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Quite Interesting

We’re not intending to do an account of lots of TV, music, film etc that we like.


But we can’t go without mentioning Stephen Fry’s QI – quite interesting – quiz show on a Friday night.  For any lovers of trivia, it’s a must.  And for those who just feel tired and consider going to bed early on a Friday night, it’s worth staying awake a little longer for.

A lot of the delight comes from seeing the regular panel member, comedian Alan Davies, get a lower and lower score every week, while also practising his mock-Mexican accent from time to time.

Accents also get an airing with Mr Fry himself, who usually manages to include a range within each episode.

Even more impressive is the range of talents other panelists bring to the show, whether it’s Jonathan Ross’s seemingly limitless knowledge of comic books, or Roger McGough coming up with new poems during the show.

A.J.Jacobs – writer of that book about the Encyclopedia Britannica I mentioned in another post – would be proud.

For those who are still unconvinced, have a look for yourself.


What number are you?

You may have heard of various schemes of personality types: Myers-Briggs and others.

One we’ve been reading about for a while is the Enneagram.  You can find more about it on

This year, they ran a day course on it at church for the first time.  We found a few more people like each of us among the attendees… Fantastic – some supporters to agree on what you find annoying in others…or something like that.

Rather than just use it to confirm what you expected about others who you know (quite) well, it is useful to understand why we interact with certain people in particular ways.

So, if you think you know what Dan and I are, write in and let us know…

And should this all be a bit over the top, but you like a few good cartoons, try this book for size.

My First Amazon Review

September may have been the month for the trip to Graz, but before going – in fact while Alison was in Germany – I read Robert Harris’ novel Imperium.  After finishing it, I wrote a review on Amazon.  It didn’t appear for a few days, but I looked it up recently and it’s proved useful to some, so I repeat it here.  I gave it five stars as it was a cracking read.


Imperium is essentially a political and legal thriller. But it also informs as a history lesson. Harris goes to some length to give the reader an idea of the layout of Rome in ancient times and the kind of conditions people lived in – particularly the senators – so you often feel like you’re reading a political biography, which of course you are.

Harris explains the voting process – highlighting the role of democracy, public participation and the duty of every Roman citizen to vote. Of course it’s not just one man, one vote. Cicero’s slave and secretary, Tiro the narrator, doesn’t have a vote and we see that Republican Rome is a place of many contradictions.

Rome comes across as a city high on public participation. Our age is a sad shadow of this democracy in action. However as the narrative unfolds, the will of the people is manipulated by characters such as Pompey, Crassus and Caesar until the stage is set for the undermining of democracy and the fall of the Republic.

Is it a comment on the increase of powers given to governments to combat terrorism since 9/11? Of course it is and Harris isn’t subtle about it. Through Tiro’s narrative of Cicero’s experience with Pompey and Caesar, he warns that giving too much power too quickly while disregarding democratic precedent, even at the will of the people, is dangerous.

Although loaded with history and the references to the problems of our own time, it’s still a great story with real pace, humour, intrigue and of course a lust for political power. By the end you’re really rooting for Cicero and Tiro. They are the good guys – the “new men” against the old aristocracy, the regional players caught up in a race for power.

It’s not all politics though and there are some touching moments. Although the character development between Cicero and Tiro isn’t explored as fully as it could be, you sense that Harris is going to develop that in the next two parts.

Harris has chosen an amazing character in Cicero and a turning point in the history of Rome – from the Republic to the Empire.

Roll on the fall of the republic . . .

The delights of charity shops

You know you are joining a bandwagon when you realise the City of Edinburgh Council has published a map of its charity shops.

There were even articles about the map in the papers during the summer.

Evidently theatre companies like to go around the charity shops to collect props for the productions that are then part of the Edinburgh Fringe.  The articles didn’t say whether the companies then donated the articles back to charity at the end of the shows, but it seems a reasonable bet.

Our previous flat was close to Stockbridge, home to many charity shops.  As it’s quite a smart part of town, the clothes on sale are a few notches higher up the designer scale than you would normally expect.  I spent one happy afternoon browsing during August, and came away with two pairs of trousers and two skirts, for a grand total of £19.

The main indulgence though is book shopping at charity shops.  Shelter, the charity for the homeless, is not only very good at window displays, but also has great collections of second hand books, with children’s books a particular bargain.

Our main outing of the year for second hand books is in fact a book sale held in Peebles, close to where my parents live.  It’s only on for one weekend in March, and we book our night’s accommodation with Mum and Dad in plenty of time.

We all adopt different tactics when going round the fair – mine is to show the person at the cash desk a £10 pound note, tell them I intend to spend all of it, and see how many books they’ll let me get away with.

The sale does also have a good antiquarian section, and as one of the organisers says, they’ll even give away old copies of National Geographic to use as loft insulation. No wonder we keep buying bookcases.

Little…and not very often

So, we’ve been in our own home for over two years now.  How is it coming along?  Rather slowly is the answer.

Having helped other friends with their decorating over a few years, we roped in all the help we could get when we first moved in, and got both bedrooms painted.  We also then got the sitting room and study painted, more slowly, after Dan learned how to do plastering on the moon-like surface of the study walls.

In an attempt to move things on, we also got the hall painted over Easter time.  I say we – a great deal of help came from Dan’s mum Jen, who brought her trusty paint pad with her.  (She also kindly painted over the roses on the tiles in our bathroom the previous summer.)

So, it’s now just the kitchen which needs painting. As it has a pitched roof, it will be quite a job putting up new lining paper.  The plan is also to put in a new cooker and fridge, and it’s probably best to do them all at the same time…

The other job we are trying to gear up for is redoing the bathroom.  One of the Czechs in our little church group, T, is very helpfully a tiler by profession.  Another in the group, O, has been hard at work doing the bathroom and the kitchen in his own flat, and I suspect we will be drawing advice (and possibly numbers of plumbers) from both.

Given that cooking food and having hot water are necessary for much of the year in Scotland, I suspect we won’t get a great deal further until at least Easter next year.

There are other bits and pieces we want to do, like knock out the fake fireplace in our bedroom.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who would like a go, if we put out an invitation that sledgehammers are the weapon of choice.  (Only directed at the fireplace, of course.)

Both mums also helped tremendously in the garden at Easter time, moving a flower bed a foot to the right, and planting a magnolia, my birthday present from my parents.  I’m hoping for some good blooms this coming spring.  We had a wonderful magnolia in the garden in Malvern, where I spent my secondary school years, and as our flat is on the first floor, it’s nice to have something good to look down at in the garden.

My parents also came over in October to help with hedge cutting etc, and finally Mum and I planted some of my plants that have patiently remained in their containers ever since we moved here.  Admittedly, they were in containers on the terrace outside our old flat, but it seemed a bit unfair to put them in a garden but not let them out…

Probably the main excitement for the garden is Dan’s lawn mower.  It’s German.  It’s bright yellow.  It sounds like a dishwasher when you turn it on. Crucially, it collects the grass and is entertaining enough to make grass cutting fairly frequent.

One thing we do manage well, however, is buying bookcases.  I think my brother is probably resigned to me asking for money for a new bookcase every birthday. It would no doubt cut down on the painting to put bookcases in the kitchen and bathroom, but as both rooms are very small, even I would have to admit defeat on fitting a bookcase in either.