating around.

We were fortunate enough to go to the lovely island of Tenerife last year. Just before we went we succumbed to the temptation to buy new smartphones- just for emergencies, you understand. The eldest Ms O. of course told us that we had got the wrong ‘phones; and as so often, she is right. But I digress (again). The result of us taking the ‘phones was that we took hundreds of photos. Literally hundreds. We used our old camera as well

Holiday snip

We all take photographs of everything; sunsets, meals, parties, concerts, celebrities, car crashes, trees. We share them obsessively on Facebook, Instagram, etc. It’s as if it has not happened if it has not been recorded. I am tempted to say our experiences need validation.

I make no judgement on this, except to say that it may sometimes make a richer experience just to experience an event and to remember that experience for yourself. I sometimes say to people around me: “Just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the view.”

(More on this at a later date.)

Reading in Public 2

Another miscellany of books I have observed being read in public since 30th October. Well, I enjoyed writing it……

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown A lady was very absorbed in this in Waitrose; for a mad moment, I thought it was the new autobiography by recent British Prime Minister (briefly) Gordon Brown. How bold of him, I thought, to use such a title. Then reason re-asserted itself; at this time his memoir had not yet been released in hardback, let alone paperback. Also the photo on the back cover appeared to be of a lady, and I was not aware of Mr Brown having had any spectacular reassignment of his preferred gender. I fell to speculating what the reader was thinking as she read; was she absorbed in a fiction? Then she looked to see how many pages she had left, rather shattering the illusion. The book apparently addresses “the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone”. (Did Gordon Brown need this, I wonder?) The author is apparently a TedTalk phenomenon- a good recommendation- and a New York Times bestselling author. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appeal.

Next: in Brasserie Blanc, of all places, was a lady dining alone and reading. How wonderful that somebody combines those two great pleasures, solo, with no apparent self-consciousness. The light was a bit dim, but I worked out that the book was by Colm Toíbín. It was one of those covers where the author’s name is bigger than the title. Hmm. Possibly the book was his latest, House of Names, a “brilliant retelling of a Greek tragedy”. Hmm. Possibly another one I shall pass by. His work sounds dry, but as usual, who am I to judge? (Did you notice I was able to put the accent on the í?)

Following this, I spot a gentleman in the Waitrose café reading Tom Clancy’s True Faith and Allegiance: a Jack Ryan novel by Mark Greaney. Now there’s a title that needs a bit of unpacking. It appears that Tom Clancy did not write his later novels alone and that after his death further novels under his name were written by others. They are thrillers, for those like me who have not read them. Apparently they have a rather conservative world view; that’s an American conservative world view, with Reagan as a hero. Apparently. Correct me if I’m wrong. Again it’s a comforting thought, whatever your politics, that people enjoy reading when they’re on their own in public.  The next day, however, I saw the same gentleman reading on a Kindle. How I wish I had the nerve to ask what titles are being read on Kindles and the like. Plato, Porn, Proust, Pamuk, Patterson…. ? On another occasion, a reader had their Kindle propped up on a stand. Obviously in for the long haul.

Equally I wish I’d asked the title of the slim tome  being read by a (student?) girl at a bus stop. Is it inappropriate to ask a stranger of the opposite sex such a question in this day and age, even with Mrs O. chaperoning? Strange times.

I had another difficulty at the swimming pool the other day, where I saw somebody reading; but I didn’t have my glasses on, so had no chance of finding the title. (Note: if I don’t acknowledge you when swimming, I’m not ignoring you; if I stare fixedly at you, it’s not that I find you attractive or unattractive in your costume; it’s just that beyond a distance of about 3m you all look like pink or brown blobs if I haven’t got my specs on.)

There was also a child reading at the pool, but I don’t think it counts; she had so obviously been told to “do some reading” while a sibling was having a lesson. Back at my usual haunt, a boy (the same young gentleman who partly inspired Reading in Public) is reading Third Year at Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton. Maybe a strange choice for this day and age? I had my Enid Blyton stage, but that was a long time ago.

Another reader, with a laptop, who is obviously going to be in the café for a long time, has a bag (with Minions on it) from which she pulls a procession of academic texts. I identify The Handbook of Person-Centred Therapy and Mental Health: Theory, Research and Practice by Stephen Joseph and a title of which I can only read one word: “Authentic”. When I look up the first title on Amazon I find that “Customers who viewed The Handbook of Person-Centred Therapy.…” also viewed Authentic by the same author. It’s all too deep for me; and doesn’t really count as getting involved in a book. Nor does the lady who is looking at her diary; despite Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on the matter, she was probably just checking on birthdays. Ooh, the academic lady has just got a book called ‘Learning and Being’ from her Minions bag. I think this must be Learning and Being in Person-Centred Counselling by Tony Merry. You see where she’s going with this? I hope it’s a good journey, and has a real relevance to her career or life, or both.

There you are then. No deep conclusions, just the abiding thought of how lovely it is to see somebody lost in a good book.

(Of course, having finished this post and not published it, the list slowly goes on lengthening. Part of this interest- all of it, really- is just an abiding curiosity as to what people are reading. The above-mentioned young gentleman is now onto The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl. I’ve just noticed a lady reading The Girls. Investigation tells me it is a coming-of-age story centred on Charles Manson, written by Emma Cline. Hmm. Think I’ll stick to the Ms Oblique library for the near future.)

‘Running Girl’ and ‘Kid Got Shot’ by Simon Mason

These novels were two of the batch I recently received from the Ms O. #1 Lending Library. (See  The Ms Oblique Library )

Running Girl‘Running Girl’ was, to use a hackneyed phrase, a breath of fresh air. I suppose it’s a Young Adult detective story. The main protagonist (why do people seem to frequently say “chief protagonist”?) is Garvie Smith, a disaffected teenage genius. A former girlfriend of his has been murdered and he is, naturally, drawn to find the killer. Detective Inspector Singh has been assigned to the case; he is described as “stiff and uncompromising”. Their two paths intertwine; the story is told from both viewpoints, although Garvie’s predominates.

So far, so standard, and the plot is just that: a standard detection story, with characteristic twists and turns. Why then do I think it’s so fresh? To start with, it’s told well. There’s no gimmicky or attempt at unnecessary  novelty. It can be followed with no difficulty apart from the puzzle itself. Perhaps this is a function of reading a YA detective story after more convoluted adult versions.

Then the characters are involving; I think we always have to have a concern for what happens to characters and to feel some sort of empathy for them. Garvie and Singh are well drawn, rounded people, with their virtues and faults.

The language used, especially in descriptions, is nice and clear. (Yes, I do mean nice.) I like “black holly and pale beech trees darkening with rain” and “his short black hair stood up from his head in a layer of fine bristles”. The author avoids overdoing similes and metaphors or straining for them. The dialogue sounds accurate.

Kid Got ShotIn ‘Kid Got Shot’ we encounter the same principal characters in changed circumstances. The storyline again involves a teenager who is murdered. There is an interesting mix of racial backgrounds; the victim is Polish, and I forgot to mention above that Garvie is mixed Scottish and Barbadian, the detective Singh a Sikh. New characters include a comic but menacing gangster.

Once again the descriptive passages, which normally I skim through in my lust for a plot, are evocative and involving, making me read them more than once. Some noteworthy examples are the description of wire fences chattering in the wind, while “clouds tore  themselves to pieces and tossed the bits against the dark sky”; shredded cherry tree blossoms “like party-coloured fish flakes in the gutters”; and tower blocks like “vast grey Stickle bricks…. sequinned with satellite dishes, standing in a concrete pool”.

There is only veiled mention of sex and some limited violence. This may or may not please you.

There is more emphasis on Garvie and his peculiar, reckless personality than before, perhaps less attention to Singh and Garvie’s friends, less attention to school. There is more plot; is again rather involved and I’m not sure even now that I am completely clear about what led to the murder and the motives for it. There are some loose ends which could be tied up nicely in a third book: How does Garvie get on in his exams? What is the outcome for Singh? I recommend both books.

Did you notice I split an infinitive? Apparently that’s O.K. now. But there are some grammatical rules up with which I will not put. And that’s my last word.

Blue Planet/ Dead Planet?

I was persuaded to watch ‘Blue Planet II” (BBC1). It’s packed with beautiful film of gorgeous and strange living things, some so strange that they are almost unbelievable. What about a 2m long blue tube swimming around? That’s as long as me. What about a pair of shrimps that live inside a sponge and are too big ever to get out again? The Asian Sheephead Wrasse, the Giant Trevally, the Zebra Mantis…. The list goes on and on. Initially at least I just sat in an almost meditative awe.

Some time through the second episode the doubts and reservations began to creep in. Deep sea coral reefs are apparently being obliterated by deeper fishing techniques, utilised because more easily accessible sources are being exhausted. The sea is in many places filling with tiny plastic particles. Global warming is causing irreversible damage.

This disruption and destruction of beautifully balanced eco-systems makes me despair, and that despair is why I generally don’t watch wildlife programmes. I know that we are increasingly quickly destroying life on Earth. I don’t know what I can do about it, apart from bluster.

(Am I just uselessly hoping this will go away if I ignore it?)


Cheilinus Undulatus by Luc Viatour  ( CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


X was trouble. He didn’t mean to be trouble. He just ended up in trouble.

There was the time X came to me, indignant because another boy had punched him in the toilets. Trying to be fair to the notoriously trouble-prone X, I quizzed the other boy closely.

“What are you playing at? How dare you punch him?”


“Go on!”

“We were standing in the toilets…..”


“And he turned round and peed on my shoes.”

Then there was the occasion when he tried to poke his tongue through the grille of the fan in the library. You get the picture.

Sadly I cannot remember any further incidents involving X. I should have followed the example of an elderly retired teacher I once knew, who wrote down every incident in his career and got two modestly profitable books out of his diaries. This has been repeated more recently.

I disliked hardly any of the children I taught, and I tried very hard not to have favourites, but I suppose I felt very sympathetic towards the guilelessly naughty, particularly boys, who frequently knew they were going to get into trouble but went and did it anyway. As I tiresomely and repeatedly pointed out in assemblies, when a child simply says: “Yes, I did it- sorry” it’s very hard to get cross.

Y was also trouble, in a very different way. When we were first married, Mrs O. would come in to school to do cooking with children from my class. She found Y at breaktime copying down a recipe for scone pizzas (a very good recipe). “You don’t have to do that,” she said.

“Oh, I’m going to cook it for my dinner, Miss,” he told her. Y’s mum did not spend a lot of time looking after him. Hence it was no surprise when he came in one morning and told us that he’d been down the pub with her and that she’d been arrested after a punch-up. He matter-of-factly went on to say that he’d been put with a new lady who said he could call her Mum. Later I heard that he had been expelled (that’s ‘permanently excluded’. children) from secondary school for head butting another student.

Much later we met a smart young man in the street. He told us that he was Y, and (justifiably proudly) that he was now a male nurse.

My teaching career, mostly in leafy suburbs, was however very peaceful and uneventful compared to a huge number of the people I am still proud to call colleagues, doing a superb job in trying and even threatening circumstances round the country and aropund the world. My apologies to them for these minor musings.

‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ by V.E. Schwab

Briefly. Another book from the Ms Oblique library. It’s fantasy, and I suspect Young Adult. Oh no, I just looked it up: apparently it’s not, as Ms. Schwab publishes YA books as V.E. Swab and adult books as Victoria Schwab. Come to think of it, I think it would be rather dark to be YA; but who knows nowadays. It does have a freshness that has the feel of a youngish readership.

Kell is a magician who has the rare ability to travel between three different versions of London: Grey, Red and White. In the past, Black London was uncontrollably magical and has been walled off from the other dimensions. Now it is a threat again.

There’s good consistency of invention in the book, with no implausible solutions. The contrasting Londons are nicely described and delineated. There’s a good action plot, with not too much introspection. Kell is a well-portrayed central character, a hero who is not infallible. Of course, there is a sidekick, Lila, a good action heroine, but the romance is very understated.

I started it with an impatience to be back to science fiction, but found it was one of those compelling reads which have you snatching a few pages whenever you can. Recommended.

(It’s the first of a series.)


Photo of Victoria Schwab: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons