December Almanack: Toolsheds and Erica

The Gardener’s Perpetual Almanack (Martin Hoyles) is a Book of Days. Each day has a plant and a saying attached.

The tool shed is the potterer’s paradise.

December is the Roman month dedicated to Saturn but was their 10th month.

The 19th is the day of the Erica Bicolor.

erica_gracilis

The winter flowering heather thrive mightily in this damp soil. there is something about heather that brings a whiff of the wide open spaces that lie beyond the garden.

It is a good all year round plant for the garden maker to remember when he is wondering what to do with an odd bit of ground.

Patience Strong writing in The Glory of the Garden 1947

Driven (Insane): Seattle and the criminal

Gift of Darkness

This is a story around people who are driven. They are different in their motivations and the outcomes of their intense drives to action and intentions, but nonetheless their whole lives are are about tat which drives them.

Set in Seattle it makes little use of the traditional points around which Seattle stories are often set – the rain and damp and the houseboats… although the water and islands are used but often more as backgrounds to the personages and their thoughts.

When I went to Seattle some years ago I was surprised how it was so much less than I had been led to believe by the films and stories I had read about it. Pike Street Market was small and had little to interest me. Then there was the coffee – I had been led to believe that Seattle was the home of the coffee shop revival and thus I could expect to find good coffee there. I didn’t. Now I understand that this may partly be a question of taste. When we went to Europe we drank what we considered to be real coffee. Black and strong. But it seemed that the Starbucks coffee was not the same as European coffee and this greatly disappointed me. And then there was the cute little tea shop I stumbled across with my friend after we had been to Pike Street. Looked great from the outside. Cute tables, nice crockery and in we went and asked for a pot of tea. No pots available. Oh. What varieties of tea do you have? Only one. How is served? From this large can here which we filled this morning as we opened the shop. Very stewed! Do you have a kettle so you can make us some fresh? No. So out we walked. Now even if the water was filled into a hot boiler as the shop opened they could have made fresh tea as it was ordered but to make tea once a day – of whatever variety – is just not on!

In fact Seattle was such a disappointment to me that I wished I had arranged to spend the weekend on Vancouver Island rather than just take a day-trip over. There would have been much to see – and indeed when I went to Canada a few years later I made sure that a longer trip to Vancouver Island was included. If only to show my husband the garden there – Butchart Gardens

spring butchart summer butchart

with its azaleas of many colours – all jumbled together… very bright indeed… and not at all in the style now favoured by European gardens which are influenced by the idea of prairie gardens and more naturalistic gardens with more grasses and large sweeps of colour and plants rather than one of everything.

I could have stayed in cute Victoria and looked around on foot, rather than taking the hurried bus tour so when we went back we did indeed do this. In fact Vancouver Island proved a joy as did the trip across to mainland Canada by ferry across the straits. But none of this is relevant to a book that was set in and around Seattle – Vancouver Island only gets a brief mention.

So the book. I give it 5 stars, which is indeed very rare for me as I can usually find a fault or two, even if it is bad proof reading. But I found the twists and turns here and the chilling characters who were neither wholly good nor wholly bad intriguing as well as disturbing. Whilst we knew who the ‘villain’ was by ¾ of the way through, actually the story of how he was found and who by, was taut and well written. And all because of a small mistake or lack of attention years before that set up a grudge that needed such extreme retaliation. Although the lack of attention had caused this person severe trauma indeed and had warped his character, it was clear that he must have been inclined that way always otherwise he would not have been able to do what he did. He was cunning indeed. The only issue I had was around the grave yard scenes. The skeletons would have been easy to tell if they were from an adult or a child no matter how badly burnt the bones were, so when they found they were all adult, there would have been no point in digging up the grave of a child. And if you move a grave-stone the soil will be very disturbed and easy to tell so I thought that this part was not as well thought out.

Was the book over long? Possibly. But it did keep my attention up and I kept reading to see what would happen next. So all praise to this author VM Giambanco and her debut, and let’s read the next book soon.

Dead and Vietnamese: Pad Thai anyone?

The Vietnamese War left a sad legacy in the number of children born to Vietnamese mothers and GI soldiers. These children are commonly despised by those of full Vietnamese blood. They are commonly called Bui-Doi, or ‘dust of life’. According to Wikipedia

“Amerasians are predominantly seen as off-spring of GI fathers and prostitute mothers. Life was frequently difficult for such Amerasians; they existed as pariahs in Vietnamese society. Often, they would be persecuted by the communist government and sometimes even sold into prostitution as children. Under the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1988, a Vietnamese Amerasian could obtain a U.S. visa on the basis of appearance alone. Amerasians gained the attention of con artists who claimed to be their relatives in the hope of obtaining visas.  About 23,000 Amerasians immigrated to the U.S. under this act.

In the United States, bui doi, or the term “dust of life”, again referred to the criminal class, where the youths included newly transplanted Vietnamese and Amerasians.  The misuse of the word bui doi also migrated to the United States and was appropriated by the mainstream.”

So we see that being a Bui Doi in the Vietnamese society is not good, neither it would seem is being Vietnamese in the police. I managed to find some statistics for the UK police referring to the ethnic make-up of the police force. We still see quite a lot of prejudice against the ethnic races going into the police coming from both sides. Frm the figures I found for 2012 there were 6,679 people belonging to BME races in the whole of the UK. This figure represents 5% of the total police force. Only 3.7% of the Chief Inspectors were of BME race, and only 5.4% of the Constables were. Overall the ethnic make-up of the BME ethnicities were:

39.1% Asian/Asian British

21.3%  Black/Black British;

28.1% Mixed race

11.5% Chinese or other.

minority officers

Thus even within the BME races, Chinese and Vietnamese are very poorly represented. This is not helpful as the Vietnamese and the Chinese are traditionally a very self-sufficient community that turn their faces inwards against ‘others’, even to the point of trying to

This difficulty is central to the story of the book ‘Caught Dead’ by Andrew Lanh, who of course is of the right ethnic origin to write about this topic. The issues which an ethnic officer faces from both societies when a crime is committed within the Vietnamese community.

I did find this a difficult book to read as I have difficulty in understanding the culture although I can well understand why the society circles the wagons against outsiders. They feel that they have been betrayed too often and are poorly understood within the police forces. But my lack of cultural understanding meant that I missed some of the nuances and made it difficult for me to judge how well the issues were represented here. With the right audience I would give this book 3 stars but I wouldn’t read further myself.

Knitting conquers Addiction

Knitting can help conquer

addiction as it occupies both

the hands and the mind. Plus

knitting can be taken anywhere – its portability means you always

have help at hand any time a

craving strikes.

Keep Calm and Cast on by Erika Knight (2011) p23

An Xmas Carol – Not!

This is admitted to be a story based loosely on Dickens’ Christmas Carol. The main characters appear as:

Scrooge;

3 Messages (Ghosts of Christmas, past, present and future);

Little Tim who is disabled;

A large turkey!

A Clerical worker.

Plus a few more characters thrown in for good measure. Now scoliosis is an interesting diagnosis for a young child. The NHS guide says that it rarely causes any issues in children other than a visible curve of the spine. It is adults who experience back pain. It affects 3-4 children out of every 1000, usually starting from adolescence, so for Tim’s to start earlier is very unusual and is most likely to be caused by, or is in combination with, another illness. Children are usually treated conservatively with just a back brace to help the back straighten and prevent more curvature, so it was surprising that Tim apparently wasn’t wearing one, especially as he was supposed to be badly curved. Unless the curvature is more than 50 degrees, and the brace has not kept it under control, surgery would not be considered. The surgery would fuse the spine in places and thus restrict movement which you do not want to do in a young child. And Tim was apparently a very active child so not something you would want to do to him.

And just a note about the NHS, if Tim’s curve needed this surgery he would yes, be on a waiting list, but would be high on it not low. And the waiting time for operations is rarely more than a few months for anything that is impeding normal life. My own experience has been a waiting time from 3 months maximum to 10 days!

There is almost never any need for private surgery and certainly you would not want to wait years for this, unless there is a special treatment you want that is not available – like a private bathroom! Which is very nice I admit, having had both private and NHS operations. I did like having the chef come round and consult me about what I wanted to eat and to bake lovely small delicacies to tempt the appetite at tea-time. That said, both times i had private treatment it did not go as well as my NHS treatment (I speak here as the person whose operations cannot now be counted on 2 hands).

I’m guessing that the book was set in the UK because the writer was British but the premise was better suited to the US. If you want the UK as a setting then you need to find a more obscure disease where treatment is not available in the UK and you have to pay for a trip abroad etc.

So, having had a good moan here about the hook around which the story was set, I did find it an irritant, but trying to be objective, without the knowledge of how the NHS works , the story could read quite well. Especially in the US where medical treatment is very expensive indeed – we would have been bankrupt several times over with my operations!

I liked the pie throwing scene but felt that it could have been better exploited and more made of it. What about a viral YouTube video for instance? Again more could have been made about the lottery win.

Overall, as a first novel it was acceptable but the author still needs to develop her techniques.

The Hyphen Trick

Isn’t funny how if you insert a hyphen and the odd letter or two, the word you are familiar with can become something slightly different?

In this book, there is a twist on the word Angel. It becomes Ange’el. Author Jamie Le Fey.

Once it is different of course you can start the story. You can apply to your reading the art of reason. Now reason is an interesting thing – just what is reasonable to assume when one reads a story? The reason of the story? Or why it exists? Or why what happens in the story happens at all?

Ursula Le Guin says in her classic book Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, women, places, that “In the telling of a story, reason is only a support system. It can provide causal connection; it can extrapolate; it can judge what is likely, plausible, possible.”

The reason in this story that we are looking for, is why change the word? What is it that changing the word adds to the story? Clearly much as we ow postulate a different world whether the word Ange’el is their name for themselves – and whoa, yes, they can have wings! They are superior beings from their nature and thus guide us in our development. Or at least they assume they are superior beings.

We now come to the idea of a superior being and an angel and the various different interpretations of what they are beginning with ultimate racist superior being to the cuddly angel on your Xmas tree, via some of the most scary characters you have ever met or imagined as they are so rigid in their morals and ideals. Wikipedia says that an angel is a supernatural being or spirit found in various religions and mythologies. In Zoroastrianism and Abrahamic religions they are often depicted as benevolent celestial beings who act as intermediaries between Heaven and Earth, or as guardian spirits or a guiding influence. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings,

I am always concerned about the whole concept superior beings especially ones that live alongside the human race and try to guide us in our behaviour. I am a believer that we create our own fate, although we may have many lives in which to do this, and that Karma is important in so many ways. Thus it is important that we take responsibility for ourselves and don’t rely on being helped along by any creature however high and mighty, and also that no -one person is superior to any other – we are all different and everyone has something to contribute that makes them unique and special. The contribution, of course, should be positive, but again how are we to judge? Although we know evil when we see it. So if there are angels then there are demons? Or devils? Oh dear, what a quagmire we get ourselves into here…

Back to the book. What I liked was the feminist twists and the strong women – an Amazonian tribe with warriors and Queens and healers all women. There was also some really good stuff here for teenagers as there are not often good examples of strong women who are changing the world in a format that is accessible to them – fantasy fiction.

I did like it and would certainly recommend to teenage girls but it just didn’t set my reading sense alerts high enough for me to want to read the next book – which, by the way, is only just being written and you can influence the plot if you go to the author’s web page.

Is Marriage worth it? Should we hunt for a Husband?

Well certainly the Australian women of Genevieve Gannon’s book called the ‘Husband Hunters’ had no doubt that they should be actively looking for a husband and thus made their plans.

They were successful women in their own right and yet felt that their lives were unfulfilled without that final addition – the husband. Some of them because they wanted children, others wanted to make a ‘home’ – design a great house for themselves and their family. They went about it by making a list of what they needed a husband for: companionship; children; life partner so they are not single at 65; someone to share things with. After all, it is only recently that the idea that marriage was about love and you married because you fell in love has come about. Indeed, marriage itself was not undertaken by many couples because they couldn’t afford it, or the opportunity didn’t come their way eg in remote areas. The marriage of convenience has always been the rule for certain classes. and this is nicely illustrated in the second book that is about marriage which is ‘The Earl’s Defiant Wallflower’ by ***. Here we see the upper classes deciding who to marry because of their title; their wealth; their land and so on. Marriages were often political alliances (see Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea) and were designed to ensure the lack of war, or support for position or favours or…

Then of course we also see marriages of convenience to cover up sexual orientation or to provide a person with a passport! In addition there are financial benefits to marriage that just living together – after all the common law marriage doesn’t really exist – that our laws attempt to force according to the political persuasion of the ruling political party. One can also argue, that from the male’s point of view, marriage also provides a health benefit as most married men live on average longer than unmarried. The statistics on women are not as clear – but in the older age ranges say over 70, spinsters do better and have a longer life than married women.

A major survey of 127,545 American adults found that married men are healthier than men who were never married or whose marriages ended in divorce or widowhood. Men who have marital partners also live longer than men without spouses; men who marry after age 25 get more protection than those who tie the knot at a younger age, and the longer a man stays married, the greater his survival advantage over his unmarried peers. But is marriage itself responsible for better health and longer life?

Although it’s hard to be sure, marriage seems to deserve at least part of the credit. Some have argued that self-selection would skew the results if healthy men are more likely to marry than men with health problems. But research shows the reverse is true: unhealthy men actually marry earlier, are less likely to divorce, and are more likely to remarry following divorce or bereavement than healthy men.

Another potential factor is loneliness; is the institution of marriage linked to better health, or is it simply a question of living with another person? Although studies vary, the answer seems to be a little of both. People living with unmarried partners tend to fare better than those living alone, but men living with their wives have the best health of all.

Numerous studies conducted over the past 150 years suggest that marriage is good for health. More recently, scientists have begun to understand why married men enjoy better health than their single, divorced, and widowed peers. But before we turn to the why, let’s look at how marriage affects specific diseases, including America’s leading killers, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

…….marriage appears to have a positive effect on a variety of health outcomes. Mental health is the most prominent; married men have a lower risk of depression and a higher likelihood of satisfaction with life in retirement than their unmarried peers. Being married has also been linked to better cognitive function, a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, improved blood sugar levels, and better outcomes for hospitalized patients ….(http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/harvard_mens_health_watch/2010/july/marriage-and-mens-health)

So certainly from a man’s point of view, being married is very beneficial. So they should hunt for a wife. There is also evidence for women that the survival rate from heart disease and hospitalisation as a result is better when a woman is married, so perhaps they should check their likelihood of this health risk as a reason for marriage?

So there we are, as women we provide men with a better survival rate. Is that therefore a good reason for marrying, even when we are not in love? And just what do we mean by love here? Is that lust and infatuation we feel or a lasting love that will take us through the trials and tribulations of 40 plus years of marriage, including child rearing and the sleepless nights until all of them are past 5 years old? And then the sleepless nights when they are teenagers? And then when they are students? And when they are driving your car? – Here’s a tale from my family – we went away for a weekend, just my husband and myself, and left the older teenage children at home together with our brand new car. They were to take us to the station and back. When they arrived to pick us up there was no new car. Well it seems that in his joy at driving our new, and faster car, our son at taken a humped back bridge at significant speed and broken the suspension! Imagine our reaction. Luckily no-one was injured but .. Still want children?

And if the divorce rate is so high, why do we bother?

So going back to the two books: Husband hunters and The Earl’s Defiant Wallflower, what did I think of them?

I liked the Husband Hunters – not so much the topic, but the writing style and wit. The Defiant Wallflower was a more traditional historical romance style and content whereby it all ends happily. Not that the other book didn’t end happily either but…. Overall the style of the Hunters is more modern and would appeal to a chick lit audience, the Wallflower not so much. So a 4 star for the Hunters and 3 star for the Wallflower which was really a very light read.