17 October, 2016

Nadiya's Bake Me a Story: Fifteen Stories and Recipes for ChildrenNadiya’s Bake Me a Story: Fifteen Stories and Recipes for Children by Nadiya Hussain

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The 2 stars are for the book. The BBC gets 1 star. The “author” Nadiya, gets 5! I was sent this book to look at to buy it for the shop. Nothing Nadiya Hussein who won the baking show, Great British Bake Off last year, could do could possibly match up to the hype the BBC have been hysterically pushing for months now. I understand that the BBC out of a mistaken sense of being politically-correct have decided that this pretty, nicely spoken mum-of-three is going to be the Next Big Ethnic Star and show that Not All Muslims are Fundamentalists.

Are they stupid or what? Those who believe that all Muslims support ISIS are going to be horrified by a hijab and heavy make-up wearing Muslim woman anyway. The rest of us aren’t that stupid. Nadiya is a presenter, is getting her own show, her own books, and interviews all over the place. The BBC say she is a National Treasure. I understand how swayed by the promises of fame and riches Nadiya obviously was, but her first exposure to being a major media presence was baking a cake for the Queen’s birthday, it was awful. She’s an amateur and bakes family-style, not slick wedding-cake, royal icing and sculpted tiers. She was out of her depth as the picture shows. And so she is with the book.

The book is a rehashing of fairy tales and simplistic recipes for the primary school set (they are quite nice actually). The book is obviously a production set-piece from the BBC and the publisher put together by a ghost writer and illustrator with contributions from Nadiya (maybe).

Nadiya is not a “national treasure”, “rising media star” or an author. She’s a nice woman with a pretty face who is a good amateur baker and she should do what the other winners do, bake in her local community, maybe run cookery classes or set up a little shop or cafe. Her town is, I’m sure, proud of her and would support her and probably put her on the local media where she could grow, at her own pace and how far she went would depend on her talent and charisma (which she has).

I just really hate to see someone set up for a fall by the BBC whose own agenda required them to find a Nadiya and they just didn’t care about her as a person at all.

Good luck Nadiya. I didn’t love the book, but I loved you in the Great British Bake Off and wish you the best.


CecilyI never watched Bake Off, but I caught Nadiya’s interview on Desert Island Discs (here, though the link may not work where you are:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07nng5j) and was utterly charmed by her, and the way she talked about herself, her life, and her beliefs.

I then caught a bit of her on some comedy panel show on TV and thought much the same as you have here. She’s a lovely and admirable woman, a friendly and positive face of British Islam, but I fear for where she’s being pushed, and how fast. I hope we are wrong.

message 2: by Petra X (last edited Sep 28, 2016 06:06AM) rated it 2stars

Petra XCecily wrote: “She’s a lovely and admirable woman, a friendly and positive face of British Islam, …”

She’s really nice, that’s what got her to be the BBC’s National Islamic Treasure. When you see BBC shows, like Great British Bake Off, and various others, you see the make-up of the contestants. Here we have the Token Black (British), Token Black (from Africa) (one of the Blacks should be a Professional) Mixed Race person, Person with very common accent, Old Person who is just as good as the young ones (maybe better, but they can’t win because they aren’t Attractive Enough to be used in further programming). Then there is the Asian, Sikh, Hindu or Muslim and for some reason I’ve never been able to fathom, one person has to have ginger hair. The rest of the people can be white.

It’s not that I’m against ethnic casting, far from it, when my sons were young, I couldn’t find hardly any tv (apart from dreadful sitcoms from the US) or even books with black children, let alone mixed race ones. It’s the BBC’s cynical agenda and the way they play with people I despise.

If people in the UK really needed to be shown that Muslims are just like us, then they would never have elected a Muslim mayor of London. People don’t need preaching to.

MaryannC.Book FiendOh how disappointing, really loved her on British Baking show, she was a such a sweetheart, too bad this book was a let down

Petra XMaryannC.Book Fiend wrote: “Oh how disappointing, really loved her on British Baking show, she was a such a sweetheart, too bad this book was a let down”

The book was not “her”. It was a publishing company/BBC production using Nadiya to sell it. Or that’s how it read.

message 5: by Laura

LauraYuck. How sad that they are pushing her like that. Oh well. Next year great British bake off will be on channel four.

MaryannC.Book FiendPetra X wrote: “MaryannC.Book Fiend wrote: “Oh how disappointing, really loved her on British Baking show, she was a such a sweetheart, too bad this book was a let down”

The book was not “her”. It was a publishin…”

No, I know, just too bad BBC didn’t do a better job with this

Petra XLaura wrote: “Yuck. How sad that they are pushing her like that. Oh well. Next year great British bake off will be on channel four.”

I wonder if they will be able to duplicate it’s success? The BBC are very good at capturing the very low-key, understatedness and self-deprecation that is so British and entertaining. I’m not sure if C4, dependent on advertising and selling shows isn’t going to for a more obvious, loud and self-congratulatory format in order to appeal to the American market?

Also with commercial breaks that means finishing on ‘cliff hangers’ and restarting with recaps. Then there is the chemistry of Mary/Paul, can they recreate that? I don’t so go for the Mel and Sue, I don’t think they were integral, just their role.

message 8: by Carol

CarolI didn’t even know who she was when I started to read your review, that’s how out of the reality TV I am.

Interesting how they would try to make this woman someone she is not.

Enjoyed reading the discussion here.

Petra XCarol wrote: “Interesting how they would try to make this woman someone she is not. Enjoyed reading the discussions here…

I love discussions following reviews. They are how we all get to know each other and become friends.

MaryannC.Book FiendPetra X wrote: “Carol wrote: “Interesting how they would try to make this woman someone she is not. Enjoyed reading the discussions here…

I love discussions following reviews. They are how we all get to know ea…”


message 11: by Malia

MaliaNice review, Petra! I haven’t read the book, but I do like Nadiya, and hope she has a good agent/manager who is looking out for her best interests, and won’t let her become a figurehead for something she is not prepared.

message 12: by Cecily

CecilyRegarding BBC token casting, I believe there was recently a decision that comedy panel shows on BBC radio and TV must have at least one woman. Of those I’ve heard and seen lately, that appears to be happening in practice. I have mixed feelings: I don’t like the idea of positive discrimination, but I do like the idea of diversity and exclusivity.

Petra XCecily wrote: ” I have mixed feelings: I don’t like the idea of positive discrimination, but I do like the idea of diversity and exclusivity. …”

That’s how I feel. Except that they really needn’t do it if they changed the way they cast things. Years ago I did something for the Children’s Channel. They were looking to recruit a presenter and got 5,000+ applicants so I got the job of sorting them. The people who got interviews ALL (without exception) “knew” someone, or at least could drop names. And the two who got the job – a Heseltine and a Freud. The people who had no connections were just not even considered. I shouldn’t imagine it’s much different now.

message 14: by Cecily

CecilyI think “exclusivity” was a typo, but I’m not sure what word I intended. Never mind; you got my meaning. Yes, I expect things are still fairly similar, but not being an insider, I’ve got no way of knowing for sure.

message 15: by lethe

letheAw, that is sad, she deserved better than being thrown to the lions like that.

Petra Xlethe wrote: “Aw, that is sad, she deserved better than being thrown to the lions like that.”

For sure. She is probably incredibly flattered and loves the idea of fame and fortune though. She was such a sweetie on that show.

PorshaJoNice review Petra X. I did watch the show in the US this summer and was a bit surprised that she won. They seemed to focus on her quite a bit on the show (more than others). This seems to be the case with the show’s winners – they must churn out a book. Quality is not an issue, as long as it’s pushed out. And if it’s anything like that cake, which is dreadful, I can only imagine the contents. But the concept of stories and baking…..they threw her to the wolves.

Petra XPorshaJo wrote: “They seemed to focus on her quite a bit on the show (more than others). This seems to be the case with the show’s winners – they must chur…”

I think the BBC had picked the winner from the applicants before the show started. They had an agenda and just needed the “star”. I think this probably happens quite a bit. After all in Pop Idol and The X Factor, the “amateurs” are often professionals who haven’t achieved a great deal or have won talent shows in other countries and have been invited to audition.

The producers are after making a good program and it only has to look ‘real’, it doesn’t have to be so in reality.

message 19: by Fiona

FionaI’m sure the participants don’t have a choice. It’s probably in their contract that they have to do X, Y and Z after the show. It works for some and not others. I thought Nadiya’s recent journey / food travel programme was pretty awful and feel sorry that she’s found herself in a role that she looks so uncomfortable in. She was a real personality on the show but it doesn’t transfer into the wider media (IMHO).

Petra XFiona wrote: “I’m sure the participants don’t have a choice. It’s probably in their contract that they have to do X, Y and Z after the show….”

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Nadiya was picked from the applicants to fulfil the BBC’s political agenda and thought she was just going into a cooking show. Someone else like that was Princess Diana. Maybe it’s a woman thing, I will have to give that some thought.

PorshaJoPetra X wrote: “The producers are after making a good program and it only has to look ‘real’, it doesn’t have to be so in reality. .”

This is why I never watch “reality” shows. I only watch the baking show via the computer as I’m interested in the actual baking/food porn. I just want to see what they make. I do have to say the European version of the show (original) does not have much drama sliced together by the producers. The US version of the show was completely unwatchable. So much drama and fighting, all slighted, and probably encouraged, by the producers. I quit watching after the first episode.

But agree with Fiona – most people probably think I want to see if they can bake, if they can win this. Not knowing what is in their contracts. I have seen various baking books by the other contestants (non-winners) and I suspect they were required to put their face on these items.

message 22: by AH

AHI stumbled across the british bake off show when I was channel flipping and I really enjoyed the show. I didn’t know who won because I never got to see that episode. I liked the show because they were challenged to bake things I don’t usually see, along with the regular stuff. I liked Nadiya because she seemed like a real down to earth kind of baker and it’s nice to see a little cultural diversity on tv. Too bad her cookbook did not wow you.

Petra XPorshaJo wrote: “The US version of the show was completely unwatchable. So much drama and fighting, all slighted, and probably encouraged, by the producers. I quit watching after the first episode….”

Me too. A lot of the US cookery shows are like that. Especially the Next Food Network Star which is all drama and personality and 30 seconds of some food.

@AH As Porshajo said, it’s probably just a book she had to put her face to. It makes me dislike the BBC and the publishing company. But I hope Nadiya doesn’t get eaten alive by the media on her lacklustre performances and book and can make a good career (if that is what she wants) on her own terms.

message 24: by Ixan

IxanThe BBC have this warped left-wing agenda that pushes only one side of the news but pretends to be authoratative and objective reporting. This has been going on for years. It’s not really left wing in the old socialist way but repressive as a more communist persecute the enemy way.

message 25: by Cecily
CecilyAs you thought, ‘Nadiya Hussain has signed a deal to front programmes on the BBC… she will continue to make films for The One Show and develop “other exciting programme ideas”…Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, described Hussain as an “exciting new talent”‘

Petra XCecily wrote: “Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, described Hussain as an “exciting new talent”‘ …”

She isn’t though, is she? She might be ok for a 3 minute baking spot on daytime tv and then sitting on a couch and chatting afterwards. The stuff about ITV wanting her for a judge alongside a professional baker of note like Paul Hollywood is just so much BBC spin to build up their diversity ‘star’.

message 27: by Cecily

CecilySadly, I agree. I just hope that when she loses her TV lustre, she can find continued happiness.

Petra XI think she will be able to make a career for herself in a more minor way. I hope she doesn’t feel used and abused though, or at least thinks the money was worth it.

There was another cooking show My Kitchen Rules UK last week, absolutely dire, nothing like the wonderful Australian version, and it had a Muslim brother and sister. Woman wearing hijab. I realise that all shows must now contain Blacks and Muslims but why only hijab-wearing? I know plenty of Muslims here and in London and not one of the wears it. What is their point? Or is it that we might miss the point?

23 June, 2016

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western AmazonMother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon by Paul Rosolie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was very eager to read this book as I had spent three months up the Amazon living in a settlement of Caboclo Indians. These are mixed race from the rubber boom of the 19th century. They hadn’t gone to the cities to live but remained in the jungle intermarrying with those they called ‘the painted men’. They had no contact with tourists of any kind and I was the first non-Indian to have visited them.

How I got there was I was sailing around the world with three friends and when we got to Brazil, they all went to Rio de Janeiro and I thought it was my one and only chance to go up the Amazon. Over the next month I went first to Belem, then Santarem ending up in Manaus. I spent a few weeks working out how to avoid the tourist routes and arranged tours. I was in a travel agency when the guide, an Indian, said he was going back home for three months and did I want to come? We negotiated a price and then after a fantastic two day journey sailing on river boats, canoes, a bus (it got stuck at a pot hole big enough to sink it in which Victoria Regina lillies 6′ across were growing) and finally walking we got to Lake Amañas in Amazonas.

40 or so people lived around this lake which was so big it took a river motor boat 2.5 hours to sail around. A few people lived in houses on stilts, one with the most beautiful parquet floor a la William Morris I have ever seen, but most on floating houses. I lived in the latter. The dish-washing and toileting arrangements involved holes in the sweet-smelling wood floor with pirañas waiting to clean the plates or receive… offerings.

My days were filled with fishing with seine nets and leaky pirogues, hunting with spears and dogs, music on tiny little guitars and panpipes and visiting the people who lived around the lake. I was most impressed by the medicine man who was as graceful and beautiful as a ballet dancer and who applied sound hygenic and herbal principles to his work, he wasn’t a shaman. I learned how to catch crocodiles in my bare hands although I only did it once (it was enough!)

So when the author writes about his trips into the jungle, I’m not exactly ignorant and he is writing to impress with things he says are unique but in fact are quite everyday.

The Amazon rises and falls 40′ a year from the melt-water of the snow in the Andes. This means that the forest can be flooded for part of the year, then it is known as igapo, and trees quite tall can look like little bushes when you manoeuvre your leaky canoe around them. I arrived when the waters had gone down considerably and on dry land there was a small tree with a dead and stinky anaconda draped from not far above the ground, over the top and down to the ground again. It was bigger than anything in the Guinness book of world records and eclipsed the author’s biggest ever 25′ one. The author said he fantasised that if he had taken a picture it would have been on the front cover of Time. Judging by the size of the tree the dead one I saw was between 35-45 ft. long. The Indians I was with said that it was a big snake, unusual but not unique and that they left it there as a warning to other snakes not to come near.

Another thing was when the author described the ‘rarely-seen landscape of floating islands’ by moonlight. These floating islands were common on the lake where the river flowed very slowly through. They vary greatly in size from a small rug upwards. They are made up of matted grass roots, the beautiful water hyacinth and small bushes. I was told you can’t walk on them, although the big ones will support your weight because they are full of biting ants. Also, in the daytime, crocodiles hide under them for the shade.

Once, when I was visiting the medicine man I tied up my canoe to the bank but when I came back an hour or two later I found myself land-locked by a huge island, the size of a football pitch. All you can do is push it with the paddles, it’s a heavy job, until it starts to part and move off slowly. They are never stationary for long.

The last example I want to write about is his encounter with ‘rare, fast-moving’ morpho butterflies. So rare apparently that his Indian friend takes a leaf to wrap up a dead one the author found in a parcel. I was out hunting one day with the medicine man’s son. We had two dogs with us and spears and found ourselves in a beautiful little glade with a small pool in the middle and sunlight shafting down from high up above the canopy. There were morphos everywhere! Although the author says they were very fast fliers, these ones were taking it easy. Their huge, hand-size wings, glimmering and shining all the blues a sky can be, as they glided around the glade sometimes settling on us. One brushed my cheek with a wing and left a drift of angel dust. It was like an enchantment.

The author left the Amazon and went to India. He became just the sort of bleeding heart white liberal that infest the Caribbean sitting on committees to preserve the natural environment or even taking it back and not giving a damn about how the locals are supposed to make a living. They’ve made their pile, they’ve got a house and family ‘back home’ now they want to see a paradise preserved for their winter homes.

Conservation is important. Good conservation is taking necessary progress into account and negotiating a way through that. When that isn’t done, people will remain not just poor when they can see they needn’t be, but bitter and seek to take what they can. Poaching, burning, corrupt politicians (and huge foreign conglomerates) are their weapons.

So what finally got me to put the book down was this sentence that shows the attitude of the author that he finds elevated and admirable and I find beyond irrelevant:

“What is it about our species that allows us to watch sitcoms and argue over sports while cultures and creatures and those things meek and green and good are chopped, shot and burned from the world for a buck? “

All creatures are not meek and good, but his point is, as is with a lot of propaganda, if you can’t work it through the facts, then go for the emotions, guilt-trip ’em. It is implied that we should get off our lazy arses and fill our days and evenings with meaningful work towards conserving the wildlife of this planet just like he does, no time for levity, frippery or going to the pub.

This is a bit like blaming people for the problems of pollution and Garbage on the planet when really it is industry, from cafes on up, that are responsible for over 95% of it. As long as it’s the individual doing their best to be green, we will get swallowed by a massive wave of communal self-congratulation and governments, industry, banks and businessmen will continue on in their own sweet way, destroying the planet for money. This should not be an emotional issue as it is sold, it certainly isn’t to industry or the banks. So that sentence of his and its import made me dnf this book.

Now it could be that if I didn’t know the Amazon so well, didn’t live on a beautiful island where conservation and progress are in opposition but forever butting up in the middle, that I would have enjoyed this book. Instead I found it to be ego-driven with the author’s great delight in being such an interesting person. He wasn’t. His adventures weren’t spectacular to me and the unique events were commonplace.

Two stars. One extra because it was quite well-written.

This was how I got up the Amazon with the The Forsyte Saga.
This is how to catch crocodiles in your bare hands and where floating islands play a part.

17 June, 2016

Noughts & Crosses (Noughts & Crosses, #1)Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Reading this, I read about a quarter of it I suppose, I thought say it was written by someone white from the opposite point of view, that is whites are on top and pushing their agenda, and they wrote in this very ‘I came top of English and joined a writing circle’ kind of way, would we still praise it? Or are we being all white-liberal and this book is kind of helping us say ‘mea culpa’ and the author is very, very cynically playing on that?

And I know it’s all about we can overcome prejudice and just share the love together, but to me that is not the underlying agenda of the book at all. That’s just the hook…

You may have a totally different opinion and disagree with every word I have written above. I respect that, and am happy for discussions. You might even change my mind. But, don’t troll me…

The rest of this is about me, you might not want to bother reading it.

On the island I live on, when I arrived there were about 6,000 people, not poor, nice place to live, very difficult to get to and everyone said ‘hello’ when you passed them on the street. It became very wealthy quite quickly and the government gave many scholarships for the bright young things who wanted to go to historically-black African-American universities in the US. Some of them were staff working before college, and they were a lovely bunch.

When they got back they would come and see me from time-to-time. Mo had become a Black Muslim. He invited me to a poetry reading and said that if I heard anything against whites I shouldn’t take it on, it wasn’t directed at me. Maie came back and started a political party for youth representation, grew her locks and wrote in the paper about how whites need re-educating. I had tea with a friend, a UN official, and later another one of these kids passing our table, now a journalist, said to her, “I know you have to do business with them but you don’t have to socialise with them to.” (My friend who didn’t feel like that told me). And so it goes.

They were the new intelligensia, angry young blacks carrying a chip on their shoulder of all the ills that African-American society has to deal with in America. What they had forgotten was that the black man is king in his own country, and the island government was entirely black, and doing very well.

They are older now. They are running the colleges, the schools, the newspapers, some are aiming for politics (not quite old enough), and they are nice to your face whilst maintaining their pernicious attitudes. They teach a form of history that is fake, they worship some of the most evil people looking only to see what their attitudes are towards white people. But always very pleasant to your face. They have me caused a lot of harm whether educationally with my kids , or giving book contracts for schools to a furniture supplier rather than to the white woman and her bookshop.

So I know where this book is coming from.

Do I say that Black racism is here and all the whites are innocent victims? Somewhat, nobody white has any power really. But there is plenty of white racism, very covert, it is not our society, but it exists and is often social. You don’t get invited places, neither do your children. Some of them won’t patronise a ‘traitor’s’ business (mine) and speak disparagingly of you. They have caused me a lot of harm what with no contracts from their schools, social isolation for my kids and talking trash to me (those who don’t know me) about blacks in general. They say things like ‘when we all leave this place is going to be like Haiti again’. (It never was, it was never poor).

I do see both sides. My ex is black, from a top political family. Two of my sons are black, one has locks, he’s lovely and loud and very protective of me. Although I am their stepmother (for most of their lives) when people say as they still do, ‘she ca’an be yu mudder, she a white woman’, they will immediately say I am and none of us will say ‘step’, just mother, just sons.

My youngest son turned out white, more or less, and as long as the whites in school didn’t mix with the blacks he was invited everywhere. But then came the funeral of a Prime Minister, a brother in law and everyone knew it was my family, and the invitations stopped from most of them. At 8 my son’s hair went kinky and light brown (rather than blonde). He was blamed for everything and thrown out of the white school. The black tutor I employed charged me 5 times as much as he did locals.

I really know it from both sides.

And I know where the author is coming from and I am disgusted.


24 April, 2016
The BFGby Roald Dahl

April 2016

Do you know what the BFG stood for before his publisher told him he had to think of other words for the acronym? Dahl wasn’t joking either, not at all. This story is of a man’s interest in a prepubescent girl. The first thing he does is enter her bedroom in the middle of the night and kidnap her. Taking her away from the orphanage she lives in to the land of the extremely unfriendly giants who, in the original draft forced the little girl to look at their giant ‘clubs’. But the BFG’s different, he’s friendly….(grooming!)  It all ends with the little girl giving the BFG kisses and living next door to him and everyone is very happy. Dahl sees himself as the BFG giving Sophie, children, a new way to think, different from human adults, who don’t even believe in giants let alone let themselves be loved by them.

It is an inventive story without doubt, and all fairy stories require you to absolutely suspend disbelief. Lots of them include sexual and violent elements which children either don’t notice (sexual) or thoroughly enjoy (violent). When Disney gets hold of them, they lose both and become the anodyne Barbie-doll princesses (cue violins-in-the-background) we are used to. In that tradition, the BFG succeeds.

In the mid-to-late 20thC there was less emphasis on paedophilia than there is now, and I wonder if it this book could have been written at all in the 21stC. Ironically, this book is banned in some educational districts in the US for ‘teaching poor moral values’ and cannibalism. Ridiculous. Children laugh at those sort of things. I don’t believe in banning books, but Dahl was an unpleasant character and it is wilful blindness to ignore the feet of clay our heroes sometimes have as we place laurel wreaths on their brows.

Misogyny: Dahl’s misogyny, especially in his adult stories, is quite extreme, and, in shades of Harper Lee and Go Set a Watchman being turned into To Kill a Mockingbird at the publisher’s insistence, the first draft of Matilda:

“Painted the protagonist as a devilish little hussy who only later becomes “clever”, perhaps because she found herself without very much to do after torturing her parents.”Dahl’s editor Stephen Roxburgh completely revised Dahl’s last novel and, in doing so, turned it into his most popular book.”

Anti semitism,: ” In a 1983 interview with the New Statesman, he said, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they [the Jews] were always submissive.” Buzzfeed

Racism and rudeness. Remember the Oompah-Loompahs? The NAACP objected that in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the manual labor, performed by characters called Oompa-Loompas, are described by Dahl as African Pygmies, essentially brought-over slaves running the chocolate factory. Look at the original illustrations for the first edition of the book on Bidnessetc In the BFG, one of the giants, the Fleshlumpeater is supposed a black character, certainly another of them likes eating Turkish people.

There is also a discussion on Bignessetc on his general misogyny and unpleasant character leading his publishing company, Knopf, who made a lot of money from him to write,

“You have behaved to us in a way I can honestly say is unmatched in my experience for overbearingness and utter lack of civility.”

Dahl used to belong to the only country club in South Wales that allowed Jewish members. My father and grandfather were members in their time. He once objected very loudly to the number of Jews dining there and how it fouled the atmosphere. The management threw him out and banned him. He is supposed to have done something similar at a gambling club in London with the same result!

I think he worked on the principle that everyone male, white and Christian shared his views on women, non-whites and Jews. I get it here, those sort of whites say racist things to me thinking because I am white I will go along with it. My clerks, always black, say they get complaints about whites from other blacks thinking they are bound to sympathise, but they don’t. But most of us aren’t racist or hate any group of people. Trouble is most people aren’t vocal about that in a conversation and are likely to nod and just file it away. We need always to speak out.

Perhaps the best link of all to Roald Dahl is This Recording. He was without doubt a horrible person, but equally without doubt, a tremendously talented writer with an extraordinary imagination. I’ve enjoyed on some level all of his books and the films made of them.


24 April, 2016

Untouchableby Mulk Raj Anand

April 24, 2016

This is only a short book and the first two-thirds are quite interesting – a day in the life of a downtrodden Untouchable latrine cleaner and his rat-eating family. The preaching of the last third rather spoiled it though. It is true that flush lavatories would solve the problem for the toilet-cleaning caste, but it is hardly a solution for the Untouchables, no matter what name Gandhi gave them.

Part of the problem of the Untouchable caste is that it isn’t actually a problem at all for anyone who isn’t Untouchable, in fact it’s desirable to have them. Since they, the pariahs of society, do all the work that no one else wants to do, and at minimum wage, and all this exploitation can be justified as being in the name of religion, in the name of not interfering with the Infinite plan there is no impetus from society to improve these people’s lives.

It’s not so far from the way the US treats illegal Mexican immigrants. It allows them to stay to do the work that no one else wants to do for those wages in those conditions. They live in fear of everything and everyone. If they are beaten, robbed or raped they have no redress. They daren’t complain. So just as with the Untouchables not being a problem if you aren’t one, neither are the illegal immigrants.

There are two ways, from a religious point of view, of looking at them. Either they must have done something pretty dreadful in their previous lives to get born an Untouchable and this is Divine punishment, or alternatively, these people must have been really good dogs, cockroaches or whathaveyou to have become human in this life and who are mere humans to interfere with this great Cycle? When looked at in this way, it’s a pretty clever organising of society, of religion, to get the work done. Another way of putting it, one more familiar to us, is the richer get richer and the poor live in ghettos and clean the houses, shops, subways and streets for them.

One of the solutions proposed is Christianity, which has the great advantage of not having a rebirth system so a lowly caste becomes a class problem for which education can provide a ladder up and out. Another solution, one partly in effect now, was Gandhi’s renaming the caste Harijan, or Children of God, and his movement to include rather exclude them from society.

The third solution isn’t sadly as widespread as it ought to be, the flush toilet. The poor who live and sleep on the pavements still shit in the gutter, those living in slums and tenements crap into plastic bags which they launch far into the air earning them the nickname of parachutes and those slightly less poor than that have flush toilets but no running water. So whether its cleaning latrines or cleaning (un)flushed toilets, or sweeping the streets clean of ‘parachute’ bags, this caste of Untouchables, these Children of God, are still plying their traditional trade.

Sometimes I wonder if everything evil under the sun couldn’t find its justification in one religion or another?

I don’t like being lectured to, and I don’t care what literary device is used to pretend that it’s just the story not a didactic excursion by the author, I just don’t like it. I would probably never have finished the book but my computer broke down and it took an hour to fix with all the endless waits while it checked files and rebooted. Lucky aren’t I, to have a bookshop and only a slightly iffy computer to annoy me rather than having to live with broken flush toilets and crap to clean from the streets?

Heavily revised 24th April, 2016. Originally reviewed Dec. 1, 2011

Memories of my Melancholy Whores

29 March, 2016

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez


To enjoy this book you have to enter the mind and world of this old, old man, living the last years of his life in poverty in the once-grand, decaying house of his youth. His career never rose above second-rate reporter, he never married and never even fell in love. His personal relationships with women were limited to the whores he paid for. A most unfulfilled life.

But then, for a present for his 90th birthday, he gives himself a 14 year-old virgin, a would-be whore. Exhausted from menial labour and drugged-up with valerian by the brothel madame, she sleeps every night they spend together and for the first time in his life he falls in love. In love with the idea of his sleeping beauty.

This is a poetic, sensual book that many reviewers, unable to see beyond their own ideas of fitness, have condemned as tawdry, a paean to pedophilia and just plain sick. But it isn’t. It’s the last flowering of a rose; touched by frost it should have died but instead is more glorious, more beautiful because it is so unseasonal, a real surprise. What it says about the nature of men’s love for young beauty is age-old: look good, be quiet and demure, and let him be the dominant one, is taken to an extreme here. It worked for Snow White, it worked for the Sleeping Beauty and it works for Delgadina too.

Love changes everything. Despite his 90 years, the old, old man walks with a spring in his step, his head held high and smiling to the world. He has an epiphany, ‘sex is the consolation one has for not finding enough love’ and writes about love in his weekly columns in the local newspaper. This brings him the fame, respect and friendship he had craved all his life. In his 91st year, at last, he has found fulfillment.

Ultimately, Gabriel Garcia Marquez says through this book: Never Give Up.

Read May 1, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

14 March, 2016

The Picture of Dorian Grayby Oscar Wilde


Possessing eternal youth and beauty produces exactly the same effect as sentencing a man to life without the possibility of parole. Both have nothing to lose and morals disappear before the desire for immediate self-gratification in all things. And so it is with Dorian Gray. It’s a moral story so eventually his evil catches up with him and he dies, as does the criminal.

Is Oscar Wilde saying that it is man’s essential nature, to be so internally psychopathic and selfish that so long as he can keep his reputation he will wreak havoc on people’s lives and not care in the process of enriching his own?

Oscar Wilde was a man who held some very nasty views and only cared when extremely similar ones were turned upon himself. (He was imprisoned for homosexuality, but felt it was ok for Dreyfus to be imprisoned on a trumped-up crime but really because he was Jewish. He chose the wrong side on that one and lost even his best friend). I don’t like the author, but I do love his prose.

I read this book years ago. But the psychological story of a man’s realisation that there are no consequences to his actions, nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted, you never forget.

Prosopagnosia, Face Blindness Explained

13 March, 2016

Prosopagnosia, Face Blindness Explained. Prosopagnosia Types, Tests, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Research and Face Recognition all coveredby Lyndsay Leatherdale


Here is a check list of the symptoms of prosopagnosia for self-diagnosis. If you have any difficulty recognising people reliably, you might find it interesting. I’ve put in my own experiences as I think it helps put the questions into context. Or not. Maybe I just like writing anecdotes 🙂

1. Failing to recognise close friends or family members in unexpected situations.

I once left my ex at the airport late at night. I thought it was him but I wasn’t sure. He’d been in college in Canada and his normal brown skin (what we call ‘red’) without the sun had paled to what we call ‘clear’ and he was wearing a hat. Last May I arranged to meet my son in a cafe after he’d come back from Law School and I saw him and called out Daniel. It wasn’t him. The embarrassment… you have no idea.

2. Trouble in following films or television shows that have more than a few distinctive characters.

I don’t have this.

3. Failing to recognize yourself in the mirror and/or have difficulty identifying yourself in photographs or sometimes in reflections.

I don’t have this either.

4. When someone gets a haircut, you may not recognize them when you see them again

I don’t think I have this.

5. Having difficulty recognizing neighbours, friends, co-workers, clients, schoolmates etc, out of context.

I have this big time. But I also fail to recognise them in context as well. There is no guarantee I will recognise even a good customer every time. It’s pretty likely I won’t outside the shop. Ex-employees I often fail to recognise especially if I had no real affection for them.

6. Another common symptom those with prosopagnosia experience is that they are more likely to not be aware that their close friends or family are in the same area if they are in a context that is not of their usual nature. For school friends, this would be at school, for brothers and sisters, this would be at home, or a work co-worker, this would be in the work environment.

Yes. At a party I didn’t recognise one of my sons because I didn’t expect to see him there. At a political cocktail party I failed to recognise a shop assistant I saw almost daily.

7. Lack of navigation skills. For this reason, these individuals are prone to getting lost.

I am famous for this. A few years ago I was staying in Miami and rented a car to drive to the Sawgrass Mills mall. The reception staff at the hotel printed me out a map and gave me very explicit instructions. I drove through the toll booth in the same direction three times in a row. I was with my son who doesn’t have prosopagnosia but also has no sense of direction. The pair of us navigated back to the hotel, but found ourselves first at Opa Locka airport and finally at Fort Lauderdale airport. There we were pulled up where we shouldn’t have been when a police car stopped and started to tell us off and then realised we were genuinely hopelessly lost, so the very nice policewoman said to follow her and took us all the way back to the Blue Lagoon Hampton. That is the worst I’ve ever been lost.

8. Inability to recognise left from right.

I have this to some degree but I’ve grown out of it. I couldn’t set a table properly until my 20s. However my parents said that as a young child I showed no preference for my right or left hand so they decided I should be right-handed. There are some things I can only do with my left hand. So maybe this isn’t related to prosopagnosia.

9. Inability to recognise emotions – Those with associative prosopagnosia may have the inability to recognise faces. It is often also the case that they are unable to identify the emotion of the individual as well.

So what may have been put down to AS for me is in fact another symptom of prosopagnosia. This would fit as I’m not really typically AS in any other way.

10. Inability to identify race or colour.

I like to think I’m colourblind but not in that way!

11, Difficulty in reading literature – It may be difficult for an individual to follow a story in a book. This is due to the fact that an individual has difficulty in imagining the faces of the characters described in the book.


So there you have it. I have associative, genetic prosopagnosia. If anyone else has suspected they have more than average inability to recognise faces (it is specific to faces and not anything else at all) and scores high on this test, I’d like to know. How do you cope with other people’s rejection and coldness when they think you have been rude to them and ignored them? How do you cope with the embarrassment? Do you have coping strategies?

Below this is my review of the book which contains one interesting bit – on some very famous people who have it as well, the rest is just personal opinion.

[I have this, but not badly, which might be worse. Oliver Sacks had it very badly, Jane Goodall about the same as me I think,Duncan Bannatyne the millionaire entrepreneur of Dragon’s Den fame has it worse than me, Chuck Close the famous portraitist ironically suffers badly from the condition and Brad Pitt has people thinking he is incredibly rude and snobbish, like all the rest of us, because he too cannot reliably recognise faces. I am not alone!

All of us are thought to cut style on people, deliberately offend them because we couldn’t care about them, and exhibit manners of the very worst kind. None of us have the faintest idea when we are doing this since if we can’t tell you from a stranger, why would we go up to you and be all effusive? When you say hello to us we try and simulate absolute friendship even though we still don’t recognise you, but there is always something missing and people know.

Why I said it is worse for people like me, Duncan, Jane and Brad is that we do recognise most people most of the time, but not always, so it’s like we say hello to you one day and cut you next. People like the late Oliver Sacks and Chuck Close do not recognise hardly anyone any of the time so they can explain themselves. I’m not saying they have an easier time of it, I’m saying people are probably more understanding.)

If you know people who have difficulty in recalling your name or it seems that they don’t recognise you, be kind. tell them who you are and where you last met. Please don’t cut them because you think they have ignored you, they may not know it’s ‘you’ at all.

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know

13 March, 2016

You Don't Look Like Anyone I KnowYou Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first two thirds of this book were the author using the reader as a therapist and just letting out one long blast of hatred towards her family for being so appalling. Or at least that’s the way she tells it. There was absolutely nothing to do with prosopagnosia even vaguely hinted at.

The last third of the book was about prosopagnosia. Sellers sets herself up as an expert and authority on this neurological disorder that she and I share. Having read Prosopagnosia, Face Blindness Explained. Prosopagnosia Types, Tests, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Research and Face Recognition all covered, I don’t share her confidence. The author says she can’t recognise people often, but then reading carefully it seems she can recognise people very often but not reliably, which is what I have.

I’ve had lunch with someone I see at least three times a week and thought I recognised them later in the supermarket but wasn’t sure. However I recognised their handbag (I gave it to her) so that was ok. Facial recognition is by a part of the brain that is discrete, that is all other kinds of recognition are not handled by that area.

For the few people I have met who know they are face blind to some degree, there are various other problems, some of which are to do with interpreting facial expressions which look as though the person has Aspergers, but in fact they don’t. Not all of the things we share are negative, all of us are somewhat intellectual and most of us are artistic as well. This leads me to believe that mild prosopagnosia may just be yet another neurotype, a different kind of wiring, personality really, that is less common that the average one, but not rare, one that people are generally unaware of and just say, “I’m never any good at remembering faces”.

One thing that changed for me was that I decided to be open, to ‘come out’ as it were and tell everyone, so that people would stop thinking I was sometimeish or cutting style on them by not speaking to them. However, half the people laugh and say they don’t believe it and the other half look at me like I’m mad and they don’t believe it either. The only people who do believe it are people who know me well and are forever prodding me when they see someone I know and if I don’t recognise them will tell me their name first. So all I’m doing by telling people I’m face blind is making myself look even more eccentric. What to do?

The book wasn’t a hard read and it was well-written but really reading about other people’s dysfunctional families can be extremely boring. Tolstoy’s opening lines of Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” might well be true, but it doesn’t make them interesting. The book started off as a 2, degenerated rapidly to a 1 and redeemed itself ending up on a good, golden, solid five!



The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

11 March, 2016

by Mark Twain

Feb 10, 16


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThis is a rant. I found Huckleberry Finn on my bookshelf had been changed for Huckleberry Finn Robotic Edition. Some very pc “authors” and “editors” took it upon themselves to change the N word (view spoiler) to ‘robot’. They then rewrote the book to take away any mention of humans and to ‘roboticise’ words such as ‘eye’ which becomes something like ‘optical device’. The illustrations have also been changed. I have no problem with this.

However I have a big problem with the librarians who think think this is close enough to the original that it should be combined and therefore share the ratings of Mark Twain’s original book. There was a long discussion in the librarian thread where some librarians thought it was essentially the same book, perhaps most. So it was combined and the edition of the book I read was changed to that one. I DID NOT read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Robotic Edition.

This robot edition was a Kindle book. Think about it and the danger of these ‘authors’. If this is acceptable and it is to a lot of the librarians, why not politically correct Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Agatha Christie (oh she’s been done already. It was 10 Little N words, then 10 Little Indians, now it’s Then there were 10, lol). Sooner or later print books will be in used bookshops, research libraries and old people’s houses. They will become not books to be read but collector’s items. For reading it will be the ebook where changes can be easily and instantaneously made.

And if politically-correcting everything becomes Amazon policy then the whole publishing world will follow and your children will never know the original story that Mark Twain wrote. They will never understand how N word people were treated.

They will never know that Jim, a grown man who would not normally be expected to hang out with 13 year old boys, kowtowed to Tom and Huckleberry not just because they all liked each other, but because he was not free, he was a slave, property, and was subject to the usual treatment of property. He could be ordered to do anything no matter how stupid or harmful, he could be sold or mistreated not even for punishment but just because he had no human rights whatsoever.

Changing N people to robots negates all this. Yes it is more politically acceptable to Whites but how would a Black person feel having their history taken away from them? This is not pc as much as sanitising history and is wrong on every level.

Do you find this acceptable? A lot of GR librarians don’t see a damn thing wrong with it. But I do.

See Fahrenheit 451