Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The History of English in 10 minutes

Where did the phrase ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ come from? And when did scientists finally get round to naming sexual body parts? Voiced by Clive Anderson, this entertaining romp through 'The History of English' squeezes 1600 years of history into 10 one-minute bites, uncovering the sources of English words and phrases from Shakespeare and the King James Bible to America and the Internet. Bursting with fascinating facts, the series looks at how English grew from a small tongue into a major global language before reflecting on the future of English in the 21st century.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thrillers: Blood Sport by Dick Francis

After retiring in 1957 from a successful career as a jockey, then working for a spell as a racing journalists, Dick Francis started writing thriller novels, making the most of his knowledge of the world of horse racing to provide an intriguing background for his his fast-paced mysteries.
In Blood Sport, the hero figure is Gene Hawkins, a man whose qualifications for this position is that while he seems ordinary, even nondescript, he also happens to be an intelligence agent who is suffering from a suicidal frame of mind. His employer, Keeble, invites him for a day out on the river, only to introduce him to Dave Teiler, millionaire racehorse owner, whose prize stallion Chrysalis disappeared three weeks earlier. A'specialist in arranging accidents' himself, Gene becomes interested in helping track down the horse when he saves Teiler's life in a boating accident which Gene recognizes as a murder attempt. The story moves to America and the novel is packed with scenes of intrigue and suspense, finally leading up to murder.
Like most of Francis' many novels, Blood Sport uses horse racing as a vehicle for the mystery. The main characters may not necessarily be directly involved with the turf itself, but just have some indirect interest - Gene, for example, only has the merest connection with racing through his father, who was a trainer.

Memoirs: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This little gem is a collection of letters between struggling New York writer Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks and Co. booksellers at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. Hanff first writes to Marks and Co. after she sees their ad in the Saturday Review of Literarture in 1949, thus beginning a twenty-year 'pen friendship'. Their correspodence starts off in a businesslike manner, addressing each other as 'Gentleman' and 'Dear Madam'. However, Hanff's brashness and informality soon has Doul to 'Dear Helene'.
As the book progresses, we learn about Hanff through her distinctive taste in English literature. At first her feistiness is somewhat intimidating, but she soon reveals a romantic, funny and very generous personality. When she discovers that the British are still on post-war rationing, Hanff sends gifts of food packages, not only to Doel but to his family and the rest of his staff. They in turn send her beautiful rare first editions.

Helene hanff was immeasurably enriched by her friendship with Frank Doel. He became a personal link to the London of her beloved authors that she would only ever dreamed about. And, in turn, her goodwill, humour and glimpses of New York life added sparkle to Frank's daily routine.
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