Reading prison visit

Reading prison – famous for once housing Oscar Wilde – has been disused for some years and since then there’s been a constant tug-of-war whether the site should be used culturally, as housing for the homeless, or sold for yet more flats. Ultimately – and to no one’s surprise – it has now been earmarked for a private housing development. [To those unfamiliar with Reading, basically everything in or near town centre is turning into private housing with most flats being sold to buy-to-let landlords and only a small percentage actually to people who need it]

The prison had been open for viewings on some weekends, but I had always missed them and therefore was excited to be able to go on the last day before it is sold off!

Having never been to a prison my knowledge doesn’t extend beyond fiction and a handful of documentaries which are usually based on US ones and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Everything, including the hallways, seemed a lot smaller than I expected whereas the cells, strangely, seemed bigger than I thought they would. Most books or documentaries about prisons discuss the lack of privacy and the high noise levels. The prison was crowded with other visitors and felt very loud with a lot of echo and when someone dropped a walking stick down a few steps, the sound reverberated through the halls. As such I can’t comprehend the constant level of a noise a filled up prison must have had.

There is nothing pleasant about the place, the cells and other areas are functional, colour coded, and have the basic amenities. Whilst the windows let in a fair bit of light, the cells are quite narrow and just overall unpleasant. Everything has a not-quite-clean feel about it and it’s missing pillows and other soft furnishings [for obvious reasons!]. A lot of people argue that prisons are comfortable and that people go there by choice, but I would hazard a guess that those have never actually been inside one.

I am so pleased to have had the chance to see the inside and I think it’s a shame that the prison will be used for private development as it would have made for a great cultural destination.

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My 10 year Twitter anniversary!

Today is my ten year Twitter anniversary. If my account was German it would by now have gone through Kindergarten and primary school and be starting in secondary school.

I could talk for hours what Twitter means to me, the friendships I have forged with the people I have met through it, the opportunities I have gained, the glimpses into other people’s lives and opinions, the #TwitLight,  the miscellaneous accounts like the Tower Bridge or Big Ben or Pothos or Cat in the Sink or Micro SF/F, add in pictures of meaningful tweets and stats, but none of it would do it justice. I have used Twitter for longer than I have ever lived anywhere in one go, longer than I’ve been in one school or job, longer than most of my close friendships, longer than I think pretty much all things I own. It’s about a third of my life.

I remember the fail whale, the Google chat client, the time before it became a thing [also known as pre-Stephen Fry who still follows me, despite his frequent departures, as he followed everyone who followed him initially] and before hashtags were used that much, when pictures had to be posted on Twitpic or elsewhere, when people were annoyed about the Beliebers, the guy arrested in Africa who just tweeted ‘arrested’, the green profile images, and a lot more. I also remember the Plurks and the Jaikus and Pownce and other clones that thankfully never got anywhere.

A lot of people in the early days would ask me how I’d define Twitter and my answer from that hasn’t changed: Twitter is what you make of it. You can use it for news and follow news account. You can post replies to celebrities hoping they’ll notice you. You can use it, privately, with a small group of friends. You can use it to talk about certain topics only. It’s what you make of it which for me is an extension of myself. I tweet about things I talk to my friends about or discover or do. I take pictures of things I’ve made or seen or where I am. I talk politics, books, games, tv, whatever. I follow people I already knew and people I met through Twitter and Tweetups, people I met on gaming forums, people who live or lived near me, people whose opinions I like. It’s a bubble, but it’s my bubble.

I see people mentioning that Twitter has changed too much and that they don’t want to be using it any more which isn’t something I share. Twitter for me always has and will hopefully continue to be a resounding net positive and I hope those I follow feel the same.

Happy Twitter-Birthday to me. [Much better to remember today for that anyway, rather than the catastrophic triggering of article 50 to Brexit.]

If written about Twitter a lot over the years, including these main categories:

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Review: All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell

I’d criticised Postmortem and Body of Evidence for the actual crime solving where all the things they did wouldn’t really amount to catching the murderer and All that Remains is no different though, strangely, even more infuriating. Full spoilers for this and future books follow.

Just like BoE, I somehow never read this book before, but that didn’t make it a better experience. A number of small mentions did feel familiar, such as the drama with the initialed cartridge, though maybe that’s a recurring plotpoint in a future Scarpetta book.

I struggled to connect with this book to the point where I nearly considered giving up on it entirely multiple times throughout. Postmortem had me gripped because it was a fast-paced story, BoE kept me hooked because of some random mystery drama, but this one dragged a lot. I think this is due to the passing of time both since the previous book, but also within the book itself.

It’s been around 3.5 years since the events in Postmortem and about 2.5-3 years since BoE, however, the characters haven’t really moved along with it. Marino and Scarpetta still have the same relationship and there’s no mention of any career or other developments other than perhaps Scarpetta playing tennis. The events of this book also encompass about half a year [mentions of August and end of January] which removes any sense of urgency to the solving of the crime and completely renders the attempts to find the killer as pointless. Hell, the FBI/Scarpetta might as well have gone on holidays for the entirety which would have been just as productive.

Benton’s behaviour was atrocious – Scarpetta and Marino have worked with the FBI task force for years yet he doesn’t share pertinent information and behaves like an arrogant teenager when brought up on it. Then, this book goes down exactly the same route as the previous ones where they’re deliberately planting fake information in the media in order to provoke the killer into action. Sure, doing that for one book in the series is cool and I did quite like it in Postmortem because the killer was on a schedule and the reporter was an intrinsic part of the story, however, here Cornwell doesn’t even properly elaborate as to what the FBI are planning which goes to show that even she doesn’t know how she wants to play it. Ultimately – again, just like the previous two books – the killer is only discovered by absolute chance as he revealed himself to Scarpetta and Abby in a tense scene I had a lot of hope for [Scarpetta deciding to use a payphone en route to call it in] and then seconds later realised the book wouldn’t deliver at all [the next paragraph says ‘weeks later’]. At times I felt like Scarpetta was in a constant haze of sleeping pills or memory altering drugs to explain her disinterest at everything. If the protagonist of a series isn’t even phoning it in properly, then what chance does the reader have?

A standard piece of writing advice that’s often given is to ‘show, don’t tell’ and this book would be the posterchild on how not to do it. There are numerous mentions of Scarpetta’s relationship with the largely absent Mark on how they’re passionate together and so on, but we don’t see that and have to rely on the maybe two sentences telling us about it. Likewise with their arguments and inevitable separation. On the flipside though, her relationship with Benton is meant to be strained and this comes across very well with the scenes at Benton’s house with Mark present being amongst the most uncomfortable ones I’ve ever read or listened to. Cornwell excels in writing good and believable dialogue and the book would have worked much better had there been fewer explanatory sections.

The personal relationship to Welsey continues to confuse me. I know they’ll get together, but he’s married in this book which was probably the most shocking development of all! What happens to his wife between now and him and Scarpetta getting together. A part of me thinks it won’t end well for her.

This was the first book in which Scarpetta was seen to cook. Up to this point we’d known her to be accomplished, but her cooking was a stunning display of arrogance:

When I got home, I began to work quickly, crushing fresh garlic into a bowl of red wine and olive oil. Though my mother had always admonished me about “ruining a good steak,” I was spoiled by my own culinary skills. Honestly, I made the best marinade in town, and no cut of meat could resist being improved by it.

The book also alludes to this Vietnam war practice which got me reading up trying to work out the logistics, however, it appears to be nothing more than an urban myth.

“When a particular outfit of American soldiers wanted to make a point after making a kill, they would leave an ace of spades on the body. In fact, a company that manufactures playing cards supplied this unit with boxes of the cards just for this purpose.”

As a small aside, in my BoE review I alluded that Benton would probably have a Mont Blanc pen which he does in this book. Maybe I should become an FBI profiler!

2/5 – Rating this was very hard. I want to like the series and the characters, but this case made no sense, the ‘investigating’ made no sense, the characters behaved off with each other and there wasn’t a pay off at the end. This is marked down for everything except the Benton/Mark/Scarpetta conversation and the scene with Mark/Scarpetta in the car which were excellent, but too little to counteract the frustrating murder ‘investigation’ and rest of the book. I’m really disappointed.

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Today I walked 30k steps over 20km!

Today I walked 30k steps over 20km and unlocked a fancy new badge on Fitbit. I actually exceeded 25k steps for the first time today, too!

I didn’t do any fancy long walks though, ‘just’ a walk of 15k steps through pretty woods which I’ve discovered recently and walked a few times since then. For the other 15k steps I ran some errands which were fairly standard, but I did do a lot of detours. A lot of detours. A few of those errands may have also been quite pointless, for example going to one shop just for a single avocado which I didn’t need at all.

See, I’ve been needing this achievement as I’ve had a few days where I’ve hit walls. Yesterday’s walk was through the same woods and I hated 95% of it despite the sunshine and the tense audiobook and the deer I saw. I really had to motivate myself to go in the first place and then struggled most of the walk, and felt sore even throughout. The day before I walked 11k steps, but again didn’t feel particularly great about it.

Though, this does ring home how far I’ve come since October when I had 159k steps for the whole month, that time I walked 56km in a week, and of course that time I went up the Klüt hill. I’ve proven myself that I can do greater distances with no problems!

More posts about my walking are here.

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My great-grandma


opa-when-youngAs part of a series on families who have lived in the town for many years, the local paper recently published a group photo from a wedding in the early 50s which my great-grandma and my grandad amongst other family attended. Pictures from that time are rare and I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen my great-grandma and I’ve never met her.

Looing at the picture of her, she looks a bit like my mum did, though that could just be my imagination!

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Review: Body of Evidence by Patricia Cornwell

Body of Evidence is the second book of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series which I’m currently revisiting in order to bring myself up to speed to read the books she’s released over the last ten years. Review of Postmortem, book 1 is here.

I am a stickler for doing things in order. I won’t watch an episode of a TV show unless I start from the beginning, with new music I’ll always go back to the debut album first [usually then followed by a ‘best of’ if they’ve been around a while], and with books I wouldn’t even entertain jumping into the middle of a series which is exactly why I am going through the Kay Scarpetta series again as there’s a lot I don’t remember from reading them as a teen. At the time I would borrow them from the library and my friend and I would almost argue in order to determine who would get to read one of them first.

As such I don’t understand how I could have missed this book which is only the second in the series, but I have never read this before or even recall it being mentioned in other Scarpetta novels. Spoilers for this novel and minor ones for future novels follow.

There are a few main things I remembered from the series with which I’ve been going into this reread. Some of them I know build up slowly and only happen in later books.

  • One murder solved through sparkly handwash residue – this happened in Postmortem, book 1.
  • One investigation which involved using darklight in a house where a murder occurred some years prior which had been sold at least once since. Scarpetta managed to find blood evidence in a bathroom, though.
  • Lucy: Growing up, becoming a computer genius, learning to fly helicopters and possibly having her own firm with her girlfriend. I believe she suffers an attack at one point, too.
  • Marino: I vaguely recall him moving away at some point plus getting a divorce from his wife we never see.
  • Benton and Scarpetta to start dating and I think living together.
  • A serial killer couple or siblings that end up killing over several books and aggressively pursue Scarpetta until one of them is killed in a train or subway station.
  • Scarpetta cooking elaborate food. I did actually own her cookbook at some point, too.
  • A detailed description of the FBI’s Potter’s Field.

It’s a very contrasting experience going through this book the first time knowing the characters and the series, but being completely left in the dark about the story. There were quite a few shocking moments where I would even mutter to myself which, if you’re walking through the woods with the audiobook, I’d recommend making sure there aren’t people around. I’m afraid there’s a couple which now believes I am crazy..

The relationship with Mark had me go through all the motions. Knowing that she would at some point somehow be in a relationship with Benton, this relationship was clearly not going to last, but there could have been many reasons for it, including his death. His disappearance after she visited him in New York shocked me and had me wondering what was going on for a long time. She did meet him in the law firm, right? How can he have just disappeared and never worked there in the first place? [The calls where she attempts to track him down are the ‘gasping in the woods’ moment] Then, the revelation he’s an FBI agent. I also didn’t see that coming and I’m annoyed at Benton for not having mentioned training Mark or that he’s undercover. Sure, it’s an investigation and the FBI, and particularly Benton who always follows the rules, would keep things close to their chest, but they’re all sharing data of the murders and investigation and I do think this is something that should have been shared, though, I suppose, it would’ve rendered the Mark mystery dead in the water in an instant. After their night in Palm Beach my heart nearly broke for Scarpetta when she allowed herself to fall for and think of a future with Mark, all the while I knew at the back of my head that this won’t work out:

While Mark showered and shaved, I stared out at the day, and never had colors been so bright or the sun shone so magnificently on the tiny offshore island of Key West. I would buy a condo where Mark and I would make love for the rest of our lives. I would ride a bicycle for the first time since I was a child, take up tennis again, and quit smoking. I would work harder at getting along with my family, and Lucy would be our frequent guest. I would visit Louie’s often and adopt PJ as our friend. I would watch sunlight dance over the sea and say prayers to a woman named Beryl Madison whose terrible death had given new meaning to my life and taught me to love again.

In addition to introducing the intriguing Mark storyline, this book also had a lot of action going for it, including:

  • Travel: Scarpetta travels to New York and Palm Beach at the drop of a hat.
  • Terrorist plane hijacking: An orange thread found on Beryl Madison was also found on the body of a dead agent at the scene of a plane hijacking where the terrorists disappeared!
  • Marino’s car blowing up: The book made specific mention of it being important to him.
  • The morgue being broken into.
  • Sparacino in general.
  • The sister killing herself while Scarpetta was there.
  • The guy from the car wash killing himself.

However, none of that ultimately really matters. Sure, the killings were premedidated and very loosely [loose thread and all, ha ha..] connected to an airport, however, all it did was add confusion. And, just like the first book, the killings wouldn’t have been solved had it not been for the killer coming to Scarpetta’s house and attacking her. This coupled with yet another lengthy exposition of motive and planning of the killer at the end leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. It’s a cop out and cheapens the rest of the book. Why would I need to have known about the abuse or Sparacino’s dealings, or even having read the book or met Mark. I’m a fan of red herrings, but this – just like the first book – feels like it would have been another book and Cornwell decided on this killer but didn’t make all the ends meet.

I suppose the book really is a roundabout effort in disproving evidence and it’s a curious way to do it in the second book of a now 20+ books longrunning series. Obviously Patricia Cornwell wouldn’t have known she’d still be releasing Scarpetta books in 2017, but I wonder if she deliberately mentioned the unreliability of evidence to perhaps ensure she wouldn’t come under flak if she ever got something wrong in a future book.

The writing of the book is similar in style to the first one with a lot being down to conversation though she’s added in more descriptions, particularly as there were more locations due to the travel. I also feel that the conversations didn’t last quite as long as in the first book. I’m still amazed how well they work and are written though, for example there’s a lengthy discussion in the middle of the book where Benton, Marino, and Scarpetta discuss the case and Benton informs them of the connection to the hijacking. The scene is a back and forth between them and it’s easy to get lost in the discussion when Cornwell interjects the conversation with:

His eyes glanced past me, and he was tapping an ink pen against the knuckle of his left thumb.

This is just one sentence and doesn’t describe the pen or him or anything else, but it works wonderfully in setting the scene and turning it into more than just a conversation. I think I was particularly drawn to this moment, because it’s just a simple and humanising and yet often unnoticed action, but here it makes me a part of it much more than a paragraph describing the elegant, no doubt Mont Blanc, pen and perhaps the suit and paper and table ever could. In fact, I don’t recall anything else about the room, except that they’re at the FBI’s HQ and needed a Visitors’ Pass and walked through glass hallways before this, but all I needed was that sentence.

Fielding is described in this book and the description stayed with me because it teases depth to the character without going into it too much:

Just then Fielding walked in, his orangutan arms hanging out of the short sleeves of his surgical greens, his muscular hands lightly coated with the talc lining the latex gloves he had been wearing downstairs. Fielding was his own work of art. God knows how many hours each week he spent sculpting himself in some Nautilus room somewhere. It was my theory that his obsession with body building was inversely proportional to his obsession with his job. A competent deputy chief, he had been on board little more than a year and was already showing signs of burnout. The more disenchanted he got, the bigger he got. I gave him another two years before he retreated to the tidier, more lucrative world of hospital pathology, or became the heir apparent to the Incredible Hulk.

There are also wonderful mentions of Sammy the squirrel throughout the book in a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ manner. The full quotes which again show how seamlessly Cornwell adds flavour to the setting, are at the end of this post.

With the first book I struggled with the her relationship with Marino and her treatment of him. Presumably bearing in mind that he saved her life and also watched her house for several weeks thinking she might be attacked, she softened a little towards him and once even invited him to dinner, but also still continued with comments towards him, such as:

Settling down in his seat and shutting his eyes, he mumbled, “I need a vacation.”

“So do I,” I said. “I need a vacation from you.”

In reviewing an event from Sparacino’s life, she thought this:

The image of the little fatso offering his sweaty hand and saying such a thing was so pathetic I didn’t laugh. Had I been that embarrassed by a childhood hero, I never would have forgotten it, either.

I think it’s hard for me to come to terms that Scarpetta isn’t perfect and has faults which aren’t ones that are common with protagonists.

5/5 – Attributing a number rating to this was hard. I didn’t enjoy the solution to the crime and the way it was presented, both of which so similar to the first book, however, the story and the well executed twists as well as the writing and the characters, did make up for it and seeing how much enjoyed it throughout it really could only be a 5/5.

The life and death of Sammy, the albino squirrel:

After I hung up, I fixed a cup of hot tea and paced the kitchen, pausing every so often to gaze out at the bright December day. Sammy, one of Richmond’s few albino squirrels, was plundering my bird feeder again. For an instant we were eye to eye, his furry cheeks frantically working, seeds flying out from under his paws, his scrawny white tail a twitching question mark against the blue sky. We had become acquainted last winter as I stood before my window and watched his repeated attempts at leaping from a branch only to slide slowly off the coned top of the feeder, his paws grabbing wildly at thin air on his way down. After a remarkable number of tumbles to terra firma, Sammy finally got the hang of it. Every so often I would go out and throw him a handful of peanuts, and it had gotten to the point where if I didn’t see him for a while, I experienced a tug of anxiety followed by joyous relief when he reappeared to clean me out again.

We were idly watching Sammy Squirrel’s antics around the bird feeder. After Marino had driven me back from the hospital and let me out at my house, I invited him in for coffee.

“I’ll keep checking,” he said, turning away from the bird feeder as Sammy Squirrel watched us with pink-rimmed eyes. “What about you?”

I hung up and didn’t answer when he immediately called back. I listened numbly to his protests on the machine, blood pounding in my neck as the images rushed back at me, images of Marino’s car hissing as flames snarled at arching blasts of water from tumescent fire hoses snaking over my street. When I had discovered the charred little corpse at the end of my driveway, something inside me snapped. The gas tank in Marino’s car must have exploded at the very instant Sammy Squirrel was frantically hopping along the power line. Crazily, he leapt for safety. For a split second, his paws simultaneously made contact with the grounded transformer and primary line. Twenty thousand volts of electricity surged through his tiny body, burning him to a crisp and blowing the fuse.

I had scooped him into a shoe box and buried him in my rose garden, the idea of seeing his blackened shape in the light of morning more than I could bear.

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Food and other things [Week 6] – #carocat2017

  • The opening of The Stalker which drew me in straight away. Full review here. 36/365
  • Dinner: cheesey bread with [colourless!] bruschetta and vegetarian fried thing. Pretty good, picture doesn’t do justice! 37/365
  • Probably my favourite food in the world: homemade savoy cabbage rolls or, in German, Kohlrouladen. 38/365
  • Having this much lipbalm is only a problem if I call it one, right? 36/365
  • Mini chocolate things. 40/365
  • It’s -3°C with an icy east wind, but this guy clearly wants fresh fish. Crazy! 41/365
  • Frozen tropical fruit mix is a recent favourite of mine. 42/365

There was some surprise snow early in the week. Surprise snow, because it wasn’t predicted and, even after it fell overnight, the weather report didn’t mention it. The grounds were still cold from the subzero temperatures the previous weeks and so it froze up a bit.

The pictures are mostly food because there wasn’t really much else to take a picture of. “Oh look, here’s me at the laptop” or “Here I am reading yet another book on my Kindle” wouldn’t really do either!

I’ve been really tired all week, going to bed early and not reading for once as that would usually keep me awake quite late. Instead I’ve been watching the same episode of Midsomer Murders [Who killed Cock Robin] for about a week now as I generally only make it a few minutes in before falling asleep. Sure, it’s not ideal, but right now it works and I’ve never turned down a winning sleeping formula. Long may it continue!

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