Thursday, 7 November 2019

Echo Hall, by Virginia Moffatt

Echo HallEcho Hall by Virginia Moffatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War destroys families and drives friends apart. But it doesn’t take a war to wreck lives, drive a wedge between husbands and wives and bring a premature end to any hope of happiness. And sometimes it’s not your enemies who inflict most harm, but those closer to home.

Echo Hall echoes with unhappiness, and though world events in the form of three wars account for most of it, the ultimate tragedy arises not from man’s universal inhumanity to man but the domestic bitterness that bubbles and flares and destroys individuals.

I must confess having taken a while to get into this book. I must also admit to skimming some of the epistolary passages which seemed to contain just a little too much detail for my need to get on with the story. But it was worth the effort, if only to realise the haunting symmetry of lives and loves across the generations.

‘Empires rise and empires fall’ as Moffatt says towards the end of the book. And Echo Hall sets the personal cycle of individual birth, life and death against a century of history, where even the empires that survive are utterly transformed.

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Sunday, 13 October 2019

Brexit means... what, exactly?

"They can't work it out... can you?"

That's the theory behind The Brexit Card Game, a kind of top trumps way of trying to make sense (or fun) of the ever-more-bizarre situation the UK seems to find itself in.

If you or your kids want to try and get to grips with the main players, compare status, deals, ideas, ideals then this game might be for you. Or even if you just want to have a bit of fun with something which, increasingly, is less and less amusing, then... again, this might be the card game for you.

Charlie's made a short film about it. Here you go...

Teacher frustrated by Brexit and youth apathy creates Brexit Card Game to encourage political engagement

Don’t know your Boris from your Barnier? Let The Brexit Game fill in the blanks!

'Top Trumps’ style card game aims to take the mystery out of Brexit - and help educate the next generation of Britain’s voters

Despite three years of wall-to-wall media coverage, many young people are still fairly clueless when it comes to Brexit. Now a teacher working at a school in the Isle ofSheppey has launched a new card game designed to help students learn more about the process - and understand both sides of the argument.

Like many people, Patch Fordham was frustrated by the way Brexit was playing out. He decided to take a light-hearted approach to teaching his sixth-form students about the UK’s bitter and protracted approach to leaving the European Union. He created a pack of playing cards featuring the leading protagonists - including Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel - and used them to get his class more engaged with the process.

The project was so successful, he decided to go one step further and manufacture hundreds of decks of cards to sell online.

The game follows the same principles as ‘Top Trumps’, with all the major Brexit players ranked on attributes such as Power, Fickleness and even Dancing Ability! There is also a ‘Brexit-ometer’ thatshows where each character sits on the Remain-Leave spectrum, as well as some fun facts and quotes.

After the success of the game’s first run, featuring 36 familiar faces on both the UK and EU sides of the debate, Patch is now in the process of designing additional editions that spread the Brexit net further. The new international pack features Pope Francis and Kim Jong Un, while the ‘Best of British?’ deck introduces players to a motley crew of UK MPs such as Dominic Cummings and Joe Swinson.

Although the game pokes fun at the divisive and complicated world of Brexit, it is also designed to educate - and Patch hopes people will use it to build their own knowledge further so they can develop more informed opinions and - ultimately - make better voting decisions in future elections.

“It’s been crazy,” Patch said. “I just wanted to find a fun way to teach the next generation of British voters about politics. My students were incredibly bored of me banging on about current affairs all the time, and pleaded with me to try and make Brexit more fun! It’s kind of snowballed from there, really. I’ve already got over 1000 followers on Instagram and been featured on BBC Radio Northampton!”

Before becoming a teacher, Patch worked at a refugee camp and a school for autistic children, and he is hoping that any proceeds he makes from the game will help him create an educational website designed to make teachers’ lives easier.

“I know The Brexit Game has a limited shelf life,” he added. “Hopefully it will be resolved soon and we can all get on with our lives! But, in the meantime, I hope the game will give people a few laughs and - who knows? - maybe even help them learn something along the way!

The Brexit Game is available on Amazon and from

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Kiss it better...

Or rather, don't. Put a plaster on it. And not just any plaster - one of these.

That pic arrived in my inbox a few days ago. Then in the post came some samples. So the least I can do is share them. The blurb goes on to say...

Need help cheering the little ones up after a fall in the playground or during family weekend adventures? Enter - *NEW* Elastoplast PAW Patrol Plasters!

Yes, with the entire troop - Chase, Skye, Marshall, Rubble, Zuma, Rocky and Everest – coming to the rescue, scrapes and cuts will be forgotten in a flash.

What’s more, these colourful wound healers are:
Specially developed for children’s sensitive skin
Dirt and water-resistant
Skin-friendly and easy to remove

All we need now is for someone to fall over!

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

My ding-a-ling...

Killing CommendatoreKilling Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘If my friends wish to pursue their reading enjoyment then I respectfully suggest my friends think very carefully before reading this book,’ said the Commendatore.

‘Think carefully?’ I said.

‘Affirmative,’ he replied.

‘But what kind of book are you?’ I said.

‘I, sir, am a long and extremely boring allegory.’

‘An allegory?’ I said.

‘An allegory,’ said Long Face.

‘Like Alice in Wonderland?’ I said.

‘Like Alice in Wonderland,’ he replied.

‘Or how about Orpheus in the Underworld?’ I added.

This is an odd book in many respects: full of unnecessary, incidental details that seem irrelevant (I heated up some coffee then I drank it. I made a sandwich and I ate it.) The principle seems to be: something happens, it is described in detail. Then someone is told and in almost the same amount of detail. Then the same or a similar thing happens and is described, though this time in slightly less detail and in a slightly different way.

Murakami also seems to take the Faye Weldon line that readers need reminding constantly of the story. We keep going back for a brief re-cap of earlier events, adding a little bit more information each time. All of which is described in often tedious and repetitive detail. Cars are never cars, for instance, even if they’re unimportant. The narrator's car is always a Toyota Corolla station wagon. I don’t know about you but I seldom refer to my own car by the make, type and model each time I talk about it. And by the time we’ve been back to the narrator's post-separation road-trip a few times and returned to his childhood and the death of his sister more than once I was starting to lose interest. And then a mini-me appears, tinkling a small Buddhist bell. Or rather the character in a painting the protagonist (also a painter) finds in the attic comes to life and rings the bell. The bell found on what seems to have been a grave in the garden, and a bell that had been ringing ( from beyond the grave) each evening.

After that it starts to get all Alice in Wonderland on us, with its own version of the rabbit hole which in this book appears in the corner of a room in a nursing home. In between odd flights of surreal fancy there is some sex (prosaically described as in, her vagina closed around my penis') some painting, and some food, specifically noodles, and crackers. In the fridge. Which he ate. Because he was hungry. And then he heard the bell.

The bell was ringing. Ding-a-ling.

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