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J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy: We’ve Read It, Here’s What We Thought | Entertainment | TIME.com

September 28, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s not really possible to open The Casual Vacancy without a lot of expectations both high and low at the same time crashing around in your brain and distorting your vision. I don’t know if it’s possible or even desirable to avoid them. I know I had a lot of, let’s call them feelings when I opened the book (which happened on Saturday morning; don’t ask; I work for the military-industrial-entertainment complex, let’s just leave it at that). I have spent many, many hours reading Rowling’s work. I am a known Harry Potter fan.

I also know enough literary sabermetrics to know that the odds of the book being good were not short. A lot of young adult authors, great ones, have tried their hands at literary fiction, and not a lot of them have succeeded. Not even Roald Dahl could switch-hit, and not for lack of trying. All the available evidence suggests that it’s just a different kind of talent. The most successful example I can think of is T.S. Eliot writing both The Waste Land and also Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. And that’s not even a very good example.

But after about ten pages of The Casual Vacancy I began to forget about all that stuff, and online rumors about how the book was amazing or awful or had lots of sex in it. I forgot about how I had three days to write a review of a 500-page book. I forgot about everything except the pages in front of me. Because I had come under the spell of a great novel.

What surprised me about The Casual Vacancy was not just how good it was, but the way in which it was good. I suppose I’d expected a kind of aged-up, magicked-down Harry Potter, something that showcased the same strengths the Potter books do: Rowling’s meticulous plotting, her inventiveness, her love of mischief, her likeable characters, her knack for visual spectacle. I also expected it to showcase her weaknesses, because all writers have them. Yes, I’m a fanboy, but I still think the Potter books have too many adverbs in them, and not enough sex.

But The Casual Vacancy is a different beast entirely. It was not what I was expecting. It’s a big, ambitious, brilliant, profane, funny, deeply upsetting and magnificently eloquent novel of contemporary England, rich with literary intelligence and entirely bereft of bullshit, and if it weren’t for Rowling’s stringent security measures it would or at least should have contended for the Booker Prize. This is a deeply moving book by somebody who understands both human beings and novels very, very deeply. It’s as if Rowling were an animagus, except that instead of turning into a stag or a dog or whatever she transformed into Ian McEwan.

via J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy: We’ve Read It, Here’s What We Thought | Entertainment | TIME.com.

Wimbledon 2012: Ten homes with tennis courts

With Wimbledon starting on Monday, property ace Graham Norwood tours the world to serve up ten smashing homes with their own tennis courts.

via Wimbledon 2012: Ten homes with tennis courts – Telegraph.co.uk

Strange Random Tennis Quote:

An otherwise happily married couple may turn a mixed doubles game into a scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. – Rod Laver

Sandwich celebrates 250th birthday – UPI.com

May 13, 2012 2 comments

Deutsch: John Montagu, 4. Earl of Sandwich (17...

SANDWICH, England, May 12 UPI — Residents of Sandwich, England, are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the invention of the sandwich, first ordered by the fourth earl of Sandwich.

History says the earl, John Montagu, first ordered a sandwich in 1762 while playing cards with his friends. He asked for beef between two slices of bread so he could still easily eat while playing.

Sam Bompas, a so-called foodsmith, said Montagu probably wasn’t the first to think of the idea.

“Other people were probably eating in that way anyway but they were people who weren’t written about,” he said.

It’s possible the sandwich could have been named something else entirely. The first earl of Sandwich had the opportunity to choose Portsmouth instead of Sandwich when he was offered a peerage in 1660, said Steve Laslett, one of the organizers of the Sandwich Celebration Festival taking place Saturday and Sunday.

“Today we could be eating a Portsmouth,” he said.

During the celebration, the east Kent town will have sandwich-making competitions and re-enactments of the earl requesting his namesake, the BBC reported Saturday.

The 11th earl of Sandwich, also named John Montagu, is scheduled to host a lunch Sunday.

“I am delighted to wish a happy 250th birthday to the sandwich,” he said.

via Sandwich celebrates 250th birthday – UPI.com.

Strange Random Sandwich Quote:

“I don’t need music, lobster or wine

Whenever your eyes look into mine;

The things I long for are simple and few:

A cup of coffee, a sandwich–and you!”

Billy Rose (American theatrical Entrepreneur and Composer. 1899-1966)

Deal watch: Last cabins on Titanic cruise are half-price – USATODAY.com

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

There are still cabins left on the second of two cruises that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking this April.

The first cruise scheduled, the Titanic Memorial Cruise, sold out more than a year ago. The second one, scheduled last September, leaves April 10 from New York City, the same day the Titanic embarked on its doomed journey from Southampton, England, in 1912.

U.K. travel agent Miles Morgan, the organizer of both sailings, said the second cruise is 70% sold out, and that the remaining cabins are on sale for 50% off.

The eight-night Titanic Anniversary Sailing, on the 710-passenger Azamara Journey, will visit Halifax, Canada, where passengers can visit the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the final resting place for many of Titanic’s victims, before arriving at the exact site of Titanic’s sinking on April 14, when memorial services will be held.

A final commemoration will take place at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, marking the 100th year anniversary of the ship’s sinking, and paying tribute to the passengers and crew that perished. The vessel returns to New York on April 18.

The sold-out Titanic Memorial Cruise, on Fred Olsen Lines’ 1,230-passenger Balmoral, departs Southampton, England, on April 8, and will follow the ship’s original route westward across the Atlantic to New York.

via Deal watch: Last cabins on Titanic cruise are half-price – USATODAY.com.

Strange Random Titanic Quote:

“Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, “No, thank you,” to dessert that night. And for what!” – Erma Bombeck (U.S. humorist, 1927-1996)

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Piltdown Man: British archaeology’s greatest hoax | Robin McKie | Science | The Observer

February 5, 2012 Leave a comment

John Cooke's 1915 painting of the Piltdown men. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex FeaturesIn a few weeks, a group of British researchers will enter the labyrinthine store of London’s Natural History Museum and remove several dark-coloured pieces of primate skull and jawbone from a small metal cabinet. After a brief inspection, the team will wrap the items in protective foam and transport them to a number of laboratories across England. There the bones and teeth, which have rested in the museum for most of the last century, will be put through a sequence of highly sensitive tests using infra-red scanners, lasers and powerful spectroscopes to reveal each relic’s precise chemical make-up.

The aim of the study, which will take weeks to complete, is simple. It has been set up to solve a mystery that has baffled researchers for 100 years: the identities of the perpetrators of the world’s greatest scientific fraud, the Piltdown Hoax. Unearthed in a gravel pit at Piltdown in East Sussex and revealed to the outside world exactly a century ago, those shards of skull were part of a scientific scam that completely fooled leading palaeontologists. For decades they believed they were the remains of a million-year-old apeman, an individual who possessed a large brain but primitive jawbone and teeth.

The news of the Piltdown find, first released in late 1912, caused a sensation. The first Englishman had been uncovered and not only was he brainy, he was sporty. A sculpted elephant bone, found near the skull pieces and interpreted by scientists as being a ceremonial artefact, was jokingly claimed by many commentators to be an early cricket bat. The first Englishman with his own cricket bat – if nothing else it was one in the eye for French and German archaeologists whose discoveries of Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals and other early humans had been making headlines for several decades. Now England had a real fossil rival.

It was too good to be true. As decades passed, scientists in other countries uncovered more and more fossils of early apemen that differed markedly from Piltdown Man. “These had small skulls but relatively humanlike teeth – the opposite of Piltdown,” says Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, who is leading the new study. “But many British scientists did not take them seriously because of Piltdown. They dismissed these discoveries which we now know are genuine and important. It really damaged British science.”

via Piltdown Man: British archaeology’s greatest hoax | Robin McKie | Science | The Observer.

Strange Random Hoax Quote:

“I created hoaxes. I confronted and challenged the majority opinion. I attacked, humiliated, and criticized the voice of the corporate mainstream media.” – Joey Skaggs

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Powerhouse seeks touch of magic | The Australian

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment
Powerhouse Museum revitalisation

THE centrepiece exhibit at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is Locomotive No 1: the steam engine and its carriages comprised the first passenger train in NSW, running between Central Station and Parramatta.

The engine was built by Robert Stevenson & Co in England and began operation in Sydney in 1855, giving proud service to NSW Railways for 22 years.

Visit the Powerhouse today, though, and you’d swear the venerable locomotive was the Hogwarts Express. Since last November the Powerhouse has been in thrall to Pottermania.

Its Harry Potter exhibition, with costumes and models from the film series, is pulling the crowds unlike anything the museum has seen. A row of buses is parked outside. Queues snake through the entry area. A sign reading “Sold Out” seems to be a permanent fixture.

More than 180,000 people have seen Harry Potter to date, and museum staff are quietly confident that 320,000 will come through the doors by the time it closes on March 18.

The exhibition has been a boon for the Powerhouse which, if a NSW Auditor-General’s report is an indication, was seriously running out of steam. In the dry language of bureaucratese, the auditor’s report was frankly damning of the Trustees of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Visitor numbers “fell by 19.3 per cent in the past two years”. There was a “dramatic decrease in the number of exhibitions” since 2007. And so few people went to the Top Secret and ABBAWorld shows last year that the $22 entry fee had to be abolished.

The Powerhouse disputes the report’s findings.

More chronic, though, is confusion about what the museum stands for. The outside signage reads “Science + Design”, which sounds like neither one thing nor the other, and in practice means incongruous displays of locomotive engines and contemporary lacework. As far as curatorial consistency goes, it’s a train wreck.

via Powerhouse seeks touch of magic | The Australian.

Strange Random Museum Quote:

I never can pass by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York without thinking of it not as a gallery of living portraits but as a cemetery of tax-deductible wealth. – Lewis H.Lapham

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English Butlers Wanted For Super-Rich Clients – Bloomberg

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Stephen Fry (left) as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie a...

English butlers, synonymous with Reginald Jeeves in the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, are answering more calls from super-rich Chinese and Russian clients as wealth shifts between east and west.

The Guild of Professional English Butlers has trained 20 percent more butlers this year than last, placing them with clients as soon as they are ready, according to Robert Watson, head of the firm in southern England, last week. The number of domestic staff registered with Greycoat Placements has trebled over the past three years, Managing Director Debbie Salter said.

“Demand is outstripping supply,” Watson said by telephone. “We deal with people who often are cash rich and time poor. The credit crunch did affect things for a time, but before you get rid of the butler, get rid of the Ferrari.”

As Europe struggles with a debt crisis and the U.S. tries to revive its economy, burgeoning growth in emerging markets is boosting spending on luxuries like never before, and creating opportunities for more people to look after them.

via English Butlers Wanted For Super-Rich Clients – Bloomberg.

Strange Random Butler Quote:

“Ah, the patter of little feet around the house. There’s nothing like having a midget for a butler.”

W. C. Fields (American Comic and Actor, 1880-1946)

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