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Bernard and the Cloth Monkey by Judith Bryan (Books 2021, 6)

This is a story of a family — especially two sisters — and things that brought them together and pushed them apart. It varies between straightforward realist events, and ambiguous, almost fantastic scenes, which may be memories, or partly memories, or a way for the character to deal with memories.

It’s part of a series that Bernardine Evaristo has curated for Penguin, called Black Britain: Writing Back, aiming to bring lost works back into publication. This one won awards back in 1997 (even though, confusingly, the copyright date is 1998). It’s been out of print since.

Worth checking out.

A Dead Cat in Downing Street

This story about Boris Johnson redecorating in Downing Street is too stupid not to be a deliberate distraction. 10 Downing Street, along with 11 and others, are government buildings. Their maintenance should be paid for with government money. And since they are also places where people live, it’s not unreasonable that there should be money available for redecoration when the resident changes.

And I guess it’s also fair that the new resident can pay extra for the work, out of their own money, if they choose to do so. Any money coming from other sources would have to be declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

This is all normal. If Johnson has failed to declare contributions from his party or donors, that’s the offence. It’s pretty straightforward.

So the fact that it’s filling the headlines with leaks and all, suggests it’s a smokescreen for something else.

But what?

OffMail

I just got an invite/reminder email about a service called OnMail. I must have signed up to be notified when it became available. Could have been months ago: they apologise for it taking so long.

They should apologise for being bad for the email infrastructure that binds the world together.

I’m exaggerating, but only a bit. Email remains the most important thing on the internet aside from the web. Whenever you sign up for a service, or order something online, you expect to get an email confirmation.1

Without reliable email, a lot of things would fall apart.

A while back I wrote about Hey, the new email service from Basecamp. There, I was bothered by it not being based on the standard, open protocols that underlie email, at least to the extent that you can’t get your Hey email using a third-party, standard client.

OnMail seems both visually and functionally similar to Hey, and it’s got exactly the same problem.

This trend is bad for email, bad for people who use email. It should be possible to give us the kind of powerful, automated controls over our inboxes that these service offer, without stopping us from using the apps we prefer. It is possible to do that, as companies like SaneBox show.

I do not like this trend.


  1. Oddly, I had this expectation confounded just today, when Birkbeck’s submissions system didn’t send me any confirmations about the pieces that I submitted for assessment. 

This Is England, 2006 - ★★★★

A gritty, realist tale of British skinheads in Thatcher times. We get the good skins — into ska, soul, and having Black friends. And then the bad ones — into ska, soul, racism, and joining the National Front. 

But it’s mainly about a young boy whose dad died in the Falklands.

It’s good. Kate from Line of Duty (Vicky McLure) is in it, too. Disappointing that the Clash song of the same name is not used, but since that was released in 1985 and the film is set in 1983, it wouldn’t have made sense.

See in Letterboxd

Heartburn by Nora Ephron (Books 2021, 5)

When I wrote about watching When Harry Met Sally… last year, I said that ‘Nora Ephron may be my favourite screenwriter after Aaron Sorkin, where dialogue is concerned.’ The dialogue in this novel isn’t so sparkling, but the narration is.

It’s a fictionalisation of the breakdown of her marriage to the journalist Carl Bernstein, and it’s amazing how funny she makes it, considering how painful the experience clearly was.

Seems to be her only novel, which is kind of a shame.

The strangest thing is that the woman Bernstein had an affair with is the daughter of prime minister Jim Callaghan.

Far more interestingly, though, is that, according to Wikipedia, Ephron was one of the few people who knew the identity of Deep Throat.

None of which has anything to do with the book, which you should just read.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, 2020 - ★★★★

A great story about a competition we all grew up with, and then stopped caring about because it was endlessly uncool, and then started taking an interest in again because it was so daft and fun.

Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, this film (made with the cooperation of the European Broadcasting Union, which is the body behind Eurovision) pokes fun at the competition in all the right ways, and does it with love and a big heart.

See in Letterboxd

North Star

I wrote recently about not enjoying or finishing Claire North’s 84K. In her latest blog post she lists her (improbably large) back catalogue, with notes. On 84k:

My most miserable novel ever.

The word “dystopian” has been applied to it a lot, and I’d say that’s fair.

However, she also tells us about her forthcoming Notes from The Burning Age, which sounds amazing:

To make up for just how monumentally dystopian 84K is, Notes from the Burning Age is a look at the distant future of the earth… in which we’ve got it right. We sorted our shit out, we built an environmentalist utopia of clean energy, social justice, respect for all and so on. And we did all of it partly because we really learned to love and value this beautiful, glorious planet, as well as each other, and partly because the spirits of the earth awoke, provoked by our blundering destruction, and nearly stomped us into tiny tiny bits.

If you think that’s the pitch, you will be potentially surprised to know that’s just the first 50 pages, and the book is actually a cat-and-mouse espionage thriller.

She really has written an astonishing number of books, under three different names. I’ll be sure to try some of the others.