Terry Pratchett: The Carpet People

The author’s first published work, come out in the year the author turned 23, rewritten and republished in the year he turned 44, the year he also published his 13th Discworld novel, Small Gods, it is on par with an average Discworld novel.



It’s all superstition, of course, but that’s not to say it isn’t real.
(Pismire, p 13)


It’s hard to explain. Or easy to explain and hard to understand.
(Noral, p 43)


Pismire didn’t know why, but he felt sure that everything was going to be all right.
Or, at least, more all right than it was now.
(Pismire, p 102)



Julian D. Richards: The Vikings: A Very Short Introduction

Not bad in itself, but the author seems concerned more with debunking some popular myths by means of archaeology (indeed, at places the book almost reads like an achaeological sites’ inventory) than with telling readers what basic facts we do know about the Vikings and their lives. In fact I’m not certain one couldn’t glean more useful introductory information about the subject from Röde Orm.



Our genes determine neither the language we speak nor the clothes we wear, and cultural factors are just as important as DNA in determining who we are.


Peter Harvey: An Introduction to Buddhism

For an ‘introduction’ a really comprehensive book. I learnt a lot from it, and mean to read it again after some time, skipping now the passages I’m not all that interested in (like The Modern History of Buddhism in Asia) while studying more diligently those I didn’t fully comprehended and/or remember the first time round (like Mahāyāna Philosophies: The Varieties of Emptiness).



The more a person deceives others, the more he is likely to deceive himself.


Backlog: rest in bed

I had a runny nose and coughed for maybe two weeks, but the true reason why, at the end of the first December week, I finally put myself down to seeing a doctor about it was that I wanted to get rest from the others. She duly sent me to bed, where I stayed from Thursday to Saturday, and it did help. Most of the time I was on my own, able to sleep, read and be online more or less when I wanted. Most importantly, it helped me to get over Friday’s leaving of Anndra, almost the last guy here left that I really cared about. (Steinbeck: “There seemed to be no cure for loneliness save only being alone.”) The fact that some drops I was prescribed actually stopped the nose running within 24 hours was just an unexpected bonus.


Funniest Fringe jokes – 2017 update

Winner: Ken Cheng: “I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change.”
My favourites:
Andy Field: “I like to imagine the guy who invented the umbrella was going to call it the ‘brella’. But he hesitated.”
Ed Byrne: “I have two boys, 5 and 6. We’re no good at naming things in our house.”
Alasdair Beckett-King: “Whenever someone says, ‘I don’t believe in coincidences’, I say, ‘Oh my God, me neither!'”

Winner: Masai Graham: “My dad has suggested that I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart.”
My favourites:
Stuart Mitchell: “Why is it old people say “there’s no place like home”, yet when you put them in one…”
Gary Delaney: “I often confuse Americans and Canadians. By using long words.”
Zoe Lyons: “I’ll tell you what’s unnatural in the eyes of God. Contact lenses.”

Winner: Darren Walsh: “I just deleted all the German names off my phone. It’s Hans free.”
My favourites:
Dave Green: “If I could take just one thing to a desert island I probably wouldn’t go.”
Ally Houston: “Let me tell you a little about myself. It’s a reflexive pronoun that means ‘me’.”
(Also from BBC readers’ comments, No 62: “People complain about autocorrect but it’s helpful 99% of the titties.”)

Winner: Tim Vine: “I’ve decided to sell my Hoover… well, it was just collecting dust.”

Winner: Rob Auton: “I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa.”
My favourites:
Alfie Moore: “I’m in a same-sex marriage… the sex is always the same.”
Tim Vine: “My friend told me he was going to a fancy dress party as an Italian island. I said to him ‘Don’t be Sicily’.”
Marcus Brigstocke: “You know you are fat when you hug a child and it gets lost.”

Winner: Stewart Francis: “You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks.” (This doesn’t seem funny to me even after finding out on the Web who Posh and Beck are.)
My favourites:
Will Marsh: “I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister.”
George Ryegold: “Pornography is often frowned upon, but that’s only because I’m concentrating.”

Winner: Nick Helm: “I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”
My favourites:
Matt Kirshen: “I was playing chess with my friend and he said, ‘Let’s make this interesting’. So we stopped playing chess.”
Alan Sharp: “I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure.”
DeAnne Smith: “My friend died doing what he loved … Heroin.”
(But perhaps the joker of the year should have been a David Copp, a tourist complaining that his children, upon encountering crates od dead crabs and fish in the harbour of Ilfracombe, Devon, “were quite distressed by it”.)

Winner: Tim Vine: “I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I’ll tell you what, never again.”

Winner: Dan Antopolski: “Hedgehogs – why can’t they just share the hedge?”
My favourites:
Paddy Lennox: “I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: ‘This could be interesting’.”
Simon Brodkin: “I started so many fights at my school – I had that attention-deficit disorder. So I didn’t finish a lot of them.”


James Boswell: The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Not a bad read for killing time, despite the fact that many of the persons whose names are mentioned as a matter of course are totally obscure today. True, Mr Boswell’s admiration for Mr Johnson comes out as a bit too fawning at times, and Mr Johnson comes out as a bit too cantankerous, and a fair bit too xenophobic by today’s standards, but the only passage which is really a bother to read is the tediously long account of the movements of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Isle of Skye region.



I was hurt to find [….] that I was so far from being that robust wise man who is sufficient for his own happiness.

A man will meet death much more firmly at one time than another. The enthusiam even of a mistaken principle warms the mind, and sets it above the fear of death; which in our cooler moments, if we really think of it, cannot but be terrible, or at least very awful.

I hoped, that, ever after having been in this holy place, I should maintain an exemplary conduct. One has a strange propensity to fix upon some point of time from whence a better course of life may begin.


Top BBC salaries

The Guardian had a pleasant surprise for me. I expected the usual whining of extremely well paid females that they wanted to be paid even more, as much as their yet more extremely well paid male counterparts. But the article did mention the real problem:

“Quite a lot of people are pissed off because of the gender gap, but there are lots of people who are pissed off that this is a big swerve taking the focus off the real story, which is the gap in pay between ordinary producers et cetera and management on six-figure sums. […] All this means is that women on those programmes identified as gender pay gap will get more money. Men won’t be taking pay cuts, so it will just mean even less money to go round on the troops.”



Il y a huit ans, quand la population du monde était en dessous de sept milliards, j’ai cité Christopher Isherwood, ou plutôt Mr Lancaster.

Aujourd’hui, l’ONU dit qu’il va y avoir dans six ans plus de huit milliards.

Voici la citation pleine: “They breed like vermin. That’s the real menace of the future, Christopher. Not war. Not disease. Starvation. They’ll spawn themselves to death.”

Et même si la planète pourrait continuer à nourrir les nombres en hausse, il reste le problème mentionné par Kurt Vonnegut en Abattoir 5 ou la Croisade des enfants:

O’Hare had a little notebook with him, and […] he came across this, which he gave me to read:

On an average, 324,000 new babies are born into the world every day. During that same day, 10,000 persons, in an average, will have starved to death or died from malnutrition. So it goes. In addition, 123,000 persons will die for other reasons. So it goes. This leaves a net gain of about 191,000 each day in the world. The Population Reference Bureau predicts that the world’s total population will double to 7,000,000,000 before the year 2000.

“I suppose they will all want dignity,” I said.

“I suppose,” said O’Hare.

Je ne suppose pas qu’ils vont l’obtenir.


Robert Louis Stevenson: Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

Allegedly one of the very first hiking travelogues, Stevenson’s book is a pleasant account of a twelve-day trip in his late twenties over a mountain range in southern France, accompanied only by a jenny to help with carrying his gear.



But we are all travellers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world—all, too, travellers with a donkey: and the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend. He is a fortunate voyager who finds many. We travel, indeed, to find them. They are the end and the reward of life.

To make good resolutions, indeed! You might talk as fruitfully of making the hair grow on your head.

And yet even while I was exulting in my solitude I became aware of a strange lack. I wished a companion to lie near me in the starlight, silent and not moving, but ever within touch. For there is a fellowship more quiet even than solitude, and which, rightly understood, is solitude made perfect.

I have never thought it easy to be just, and find it daily even harder than I thought. I own I met these Protestants with a delight and a sense of coming home. I was accustomed to speak their language, in another and deeper sense of the word than that which distinguishes between French and English; for the true Babel is a divergence upon morals.


BBC II!: Rehab: Lives Addicted

During the time of my own cure one of the therapists contemptuously remarked that abroad there were ‘no real rehabs, just detoxes’. Reading Norman Maclean’s The Leper’s Bell didn’t disabuse me of this misconception; watching this programme did. There were definitely more similarities than differences between Broadway Lodge and ‘my’ old rehab.

That the people, the stories and so on, were similar, goes without saying. The moment that touched me most was when ‘Big John’ says ‘Some people, when you ask them what their primary drug is, or what their drug of choice is, they’ll say, “Oh, it’s crack, it’s heroin.” Mine was “more”, and a lot of people will say that – “more”.’



Quote: James Hawes: Rancid Aluminium


I was running on pure belief. No, not on belief: on the pure need to believe.

But then you always do, in the end. You cannot run on logic: the maths always adds up to absolute zero, one way or another, and you never lose the black stretch Lada*, no matter how hard you drive. You can only live as if.

(Peter Thompson, p 312)


* in the book’s context, read ‘the hearse’


Neil Gaiman: American Gods

A bit of a disappointment. The problem was, partly at least, that I had the book recommended by Terry Pratchett (in A Slip of the Keyboard), which led to the mistaken belief it was a comic fantasy like the Discworld novels. In fact, despite the ocassional wisecrack, it’s about as comic as a Philip Marlowe mystery. (Also, a lot of the cultural allusions/references were lost on me.) In fact, I enjoyed best the part when the hero goes to lie low for a time in a small Wisconsin town – an almost slice-of-life part. And the ‘end’ drags on and on like the end of Planxty Noel Hill . . .



No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature.
(Mr Ibis, p 322)


I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative.
(Sam(antha) Black Crow, p 394)


Terry Pratchett: Thud!

There seems to be a pattern to late Discworld novels: They begin as mostly jokes, wordplay &c, but gradually the fun is being sidelined and some ethical allegory takes the centre of the stage.



No excuses. He’d promised himself that. No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.
(of Sam Vimes, p 138)


      Vimes tried to think. Don’t think of it all as one big bucket of snakes. Think of it as one snake at a time. Try to sort it out. Now, what needs to be done first?
      All right, try a different approach.
(p 163)


Home was where you had to feel safe. If you didn’t feel safe, it wasn’t home.
(of Sam Vimes, p 341)


Terry Pratchett: Hogfather

Somehow I enjoyed it (not much, but certainly) more than the two Discworld novels I’d read just before this one, but don’t ask me why, I’ve no idea. I just did.



(Death to Albert, p 251)


Quote: Andrew Marr about keeping a diary

I write a diary every day and have done for many, many years. It’s a kind of idiotic schoolboy diary, “Got up, sun shining, had eggs for breakfast, very tasty” – that kind of diary. I ask myself why I’m writing it. And I think it’s an act of kind of mental hygiene, a sort of throat-clearing every day, a tic, a habit, and also, of course, outrageous vanity.

(From the first programme, “James Boswell”, of a BBC Two series “Great Scots: The Writers Who Shaped a Nation”)

Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul: Tilleadh Dhachaigh

Mas ma mo chuimhne, nuair a leugh mi an nobhail ghoirid seo (goirid ach annasach, inntinneach is tarraingeach) a’ chiad turas, trì bliadhna gu leth air ais, bha corr is duilleag làn notaichean agam dhe faclan is abairtean nach do thuig mi a dh’aindeoin a h-uile faclair a bha agam. A-nis, cha mhòr nach do thuig mi a h-uile rud. Cuideachd, cha chreid mi nach e gu math na b’ ainneamh a b’ fheudar dhomh coimhead ann am faclair.

Feumaidh gu bheil tuigse na Gàighlig agam a’ sìor fhàs nas fhearr – rud nach eil fìor idir, feumaidh mi aideachadh, mu dheidhinn a’ bhriathrachais ‘ghnìomhaich’ agam. Uaireannan, bidh mi a’ faireachdain mar gu bhios mi ag ionnsachadh is a’ dìochuimhneachadh is ag ionnsachadh is a’ dìochuimhneachadh agus mar sin sìos na h-aon fhaclan a-rithist ’s a-rithist …


Às-aithrisean (sgrìobh mi na ceithir seo nam leabhar às-aithrisean a cheana a’ chiad turas, ach ’s fìor thoil leam iad fhathast, oir tha iad fhathast iomchaidh):

Sin an rud a tha mi ag ionndrainn. Comann nan daoine.
(Peadar Sutharlanach, td 22)


Tha mi mar a bha mi ach nas sine, gun aois. Chaidh mìorbhail a bhuileachadh orm: am bàs fhulang gus am mealainn beatha, annasach agus coimheach ’s gu bheil e, gu h-àraidh an-seo air taobh sear an t-saoghail far a bheil mi nam shrainnsear a dh’aindeoin gach fiosrachadh a fhuair mi, a dh’aindeoin gach rannsachadh a rinn mi, agus a dh’aindeoin gach oidhirp a nì mi.
(Peadar Sutharlanach, td 39)


“Creag Alasdair a bha riamh ac’ air a’ chreig seo,” thuirt e. “Ge bith cò bh’ ann an Alasdair.” Bha e caoineadh, na deòir nan sruth sìos aodann còmhla ri uisgean nan speuran. Shuidh sinn an sin fad uair a thìde, ’s na h-uisgeachan a’ cur thairis.
“Dè bh’ ann?” dh’fhaighnich mi dha.
“O – cha robh aon rud. Bha a h-uile rud.”
(Peadar Sutharlanach agus a sheanair, tdd 59-60)


“Bha mi a’ leigeil orm,” thuirt e an uair sin. “Fad mo bheatha. Ach bha a h-uile nì dheth fìor.”
(mu Pheadar Sutharlanach, td 90)


Agus tha às-aithris san nobhail bhon leabhar eile, leabhar nach do leagh mi riamh, Terre des hommes le Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.


James Robertson: The Testament of Gideon Mack

The alleged link to James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is in actual fact quite tenuous; and the passage in which the main character meets the Devil is actually weaker than the rest of the book. But the bulk of it is very good indeed: the ‘autobiography’ of a fictional atheistic Church of Scotland minister. I know authors as good as Robertson in making up a ‘personal’ life story and setting it against the changing historical background; I do not know any better ones.



This is the hard lesson of my life: love is not in us from the beginning, like an instinct; love is no more original to human beings than sin. Like sin, it has to be learned.
(Gideon Mack, p 27)


Having achieved all she could have hoped for, she went into a three-year decline, at the end of which she expired.
(of Mrs Campbell, p 41)


Austerity is not highly regarded these days; not to have things is considered a mark of poverty. But there is more than one kind of poverty, and I have not seen more wretchedly impoverished people than the desperate crowds shopping for the sake of shopping in the post-Christmas sales.
(Gideon Mack, p 47)


I was boiling away within, but I kept a lid on my passions. Somewhere in his Journal Walter Scott says something about this, I forget the exact words: ‘Our passions are wild beasts: God grant us the strength to muzzle them.’ Unconsciously at first, and then deliberately, I learned how to do this. It was what enabled me to survive, but it was what prevented me, for so long, from really living.
(Gideon Mack, p 52)


I was an adolescent, brimming with energy and opinions: I should have despised, deplored or raged at my parents, but I didn’t. I simply didn’t care about them.
(Gideon Mack, p 86)


I’m not an atheist, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. How do I know what’s out there and after this? I’m an agnostic.
(Catherine Craigie, p 181)


Terry Pratchett: Going Postal

Maybe not quite as good as, say, The Truth which I’d read before this one (I couldn’t really relate to the main character, never had much understanding for these ‘lovely rogues’ or whatever it’s called, and the climax is too unconvincing), but only marginally, the humour is there in the usual amount.



He gave up. Mr Groat was in some strange, musty little world of his own. ‘Do you call this a life?’ he said.
For the first time in this conversation, Mr Groat looked him squarely in the eye. ‘Much better than a death, sir’ he said.
(Moist von Lipwig & Tolliver Groat, p 60)


Although an elderly man probably has a lot less future than a man of twenty, he’s far more careful of it.
(p 372)