Finally got to the end of Simon Schama's A History of Britain volume 3: The Fate of Empire 1776-2001.
Very disappointing: far worse than the earlier two volumes. The first half is a copiously dull account of Victorian social history: chartists, suffragettes and so on. Flickers into life with an excellent account of the Empire in India: provides a useful counterpoint to Niall Ferguson et al by pointing out the lack of genuine free trade in spite of the rhetoric, with tariffs and protectionism propping up British industry. Also has some useful stuff on the steady decline of British industry through the whole course of the 20th century, with only limited and partial reversals. The feels a little inconsistent with the final sections which attack Thatcher and her successors for abandoning BRitish industry and hence the North: according to Schama it had already been dying for a century, which makes it hard to see Thatcher as having done much more than apply a spot of polish to the coffin lid. Similarly, his tying together of the decline of British industry and the decline of the British empire as part of a grand inevitability seems pretty weak. If protectionism preserved UK industrial prosperity, and Imperial muscle preserved protectionism; why should the cycle have ever ended?
Book gets a bit back on track in the mid 20th century, but only by semi-abandoning history and concentrating on twin biographies of George Orwell and Winston Churchill, thus sidestepping the issue that we already know most of the stuff that could plausibly be covered in a half-volume overview.
Recommendation: read the excellent first two volumes in this history: give the final volume a miss. Spoiler: Hitler dies.
What I'm Reading 2
Cloud Atlas. Finally got to the end of that after having been strongly tempted to quit. It's the one that's divided into a series of linked novellas: you get the first half of each one, then a cliffhanger, then the first half of the next where at some point a character will read the earlier one. Pretty gimmicky, and it makes the first half a real slog, especially since some of the stories are pretty weak, and especially especially since two of the first three are very poor (see earlier remarks.)
Things do get better though, and you can pretty much freewheel down the second half of the book. The endings are pretty satisfactory, neither too predictable nor too unlikely. The links are fairly subtle though: thematic and with a few shared details. There is no really clever stuff with crucial plot points interlocking between the stories. The SF-y stories are pretty decent, though mostly covering very familiar territory: the consumerist-capitalist dystopia is pretty neatly done and plotted, and I suppose you can make a case that you can never have enough consumerist dystopias since that's where we seem to be heading, but not sure the world needs another story of post-apocalyptic barbarism.
So is it worth it? To be honest, not really. His genre understanding is generally a little sketchy, and as a result the stories are a bit too clumsy for it to really be worth the ascent. If you get stuck mid-way, I'd recommend turning to the back and just finishing off the appropriate stories.
What I'm Watching
TV shows. I think with season 5 the Shield has pretty much jumped the shark: too many coincidences. "Where have we seen this before?" asks Kavanagh as Vic ends up involved in yet another gangland hit. That would be seasons 1 to 4, John. Also, how many serial killers can Dutch track down single-handed without getting massive media attention, a Congressional medal and preferably a ticker-tape parade. By now his record's got to be better than the whole frigging FBI. Still a bit addictive though. Forest Whitaker is superb as ever as Kavanagh though. Abd would be interesting to see how Claudette does as captain...
Also watched the first three episodes of Blake's 7, something I never got into the first time around. More serious and pretentious than other stuff. Heh, silly Seventies obsessions: a future state where everyone's under constant surveillance and happy pills are doled out to keep everyone docile. Um, no wait, that happened.
As usual, the special effects are forgivable: it's the hammy acting and amateurishly choreographed fight scenes that are more embarrassing. Still, has a pretty decent script and a fairly progress-making plot. Seems strikingly modern the way semi-self-contained plots lead on through an evolving storyline, at least so far. Might fall back into planet-of-the-week later.
Also watched a few of the Private Snafu WW2 military cartoons. Gives an interesting glimpse into what a parallel universe where the Hays code never censored cinema might have been like: strange to see bare breasts appearing for comedy value in a Looney Tunes toon. Read something a while back about how 40's pop culture eroticized impossibly long legs rather than impossibly large and spherical breasts: on the basis of this that might have largely been due to the Hays code, which at least allowed women to have legs.
Went up to see the parents for a few days.
Had a walk through a patch of green space where I used to walk the dog when I was a kid. Changed a lot: back then a large part of it was fenced off, occasionally used for grazing sheep. It's not turned into semi-forest, with 20-foot trees where there used to be grass. Pretty cool to see nature in action: feels somewhat post-apocalyptic.
Operation Don't Get Fatter
So, a few days with my parents.
Food eaten Sunday: steak and potatoes (both fried), scotch egg and sandwich with cheese, strawberry trifle, choc biscuit, 1 beer.
Food eaten Monday. Breakfast 2 buttered croissants. Lunch roast lamb, roast potatoes, sweet potato, butternut squash, courgettes, parsnip, gravy, rice pudding. Tea: apricot cream cake. Supper: bread, scotch egg, ham, pate, cherry tomatoes. 3 Profiteroles. Snacks: 2 squares choc, Bombay mix. 2 glasses wine, 1 beer, 2 brandy.
Food eaten Tuesday. Breakfast: 3 slices toast, scrambled egg. 3 sausages, fried tomato, apricot sponge cake
More than ever realizing there's no way I could lose weight if I didn't live alone. If there is high-calorie food around I will eat it. I don't even have to be pressured, coaxed or tempted: it just has to be there.
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