#113 Watching and reading His Dark Materials

My first encounter with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was when I downloaded the first book, Northern Lights, onto my audible app as part of a 2 for 1 deal. The first book in the trilogy is now being marketed as The Golden Compass because of the film of the same name which was based on the book.

My daughter went on to listen to it and when she finished, I downloaded book 2, The Subtle Knife, for her to listen to. I had enjoyed the first book and the film and was very excited when I heard that the BBC had made a television series of the whole trilogy and decided to listen to The Subtle Knife as well.  By the time I’d watch the first two episodes of the TV series I’d finished The Subtle Knife and downloaded the third book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, which I am listening to now.

The themes within the trilogy are not made explicit until the end of the second book, but having studied John Milton and William Blake for my Masters Degree I was interested to see how this aspect of the story developed and am interested in how it might conclude in the third book.

The TV series has introduced elements from The Subtle Knife surprisingly early in the series but I imagine that this is to help the viewers understand how the story develops and has not detracted from the enjoyment of the series at all, so far.

I am enjoying the series so much that I even bought a hardback version of La Belle Sauvage, which was on special offer at one of my local bookshops. This is the first book in a prequel trilogy called The Book of Dust which begins 12 years before His Dark Materials. The second book in this trilogy, The Secret Commonwealthwhich was published this year, is set 20 years after La Belle Sauvage and seven years after The Amber Spyglass and follows the life of the protagonist of both series, Lyra, as she becomes an undergraduate. There doesn’t seem to be any news on when the third book in this trilogy will be released but I, for one will be waiting for it eagerly.

(all paid links)

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#112 Reading The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman


The Memory Book is a Sunday Times bestseller and was a Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club pick. It follows the fortunes of Claire, a mother who is struggling to come to terms with early onset Alzheimer.

The book, told from various perspectives, gives a sense of the frustrations and confusion which a sufferer must experience as well as the effects the condition has on those around.

It is an emotional journey, not just for Claire but also for her eldest daughter who goes in search of her father and for Claire’s husband who finds himself in an awkward position.

If found the book deeply engaging and even the slightly predictable twist was still very rewarding. Readers who like LIVING WITH SACI or LIVING WITH THE HEADLESS MULE will probably like The Memory Book .

Rowan has now written twelve novels including The Day we Met, The Accidental Mother and The Runaway Wife. I listened to The Memory Book on Audible where it was brilliantly read by Robert BlackwoodClare Corbett and Anna Bentinck

(all paid links)



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#111 Wondering what could be the worst thing that could happen after Brexit.


The whole Brexit debate has already polarised the country but while I’ve been writing my dystopian prequel to WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY, I’ve been wondering about what’s the worse thing that could happen, how bad could it get?

Regardless of who wins the General Election on December 12th, we could be in for a rough ride. If Labour wins and organises a second referendum we could see a rash of right wing riots which have already been promised by Boris Johnson in a remark reminiscent of the National Socialists in Germany in the 1930s. Corbyn himself was in favour of leaving the EU and there is no guarantee that the peoples vote would not end in the same result, with the UK leaving the EU, albeit perhaps within the customs union.

The negative effect on the UK economy, combined with excessive divorce payments to the EU could see widespread disatisfaction with whatever government is in power. If you combine this with fake news campaigns promoted by foreign powers, the increasing number of refugees that will inevitably attempt to enter the country, the increasing failure of infrastructure to deal with the demands of climate change and the rising costs of the effects of climate change and a potentially volatile situation could develop. We also might see Svotland demand devolution and regions like the north demanding not just a manifesto but their own assemblies. Could we see a complete break up of the union with Northern Ireland ceded to avoid being the wrong side of the border and igniting further troubles  Could that be the last nail in the coffin for the monarchy?

Both of the major parties have promised huge spending programmes. The Conservative plans don’t return the UK to pre 2010 levels and both parties ignore the national defecit which apparently doesn’t matter any more. Labour plans to use a method is measuring investment which has never been used in a major economy.

Let’s take the pessimistic view of the possible outcomes. Widespread discontentment leaves the path open for the right wing to promise a return to a golden era which never really existed. We have seen this already in the first Brexit votes and in the presidential elections in the US and Brazil where nationalism is thinly disquised as patriotism and used as an excuse to implement right wing policies.

The population can so easily be manipulated as was cleverly demonstrated in the Netflix documentary, The Great Hack. And with social media giants so far refusing to apply their fact checking software to political ads or to ban micro targetted political ads altogether, the stage is set for more election interference.

And why are so many leading politicians so eager to leave the EU so quickly? I would recomend watching the film, The Laundromat, also on Netflix, in which a stella cast explains the system of tax avoidance. The EU intends to implement tighter laws which would prevent the rich from using offshore shell companies to avoid paying tax. So it should come as no surprise then that leading Brexit campaigner and CEO of fracking company Ineos is planning to live in Monaco to avoid paying £4bn in tax in the UK which could be used for hospitals, schools, public transport and policing. Why to we listen to people that only have the good their own pockets in mind, rather than the good of the country.

Make sure you vote on December 12th and vote for the good of the country not the good of the rich.

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#110 Reading Constitution by Nick Webb


If you like Rusky bashing, space wars and alien threats then this is definitely the book for you. In the top ten Kindle books in space exploration, colonisation and metaphysical science fiction, Constitution obviously appeals to a large audience and as the first in the Legacy Fleet series, there is plenty more where that came from.

The book has over 1,600 5-star reviews on Amazon.com and in his bio, Nick claims that he became a scientist so that he could build starships. He laments that Unfortunately, his ship is taking longer to build than he’d hoped, so fictional starships have to do for now. He also says he is busy on social media,  tweeting and facebooking about Nasa, science, space, SciFi, and quoting Star Trek II from his home in Washington state.

I listened to the book on Audible because I wanted to see how one of the best selling science fiction books compared to the series of sci-fi novellas that I’m currently writing. I have to admit that my own series is more light-hearted than Nick’s book which is a patriotic alien bashing of the kind you would expect from a blockbuster movie like Independence Day. Perhaps one day they will adapt the series for the screen.

The first of my own novellas, THE DOOMED PLANET, has already gone out to the beta readers and I hope to be able to reveal some cover options in the next week or so. The actual launch date is December 6th. The sequel, SHIPMENT TO DAPHNIS, has also gone out to the beta readers and should be launched early January. I am still editing novella three, ROCKET TO TRINCULO, which should be launched early February.

Watch this space for more information.

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#109 Reading Booker winning novel Milkman by Anna Burns


At a time when the Booker Prize has just been controversially awarded to two authors, Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo, I thought it might be an opportune moment to share with you my opinion of last year’s Booker Prize winning novel, Milkman by Anna Burns.

Anna Burns was born in Belfast and raised in the working-class Catholic district of Ardoyne which gained notoriety due to the large number of incidents during the Troubles. Milkman, like her previous two novels is set against a backdrop of violence division and retribution.

Having never been to Northern Ireland, my knowledge of the Troubles has been limited to what I have see in the British media so I’m in no position to say whether the communities depicted in Milkman are an actual reflection of the reality of the time, however, I would like to think that the novel has helped me to understand the issues which touched these communities a bit better than before I had read it.

The book is experimental in the respect that it has no character names. The protagonist is ‘middle sister’ and the other characters are referred to either by their relationship to the protagonist and her family or by the way the community views them, for example, ‘issue women’ or ‘real milkman’ as opposed to just ‘milkman’ a man much older than the protagonist who begins stalking her.

This novel is a humourous and enlightening look at what was clearly a very difficult period in the history of the people of Northern Ireland and I would recommend to anyone interested in literary fiction.

It certainly kept m away from writing for a while.

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#108 Having an endoscopy


I can’t believe I’ve written over 100 posts without including a picture of my insides. Well, I’m going to rectify that right now. Above is a cute shot of my oesophagus.

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous about letting someone stick a tube into me though not as nervous as I would have been if they were sticking it in the other end.

Perhaps it was this nervousness or my poor eyesight which led me to leave the piece of paper from my doctor requesting the procedure at home. Instead I took a prescription for a drug beginning with E so I assumed that the terrible handwriting said Endoscopy.

Twenty minutes later, I’d walked home to get the correct piece of paper and we were in the waiting room.

The doctor  in charge of the procedure was very nice and explained everything that was going to happen, slowly and patiently.

They asked me to hold a small plastic tube between my teeth and then injected 5mg of midazolan.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the comfy chair in the waiting room and asking my wife, in Portuguese, whether it was all over. The whole procedure had only taken five minutes and the xilocaina spray they had asked me to swallow must have worked because I felt no discomfort at all.

It turns out that one of the uses of midazolan is that decreases anxiety and it was truly wonderful. I sat in another comfy in an area the clinic has for patients to avail themselves of free coffee and biscuits and it was the comfiest chair in the world. The coffee was the best coffee in the world and the biscuits were just amazing.

The effects of the midazolan were so great that I would be quite happy to go and have an endoscopy every week.

Apparently I have erosive esophogitis and erosive gastritis which, as well as taking the pills the doctor prescribed, involves me eating smaller, more-frequent meals, avoiding irritating foods, especially those that are spicy, acidic, fried or fatty and, worst of all, avoiding alcohol.

At least I managed to avoid writing for a while.

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#107 Stomach pains

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Those who know me know that I like a drink and that what I like better than a drink is a few drinks.  So having a few at the staff party is not unusual for me but having problems getting myself home, is. Therefore,  I was very pleased with myself this year when I managed to not only leave the venue before the party ended but also managed to order myself an Uber and get myself home.

Imagine my disappointment then, when only moments after successfully getting myself to bed, I staggered to the bathroom and vomited a red wine hue of liquid barf all over the joint. Never mind, I told myself whilst on hands and knees, at my wife’s orders, wiping the residue off all of the surfaces, including the toothbrushes. I’m getting old, I must remember not to overdo it with the red wine next time.

The next time came the following week at a stag weekend in Rio de Janeiro where I carefully avoided the red wine and, despite accidentally drinking quite a lot of tequila, I survived the weekend and felt okay.

Three weeks later was my birthday. Okay, so I had consumed drinks in between, but I hadn’t overdone it. I went to a craft ale bar where I drank quite a bit of strong IPA and washed that down with a veggie burger and a soggy piece of pork crackling. I know, I only have myself to blame, but hadn’t set any personal bests or broken any Olympic or world records.

That night, I had to get up four times to allow the contents of my stomach to eject itself the way it had come in. For the next four days, (look away if you’re squeamish), how shall I say this? The consistency of my stool was liquid, it was like weeing out of my bum.

After four days of that, I’d had enough but I had promised to visit the in-laws who live at the beach where the healthcare is of the public rather than the private kind and anyone who can afford it usually opts to pay for private medical care for reasons which became immediately apparent as soon as I entered the public health centre.

The walls sported hand wash dispensers in various states of disrepair but none of them actually contained any hand wash. The clinic was essentially an accident and emergency unit, but anyone requiring admission to hospital would need to be driven 114 km (71 miles) to Sao Paulo. In my experience, the doctors in the public hospitals look as if they have either come out of retirement to fill a shortage or they are much younger but have taken more drugs than they prescribed.

After my five hours in the clinic I had been given a couple of medicines intravenously, had a blood test and been told that it was probably just a virus, to take some medicine at home and not to worry about it.

Four days later and the pain that had started the day after the clinic, felt like it was travelling around my side, so I went to another accident and emergency department, this time at a private hospital in Sao Paulo. Within a couple of hours I had used several fully functional hand wash dispensers, given blood and urine, had a ct scan and the doctor told me that there was nothing unusual in the results and that it was probably just my fatty liver and that I should drink less, lose weight and exercise – tell me something i don’t know.

Fine, I thought and set to work improving my diet but, despite my efforts and my continued abstinence, not only did i not lose weight but the pain did not go away. I began to consider what other causes there might be and realised that, the day before the staff party, my cardiologist had prescribed a third tablet for my cholesterol to add to the other two I was already taking. I jumped on Dr Google and red that the tablets should not be taken with large amounts of alcohol and can cause liver damage. I stopped taking the tablets to see if anything improved but the pain continued.

I had been drinking large amounts of milk to try and ease the acid and the thought occurred to me that I might have developed a lactose intolerance. Immediately, I cut dairy out of my diet but, although the pain cut worse when I forgot my diet and accidentally ate cheese, on the whole nothing changed.

Now, I usually do all my medical appointments during the school holidays but, with half term still three weeks away, I couldn’t wait and made an appointment with a gastroenterologist. I went with strict instructions from my wife to ask for a colonoscopy and an endoscopy and, although I did mention her desire for him to insert tubes in my orifices, he settled for an ultrasound and blood tests. He suspected worms and prescribed Nitazoxanide which, according to wikipedia, is a broad-spectrum antiparasitic and broad-spectrum antiviral drug that is used in medicine for the treatment of various helminthic, protozoal, and viral infections. Ironically, one of the side effects is stomach pain. It turned my wee a funny colour but, apart from that, I can’t see I’ve noticed much difference except that the pain is more in my stomach than the side.

I have my return appointment on Monday, so I’ll give you an update after then.

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