18 April 2011

Three Books

I’ve been reading a few novels recently. Some of them are Tesco’s 2 for £8 and I didn’t know what I was letting myself into. There are limited opportunities here for book browsing here; there is an Evangelical Book Shop that I’ve never been in, and another sort of bookshop above the white goods store. Anything else is a the best part of an hour away.
I’m not going to tell you the name of this book because it’s so awful. I only read it for something to do. But when a couple of characters agree to meet at “half two” and on the next page, having met and having played badminton for an hour and a half, you find them resting at 3pm you might get the message. I didn’t really follow the plot, such as it was, though the actors seemed pretty interchangeable. Which was just as well, as Adam suddenly turned into Luke mid-way in a conversation with a girlfriend (or was it the other way round) though Adam reappeared just as suddenly as he had disappeared. Not that it mattered, as the girlfriends seemed pretty interchangeable as well.
In another book, there was a reference to a Swiss 10 Franc piece. The largest denominated Swiss coin is Fr 5. It would only take a few moments to check this on the web, so why wasn’t it? Laziness?
A Twitter friend recommended Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, and I second that recommendation. She had ‘read’ it as an audio book. In the printed version, there is a facsimile of a typewritten letter at the beginning. The letter is dated in 1947, and printed in Pico. There are a couple of words in inverted commas. But not only didn’t they have carbon ribbons then, typewriters didn’t have smart quotes either. The setting is the Arctic, Spitsbergen, in winter. The narrator’s diary describes warming the valves of the Austin, to get the engine to start. Alas, removing the valves of an engine involves taking it to bits — I’ve been there, it really does. It was the custom, though, when motors were recalcitrant, to take the sparking plugs out and to warm them in the oven. Much easier. This isn’t the sort of thing that modern authors would know — I suppose here that the author has mis-remembered something historical that she had read.
Believe me, I don’t go looking for discrepancies in books, but there are times when they jump out from the page and kick me in the cajones. I don’t go checking on the moon phases, as in Dark Matter, nor do I check the details of something I know next to nothing about; but somehow when I recognise these trivial errors, the spell is broken for me. I like to be engaged with the novel, as a participant, an observer, to identify with the hero. But when something jars, the spell is broken.
I just want to enter the fantasy world of the author, nothing more than this.

First past the Perfidy

So, we are to have a referendum on 5 May to see what we think about a change in the voting system: should we retain ‘first past the post’, or move to the ‘alternative vote’ (AV), a rather feeble form of proportional representation for elections to the UK parliament at Westminster.
First past the post is a ‘winner takes all’ form of voting, long in use in the UK. But not everywhere in the UK. The rotten boroughs and university seats have gone, as have the property qualifications, so there is an approximation to ‘one man, one vote’. First past the post has a long traditional history.
Strange then, that when Ireland was partitioned, with the south becoming independent, and the north remaining part of the UK, that the voting system for both parts was the single transferrable vote (STV) system of proportional representation.
In the south, the Irish Free State, the Republic of Ireland, the STV system has been maintained.
In the north, STV was used in the first two elections to the Parliament of Northern Ireland (familiarly known as Stormont). This was changed to first past the post thereafter because of Unionists’ fears that their majority would be eroded. First past the post remained the system until Stormont was dissolved in the early 1970s.
Yet, for the new Assembly the system chosen was STV. If there has to be a by-election, the system is de facto AV.
And for elections to the European Parliament the system has always been STV — N Ireland is a single multi-member constituency.
So if STV was and is good enough for Ireland — and it was an English parliament that decided this, why is there this reactionary desire to retain first past the post for the UK elections? If STV was good enough for the colonies, why isn’t it good enough for the ‘mother country’?
And, not for the first time, you don’t wonder why Albion got the monicker ‘perfidious’.


Not DHL the carriers, but DH Lawrence. There was a mini-series of adaptions of The Rainbow and Women in Love on television recently. I’d never read either book, so thought I should. I found them hard going, turgid in places, lots of philosophical stuff obscuring the plot. The TV version took several episodes from the books — not necessarily in chronological order — and created a story around them. Given the philosophising, it’s probably the best approach.
And then I though I should re-read Lady Chatterly. I’m pretty sure I read it years ago, but I didn’t remember anything about the plot — apart from the obvious — it was like coming to it for the first time. At least, it’s easier to read than the others.
I was mildly surprised that in the first two books Lawrence uses ‘connexion’  and in Lady C he used ‘connection’. Both are acceptable spellings. My edition of Lady C has a few typos, but I was puzzled to read of the ‘odour of sewerage’ in Venice. I can imagine that the canals are indeed a bit smelly, and I can imagine the source; but I don’t think it’s the pipes that smell.
I then discovered that I was reading the third version of Lady C, so I’ve now got to read the second. Almost seems like sadism.