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bc_mytilus [userpic]

I'm back!

July 8th, 2007 (06:19 pm)

Well, the purchase of a sinfully equipped laptop and home broadband installation (the result of the on-going ludricous non-net access situation at work) has given me the opportunity (i.e. time at home!) to continue LJ-ing.

I do not promise to be anything approaching consistent. However I thought this would be a nice place to record my monthly reading, if nothing else.

 

A lot of books this month (for me), which is what happens when you’re away with work with nothing to do in the evenings (heavy rain and blistered feet curtailed any desire to wander and sightsee in free time) coupled with a total of nine hours of delays (two hours at Rennes and seven [!!!] at Manchester) on my weary way back.

 

The Revolt of the Eagles by Jean Plaidy (check BC)

I was really disappointed by this book. I am convinced that I’ve read other books by Plaidy but I don’t remember them being as poorly and, dare I say it, lazily executed. Most characters remained one dimensional cut-outs populating a repetitious text; the author was patently convinced that the reader was amnesiatical, requiring overt reminders of plot and character motivation. No subtle sub-text by-play here! I can only surmise that this book, generated by an otherwise competent author, was the product of strong drink.     

 

Promise Me by Harlen Coben

Promise Me is Coben’s first Bolitar novel after a gap of several, unrelated books. I have had a soft spot for Myron Bolitar for years now. He is an ex-basketball player who lost his promising career due to injury. Following a few shadowy years working for the CIA he opened a sportsrep company and now seems to spend most of his time solving their various disappearances/murders/blackmail issues with the help of his deeply patrician (and partially psychotic) best friend Win.

 

I have been eagerly anticipating a Bolitar novel for years now and felt personally thwarted every time Coben brought out a non-Bolitar book. Perhaps Coben knew what he was doing. Whilst his interim non-Bolitar efforts have been well written, tautly plotted and exciting, Promise Me felt tired and lacklustre. It’s as if the Bolitar books have run their course and Coben was pressured to crank out another one anyway. Which is a great shame.

 

The Eagle in the Sand by Simon Scarrow

Scarrow has written a series of books set in the Roman legions starring Cato and Macro (who are both centurians at this point). Whilst dialogue occasionally fails to convince the oft-epic stories sweep the reader irresistibly along.

 

In this installation, our heroes find themselves sent to Judea to quell incipient revolt following an oppressed populace, execution of a man called Jesus and corrupt officialdom. The Eagle in the Sand is a cracking good read and so staying in my permanent collection. Sorry.

 

The Gospel According to Chris Moyles by Chris Moyles

I adore Chris Moyles.  Sometimes, he is the sole reason why I get out of bed. I love his repartee with the rest of the breakfast crew and his inability to take himself too seriously. I normally “get” his sense of humour and, in my opinion, weekday mornings without him would be a bleak place indeed.

 

However The Gospel According to Chris Moyles has to be THE WORST AUTOBIOGRAPHY THAT I HAVE EVER READ. See how upset I am? I am SHOUTING. What on earth possessed the publishers to let this shocking piece of work hit the bookstores? I could see flashes of brilliance, here and there, especially close to the end and just wonder what would have happened if the editor had perhaps been a little more brutal with Chris and insisted that he put more of substance in. Exasperating.

 

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

TutleyMutley, who can be a persuasive soul at times, convinced me to try Pigs in Heaven, which is written by one of her favourite authors. In this, an adopted native American child, Turtle, saves the life of a man. The media widely publicise the story bringing the child and mother to the attention of the Native American adoption authorities because whilst Turtle is Native American her adopted mother is white. Suddenly, Turtle’s adopted mother is under pressure to hand her daughter of five years back…..

 

This is a book about identity. What makes you who you are? Your ethnicity? You family? You yourself? Recommended. PM me if you want to read this.

             

The Lonely Dead by Michael Marshall

This is a gory and oft disturbing story about the pursuit of a serial killer by an ex-CIA agent. Great story full of shoals of red herrings and a veritable city block of blind alleys, but honestly, if I were Marshall’s wife, I’d be a worried woman… Recommended. PM me if you want to read this.

 

The Crimson Petal & the White by Michael Faber

This is an entertaining romp through 18th century London and is ultimately about the attitudes towards women, be they prostitutes, gentlewomen or nobility, prevalent at this point in time. Recommended.

 

Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

This is an old favourite. I’ve read this twice before, so when strength-sapping fatigue irresistably swept over me one rainy Saturday afternoon I was only in the mood for comfort reading. Dead to the World is, I think, number four (or five?) in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire series. Set in the USA, the premise is that Vampires have come out of the woodwork and are now recognised as citizens. They drink synthetic blood, pay tax and are regular, undead people. Sookie Stackhouse, our protagonist, can mind read. It is only when a vampire visits the bar she works at that she realises that she cannot mind read vampires. The relief is so great, she finds herself dating him. And then her troubles begin… Written humourously, these stories are satisfyingly entertaining. Highly recommended, but not a BC book. I’m afraid you’ll have to find your own copy.

 

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Proven Guilty is the latest in a series of books about Chicago’s favourite Wizard (certainly the only to advertise in the Yellow Pages). As ever, poor Harry gets physically knocked about something rotten; one has to wonder at the robustness of his skull. And again, as ever, there’s a “Big Bad” (to coin a Buffy term) to deal with. I adored the first few Dresden books, largely because they are a well-written breathe of fresh air in this oft-stuffy genre. However his most recent submissions have struck me as formulaic and repetitive. I wouldn’t mind so much but there’s so little ancilliary character development, never mind grumpy Harry himself, that I feel cheated. I will continue buying this series because I am stupid live in the hope of a return to form.

 

Falling Angels by Tracey Chevalier

I’ve never been a Tracey Chevalier fan before and really only began to read this in the expectation that it would fail the fifty page rule. Instead I was drawn into the lives of two families following Queen Victoria’s death and the rise of the Suffragettes. Addictive writing.

 

The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones

There’s just something about the writings of DWJ that’s incredibly seductive. I swear she could write about the most tedious subjects and make them sparkle and fascinate. On the face of it, there’s very little of substance to The Worlds of Chrestmanci. For a start, this is a remarkably slim volume with the feel of an extended short story, which perhaps encourages the younger readers that this book is aimed at to pick it up. The Worlds of Chrestomanci returns us to Chrestomanci, a powerful magician, and one of his pupils, who is about to receive a nasty surprise. Whilst the book can be read as a stand alone, it would benefit from prior immersion in the Chrestomanci universe. But that’s just a minor quibble. Pick up the book, go with the flow and enjoy the all too short ride. Send me an email if you want to read this. Highly recommended.

 

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Ah. If only I could write like Mr Bryson. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this (as ever) humourously written autobiography, I can’t quit wishing that he’d turn his hand to fiction. I’d love to see the result. This is a non-BC book and is already nestled amongst his earlier work on a shelf.





Right. I'm off to put my plump chicken from a nearby farm in the oven.

I may even stick half a lemon up its bottom.

bc_mytilus [userpic]

Tremodrett's report; could do better.

April 11th, 2006 (05:15 pm)

Everything was going oh-so-swimmingly, in fact suspiciously so, until Saturday morning.

I’d heard the thump of a fat packet dropping through my letterbox a shade before 0800, but decided to enjoy the rest of my coffee in bed, reading (Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, which is ok, you know, but nothing special; perhaps it will get better). So it was a full twenty minutes before I ambled downstairs to confirm that the fat packet was indeed the full buildings survey report of Tremodrett, the property I hope to buy.

As the surveyor himself says:

“This is an attractive cottage, well presented and in a pleasant location.”

…however…

“It is a shame that the original works were not carried out to a good standard when the property was restored and it means that repair works will now be that much more expensive.”

I do not have the heart to reiterate in full the problems highlighted in this report. I have listed them into surveyor-I’m-covering-my-back-speak, and real concerns. Suffice to say, first thing Monday, I will be instructing a timber specialist, electrician, plumber, concrete test (there’s a possibility of mundic block, which I’d never heard of before, but for which Cornwall is infamous, apparently) and damp person, to all go and tell me how much money needs to be spent on the property.

Oh dear. I really don’t think the vendor is going to like this one little bit.

bc_mytilus [userpic]

House sold!

April 6th, 2006 (09:41 am)

Ironically, the only people that my estate agent did NOT show my house to, gave me an offer this morning that I could not refuse. They seem to be really nice people, are not involved in a chain (hooray!) and have said that they can complete within a month. So it’s chocks away and off I go to Cornwall. I am delighted.

Of course, the rest of my friends may not be so enthusiastic when they learn that half an hour has been added to the end of an already considerable drive (yes, I’m thinking of you here GlasgowGal).

My commute to work will change from a rush-hour-time of 15 minutes (gosh, wasn’t traffic just awful today, took me almost 20 minutes to get in…) to, conservatively, 40.

I’ve thought about this a lot. The conclusion I reached was that this was the sacrifice that I had to make for a decent sized (and affordable!!!) property. So saying, in my car I’m going to become the petrol pump’s best friend. C’est la vie.

Besides, I can take two routes into work….and one involves a ferry! To be strictly accurate, this ferry is called a moving bridge.

Yeah, I thought that too.

The reason why is because the Torpoint ferry is attached to a chain with the biggest links I’ve ever clapped eyes on, that stretches across the Tamar River. The ferry’s engine is attached to this sizeable chain, and uses it to pull itself across the river. There are, in fact, three of these moving bridges, although they’re always referred to as the Torpoint ferry.

I figure the upshot is more reading time!

It’s all very exciting. I packed half the garage this afternoon so my advice to visiting friends is, well, don’t.

Wait six weeks, see what stage I’m at and then invite yourself down. Otherwise you may find yourself handed a glass of wine…

….and a list of jobs to do as you cross the threshold.

bc_mytilus [userpic]

Dredging

April 5th, 2006 (09:42 am)

We (Plymouth Marine Laboratory staff) have just sat through an astonishing seminar, given by Dave. Dave is the fittest 82 year old that I have ever clapped eyes on. He is an ex-police diver, but not an ex-diver; he still dives a couple of times a week, throughout the year. Dave has also built up quite a reputation within the local area as a rather outspoken activist.

What it is, is this. Dave is concerned about the effects of dredging dumping in a beauty spot around the corner from Plymouth. The dumped materials are dredged from naval areas and contain a lot of large debris (ammunition boxes, plastic sheets, coal, etc), as well as contaminants (mercury, cadmium, oils, and other particularly nasty chemicals). The silt itself covers and smothers marine life on the seabed. Once abundant oyster beds are no more. Levels of contaminants in oysters and mussels in Whitsand Bay have increased. And I’ll think twice about swimming there again.

As an ecological toxicologist (ecotoxicologist), you’d think that Dave and I would become firm friends, fondly waving each other goodbye, with a tear in our eyes, swearing friendship that would continue beyond the grave.

Sadly this was not to be the case.

I have NEVER sat through such an offensive, patronising, prejudiced, tedious seminar in my life.

And all delivered with a belligerent, pugnacious air.

It proved impossible to engage with him at any level. Even those who sought to support him were rebuffed, because their view did not entirely coincide with his!

Don’t get me wrong. If more people were as passionate about the environment as Dave, then perhaps we’d get somewhere. As it is, I fear that Dave is doing damage to his cause, and mine.

Dave, let’s not alienate people. We’ve a big enough problem as it is.

bc_mytilus [userpic]

Tonic and lime

April 4th, 2006 (04:48 pm)

Drink of the day: Fill half a tall glass with ice, add the juice of one lime, two fingers of lemon vodka (three if it’s been a bad day) and fill to the top with tonic water.

Mmmm. Lovely.

What's your favourite drink?

bc_mytilus [userpic]

Let there be life!

March 31st, 2006 (09:23 am)

As I type, the washing machine is noisily revolving behind me. Honestly, why do these things have to be so bloody loud. As predicted, earlier today I did indeed manage to spill sperm harvested from a particularly attractive male down my jeans.



I wiped it off as best I could, then continued monitoring the fertilisation of my oyster eggs through a microscope. It’s bloody fascinating. Technically, I guess, I’m creating life. An awful lot of life. I’ve read that each oyster can contain between ten and twenty million gametes (eggs or sperm). Whilst I’m not harvesting each animal’s entire compliment of gametes, I’m still taking enough to turn a one litre beaker completely opaque. I take teeny-tiny subsamples periodically, over the course of a 24 hour period, tracking the eggs as they start dividing; 2, 4, 8, 32, 64. It’s exponential. Within only a few hours I’m cursing as I try to track rapidly moving embryos as they haphazardly zing around the drop of water that they’re suspended in. This whole life thing is heady stuff, you know.

Ultimately, I’ll be measuring embryo viability (and a few other bits and pieces) after they’ve been exposed to copper and phenanthrene (a particularly toxic component of oil). Complex mixes of chemicals ebb and flow around our shores. Oddly, our understanding of exactly how these chemicals influence vulnerable juvenile stages of marine life is poor.

But that’s in the future. Right now I’m just optimising the technique; and playing at being god.

Let there be life!!!

bc_mytilus [userpic]

Rat rehabilitation...final installment

March 30th, 2006 (09:25 am)

Harmonious living, punctuated by the occasional squabble over choice pieces of chicken, has once again descended upon rat-dom. This has been occasioned, I suspect, by the uniting persistent, if erroneous, belief that they are permanently placed upon survival rations.

They aren’t, but in an effort to prevent the appearance of three tailed, walking footballs, they are given a set amount of food a day. Plus treats.

However, it would be no bad thing if I did slash their daily intake..

It has been known since the late nineteenth century that near starvation diets increase the lifespan of animals. The firstly widely disseminated work in question involved rats (as the test subjects, rather than the food source!). In this instance, animals’ lifespans were increased by almost fifty percent.

Simplistically, this is because of the paradox of oxygen. It is essential to life...

...and toxic.

To cut a very long, rather complicated and still heatedly contentious (in areas) story short, decreasing your metabolism, through persistently severely limiting your calorific inputs, will increase your lifespan. Theoretically, this increase should be significant, rather than, say, just half an hour. Human data is in short supply (unsurprisingly!), although I do remember catching the tail end of a t.v. programme, a few years ago, documenting a society that preaches near starvation diets specifically as a path to longer lifespans and (I think) ‘enlightenment’. I’d Google it, but I’m at home with no net access. If you find anything interesting, feel free to email me the link. I’d look myself, but tomorrow I’ll be immersed (I hoping not literally, but since I can be so clumsy I’m not that optimistic) in sperm...

...and eggs… of oysters.

(What were *you* thinking?!)

Anyway, that’s another story. To get back on track, those of you who have seen me in the flesh will gather that a particularly long life is patently not high on my list of priorities. I’ve had a summer job working in an old folks home…

…I know what’s coming…

…and I don’t wish to be there to see it!

As the old joke goes:

Evangelical non-smoker: Do you not know that every cigarette takes five minutes off your life?

Committed smoker: Yeah. But they’re the minutes at the end.

bc_mytilus [userpic]

Rat rehabilitation... continued

March 29th, 2006 (01:11 pm)

Well, when I quietly stuck my head around the corner this morning, all appeared well in the rat-dom. There was no sign of any rat, leaving me to presume that all three were harmoniously snuggled up together in their ‘house’. Unless, of course, there were one or more escapees, currently wreaking havoc with electrical cables which were on the cusp of bursting into flame, consigning me to a fiery, painful and cruel death.

And all before 0800.

But no. I sneezed and three forms rushed out in the hope that I’d give them yet *more* food. And it was apparent that the hatchet had yet to be buried between Dibble and Grubb.

What’s actually quite funny, in a faintly-cruel-and-I’m-obviously-a-bad-person-for-laughing way, is the desperate manner in which each rat dives for the open cage door and, by inference, me. Each rat registers the other, mid-dash, and freezes into immobility. Meanwhile Cuthbert, who ignores the others in his drama queen ‘LOOK AT ME!!!’ pseudo-distress, is already chattering to himself from the nape of my neck. Trailing red welts along exposed skin (MY exposed skin!) in his wake, he comfortably sits at peace, pulling down hair to groom that the stupid human has stupidly pinned up.

Dibble and Grub, meanwhile, are still frozen into immobility.

And obviously I’m still exasperatedly laughing.

Anyway, drifting on…if you do nothing else today, then read what you can of this guys blog. (http://www.waiterrant.net/). This blog has been entertaining me for almost half a year now. God help me, I sometimes even check it out before looking at GlasgowGal’s doings!!! I’ve found no one else who comes close. If you have, then please pass me the link. The wit, humour and sheer depth found at Waiter Rant is rare indeed.

And I’d love to read more.

bc_mytilus [userpic]

Rat rehabilitation

March 28th, 2006 (09:05 am)

As mentioned elsewhere, I have distressingly little ‘spare’ time at the marine lab. I mean, what are they expecting me to do all day? Work?

So I think the solution is this; at home grab ten minutes here, ten minutes there, and see what I can generate for this Live Journal of mine.

Take this evening, for example. I have time to kill because I am sitting in the kitchen keeping an eye on the rats in the basement.

Let me reassure those of you new to my world that the rats intentionally inhabit my basement and are not, for example, disease ridden ex-sewer inhabitants biding their time to chew half my face off whilst I sleep the sleep of the just, infecting me with variously unsavoury and highly communicable conditions that might give you pause the next time you see me bearing down inexorably with wide open arms to fold you to my bosom.

Oh no.

These are rather entertaining pet rats. The product of Jack Black, who (I believe, can’t be arsed Googling it) was ratcatcher to Queen Victoria. He noticed the inevitable odd colour aberrations in wild populations, whilst catching rats for the fighting rings (euch!) and bred them. Indeed, these colour variations became rather popular pets for upper-middle class Victorian children. Subsequently, these strains were intensively consolidated, and diversified, principally for that necessary evil of laboratory testing. I have three of the little darlings. Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub (you know, along the lines of ‘Hugh, Hugh, Barney McGrew. Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub. Don’t look at me like that. These names came from the U.K. Bookcrossing Yahoo group collective. Anyway, I rather like them.)

Where was I? Ah! So these three are brothers, which, coupled with the highly social hierarchy of rat society, should have led to (on the whole) harmonious living. But one brother, once he began generating testosterone, became a little furball of fury. Rats hair, like cats, stands completely on end when they’re agitated, and so Grub was transformed from a (to be honest) rather weird rat to a little puffball of angst.

And then he got bigger.

Push came to shove and the decision was made to castrate him. Which is more or less where we are now. I am trying to reintroduce him to his brothers, but it appears that elephants are not the only animal with a long memory. And so I sit here, with a glass of wine and three deeply apprehensive animals, acting as referee.



What I find astonishing is the ferocity with which Grubb (the ball-less one) is defending himself. I mean, really! How can he be that aggressive with no testosterone?!!! (Why does this remind me of Bush?!)

Cuthbert will be fine. If he were human, he’d be gay. Cuthbert is all sleek good looks, provocative manner but a real wimp if any other rat as much as frowns at him. This trait usually keeps him well out of trouble.

Dibble, on the other hand… Well, if Dibble were human, he would be a bouncer. At the roughest club in town.

This has not, as you may have already surmised, generated a match made in heaven.

Will I leave the rats in the same cage? Will Dibble and Grub make it through the night without tearing each others throats out? Will Cuthbert suffer disturbed sleep because of those nasty great brutes posturing at the other end of the cage?

Watch this space.

Other breaking news from the Mytilus household stresses, in large, bold, underlined letters (no idea how to make that happen here) that Shaolin Soccer (film; more or less) is actually rather shit and that the Pistachios (band) are rather good.

And, godammit!, this computer is giving me shocks. All advice gratefully received.

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