Sunday, 27 March 2011

Towpath Cricket

A friend introduced me to Towpath Cricket, invention of Times columnist Robert Crampton. This friend clearly mis-remembered it slightly, but in fact improved on the original.

Towpath Cricket (Oppenheimer Variation) is played thus: every pedestrian you overtake on a towpath scores you a run. Dogs are two, other cyclists four and a boat six. If you yourself are overtaken, you're out, lad.

My first erm match took place as I cycled to Barnes from Battersea with H, loyally clutching her toy lion Daddy Rara, in the seat on the back.

Our first innings was a scratchy 13, entirely composed of singles and twos, and brought to an end by a silver haired chap on a rusty hybrid. What can I say? I had luggage.

Our second innings was much more dashing. We started with a Sewagesque flourish, scoring a six off a small sailing boat tacking mid-stream, perhaps a degree off perpendicular and thus counting as an overtake. You have to make a few decisions about your rules in this game - stationary pedestrians for instance - but in this case, as with our subsequent boundary off a two year old on a Tweenies bike with stabilisers, I have to say, I'm all, like: read it in the book, pal; they all count.

Sadly, just as I was scoring freely on both sides of the wicket (Wandsworth Gardens) I was castled by a bloke on a Specialized that probably cost more than my car.

Back to the nets...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Guest Post: Jamie d'Ath of The Unsamaritans Book Group

Book: Alone in Berlin (Hans Fallada)

Venue: Big Geoffrey's

Story of resistance in wartime Berlin by workers Otto and Anna Quangel, stirred into action after their only son is killed in military service. Stricken by grief and filled with anger, they take it upon themselves to write and distribute postcards denouncing the Nazi regime. They remain at large for over two years, leading Inspector Escherich and the Gestapo on a merry goose chase. Along the way Fallada introduces us to a dizzying array of characters, representing a varied cross-section of life in Berlin. Whether they be a doctor, lawyer, gambler, shopkeeper, factory worker, postwoman or actor, Nazism has affected everyone deeply and themes of fear, suspicion, self-preservation and redemption run through the book.

The story is based on the true account of Otto and Elise Hampel and was written by Fallada in 24 days in 1947. On reading the epilogue it is clear many of the themes running through the book directly correlate to Fellada's own life.

We had a pretty good discussion. Jd'A felt the book was a good read, with good characterisation though lost its way through the middle of the narrative, with a sense of rushed prose and an unrealistic badly thought through weaving of the story. He felt the epilogue was an important addition to the story and helped explain certain elements of the book.

SB, (so wishing your surname was Spackman for this exercise), really enjoyed the book. She loved the rich characterisation and the very real sense of what it must have been like to live under such a torturous regime. For Frances this was a second time around read. She loved it the first time, though second time round whilst still enjoying it, felt it read a little sloppily. Agreed with SB though in terms of the characterisation. CC and Claire really enjoyed the story and raised the point about decency and the importance of morally doing the right thing. SF felt the characterisation was a little too black and white, in that the "bad guys" really were evil and the "good guys" just a little too squeeky clean. A number countered, including our esteemed host, big G, who sought to show the multi-layering of characterisation throughout the book.

The general consensus was Alone in Berlin was an entertaining and thought provoking read although one universal criticism was levelled at the translation and the possibility of the text losing a lot of its original colour. The title in German is Everyone Dies Alone, which makes a great deal more sense.

After the chin stroking, wine sniffing and big G's ratatouille munching, we got down to the serious business of celebrating the colourful characters that make up our delightful group. There were three prizes up for grabs: MVP, LR, TT. The lasses were a little perturbed with the schoolboy nature of the ceremony but got stuck in to award the following:

MVP - Frances
TT - Jd'A/JM

After some pretty dire speeches, ok well just mine, we moved onto the more important open vote on best book and best discussion. The former seemed to be between "The Consolations of Philosophy" and "Knowledge of Angels". The latter was picked up by, "We Need To Talk About Kevin". Worst book was universally agreed to be "The Alchemist" (or anything JM had chosen).
Next time round it is "Watching the English", so bring it on...

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Sudbury, 1844.

I have a blurb-related pet hate:

"Palestine, 1941". "Leningrad, 1952". "England, 31st August 1939". "Vienna, 1939".

The opening sentences of the blurbs for Mornings in Jenin, The Betrayal, The Very Thought of You and Quiet Twin

On the paperback fiction table at Daunts on Fulham Road right now there are fifty two books. No fewer than twelve have blurbs starting either with this exact formulation - location, date - or featuring location and date somewhere in the first line. For example: "In 1901 a young frontiersman named Peter Force comes to New York City" "It is 1940, and bombs fall nightly on London" "On 19 August 1936 Hercules the boxer stands on the quayside at Coruña" "The year is 1878".

It's natural to want to set the scene, but surely we can come up with cleverer ways to do it? And is it really so important to get this information across first? Surely we can arouse a reader's curiosity better by beginning with something that's uniquely appealing about the book, letting the bare facts of its setting come later, or even not at all.