As everything moves to being online, it was only a matter of time: /dev/null as a service (and the prices look reasonable too…)

Sakhalin Island

I’m currently reading: Sakhalin Island by Антон Павлович Чехов 📚

I first heard of “Sakhalin Island” while reading Haruki Murakami’s excellent “1Q84”. For reasons that I’m still not clear about, Tengo reads an extract from Chekhov’s book to Fuka-Eri when she wants to be read to in bed. Murakami quotes an extended section about the Gilyak, the indigenous ethnic people from the North of the island.

I found the description of the Gilyak fascinating and so decided to dig out the Chekhov travelogue. I found a cheap Kindle edition which I dip into from time to time, whenever I get bored with reading fiction. Chekhov describes his journey in 1890 from European Russia, across the continent to Sakhalin Island, which is on Russia’s East coast, North of Japan.

At that time Sakhalin was a penal colony and the details of the journey across Russia, the conditions on the island, and the stories of the people he met paints a detailed picture of Siberia and the Russian Far East.

About 40% of the English translation is footnotes - both Chekhov’s and extensive notes by the translator. The latter are really interesting, providing a lot of background which would have been known to the original Russian readership. Most of the pages have multiple footnotes.

Unfortunately this ebook edition was cheap, because the formatters didn’t bother to link the footnote markers in the text to the footnotes - I can see it would have been a long and tedious job. As a result I either have to juggle bookmarks so that I can jump backwards and forwards between the main text and footnotes - or have the book open on two Kindles - one showing the main text and the other the associated footnotes. But it is well worth the effort.

Just watched the Montalbano episode “The Patience of the Spider” and in one of the scenes there is a screened off spiral staircase. I’m sure the same staircase turned up in the “Young Montalbano” - or are they common in Sicily?

“In another trouser leg, in another pair of trousers, in a different shop on a different planet” An excellent article in Discworld Monthly by Rachel Anthony-Rowlands gives the low-down on “The Watch” TV adaption.

Why I won't be watching "The Watch"

I’ve just seen the first trailers for “The Watch” and I have issues…

I first heard about “The Watch” from a post on Instagram by the script writer, Simon Allen, who thanked more than sixty people involved in the production, but somehow forgot to mention Terry Pratchett. Now I see why… this is not the City Watch we know and love. As Rhianna Pratchett says it shares no DNA with her father’s Watch.

For me the real joy of the City Watch is the characters, and the trailers suggest that the TV series is only paying lip service to the books by reusing the names without any understanding as to who the characters are. For example, one of the key attributes of Carrot is his enormous strength - he is described as “six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders”. He is not slim - he has the physique of a dwarf… but on a rather larger scale.

The raison d’être for Lady Sybil Ramikin is that she isn’t an action hero, but a rather substantial wagnerian aristocrat more interested in dragon breeding than… well, anything really. Casting a slim, glamorous actress as Lady Sybil entirely misses the point and the joy of the character.

To be fair I don’t think anyone could make a decent live action version of the City Watch books. Like Dickens, a good part of the pleasure of Sir Terry’s books is the language used, the turns of phrase, and the subtle allusions that will never translate to a screen of any size. For many a Discworld fan, who like me, have lived with the inhabitants of Pseudopolis Yard for three decades, any attempt to bring Ankh-Morpork to life is always going to be a disappointment compared with the great city in their mind’s eye. 📚

The Visitor

A Futuro House, looking like a flying saucer on the roof of a building

If you are familiar with the roof tops around Kings Cross, London, you may have noticed the recent arrival of a visitor. In September 2015 a light blue flying saucer appeared on the roof of Central Saint Martins, just to the North of Kings Cross. This mysterious craft is actually a “Futuro House”, designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s. There were less than a hundred built, and only 57 now survive – most in the USA, South Africa and Australia, a couple in Antartica, and just this one in the UK.

This Futuro house, dubbed “Futuro 22” is owned by artist Craig Barnes. He first saw a Futuro as a child in South Africa and he dreamed of owning one. In 2013 an unexpected chain of events led to Barnes buying that specific Futuro that had first inspired him. It was shipped to the UK and was stored in a former World War II bomb factory before being restored and installed in an art gallery in Mile End for the “Revolver II” exhibition. Nine months later it was rebuilt at Kings Cross for a year’s visit at the University of the Arts London college.

That visit has been extended until the Summer of 2017 and once a month Craig Barnes gives a guided tour – which always quickly sell out. Visit the “Futuro 22” website for a look at the amazing 1960s sci-fi interior and to book the tour. It is also worth visiting the Futuro House website which has details and photos of nearly all the remaining Futuro Houses.

There is also an excellent Channel 4 documentary about the restoration of Futuro 22 and its installation at Mile End available online.