Book Corner


The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

I rediscovered this wonderful book during my recent holiday. This is the story of Quoyle, a hapless, large overweight man with two daughters from a failed marriage with an unfaithful wife who died in a car crash. It tells of his move back to his root in Newfoundland and his attempts to reintegrate himself into the society of his ancestral home, Killick-Claw. He has an on-off affair with a widow, Wavie Prowse, who has a handicapped son. Quoyle finds a job on the local paper, the Gammy Bird, and is responsible for reporting the movement of ships in and out of the harbour, hence the book’s title.

A quoyle is a spiral coil made of one layer only and laid on the deck of a ship so it can be walked over easily if necessary – an apt description of Proulx’s (anti)-hero. Each chapter starts with a description of a knot or some other maritime term and these form the source for her imagery, each knot or term foreshadowing the events of the chapter.

Proulx’s characterisation is superb – she has a penchant for characters who are down on their luck or have eccentricities. The story has moments of high pathos and rich comedy –  the storm and its consequences and the funeral being particular highlights. Although it has its dark moments the book is eventually a triumph of hope over adversity.

Proulx’s style is characterised by short sentences with minimal regard to grammatical conventions. It is difficult to get used to but has the effect of moving the book along with pace.

A wonderful book and I am glad I took the opportunity to revisit it.


In Graham We Trust – Part Fourteen

Thirteen down, thirty three to go, thirty seven points to find.

Portsmouth 3 TMS 1

To Fratton Park for TMS’ first game against Pompey in 23 years (lost 2-0 in Jan 1989) to see TMS extend their miserable record there to played 10 lot 10. At least they scored yesterday, Morgan joining Mal Starkey (1961) and Steve Cross (1983) as the only TMS players to have scored there..

An unchanged TMS started brightly and were the better team in the first half, Parry missing a marvellous opportunity blazing wide when it seemed easier to score.

In the second half one or two players seemed below par – sleeping tablets rather than caffeine pills? – and rather like the Notts County game away the match came to life in a frenetic six minute period around the hour mark. First Portsmouth capitalised on a blunder by Hector to take the lead through Thomas and then shortly afterwards McLoed chipped Weale to put Pompey two up. Almost immediately Morgan pulled one back following up on a rebound but almost immediately blotted his copybook (and compounded TMS’ problems) by getting into a dispute with the ref which earned him hi marching orders.

TMS huffed and puffed and tried to get back into the match but to no avail and to make matters worse were hit at the death by a McLoed breakaway, TMS didn’t play badly and for times were much the better team. However, in Thomas and McLoed Pompey had players who knew how to convert their chances.

TMS need to get back on track with their next two games – home to Yeovil and Colchester – looking increasingly more important.

Gardening Corner


Proponents of the legalisation of pot have long stressed its medicinal benefits. I came across a strange twist on this claim today in a report of the trial of Michael Foster, aged 62, and Susan Cooper, 63. The couple were convicted and jailed for three years each for growing cannabis on their farm in Lincolnshire. Police discovered £20,000 worth of cannabis in a carrier bag and 159 plants. Their annual electricity bill had increased by £2,000 due, they claimed, to their pottery business which involved the use of a kiln.

Part of their defence was that a large part of the profits from their illicit activities was spent on philanthropic acts such as paying for life-saving surgery for a villager near Mombasa in Kenya, for computer equipment for a Kenyan eye hospital and for the education of children. The couple frequently travelled down to East Africa. However, the beak wouldn’t have anything of it and sent them down.

The discovery was made when an officer of the law was chasing a burglar and recognised the distinctive smell, presumably not of the foot odour coming off the miscreant’s footwear. It was not reported whether the burglar was ever apprehended.  

Gardening has long been described as the new rock and roll and perhaps some of the baby boomer generation are taking this analogy too literally. I know for sure that when TOWT next drags me to the local gardening centre, I will pay particular attention to the pot plants section.  


Your Last Request

When you get to my age you begin to feel the cold wind of mortality blow – bits start packing up, you feel unusual aches and pains and you can’t quite do what you used to. For some people there is no better time than when you still have your marbles to start planning your funeral. After all, the Egyptian pharoahs and other ancient potentates spent the greater part of their mortal lives planning for their ultimate demise. I suppose it seems worth the investment if you are convinced that you are going to be heading off to an eternal after life.

For those of us who are less optimistic or suspect that with our luck we will be going on the down escalator, the minutiae of the funeral service is our only opportunity for a bit of sport. ‘Elf and safety has put an end to going out with a bang – no longer can you look forward to being cooked with a couple of bangers tucked inside your best whistle or being cremated with pacemaker still attached. I’ve always fancied mummification myself but TOWT has never been too impressed.

For mere mortals the only opportunity to cut a dash at your own funeral is through the music you choose. A recent survey by the Co-operative Funeralcare has revealed that now at two thirds of funerals the deceased is sent off to what my be termed popular ditties rather than to hymns or other forms of traditional music. Top of the pops is Frank Sinatra’s My Way (natch – would be so much better with a firework spectacular), followed by Time To Say Goodbye and Wind Beneath My Wings. The top three hymns are Abide With Me, The Lord Is My Shepherd and All Things Bright and Beautiful. The top three classical pieces are Elgar’ Nimrod, Pachabel’s Canon in D and Schubert’s Ave Maria. For those of a more michieveous bent there’s Alwys Look On The Bright Side of Life, the Ying Tong Song and Bat Out of Hell. All fairly predictable.

I’m still cogitating but at the moment my favourites are Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, The End by the Doors, Meet on the Ledge by Fairport or Fearless by Pink Floyd. I hope I have a little longer to make up my mind but I am feeling a little faint as I type this. I hope to be back with you tomorrow.

The Meaning Of Life – Part Six Of Forty Two

Why does your voice sound different when you hear it recorded?

Air conducted sound is transmitted through the external auditory canal, ear drum and middle ear to the cochlea.  Bone conducted sound reaches the cochlea directly through the tissues of the head.  The properties of your head enhance the deeper, lower-frequency vibrations of bone conducted sound.

When  you speak the voice you hear travels through both paths. When you hear a recording you only hear the air-conducted component. Hence the difference.

So now we know!

Book Corner

In a (vain) attempt to raise the intellectual content of this blog an occasional feature will be a review of a book I have recently read. First up is Jenny Uglow’s The Pinecone.

At first blush a book entitled The Pinecone and about the building of a small church in the Cumbrian village of Wreay does not sound particularly appealing but Jenny Uglow’s latest offering is a tour-de-force of her knowledge of and sympathy with the intellectual circles of late eighteenth century and nineteenth century England. Her heroine, Sarah Losh, belonged to a family that was well connected with the leading lights of the time and the area – Coleridge and Wordsworth were friends – and were in the vanguard of technological advancement, particularly railways, and their fortunes were subject to the ups and downs of the unregulated banking sector.

Sarah’s creative burst came after the death of her sister and close companion, Katherine. Sarah built a gloomy mausoleum for her with an imposing and spooky statue of her sister. The church was ahead of its time as she chose to build it in a Romanesque style and she used local craftsmen, including herself. What was particularly impressive about the church was that what could be viewed as traditional Christian imagery was replaced by images of nature – lotus flowers, ammonites, scarabs and poppies – which have pagan associations.

Images of pinecones abound around the building – in ancient eastern cultures it was used to illustrate the highest degree of spiritual illumination possible. It also appears in drawings of esoteric traditions such as freemasonry, theosophy, Gnosticism and esoteric Christianity. It symbolises the pineal gland which we all possess and which is said to lie at the geometric centre of the brain and is associated with the mythical third eye. The poagans used it to represent eternal life. Not what you expect to see in your local parish church and, needless to say, over time the more esoteric designs with pagan connotations were covered over.

Pinecones in nature are a living manifestation of Fibonacci numbers, named after the 13th century mathematician who discovered the sequence, although they were described much earlier by an Indian mathematician. The sequence is derived by starting with zero and one, the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers and so on. All cones grow in spirals and the number of spirals in each direction are the adjacent numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. There are many manifestations of the sequence in nature.

These and many other fascinating insights are what you glean from this marvellous book.

In Graham We Trust – Part Thirteen

Twelve down, thirty four to go, thirty seven points to find

TMS 1 Walsall 0

In front of the Sky TV cameras – I don’t think that the National Grid would have reported a power surge just before kick-off – TMS overcame a shaky start to record an impressive and welcome win over local rivals, Walsall.

The changes were rung again with Hector coming in for Jones and Hall for Wright. TMS could easily have been three down after the first ten minutes but for a superb goalkeeping display by Weale. With their first real attack after 25 minutes TMS took the lead when Hall’s shot from a corner hit the woodwork and Parry reacted quickest to slot the ball home. After that, TMS’ confidence grew and players actually wanted the ball. In the second half Parry missed a gilt edged chance to make to two, stricking the woodwork following good work by Morgan. Hector’s impressive performance was nearly undone by a sloppy backpass which required further heroics from man of the match, Weale. TMS hung on and took the three points which for their grit and determination they just about deserved.

Away to Portsmouth on Saturday but for now I will savour the win which, I hope, will be the start of a move up the table.