Monthly Archives: November 2013

5 things that suck about living in a caravan

5 things that suck about living in a caravan

I’ve got to admit, there aren’t as many downsides to living full time in a caravan as I thought. However, there are a few things that are really getting on my nerves at the moment.

1. Unrealiable Wi-Fi
So many places say they have Wi-Fi and don’t. Or it’s not working today. Or you can only log on for 12 minutes. I’m not just talking about caravan sites – I’ve pretty much stopped going to Costa because they limit their Wi-Fi to 30 minutes.

2. Paying for Wi-Fi
You could recast our entire trip as a quest for a decent internet connection. I don’t mind paying for Wi-Fi when it comes with a free coffee, a comfy chair and central heating but a lot of sites charge £2 per hour or more for a dodgy connection and limited data. I work remotely, contacting my clients online and need to be able to upload files. Not even large files usually, but, you know: files.

3. Paying for laundry
I know, technically someone has to pay for laundry, even if you borrow a friend’s machine. However commercial laundrettes in the UK seem to run about £4-6 for a wash, and the same again for a dry. These machines do a double load though, so the price is about the same as the ordinary washers on site. While this is no doubt forcing me to be greener, it’s also a pain as it means it’s hard to just wash a couple of things separately, like new indigo jeans, and I feel like I’m risking K’s handknit socks every time I wash them.

4. No post
Without a bricks-and-mortar home, there’s no easy way to get post. There are so many things – some of them aren’t yarn – that I’d like to order online but can’t. I’ve had to go to actual shops! The unavoidable post is currently split between three different addresses, with other people stepping in for special deliveries. I’m really grateful to everyone who has received post for us, but I’d like to be mail independent again!

5. Changing the sheets
It’s like wrestling a walrus into a bunkbed, and then getting a duvet cover on it. And our bed isn’t particularly awkward to get to – I dread to think what it would be like changing the sheets on an up-and-over bed in one of the shiny new RVs we see driving around.

OK, those are my top 5 caravan related peeves, at least at the moment! I thought this list would be about a hundred items long by now, but I kind of had to scrape around for the last one. Perhaps I’m seeing things through rose tinted glasses as I’ve just been watching the sun set out the van window…

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

I really like #152 Thief Of Time by Terry Pratchett which is one reason I picked it as my 100th Big Read book. Yes, I’m officially half way through! It would be more exciting if I hadn’t left so many of the chunky classics for later – I may only read 4 books next year: Les Miserables, Ulysses, Moby Dick and Lorna Doone. And then I’ll still have ItThe Lord of the Rings (which I’m told means all 3 books, at least The Hobbit doesn’t mean all 3 films) and The Magician to go. So something different is in order for 2014, but for now, it’s all about fun.

This is a book about time travel. About travelling forward in time at one second per second, and what might happen if you could go a little faster or a little slower or perhaps stop time altogether. Jeremy, a foundling left on the doorstep of the Clockmaker’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork, has been asked to make the world’s most accurate clock. It’ll be tied to the fundamental tick of the universe and so precise that no one will ever need a clock again…

Not the best starting point
Thief of Time is the 26th Discworld book, and it’s one that has some back story. You probably need to know who Susan, Death’s granddaughter, is to thoroughly enjoy the book. I’d suggest you read Soul Music first. It’s a light, fun read and it’s got all the grounding you’re likely to need for Thief of Time. You could also read Small Gods, which is my favourite, so I have to suggest it at every opportunity. It might also fill in a few more bits and Lu-Tze’s back story. And it features the bonsai mountains, which are rather brilliant.

However, I could be wrong about this. I’d probably read all the previous 25 Discworld books when I got to Thief of Time and that skews ones’ perceptions. Apparently I’m no judge of whether a piste is steep for skiing, either. I’m struggling to find the words to explain Thief of Time. I just love it, as it is, the thing and the whole of the thing. It’s not a book I feel compelled to disassemble, and perhaps analyzing it too hard would break it. As it’s late, I’ll have a quick bash but the short version is: I really like this book. Do read it.

Deep bits and shallow bits
I’ve read Thief of Time several times. Sometimes, like this time, I read it for the enjoyable story. For the adventure, which rattles along, and the neat physics. But there are other readings in there too. There’s a whole lot of stuff about the nature of time and the nature of self and identity, of inside the head and outside, how we know things. It’s pretty deep. And there again, there’s all the references to martial arts movies.

A book like this can tell you something about your friends. The ideas and philosophical issues it throws up are likely to boggle your brain at some point, and it’s really interesting to see who gets boggled by which bits and why. It’s fascinating to find out what people think is implausible, so if you’ve read the book, do leave me a comment. Personally, I accept pretty much anything in a Pratchett novel, and I think this one hangs together well. I enjoyed reading it a lot, and will probably read it again next year, too.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I finished #21 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell on the plane to Barcelona, after working on it for at least two weeks, on and off. I clearly considered it completely done, as I then promptly forgot about it, which is why this post is so late.

Written in the 1930s, Gone with the Wind is over a thousand pages long. Scarlett O’Hara, belle of the county, turns 16 as the rumblings of the American Civil War start. She lives on Tara, a cotton plantation in Georgia with at least a hundred slaves. As the old society she grew up in is smashed first by war and then by reconstruction, Scarlett must adapt to survive.

Yes, it’s racist
Race is a major theme throughout the novel, and there are several strands to this.There’s racism in both the 1930s text and the 1860s society. There’s racism in the portrayal of people of colour, both enslaved and freed, and the attitudes of white characters. There’s racism in the North/South divide and the stratification of white society, not solely based on wealth but also on family origin. It can all be summed up as ‘Blood Will Out’, and applies to both black and white families, although not with equal consequences. There’s enough in here to write a thesis or three, but I’ll try to be brief.

I believe that the text itself is racist, and on that basis that Margaret Mitchell was racist, and a supporter of institutional racism. At the start of the novel, I was noticing the difference in the descriptions of black and white characters. The descriptions of black characters are brutish and childish – pouting, rolling eyes, stupid, slow, childlike. They’re described only in relation to the white people, never as separate individuals with their own wills and agendas. They’re either devoted or disobedient (‘uppity’). The white characters get more detailed descriptions and more positive words, even for their faults. White characters are angry, black characters are sullen. White characters are quick or smart, black characters are sly. This, to me, indicates a racism in the author’s work as well as in the historical record. But if further proof were needed, Mitchell applauds the actions of the Klan lynch mobs after the war in a way that I feel shows a fundamental lack of respect for human life, when it’s housed in a black skin.

After the North has won the Civil War, there are ‘Yankee’ ladies in Atlanta, and here Mitchell’s views on race get more scope for expression. The characters and, it seems, the author, hates northerners with a passion. They’re represented perhaps even more negatively than the black characters – black characters can have positive traits if they’re good servants, Yankees are simply thieves. At this point, Mitchell uses the Yankees to showcase her views on race further. The northern women, whose husbands are largely soldiers who’ve fought for the north and freedom for the slaves, are shown as being either so ignorant (in Mitchell’s view) that they’ll either try to treat the black people like human adults (instead of unruly children) or be so disgusted they refuse to have them near them or their children at all. For me, this was particularly interesting as, although I’d expected both the novel and the society it depicts to be racist, I hadn’t expected Mitchell to single out one type of racism and hold it up as wrong.

The glamour of a bygone age
I think the attraction of this novel is the elegance, and the ways in which that life is preserved and broken. It’s much like the appeal of watching Downton Abbey (which I do). The film version, with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable in the title roles and a number of the more complex plot lines stripped out emphasizes the glamour over the grimness even further. The antibellum society Scarlett lives in glitters because no one that ‘counts’ has to do any work. As the shine rubs off, Mitchell invites us to mourn what was lost, without ever discussing whether life had improved for people lower down the scale. Even the slaves are, if the book is to be believed, worse off.

The story itself has an immense amount of passion and fire. Scarlett is astonishingly self-centred, and right from the opening pages the book revolves around her like the planets around the sun. I couldn’t easily dislike her, as she had to go through so many troubles, but I couldn’t easily like her, either. She’s an odd character to have as the centrepiece of a novel celebrating the lost aristocratic age as she has none of the makings of a great lady, being, as Mitchell points out, fundamentally vulgar, selfish and money-hungry.

For me, one of the most shocking moments of the book for me was when Scarlett told someone her age and I realised just how much had happened to her in a short span of years, and remembered just how young she was (16) when she started out. Remembering myself at 16, I can’t say I would have made better decisions. Being suddenly able to calculate Scarlett’s age, and thus the age of her compatriots at various points, I did think they had all done well to survive at all.

I found myself reading the book as though it were an artifact of social history, rather than a novel I could lose myself in. It’s over a thousand pages, and they didn’t go past quickly. They didn’t drag as much as Great Expectations but neither did they flutter past in a breeze of scandals like The Shell Seekers. Gone with the Wind is a big book with one central story, and it takes an awfully long route to get to the end of that story. The ending, having slogged a thousand pages to reach it, is not particularly satisfying although perhaps more realistic than the alternatives. Overall, I’d say it’s a book of its time and one best let fade away.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Barcelona at sunrise

Barcelona at sunrise

Pink and blue sky at sunrise behind tall old apartment buildings that still have dark faces


We’ve tucked the caravan up and left it snug to come south for a week. Getting on a plane no longer feels like travelling – it’s too easy and too quick. Part of me can’t believe that we’re in Spain. It’s like a peculiar jet lag.

The streets of Barcelona remind me of Paris, they are lined with tall, graceful, old apartment buildings, like Paris, but here, there are whimsical details mixed in. Fancy doors, curved rooftops, complex wrought iron railings. Lots of curves and organic forms even on modern buildings – the legacy of Gaudi and Moderniste, I suspect.

The Truth by Terry Pratchett

The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Back to one of my favourite authors with #193 The Truth by Terry Pratchett. I never quite know how to describe Pratchett’s books – ‘comic fantasy’ is accurate but lumps them in with just-played-for-laughs and self-consciously quirky books by authors like Tom Holt and Robert Rankin who just aren’t as good.

To recap briefly, for those who aren’t familiar with his works, The Truth is a comic fantasy novel set on a flat world where gods, barbarian heroes, wizards and guilds are all real. And now it has its first newspaper. Ankh-Morpork is a hotbed of intrigue, and now one William de Worde is poking his nose in, finding things out, writing them down and printing them for anyone to buy. The city may never be the same again.

Discworld + newspapers = ?
The Truth came out in 2000, the 25th Discworld novel. It’s one of the ones where Pratchett takes something out of our world (in this case, newspapers) and adds it, suddenly, to the Disc. The story is mostly in the effects of this collision. In The Truth, it’s not just a new technology that’s arrived, it’s a new ideal. The freedom of the press has hit Ankh-Morpork and it’s the start of its information age. 

Pratchett has written a number of ‘Discworld + tech = ?’ books (including Soul MusicMoving PicturesGoing PostalMaking Money and it looks like the new one, out next week will be in the same vein as it’s called Raising Steam) and while I usually enjoy them (particularly Moving Pictures) I generally prefer the books where the elements from our world are less obvious. That said, The Truth is one of my favourites in this genre, and I do like the enduring characters who have their first appearance in this book.

On writing
The Truth is a particularly good read for writers, as it’s primarily about journalistic integrity. Pratchett started off in newspapers, so knows rather more about the topic than an online hack like me, but it’s still interesting. In The Truth, the whole world of news reporting is brand new, so the early adopters are shaping the media as it goes. Using the Discworld’s tendency to pick up ideas from our world whole cloth, Pratchett can explore how people on both sides of the press relate to news.

One of the interesting things about the book is that it emphasizes that news journalists are just ordinary people with an unusual job. The phrase ‘no one believes anything they read in the papers’ pops up, usually on the professional side, while the flip side ‘they wouldn’t let them print it if it wasn’t true’ is repeated, too. Clearly, neither phrase is entirely true, but, particularly this week with the changes going on in the UK, it does give you a nudge to think about how passive you are as a consumer (or how skeptical) and, if you are a writer or publisher of any kind, even a blogger, how thoroughly you check your facts.

Now, this is almost entirely fact free, being a personal review of a novel, so instead of going into the types of sources that may or may not be acceptable resources in the internet age, I will simply close by saying that I really enjoyed this reread, and I do recommend The Truth, both as a great fantasy novel (although it’s starting to get a bit steam punky, as the Disc levels up tech wise again) and as a philosophical text.

While I’m on the topic of Pratchett, another shout out for his new book. I’m definitely looking forward to Raising Steam. It’s due out on my 30th birthday and I’ve pre-ordered it for Kindle, so that will be a nice present to wake up to. The first book in the Discworld series, The Colour of Magic,  was published the month I was born, so it’s a pleasing coincidence that the 40th one should be out on my birthday.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.