Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book: Don't Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs by Paul Carter


I picked this one up because I work in the Oil & Gas sector and wanted to know more about life on the rigs. The book doesn't offer much by way of quotables but it is very snappy with no filler, and Carter knows how to keep the reader hooked - he focuses on the gruesome (there are several deaths along the way), the hair-raising, and the hilarious, and offers lots of interesting observations about all the different countries he visits; it's a long list including the likes of Australia, Japan, Singapore, Scotland, Brunei, Nigeria, Philippines, China, Russia.

****

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Book review: The Spike Milligan Letter


This collection of letters, which comes with an insightful introduction by Norma Farnes - Spike's manager/PA - makes for a near perfect portrait of this much loved comedian.

Milligan gave us a world of comedic nonsenses but these letters he was also caring humanitarian, with a strong sense of civic pride, and that he would try to make a difference wherever possible, typically by putting pen to paper. My favourite letters include:

  • A letter to an MP decrying the local councils reckless destruction of beautiful historic buildings.
  • A request to the manager to of a band (The New Seekers) to come collect his mail. The manager was the previous occupant of Spike's office. 'The inmates of my office are taking mountaineering lessons and using breathing apparatus every morning to surmount the South Col of the mountain called The New Seekers Height. Samples of this mountain have been taken and analysed as being made from fan letters, some 2,000 years old.' 
  • A letter asking for a bird bath belonging to a soon-to-be demolished property, to be gifted to the National Trust. This is followed up by a short letter advising that while the authorities have been dithering the bird bath has been broken by vandals.
  • A series of letters to and from the phone authority are also classic.
  • His letter to the Ministry of Public Buildings & Works, that results in the council retaining historic Victorian lamps. 
****

Monday, August 01, 2016

Book quotes: Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse


Something Fresh is another re-read, because there's nothing quite so comforting as returning to a Wodehouse. Here is the original review.

Quotes

The sunshine of a fair Spring morning fell graciously on London town. Out in Piccadilly its heartening warmth seemed to infuse into traffic and pedestrians alike a novel jauntiness, so that bus drivers jested and even the lips of chauffeurs uncurled into not unkindly smiles. Policemen whistled at their posts--clerks, on their way to work; beggars approached the task of trying to persuade perfect strangers to bear the burden of their maintenance with that optimistic vim which makes all the difference. It was one of those happy mornings.

Day and night the human flood roars past..

This son, christened Ashe after a wealthy uncle who subsequently double-crossed them by leaving his money to charities, in due course proceeded to Harvard to study for the ministry. So far as can be ascertained from contemporary records, he did not study a 4 great deal for the ministry; but he did succeed in running the mile in four minutes and a half and the half mile at a correspondingly rapid speed, and his researches in the art of long jumping won him the respect of all.

But owing to the pressure of other engagements he unfortunately omitted to do any studying, and when the hour of parting arrived he was peculiarly unfitted for any of the learned professions. Having, however, managed to obtain a sort of degree, enough to enable him to call himself a Bachelor of Arts, and realizing that you can fool some of the people some of the time, he applied for and secured a series of private tutorships.

It is in the Spring that the ache for the Larger Life comes on us...

Three months ago a million girls could have laughed at his morning exercises without turning him from his purpose. Today this one scoffer, alone and unaided, was sufficient for his undoing. The depression which exercise had begun to dispel surged back on him. He had no heart to continue. Sadly gathering up his belongings, he returned to his room, and found a cold bath tame and uninspiring. The breakfasts--included in the rent--provided by Mrs. Bell, the landlady of Number Seven, were held by some authorities to be specially designed to quell the spirits of their victims, should they tend to soar excessively.

"Does the Mammoth publish you, too? Why, we are comrades in misfortune--fellow serfs! We should be friends. Shall we be friends?"
"I should be delighted."
"Shall we shake hands, sit down, and talk about ourselves a little?"
"But I am keeping you from your work."
"An errand of mercy."

"Read the papers. Read the advertisement columns. I'm sure you will find something sooner or later. Don't get into a groove. Be an adventurer. Snatch at the next chance, whatever it is."

He had very little mind, but what he had was suffering.

For the space of some minutes he remained plunged in sad meditation...

The Earl of Emsworth was so constituted that no man or thing really had the power to trouble him deeply; but Freddie had come nearer to doing it than anybody else in the world.

"Don't, old man! Dickie, old top--please! I know all about it. I read the reports. They made poor old Percy look like an absolute ass."
"Well, Nature had done that already; but I'm bound to say they improved on Nature's work. I should think your Cousin Percy must have felt like a plucked chicken."

Whatever was the attraction across the room once more exercised its spell. His lordship concentrated himself on it to the exclusion of all other mundane matters. Presently he came out of his trance again.

The cold beef had the effect of restoring his lordship to complete amiability, and when Adams in the course of his wanderings again found himself at the table he was once more disposed for light conversation.

"...Tell me, Adams, have I eaten my cheese?"

"Well, it's deuced peculiar! I have no recollection whatsoever of placing that fork in my pocket . . . Adams, I want a taxicab." He glanced round the room, as though expecting to locate one by the fireplace.

"What a nut!" said Adams to his immortal soul.
Wafted through the sunlit streets in his taxicab, the Earl of Emsworth smiled benevolently on London's teeming millions. He was as completely happy as only a fluffy-minded old man with excellent health and a large income can be. Other people worried about all sorts of things--strikes, wars, suffragettes, the diminishing birth rate, the growing materialism of the age, a score of similar subjects. Worrying, indeed, seemed to be the twentieth-century specialty. Lord Emsworth never worried. Nature had equipped him with a mind so admirably constructed for withstanding the disagreeableness of life that if an unpleasant thought entered it, it passed out again a moment later.

His was a life that lacked, perhaps, the sublimer emotions which 55 raise man to the level of the gods; but undeniably it was an extremely happy one. He never experienced the thrill of ambition fulfilled; but, on the other hand, he never knew the agony of ambition frustrated. His name, when he died, would not live forever in England's annals; he was spared the pain of worrying about this by the fact that he had no desire to live forever in England's annals. He was possibly as nearly contented as a human being could be in this century of alarms and excursions.


The specialist was proud of his collection.
"How long? To make a collection as large as mine? Years, Mr. Peters. Oh, many, many years."
"I'll bet you a hundred dollars I'll do it in six months!"
From that moment Mr. Peters brought to the collecting of scarabs the same furious energy which had given him so many dollars and so much indigestion. He went after scarabs like a dog after rats. He scooped in scarabs from the four corners of the earth, until at the end of a year he found himself possessed of what, purely as regarded quantity, was a record collection.

Collecting, as Mr. Peters did it, resembles the drink habit. It begins as an amusement and ends as an obsession.
He was gloating over his treasures when the maid announced Lord Emsworth. A curious species of mutual toleration--it could hardly be dignified by the title of friendship--had sprung up between these two men, so opposite in practically every respect. Each regarded the other with that feeling of perpetual amazement with which we encounter those whose whole viewpoint and mode of life is foreign to our own. The American's force and nervous energy fascinated Lord Emsworth. As for Mr. Peters, nothing like the earl had ever happened to him before in a long and varied life. Each, in fact, was to the other a perpetual freak show, with no charge for admission.

Mr. Peters, in his character of showman, threw himself into his work with even more than his customary energy. His flow of speech never faltered. He spoke of the New Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, Osiris and Ammon; waxed eloquent concerning Mut, Bubastis, Cheops, the Hyksos kings, cylinders, bezels and Amenophis III; and became at times almost lyrical when touching on Queen Taia, the Princess Gilukhipa of Mitanni, the lake of Zarukhe, Naucratis 64 and the Book of the Dead. Time slid by.

"I have--pretty nearly. It's all right for you idle rich, Aline--you can sit still and contemplate life; but we poor working girls have got to hustle."

The 'Wanted' column of the morning paper is a sort of dredger, which churns up strange creatures from the mud of London's underworld. Only in response to the dredger's operations do they come to the surface in such numbers as to be noticeable, for as a rule they are of a solitary habit and shun company; but when they do come they bring with them something of the horror of the depths.

Suspicion furrowed her brow.

There are moments in a man's life when a girl's smile can have as important results as an explosion of dynamite.

He had reached that depth of gloom and bodily discomfort when a sudden smile has all the effect of strong liquor and good news administered simultaneously, warming the blood and comforting the soul, and generally turning the world from a bleak desert into a land flowing with milk and honey.

The east wind explored his system with chilly fingers.

The deeper he went into this business the more things did there seem to be in it of which he had not thought.

'It sounds thin to me'

"Your sort of man makes me sick. I know your type inside out. You overwork and shirk exercise, and let your temper run away 178 with you, and smoke strong cigars on an empty stomach; and when you get indigestion as a natural result you look on yourself as a martyr, nourish a perpetual grouch, and make the lives of everybody you meet miserable. If you would put yourself into my hands for a month I would have you eating bricks and thriving on them. Up in the morning, Larsen Exercises, cold bath, a brisk rubdown, sharp walk--"

 The Blandings chef had extended himself in honor of the house party, and had produced a succession of dishes, which in happier days Mr. Peters would have devoured eagerly. To be compelled by considerations of health to pass these by was enough to damp the 207 liveliest optimist. Mr. Peters had suffered terribly. Occasions of feasting and revelry like the present were for him so many battlefields, on which greed fought with prudence.

He proceeded to mount the stairs. He was sorry for Mr. Peters, so shortly about to be roused from a refreshing slumber; but these were life's tragedies and must be borne bravely.

"Believe me," said Ashe earnestly, "it will not be handed to you. I have studied the Baxter question more deeply than you have, and I can assure you that Baxter is a menace. What has put him so firmly on the right scent I don't know; but he seems to have divined the exact state of affairs in its entirety..."

The memory of Mr. Muldoon's cold shower baths and brisk system of physical exercise still lingered.

 Superhuman though he was, George was alive to the delicacy of the situation. One cannot convey food and drink to one's room in a strange house without, if detected, seeming to cast a slur on the table of the host. It was as one who carries dispatches through an enemy's lines that George took cover, emerged from cover, dodged, ducked and ran; and the moment when he sank down on his bed, the door locked behind him, was one of the happiest of his life.

One has to go back to the worst excesses of the French Revolution to parallel these outrages.

Listen to me, Joan. Where's your sense of fairness? You crash into my life, turn it upside down, dig me out of my quiet groove, revolutionize my whole existence; and now you propose to drop me and pay no further attention to me. Is it fair?