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Carrying on from last year - the list has got substantially shorter. I've probably read about 40 that were on the original list. However, it was also a big year for buying books. This year I'm going to try and polish off the rest of this list - although if any of these books proves to be too boring they're getting the chuck. I'm particularly looking forward to get through the Mark Twain books as they are classics I've never had the pleasure of reading.  


THE LIST: READ

  1. Milkman - Anna Burns (NEW)

  2. Unquiet Spirits - Bonnie MacBird (LEND)

  3. In the Flood - Ray Fawkes (KINDLE FREE)

  4. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (PRIZE)

  5. Chernobyl: History of Tragedy - Serhii Plokhy (NEW)

  6. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolfe (SECOND HAND)

  7. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley (SECOND HAND)

  8. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman (SECOND HAND)

  9. The Song of Achilles - Miller Madeline (SECOND HAND)

  10. Revolver - Marus Sedgwick (LEND)

  11. Heads of the Colored People - Nafissa Thompson-Spires (NEW)

  12. Crudo - Olivia Laing (NEW)

  13. The Girl On The Train - Paula Hawkins (LEND)


THE LIST: TO BE READ

  1. Rosie of The River - Catherine Cookson (GIFT)

  2. Paddy Clarke - Ha, Ha, Ha - Roddy Doyle (SECOND HAND/FOR WORK)

  3. Magic Terror - Peter Straub (LEND)

  4. The Last Concubine - Lesley Downer (LEND)

  5. The Dubliners - James Joyce (SECOND HAND)

  6. Neuromancer - William Gibson (SECOND HAND)

  7. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (SECOND HAND)

  8. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (NEW)

  9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain (LEND)

  10. Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain (LEND)

  11. The Prince and the Pauper - Mark Twain (LEND)

  12. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood (SECOND HAND)

  13. Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer (SECOND HAND)

  14. The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton (SECOND HAND)

  15. Selected Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (SECOND HAND)

  16. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce (SECOND HAND)

  17. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (SECOND HAND)

  18. Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman (GIFT)

  19. Eleven Minutes - Paulo Coelho (SECOND HAND)

  20. The Mackerel Plaza - Peter De Vries (SECOND HAND)

  21. Rocannon's World - Ursula K Le Guin (SECOND HAND)

  22. The Magic Barrel and other Stories - Bernard Malamud (SECOND HAND)

  23. Anita and Me - Meera Syal (SECOND HAND/FOR WORK)

  24. Wise Children - Angela Carter (SECOND HAND)

  25. How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie (SECOND HAND)

  26. First the Killed My Father - Loung Ung (LEND)

  27. I Search of Lost Time Volume 1: Swann's Way - Marcel Proust (NEW)

  28. The Magnificentt Meaulness - Alain Fournier (LEND)

  29. Babel Tower - A.S. Byatt (SECOND HAND)

  30. The Magus - John Fowles (SECOND HAND)

  31. The Scar - China Mieville (SECOND HAND)

  32. The Liar - Stephen Fry (SECOND HAND)

  33. Angelmaker - Nick Harkaway (SECOND HAND)

  34. The Tempest and other Stories - Joseph Conrad (SECOND HAND)

  35. Dante - The Inferno (NEW)

  36. The Cabaret of Plants - Richard Mabey (LEND)

  37. The Swiss Family Robinson - Johann Wyss (LEND)

  38. Very Good, Jeeves! - PG Wodehouse (LEND)

  39. Stardust - Neil Gaiman (LEND)

  40. Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott (LEND)

  41. Mrs Mcginty's Dead - Agatha Christie (LEND)

  42. Resistance - Owen Sheers (SECOND HAND/FOR WORK)

  43. Mrs Fry's Diary - Stephen Fry (SECOND HAND)

  44. Vernon Little God - DBC Pierre (SECOND HAND)

  45. Mrs Mohr Goes Missing - Maryla Szymiczkowa (NEW)


PLACE NO 28: WICKEN FEN, CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND


Wicken Fen - the place sounds a bit like some sort of prison from a Sherlock Holmes novel - at least that was my initial feelings. But it’s actually worse. It is in fact, a watery field in the East of England, which the National Trust tries to charge you seven quid to enter.


It was a warm day at the end of summer when I decided to visit. I brought some family, and a camera, and hoped the place was as riveting as the write-up on their website sounded. Of course, the pictures looked a bit dull on Google-images, but I knew that in these flat areas finding beauty sometimes relied upon adopting a new perspective. This flat landscape was all about the interaction between  ground and sky. About sitting amongst the reeds and listening.


I imagined the Fens to be a verdant playground of rushes and rivers. The water black and glossy. I would peer into rivulets and watch small fish move in formation. Deeper still, in the mud, might be eels: long and full of sinew and eggs.


I was promised an encyclopedia of birds. Kingfishers, cranes and herons that would peer with beady eyes into the gloomy water. I imagined the crouched tiger stance of bitterns with their houndstooth undercarriages and sturdy Roman noses, as they stalked through the undergrowth. They would have pale green talons held underneath plump bodies and they'd feast on frogs and fish and insects. I'd hear their strangely futuristic, yet pulsing cries (akin to that of a thick woodwind instrument) hoot across the waters. I'd see great crested newts waving their tails in the air and slinking through the pondweed. Their shiny, globular bodies covered in brown and beige scales arranged like a reverse piano. Cranes, with plush burgundy crowns, would have grey silken bodies perched upon twiglet-like legs. And they would surprise me in a moment of particular zen by rustling dinosaur-like out of the verbena. So much to see apparently, but what did I actually observe of the 9000 species recorded here?


Of all these fearsome beasts; I mostly just saw dragonflies, grass, some fish, and a few finches. And plenty of prams, children, retirees and people who like to talk with booming voices in a nature reserves. Plenty of those that like to sit in hides and discourse at volume - their phones bleeping out with pips and whistles and the occasional Nokia dirge - seemed greatly enamoured with the place. I don't think the term 'Nature-reserve' was fully understood or respected by many. Which is why the National Trust obviously hid all the good stuff.


99% of fenlands, as mapped in the 17th century, have been draining for farming and building. This environment is, therefore, rare, and causes endangered species to flourish. There are marsh-harriers, soprano pipistrelle bats, Konik ponies, cattle, otters, water voles and many more interesting creatures besides the multitudes already mentions in this article. The Nation Trust's official vision is to create a ‘diverse landscape for wildlife and people stretching from Wicken Fen to the edge of Cambridge.’ It is a 100-year plan to cover 53 square kilometres in restored fen and ensure it’s ‘thriving’ with animals. It hopes to promote ‘Ecosystem services’ which have the key aims of locking carbon in the soil, providing recreational activities and habitats for animals. Call it an eco-social project on one of the few remaining fens in England.


Mark Harold, from the National Trust says, ”Wicken is a real illustration of our strategy and desire to create a healthy, natural and beautiful environment that is bigger, better and more joined-up for both wildlife and people.” I found it less wildlife emporium and more field with paths. Maybe there’s a good reason they charge people £7 to enter - it must put a lot of people off. Although considering that public footpaths run through the place, I think you could probably see a lot of it for free by merely circumnavigating the visitors' centre. As a member, I can't feel too cheated.  


Would I visit again? Maybe on a Monday morning, during school time, in the spring. The ponies and the fish were pretty good and I'd like to see them again. I would also like to find myself a newt. I would only look, of course, but I would imagine putting it into a jar and using it to prank my enemies (of which, as a grown woman, I have plenty). With my supernatural powers, I may, or may not, cause said newt to spring into action and attach itself to the ribcage of a terrified person (of whom I am wreaking revenge upon). Fear is a simple minded pleasure. Except to all those who understand my references, I am much more likely to sympathise with the Trunchbull these days.









Hasthags: #wickenfen #cambridgeshire #england #nationaltrust

PLACE NO 27: SPLIT, CROATIA

The Harbour Walk

Split is a city flung onto a piece of rocky coast along the Adriatic sea. It was established by Diocletian, one of the few Roman rulers to drag himself up from the gutter. He worked his way up from a relative nobody to head of the Roman Empire. Leap-frogging from infantryman to commander of the cavalry, to Emperor of Rome.


A friend and I stayed at Solin (his birthplace) in a very well maintained Airbnb, a short bus ride away from Split (his death place). Diocletian was one of the first Roman Emperors to retire (rather than die on the job) although it is said, he was strongly coerced into doing so by the ambitious young Galerius. He lived out his retirement in the palace, tending to his vegetable garden which sounds rather lovely, but I wonder how much of his later years felt like exile.


Diocletian's legacy was arguably something which he could look upon with pride. He is said to have stabilised the Empire by defeating its enemies at the edges of its borders. This sounds quite bloodthirsty to our modern sensibilities, although I'm sure it would have been respected as an act of necessity at the time. And that was nothing compared to some of Diocletian's far darker acts. Some of which were deeply criticised and unsupported even a few millennia ago. Take one winter’s night in Nicomedia….


View From the Boat



Diocletian's Palace

The feast was over and Diocletian sat in his chamber poring over some of his latest correspondence. The merriment hadn’t buoyed his spirits, but it had left him with an overwhelming feeling of contentment, which he was desperate to hold onto. And because of this, he didn’t want to sleep. He feared it would wash away all that he had achieved throughout the day. So he read instead, on the couch, blankets around him, and a fire lit before him.


A chill was in the air at Nicomedia and he was waiting for dawn. Waiting for a time when his psyche could find no more excuses to hold onto consciousness; until the heat of the magisterial sun would burn away the sentimentality of the night; until the voices inside him hushed. But for now, he was content to watch Selene pull the moon across the sky. Content to watch the night; feel it, even, upon his skin.


‘May we speak?’ A voice grated upon his revere. He inclined his head to see Galerius standing upon the threshold of the door. The guards were clearly visible, but never the less, given the hour, Diocletian didn’t feel too comfortable.


‘We may,’ said Diocletian. ‘Although, if you don’t mind being quick - I want to watch the moment Helios harnesses his chariot.’


‘We have time yet,’ Galerius replied, apprising the night. ‘It is a straight forward matter.’ The younger man was a formidable force. He captivated the men with his enthusiam, but he was no Diocletian. Diocletian was filled with the authoritative gravitas and choler of a true ruler.


‘Your requests are rarely simple when examined,’ reapproached the elder with a knowing look.


Galerius cleared his throat and seemed to straighten his shoulders. ‘I think we need to extend our ideology.’


‘I am not an ideological man,’ said Diocletian, a little peeved.


‘I mean the Manichean sentiment,’ said Galerius.


Diocletian frowned. ‘Those heathens at Alexandria?’ he asked, puzzled. Galerius nodded. Diocletian roughly remembered having most of them killed, burning their scrolls and slaving the rest.


‘But this time, we need to rid the Empire of Christians,’ interrupted Galerius.


‘I see,’ said Diocletian, carefully. ‘That's the one with the crucified gentleman and the cannibalistic rituals, isn' it? Well, I am inclined to agree...’ he said, taking a deep breath. ‘But it will cause more trouble than it's worth. Before it begins to salve, I mean, and I don’t have the appetite for it, if I’m quite frank.’


‘When has that ever stopped us,' he hurried. We’re planning for the future not appeasing!'

Hard work isnt something to shirk.'


‘I do not need to be reminded of my own position and responsibilities. Ruling isn’t just a matter of doling out rule - regardless of how much you want it to be - people, you see, have minds of their own. And most are ingrates and short-sighted fools. But even fools can take up arms.’ Diocletian took a breath and stared deep into the fire’s flames. ‘We will ban them from offices of importance and the barracks.’


‘I think it best if I prepare the gallows,’ replied Galerius.


Diocletian snorted in laughter, surprised at how quickly Galerius escalted the issue. ‘They're good slaves; leave them be with their indignities.’ He shifted in his seat around the fire. ‘The Gods need to feel their importance, Galerius, and they can only do that when there are others that show them how high they stand.’


‘They will feel great knowing their enemies are in the afterlife!’ replied the younger.


‘Their enemies?!’ answered Diocletian, outraged. ‘They are our enemies - and but ants to the Gods. I have agreed as much as I wish. Their suffering will be a warning against betraying the rights and traditions of our hallowed pantheon.’


‘But surely they must be destroyed in their entirety!’ cried Galerius. ‘We do not want to risk the anger of the Gods.’


'Let’s ask them then - shall we?’ said Diocletian. He turned around to look out through his window and realised that day had dawned and any semblance of contentment he had once felt was bleached from his very being. ‘To the temple of Apollo,’ he said curtly, nodding his head. ‘Awake the Priests. We’ll do this now.’


Without replying Galerius turned and left the chamber. And after one sad look at the rising sun - Diocletian left also.





Christians of the empire did not fare well under the rule of these two xenophobes. Within the next few weeks the newly built church of Nicomedia was destroyed, all scriptures burnt and assets seized. Seems Apollo was in favour of the destruction of this relatively youthful religion after all.


Following many unnecessarily gruesome murders - the pair then fled the city. Their edicts were largely unsuccessful at the time and did not have much longstanding effect on the popularity of the religion. Diocletian's name, however, became synonymous with evil. In Serbian mythology, Diocletian is even seen as a Satan like figure. One who, apparently, stole the sun from the sky and was only tricked into returning it by St John, a Christian hero.


Here in Spilt, his Palace stands centre stage. Tracking steps underground, we traipse through some of the main halls. Hidden in these cool subterranean spaces are stalls and eager vendors. We follow the tourist trail onwards - looking at art, postcards, bunches of lavender, plates and soap. All things the minimalist in me shuddered to imagine taking home. My souvenirs are tickets, photos and memories only.


It was hot. I’m glad we’d turned up for a wander in the evening, but then so did everyone else; so tired they were of spending the daylight hours under the aircon.


Split was Venitian for many years, and looking at the architecture (especially now I'm home and whilst not having to wipe sweat out of my eyes) I can very much see its influence upon the buildings. The ruins were a play of light and dark upon small alleyways and wide squares, and it very much reminded me of the watery playground of Venice. It felt safe, even if it was just too hot to commit any crimes.


I spotted a solitary Roman soldier haunting the streets, out of time, but looking to hustle some kunas from tourists. Was he Diocletian in his youth?




#split #croatia #europe #summer

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