What’s New for the 12th of February: Denise’s favourite reading space, a science-fiction classic, the real Dracula, music from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, more gamelan, Patrick’s breakfast and other matters

In the bleak midwinter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, Long ago. — Christina Rossetti

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Ahhh there you are. Have some tea, it’s quite excellent as it always is here at Kinrowan Hall.

That lovely piece being played right now is the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s ‘Numbers 1 – 4’ from their performance at the Glastonbury Festival on the 26th of June, 1994. Good music along with a cup of freshly brewed tea, lapsang souchong to be precise, as it’s my favourite right now, with a splash of cream but no sugar, is the proper way for me to get started in the morning.

Lest I forget, I want to tell you about a skulk, a group of foxes, I saw yesterday down by the copse where Gus, our much more than just Estate Head Gardener, feeds the Estate foxes. I see that Blaze, the one that lost his eye in a fight and has a vivid white scar on his side where an owl clawed him, is consuming a rabbit Gus left. Must be at least his tenth Winter, a good run for a fox even with the care that Gus gives them.

Now why don’t you get a cup of that tea while I go back to finishing this Edition? I’m sure you’ll find much of interest in it.

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Cat leads off a review in this way: ‘If you started listening to audiobooks over the past ten or so years, considered yourself to be extremely lucky as you’re living in a true Golden Age where narration, production, and ease of useless is extremely good. But long ago, none of that was something you could take as a given as it most decidedly wasn’t.’ Now read his review of Roger Zelazny’s Isle of Dead to see if this older audiobook transcended these limitations.

Though Denise and Blodeuwedd continue to rage The War Of Best Seat (see our What Not below for the details on this), Denise still managed to take a look at the newest book from Ann Brashares, The Whole Thing Together.  Brashares may be known as the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but there is plenty to love about this new book as well.  While Denise couldn’t walk away without a minor quibble (she is a quibbler after all), “it socked me right in the heart and I couldn’t put it down. I’m betting you won’t be able to either.”

The manor house and the woods that surround that A.A. Milne lived in as that inspired the tales of Pooh and friends is for sale for a staggering number of pounds, but for considerably less you can read  The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel by him that gets a look-see by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’

Robert brings us two books by Edgar Pangborn, one of science-fiction’s little-known greats. First, a look at Davy, which Robert sums up simply: ‘It’s a brilliant book, racy, pungent, tremendously affecting, and totally captivating, a masterpiece by one of science fiction’s most original and singular voices.’`

Next, somewhat less rollicking but equally substantial, is A Mirror For Observers: ‘Edgar Pangborn was one of a small handful of science-fiction writers of the 1950s and early 60s who tackled the big questions at a time when the genre was still largely pulp. Like so many of his colleagues, he was a satirist — the genre seems to lend itself particularly well to social commentary — who approached his subject, the human condition, from many angles.’

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Robert takes a look at a graphic novel that purports to be history, Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula: ‘The graphic novel Vlad the Impaler, by Sid Jacobson with art by Ernie Colón, is an attempt to relate the story of Vlad’s amazingly short career as ruler of Wallachia — he only occupied the throne at intervals between 1456 and 1462.’

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Cat has for us a film perfectly suited for Winter viewing: ‘I don’t do movie theatres for various reasons including audiences that chatter too much and the smell of that weird stuff that’s not really butter. And it is that I’m watching an animated film released several Christmas seasons past called Rise of The Guardians which features a Russian Father Christmas, an Australia Easter Bunny (complete with boomerang), The Sandman, and a really cut in a fey female Tooth Fairy. All Guardians of the hopes, wishes and dreams of children everywhere.’

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One of the questions we’ve asked frequently to staff and visitors alike is what they like for breakfast. Here’s Patrick O’Donnell answer in which he says varies his breakfast very little ’round the year: ‘Same as my summertime one: a few thick slices of bacon, a few nice sausage links, one or two eggs sunny-side up with the yellow runny but the white firm, some baked beans, some stewed tomatoes, some mushrooms, perhaps some hashbrowns, and a few thick slices of buttered toast. Finish it all off with some black coffee strong enough to make your toes curl and perhaps, if there’s room, something sweet. And of course, there’s always second breakfast, so leave room for that. . . .’

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Gary admits that he’s ‘a little embarrassed to say that Michael Chapman’s new album 50 is my first exposure to this nonpariel British guitarist, singer and songwriter. After all, he gets name-checked alongside such greats as Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, and the title of this album commemorates his 50 years as a touring musician whose work has crossed, or rather eschewed, genres.’ Now read his review for all the details on this artist and his album.

Up for a tasty bit of roots music? If so, this recording should suit you just fine: ‘If you like American roots music, you’ll love Rayna Gellert’s Workin’s Too Hard. Listen to this album, and watch for her at a festival near you.’

We promised you music by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra — which we’ve provided, not only above but as our coda for today — but we also thought you might like a bit more information. First, Robert has a look at what we’ll take as the definitive history of the group — since it’s the only history of the group: ‘The Penguin Café Orchestra: A History is just that (although arguably it is as much a history of Simon Jeffes, but Jeffes and the Orchestra are so inextricably intertwined that I’m not prepared to argue the matter).’

He follows up with the orchestra’s Concert Program: ‘I really, really hate it when my arsenal of comparisons, parallels, antecedents and influences doesn’t work. It is one of my chief means, as a reviewer, of giving my audience a handle, an entrée, so to speak, into something that may be new and more or less foreign to their experience. . . . Imagine my discomfiture when faced with Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Concert Program.’

And, while it may seem quite a departure, Robert has another installment — or two — in the series Gamelan of Central Java, these titled “Pangkur I” and “Pangkur II”: ‘“Pangkur” denotes a kind of music in the Javanese classical canon that can take many forms — sung poetry, court dances, and many other idioms — and can be performed in either slendro or pelog scales. It is perhaps the most versatile and unpredictable form to come out of the Javanese classical tradition.’

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Let’s have a look at a favourite reading space for our What Not this time as Denise has a small charmer of a spot as she alluded to her book review note above: ‘My favorite spot to read is a tiny rounded nook that’s just off the passage between the kitchen and the library. I sit on a large, overstuffed cushion on the floor, where I battle for supremacy with Blodeuwedd, who has decided that since I found her, I’m responsible for her . . . and her comfort.

We usually find a happy compromise. Blod usually sits in the middle of the cushion, and all the mathematical formulas in the world couldn’t find the dead center of that cushion with more accuracy. After she gets comfy, I pack myself tightly underneath the little stained-glass window and lean myself back on the cool stone wall, which is a nice counterpoint to the heat of the kitchen.

Cracking the window a bit gives a nice breeze and plenty of light for daytime reading. Being near the kitchen has its pluses and minuses; the kitchen staff often peek in and ask me to taste new recipes if they know I’m about. I keep hoping they’ll ask for my opinion of the wild mushroom and barley stew again, but the haggis omelet flambe was something even Blod was glad to see the back of.’

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Let’s finish off with another piece from their performance on that day at Glastonbury. ‘Organum’ like the ‘Numbers 1 – 4’ can be found on Concert Program, their 1995 album, which is reviewed above.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
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