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In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson

Cover image © PanMacmillan I believe that reading a novel that is part of a series, having not read any of the preceding books, is a little like jumping into an ice-cold plunge pool. It has the potential to leave you feeling a sense of shock and bewilderment, but equally can have some benefits. I'm not sure into which category this novel falls. In a Dry Season (1999) is the tenth in a series of novels by Peter Robinson focussing on Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks. Being a little late to the DCI Banks party, and never having watched the television adaptations being broadcast on ITV, by the time of this novel, the protagonist has separated from his wife, has a somewhat dubious reputation with women and his career as a detective is grinding to a halt. The action commences when, during a period a drought, a reservoir dries up revealing the remains of a deserted village that had been submerged following the building of a damn after the Second World War. A young boy,

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

Continuing my summer tradition of a James Bond novel on the beach, this year on Anse des Sables in Vieux Fort, Saint Lucia, is something I look forward to with relish. Under a palm tree, with rum near to hand and an expanse of turquoise sea in front of me, I read From Russia With Love (1957) – the fifth book in the James Bond series. Despite the modern reputation Ian Fleming’s novels enjoy, in 1956 he wasn’t satisfied that they were commercially successful enough. With this in mind From Russia With Love saw Bond at a crossroads and the writer's approach demonstrates this. In a slight departure from previous Bond novels, the first part of the novel deals exclusively with SMERSH formulating a plan to strike the Secret Service’s top man, James Bond. The reader is drawn into the meticulous construction of an airtight plan – the target, the beautiful bait, the exotic location, the risk of scandal and the right man for the execution. The characters working for SMERSH se

Autumnal Sunset Over Hammersmith

Autumnal sunsets over cities have the power to stir my soul, like mountains and oceans do. After another busy day of talking non-stop to colleagues, teaching classes of students, conducting one-to-ones, and jumping over a variety of obstacles thrown in my direction, I looked out of the window of the classroom I was working in. It is Wednesday 4th December 2013 , and to the east I can see the bright orange reflection of the sunset shining back off the blue-tinted glass of the Empress State Building on the Earl's Court and West Brompton border. The radiance of it leads me to leave the room I am in - there are no classes at this time - and I head to my favourite place in the building. The roof. Stood on the roof, three storeys up, my thoughts a million miles away, I breathe in the cold early evening air to the background noise of Hammersmith. The sirens fail to crash through and break my peace of mind and the light shining off the glass seems to rebound and silently figh

Cycling: Not All Glamour

Bits and bobs everywhere on the pavement. Shaftesbury Avenue, London. I enjoy my cycle commute to work. I've progressed from being a twice a week, fair-weather cyclist, to being a four days a week, almost all-weather cyclist. My fitness has improved, I have lost a fair amount of weight and I arrive to work most mornings buzzing on endorphins. I've recently had a full service at Caballo on Chatsworth Road in Hackney. My bike, named Sasha, is running like a dream. Along with new brakes and a full strip-down, clean and rebuild, I've had a new rear cassette with a 11-28T range. There was one thing I didn't change though: my tyres. With 2,500km on the Garmin, the rear tyre was looking a little worse for wear, but I had my eyes on a set of Specialized Roubaix tyres. As if fate decreed, riding full pelt up Shaftesbury Avenue, a popping sound came from my rear wheel. In the oppressive heat and with sweat dripping from everywhere, I was forced to pull off th

Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon, Dreaming of Cricket

A batsman plays a quick shot towards point, Springfield Park, Hackney. At this time of year the sound of a weary red leather ball cracking off the face of a beaten-up old cricket bat would usually fill my Sunday afternoons. Playing for The Swinging Googlies Cricket Club –  albeit very badly  – is one of the highlights of my summer weekends.  Now well into June, having missed The Googlies ’ first and only match so far this season, I am beginning to get some serious cricketing-related withdrawal. With the match that I should have been playing in today cancelled due to inclement weather, I am likely to start outwardly showing signs of mania soon.  On Sunday 2nd June 2013 I at least got to see some others playing whilst I sunbathed in Springfield Park, Hackney. From a little research I have found the teams playing were The Coach and Horses C.C. hosting Shakespeare C.C. in a friendly – I am unsure who was who, but I think the fielding team were the Coach and Horses due to the

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Cover image © Virago Press. I have often been unsure about where in the grand scheme of all things literary Maya Angelou fits. Last August, whilst considering my teaching options for AS Level literature, the decision was reached to switch from teaching Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection The World’s Wife to Angelou’s collection And Still I Rise . In the absence of the ubiquitous York Notes to provide information on the poetry, it made sense to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  not only to shed some light on the context of the poetry, but to answer a nagging question: who is Maya Angelou? Caged Bird is the 1969 autobiography of Angelou’s early years in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, in the USA, through to the age of seventeen. As soon as you learn that she is living with her paternal grandmother, Momma, you realise that her family history is bound to be laced with complexities and confusion. A recurrent theme is the pervading sense of abandonment felt by Maya

Wood Farm Brewery, Warwickshire

'Sunshine on a rainy day' bringing an end to any potential 'irony'. In the words of Alanis Morissette, the situation was distinctly 'ironic'. The rain was falling from the sky by the bucketload, and a minor gale blowing, as I arrived at Wood Farm, a small brewery outside Rugby in Warwickshire. It is Saturday 11th May and Page, one of the heroes of January's London-Brighton bike ride , is getting hitched to Siobhan. Once the clouds had cleared, sometime around 7pm, the sunshine made a brief cameo just long enough to take a couple of lovely pictures. All the better considerings the guests to this wedding party, myself included, were camping! After the tents were pitched, it was into the main marquee for a night of live music, dancing and merriment. Any comments about Page not being able to organise the proverbial were allayed and the wedding went smoothly.

Beach Huts, Southwold, Suffolk

Sleeping beach huts on Southwold Beach, Suffolk. Safely back from my annual visit to Rotterdam, my parents invited me to spend a few days with them in a small holiday cottage in Southwold, Suffolk. Give or take driving through Newmarket a few years back when studying at Anglia Ruskin University, I'd never really seen much of the county. Southwold itself is a beautiful seaside resort which happens to be the home of Adnams , a well known brewery, which means that for a small place there are a healthy number of pubs - suddenly Dad's choice of location made sense . On the early afternoon of Wednesday 20th February  I took a walk to the Harbour Inn to meet my parents for lunch. The pub was just under two miles away from Grace Cottage , where we were staying. This gave me the opportunity to take some pictures of the sea. On our way towards the see we also spotted  Georgie Glen  from Waterloo Road humming happily to herself on the High Street. Southwold is lovely,

London to Brighton: Part Three - Countryside nr. Gatwick to Brighton Pier

Heading up Turners Hill If we were in Uganda, with the sun at the angle it was by around 10am, we would be baking to a crisp. As it was, at 10am, we were crossing the county border into West Sussex and despite the sun beating down on us, it was still pretty cold.  After a brief flirtation with an A road, we started a three mile decent towards the foot of Turner’s Hill. With the others tailing off into the distance slightly, I tried to build up some decent momentum with which to attack the climb. The hill is a category 5 climb, but seemed very different to Marlpit Hill earlier on in the day. Maybe it was the fact that the blood was circulating more freely around my body now, but I seemed to make reasonably light work of the half-mile climb. Before I knew it, I was at the village green at the top of the hill and the ‘half-way jitters’ had not even had chance to appear. Maybe I am getting better at climbing. The sign on the village green in Turners Hill. Page followe

King's Cross Station, London

The roof of the new departures concourse at Kings Cross Station. You might not think that a railway station would make the most interesting photographic subject, but I can safely say they can. The new departures concourse at King's Cross railway station in London has been completed for nearly a year now, but I very rarely have any reason to be in the area and so this interesting work of architecture had slipped from my mind. On Saturday 9th February I happened to appear from the Victoria Line straight into the new concourse - more by accident than design . I had seen pictures of it on BBC London News on the opening night, but standing beneath this flow of illuminated ironwork I was awestruck by its beauty.  Indeed, it is described by Keiran Long as "like some kind of reverse waterfall, a white steel grid that swoops up from the ground and cascades over your head towards 16 perimeter columns in a flurry of 1,200 solid and 1,012 glass triangular panels."

London to Brighton: Part Two - Wallington to Smallfield Road, nr. Gatwick

Marlpit Hill and a Lady Feeding Ducks After exiting Wallington and needing to stretch my legs, I decided to head off a little into the distance, before a long decent down to Coulsdon Station. Page zipped along closely behind, with Jonesy beginning to recover from his initial dip in energy. Just through the viaduct carrying the A23 and the old Southern Railway mainline to Brighton we faced our first major hurdle. It came in the form of Marlpit Hill, a category 5 climb up a silent suburban street. A major challenge that, once overcome, would mean we had finally escaped the clutches of London and would be out in open country. Sasha waits by the duck pond in Coulsdon, Surrey. Feeling confident, I set off, once more slightly ahead of the other two. Page, complaining about his gear ratios – he rides a motorbike so knows a little about this technical stuff – decided to hang back a little as he didn’t think he’d be able to go as fast up the hill. Jonesy, still a little befuddled b

London to Brighton: Part One - The Mall to Wallington

Best Laid Schemes... I have been bitten by the road cycling bug. It is as simple as that. I bought a £600 Specialized Allez 2013 road bike shortly after the Olympics with four simple cycling goals: get fitter, get faster, go longer and stay alive. The decision to ride my bike from London to Brighton on 19th January arose as a result of needing to lead by example. With my students struggling with inspiration and motivation to start their fundraising projects for this year’s trip to Uganda, I figured I would show them how it was done. My idea was simple: set up a fundraising page on BT MyDonate supporting All Our Children (UK), say that I am going to ride from The Mall, outside Buckingham Palace, and ride, via the countryside, to Brighton on the south coast, with a fundraising target of £100 for the event. The snow came, the ride was delayed, but at least it looked pretty. Before I knew it, I had amassed £300 of sponsorship and had some riding support in the form of t

Borough Market, London

A bright display of tomatoes at Turnips, Borough Market. Borough Market in Southwark, London, is a fantastic place to visit whether you are buying anything or not. The vast array of fresh produce and foodstuffs from all over the UK and Europe makes for a mouth-watering walk when heading in the direction of Southbank from London Bridge, as I was on Friday 2nd November with my parents. Borough Market claims to trace its origins as far back as 1014 and has been in its current location and guise since 1755. Nowadays it operates as wholesale throughout the week and as a retail market towards the latter half of each week. Usually I only linger around the stalls with cheese and saucisson sec , but as I headed past a stall called Turnips , I was shocked at the countless different types and colours of tomatoes on display. Other than making a very colourful salad, I'm not sure what one would do with them all, but they looked fantastic on display. Granted, Borough Market i

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Cover image © Penguin Classics. My previous attempt to read any Charles Dickens was an abortive one in the autumn of 2005 when I was given four days to read Our Mutual Friend . I’d actively avoided Victorian literature and as a result wasn’t too taken with the prospect of reading 800 pages of it. With my renewed interest in the history of London , and following on from a rather good BBC adaptation of Great Expectations ,   I decided to try Dickens again. First published, in serial form, between December 1860 and August 1861, Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, a young orphaned boy living in the care of his older sister and her blacksmith husband Joe Gargery out in rural Kent. The story begins on Christmas Eve when Pip comes across a convict who has escaped from the aging hulks moored along the edges of the Kent marshes. In the eerie setting of the churchyard the convict scares Pip into stealing a file from Joe’s forge and some food from his sister's pantry.