Book Review: “Fortune’s Son” by Jennifer Scoullar

fortune's son

Enchanting historical tale set for the most part in Tasmania, with a short interlude in South Africa. Jennifer Scoullar conjures up evocative images of the Tasmanian bush at the end of the 19th century. There is a great appreciation of the natural history of the land and some of its more unusual fauna especially the Thylacine and the Tasmanian Devils. Set against this backdrop is the romantic tale of Belle and Luke, whose relationship is torn apart by class and injustice. At the beginning of the novel, a teenage Luke lashes out at a rich mine owner trying to protect the reputation of his sister, for this act he is thrown into prison for 15 years hard labour, he eventually escapes and spends time in the bush with a big Newfoundland dog called Bear. Luke is an outdoorsy type and “The prospect of living rough with the animals as his sole companions didn’t daunt him. Bear was no longer the only one torn between two worlds.”

Sadly for the Tasmanian Tiger, extinction dawned on the horizon. Coorina, the female thylacine in the story and her cubs meet up with Luke.

Her sensitive nose tested the air over and over for the scent of another thylacine. She was ever disappointed.


The last known living thylacine died in a zoo in 1936 of neglect, the zoo thought it would be easy enough to find another, but they never found another. The thylacine was the apex predator in Tasmania, a carnivorous marsupial with a head like a dog and stripes.

thylacine
thylacine (photo: National Geographic)

I spent three weeks in Tasmania in 1988, reading about the nature brings back fond memories. There were rumours of sightings of thylacines at the time, but it has since been declared officially extinct.

 

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New Year’s resolutions 9 months on

My resolutions were made with no great hope of success. New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Get into shape: I’m still 70 kg, no increase, no decrease. I’m walking around 10 000 steps a day according to the pedometer app on my phone, this went down in July and August, with few lessons I had less motivation for getting out of the house. I also climb the 172 steps up Ikalto Hill to home about twice a day.  (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 3 out of 10)

2. Start eating healthier food, and less food overall. I am visiting fast food outlets less frequently, I can’t remember the last time I visited Wendy’s or McDonalds’s (I used to visit Wendy’s at least once a week), I still visit KFC about twice a month.  I also eat far too many sweets. I do occasionally opt for a salad and chose water rather than a sugary drink. This still needs more work. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 4 out of 10)

3. Stop procrastinating: At the beginning of the year I was bingeing on “Grey’s Anatomy” now it is the turn of “The Wire”. I have a fuller timetable now, so less opportunity to laze around. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

4. Meet new people: Most of the new people I meet are those who attend the English Language Exchange on Mondays, this is the social highlight of the week for me. I have trouble remembering names. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 3 out of 10)

5. Give up cigarettes: This was a joke resolution, I have never smoked… (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 10 out of 10)

6. Read more: My target for the year is 40 books, I am on target according to Goodreads, (my challenge) having read 28 books to date. But I have been cheating a little, some books are bigger than others. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 5 out of 10)

some books are bigger than others
some books are bigger than others…
goodreads reading
my reading as recorded on Goodreads

Some of the books I wouldn’t normally count as books read… Saul Bellow’s novella is just 64 pages, Pre-Raphelites and Rembrandt  mostly show the paintings, there is little text, Horton Hears a Who is the kind of book I learnt to read with (thanks Dr Seuss),  King Lear is a brief summary for children and the Edgar Allan Poe “books” are just short stories. So my actual book total should really be 21, I’m well behind schedule to read 40 “proper” books in a year.

goodreads reading 2

7. Become tidier: I need to work on this. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

8. Start saving money: and this… (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 0 out of 10)

9. Learn a new language. I have been using Memrise to learn some Georgian words and Duolingo to learn some German, Portuguese and Dutch. I don’t know how useful these apps have been. I currently have a streak of 63 days on Duolingo but if I were to meet a Brazilian or Portuguese person, there is a limit to what I can say. I’m listening to Georgian songs on YouTube, the tunes stick but few of the words are sticking :/ (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 2 out of 10)

10. Pick up useful skills or fun hobbies. I have bought a computer with photoshop but haven’t done anything with the program yet. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 0 out of 10)

11. Travel more. I began January in Tsagveri and I finally managed to visit Svaneti in July but I doubt I will get out of Georgia this year. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

12. Go see your doctor more often: the only doctors I’ve seen are the pretend doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy” and those I have taught English to. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 0 out of 10)

13. Learn to cook new recipes: I tried banana pancakes, but it wasn’t a great success, the result was more of a banana omelette.

banana pancake
my banana pancake

(How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

14. Start being more creative: need to work on this…. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 2 out of 10)

Far more progress on my resolutions needs to be made if I am to avoid the usual disappointments when I reach January 1st and make resolutions anew.

 

 

Book Review: “True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Casey

When I was a child of around nine or ten, I read a book entitled “Bushrangers Bold!” about the bushrangers in 19th century, Australia. I remember little about the book except the title and one of the bushrangers, Ned Kelly, who stood out because of his showdown with the police in homemade armour.

bushrangers bold

Bushrangers were Australian outlaws, a mix of highwaymen and Wild West outlaws. They were thieves, who sheltered in the Australian bush, to some they were heroes to others they were villains. Ned Kelly has been portrayed in many films and played by actors such as Mick Jagger (1970) and Heath Ledger (2003).

In my twenties, I was fortunate to visit Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and see the historic site of Port Arthur (the main prison in colonial Australia). In Victoria, I didn’t visit Kelly Country, I only visited Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula. I also had the chance to read Robert Hughes’ s remarkable book “The Fatal Shore” about the convict history of Australia.

True history of the Kelly Gang
True History of the Kelly Gang

The “True History of the Kelly Gang” is not 100% true, there is much fictional embellishment in this historical novel. Ned Kelly is given a wife and daughter in the book, which he never had in real life. The author puts himself in the mind of Ned Kelly and it is written as though Ned were writing his own story to his (fictitious) daughter. Ned left school at an early age to team up with bushranger Harry Power so the narrative seems at times semi-literate…”I were”, “could of” etc… also to protect his daughter Ned Kelly doesn’t write out the cuss words, using “adjectively” or “b——d” or “b——-rs” or “effing” in their place.  There is a lot of Australian and Irish argot, too. The police are “traps”, his ma runs a “shebeen” and of course there are the swagmen.

The Kelly Gang only appear two thirds of the way through the book. The early part of the book is just about Ned Kelly himself and includes his first bushranging connection with Harry Power, who takes him on as an apprentice. The story is a continuation of the historic troubles of the Irish Catholics at the hands of the colonial British establishment. The police, the “traps”, are “proddies”, in league with the squatters, who had taken all the best land for themselves, leaving the poorer plots for the Irish. Ned Kelly’s father was a transported convict from Tipperary, who died shortly after serving a six month prison term, leaving the 12 year old Ned as the oldest male in an evergrowing family. Kelly is a hero of the book, not a cold-hearted murderer, he is shown to have initially killed policemen in self defence and when he later robs a bank, some of the proceeds are distributed to the poor, who need it.

Ned Kelly is still a divisive figure in Australia, some see him as a Robin Hood type figure, whilst others view him as a murderous villain. He has been the subject of more biographies than any other Australian. This book was awarded the Booker Prize in 2001 (a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel written in the English language and published in the United Kingdom.)

Ned Kelly by Sid Nolan
Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan (1946)

This was the first book I read this year in paperback, the other books I finished “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens , The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari were read on my Kindle app. Both paperback and Kindle app have their pros and cons, I find reading a physical book is more immersive, reading on my phone, I am often distracted by notifications and the like.

My rating 4 out of 5

New Year’s Resolutions: one month on

In a 2014 report, 35% of participants who failed their New Year’s Resolutions admitted they had unrealistic goals, 33% of participants didn’t keep track of their progress, and 23% forgot about them; about one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions. A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol, involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. My resolutions were made with no great hope of success. New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Get into shape: I’m still 70 kg, no increase, no decrease. I’m walking around 10 000 steps a day according to the pedometer app on my phone. I also climb the 172 steps up Ikhalto Hill to home about twice a day.

2. Start eating healthier food, and less food overall. In January, I made three visits to KFC and 1 visit to Wendy’s. I also ate far too many sweets. I did occasionally opt for a salad and chose water rather than a sugary drink. This still needs more work.

3. Stop procrastinating: There have been days I’ve binged on “Grey’s Anatomy” instead of doing something more productive. I have a fuller timetable now, so less opportunity to laze around.

4. Meet new people: The only new people I’ve met have been my new students, my current timetable makes attending the Language Exchange groups difficult if not impossible.

5. Give up cigarettes: Still haven’t started smoking.

6. Read more: In January I read a couple of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari I have a few books I’m “currently reading” of which “Pickwick Papers” is nearest completion.

7. Become tidier: I need to work on this.

8. Start saving money: and this…

9. Learn a new language. I have been using Memrise to learn some Georgian words and Duolingo to learn some German words. I haven’t practised either much.

10. Pick up useful skills or fun hobbies. I have bought a computer with photoshop but haven’t done anything with the program yet.

11. Travel more. I began January in Tsagveri but since returning to Tbilisi haven’t ventured out any further.

12. Go see your doctor more often: the only doctors I’ve seen are the pretend doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy”.

13. Learn to cook: Haven’t tried any new recipes, yet.

14. Start being more creative: need to work on this….

So far there has been little progress in regards of the resolutions, maybe February will see more effort applied in this direction.

New Year’s Resolutions

A New year’s Resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life.

My New Year’s Resolution in recent years has been to learn Georgian. I have made maddeningly slow progress on that front, it is a difficult language and I haven’t devoted sufficient time and effort to this task. I have a whole blog about my travails entitled The Reluctant Georgian Learner

I need some SMART goals. When I studied education and was obliged to write a Professional Development Journal, we were told to set SMART goals to develop and overcome obstacles in our way. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Specific…what do I want to achieve?

Measurable…how can I measure progress?

Attainable…is it within my ability?

Relevant…is reaching your goal relevant to you?

Timely… Time is money, they say! Deadlines are what makes most people switch to action, I too often procrastinate until the last minute.  But keep the timeline realistic and flexible.

Googling “New Year’s Resolutions” comes up with many useful ideas. Everyone’s Google search will be different depending on how their algorithms work for you. One result I got was from Lifehack: Lifehack Resolutions

These include : 1. Get into shape: we are all some shape or other, I guess they mean a shape we find pleasing to look at. I’ve been 70 kg for a while, I could ideally lose 5 kg. I could eat less junk food and walk 10 000 steps a day. Going home to my flat on Ikalto Hill means climbing 172 steps…I’m not sure if this will wear me out or make me stronger…lately it actually seems a little easier so maybe, just maybe, I am getting fitter. I’ll never be an Adonis.

2. Start eating healthier food, and less food overall. It is very tempting between lessons (I’m a travelling English teacher) to pop into Wendy’s or KFC for their budget meal. I know this is mostly junk. I’d be better carrying a healthy snack around with me. I also need to eat more fruit, now mandarins are plentiful.

3. Stop procrastinating: The biggest barrier that keeps most people from reaching their goals is the desire to relax and do something fun instead of working hard. Once you get used to procrastinating it’s difficult to snap yourself out of it. I am particularly good at procrastinating: Checking Facebook needlessly or binging on TV series like House, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Mad Men.

4. Meet new people: Meeting new people can be beneficial to your mental well-being. Most of the new people I meet, I meet digitally. I have around 1000 friends on Facebook, most of whom I have never met in real life. My socialising away from the computer mainly revolves around the Language Exchange Club Tbilisi (link) meeting locals and visitors who want to improve their language skills.

5. Give up cigarettes: This is one I don’t need to do, I never started smoking, I didn’t see the attraction. It must be tremendously hard to give up.

6. Read more: Books are an excellent way to gain a lot of knowledge on a huge variety of topics, and are also a great exercise for your brain. I love reading but this year has been a bit lax, I only read 20 books.

My Reading Stats
My Reading Stats

For 2019 I will aim for 40 books.

7. Become tidier: There are a lot of slobs out there, I’m one of them,  who can’t really get their stuff organized, and a cluttered desk or chaotic home will negatively affect your productivity and even your mood. My diecast car collection numbers around 1400 models, this is crazy, I only have space to display maybe 500, year on year its getting bigger, I need to look at ways to reduce the size. I also need to sort out the papers I have all over the place.

8. Start saving money: It’s time to start putting some money aside. I am not very savvy when it comes to saving and investing.

9. Learn a new language. I know English and French, I want to become fluent in Georgian, this won’t happen overnight and won’t happen without me putting in some serious effort. I have been in Georgia NINE years… it is embarrassing that I can’t hold a conversation in Georgian. Other languages: Turkish, Russian and German would all be interesting and useful but the priority is to learn Georgian.

10. Pick up useful skills or fun hobbies. My hobbies are photography, blogging and collecting model cars. I would like to explore some other aspects of these hobbies. Maybe making some stop motion videos or learning photoshop, maybe restoring or customising the model cars. I’d also like to do windsurfing (I’ve done it in the past) and explore nature more.

11. Travel more. This year (2018) I only ventured out of Georgia once (to Cyprus), I used to travel more and would like to again.  In Georgia I’d like to see Svaneti, Tusheti and Lagodekhi. Outside Georgia there are many places I’d like to see, the neighbouring countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan are tantalisingly close, yet I have not visited them yet.

12. Go see your doctor more often: I really should have a regular health check up. I don’t have a doctor here in Tbilisi. I don’t feel ill but its worth getting checked out.

13. Learn to cook: I can cook but tend to use the same recipes, I need to try cooking new dishes. Laura in the Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay on YouTube are inspiring.

14. Start being more creative: I like art, I want to draw and paint far more. I  have had a blank canvas sitting in my closet over a year.

and finally Stick to the good healthy habits you’ve developed: The last, and most important point to mention is that all the positive changes you make have to be permanent. You will need to work on sticking with the good habits you have adopted.

Okay, let’s be positive as we enter a New Year.

 

 

I Dreamt I was sitting around a Kitchen Table with Presidents Trump, Obama and the Clintons

Last night, I dreamt I was sitting around a kitchen table with Presidents Trump, Obama and the Clintons. I don’t remember ever dreaming about American Presidents before, Trump has been in the news constantly in recent weeks, I also recently caught on YouTube Graham Norton’s interview of Hilary Clinton  Graham Norton Show . The problem with dreams is that they are so quickly forgotten on waking. Dreams are created in a part of the brain away from the part that creates memories. I tried writing what I could remember of the dream, when I woke up.

P1670338

What I recalled:  After an 11 mile walk for charity with Khato (my wife), I decide to hitchhike back. We are in the countryside somewhere near Birmingham (UK). A car pulls over driven by President Trump. We are taken to some house (I don’t recognise the house, it doesn’t seem unusual in any way) and sit around a kitchen table. Then another car pulls in, from which come President Obama with Bill and Hilary Clinton. We are all sitting around the table. Everyone seems calm, it is like we are waiting for someone else (George Bush, maybe?). I’m trying to work out what is happening, why am I with so many presidents?

That is all I can recall, I wonder if it means anything? In the bitter bipartisan politics of the moment it seemed strange all these people seemed so calm and quiet. I don’t remember anyone saying anything. I wish I could remember more. I sometimes try to write my dreams down but realise most of the dream has floated away into the ether before I can write it down.

Another dream I wrote down: Model Car Dream