Lincoln Drill Hall

Lincoln Drill Hall
Lincoln Drill Hall

Monday, 17 November 2008

Keynes, Bretton Woods 2, Citigroup and Alice

These really are heady days and feel rather like Wonderland. Is Mr Brown the Rabbit?
Last weekend was billed the great Bretton Woods 2 and those closet Keynsians amongst us perhaps felt our eyes water a little as the great man was dusted off. The difference is that last time he had spent months of preparation and even then only just manged to get his point across. It strikes me that the extent and level of thinking is a shadow of what went before.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

BT and efficiency

It is the old story, our work force has reduced from 250,000 to 160,000 and may well fall further as we seek to be more efficient for our customers. The announcement of BT's figures this morning showed a business that was growing but whose profits had fallen slightly. The market actually responded positively, having previously fallen on a profits warning.
Is a business more efficient if it employs fewer people? It is more profitable if it has lower costs. It is more effective if it gives its customers the service they seek. This perhaps naive, but there is scope for a debate. Last time businesses shed people and those people cost huge sums in unemployment benefits. The question is, who really benefits?

Sophie Parkin - Bazaar Nights and Camel Bites

Sophie is coming as guest speaker in a week's time and I am writing up her talk. I had looked at her website and at extracts from her novels but now I have her latest teen novel in my hands. She writes in the first person and I would say finds the voice of a teenage girl - the daughter in My Family. The opening seems to hang loose from the central action, but Parkin too knows her Aristotle as the visit from the school teacher to the bizarre family Christmas is given meaning as she quotes from the book her gave her on Morocco. The inciting incident is the coming of the French boy whom both friends fancy. Thus far most of the conflict about this is internal to Lily the protagonist.

I have come to the camel bite and the trip to the bazaar and I admit surprise. I am enjoying this book aimed at teenage girls. The protagonist has a convincing character; her voice is authentic and we spend a lot of time with her. The other characters are well shaped and the conflict is gentle but never far away. It is part overt but part internal and this is a strength.

I have finished Camel Bites and really liked it, which worries me. I am a tad older than a teenager and surely seriously out of touch; I would be fascinated to see how actual teenagers react (I will have a look at some reviews). Three things interested me in particular. There is a strong moral element; educational information is provided both by the lines in French, but also by the description of Tangier; finally prayer is given what seem to be genuine space as Lily enters a church and tells of her problems. If these things are acceptable to a 21st century audience then tell me where I begin.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

In Cold Blood

This is a provisional post having read the first forty pages, that is up to the inciting incident. It is reportage. I had the opportunity to compare it to Mary Wesley's Camomile Lawn (bear with me there is a point here!). I picked up this book at 3am to get me back to sleep. It was a mistake since the characters in the TV series flooded through my mind. The book though was disappointingly wooden. The first pages are close packed back story quite undisguised as dialogue or any such thing. Capote also has to communicate a load of background and also uses some chunky paragraphs but in his case punctuated by some showing in dialogue and action. I am stuck how much I dislike being told something in a book.
I will now read on and report back in a day or two.

I will write my impressions of this novel as I work my way through it. Having had the aloof reportage from the prologue, the description becomes more vivid as the moment of the murder approaches. An example is the pain in Perry's knees (p54) Perhaps I begin to see some force within Perry which results in the hideous crime? But the description generally becomes sharper. At around about page 60 a first person narrator becomes prominent. The eye witness accounts add to the gradual build up.

The slow progress is all down to my granddaughter - so no apologies!
The author is showing us two sets of characters: those grouped round the family decimated by the crime, and the criminals. He then paints both groups with the same sympathetic pallet. As readers the temptation is to cry out condemn, but he won't. He seems to offer very little in the way of clues to allow us to make the connection. Equally he doesn't, as yet, let us get close only to be disappointed. Yet I read on.
The style of writing as revealed by the page layout is intriguing. It is what I have previously referred to a reportage but interspersed with remembered speech and in some cases dialogue. This latter has the effect of making it feel that we are being shown rather than told.


I accept it is embarrassing how long I am spending reading this book. My defence is that there is plenty going on at the same time. The advantage is that there is an opportunity to savour after each short burst of reading.
I have just come through the part where Capote gives the texts of an exchange of letters between Perry and his sister plus a critique of the latter's writing offered by Perry's evangelical friend. These documents offer deep insights into Perry's character such that the reader is slowly nudged toward believing that Perry could have murdered. (I am not there yet).
The detective is not shown drink coffee and upturning clues, rather we are shown a view of the effect the investigation is having on his health and his marriage. This is deeply human stuff.

The problem with this is how on earth is the vital clue going to be uncovered. The answer comes in chapter 3 where the only person who can make the connection begins to do so and in a convincing way.

Capote takes his reader through the trial and into the time when execution is awaited. In the TV court room drama the focus is on the verdict, with sub plots, often of loose connection, slotted in to keep attention. Capote sticks closely to Aristotle’s rule that the focus must always be on the Action/idea. We are told about the characters, but all the time the focus is utterly clear. It is a density of writing that perhaps Salman Rushdie used in Midnight Children. It offers the reader a much deeper but also more rounded experience. It knocks on the head the desire on the part of the writer to engage in flights of fancy as the plot wonders hither and thither. Be utterly clear what the point is and stick to it.

A great book





So the real culprit was economic growth

The new chief executive of RBS, Stephen Hester, interviewed by Robert Peston on this morning's Today Programme (4 November 2008) blamed the years of good economic performance for the excesses that led to the tidal waive of bad debts. This links in an interesting way to Saturday's Guardian Review and the book by Niall Ferguson The Ascent of Money. It would seem that there is a point at which the financial markets detach from anything resembling real economy. The knee jerk reaction to this is evident in politicians of the left who now queue up to preach the gospel of manufacturing, failing to notice that cost profiles make this a pipe dream for western economies. Yet the answer is not the focus on financial services from which we are now all reeling. It boils down to finding new ways to add value.