Category Archives: review

His Dark Materials

One of my colleagues has just loaned/given me Northern Lights, the first in the Philip Pullman series. It was made into the movie the Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman. I think there were aspirations it would be like the Harry Potter Franchise  Рfantasy novel turned huge breadwinner movie series.

It’s probably just as well I’ve been given the first book as I haven’t properly watched the movie – the large golden monkey freaked me out, like a massive yellow baboon and I find those things scary. (Actually, I have a low concentration span for fantasy movies although I quite enjoy the books, I find movies tend not to live up to what is occurring in my head.)

I’ve already read the second book and am more than halfway through the third. In which they keep referring to adventures from the first book which is both annoying and confusing as I haven’t read it. This would probably be more annoying and confusing if I was someone who liked chronology. Fortunately I’ve learned to treat books in the same manner as television series. That sometimes you miss an episode or five within a story arc but you have to be completely thick to not grasp the overall picture. So I just read backwards while reading forwards at the same time. (I also tend to skip around within a standalone book if I get bored and read the bits I missed later when I’m more awake.)

I told my colleague it’s probably best we don’t give the trilogy to her friend, who, very late in life (like I’m one to talk, reading Pullman now), has started the Harry Potter series. He’s also deeply religious and even more than the Narnia series I think he will find these books somewhat disturbing. They definitely call into question the concept of a greater universal God and an eternal afterlife in which you are still you, although the concept of your soul free in a Buddist sense is underlying.

Similar to the Alvin Maker series (for many ideas are really reinvented ones), they query whether man is really able to distinguish between good and evil -whether, in fact, we get distracted by what appears to be power and shiny white light like magpies searching earthly treasures. The concept is that blind faith in shiny  creatures who talk with silvered tongue leads to zealot crime and murder under the guise of religion and salvation.

Personally I do not think reading literature such as this should serve as an argument for or against religion. If your beliefs are in fact strong enough, they should withstand and indeed welcome your reassessment of them.

I do find the fact that books such as these do downplay the need to try live a good life towards others. The lead characters tend to feel they need to maximise how their lives will touch other people but there is the idea that it is this life that matters and you should really be enjoying it here, today, if you are not a special hero character. And I think the world could do with more people paying it all forward. But then again, aren’t we all special in our own eyes?

All in all however, I have enjoyed the last of the trilogy as it did bring about some new twists and ideas within a somewhat jaded fantasy genre where a lot of people do just reinvent what happened before. It’s gone better than book number two did which dragged a bit when I first picked it up (I did better the second time round). It’ll be interesting to see how book one goes.

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Filed under book review, religion, review

Living the good life

Last weekend was ‘Open House’. Basically, a load of buildings are opened up to the general public so they can look at what should be award winning or significant buildings in the history of the city. There are some mediocre offerings, old ones, new ones, super exclusive ones everyone wants to see, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I debated going to see the Bank of England as it has a Sir Herbert Baker connection – back to the homeland of the Union Buildings and Boys High in Pretoria. I got a bit put off by the full body scan and ID required thing, also the fact that compared to other years, this year an astounding number of people seemed to want to take part and I kept bumping into small groups of people with SLR cameras and green guide books. I couldn’t deal with the volume of visitors to even ordinary structures. Although some of them may have been designers, they can’t ALL have been so it’s clearly picking up as something nosy people like to do.

So we bagged limited entry tickets to see a block of flats out in Highgate. The original block had a service lift going into each apartment (think Poirot Agatha Christie). Apparently in the old days you called the greengrocer and they would send you food deliveries up the lift to be left by the door. Even today the building has a concierge although the rooms are not particularly large.

A second phase was built next to this first block. It does not have a concierge but it does have marbled floors and huge glass windows as it was the more luxury of the two.

They built over one of the tennis courts at the bottom of the garden the two blocks share. I say ONE. There are still two tennis courts and an open air pool- sheer luxury in England – and a formal garden in a sloping landscape for residents use only.

The four bedroom flats in the second block filled me with envy. Built midway through the last century, they have huge double volume spaces as you enter into the a very generous living/dining area. (Having the money to custom make the curtains to cover the door and the huge windows above would break a normal budget).

At a time when England was still feeling pretty austere after the second world war the flat has two bathrooms that mirror each other across the stair landing. Two big bedrooms and two smaller children’s rooms. The ability to shut the kitchen off via french doors from the original dining room so that the staff could work on the next course without obstructing the dinner party. Huge concertina doors that fold out completely so the balcony meets the living space.

Even today and even in SA where flat sizes are larger and generally airier and better lit than the UK I would be happy to live there.

This, I thought, this is how the other half used to live and probably still does live. Just why isn’t that me?

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Filed under architecture, families, review