The Middle Temple Murders – J S Fletcher

This detective novel was originally published in 1919 and recently republished.  I quite like period whodunnits as a bit of light relief after a busy day so I thought I’d give it a go.

The Middle Temple Murders

The essentials of the plot, without giving too much away, are that newspaper man Frank Spargo is on his way home late at night when someone comes out of Middle Temple shouting that a murder has been committed.  Spargo then works with Detective Sergeant Rathbury to investigate what has happened and to solve several puzzles relating to the murder; who the victim was, who his son is, who the crooked financier is and who the murderer is.

I enjoyed the period feel of the book.  It was of its period but didn’t feel too dated and the characters felt believable.  I kept reading because I wanted to know the answers to the puzzles.

Unfortunately, the ending didn’t live up to the rest of the book.  It felt abrupt, as though the author had run out of energy, ideas or time to maintain the same pace as the rest of the story.  This was a real disappointment and I felt let down.  On this basis I wouldn’t recommend the book.  I’m also reluctant to try any of the other period murder mysteries published by The Resurrected Press which is a shame.

Reflections on Goole – a film by Goole Civic Society

I was invited to a film premier on Friday evening.  Not quite a glamorous, Hollywood fancy frock job but something, in my view, much more valuable; a remembrance of things past and a reminder they are what makes our present and our futures.

The film is called “Reflections on Goole” and has been made by Goole Civic Society using a mixture of old photographs, bits of an old film made by Goole Junior Chamber, talking heads and some stunning aerial filming from Golden Media.

I got involved in the film by accident.  The date stone from a long demolished school is being returned to the town and there was an article in the local paper asking for memories and memorabilia.  My mother was the last Head at the school and taught there all her working life so I have quite a lot of photographs.  Margaret and John from the Civic Society came to see me and, after looking at the photos, stuck a video camera in front of me and asked me to reminisce about growing up in Goole.  I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in film!

The film covers lots of different aspects of the town and, with a mainly local audience, there were lots of “ooh, I remember that” and “who on earth was…” type comments during the screening.  It was definitely a nostalgia trip and I liked the fact that the purpose of the film is to celebrate what is good and interesting.  Goole sometimes gets a bad rap from the press and locals; I have to say I’m guilty of it as well.

If I was being a bit nit-picky I would say the narrative arc of the film isn’t always logical and it sometimes flits from one subject to another without finding a smooth bridge to cross.

What the film does do, extremely well, is to remind people of the history of Goole; what made it the place it is and why.  It also, I think, shows us why we should have some pride in the town and encourages us to have some ambition for it in the same way the Aire and Calder Navigation Company did when it founded the town in 1826.

The film also demonstrates the important role played by Civic Societies around the country in preserving the heritage of ordinary people living ordinary lives.  Without their work a lot of this history would be lost.

It is a privilege to have been included in this film and I’m looking forward to going to see it again with my school friends to one of the general screenings at The Junction on 25th January.

Click here for more details about The Junction screening

Click here to find out more about Goole Civic Society

Click here to find out about your local Civic Society

Gironimo! – Tim Moore

I love Tim Moore’s travelogues; they always make me laugh out loud, there are always parts that make me wince and I always learn some new expletives!

Gironimo is about Tim Moore cycling the route of the infamous 1914 Giro d’Italia on a vintage bicycles and in period costume.

The 1914 Giro is reputed to be the most gruelling and cruel bike race ever.  Of the 81 competitors who started only 8 finished!

The book starts with some of the history of the eventual winner, Alfonzo Calzolari, who caused some controversy by accepting help from a motorist, was penalised by 3 hours and whose eventual win was subject to a legal challenge.

It also describes how Moore tracked down his vintage bicycles and the lengths he went to restoring it so it would survive his journey.  This bit of the book is Moore at his world-weary, frustrated funniest and I found myself laughing out loud, even in public places.

The bulk of the book is about the journey, the trials of long distance cycling, obscure bits of Italy and the horrendous 1914 Giro.  Moore is a great writer for bringing places alive; whilst reading you can easily imagine what the places he’s travelling through must have been like in 1914 and get a good sense of the 21st century slightly seedy reality of run down towns and cities.  He also seems to have a talent for finding helpful yet slightly eccentric people to help him when, inevitably, something goes wrong.

The bit of the book I least liked was where Moore is joined by a friend who is both fitter and on a new cycle.  I found his comments uncharitable; the guy is a friend and he’s come to help you, have some gratitude.

That is, however, a minor gripe and I’d definitely recommend the book if you’re interesting in cycling, Italy, the Giro or simply want to be entertained by someone’s madcap adventure.

After reading it I loaned the book to one of the honorary nephews.  He enjoyed it so much I’m now trying to locate Tim Moore’s other books from within the book mounds dotted around my house.

Click here to find out more about the Giro d’Italia

Click here to find out more about the 1914 Giro

Click here to find out more about Tim Moore

Nijinsky – Lucy Moore

I loved this biography of Vaslav Nijinsky!  It isn’t an entirely happy book and it feels as though there is more to tell but it is a good starting point for anyone wanting to know more about this mercurial genius.

I started from the point of knowing a bit about Nijinsky and his involvement with the Ballets Russes from reading a biography of Anna Pavlova at Junior School.  That in turn led me to finding out more about Ballet Russes, modern ballet and 20th century classical music.  I hadn’t seen a biography of Nijinsky before so I was looking forward to reading this one.

To get the downsides out-of-the-way first it is a short book and, I think, an overview of a life rather than getting down to who Vaslav Nijinsky really was.  I suspect this is because Nijinsky himself didn’t really know who he was and never really had the opportunity to work it out for himself.  He seems to have been a chameleon who became what he needed to be to please the dominant person in his life at the time.

For me the best bits were about Nijinsky’s early life before Ballet Russes and after his marriage and fall out with Diaghilev.  I knew pretty well nothing about either of these periods.

I think the history of his early life helps to make sense of what came later; the strong “Please People” driver, the drive for perfection and the work ethic.  It also, I think, sews the seeds of the mental illness that blighted his later life.

The history of his life after marriage to Romola de Pulszky makes for unhappy reading.  The “car crash waiting to happen” tussle between Romola and Diaghilev over control of Nijinsky was only ever going to have one victim – Vaslav! And it was horrible to read about the “cures” Romola put him through trying to find a cure for his schizophrenia.

Reading this biography is a bit like reading a Shakespearean tragedy; a man with an immense talent who appears to have it all and then is struck down at the height of his power.

Click here to find out more about Ballet Russes

The Unwinding; An inner history of the new America by George Packer

I have no idea how I have come to own this book.  I thought it had found its way into my pile of books to read after my partner had read it – it’s more his type of book than mine – but he disclaimed all knowledge of it and has just started reading it.

The dust jacket blurb says that this is a book about “the extraordinary story of what’s happened in America over the past 30 years” and a “panorama of the relentless breakdown of the American social compact over a generation”.  I would describe it as a social history, following a number of extraordinary people from 1978 to 2012.

The main strands are rural North Carolina, Youngstown, Washington DC, Florida and Silicon Valley.  There are guest appearances from Newt Gingrich, Sam Walton, Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey.

The individual stories are a mixture of how people strove to rise about the poverty they grew up in, how they strove for political power or how they spotted n opportunity.  In some instances they succeeded and in others everything ended in abject failure.

The most powerful stories are those that follow through the whole book and for me the stand out story is that of the woman in Youngstown who after a number of struggles and set backs managed to make a difference to the city described as the capital of Rustbelt USA.

The strongest message of the book, and I think a global one, is that a lot of damage was done in the 1980s dismantling the checks and controls that held financial institutions to account.  What seemed at the time like a liberation from restrictive rules – and I worked in financial services at the time so I know – turned out to be like letting an addict loose in a chemist’s shop.  Quest for market share became a chase for greater and greater profit and led to greed, manipulation and subterfuge.

I don’t want to go back to the days when banks were austere and intimidating places but I feel they should be places where you make serious consideration of the commitment you are making when you take out a mortgage.

I don’t feel I have enough knowledge of USA to make a judgement on whether this book is accurate and/or makes sense in economic terms.  I did find it really interesting and it has made me think long and hard about what has happened in UK since 1978.  What has happened for the good and where I think we have lost something important in creating the society we have today.

I suspect a lot of the political turmoil we are seeing across the world stems back to quite a few of the topics covered in this book.

I enjoyed the book and I will search out some of George Packer’s other work.