Book:The Truth about these Strange Times – Adam Foulds

Indeed a strange but ultimately enjoyable book. It took about a third of the book for me to get into, not for the first time, but I always think it’s such a waste of precious time to start reading something and then not get the benefit of the whole story.

The story is of 10 year old child genius Saul Dawson-Smith who’s demanding but doting parents are living through him. He is on a never ending timetable of learning to enable him to enter world memory contests with other bored, brainy children who have zero play or ‘child’ time.

The other main character is Scottish, Howard who forms an unlikely friendship with Saul’s father at a hospital. Howard is looking out for Les Dawson-Smith’s mother after his own Mum has already passed away and because he seems to get on with Saul and clearly needs a break from his lonely life in a series of dead end low paid jobs, Mr Dawson-Smith asks him to relocate to London. In gratitude for this stranger looking after his mother, the plan is to find him work but in the meantime, he can help with Saul and the household chores alongside the uppity Mrs Dawson-Smith.

Throw in some Russian friends who are desperate for Howard to marry their friend back home so she can live in the UK legally and the fact that Saul and Howard end up on a road trip, running away from home for ‘respite’ as the genius boy child calls it, and we are in for an entertaining two thirds of a book.


Inspiration factor 7½/10

Movie: The Hunger Games


I’d vaguely heard about the books, just vaguely. In that I heard there were books.

So I’ve not been eagerly awaiting this film like much of the world seems to have. By the way, does the author get paid more if the film does super-well?

I only go as there’s nothing else I particularly want to watch and what started grimly actually has some humour so I’m pleasantly surprised after about 20 minutes. At first it felt like I was watching in monochrome and then someone remembered to switch on the colour. The story is of a future America, led by the president (Donald Sutherland) although it is not explained how the country got into a state in that the rich were rich and the poor were given jobs to do depending on what ‘district’ they lived in and they still had to hunt for food, starving. There’s clearly been some sort of unexplained war and/or rebellion/uprising.

We the audience are rooting for the two people, male and female, who are randomly selected from District 12 to fight in the Hunger Games, the annual national contest where everyone kills each other and there is only one victor. Thank heavens for Woody Harrelson who plays the good time mentor to District 12; having been a victor himself, he is now one of the privileged rich. The star of the show is a very camped up Stanley Tucci, playing the Hunger Games TV host, now on my very short list of actors that make any film watchable.

It’s better than I thought and had me gripped for about 70% of the film but I’m not in a rush to a. read the books or b. see the next one


Smile factor 5/10 – Just Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrellson

Diary of a Domestic Goddess in Training – February

This month, I try baking scones. Rather than the usual, I wanted to make a fruit round, so it produces four mega scones like I used to have in, of all places, New York.

I also make cheese scones, one of my favourite things

Plus the ordinary buttermilk scones

Valentine cakes

Or rather cakes for my Valentine. I don’t care much for chocolate cake (OK, other than Guinness cake, red velvet cake and my own brownies) but dark chocolate cakes with real orange flavouring and dark and white chocolate frosting seemed appropriate.


At the end of the month, I had friends from Devon stay for the weekend and knowing that at least one of them is a bit of a baker too, I decide to go retro with butterfly cakes.

Coming soon: walnut and coffee Battenberg cake followed by several attempts at making almond croissants.

Movie – The Fairy (La Fee)

Another film I may never have seen if it wasn’t for Flatpack Festival and it provided another excuse to visit the always quaint Electric cinema.

An excuse because, my Regular Reader will know, I’m a fully paid up member of Cineworld Unlimited card so it’s pointless paying £7 for a ticket at the Electric when I already pay for unlimited films but a film like this rarely shown at the mainstream cinema. And somehow more befitting in the oldest working cinema in the country.

In this film from Belgium/France, the fairy in question, Fiona turns up at a hotel to grant Dom, the hapless employee three wishes. Before he realises he’s falling for her, she’s in a mental institution and the hunt is on to find her and break her free.

Hence they are always on the run from the authorities, with their hearts in the right places and the humour continues.

There isn’t much dialogue, which saves me reading the sub titles, but this is a delightful, modern slap-stick comedy. Not one of my favourite genres and indeed they did go very over the top during a baby left on the car bonnet scene towards the end but nonetheless, a lovely watch.


Smile factor 7½/10

The Electric Cinema

Movie – Blank City

Just by chance I heard about this documentary film and by even more remote chance, it was part of Birmingham’s FlatPack film festival.

The reason for my interest in Blank City is because it details Lower East Side, New York in the late 1970s, into the 1980s where seemingly everyone made films. Not being a film geek, I recognised very few film makers but it was great to see people like Deborah Harry being interviewed alongside all these film clips made by people literally on the street or in squats.

The neighbourhood then, particularly Alphabet City way out to the East Side – a place I only ventured to a few years ago after many years of visiting the city – was an absolute no-go area. As is documented, residents feared for their life every day walking back and forth but on the plus side they didn’t have any belongings or money so thieves knew there was nothing to be stolen. It was more of a narcotics thing and as well as the drugs scene, Aids came to be around this time so there is talk of lost lives.

Really, it’s amazing to see people survive as so little was known in the very early eighties.

I loved this film from the popular culture angle but film makers and geeks – and indeed photographers will enjoy the artistic element.


Smile factor 8½/10

Adventures in Birmingham: Midlands Discovery Tours – Canal walk

Readers of this blog will know how much I have grown to love walking discovery tours. What started as a way of getting to know San Francisco on a short trip there, grew to having  month of to discover my home town, Bedford. In the last year or so, it’s been an excellent way of getting to know about the very Birmingham streets I walk in every day.

A group of us mostly strangers and a few from my girls social network (Out with the Girls) turned up on a wet Sunday – the first in ages! – to meet at the council building and with  warming hot chocolate beverage, set out to discover the stories behind the canals.

You’d think the number of walks I’ve been on with our trust guide Ian Braisby, I’d be doing his job for him (it is actually a secret dream job of mine) and yet I learn new Birmingham facts every time.

Britain’s canal capital

For example, the oft asked question is answered; are there more canals in Birmingham than Venice? How many?

Why there is a round-a-bout in the middle of the canal near Brindleyplace.

What the connection is between cage fighters and canal boat workers.

The generations of canal boat workers and how at one time the canals were privatised and tolls had to be paid to get through.

How the canals link Birmingham up to other towns and cities.

Apart from the imagined stench, we were taken right back to the times when canal boats were the main transportation for companies such as Cadburys (who despite moving away from the city centre still have their base near the canal in Bourenville) and especially for the heavy goods movement of the breweries.

As well as the canal history, we learnt about the beginnings and subsequent uses of a variety of buildings along the canal way, especially what is now The Brasshouse and the beautiful Round House and how Saturday Bridge got it’s name..

This is just a fraction of what I learnt. To book a place on a forthcoming walk, visit the Midlands Discovery Tours website here Then have fun spouting facts to your friends as you walk along the delight that is Birmingham canals.

Follow @MidsDiscovery or @IanBraisby