Sunday 28 October 2007

"I Was a Rat!" by Philip Pullman

Another Philip Pullman book, this time aimed at kids but just as entertaining as an adult as it would be for a child. Little Roger was turned into a boy, and despite his best efforts to integrate, the whole mad adult world is turned against him by their own ignorance and the gutter press. It's hilariously literal and doesn't condescend at all, and the whole concept of tabloid newspapers is explained entirely accurately for children in just a few very funny pages.

Any fluent child reader should be able to manage this on their own since most of the difficult words are easily deduced by their context, although many like "malevolent", "furtive" and "squalor" would be worth the effort of looking them up, and you're obviously not really expected to know what "anthropoid" means anyway.

I remember in third year that my primary school ran out of books that I would read, since their libraries were arranged according to reading level, and could only get a purple sticker if they consistently avoided big words but contained the requisite number of purple-level words. Someone must have had to count them. This resulted in shelf upon shelf of books with consistent vocabulary, rather than anything with a plot and a sense of humour which might have motivated any of us to pick them up in the first place.

"I Was a Rat" probably wouldn't get a purple sticker because "malevolent" almost certainly wasn't on the purple list, but even an "orange" reader would get enough of the plot to get hooked, and if it's too much work it'd be just as much fun for an adult as a child to read aloud, although make sure you're sitting close enough to see the illustrations.

Saturday 27 October 2007

"The Shadow in the North" and "The Tiger in the Well" by Philip Pullman

Damn, damn, DAMN!!

I've finished another Philip Pullman book. He shouldn't be allowed to put back covers on them, it's such agony to get to the end. There should be a helpline number in the back before the ads for other books.

I didn't realise until I got to the end of "The Tiger in the Well" that it's the third part of a trilogy, which I'm reading backwards now because a friend has lent me the second book "The Shadow in the North". I've just finished that too, so I'm going to have to go out tomorrow like some desperate junky to find a bookshop selling "The Ruby in the Smoke" before the withdrawal gets too bad and I start burgling houses that might have a copy. I cannot get enough Philip Pullman.

It didn't spoil much to have read the third book before the second because I'd forgotten until a few pages beforehand about the untimely death of one of the characters, although knowing it was coming those few pages earlier did then mean spending a little longer in the grip of unbelievable nail-biting stomach-churning bloody tension. People who think of reading as a relaxing activity are not reading the right books.

The plots have me skipping compulsively down the pages, but I have to read every line properly to catch all the subtle expressions, tiny clues, and the beautiful, horrible, detailed and often smelly descriptions of Victorian London streets and houses which give as much character to the places as the people. I found when I was reading"His Dark Materials" that I constantly felt cold, and for the last few days I've been unusually sensitive to bad smells after reading descriptions, for instance, of a forgotten river flowing under London carrying effluent from the pits full of bodies of plague victims.

It's intelligent, riveting and utterly vivid. If you've never read this then go out and get it right now. You might want to fill a Thermos flask so you don't have to stop for tea breaks.

Saturday 20 October 2007

Farting Fish

When I was eleven I desperately wanted a dog for christmas, but since my mum didn’t want to spend the next fifteen years traipsing around the park with it every few hours she said no. I offered to settle for a cat instead – a good few years had elapsed since our last cat had run away and I thought my mum had probably forgotten by then. She hadn’t. I tried for a hamster or something, but my mum also remembered the gerbils that had died just because we’d gone away on holiday and left them, so a few weeks before christmas I’d downgraded again to goldfish, which I also wasn’t going to get. We went to some kind of grown-up house party, and as well as being told I’d grown and being forced to say something about what I’d been doing at school (hiding, mostly), I was asked what I wanted for christmas. Before my mum had time to roll her eyes, the other grown-ups realised they’d found something to talk about with a shy eleven-year-old, and whisked me outside to see the goldfish in their garden pond which had just had little baby goldfish… We went home with six of them flapping around in a bag of pond water, and I kept goldfish for the next seventeen years.

They’re not the same ones now, although goldfish can live much longer than they’re usually allowed to – they have their reputation for dying only because so many people stick them in a stupid bowl, feed them too much, and say within their hearing that they’re probably going to die in a couple of days. They actually need oxygen and friendly bacteria too, but once that’s sorted out they’re happy and hassle-free for months on end, and don’t even leave hair on the carpet.

Just occasionally they need some help though. Today one of mine has been hanging uncomfortably from the surface of the water most of the time, and after watching it for a while I saw it fart, which I can’t imagine the other fish were very impressed by. It looks a bit bloated too, and has probably eaten far too much of the new plants I’ve just put in, the greedy little blighter.

There will be a small white bottle called “Fartozine” or “Aquafart” at the back of Pet City (fantastic shop) which cures gastro-intestinal bloating in freshwater fish but kills invertebrates and all the friendly bacteria in the tank. It probably costs five or six quid, has a 50% success rate, is made by some big pharmaceutical company or other and is flown around the world a couple of times just for fun before it reaches me. I’ve used stuff like that before because if a fish is seriously ill then I just want it to get better, but if I had wind myself I’d just eat something else to sort it out, and I don’t see why a goldfish can’t do the same.

I’ve been growing tee tree plants in my flat, and the last couple of times a goldfish has had a fungal infection or scratched itself on a rock I’ve put a couple of leaves in the water and it healed up in no time – curiously without killing off all the filtration bacteria, even though tee tree is anti-bacterial. My books say that mint and chamomile both help digestion and wind colic, so I’ve made the fish a nice cup of chamomile tea and chucked it in the tank with a mint leaf. The sick one actually looks better after about three hours, and now none of them should suffer from insomnia or painful menstruation either, according to the book.

So now it’s feeling better it’s started munching all the plants again. I can HEAR you all remarking on their three second memory span, stoppit! It’s not even true. Their short-term memory is supposed to be about SEVEN seconds, but they have a long-term memory too, and very good eyesight. They can recognise the person who feeds them, and can even be taught to do simple tricks, you just have to repeat things often enough to get it into their long-term memory.

I wonder if I could teach this one to make itself a cup of chamomile tea?

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Number 1 Green Blogger!

Oh wow, look - I’m apparently Number One Green UK Blogger!

Jim Jay of The Daily (Maybe)
has done the chapter on "The State of Green Blogging" for the Guide to Political Blogging by Ian Dale. He’s included a list of the top 20 green blogs, and there at the top of that list with a number 1 next to it is THIS BLOG!

I’m a bit stunned really, I didn’t realise that anyone actually read it apart from people searching for “Are tea bags compostable?” on Google. Lots of people are obsessed with compost. Anyway, now you can vote for the "people's choice" blog out of the top 20 list, so if you'd like to further boost both my ego and my astonishment then you can vote here.

Saturday 13 October 2007

New Things

Not many actual posts here recently, but I have been adding links so maybe now is a good time to point you at some cool and groovy things I’ve found.

Melanie’s Bean Sprouts blog is the latest addition to my blogroll since it’s more or less what my own blog would be like if it were better. Stephen Fry has also started a blog, with very long essays that I find a bit hard to read on a computer screen but which are so far typically chatty and intelligent.

I haven’t done many posts about my penchant for sick/weird stuff here, but at the risk of freaking some people out a bit I really like the Deviant’s Dictionary for its frank and informative explanations of unusual sexual practices. If that doesn’t give you any new ideas then try How Can I Recycle This? For some further interesting alternative uses for household objects…

A new addition to my “Fun and Pointless” links is Clones and Posessed Children, a sick and weird online cartoon book by an artist I wish I could find more from. If you like children more philosophical and with less blood then Calvin and Hobbes is subversive and cute at the same time, and I totally identify with the way Calvin’s imagined and real worlds overlap so seamlessly. Talking tigers rather than talking rabbits, but much the same “only child” thing going on there I think.

Feel free to suggest more, there’s plenty of room in the side bar yet and I’ll add any I particularly like to help you all kick your terrible Facebook addictions.

Kirsty is “looking forward to going out tomorrow night!” apparently.

Sunday 7 October 2007


We’ve been vandalised again.

All my neighbour’s apples were taken, from two three-year-old trees that had their first good crop this year which was almost ready to harvest. Her pumpkins were all taken, her peppers and chillis were thrown around the place, my pond was trampled and a couple of apples and a pumpkin thrown in it.

But what’s really weird and disturbing this time is that our bathroom sink has been un-plumbed and removed, as has the toilet cistern and one of the taps a couple of plots away. We hear there are gangs going around nicking stuff like that for the value of the copper in the pipes, which is apparently worth more than all the tools which were left in the shed and the bolt cutter that they left at the scene. Bizzare.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Burma Solidarity Action

From Leeds-Bradford Indymedia:

Around 30 activists blockaded a Total petrol station to protest against the company's heavy involvement with the military junta in Burma which is responsible for the deaths of several protesters in just the last few days.

Total is in a joint venture with the Burmese dictatorship in the Yadana gas project, which earns the regime hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of the Burmese government under house arrest, says: “Total has become the main supporter of the military regime”. Read more here.