Lockdown Reads

July 25, 2020

My Recent Reads.

So couple of months ago I bought myself a snazzy alarm clock (thank you Lidl middle aisle) and have since then been leaving my phone in the kitchen rather than take it to bed overnight. Not only am I now reading way more but absolutely loving it and excited by some of my recent reads.

So here’s the last six books I’ve read:

1 – Fahrenhiet 451 – Ray Bradbury.

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There’s a lovely forward from the author taking us back to his excitement on finding a local library where he could hire a typewriter at 10cents for half an hour. This prompted him to sit down to write this now classic work in just a week at a cost of under $10.

I would never have guessed it was first published in 1976. It’s set in a world where literature is banned and books and libraries are burned to the ground by the fire service. It’s written in a unique style and the reader is thrown in the deep end left guessing and making connections throughout, there’s almost a mania to the style of writing. The future it’s set in is a world hooked on TV and conforming to media and we’re able to understand this cleverly through the fireman’s wife.  There is an epic final chase with a Mechanical Hound hot on the heels of Guy the main character.

I loved it, Elisa on the other hand didn’t even finish it – ‘the writing style wasn’t my cuppa’, so I’m not sure this has much mass appeal.

2 – Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

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This one I bought because the cover looked interesting. With an appearance from a ghost featuring so early on I thought I might not enjoy this, however it was a very easy enjoyable read, a detective novel with plenty of historic and geographical references. Lots of the story unfolds in Covent garden and along the Thames, adds value if you’ve ever been to these locations.

I won’t go out of my way to order the next one but if I’m in a bookshop and the cover looks great who knows.

3 – The Harry Virdee Series – A.A.DHAND

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I can’t get over just how good these are.

If like me you’re a fan of The Wire (HBO TV series) or enjoyed Luther (BBC series) these are the best comparisons.

As well as being hooked on every page these are an inadvertent education in race relations and best of all it’s set in Bradford and surrounding areas. The criminal underworld created feels remarkably real. Crammed with twists, turns and clever references to the area I really couldn’t put these downs. Like the wire the characters are wonderfully complex and keep the reader guessing. They passed the partner test with flying colours, Elisa was equally gripped. No doubt these will be televised – I only hope that the job is done right.

For the runners reading this one of the novels starts with the main character detective Harry Virdee on a run in Lister Park and I just had to go out and hit a few laps the following week.

*I should say these do contain a fair bit of violence so if that’s not your bag these aren’t for you.

4 – The Hidden Life of Trees  – Peter Wohlleben

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This started off very well learning loads and loving it. Some fascinating well-presented insights into forest systems from someone who has clearly spent a lot of time observing (the author manages forests in Germany and clearly LOVES trees) and backing it up with science. However my interest gradually dropped off through the book and I didn’t finish it. It is written in a very pedestrian style and I couldn’t help but wonder whether I would have enjoyed this had it been co authored by someone less scientifically minded. The content and research behind this book is no doubt very sound indeed.

There wasn’t a particularly compelling thread, or more likely I wasn’t patient enough with it. Anyway this is certainly a book I’d like to come back to.  I’m interested to hear from anyone else who’s read it…

Partner Test: “It wasn’t a page turner but I enjoyed it”

5 – Laika – Nick Abadzis

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I would never have picked this up but very grateful to have received it at Christmas (thank you amu Ben and Tina jan). Fantastic to dive back into a graphic novel. It immediately packs some heart wrenching punches in both the drawing and words.

It’s a story centred around Laika the dog and it’s set in soviet era 1957. It’s an amazing blend of three lives. That of Korolev, political prisoner turned top level engineer on the soviet space program. Yelena is the lab technician responsible of loyal Laika’s life and health. One of those where you know what coming yet it’s still very compelling and where words aren’t necessary the images have rightly been left to complete the tale, or tail rather.

Partner test – “nothing deeply satisfying about it but a pleasant easy read”.

6 – American Heart – Laura Moriarty

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There’s loads of controversy and debate around this young adult literature title.

Book Review Heavyweights Kirkus originally gave this one of their prestigious stars. It’s also perhaps worth noting their reviewer is a suitably qualified practising Muslim of colour.

After a twitter shit storm, in a first for Kirkus they subsequently removed the star and altered the review.

Here’s the revised Kirkus review.

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Mary will do anything for her sensitive younger brother, but she never thought that would mean running from the law.

The setting is the Midwestern United States; the time is the not-too-distant future. A Muslim registry is in effect, and Muslims are being bused to detention centers called “safety zones” en masse. This doesn’t bother Sarah Mary, a strong-minded, fiercely loyal, and protective teenager whose mother has abandoned her and Caleb to their ultraconservative Christian aunt. Her indifference is forced to change when Caleb’s compassion for a Muslim in hiding gets her involved in a plan to help this Iranian woman escape. Together, Sarah Mary and her new companion face extreme dangers, prejudices, disappointments—and unexpected kindnesses from their fellow Americans as they fight nearly impossible odds to get her through several states and over the border undetected. Moriarty creates a frighteningly believable setting of fear and violent nativism gone awry as she traces their journey to help Sadaf find the freedom she sought when she immigrated to the United States. Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective world building device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter. Still, some will find value in the emotionally intense exploration of extremist “patriotic” ideology, the dangers of brainwashing and blind spots, and some of the components of our nation’s social fabric that threaten to destroy us, such as segregation, greed, mistrust, and mob mentalities.

Is the book problematic?

Yes. Here’s a few examples. The first time she meets Sadaf, she assumes that she is Mexican and an illegal immigrant. Then when a black woman tries to give them a ride, Sarah-Mary talks about how scary this woman is but how she couldn’t refuse accepting because then the woman might think it was a race thing. The only two Jewish guys we come across talk about how they’re all for detention centres for Muslims. The only Asian people we see in the story can speak no English and say no words at all and all Muslims are Middle-Eastern or Arab-looking. The bigger questions being asked are around the lack of Muslim voices and whether a white author should be writing this.

Did I enjoy it despite the problems?

Yes absolutely, perhaps it could have been done better but I feel there’s certainly value here. And of course would love to see more work from Muslim authors out there and of course let’s avoid the well-versed dangers of classic white saviour narratives.

This is absolutely one I’d love to continue the debate on.

The partner test provoked by far the best conversation of all the titles on this list.

‘This auther is giving this important issue a go and no doubt her target audience will get a lot from reading this. I got from it a very positive representation of a Muslim character, who teaches Sarah-Mary lots of life lessons – the examples of stereotypes you point out make the lessons learnt by Sarah-Mary more poignant’ ‘Like you said it’s another compelling page turner’

That leaves my current read:

I’m half way through Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

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I’m one to stay well clear of the personal development/self help or whatever they call it genre, especially so if it’s written by an American (sorry friends and family stateside). So this is an unexpected one to find its way to my bedside. However, I’m in no doubt that I have a problem with my use of social media constantly finding myself mindlessly scrolling and searching and watching way too much YouTube. So I was keen to give this a try, when ironically I saw the title whilst browsing online.

This is an easily digestible set of guidelines helping to strip away some of the non-essentials and get some command back over our digital worlds.

Favourite page so far, from chapter 1 – A lopsided Arms Race:

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 TOBACCO FARMERS IN T-SHIRTS 

Bill Maher ends every episode of his HBO show Real Time with a monologue. The topics are usually political. This was not the case, however, on May 12, 2017, when Maher looked into the camera and said:

‘The Tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your ‘likes’ is the new smoking.’

Maher’s concern with social media was sparked by a 60 Minutes segment that aired a month earlier. The segment is titled “Brain Hacking,” and it opens with Anderson Cooper interviewing a lean, redhaired engineer with the carefully tended stubble popular among young men in silicon valley. His name is Tristen Harris, a former start-up founder and Google engineer who deviated from his well-worn path through the world of tech to become something rarer in this closed world: a whistle blower.

“This thing is a slot machine,” Harris says early in the interview while holding up his smartphone.

“How is that a slot machine Cooper asks.

“They are programming people,” Harris says. “There’s always this narrative that technology is neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it. This is just not true-”

“Technology is not neutral? Cooper interrupts.

“It’s not neutral. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money.”
Bill Maher, for his part, thought this interview seemed familiar. After playing a clip of the Harris interview for his HBO audience, Maher quips: “Where have I heard this before? He then cuts to Mike Wallace’s famous 1995 interview with Jeffrey Wignad – the whistle-blower who confirmed for the world what most already suspected: that the big tobacco companies engineered cigarettes to be more addictive.

“Philip Morris just wanted your lungs,” Maher concludes.

“The App Store wants your soul.”

 —–

I’ve reached a point halfway through where I can’t really continue reading it without making some changes, so watch this space.

Note: So Mr Newport has three successful titles and the internet seems to think if you’ve read one you’ve got the gist of the other titles, with David from good read suggesting:

‘Whichever one you read first, you will probably find it rather insightful, while the next two becomes increasingly dull and full of fluff.

My recommendation is to read the synopsis on the back of all three and just pick one to read. There really is no need to read all three.’

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Thanks for reading and how about you leave the phone in the kitchen tonight?

Stephen. Made & Grown in Thorner, Leeds.

January 19, 2016

So when my compost bin was overflowing I needed it emptying. I’ve got a tiny concrete yard, wanting to avoid landfill I was assured by a friend ‘Stephen will have it’…..

A friendly chap showed up and we emptied the compost into the back of his car, nearly 12 months on and I’ve been the enthusiastic and regular recipient of some of the tastiest veg I’ve come across. It also happens to be organic and grown a few miles away from me in Thorner Leeds.

Before Christmas I jumped in the motor with Stephen and my Nan to check out the small plot of land where our kitchen leftovers had been heading. A local landowner is happy for Stephen to borrow a small corner to grow veg. An old barn is pilled high with pieces of wood where Stephen transforms them into usable furniture, all by hand, no electricity.

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‘I don’t like to leave the ground bare’

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‘Nelson appeared though the hedge one day, he was in a state. I think he was used in fights.’

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‘I don’t like to use metal, the nails are wooden’

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‘I prefer to make my own tools, tell your nan, this is the beginning of a wheelbarrow’

‘I plane the wood on here, just pull towards yourself.’

Stephen grows and cuts the timbers, seasons, planes and makes his furniture all in Thorner, Leeds.

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His pieces are good indoors or out.

 

 

He’s even put aside a few pieces to make me one of these…

 

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Spread the word and shed some light on this fantastic work happening around the corner in Thorner. This furniture is made with love from a totally sound source, sod Ikea Stephen is most definitely your man.

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If you’re interested and would like to know more about existing pieces or place an order for something specific please get in touch. Maybe you’ve even got a plot of land which could go to good use?

stephenheelas@hotmail.com

07854468144

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and my Bro’s Cycle trip, Wells – Bristol 24th Dec 2013

December 26, 2013

our route Wells to southville bristol

Having aimed to do some ambitious cycle touring this year, by mid December I had in fact done nothing more substantial than a few afternoon ride outs from Leeds.

I managed to convince my younger brother to join me on a two day ride starting and finishing at our folks house in Bristol during the two days before Christmas, both agreeing the usual Christmas feast would be enjoyed even more if we put the miles in.

The plan was to cycle out of Bristol, south following Sustrans Route 3. This goes along the Whitchurch Way, out of Bristol up and around the Dundry through Chew Magna, on to Chew Valley, over The Mendips down into Wells. We would stop the night at a friends in Wells, head on the next day to Glastonbury, then loop off the Route 3 west towards Burhnam, Western-super-mud, then along by the Bristol channel back into Bristol.

Due to extreme weather conditions we were instead picked up by truck (there are no train stations in the area we were heading), and were able to avoid the bad weather.

The drive over was fun and picturesque, in wells we were able to have a wonder, grab the map pictured above and a few last minute Christmas gifts. Our hosts in Wookey, the Scarthes put on an incredible feast and had very cosy beds prepared for us, thanks guys.

After breakie we set off to ride what was originally going to be the first stage of the trip. With a clear sky and light winds behind us we left Wookey Hole village and were very soon climbing the toughest gradient of the day. We made our way slowly up on to The Mendips (and as we were warned may happened, and I know my more serious cycle buddies will laugh at this….we ended up pushing the bikes up one section of the climb..).

Occasionally we would miss one of these,it would point the wrong way or be missing..

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but on the whole it was pretty well sign posted and with the aid of the map we didn’t do too many detours. The views were great and we kept a steady pace with one quick break for chocolate and water.

P1000055This budget Dawes Mojave Hybrid was my ride for the trip kindly loaned to me by my dad. It did the job very well and I was surprised not to miss mine at all.

In future I would add a water bottle cage. On the uphills it was apparent that even with a relatively small load, for uphills particularly it would be much better to have a front rack as well and have the weight distributed across the bike, which I will set up should I get a chance to do a longer tour.

Chew Valley Lake was very picturesque and flooded the banks in parts after the recent rain storms.

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the cafe on the lake looks nice (a futue trip needed) but we were keen to reach Chew Magna for lunch where we looked at two pubs but the Moon Dance cafe looked great from the outside

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and we weren’t disapointed by the service, atmosphere and sarnies.

P1000079tuna sweetcorn and salad

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we continued out of Chew Magna and enjoyed riding into Bristol along the Whitchurch Way, a small path that neither of us knew existed.

it seems the council haven’t bothered to take away this ford KA with its striking colours parked behind temple meads, good call we like it.

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Neither of us has done much leisure cycling, we both ride short distances to town and back regularly and put in a ride to bath as prep. This small amount of riding was enough to mean we were able to enjoy the roughly 25 miles and not feel too battered afterwards.

Preferring dedicated cycle lanes I was slightly concerned because the route is mainly on roads and was wondering what the level and speed of traffic would be. We had the road to ourselves for the most part with a few lone cyclists and courteous (at least by intercity Leeds standards) drivers from time to time. Mind you it was the 24th of December.

Overall a great crack. I’m already looking forward to future riding in 2014.

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March 20, 2010

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