Friday, June 24, 2011

Cyprus Wine Museum

This morning we set off to St Nicholas' Monastery (of the cats), as it's signed from the road. Here is supposedly a monastery tgat has a large cat population dating back to the time of Constantine the Great. His mother, St Helena, sent sent a shipful to combat the snake problem. After a drive past the RAF base, through some serious ariels, we found it. Unfortunately there was no sign of feline life. Not a swish of a disappearing tail nor a pawprint in sight.

So, back in the car and off to the Wine Museum. Despite visiting the island twice before we have learned nothing whatsoever about the local wines. It's difficult when you're unable to read the labels on the bottles. This obviously had to change.

After an introduction by a member of staff, which gives you the story of Cypriot wine, you can take your time looking at the exhibits. Wine has been produced on Cyprus for at least 5,000 years. The museum has amphoras used to store wine that are over 4,000 years old. The most famous Cypriot wine is Commanderia, a sweet, red, dessert wine. This has been sought after by kings for many hundreds of years. It's also used by the Cypriot Orthodox Church for communion wine.

After you've seen the exhibits there is a short film of still photography depicting wine making in Cyprus. This was the least interesting part of the visit.

Then it was downstairs to taste some examples :-) First up was a dry White from a relatively new winery, Kalamos. It was very light, fruity and very easy drinking. Second a dry red from the same winery. Slight tannins on the first taste but developed into a nice, easy, tasty, red. Then onto the famous Commanderia. This was sweet but not sickly. As an after dinner tipple it's one for me. Unfortunately not so much for Mr Meks. Penultimate tasting was of a Zivania, Cyprus' Fire water/Eau de Vie. This was typical of its type ;-) More for Mr Meks than me. Our final tasting was a Zivania blended with brandy and aged in oak. This had a weird taste I couldn't place and wasn't really for either of us.

The wine tasting was helping to cheer us up for the day's lack of felines. When, lo and behold, look what miniature kitty delights appeared below our table....

This little furry beggar. One of triplets abandoned by their mother. All 3 were of equal cuteness but she was the bravest. Wondering what the costs would be of bringing her back to the UK did flit across my consciousness. Alas, Sil & Pawlie would not be amused.

The cost of entry to the museum varies from €4 to €7 depending on how many wines you wish to taste. I found it an interesting visit and well worth the money.

Book 42 of the 50 Book Challenge

The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher, 151 pages

Started June 16th, finished June 17th.

This is the second in The Tripods Trilogy.  I love it as much as I do the first book.  It manages to continue the voyage of discovery started in the first book.

This book is almost all about Will.  Henry and Beanpole are lost from the narrative early on.  Will has the weight of the Free Men's hopes on his shoulders.  His character is very well written.  He is doing a brave and wonderful thing but still has his sulky, impetuous side that he's struggling to keep in check.

I'm enjoying these book as much as I have done before :-)

5 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 42, Pages -12, 554

Next - The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill to Dominique Enright

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book 41 of the 50 Book Challenge

From Bangkok to BC, Chasing Sunsets by Wolf E Boy, 250 pages

Started June 14th, finished June 15th.

This book is by a Twitter buddy of mine, @wolfeeboy999 I discovered he'd written it after I read about it on a blog.  

It's an account of his travels around Asia, Australia and Canada.  It's written in a much more chatty style than your typical travelogues.  Meaning that it's really easy to sink right into it.   He tells the story of his snap decision to buy an 'Around the World' ticket, then you're at Heathrow, then landed in Bangkok before you know it.  

The writing gives a great feel for the places he visits and the people he meets.  He gives us an honest account of life travelling and the things that happen with no sense of masculine bravado.  You feel like you're getting the real deal not some version to bolster an ego.  He comes across as a nice guy you'd have a good laugh with. 

I like the fact that he travelled to where and what he wanted to do.  Not some squeezing in of every sight and experience but had a damn good time.  I'd give my hind teeth to be able to spend the time he did in Canada.  Only difference being, I'd have used 2 planks of wood, not a tray ;-)

The book contains nice little bits of poetry here and there from the author and a fair few pictures too.  Both of which add to the experience.

I don't think I'd ever have the guts to up and leave for over a year and I have to admire someone who just got on with it.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 41, Pages -12, 403

Next - From Bangkok to BC by Wolf E Boy

Book 40 of the 50 Book Challenge

Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch, 152 pages

Started June 11th, finished June 13th.

This is a read along with the Escape to Danger blog.

I haven't seen or read any McCoy since he was on screen.  he was never my favourite Doctor by a very long way.  I wasn't fond of his companions either.  Add to that his appearance in the abomination of 1996 and he's way down my list.

Having said all that, this is one of his stories that stuck in my head.  Probably my favourite that I have faded memories of from his era.

I found this book difficult to immerse myself in though.  The style of writing didn't flow for me.  Not sure if this was my state of mind or the style.  The chapter set up didn't help.  mainly short and snappy.  With occasional much longer ones thrown in.  The chapters aren't titled either, just given diary format, dates and times.

The characters in the book do a lot of looking back to WWII.  This is set in the 60's and the war is still a huge influence.  A theme running through the book is one of inequality and prejudice.  The 'No Blacks' signs in B&B's are highlighted.  Ace remembers her friend's family's suffering due to not being white.  A sad pointer that things hadn't been solved 25 years on.

My (not too) inner child just has to say - Daleks fighting Daleks, oh yes!  Here too the race element is brought into the story.  I hope this theme influenced 80's children for the better about vicious small mindedness.  I am looking forward to getting to the TV version of this in my run through.  I want to see how subtly the themes are dealt with there.  Daleks fighting Daleks is pretty cool.  

This is the story that brought about the flying Dalek.  I remember my jaw dropping as a kid as the Doctor and Ace got to the safety of the stairs.  Only to find the pepperpot could fly.  So much for the Daleks' famous design flaw.

This is a  bloody good story.  I just found it difficult to get through.  I have to say it's one of the stories I'm most looking forward to on my journey through the DVDs.

3 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 40, Pages -12, 153

Next - From Bangkok to BC by Wolf E Boy

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book 39 of the 50 Book Challenge

A Death in Tuscany by Michele Giutarri, 381 pages

Started June 6th, finished June 10th.

This is the second book in the series.  The author is writing a novel based on his experiences as the chief of the Florence 'Flying Squad'.  The character even has the same first name as he does.  When he's telling the story it's a good read.  There are little bits here and there that seem too much about him though and they irritated me a little.  As the story gets going these tail off.

The story begins with the death of a young unidentified girl.  Never a nice place to begin.  It has plenty of twists and turns.  The inevitable 'hero coming up against the system' parts.  It also has some dark subject matter.  This is dealt with well though.  The horrible tale is told but without any unnecessary dwelling on the horrific parts.  

The story shows the differences Italians feel between the old states.  Also the way Europe is changing.  The differences between the Italian regions fascinates me.  I never tire of it being brought up in novels.

All in all this is a good story that, once it finds its feet, rips along at a good pace.  I'm not sure how fanciful some of the plot points are.  I'm not entirely sure I found them all believable but it didn't hinder my enjoyment.  I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 39, Pages -12,001

Next - Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Manchester Time Piece

I stumbled across this project thanks to a re-tweet from someone whose name I've forgotten :-S

The Tern Collective are turning Manchester into a giant sundial using its tallest building, Bettham Tower as the gnomon (sticky up bit in the middle).  This will be done on Midsummer's Day, June 21st.  Now I'm sure they've heard all the rainy city jokes so I just hope the sun puts its hat on for them that day.

They'll be documenting their progress hourly.  You can follow them on twitter @McrTimePiece and find their website here.

I've always thought it a shame that Beetham Tower is such a meh, skyscraper.  I'm glad it's being used for something interesting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The First Instance of the Batsignal?

We know that Van Gogh met The Doctor.  Now I think he's met more than that....

When I was staying in a B&B in London Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Crows was hanging on the wall of our room.  Now I've seen this picture many times.  However I never noticed one very important part of it.  I suspect there were some shady goings on in Auvers sur Oise.  For Vincent put into this painting the Bat Signal!  See picture below.

Yes, Bob Kane, what have you got to say for yourself now, eh?  Batman and his communication devices are obviously a lot older than you led us to believe with your tales.....

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book 38 of the 50 Book Challenge

The White Mountains by John Christopher, 147 pages

Started June 4th, finished June 5th.

This is the first of my favourite set of books from when I was a child.  The books and the TV serials are wonderful memories for me that I like to relive from time to time.

The reason for the current re-read was that they were discussed on Twitter.  Myself and Kiraniumbra convinced Jacob and Karode to read the books and watch the tv series.  With strict advice to read the books first.  It tweaked me into re-reading them myself.  So off I went to pick the trilogy and the prequel from my parents' house.  My mother and I cannot fully agree on who has custody of these books ;-)

It's a really easy book to fly through.  They are childrens'  Sci-Fi fiction so they were never going to be tough.  However they don't belittle the reader's intelligence in any way.  Which is always going to be a turn off for a young reader anyway.

The book is told from the point of view of Will.  A petulant 13 year old.  He doesn't hide from his faults as he tells the story.  The tale is set in the not too distant future.  Where Earth has been over taken by Tripods, massive machines.  Technology has gone back a couple of centuries and is back to horse and cart and flour mills.  When a person reaches the age of 14 a Tripod comes for them and they are 'capped'.  When Will's cousin is capped he becomes much more distant from Will.  This and the arrival of a strange man in the village give Will doubts about his willingness to be capped... 

 To learn more of Will and his adventures pick up the book.  Go on, it's brilliant!

5 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 38, Pages -11,620 

Next - The White Mountains by John Christopher

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book 37 of the 50 Book Challenge

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly, 565 pages

Started May 30th, finished June 3rd.

I was looking forward to this book.  A favourite author, a further look at a character I liked and it was nice and thick.  Just the kind of book you can immerse yourself in.

I like the way the author covers the last year or so without telling the whole story.  You learn what the main character's been through and where he is now without being dragged through it.  This means the bulk of the book is dedicated to telling the story at hand.

A good story it is too.It moves at a good pace with enough twists and turns to keep the story going to a nice length.  There were a few shocks I didn't see coming.  I don't like it when a plot's too obvious.

Connelly has brought two of his other recurring characters into this book.  Harry Bosch and Jack McEvoy.  I liked this.  It's nice and subtle for the main part.  There's none of your nose being rubbed in it.  It was interesting to see Bosch portrayed from 'the other side'.

I'm looking forward to the next Mickey Haller novel.  I am worried though that one lawyer can only get so many dangerous, weird cases in his career.  

4 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 37, Pages -11,473

Next - The White Mountains by John Christopher

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book 36 of the 50 Book Challenge

Southern Seas by Manuel Vazquez Montalban, 214 pages

Started May23rd, finished May 30th.

I enjoyed this book much more than the previous Pepe Carvahlo novel.  This was back in Barcelona and it felt much better.

Pepe is hired by a rich widow to find out how and why her husband was killed.  It's far from a simple plot with twists and turns aplenty.  Our main character is once again behaving in a manner that can hardly be hailed as gentlemanly.  His behaviour would have him sacked from any legitimate police force.  It's refreshing to have a detective breaking the usual molds.

The characters are well written.  Montalban doesn't go too much into back story but writes them as they behave.  This keeps the book flowing and lets us know around the same as the investigator himself.  I was totally in the dark for most of this story.  It was enjoyable to pick up the pieces as they were dropped by the author.

The setting is quite alien to me.  It is fascinating to read about Barcelona in the years immediately following Franco's death but it isn't an easy place for me to get a grasp on either.  The various political parties and viewpoints make for good reading and in this I feel we don't get too much of that as I felt we did in Murder in the Central Committee.  Though it seems from online bibliographies I have read these books the wrong way around.  

Once again there are marvellous descriptions of food in the story.  Pepe has a great appreciation for food and wines.  Shame he isn't real, he would be a great guide to Barcelona and it's cuisine.  After this I'm definitely looking forward to the next in the series, Offside.  Though that's a fair way down the tower yet.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 36, Pages -10,908

Next - The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men First Class - Spoiler Free

This film hadn't really crossed my radar.  Then I heard an interview with Jane Goldman.  The plot sounded interesting and I'm a sucker for origin tales.  The deal maker though was that Michael Fassbender was in it and to make things even better, so was James McAvoy.  How had the details of this film totally pass me by?

I had heard nothing but good reviews of this before I went to see it.  Both from the critics and the real people whose tastes I trust more.  Before I carry on I must inform you that I've never even been in the same room as an X-Men comic.  My only knowledge of the stories comes from the first 3 films.

This has an impressive and attractive cast.  Most of whom did themselves proud.  I have never been a Rose Byrne fan, I find her a little wooden.  She wasn't a distraction in this.  Though I would have preferred to see someone else in the role.  The film is set off to a great start by the fantastic Bill Milner.  That lad just keeps getting better and better.  He's surely destined to become one of our greats.  I did get a little thrill of pride at the strong Euro-presence on the cast.  I'm assuming this was helped by Vaughn directing.  Fassbender as usual was magnetic to the eyes, no pun intended.  That man fills a screen better than most.  McAvoy was, as uusual, a warm, nice presence on screen.  January Jones was good and looked absolutely gorgeous.  The camera loves that woman.

The youngsters recruited seemed truly out of their depth but mostly matured within the story.  Only one character I felt was a little weak with no real truth to her performance or the actions of the character.  That was Angel.  We were never told what had made the 'baddies' in the film bad.  There was no back story to the villain's henchmen and woman.  I want to know more about some of those.  I'm hoping we get a sequel to this film with some of those answers.  My main question was what made them follow the villain in the first place?  Running time certainly meant that no more could have been squeezed into this film.

There are a couple of great cameos in there.  A nice nod and a wink, without straining to fit them in.  I'm wondering if I missed some as I caught two but one was a blink and you'll miss it.  Towards the end of the film an old favourite of mine appeared as a Naval Captain, I'm sure his presence will please most people who lived through the 80's.  I guess he's kind of a cult hero now. 

I enjoy origin stories, I know that makes me weird.  This is one of the better ones I've seen.  It was certainly helped by the fantastic 60's period atmosphere set up by the sets.  The sets were beautifully stylish.  I wonder if there's a little Mad Men influencing fashions here?  The plot was the fantastical fun that you require from a comic book movie.  There were dark scenes but they were limited.

This has set the bar high for sequels.  It didn't re-write over the previous films which was a good idea.  It paid homage while setting up 30 years worth of stories to tell without damaging either.  I hope there is a sequel, as long as they keep the cast.  This film worked for me because it was well written with a fantastic cast.  The main cast members made the roles their own and I don't want to see anyone else in them.  A sequel will also have already fleshed out most of the back-stories so hopefully we can cut down the running time.  I couldn't tell you what I'd have cut from this story but 2 hours and anything past that is usually too long.  It didn't spoil the experience but I was glad when it finally ended.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Wittertainment Rules of Conduct Score 3/10  For full explanation of these click here.

No Eating - FAIL, stinking, noisy nachos
No Slurping - PASS
No Rustling - FAIL, the entire row behind has rustly sweets
No Irresponsible Parenting - FAIL, a baby that was taken in and out as it wailed, yes it's a 12A
No Hobbies - PASS
No Talking - FAIL, people like to whisper don't they.
No Mobile Phone Usage - FAIL, people must check their phone 10 minutes into the film
No Kicking of Seats - FAIL, not all the way through luckily just every now and then
No Arriving Late - FAIL, no excuse when Cineworld don't start the film until 20 minutes late anyway
No Shoe Removal - PASS

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book 35 of the 50 Book Challenge

The Cats of Moon Cottage by Marilyn Edwards, 242 pages

Started April 26th, finished May 25th.
This was an impulse buy as I passed it.  I know I shouldn't read biographical tales of cats.  They get me every time.  I know what to expect and what it will cost me in hankies.

It was a book of nice short chapters so it became my titbit book.  If you're not a cat fan I don't think this book is for you.  However if you have room in your heart for the little critters I think you'll enjoy it.

The writer, who is the owner of the titular cats, gets across very well their characters.  She tells their stories well.  You get a great feel for life in this cottage and what the cats mean to it.  There are stories that all cat owners are familiar with along with some surprises along the way.  This is a book that's fun where it should be but with many parts that will move you too.

It's a short snappy read.  One you can dive in and out of if you don't want to read in one fell swoop. 

Special mention must be made about the illustrations.  The illustrator is Peter Warner who has sadly passed away.  He captures cats in a way few people can.  They're not just anatomically correct but character correct too.  The cats are brought to life in the text and these pictures, throughout the book are the wonderful icing on the cake.  

I liked this book a lot.  My next titbit book on the pile is its sequel.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 35, Pages -10,694

Next - Southern Seas by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I was lucky enough to get tickets to a preview to this film a few days before it's UK release.  It was at Cornerhouse Manchester and was supposed to be followed by a Q&A with the writer and director.  Unfortunately the writer couldn't make it on the day.  The director, Asif Kapadia, was great though.

The film shows the life of Senna as an F1 driver.  This is told through film footage rather than interviews with the people who were there.  The access they gained to footage was amazing.  You get a very complete picture.  The production had pitched their idea to Senna's family and gained their support.  They had also gained the support of Bernie Ecclestone who gave them full access to the F1 footage archives.  It seems a camera is following all aspects of F1 on race weekends.  There is also footage of Senna from the family archives giving a picture of the man away from his job.

The director says that once they had permission from the family and Bernie everyone else was on board too.  There are parts of the film with voice-overs from friends, family and colleagues but the story is mostly told as it happened.

The film focuses mostly on Senna's rivalry with Prost rather than his relationships with other drivers he raced against.  This, we were told, was down to time constraints.  The first cut came in at 7 hours long!  The complicated relationship with Prost is more than enough to fill one film.  We're also shown glimpses of his relationship with Jean-Marie Balestre.

The one reason you must see this film in a cinema is the in-car footage.  It's the first time I've ever had any idea what it must be like to travel like that.  It's exciting, awe-inspiring and gave me renewed respect for the skills of these men.

This is a definitely not just a film for F1 fans.  This is a well presented biography of a charismatic genius who happened to be a racing driver.  F1 fans must see this in a cinema or forever kick themselves.  Anyone who enjoys a good, moving, story should see it too.

I had always thought of Senna as a brilliant but arrogant driver.  This film made me think much more fondly of him.  By showing the man himself.

I can't wait to see how much more we'll get on the DVD.  I hope it's plenty more as it seems this wonderful film could have been 3 times as long.I really want to see some of the bits they had to sacrifice due to runnign time.

5 out of 5 pawprints

Oh and by the way.  Make sure you take some tissues with you.

There is a podcast including bots from the Q&A here.

You can book your tickets for Cornerhouse showings here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book 34 of the 50 Book Challenge

The Overlook by Michael Connelly, 291 pages

Started May 21st, finished May 22nd.

 I started reading this a few years ago when it was serialised in The New York Times.  As we don't get the paper here I had to print it off from their website.  This style of reading got to me so I gave it up to wait for it to be released as a book.

As I'd already read a substantial amount of the book I took it with me on a trip to London.  I didn't want any difficulties getting into it as I snatched bits here and there between tube stations.  I was actually surprised by how much I had read of it.  

The book plays on the modern fear of a dirty bomb but in an unexpected fashion.  the book is easy to fly through as it reads very easily.  The two main characters are already familiar to anyone who follows Harry Bosch.  The other characters are pretty stereotypical and don't need much fleshing out for the parts they play in the book.

All in all I enjoyed the book.  I'd have to say there isn't much meat to get your teeth into.  It's the most lightweight Connelly I've read but there's plenty mopre out there to satisfy my hunger.  I found the conclusion  not what I was expecting so that was a bonus.  But it was a little over dramatic in parts.  This isn't one I'll read again.  I don't see it having a huge effect on further Bosch novels either.

3.5 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 34, Pages -10,452

Next - The Cats of Moon Cottage by Marilyn Edwards