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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, October 31, 2022

So ends Monster/Horror Week here @ SaLT. I hope you enjoyed the odd shiver. Coming next.... Rebellion Month!! 

Just Finished Reading: Spartan by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (FP: 1998) [328pp] 

Greece, 5th Century BC. Even if it broke their hearts, it was the Law. The child was imperfect and had to be exposed to the elements. As his wife sobbed in the doorway her husband left their home in the dead of night and made his way to the ancient oak tree. There he laid the child down and asked the gods to protect the boy from the wolves that would be attracted to his cries. The gods heard him and directed a Helot shepherd to rescue the child from certain death. Unaware to both the child and his saviour, a prophecy had begun which would play out over the coming years. The boy would grow up under the teachings of his grandfather and with the love of his new mother. He would learn to overcome his disability, he would learn to fight with staff and, secretly, with bow. He would, when old enough and wise enough, learn of the ancient history of the Helots and how they had been subjugated by the hated Spartans. He would learn to admire, fear and hate his oppressors and he would learn how to fight them. When rumours of a great foreign army reached Sparta it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Even the greatest force in the known world could only achieve so much against the numberless hordes ranged against them. Danger for Sparta was an opportunity for the Helots to finally break free. But first Talos must say goodbye to his adopted family and survive his first experience of battle – at Thermopylae. 

This is my third book by this author, and I was yet again impressed both by his storytelling and his attention to detail. Having just read a non-fiction work on the Battle of Thermopylae (which is the only battle of the Greeco-Persian war that briefly appears in the novel) it was obvious that this novel had been based on some serious research. Not only had the time and place been very well drawn, the characters on both sides of the Helot/Spartan divide were very believable. I liked the fact that Talos didn’t even know his background yet was clearly not cut out for his life as a humble shepherd. Living in both worlds and essentially living two lives his character was a great vehicle to view both societies and learn about the cultural history of both without the feeling of being lectured at any point. I thought that the characterisation throughout was very good and warmed both to Talos and his faux family. As a reader it was obvious that we were supposed to sympathise with the plight of the Helots but the Spartans were never portrayed as completely unsympathetic. They had their own laws, their own culture and their own reasons for treating the Helots as very much 2nd Class citizens. However objectionable the outcome was, at least we could see why such a thing existed. As mentioned above, this isn’t a book filled with long descriptions of ancient battles. Apart from a handful of pages related around the encounter at the Hot Gates there’s a few minor skirmishes and a short siege near the end. Most of the novel revolves around Talos (the abandoned child) growing up, finding out about his dual heritage and coming to terms with it. There’re some political goings on in Sparta itself as well as interactions with the Persians post-Platea. All in all, this is a solid and well written adventure/coming of age story based in ancient Greece. Definitely recommended and more from this author to come. 

Translated from the Italian by Christine Feddersen-Manfredi.   

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Book2Screen – The Pre-Blog Files (Part 1) 

Back when I was a little, newly formed, neophyte reader (AKA MANY years ago) I actually struggled with what I should read next. Very early on I had one great obsession which was all things Science-Fiction but, I pondered, what else should I read? One thing that did present itself was reading the Classics. Part of this was the idea of things I SHOULD read in an effort to improve my deeply Working-Class brain. The other thing was that even I, largely uneducated in the world of books as I was, generally knew a Classic when I found one. The other idea I had was to follow what I liked in the world of TV and movies, so I looked for books that had been adapted either for the large or small screen. The idea was to be on safe, or at the least ‘safer’, ground that way.  Generally speaking, the project was a success and it introduced me to new authors, new genres and new opportunities to read out of my rather narrow comfort zone at the time. So, here’s what I read, pre-Blog, pre-Internet... 

Marathon Man by William Goldman 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg 

Serpico by Peter Maas 

Capricorn One by Bernard L Ross 

I, Claudius by Robert Graves 

Dr No by Ian Fleming 

From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming 

Thunderball by Ian Fleming 

The Spy who Loved me by Ian Fleming 

You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming 

Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming 

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming 

For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming 

Alien by Alan Dean Foster 

The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth

Nothing TOO radical as you can see, but in those days I was still finding my way and still wondering what I wanted to read – in those days just about everything that was put in front of me but even back then I thought I needed at least *some* focus! In my early teens I had, as you can see, developed a keen interest in all things James Bond and I was lucky enough to pick up the whole original collection for a song. So, more Bond, James Bond, to come next time!    

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Thermopylae – The Battle that Changed the World by Paul Cartledge (FP: 2006) [220pp] 

Revenge – it was that simple. After Athens aided the rebellion of Greek cities at the edge of the Persian empire and then defeated his father Darius at Marathon it was time for payback. Xerxes, King of Kings, would make the Greeks pay and would add more provinces in his westward expansion into Europe. With millions of men to draw on the result was already ordained – the Greeks would fall and honour would be satisfied. As a vast army was assembling in Persia rumours of the forthcoming attack reaching the city-states on the Greek mainland. But even at this juncture the always argumentative Greeks could barely agree on a response, a plan or even whether to join forces at all. Some cities refused to fight alongside their enemies, others simply refused to fight at all against seemingly impossible odds. Two cities – Athens and Sparta who between them headed the best naval and land forces available – called for allies. After days of debate, it was decided that a stand would be taken but first the armies of Xerxes must be delayed in their advance. The most logical location to stem such an advance was at the ‘hot gates’ at Thermopylae. King Leonidas and his personal bodyguard of 300 Spartans would form the hard core of the defence, aided by units from allied cities across Greece. In all over 3000 Greeks would face up to 250,000 Persians. Although the Greeks ultimately lost the battle – rather inevitably given the disparity in numbers – both the delay caused to the Persian advance and the example of Greeks fighting together and holding back an avalanche of enemy forces, no matter how temporary, solidified the subsequent resistance to Persian domination and has echoed down the centuries as a classic and heroic ‘last stand’ against impossible, truly staggering, odds. 

To be honest, most of my ‘knowledge’ of Thermopylae up to this point was brief mentions in other history books, the novel by Steven Pressfield and the movie 300. So, it was good to finally read about the actual history of the event. Interestingly, Spartan sources are rather scarce as the Spartans themselves only practiced one ‘art’ above all others – war. So, any contemporary (or close contemporary) texts are generally Athenian. The author admits that the sources we do have can be problematic, especially for an event that happened at the very edge of history itself, but that there is general agreement on what happened during the battle itself as well as afterwards as the war with Persia progressed until the final encounter at Platea.  

I think it might be overstating things, at least a little, to say that Thermopylae was one of the most important battles in western history. Its importance is, and was, largely symbolic. But without that defeat and subsequent victories against the Persians the history of the West might have been very different. It would be a world without the example of Greek democracy and without the flowering of Greek culture that followed the rise of Athens after the defeat of Xerxes. If you’ve heard of the battle or maybe even seen 300 at the movies and wondered what all the fuss was about, this is the book for you. Recommended for all Ancient History buffs.    

Monday, October 24, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Treason by James Jackson (FP: 2016) [300pp] 

London, November 1605. After months, indeed years of planning it all came down to this. In a matter of hours, a match would be lit, a gunpowder fuse would fizzle and a tyrant and his government would be blown to kingdom come. It was not an act that any of them had taken lightly, but what alternative did they have. The Catholic faith was being crushed under the heel of a Protestant King. His agents raided homes, terrorised the innocent and sent their priests to the gallows. They had been pushed into this most deadly of responses. Everything was in place, a rebellion against the crown would rise out of parliaments ashes and restore the true religion back to England. But what if they failed? Each knew in their hearts that the backlash following failure would be terrible to behold. There were already rumours of traitors in their ranks and there was, as always, the ever-present danger of informers who would betray them for a few coins. Failure then was not an option. If they succeeded, they would be remembered forever. Their names would be spoken in hushed reverential tones. But if they failed, oh, if they failed who would even remember the attempt? Who then would remember the name Guy Fawkes? 

There is always a problem at the heart of a fictionised account of an actual historic event, especially one as comparatively well known as the Gunpowder Plot – because we know what happened, whether or not the plot itself succeeded and who lived and who died the tension in the narrative is, inevitably, diminished. So it was with this novel. But... although the author of this very readable historical thriller has the plotters at the centre of things, obviously, the main characters are actually on the edge of events. We are presented with a Catholic co-conspirator with an interesting backstory and a distinctly psychopathic personality who aids, in any way he can, the plot as it moves towards fruition. We are also presented, in the guise of Christian Hardy – a government spy or ‘intelligencer’, with a much more likable character who is tasked by his spy master boss to uncover the growing threats against the crown. Some of Hardy’s activities did raise the odd eyebrow as he used methods more akin to CSI to uncover the links between the major players (details displayed on a cork board with links between them highlighting relationships real and potential). Both Hardy and his Catholic opponent known as ‘Realm’ did has a seeming superhuman quality that grated a little from time to time but both were highly professional killers and so singular proficiency in arms should be expected. The only real criticism I have, which to be honest wasn’t anywhere near a deal breaker, was the dialogue throughout the book. I think what the author was getting at was that 400+ years ago people obviously spoke differently than they do today. I think it’s a toss-up if more modernistic language might have been an anachronistic step too far but I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure (with zero research) that people in the early 17th century generally didn’t speak principally in aphorisms. Having read a very good non-fiction history of the events surrounding the Gunpowder Plot I was very impressed by the historical accuracy throughout the novel and I also liked the few fictionalised events which filled in known gaps in the real narrative, which I thought were both realistic and well played. Definitely an above average read even if you’re well aware of the real history behind Bonfire Night and Guy Fawkes.    

Well, we have another new Prime Minister. I wonder how long this one will last. Until the next General Election I'm betting......

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Just got back from the Doctors after having my Covid booster (left arm) and winter flu shot (right arm). All VERY efficient as always. Had a text from the NHS about a month ago confirming I was 'on the list' (being over 50). Had another text from my doctors about a week ago with a link to a web page so I could pick my slot. Showed up (early as always) this afternoon with 2 people ahead of me. Gave my name and waited for about 2 minutes. Went into the doctors room, answered a few questions, had both shots, left the building (thanking the staff on the way out of course). Quick pop to my local supermarket and back here, all in around 25 minutes. Excellent. Thanks NHS! 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Oh, I've played FAR too many games (Boss Fight!) and watched FAR too many movies (Indie...!) to think that going through that door will result in ANYTHING positive!! [lol] 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Auntie’s War – The BBC During the Second World War by Edward Stourton (FP: 2017) [388pp] 

When the drums of war started beating in the heart of Europe in the late 1930’s the BBC was still a youngster finding her feet. During that turbulent time, she not only found her feet but her voice too. This is her story, told with both knowledge and affection by someone who clearly knows their stuff. 

At the very centre of the discussion of the BBCs place in the upcoming conflict was the pervading belief of the time that the bomber would always get through. This was not entirely fanciful after the experience of civilian populations in Spain and, as war did break out, in the Low Countries and Poland. It was fully expected that mass bombing would cause both mass casualties and mass panic. The role of the BBC was to calm the population and its anodyne programming early on earned it (unsurprisingly) the name ‘Auntie Beeb’. Desperate for ‘real’ news it was discovered, much to the dismay of both the BBC and the UK government, that a considerable number of listeners were tuning into German propaganda radio especially by the infamous ‘Lord Ha-Ha'. The government proposed that the BBC should combat this with its own British propaganda efforts. The BBC had another idea – it would combat lies and half-truths with facts. The BBC would become a truth-teller. Naturally, in war time after all, it couldn’t tell the WHOLE truth but it resolved not to lie to the public. It was in itself a battle both with the government (especially once Churchill took office as PM) and with the military authorities but gradually, as the months passed, it was shown to be a highly effective strategy and the listeners to Lord Ha-Ha dropped off considerably. 

But the BBC didn’t simply broadcast on the Home Service to its UK listeners. It broadcast to the Empire and to an increasingly Occupied Europe. Most importantly, it broadcast to the US to show not only that it was still in the fight but to encourage America in its drift towards being the Arsenal of Democracy and eventually a fighting Ally – helped along by actions of both Hitler and the ultimate attack on Pearl Harbor. With the Liberation of Europe approaching in 1944 the BBC became one of the organising hubs for the French and other national Resistance movements enabling people like Charles de Gaulle to become the pivotal figures they eventually became. It was also the time that the war correspondent came into their own, first reporting on the Battle of Britain (‘recorded live’), the Blitz (from the roof of broadcasting House) and from the D-Day landings until the very end of the war in Europe. Techniques and technology were invented and put into use that had never been tried before and a number of correspondents died to bring back the stories for the BBC to broadcast to the world. 

I picked up this excellent work as part of my reading for the BBCs 100th birthday on 18th October. I’m really glad I did. Not only was this deeply informative and very well written it was honestly gripping in parts as correspondents, producers and heads of departments pushed the envelope of what could and could not be broadcasted in wartime. One of the complaints that made me laugh was when a listener objected to a BBC reporter was observing a fight during the Battle of Britain and making comments like it was a football match. Brilliant! FULL of interesting stories and fascinating people this was once of the best historical reads of the year. Highly recommended for anyone interested in either the BBC or WW2.         

Oh.... MY... GOD..... 45 Days.... FOURTY-FIVE. The shortest term Prime Minister since AT LEAST 1835. GOOD GOD! What a farce..... 

Monday, October 17, 2022

COVID booster & Winter Flu shots booked for Saturday 22nd. Sorted!

Just Finished Reading: Mary Poppins by P L Travers (FP: 1934) [161pp] 

The East Wind it seems is a lucky wind. With the children’s nanny leaving without giving notice life at No 17, Cherry Tree Lane was going to get a lot more difficult. Until, that is, there was a knock at the door. The children had seen her arrive although they still couldn’t believe their eyes. The woman, who they were about to find out was their new nanny, had floated to earth held up by an umbrella. Refusing to take a No for an answer and refusing to offer any references, Mary Poppins installed herself at No 17 and would stay, she said, until the wind changed direction. The children, and indeed the rest of the household, had no idea what was going to happen next. For the children it could be summed up in a single word: adventure. 

Along, no doubt with the rest of the world, I was delighted as a child by the 1964 Disney adaptation of this book starring the delightful Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (complete with very questionable Cockney accent). So, it was both interesting and confusing to note the vast differences – from memory – between book and movie. One thing that struck me straightaway was that, in the book(s), Mary Poppins seemed to be a lot darker as well as far less sociable. What also struck me, or at least made me ponder, is the probability that Mary wasn’t exactly human. Her use of magic on a regular basis, I thought, as well as other magic users reactions to her and especially her encounters with magical/intelligent animals put her somewhat beyond the simple ‘human using magic’ narrative. It seemed that Mary had been around for a VERY long time and that she was held in HIGH regard by other magic users who often seemed something more than human themselves. The character of Mary seemed to be either an Elemental or, possibly, a Fae – at least that’s my THEORY. 

This short book (the first of four I think) was essentially a series of a single self-contained story per chapter presumably as a format for bedtime reading. Each has a kind of moral teaching to the young without being too heavy about it. Being now almost 100 years old there are some rather quaint moments and the British class system is very much front and centre. I’m not sure if children, even young children, would find it particularly readable but it does have a generally pleasant ‘tone’ to it which I liked. Strange, amusing and often bizarre – especially when compared to the Disney version – this was quite an interesting read and is one more of the previously unread Children’s Classics off my list! 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

"Erm, Time Travel Holidays? Yes, I'd like to cancel my holiday to the Early Permian Period. Yes, I've been doing some research and it appears that I'm, erm, kind of allergic to some of the insects from that era......"

Happy 17th Birthday to Seeking a Little Truth today. Who imagined (I certainly didn't) that I'd still be blogging SEVENTEEN years later....! Here's to the NEXT 17 years! 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Ha! Try being born in the 60's... [lol]

OK, this is the VERY LAST 20 Questions, honest. 

What do you really wish you knew when you were younger? 

That plans are often worthless but planning is never a waste of your time.  

What book did you read more than one time? 

The LoTR trilogy, His Dark Materials trilogy, the first 2 Dune books (the rest following) …. Few, but some... 

What was the happiest moment of your life? 

My time with Carol – the best of times and the worst of times. Heck of a ride though... [lol] Other choices are my 3 years at university or, along with periods of stress and frustration, my last job. 

Would you rather control King Kong or Godzilla? 

Godzilla, or even better, MechaGodzilla! As long as it avoids Lego factories who could stop me? 

Would you rather have to fart loudly whenever you have a serious conversation or have to burp after every kiss? 

My ex-girlfriend found my burping LESS than sexy, believe me! [lol] 

What is the most important thing you have learned in life? 

Be your own person. Make your own choices. Spend the time to find out who you are and then be that to the best of your ability. Don’t let other people define you. 

Would you rather go to the cinema or to a concert? 

Cinema probably, although I have been to a few good concerts. 

What makes you the angriest? 

Willful ignorance – especially when the information is readily available. 

Would you rather be covered in fur or covered in scales? 

Tricky.... Fur would be WARM which I like but scales would look great and be SO easy to clean with the wipe of a damp cloth.... 

If you could move anywhere in the world, where would you go? 

Apart from the UK? Probably either New Zealand or Canada as I greatly enjoyed my visits to both countries. 

What pets did you have while you were growing up? 

Our first pet was a German Shepherd, we had rabbits, several types of birds, mice, rats, jerboas, hamsters, fish, snakes.... Always something in our house!  

Would you rather always be 10 minutes late or 20 minutes early? 

Oh, I’m ALWAYS early! I absolutely HATE the idea of being late for anything. I’d rather be an hour early than 2 minutes late! 

What do you think about artificial intelligence? 

It’s coming, it’s inevitable and there’s a fair chance that it will kill us all. Best outcome is that it would keep us a pampered pets or keep us around for experimental purposes (to study us rather than what we presently do to mice – hopefully). 

Do you think religion will always exist? 

Probably. I think it will slowly decline over the next century but even then, there will be millions of people who believe.  

Would you rather wear a wedding dress/tuxedo every single day or wear a bathing suit every single day? 

Me? In a *bathing suit*? NOT a good idea. Tux it is! 

Would you rather be a cyborg or be half-man half-animal? 

Well, humans ARE animals but Cyborgs are TOO cool to turn down.  

Who was your first crush? 

Probably either one of my teachers @ school or literally the girl next door (Jackie). 

What’s your dream job, and why? 

I really enjoyed my time as a Project Manager. I liked things I’d been working on, sometimes for years, come to fruition in bricks & concrete (or wood and paint). In another life I’d liked to have been either an architect or maybe a civil engineer. 

Would you rather be SpongeBob or be Patrick? 

SpongeBob, DUH! He’s an ICON. 

If you could put something on the cover of a newspaper, what would it be? 

Happy Christmas, War is OVER. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Just Finished Reading: The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd (FP: 2013) [386pp] 

London, 1812. With the Solander now returned from its Tahiti expedition there is much rejoicing in the banqueting rooms of the Royal Society. Using the very latest techniques, overseen and enforced by the ship's captain, almost all of the plants recovered from that isle have made it back to England in excellent condition. The botanical bounty on the ship being removed to Kew Gardens to great acclaim is not the only thing that has returned from paradise. The crew has returned with stories of blue skies, warm seas and even warmer embraces from dusky maidens. Some have also returned with infection and wild stories of dead volcanoes, dark happenings and ancient gods. A few, a mere handful, have also returned in the grip of addiction and the means to feed it, at least for a while. Within days of the landing Thames River Police Constable Charles Horton finds himself examining the fresh corpse of a Solander sailor. The cause of death is no mystery but mystery nevertheless abounds. The man's sea chest has been ransacked but nothing taken, the room looks like a hurricane has passed through it and, mystery of mysteries, the man seemed to have been smiling as he died. But Charles Horton has little time to ponder such mysteries before he is presented with another corpse and another link back to the Solander and the island of Tahiti. What happened there deep in the rainforests and what followed these men back from paradise to kill them?  

After reading the previous book in this series I was delighted to discover that there were four books in total. I was also delighted to discover that I was hooked on the second narrative from the very start. Not only is Horton a fantastically interesting character but the world of the early 19th century the author creates is rich, deep and full of wonder. The author conjures a world, and a place in London, on the very edge of modernity with missions of exploration and scientific breakthroughs changing the world and challenging previous certainties seemingly every day. Passing comments to new building projects, new docks, new buildings going up around him as Horton investigates the crimes – a new idea in itself apparently – shows how dynamic things are. The environment of the novel is changing as we proceed through it which is pretty neat and is something at the heart of both novels read so far. On one level this is simply a very good historical crime novel. Left at that it would be a recommended read. But, as with Horton’s previous outing, there is MUCH more going on here. The historical side of things is detailed and gives the novel a real sense of living in a different age. Without any great exposition we learn snippets about the ongoing war in America and with Napoleon, about British exploration and the expansion of her Empire, we learn about the birth pangs of the early police service and the very start of modern police investigative techniques, we are introduced to Botanical ideas that would eventually become one element in the future debate on Evolution and so on. But none of that slows the narrative in any way – indeed it ADDS to the narrative! It’s very, very clever and deeply enjoyable. I couldn’t really fault this at all really except in one very minor way. Charles Horton is lucky enough to have Abigail as his wife. Although we don’t ‘see’ her much within the covers of the novel she’s a bit of a scene stealer whenever she appears. Needless to say, I really enjoyed spending more time in Charles Hortons world. Definitely recommended for all lovers of historical crime novels with a sprinkling of the uncanny.