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

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

So ends a mildly rebellious November. I hope that you enjoyed at least some of it. Up next: Winter is Coming!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Less than half of England and Wales population Christian, Census 2021 shows 

[From By Rachel Russell for BBC News] 

Fewer than half of people in England and Wales describe themselves as Christian for the first time, the 2021 census has revealed. The proportion of people who said they were Christian was 46.2%, down from 59.3% in the last census in 2011. Meanwhile the number who said they had no religion increased to 37.2% of the population, up from a quarter. And people identifying as Muslim rose from 4.9% in 2011 to 6.5% last year. 

The census is carried out every 10 years by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS said the census question broadly asked "what is your religion" - referring to people's affiliation, rather than their beliefs or active religious practices. Professor Linda Woodhead, head of theology and religious studies at King's College London, said ticking "no religion" could still indicate a number of different beliefs. Some will be atheist, a lot will be agnostic - they just say, 'I don't really know' - and some will be spiritual and be doing spiritual things," she told BBC News. 

Meanwhile, London is the most religiously diverse region of England, with just over 25.3% of people reporting a religion other than Christianity. And south-west England is shown to be the least religiously diverse region, with 3.2% selecting a religion other than Christian. The figures also showed differences in nations - in England alone, 37.2% of people said they had no religion, while in Wales this rose to 46.5% from 32.1% in 2011. 

[Interesting! This has been a very long-running trend which will probably continue for decades to come. I wonder how low the religious numbers will go? 25%? Less? I think it’s HIGHLY unlikely it’ll get anywhere near zero. I’m guessing – with zero information to back it up – that somewhere in the region of 25-30% sounds reasonable. I guess we’ll see in the upcoming ONS results.]  

Monday, November 28, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Small Acts of Resistance – How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson (FP: 2010) [210pp] 

Directly opposing Authoritarian regimes has never exactly been easy. Usually it is difficult at best and, all too often, fatal at worst to stand against it. But what about more indirect approaches? Such opposition is, by its very nature, secretive. The problem for the opposition groups is they can never accurately assess their level of support in the general, largely fearful, population. But if you could make your opposition public without (hopefully!) engaging the hostility of the regime, what then? 

The authors have collected numerous examples of this more subtle opposition and, more importantly, shown that this sort of thing can win. Not in direct confrontation but by undermining and eventually fatally weakening what little legitimacy the authoritarians have. Some of the examples outlined are bizarre and often very, very clever. In one regime people were increasingly getting tired of crude propaganda on their nightly TV news so, individually simply decided to go for a walk during the 7pm news slot. Some would leave their TV’s visibly on the balcony, unplugged and unloved. Others, with a sense of the surreal, would take their TV’s on a walk with them in prams or in wheelbarrows. In response the regime started enforcing a curfew from 7pm. The public response? They shifted their ‘walks’ to the 5pm news slot. In other cases, it was something more simple, more subtle – like wearing an item in the colour of the opposition party like a simple white T-shirt or, in one case I really liked, of behaving in a totally over the top hyper patriotic style which mocked the pronouncements of those in power. In a particularly funny example, the singing of the national anthem at football matches was turned into an act of opposition where a line about tyranny was sung particularly loudly. The government could hardly ban or modify their own national anthem to remove this act of defiance, nor could they ban football matches. They just had to grin and fume in silence. Then, of course, there is the classic response which goes back at least to the ancient Greeks – the sex strike. One African nation began healing the wounds of its civil war after women on both sides of the divide refused their partners sex until they started talking to the opposition. Talks were set up and a settlement was produced in a matter of weeks. 

Although rather thin on the details and context this was an interesting look at examples of (largely) non-confrontational ways of opposing and, eventually, toppling authoritarian regimes across the globe. I was impressed both by the subtilty and cleverness of the ideas tried out against a host of regimes. It takes courage in far too many places to wear a certain colour, to not take part in an approved (AKA compulsory) activity or to stand in a public space holding a photograph of your missing (disappeared) child. But such people and such ‘simple’ actions do bring down tyrants. More power to them. A recommended read for everyone interested in change, freedom and the human spirit to resist.   

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Book2Screen – The Pre-Blog Files (Part 4)    

Apart from books themselves, I’ve long found both movies and TV shows as a prompt to know more. When I see an interesting person portrayed on the screen – fictional or real – or a place or situation (ditto) I all too often want to know more about it or them. If the small, or large screen, is portraying a real (often historical) situation it’d be off to the library or Amazon to see if there were any books on the subject. If fictional I’d want to read the novel (if such a thing existed – I was often annoyed that a screenplay wasn’t based on a previous novel or play). So it was that I picked up and read the following: 

The Godfather by Mario Puzo 

Carrie by Stephen King 

Harry’s Game by Gerald Seymour 

On the Beach by Nevil Shute 

Make Room, Make Room! By Harry Harrison 

First Blood by David Morrell 

Sphere by Michael Crichton 

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain 

Point Blank by Richard Stark 

The Abyss by Orson Scott Card 

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney 

A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin 

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis 

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch 

Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard 

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis 

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux 

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris 

Red Dwarf by Grant Naylor 

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy 

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy 

A Sense of Guilt by Andrea Newman 

The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald 

A Bouquet of Barbed Wire by Andrea Newman 

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton 

House of Cards by Michael Dobbs 

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow 

The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley 

Rising Sun by Michael Crichton 

Run Silent, Run Deep by Edward L Beach 

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice 

Congo by Michael Crichton 

Enigma by Robert Harris 

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice 

The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice 

Kiss the Girls by James Patterson 

Well, I wanted to finish this at Part 4, but that’s a MUCH longer list than I expected! A nice, varied mix, I think as my brain is normally firing in all directions to chase down wherever my curiosity takes it.  

Friday, November 25, 2022

"A bookshop is not like a railway booking-office which one approaches knowing what one wants. One should enter it vaguely, almost in a dream, and allow what is there freely to attract and influence the eye. To walk the rounds of the bookshops, dipping in as curiosity dictates, should be an afternoon's entertainment."

John Maynard Keynes.

Yes..... It's REAL.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Just Finished Reading: The Goodbye Look by Ross Macdonald (FP: 1969) [192pp] 

PI Lew Archer knew that the case didn’t feel right from the start. For one thing he’d been hired by the family lawyer rather than the family themselves. The husband didn’t even know he’d been called in to investigate things and the wife lied about why he was there. It wasn’t exactly the best way to build any kind of case. Then there was the ‘crime’ itself. A gold jewelry box had been ‘stolen’ while they were out of town. No break in and the safe had been opened with a key. The box had, according to the wife, purely sentimental value, despite being both old and gold. So, why all the fuss? Anyway, he was being paid to do a job and do it he would. But when almost everyone he talked to started lying to him he knew he’d have his work cut out. The most obvious ‘thief’ was the family's wayward son who had all too recently disappeared with an older woman, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend who just happened to be the lawyer's daughter. With those kinds of tangles right from the get-go Lew would need a sharp mind to cut through the lies and piles of BS coming his way. 

I’ve read a few Archer novels over the years, and they’ve always been fun. This was no exception. The writing style was very reminiscent of Raymond Chandler with sparse prose, a laconic detective who has seen it all and is only just on the right side of burn out. The situation he finds himself in is complex to say the least. There are around 6-8 main players he’s having to deal with as well as two separate mysteries from the past. All but one, as far as I can remember, of these players are lying to him to one extent or another mostly to hide their past. Uncovering these lies is how Lew opens the case interview by interview. As with the Chandler case style, Lew drives all over southern California tracking down leads and interviewing those involved whilst weighing up their stories against each other. It was interesting, to say the least, to watch Archer fit the case together. You could tell that something was ‘off’ but it wasn’t exactly easy to put your finger on what exactly that was. The suspect was almost revealed from minute one, but the mystery that drove the plot was WHY the box was stolen, who wanted it (and why) and what exactly was in it. Following that line (or lines) of inquiry is where the clues, red herrings, lies and revelations kept me guessing exactly what was going on right up to the final few pages. A mystery to savour for all detective fiction fans. Recommended if you can find a copy.   

Monday, November 21, 2022

Just Finished Reading: The Uninhabitable Earth – A Story of the Future by David Wallace-Wells (FP: 2019) [238pp] 

You just know there will be no sugar coating of the issue of Global Warming/Climate Change when the author opens with this sentence: It is worse, much worse, than you think. Sitting in the affluent west it’s easy to be comforted by a number of pervasive climate myths – that climate change is happening slowly and that we have plenty of time to respond, or indeed that it’s happening slowly enough that we’ll be long dead before it happens, that it’s happening elsewhere, to other much poorer people and that although we care (and donate to various disaster appeals) it doesn’t really affect us, that we, in the rich western world, will be able to buy our way or build our way out of it and live full rich lives behind our flood defences. This, to an extent at least, has some truth to it. Poor countries will be hit harder by the effects of climate change and will be less able to cope with these changes. Rich countries can afford much more money to spend on mitigation strategies which will reduce the overall effect of climate change. But the one thing we can’t sidestep or talk our way around is the time argument. Global Warming isn’t coming in 100 years or even 50 years, it’s here now, today. What we see on our television screens or by simply looking out of the window is happening today and will continue to happen tomorrow, next month and in the years to come. But the droughts, floods, fires, mudslides, hurricanes and much else we’re experiencing isn’t the new normal – far from it. What we’re seeing now isn’t the new equilibrium, the new steady state. What millions of people are experiencing across the globe is the start of things, the tip, as it were, of the melting iceberg. We really haven’t seen anything yet. If nothing is done, as largely nothing has been done so far, we will experience longer hotter heatwaves, deeper longer droughts, much more flooding and sea level rises, more and stronger hurricanes as well as all the known knock-on effects we are becoming all too familiar with – the spread of ‘exotic’ diseases and pests, climate refugees growing year on year, increasing climate related conflict over basic resources such as water and on and on. It is not, indeed far from it, a pleasant picture to behold. 

As you can imagine this is FAR from an easy read. It is, to be honest, more than a little depressing and if you easily fall into that state looking at the world today, I’d recommend you don’t read this. If on the other hand you can face reality, no matter how bad, this will give you a good foundation on which to build. Covering the facts as we know them, plus the effects of feedback loops and possible cascade failures, the author gives a reasoned view on what will happen if we do nothing. As base temperatures increase things will get worse. Even holding the rise to the much talked about 2 degrees will still result in a lot of negative effects. Doing nothing, or nowhere near enough as we are now, might lead to a 3, 4 or 5 degree rise. This would literally make parts of the planet uninhabitable just from the heat experienced there to say nothing of the land inundated by sea level rises. All this well understood science is what should be driving us to avoid these futures the author maps out. They’re not inevitable. We created this situation, and we could do something about it if we just had the will to do so. It’s not rocket science. We’ve been adding ‘greenhouse’ gases into our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution at a steady increasing pace. We need to start cutting that drastically. We also need to start paying more attention to taking out some of the gases that we’ve already put there. But we also need to plan for what's coming and start building our flood defences and increasing our drainage infrastructure before we desperately need it. We have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it. No matter what happens, the next 100 years are going to be rough. If you can handle it and want to be informed, then this is the book for you.   

Sunday, November 20, 2022

A few interesting (to me!) notes

I'm reading, at the moment, about the WW2 campaign against both the V-1 and later V-2 rocket attacks on England towards the end of the war. This naturally got me doing five minutes of Google research and this is what I discovered:

The street I was born in (Wordworth Street in Liverpool 8) received 5 German bombs during the Blitz. At least one of those bombs landed pretty close to my birth house - where, at the time, my grandparents and my mother lived. But for a few hundred meters I might never have been born or might have had a different mother and a different life....

In the spring of 1945 the last V-2 rocket to land on England impacted in Orpington, Kent. I lived there in the late 80's/early 90's when I worked in London. The impact site was just 1.5Km from where I lived. I wonder if there's any kind of plaque on a wall in recognition of the event?     

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Book2Screen – The Pre-Blog Files (Part 3)   

With little literary experience (or imagination?) to work with during my early reading years, I sometimes struggled with knowing what I should read next or next after that. I always wanted something to look forward to, so it seemed logical to me that I’d probably enjoy books that had produced movies and TV shows I already enjoyed. Plus, of course, I hoped to learn more about the characters, places and stories that just wasn’t practical to fit into a 90-minute movie or a series of 45-minute episodes – which meant this happened: 

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark 

Jaws by Peter Benchley 

The Natural by Bernard Malamud  

Ice Station Zebra by Alistair Maclean 

Fear is the Key by Alistair Maclean 

The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins 

The Breaker by Kit Denton 

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle 

The Satan Bug by Alistair Maclean 

The World According to Garp by John Irving 

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith 

Firestarter by Stephen King 

The Shining by Stephen King 

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth 

There are a lot of thrillers this time which I was a BIG fan of at that age (late teens to mid-20's) so I ended up reading anything by Higgins, Maclean and Forsyth I could get my hands on. I remember being so enthralled by ‘The Odessa File' for example that I read it in a single day which was pretty unusual for me back then. But more of that later....     

Thursday, November 17, 2022

That would be me.... 3rd from the Left.

Just Finished Reading: Nature’s Warnings – Classic Stories of Eco-Science Fiction edited by Mike Ashley (FP: 2020) [315pp] 

Long before present concerns about Global Warming or Climate Change hit the headlines, and long before even the 60’s and 70’s Green Movement became news Science Fiction authors were looking at future ecological catastrophes and humanity’s reactions to them. This is a collection of some of those stories running from the 1920’s to the 1980’s.  

Whenever reviewing a book of short stories, I normally preface things by saying that such collections are, rather inevitably, a bit hit and miss quality wise. This is no exception to that rule. Whilst generally there are few poor stories, I was disappointed that, being classics of the genre, there were fewer impressive stories than I’d hoped for. Three in particular did impress me though. The first was ‘The Man Who Hated Flies’ by J D Beresford (1929) where a solitary scientist is determined to rid the world of that useless pest with dangerous unintended consequences, ‘The Gardener’ by Margaret St Clair (1949) where the ‘spirit’ of an alien forest hunts down those who damage the trees under its care and extracts a particularly fitting form of retribution, and ‘Hunter, Come Home’ by Richard McKenna (1963) where a planet being ‘terraformed’ learns to fight back and gains some human allies along the way. This was the best of the collection and couldn’t help but remind me of the original Avatar movie. A few more where definitely above average including ‘Drop Dead’ by Clifford D Simak (1956) where a planets ecology and especially its singular wildlife is just too good to be true, or safe and ‘A Matter of Protocol’ by Jack Sharkey (1962) where an innocent survey mission causes an ecology to go into radical imbalance merely by landing their ship on the surface. 

Overall, this was a reasonable read with a few highlights. I’m glad that I picked it, and several others, up from my fave Indie bookshop a few months ago. This is part of the British Library Science Fiction Classics series. More to come.   

Monday, November 14, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Splitting – The Inside Story of Headaches by Amanda Ellison (FP: 2020) [210pp] 

I can’t remember having that many headaches as a child, nothing notable anyway. I guess that I had them, probably, but nothing that springs to mind. Notable headaches started in my mid-teens, and it turned out that I needed glasses – eye strain and dehydration being two of the most common causes of headaches. Later, as I developed hay fever, my headaches revolved around sinus issues. Later still I had what I now consider to be mild migraines. They came in various shapes and sizes, sometimes in the classic thumping pain in the left temple behind the eye socket, sometimes preceded by the even more classic wavy lines on the edge of my vision and sometimes as what I referred to as my ‘molasses head’ where my brain seemed to be barely functioning although I felt no pain. This lasted for 24-36 hours and then went away helped by some pills. Interestingly, since I retired almost 3 years ago now, I’ve had like one very mild headache which passed barely noticed. It would seem that my most recent headaches (pre-retirement) were likely to have been stress related rather than a matter of low caffeine as previously thought. 

With the history of headaches briefly outlined above seeing this book for a mere £3 in my favourite Indie bookshop was a slam dunk. Rather oddly I’ve never actually done much reading or research regarding headaches before this. I suppose that I saw my long experience with head pain normal and, therefore, hardly worth thinking about. I’m glad I changed my mind and picked this one up. Covering 4 major types of headaches – Sinus (yup, in summer with hay fever and in winter with colds), Stress (yup, but not for a while now), Cluster (thankfully not as they sound truly horrible!) and Migraine (not for at least 3 years, not TOO bad when they do happen, not as bad as my brother who can be in bed with them for days, and not anywhere near as bad as the horror stories I’ve seen about them) - the author looks at the history of each type, how each type manifests in the brain and some of the methods of coping with the event itself, recovering as well as stopping them in the first place before they happen. 

Rather surprisingly, as the author herself mentions, despite all the research into the subject, there’s still a lot we don’t know about why headaches happen although we have a much better idea about how they happen whilst they’re in progress. Drugs can help, although they are generally anti-inflammatory so are really addressing a secondary effect rather than the cause itself. There are occasions where rather drastic surgery is the only answer to a truly debilitating series of Cluster headaches and I’m eternally thankful that I’ve never had to cope with that! But, unfortunately, there’s still a lot of work to be done understanding this often mundane but sometimes crippling condition. Proper hydration and stress reduction can help in many cases but that’s often nowhere near enough. If, like me, you suffer or have suffered from headaches this is definitely worth your time. It won’t offer you a solution to all of your problems, but it will give you a good idea of exactly what’s going on in your head and might give you some ideas of what you can do to mitigate the effects of your headache with or without medication. Recommended. 

Saturday, November 12, 2022

In Label News... 

I’ve made a few minor changes/additions in my Label List over on the right, partially to consolidate an existing theme which will be subject to expansion from next year and partially to emphasize a significant historical event in British history. They are: 


As my long-time readers (thank you!) will know, I started delving into my ancestry during the tail end of the pandemic and was blown away by what I found and how far back I went. All my findings had been grouped under the ‘Looking Backwards’ label. As well as this I’ve been reading some UK based genetics books to see who things fit together and try to discover why I’ve got so much Scottish DNA in my cells! It seemed sensible to amalgamate both threads into a single label – hence ‘Ancestry’. I’ll be adding more books into this label as I try to ‘find my feet’ in the deep history of my family. 


One of the most important events in UK, and arguably world, history over the last 100 years or so was the Battle of Britain - hence ‘BoB’. Looking through my WW2/British history section I was surprised that I’d read much less on this subject than I thought I had. I do have several books on the subject in various piles and it seemed like a good idea to give them a separate home. More to come of this subject from next year.  

More Label News to come in my plans for 2023 and beyond.   

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Eleven Eleven by Paul Dowswell (FP: 2012) [202pp] 

France, The Western Front, November 11th, 1918. The main attack was scheduled for 10:00hrs. The Canadians would advance with the British in support. But first the flank had to be secured. A small platoon would be sent into the woods looking for artillery observers and possible snipers. When the Lieutenant asked for volunteers, Will Franklin was the first to step forward. The rest of the platoon knew the Seargent was his older brother and Will didn’t want them to think that relationship meant he could sit this one out. On the other side of no-man's land, young Axel Meyer had just arrived at the front. At 16 he felt out of place, tired and afraid although he tried his best not to show it. Being surrounded by older more experienced men helped at least a bit. But he knew his duty and he was determined not to let down his family or his town by any act of insubordination or cowardice. At a nearby airfield, 19-year-old American Eddie Hertz wondered why it was so quiet that morning. He’d heard about the Canadian attack and couldn’t understand why his squadron wasn’t getting ready to support them. Then he heard. It was over. The war was done, at least for now. An Armistice, they called it. At 11:00 hours that very day all sides would stop fighting whilst negotiations took place. This was bad news for Eddie. He was one kill short of being an Ace. That’d sure please his mother and impress the girls back home. So, he dressed, told his ground crew to get his plane ready and went for breakfast. He didn’t have long to get that kill. Minutes after Will and his scouting party left their trenches the news arrived – stand down, the war was over. They had to be called back, they were going into a dangerous situation without knowing what was about to happen. Worse still it was possible that any German’s in the wood were also unaware that the fighting was over. A runner was sent.... 

I picked this book up cheap some years ago thinking it might be a bit of disposable fun, a few days light reading. From the blurb as well as the fact that all three of the main protagonists were under 19 years of age I assumed (although it doesn’t say so anywhere) that this was a YA novel. The jury's still out on that but it definitely wasn’t a casual ‘fluff’ piece. It was actually pretty dammed good. Without going into great detail (difficult in just over 200 pages), the author managed to deliver enough details about Will, Axel and Eddie for you to care about what happened to them and have enough happening on that final day to have real worries about whether they lived or died. As the story progressed and all three of the main protagonists became more deeply embroiled in the action there was a real sense of dread and a growing hope that all three would survive especially as we knew about the Armistice and 2 out of 3 of them didn’t. The comparatively small action sequences were very well done with, again, a real feeling of threat. Despite being, I felt, somewhat sanitised (one reason why I thought it for younger readers) there was enough mention of lice, mud, gas, bodies and countless chances of random death to make it feel real and it had an overall cinematic feel that I rather enjoyed. A very good short book which gave some nice insights into a truly horrible conflict. Recommended.