Shameless podcast plug (well, it is the end of year episode)

I don’t normally do the ‘big linkage thing’ in this way, but the end of year retrospective is more than a little bit special – so please consider this a huge one-off!

This Reality Podcast: No 97

Episode 97: 62 minutes running time

This week it’s time for This Reality Podcast’s -look back in anger’ as the two presenters, Soph and Bren, review many facets of 2009, and make a prediction or two for 2010.

Talkie bits:
* The Cheese Game celebrates New Year’s Day with the Victorian Variant (and brings a quick-death victory for Soph because Bren gets brain-dead)

List Of The Year (2009):
The segments between the music comprise our retrospective of 2009. Some of these categories and their contents are very hotly discussed whilst others have a universal agreement. Let us know your views on this lot:

  • Best Films Of The Decade: Monsters Inc, Taken, Hot Fuzz, The Bourne franchise
  • Best Film Of The Year: Up!, District 9, The Boat That Rocked
  • Worst Film Of The Decade: Anchorman, The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
  • Worst Film Of The Year: New Moon
  • Best New Band: inLight (even though, technically speaking, we discovered them last year)
  • Best Book: Small Wars by Sadie Jones, The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
  • Best Album: Reservoir by Fanfarlo (Bren), A World Next Door To Yours, The Parlotones (Soph)
  • Best EP: Old Maps/New Roads, The Good China
  • Best Live Set: The Damned (Bren), Warning! Heat Ray! (Soph)
  • Worst Live Set: Scouting For Girls/Sugababes
  • Best Discovery: The showers at Cornbury Festival, The Family Machine, Axis of Awesome, It’s Not Me, It’s You Lily Allen
  • Worst Discovery: It’s Not Me, It’s You, Lily Allen
  • Biggest Disappointment: the film New Moon (Soph)
  • Best Trip Abroad: Tuscany, Munich, Eire (Soph & Bren)
  • Best Gig: Muse, Munich

Keep Your Eyes On These Names for 2010:

  • The Boxer Rebellion (Bren says will be huge)
  • As Tall As Lions (Bren says will, from the media perspective, be the Red Hot Chilli Peppers of 2010 (whatever happened to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers anyway?)

We also discussed the musical brilliance of:

  • Miriam Clancy and her freshly-discovered, outstanding album -Magnetic’
  • Missy Higgins and her heartbreakingly-excellent artistry on -On A Clear Night’

You want more?

Really?

How about the musical goodness that we offer you that this week includes:

As ever, this show was recorded *live* in Studio L in rural Oxfordshire and recorded in one take with no after-show editing or post-production mucking about.

While we were sitting in the studio recording the show we were also Twittering live. Why don’t you come on over and follow the podcast on This Reality Podcast twitter feed.

To stream this one episode of the podcast to your desktop just click here or you can right-click on that link and save it to your computer and listen to it later. Or why not add it to your iTunes and listen to it on your iPhone or iPod or mp3 player wherever you go? Better than radio!

Did you know that you can send in your email or audio contributions to thisrealitypodcast@gmail.com or leave comments on the website?

If you are a band or a recording artist and you would like to send your music in to the podcast, just email us or do the MySpace thing at http://www.myspace.com/thisrealitypodcast or email us.

Podcast admin:
All of the tracks in this podcast are featured and played with the generous permission of the artists and/or their management.

Now go and visit their websites, tell them where you heard them and let them know how much you love their work! And treat yourself, buy a little piece of their work – recording artists have to eat, you know!

If you would like to contribute your thoughts to This Reality Podcast or air your views on any of the topics we’ve discussed (or anything else that you want to), just drop us a line. Email us at: thisrealitypodcast@googlemail.com. Or if you prefer you can leave your comments (or words of abuse or encouragement) in our drop zone at http://drop.io/thisrealitypodcast.

Or you can just leave your thoughts on the website at http://www.thisrealitypodcast.com.

And if you are interested in what we have played in the past, just hop on over and take a look at our playlist.

Book review: Into Africa; Sam Manicom

The strapline on this book reads:
‘Africa by Motorcycle – Everyday an Adventure’

To get to this point, the place of being able to write an objective review of this book, I have read Into Africa twice – but not, I add hastily, because the author’s style is difficult to deal with.

In fact the reverse is true, one of the author’s many qualities is his ability to hold the reader’s attention.

No, the first time I read this book was immediately after reading Sam Manicom’s later work, Under Asian Skies.

The second time I approached Into Africa was after a lay-off measured in months.

And there was simple method behind my reasoning: I wanted to know how stand-alone Sam Manicom’s works were.

Could I, for example, get as much enjoyment from reading the later Under Asian Skies without grounding myself in the forerunning Into Africa?

There are obvious similarities that needed to be dealt with:
same author
motorcycle-based
adventure
oreign travel to exotic locations

I’m very familiar with the genre; Moto Enduro, Jupiter, Lois on the Loose and the ever-charming Zen have all been books I’ve read and enjoyed (though on different levels).

But the question of being able to read a later work by an author without first reading the earlier one?

If I’m completely honest, there is a relationship between the two books.

But this relationship shouldn’t cloud the judgement of the reader.

Each of Sam Manicom’s books are worth reading for their own qualities, and these are legion, but chief amongst them – threading every chapter together in both books – is an underlying sense of purpose and quiet determination.

The adventures (and people) that the author encounters along the way are all treated as discoveries even though they are likely to affect his ultimate goal; these qualities alone set this book far higher than many in the same genre.

Last year the BBC screened a documentary called Long Way Down; it featured Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor and their motorcycle journey from John O’Groats to South Africa.

I implore you when considering reading a motorcycle travel/adventure book; please do not put Into Africa in the same category as Long Way Down.

Sam Manicom’s journey from the British Channel Islands to South Africa’s Cape Town is head and shoulders above Long Way Down.

This is the story that Long Way Down should have been.

Sam Manicom had none of the £ multi-million back-up; none of the support mechanisms with a back office staff in London ‘fixing’ visas with a near unlimited budget at their disposal; none of the massively expensive (or expansive) lines of communication and…

None of the embarrassing histrionics or childish schoolboy giggles.

Into Africa is a book for grown-ups, for people with an enquiring mind, for readers who want to learn something interesting about the countries that the motorbike and its rider passes through.

This is a book for readers who want to ‘meet’ some of the people along the way.

This is what Long Way Down isn’t. It’s also what Lois on the Loose isn’t.

Into Africa is the journal of a gifted storyteller; a writer with keen observational skills, whose flowing narrative alone distinguishes him from his contemporaries.

For example, on one pit stop in the African outback:
Each day, the women would collect under a tree in the centre of the village. They would sit there through the hottest hours, fixing clothes and making jewellery out of beads and seeds. Every so often the jewellery would be lugged to the main road to be sold in order to buy such necessities as salt and medicine. The villagers grew, bred or made just about everything else they needed.

Do you see what I mean?

Throughout his marathon journey and despite obstacles that would have made many people give up, Sam Manicom remained stoically self-effacing, modest, practical and above all, entirely likeable.

He seldom judged, he observed with the skills of a behavioural therapist and, above all, he retained the ability to get along with people on every level known to mankind.

On relating to an aspect of village life in Africa:
Story telling is an art that belongs to an elder, a priest or as with the village in Kenya, a doctor. In East Africa the storyteller is rarely a professional as they often are in Northern Africa.

Sam Manicom, by his own very high standards, is a gifted storyteller who should, if the world had any sense of fairness about it, be elevated to professional level immediately. I would love to have my daughter listen to his tales as she grows up.

I don’t entirely agree with his choice of motorbike (he chose a BMW and I’m a Kawasaki kind of guy), but because of his enthusiasm, his sheer joy at meeting new people in remote and sometimes very strange (not to mention at times, extremely dangerous!) places, I’m prepared to overlook this minor transgression.

So there we are then.

This is the book for the beach, for the tube, for the bus and always for the sheer enjoyment of reading it.

Into Africa by Sam Manicom, published by Sam Manicom. ISBN 978-0-9556573-1-3 (and available, amongst other places, from http://www.sam-manicom.com/)

B.

Not dead yet

Not for a very long time either!

The Monty Python West End musical ‘Spamalot’ features a sketch based on the original Monty Python TV sketch ‘bring out your dead‘ which features a medieval serf trying to pass off an old man as the corpse of a plague victim (because the people of the time were paid for the plague corpses they produced).

People who go to see Spamalot and buy T-shirts from Ye Olde Rip Offe Shoppe can buy shirts that are emblazoned with the words ‘I’m not dead yet’.

I feel as though I should be wearing mine today.

The schedule of events goes like this – and bear in mind this is all one day – Saturday:

00.45 – vomit and onset of stomach pain
01.30 – pain in every position
02.30 – massive spike of pain. I may have cried for an hour or so
02.45 – stomach became distended and hard
05.00 – went for a walk to try and ease the pain
09.00 – rang NHS direct who did the sharp intake of breath thing and said they’d get a nurse to call me
09.15 – nurse called, did the sharp intake of breath thing and said I should speak to a Doc
10.20 – Doc called, did the sharp intake of breath thing and said I should get to hospital
11.05 – Arrived at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Redditch

11.10 – Seen by duty ‘out of hours’ Doc who diagnosed any of three possible problems, chronic gastric blockage requiring surgery (the exact quote was ‘if it’s that you’ll be seeing the surgeon later today’) or a chronic gastric blockage treatable by non-surgery methods (that was my favourite) or a stone (of the non rolling variety) also requiring surgery. I told him to proceed as if it was option 2!

11.30 – given two shots, one for the pain which almost made me pass out a couple of times during the consultation, one to relax my internal organs. Then given pills, told that things could take up to an hour to work and I should make myself as comfortable as possible (ha!).

12.00 – re-inspected by the Doc – feeling non-vomity and slightly better internally but stomach still as hard as a rock

12.30 – re-inspected by the Doc – still non-vomity, much better internally but worryingly stomach still distended and still as hard as a rock. Doc said the last two things will go away over a week or two. Gave me a box of pills, said I was very lucky as he had me down to be under the knife by 15.00, and instead he shook my hand and sent me on my way.

13.05 – arrived home, crawled in to bed, spoke to The Lovely S to allay her fears, dozed

The evening passed in a blur – I was that tired.

This morning I ate breakfast (porridge and a cup of tea) and medication.

This afternoon we went to see the horses, fed them apples then met The Outlaws (The Lovely S’s platinum parents) at a pub where they bought us lunch (I had soup and dessert).

We all came back home where more cups of tea were followed by a slice of birthday cake.

My stomach is still distended, still hard but I’m not in the least bit of pain and – importantly – I’m keeping my food down.

Tonight is Top Gear followed by A Long Way Down. The former is compulsive viewing, more on the latter in a moment.

I’ll get things ready for tomorrow, go to bed and – ironically – get up in the morning and go to work as if nothing has happened this weekend.

And all I’ve got to show as evidence is a box of hospital-issued medication, a distended stomach and a general lack of sleep.

Weird.

Meanwhile elsewhere…

Right, Long Way Down (BBC2, 21.00 Sundays).

I have a book to review – actually I have two books to review – by a young author called Sam Manicom.

One of his books is his version of ‘A Long Way Down’ – his story of his motorbike journey through Africa – whilst the other book is his version of a motorbike trip through Australia and Asia.

I’m looking forward to reviewing them both – but it’s safe to say right now that unlike the over-moneyed, over-protected, fully-cocooned celebrities who are currently starring in TV’s celeb-love in ‘A Long Way Down’, Sam Manicom made both of these journeys without the hugely expensive backup teams in 4×4’s.

In our contacts to date Sam seems to be personable young author, in the excerpts I’ve read Sam’s work seems very promising.

Time, coursework, the 9-5 and life has stopped me from reviewing his books so far, but I’ve got a clear plan of getting them both done before Christmas.

I’ll let you know how it all pans out but…

Even though I’ve only skimmed his books so far – I’m already recommending the books ‘Into Africa’ and ‘Under Asian Skies’ by Sam Manicom as alternatives to the completely unrealistic ‘A Long Way Down’.

B.

Bookish reviewish

I received an email last week from an author asking me to review his second book – shortly due to be published.

He’s given me some passage excerpts which look very good; based on the little that I’ve seen so far it seems safe to say he has a flair for the descriptive and the ability to capture the moment.

I hope the promise lives up to the end product.

B.

This month’s book group

I never fail to be amazed by the capacity of our species to induce surprise.

Two things astounded me so much at this week’s brookgroup that for what seemed like an age when each was revealed I was actually lost for words.

The first related to something that happened last time out when a member of the group said that she had been reading a novel which sounded very interesting.

After her summary I mentioned that it sounded right up my street and made a point to note the author’s name and the title of the book.

So surprise number one occurred when, at this week’s meeting, she produced a copy of the book and gave it to me, saying I could borrow it for as long as I needed. From anyone else this would be generous enough but the person in question usually comes across as one who is slightly aloof, a tiny bit prickly and very formal.

It seemed such an unexpected gesture of… friendship?… that I was quite staggered.

To get to the second surprising thing I need to go further back than last time.

At a meeting a few months I mentioned one of the works I had just finished reading ‘off the reading list’, was a novel by Adam Hall.

The Lovely S later told me that I’d raved about this novel in a (for me) typically overenthusiastic manner.

Sidebar:
I do like Adam Hall’s style. He wrote under two names -his real identity of Elleston Trevor and the pseydonym: Adam Hall. And he wrote completely differently in the guise of each author.

Adam Hall author wrote sharp, detailed, punchy espionage/thriller novels.

Elleston Trevor wrote slightly flowery, very literary, a little over-grammatical works.

Ironically one of Elleston Trevor’s novels was turned in to a hugely successful Hollywood film with an international cast that included Ernest Borgnine, James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Krüger and George Kennedy. And how’s that for a top rate cast?

So imagine my surprise when another bookgroup member, one who I’d viewed as slightly prickly and a little aloof, told me that she had tracked down one of the out of print novels by Adam Hall from a supplier in London, had ordered it, received it and finished reading it and wished to thank me for introducing her to a work and a strand of genre that she wouldn’t normally have picked up.

Stunned!

And then she said that she enjoyed the author so much she would be ordering other copies of his work.

How cool is that?

How cool are both of these things?

And also, how cool are these people?

Anyway the bookgroup evening -with me sitting in for The Lovely S who was being all academic in Wales.

Went really well.

They indulged me and (figuratively) held my hand.

No-one walked out, no-one threw food at me or booed me.

So in terms of how it went I’d say it was a moderate success, except…

Black Swan Green -the book of the month.

It took a bit of a pounding from the group; I’m not going to do a full review.

I’ll just say that the consensus of opinion was that Black Swan Green was over-long, carried too many bookmarks and could have been written more sympathetically.

B.

Book review: All Fun and Games until Someone Loses an Eye – Christopher Brookmyre

Once again Christopher Brookmyre has produced an irritatingly good book.

His characters are beautifully, yet succinctly, drawn.

His scene-setting is pointedly brief.

His dialogue is (for the most part) crisply authoritative.

But none of these is the best part.

The best part is Mr Brookmyre’s brilliant ability to coin a phrase that epitomises the zeitgeist.

Irritating, as I’ve said.

But also…

Excellent.

I don’t believe Christopher Brookmyre is (yet) good enough to be considered a great author.

In fact I think his work-to-date peaked with the brilliant ‘Fine Art of Stealing’.

But what ‘All Fun and Games until Someone Loses an Eye’ does is showcases what a way above average writer can do.

It highlights his ability to maintain suspense.

And it benchmarks the standards of observational skills coupled with descriptive narrative that every author needs to meet.

And that sets the bar very high for the rest of us.

As with previous works, his cleverness in ‘All Fun and Games (etc)’ is erratic, but that doesn’t make it less clever.

I love his wit, his technological grasp, his ability to suspend belief, his prose and the glimpses of a Scotland that you won’t get on a travel-ad!

His understanding of human characteristics and motivations.

But best of all I love his observations.

And his descriptive narrative.

And his ability to capture the zeitgeist.

Yes I know that’s three ‘best of alls’ but his skills in these areas really are that good.

Completely bloody irritating, as I’ve said.

But (also as I’ve said)… Excellent.

All Fun and Games until Someone Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre.

B.

Book review: Out of the Tunnel by Rachel North

The strapline on this books reads:
‘Before and after 7/7: one woman’s extraordinary story’

I have been reading Rachel’s blog for years, and in this small way I feel as though I know her – or feel as though I know something of her.

So when I picked up the book I thought it was going to be difficult to write a dispassionate, objective review.

It wasn’t, it was very easy.

And this is entirely due to Rachel’s relaxed style of writing, her easy narrative and how unafraid she is of facing deeply painful, personal horrors.

The situation surrounding her rape is awful, Rachel’s detachment is exemplary.

And then she is caught up in the 7th of July bombings on the London underground.

Rachel details the events and aftershocks of the two cataclysmic events; her rape and physical assault and the aftermath (both medical, investigative and legal) of the event that occurred when a stranger forced his way in to her flat…

And – is if that wasn’t enough – the event of and aftermath surrounding her involvement on the King’s Cross underground train explosion when it was blown up by Mohamed Siddique Khan on 7/7 (or 7th of July if you speak English rather than American) is very moving.

The author pieces together in a thoughtful, carefully considered manner ‘who-did-what’ (and sometimes ‘who-didn’t-do-what’), and goes six months beyond the bombings to a happier time in her life.

One sad aspect of Rachel’s tale lies outside the harrowing scenes.

The horrendously poor quality of life that she and J endure.

There are a number of examples that go to highlight how poor the quality of their work/life balance is, yet this fact is unremarked upon.

I hope Rachel’s emergence as an author acts as a catalyst for change in this area.

Out of the Tunnel is a well told story brought to us from a gifted, naturally talented writer.

But occasionally she tries just a little too hard and when she does it shows.

In places the book is in need of a bloody good edit – displaying slight signs of tiredness and being occasionally just a little metaphor-heavy.

However I put these minor niggles down to Rachel’s immaturity as a writer; I feel she is so talented that as she grows in to the role she will – as all authors must – become an even better story teller.

But it’s a worthwhile read – for the way Rachel deals with the events in her life and for the example she sets in the way she conducts herself (both as a victim of outrage and in the way she deals with governmental attitude).

Out of the Tunnel by Rachel North.

I look forward to reading many more of her works in the future.

B.

Book review: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I approached this with considerable trepidation.

It was a ‘set text’ ‘ a novel from the list for the Readers Group.

I haven’t read many works by mainstream American authors though I am familiar with Steinbeck’s work.

As I said, approached with trepidation.

And pleasantly surprised.

Set (as is Grapes of Wrath, a work I know well) during the American Depression, Cannery Row is an examination of people and events in the Monterey district of California.

There is a surprising social ecology to Cannery Row.

There’s a micro’economic/social entity that is fed by the people and acts we encounter; visitors to the whorehouse, the work produced by the canneries and – much to the fore – by Doc’s endeavours.

Outputs of this feed trickle down to the smallest, most insignificant (if that’s not an oxymoron because in this work Steinbeck has chosen no character to be completely insignificant) character and affects their lives.

Is this an indication of Steinbeck’s humanistic views; this sensitive exploration of a smaller model of society as a whole?

If so it makes Steinbeck an idealistic writer, a romantic author.

Certainly one of the pivotal characters – Doc – is an over-romanticised character.

A kind of ‘community elder’, Doc is a lonely man; lonely by choice, lonely by design (as much as any character is designed by its author) and lonely as programmed by his ever’present musical selections.

Doc seems familiar; perhaps there are shades of him in Casy, a character who features in The Grapes of Wrath (the only other Steinbeck novel I’ve read).

Cannery Row displays an interconnectedness between all layers of human society.

From Doc to the bums who occupy the grandly titled Palace Flophouse (a near derelict shack the boys occupy and pay no rent for).

To the Chinese shopkeeper.

To the working girls who ply their trade in The Bear Flag.

The writing is pleasantly readable; Steinbeck chooses not to load the reader down with details of The Great Depression in Cannery Row.

And there is also humour.

And these two things make this book peculiar to read.

Most works that centre on the Great Depression convey the hopelessness, the grinding unimaginable despair of the time.

Cannery Row does not.

It is an undepressive book set in a time of terrible depression.

An interesting contradiction.

Cannery Row isn’t a Great Work.

It’s a small, tight, readable observation of life in a subsection of Californian society during one of America’s toughest times.

But because it is an observational work of the calibre that could have been written by a war correspondent (which Steinbeck had been), it contains the first two but lacks the third of the things that have been drilled in to me that All Great Works Must Have: a Beginning, a Middle and an End.

B.

Book review: Lois On The Loose

I was desperate for something ‘light’ and this paperback was on top of one of our reading piles in the spare room.

And it’s about a motorbike (sort of), so it was a natural pick-up.

Lois On The Loose is the true tale of our eponymous heroine and how she left her desk job to do something more… challenging.

She motorbiked from Anchorage, Alaska to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina, then north to Buenos Aires.

Twenty thousand miles!

On a Yamaha XT225 Serow (trail bike).

Lois completed the journey in just under nine months.

Along the way she encountered fierce weather of unbeleivable extremes; locals of varying degrees of indifference/excitement; countryside of almost unimaginable quality and the company and generosity of many strangers.

Lois On The Loose is an entertaining account of the journey from A to B.

And there’s the rub.

The story is about the journey as a means to an end.

Sadly, it isn’t about the journey as an end in itself.

We are given snippets about the people and the places and scraps of near-nothingness about the culture and the histories.

We are treated to hundreds of words about one of her temporary travelling companion and the almost karmic-circle that bites her in the end.

But we get fewer words about the indigenous people of any Latin American country that she spent weeks or months in.

Not really balanced, you see?

Yes, it’s interesting to hear about the extremes of weather.

Yes, it’s fascinating to learn of the characteristics (good, bad or indifferent) of her travelling companions.

Yes, it’s captivating to hear about her unplanned ‘meets’ with fellow bikers.

But what about the countries that she travelled through?

What about the locals, the indigenous peoples?

What about their cultures?

But don’t get me wrong.

Lois On The Loose is an interesting book full of lively tales and well-related anecdotes.

I just wish that – having spent almost nine months on the road – Lois had given me something of substance about the places she visited.

B.

Book review: the book, the film, the t-shirt by Matt Beaumont

Front cover description: ‘a very funny book about very stupid people’

Actually…

No.

I laughed once during this book (top of page 139 if you’re interested).

But don’t think I didn’t like it.

I did.

I loved it – really!

It’s clever and very well written – and I can like and admire cleverness and good writing when I see it.

I loved the cleverness of the names, to give two examples:
1. A character called Norman The Cook (who my head instantly renamed ‘Fatboy Slim’).

2. Greg Fuller, owner of half of an Ad Agency. The balance of the company is owned by Max Scheidt (and the agency is called Fuller Scheidt, geddit?)

I also loved the cleverness of the telling:
Alternate scenes are told through the eyes of a different character. The resultant story comes from the minds of nine different narrators.

See what I mean?

Clever.

The dialogue is good.

The stupid characters are stupidly believable.

The not-stupid characters are very realistic.

And, on the whole, likeable.

It’s just not the corset-tearingly funny novel that the blurb would have you think the book is going to be.

And while I’m talking about appearances not living up to expectations…

I’d advise Matt Beaumont to get his photo changed.

Doesn’t he know that the only balding, middle-aged men who sport two day’s growth and wear a huge ear-ring in one ear are commonly called ‘W*nkers’?

So there we are then.

the book, the film, the t-shirt by Matt Beaumont – who may or may not be a w*nker.

A not particularly funny romp through ad-land and commercial-land.

But well written and cleverly constructed.