I can read!

aaaaaaaaThe last few books I’ve read I haven’t really enjoyed and I was starting to think I wouldn’t ever enjoy reading again. But I just finished reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and I completely loved it and read it in next to no time. I’ve never read anything by him before and bought it at random but it’s absolutely brilliant.

The theme is how history and memory can vary according to the person doing the remembering. During the course of the book, the main character learns that lots of (supposed) facts about himself and the people he has encountered in his life are actually based on false memory, mistakes or secrets. The book has serious points to make but it’s also a great mystery. This is the kind of mystery I like; not a contrived puzzle with a cast of cardboard characters  from which you have to guess who did the murder, but a finely observed, multi-layered psychological study.

I love this book because it’s compelling, because it’s fun, but mostly because it reminded me that I really do like to read after all.

 

 

Whatever Happened to Brookside?

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Remember TV soap Brookside? It was the first soap to be shot entirely on location. It got axed from Channel Four a few years ago but the set remains. I took these photos there today.

DSCN0564Brookside  began on the launch night of Channel 4 on 2 November 1982, and ran for 21 years until 4 November 2003. The series was produced by Mersey Television and it was conceived by Phil Redmond. It became very successful for a number of years and is notable for its tackling of realistic and socially challenging storylines. It was at its most popular in the 1980s and the early 1990s.

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The above shot shows what was the security post which used to prevent the public entering the set, now abandoned and boarded up. When Brookside was removed from prime-time Channel 4, Mersey Television immediately started using some of the houses on Brookside Close in its other shows Hollyoaks and Grange Hill. Following the sale of Mersey Television to All3Media in 2005, all the properties on Brookside Close became surplus to requirements so all the Hollyoaks characters based at this set quickly transferred to new homes at Mersey Television’s Childwall site. The entire set was sold to a developer who then stripped, gutted and attempted to rebuild the entire interior of each of the 13 houses before making them available for sale to the public in January 2007. The houses were put up for sale at ridiculously high asking prices and in a semi-finished condition. They did not sell and the developer went into receivership soon after. The set then became neglected and fell into decay. Over a year later in February 2008, it was revealed by the auctioneers SHM Smith Hodgkinson that they would be taking offers for the 13 houses, considering bids in the region of £2 million.

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In 2008, Brookside Close was once again used as a production set; a local production company was given special permission to use the Close, but this time for a low-budget horror film called Salvage. This was the last time the famous houses of Brookside Close were ever used as a set for a TV or film production.

It was then reported in November 2008 that the 13 properties were to be auctioned off collectively. There was speculation at this time that the series may be resurrected as Dean Sullivan (who played Jimmy Corkhill) had himself attempted to purchase the Close to revive Brookside. However, an unnamed Liverpool-based buyer purchased all 13 properties on 17 December 2008 for although by this time, the Close was in a state of disrepair and once again, speculation mounted as to what would happen to the disintegrating houses of Brookside Close.

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Eventually, in February 2011, and after years of building work, Brookside Close was finally revived and returned to its former glory. Each house was restored from what was technically an individual film set, to a real home, fit for real-life occupancy. Now aligned and fully integrated into the housing estate that has always surrounded it, ‘Brookside Close’ is now simply Brookside (odd numbers: 43–67) and real residents now occupy the houses. It is therefore highly unlikely that one of the UK’s most famous housing estates will ever be used in a film or TV production again.

Looking at the place today, it brings back memories of when I used to watch the show in the mid-eighties. At that time, it was a really good, well-written drama and it was painful to watch it decline into a third-rate teen soap over subsequent years. Phil Redmond did nothing to save the show from terminal decline, in fact he helped to push it over the cliff of extinction by doing what he always does in TV drama and opting for cheap explosions, sensationalism and ratings-chasing storylines disguised as social commentary. He has to be one of the most overrated TV writers in history. At least the place has now been saved from demolition and is home to real people as opposed to ludicrous, cardboard versions.

Something unusual for your living room?

aaaaaHow about buying one of these sculptures for your living room? Sculptor, Ron Mueck, has a new show of his huge hyperreal sculptures opening at Paris’sFondation Cartier pour l’art contemporainon April 16. Before moving into fine art, Mueck was a puppeteer and model maker for TV and films such as The Storyteller and Labyrinth. In fact, he was the voice of Ludo in it.

In_Bed_by_Ron_MueckThe above photo shows In Bed. Mueck’s sculptures faithfully reproduce the minute detail of the human body, but play with scale to produce disconcertingly jarring visual images. His five metre high sculpture Boy 1999 was a feature in the Millennium Dome; today it sits as the centrepiece in the foyer off the Danish Contemporary Art Museum in Aarhus.

aaaab

Beeston.

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It’s few years since I’ve been to this place, not much known about outside Cheshire.  It’s a former Royal castle built on a  rocky sandstone crag above the Cheshire Plain. It was built in the 1220s by Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, (1170–1232) on his return from the Crusades. In 1237, Henry III took over the castle and it was kept in good repair until the 16th century, when it was considered to be of no further military use.  It was partly demolished in 1646 in accordance with Cromwell’s destruction order and during the 18th century the site was used as a quarry.

 

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DSCN0510It’s thought that treasure belonging to Richard II lies undiscovered in the castle grounds but the many searches that have been carried out have failed to find any trace of it. The castle is now in ruins. The walls of the outer bailey, and the walls, gatehouse of the inner bailey have been separately designated by English Heritage as Grade I listed buildings. It’s also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Photos don’t really capture it but the view from the top is amazing. If you survive the climb.

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My Complaints about The Complaints

rankinI haven’t written for a while. I’ve been struggling to find stuff I wanted to write about. I suppose everyone goes through spells like this (if so, please write and tell me about it!). It’s not as though there’s been a shortage of things happening, more like I haven’t been able to figure out what I wanted to say about those things. Anyway, I’m back now (I think) and I’m going to try to start doing regular posts again from this week.

I’ve been struggling to read these last few months too. Yesterday I finished The Complaints by Ian Rankin (pictured above) and I have to say I really struggled with that too. I don’t think it was Ian Rankin’s work I was struggling with (I know he’s a really good writer) but maybe the struggle was with the genre. I’m not a huge crime fan and that which I do like is the more psychological stuff (I’m trying to write one at the moment actually). The Complaints is a bit external for me (what the hell does that mean?!). I mean, there’s lots of description of external events; ‘he ran his hands through his hair’, ‘he put the kettle on to boil’, ‘he sat opposite her and gazed out of the window’ …that kind of thing. There’s less interior life to the characters than I would have liked. This kind of crime novel doesn’t set out to portray its characters’ interior lives much though, it’s not the point of them, so I’m really criticising the book for not being a different kind of book which is a stupid thing to do. I told you I’ve been struggling.

The parts of the book I liked were the set-up (great idea to have two cops, both under suspicion, both suspicious of each other); the descriptions of the city (atmospheric and pithy); the dialogue (realistic and clever, mostly). The parts about the book I didn’t like were the characters (uninspiring and a bit clunky); the plot (lost my way half way through and found myself reading a lot of names of people I didn’t know and didn’t want to know); the dialogue (I know I mentioned that as a positive but the bits that weren’t good were cheesy and felt like they’d come from a cheap movie). I was at least able to read this without comparing it to the Rebus books because I’ve never read any. I read this after failing to finish a few really heavy books including Ulysses (about the third time I’ve started this one!) and wanted a fairly easy, fun read. I didn’t find it easy or fun.

I’ve loved reading all my life so why why why am I suddenly struggling to enjoy it?! What can I read to get back some energy and enthusiasm?!