The Diary of Samuel Pepys: Vols I-IX 1660-1669 edited by RC Latham & W Matthews

Posted in Books on December 17, 2014 by thecognitivekey

I heard some extracts from Pepys diaries read/dramatised on BBC Radio. I am not a great history buff, I stopped learning history at school when they reached the Middle Ages. Since then my history study has been eclectic, covering the First World War (before it became popular), pieces of social development and some labour histories. I knew nothing of Pepys or his era, but there was something about the BBC readings that hooked my imagination.

The diaries were written over through the 1660s, starting in 1660 and ending in 1669 when Pepys was struggling with his sight and so stopped keeping the diary. There are 11 volumes in this set. There is a volume per year apart from 1668 and 1669 which are combined into one volume. There is also a Companion and an Index which brings it to the eleven volumes.

It’s taken a while to read The Diary, but it was well worth it. I now know a lot more about the period, I doubt there has been quite such a busy decade, the Restoration of the Monarchy, the Plague, the Great Fire of London, the war against the Dutch, it’s all there alongside the private life of Pepys, his wife and servants. It’s an interesting picture of a privileged life. I never really warmed to Pepys, his philandering and double standards exposed him as a man not to be trusted or liked. But despite a dislike for the man himself the diary is worth the effort, if only to show that the BBC version was not true to the Diary and that they had fabricated much for effect.

Would I read the Diary again – yes, given sufficient time



Posted in Customer Service on November 17, 2014 by thecognitivekey

What is it about large companies that makes them think they can just do whatever they want?

As a matter of default when I sign up with a company I always opt out of receiving marketing mail via whatever means. I do it because I then don’t have to just delete them from my mail or fill up my re-cycling bin.

I have been an O2 customer for quite a while now. I obviously opted out of all mailshots from them.

But they have just sent me a text:

‘You opted out of our emails and texts, so you’re not getting to hear about all the stuff you get, just for being with O2. Find out what we mean at …..’

Come on O2 – what part of opted out are you struggling to understand. I chose to opt out for a reason, I don’t want to hear what wonders you are offering. Others might what to keep abreast but I don’t.

Now, maybe you have decided you don’t want me as a customer, you are going about it the right way if  that’s  the case. It’d be easier just to come out with it, rather than just bombard me with rubbish so I am forced to leave.


South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition – Sir Earnest Shackleton CVO

Posted in Books on August 27, 2013 by thecognitivekey

This is an account of an impressive achievement. The expedition set out just as the First World War started…technology was very limited. All the things we take for granted now, mobile phones, satellites, motor sledges, wind-proof clothing and so on, none of it available. Men leaving Europe for a hostile environment with no hope of any immediate rescue should there be an emergency. Are there people like that around now?

The expedition had several thrusts. The main force on Endeavour to cross the Antarctic on foot. A further force to drop supplies along the route from the other side. Superb organisation was required.

The Endeavour struggled in the ice packs and eventually was trapped in the ice and was crushed. The drew then took to the ice and lived for several months on the ice floe, eventually managing to reach land and set up camp. Shackleton was in this group and leaving the bulk of his crew on land he and 5 others took a small boat and sailed to South Georgia (about 800 miles) for help. It took 2 weeks and when they landed three of them crossed the ice bound island to reach the whaling station and help. They then picked up the remaining crew on South Georgia before returning to the Antarctic to collect the men who had been left there.

The men laying supplies lost contact with their ship (whose travails are also described), but they continued with their task in laying supply drops. Eventually they too were rescued. Three men were lost.

On their return after more than 2 years away the men signed up to fight in the war.

This book describes a way of life that probably no longer exists. It is difficult to put yourself in the minds of these men who were so exposed and likely to lose their lives at any time. Dedication to the cause in the extreme. It was a fantastic feat, despite being a failure in its overall aims. The journey to South Georgia is impressive in itself, the whole expedition is just jaw dropping.

Shackleton is a man of his time. A great leader.


Would this expedition happen today I kept asking myself. Are there such people around now? I guess there are, just the challenges are different.

The journey to Mars is looking for volunteers, a possible one-way journey – I’d do it if I was young enough. Would I have gone to the Antarctic with Shackleton? Probably not – too cold for me.

At the end of the book are a series of short scientific articles. The main scientific research couldn’t be done due to the loss of the ship, but such was the dedication to the cause that the scientists measured what they could. Most interesting of these articles was the one of whaling which recorded the rapid reduction in the numbers of whales and which proposed an international body to oversee whaling.

A good read. Lots of description about the ice, but it still manages to hold the attention and describe just how close to utter disaster the whole expedition was.

At The Earth’s Core – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Posted in Books on August 8, 2013 by thecognitivekey

It took an age to wade through the Hugo dross so it was a complete relief to be able to pick up a book and just read it through almost without pause.

This is an old book, and it shows its age in parts with the attitudes being those prevalent of the day. However I can cope with that, all books are of their time.

The important part is the story. This is a fast paced tale, a bit patchy in parts, and the hero often assumes Flash Gordon attributes in that he is supreme in so many different areas. Sporting prowess, linguistic ability…he has it all, but it all just adds to the tale. No word is wasted as he overcomes all the challenges in his path, and there is a twist at the end too. Not too much of a twist, but it’s there.

This is a fun read. A couple of days and it’s over, but the feeling of having read a good tale is palpable.

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Posted in Books on August 5, 2013 by thecognitivekey

A big book, renowned the world over in the format of stage show and film. Obviously it is in French so I have read a translation.

I don’t normally persist in reading a book that is poorly written, time is short and there are so many more books that deserve attention. Les Miserables is poorly written, no that doesn’t do justice to the other books I have read, Les Miserables is a dreadful book. There is a story within it, and I assume that the film and stage versions have extracted that meagre story from the mire that comprises most of the book.

At first I didn’t know how bad it was, it seemed to drift and there were pages of trivia, the first 100 pages are devoted to the life of a character who plays a minimal part. Why waste all that time? There is a long essay on the Battle of Waterloo just to place a single action on another character. So, boring. Hugo takes every opportunity to waffle and give his opinion. I cared for neither. Fifty pages on the sewers of Paris so the hero can make his escape through them. Madness. I don’t mind things being put into a historical context but this is taking things to an extreme.

I did read the book to the end, but after about two-thirds I was able to recognise the waffle and rubbish and speed read those sections. I did it so I can say I have read the whole…so that I know the truth about this book…it is awful.

As I said there is a small tale woven into this tripe. I guess that it would make a nice short story and I can see that the film and stage people would love it. It’s not really my sort of story though. A sort of love story wrapped around a tale of pathos, or was it a tale of redemption? I didn’t care by the end.

To be honest I have the greatest admiration of the person who discovered the story…it was only the renown of Les Miserables that made me carry on. What drove the early readers to complete it I could not guess. I shan’t be reading this book again, nor has it encouraged me to want to see it at the cinema or theatre.

Pangasius – not the fish of choice

Posted in General, Work on June 19, 2013 by thecognitivekey

Interesting that our work canteen has had pangasius fishcakes on the menu for the past two days.

They used to have fried pangasius on Fridays but replaced it with hake. I don’t know whether that was a decision based on economics or welfare, my guess is economics. But it’s a good thing NOT to have pangasius on the menu. It’s not known to be a good source of food. Maybe in Vietnam it’s OK, but the cultivation and processing for the export market leaves much to be desired.

Certainly I shan’t be eating pangasius in any form, ever.

The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul – Douglas Adams

Posted in Books on June 16, 2013 by thecognitivekey

Les Miserables is a long, almost interminable book. It is time to take another breather from it and read something a shade lighter.

I like The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, it meanders easily through the plot and has some interesting things to say as it goes. The HHGTTG is a funny book, or rather it’s a funny book adaptation of an excellent radio series. The books rather lack the crispness of the radio.

The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul is the second of Adams’ Dirk Gently novels. I haven’t read the first. I don’t think I shall.

The LDT-TOTS centres on the idea that Norse gods are still here in a sort of parallel universe which can be entered, and that they have negotiated with a music industry executive a lot of their power. One god rebels and this is that story and Gently’s involvement in it. I didn’t like the story at all. I felt no empathy for any of the characters, Gently appears to be able to come to conclusions through some psychic power which is never explained or justified. There are loose ends throughout which a competent writer would have tied down.

It is interesting actually as Adams had editorial help with the HHGTTG. It was too cumbersome for the radio and had to be cut back. The result is a very tight radio series which works very well. The books re-introduce some of the missing edits and are as a result a little sloppy and loose. I do wonder therefore whether the loose, meandering tale is the norm for Adams and what he really needed throughout was a tough editor to keep things in check. Further, the recent tour of the radio series reinstated some of the missing edits from the radio series under the guise of improving the broadcast radio script under the guise that this was the real HHGTTG. It might have been what Adams originally wrote but it’s not the HHGTTG that was broadcast, and the reinstatement diluted the HHGTTG on stage. It was a big let-down. The edits were essential.

Merely an observation. I realise that Adams is a god in some quarters. I appreciate the quality of the HHGTTG, but I realise that in some of the edited forms it doesn’t hit the right spots.