Finished reading: The House at the End of the Sea by Victoria M. Adams πŸ“š

First, a disclaimer: the author of this book was on the same Creative Writing MA as me, and I read a prerelease PDF that she sent me.

That said, it’s a really good young-adult fantasy story set in the real world, present day.

Or I think ‘middle grade’ is the sort of level it’s marketed towards. The main character, Saffi, is about 12. Her younger brother is maybe eight or ten. Their mum has died tragically young and their dad takes them from London to live with their grandparents in a B&B by the sea in Yorkshire.

The titular house has been in the family for generations, and it has A History. The kids hate it at first, but Saffi tries to adjust and to keep her brother’s spirits up. She is helped by a slightly mysterious local boy they meet.

And then a group of guests arrive at the B&B. In the middle of the night. Without coming through the door.

Things get stranger after that. Will Saffi and Milo save the family’s legacy, themselves, and their new friend’s home, from the plans of these powerful figures out of myth and fairytale? Only by reading will you find out.

It’s great. Get it for your kids.


Books 2024, 3

Well this is an exciting turnup: remember early in the pandemic, when there was an article in The New Yorker New York magazine about the inability to get a particular pasta shape? The pasta shape was equally mysterious over here. I wrote about it: Bucatini.

Well, at last, here it is.

 A packet of pasta, with Spaghetti in large type, and under it in smaller type, bucatini.

Dune, 2021 - β˜…β˜…Β½

I'm joining an outing of my writing group to see part 2 at the BFI IMAX next month, so I thought I'd better watch the first one.

It's decades since I read the book, and not much less since I saw the David Lynch version, but I think I know the story too well (even though I don't remember it that well). Because I found this mostly kind of slow.

Certainly at first. It's well done, of course. The effects, the ornithopters, all that. But I was a bit underwhelmed, truth be told.

Still, it did pick up as it went along, and we'll see what happens with part 2, I guess.

Great, we’ve been paying billions for a nuclear ‘deterrent’ that nobody wants and that doesn’t even work.

Days of the Bagnold Summer, 2019 - β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

Fun wee story about a teenage metal fan and his mum one summer. With music by Belle & Sebastian into the bargain.

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, 1987 - β˜…β˜…β˜…

We watched this on BFI Player, where its English title was the direct translation of the French one: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. But Letterboxd knows it as Boyfriends and Girlfriends. The French title is both better and more accurate, and the potentially-ambiguous meaning of ‘amie’ is matched by that of ‘girlfriend’ when used by women.

Anyway, another of Eric Rohmer’s excellent gentle comedies. And why not?

Custom and Use

In the lone footnote of his latest post, Ian Betteridge bemoans the use of the term ‘users’ for people making use of software:

I’ve always hated calling people users rather than customers. You owe β€œusers” nothing. You owe your customers everything.

I remember seeing this complaint years ago. ‘Why do we refer to people with a term that comes from the illegal drugs trade?’ was a common refrain.

It’s true, people taking illegal drugs are sometimes referred to as ‘users’. But only really in 70s cop shows. I grew up on Starsky & Hutch and Kojak as much as the next guy my age, but I don’t look to them for appropriate linguistic terms today.

More to the point, the term ‘user’ doesn’t come from the drug trade, it went to it. The term just comes from the English language: from the verb ‘to use’.

Anyone who uses any item is a ‘user’ of that item. If I cut a slice of bread, I’m a user of the bread knife. If I go into the garden to gather the still-uncollected autumn leaves, I’m a user of the rake. And so on.

Ian prefers the term ‘customer’, and that’s fair enough if you bought the item in question. But he also writes about using Obsidian, which is a piece of software that is available at no cost. I use it every day, but I’m not a customer of the people who make it. Ian may pay them, as it’s possible to do for certain features, or just to support them. But there are plenty of examples of software for which that is not the case. It’s just free. You’re not a customer of Linus Torvalds when you use Linux, for example.

Anyway, my feelings are almost the opposite: being a user β€” or a reader or a listener or viewer, for that matter β€” is the truth, is the state that has power, has meaning. Not the tawdry commercial act, the mere fact of when or whether we bought a thing.

πŸ”— Introducing Pkl, a programming language for configuration :: Pkl Docs

… delighted to announce the open source first release of Pkl (pronounced Pickle), a programming language for producing configuration.

If Apple needed a general-purpose language for configuration, why did they invent their own, rather than using Terraform, say?

But then, this Pkl (β€˜Pickle’) seems a lot more expressive than Terraform, and a lot more down-to-Earth and less cloudy.

Could be interesting. (H/T @danielpunkass.)

More evidence of comically early spring: daffodils dancing in the sun.

A group of daffodils growing in a flowerbed in late-winter sun, with a patio behind.

Pending the deal’s publication on Wednesday, it appears that Sunak has offered to keep Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) aligned with European standards if the DUP returned to Stormont.

Best news since Brexit, if true.

It’s still January. It’s the northern hemisphere. So why is this rose flowering? I’ll be wanting to prune it in about a month.

‘Oh rose thou art sick’… But the climate, not the rose.

A Good Marriage, 1982 - β˜…β˜…β˜…

I like these Eric Rohmer films, with their low-key humour. In this one, Sabine breaks up with her married boyfriend and decides that she wants to be married. So the next step is to find a suitable man.

No man can resist her (she and her friend both tell us); but she doesn't want to seem to be chasing him…

The Harder They Come, 1972 - β˜…β˜…β˜…

Classic Jamaican film starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff. I enjoyed it, but it doesn't seem the great thing today that people say it is. A long time has passed since it came out, though.

Currently reading: Monument Maker by David Keenan πŸ“š

I’ve read a few of his before, and they’re all strange. This one may be the strangest yet, but I’m only about 40 pages into a huge book.

Finished reading: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka πŸ“š

I can see why this won the Booker last year the year before last. It’s beautifully written, with a kind of light, easy style. And yet it goes to some very, very dark places.

The titular Maali is dead at the start, finds himself in the afterlife, and doesn’t know how he died. He’s given seven days β€” the ‘moons’ of the title β€” to find out, or not, before he has to decide whether or not to go into ‘The Light’.

There are ghosts, ghouls, demons, and horrors. Most of the latter two are living humans, because we’re in Sri Lanka’s civil war, and Maali was a photographer who photographed the horrors. Many of the dead he meets died in atrocities, and they’re not shy about sharing their stories.

I can highly recommend this, but not if you’ll be too disturbed by stories of atrocities. So think of this as a content warning.


Books 2024, 2

Finished reading: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone πŸ“š

A Christmas present from my son. I know I read it before, but that was on Kindle, and he didn’t know that, and this is a nice physical book.

It’s a lovely story as well as a lovely book, about two near-immortal warriors, competing and falling in love as they range up and down the timestreams.

All that I said in 2020 still applies.


Books 2024, 1

I didn’t have China MiΓ©ville co-writing a novel with Keanu Reeves on my 2024 bingo card, but here we are.

Currently reading: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka πŸ“š

My current book-club book. Shouldn’t be any trouble to finish it by the 18th.

This year I’m going to do my book posts Micro.blog-style, using its Bookshelves feature. We’ll see how they go.

Anatomy of a Fall, 2023 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

My god, but this film is good! Courtroom drama, French style, that manages to make you doubt your initial belief in the main character's innocence repeatedly, before swooping you back to her side again.

Utterly compelling. Certainly the best film I've seen this year; and while that's obviously a joke, it might remain the best for quite some time.

And unlike my other recent trip to the cinema, here everything isn't spelled out and all ambiguity removed.

Maestro, 2023 - β˜…β˜…Β½

We ended last January watching a film about an imaginary conductor, namely TΓ‘r. We closed out 2023 watching this one about a real conductor and composer.

The pure fiction was much more interesting and enjoyable than the biopic.

I noticed early on that we had seen no performers; not shots of the orchestras Bernstein was conducting, or only of them taking a bow. Some of him playing the piano, certainly, but where were the others?

We did eventually see an orchestral performance, with Bradley cooper massively exaggerating a conductor's movements β€” though that might be an accurate reflection of Bernstein's style.

But as my beloved pointed out today, what was really missing from this film was the music. There is music in it, certainly, but it's not really about the music, or Bernstein as musician, composer, conductor.

It's about his marriages and his philandering, mostly. Which is fair enough. But why, then, call it Maestro?