Thursday, 30 April 2015

Return to Flight

Space Lectures event with Colonel Eileen Collins, Pontefract. April 2015.

Once more Mr Norfolkbookworm and I did battle with the road network linking Norfolk to Yorkshire for the chance to meet another astronaut.  Unlike previous events this one was with a much more recent space flier and indeed the first female Space Shuttle pilot, and later commander.

For me this was as exciting as meeting the Apollo era astronauts. I'm a child of the shuttle era and did see the launch of STS-123 in March 2008.  Sadly this wasn't Col. Collins' flight but the experience will stay with me forever.

We went to the dinner on the Friday night and this was a nice chance to catch up with the people we've met at other events and to help fund raise for more events in the future but the really exciting thing for me is the Saturday lecture.

We were spoiled this time as Col. Collins talked for well over an hour, mainly about her flight as the commander of the first space flight after the Columbia accident.  The talk, and I can't call it a lecture because despite an audience of 300+ it did just feel like a cosy chat, included photos, videos and anecdotes. It was pitched just right for the audience with it being neither too technical nor too basic.

After the talk there was a chance for audience questions and again I was impressed with the thoroughness and honesty of the answers given.  Space sickness is often dismissed by astronauts but Collins admitted to 'stomach awareness' on her first flight and that she took medication to avoid this on her subsequent one.

I was lucky enough to ask a questions and it was along the lines of will there ever be an all female crew, and if it would be a good idea.  The answer was that there certainly is no reason why there shouldn't be (and that the female astronauts did play 'fantasy crews' where they made them all female) but that personally Collins would not want to be part of it.  Her reasons were two fold - she wouldn't want the media pressure that such an event would generate and also the fact that if anything (however small) went wrong it would always be blamed on the sex of the crew.

This last point was illustrated with an story from Collins' first flight - on which she was the pilot - a booster returned to earth after being jettisoned from the External Tank and hit a wave wrong as it splashed down which damaged it.  Although this had nothing at all to do with anything that anyone on the Shuttle could have done it was still jokingly put down to having a woman driver.

Now I am sure that this was just lighthearted banter but for me it highlights just how far women still have to come in every field of work. Again I appreciated Collins' honest answer.

After the talk we waited to get Collin's autograph and now I have another cherished piece of space memorabilia as Eileen  Collins signed my own photo of a space shuttle launch.

(this is an edited photo of a photo hence the poor quality)

We'll be back in Pontefract in October as Jim Lovell of Apollo 8 and 13 fame will be the guest speaker, but before then we've also got tickets to meet Alexi Leonov - the first man to complete a space walk.  It is shaping up to be another out of this world year!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Catching up on some reading thoughts

Netgalley short reviews

While I have been studying hard this semester I have also taken some down time and read quite a few books thanks to Netgalley's proof system.  I read a lot of these a while ago and so they are simple reviews, nothing in depth but they should hopefully give a flavour of the book.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
This was another book about an older person undertaking an epic journey, this time Etta is walking across Canada to see the sea.
I'm afraid that this one didn't make much of an impression on me, it just felt like more of the same. Nothing wrong with the book and the back story was interesting, just a bit 'meh.'

Station Eleven - Emily Mandel
A book set in Canada with a Shakespearean plot plus a world rebuilding after an devastating 'flu outbreak. This had a lot of elements that I really liked, and I can see why there is so much positive buzz surrounding it, however I spotted the 'twist' really early on which surprised me and disappointed me slightly.  I will try more of Mandel's books and this was an interesting read overall.

Hausfrau - Jill Alexander Essbaum
This was another book that had lots of buzz surrounding it and I really liked it.  It wasn't at all what I was expecting and it really was refreshing to read a book that was so different. Once more I spotted how it would end, just not how and I do recommend the book - be warned however as it is a little (!) bit racy at times.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes - Anna McPartlin
An unashamed weepy, chick lit novel and perfect for those who like Marian Keyes.  You will need tissues.

Laughter in Ancient Rome - Mary Beard
A fun read about what the Romans found funny, an accessible yet academic look and as to be expected from Beard stresses that what survives is from the elite, male class and we still don't know much about women and lower classes found funny.

Disclaimer - Renee Knight
This is a page turning thriller that like the best scary book has a very realistic setting.  At the front of a book there is usually a disclaimer that the characters and actions included are fiction...this time the book stresses that the story is real. The book also appears mysteriously on Catherine's bedside table. I'm not going to talk about the plot anymore as anything could be construed as a spoiler and I surprised myself by really enjoying the book as it really isn't my usual type of story at all.

The Truth According to Us - Annie Barrows
A few years ago the book Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society burst into the book world and quickly became one of my favourite books of all time.  The surviving author of that book has now written her first novel and happily I think it is just as good.  It is set in West Virginia during the Depression and is written so visually that I thought I was there in the oppressive summer heat. The plot revolves around the research undertaken for a new town history and slowly the truth unravels...brilliant reserve it from your local library now ready for when it is published in June.

The Little Paris Bookshop - Nina George (translated by Simon Pare)
I loved this book, another whimsical French novel.  Jean Purdue runs a bookshop on a barge in Paris but when he discovers that an incident in his past wasn't quite what he thought he pulls his moorings and, along with an author suffering from writer's block, sets sail for the South of France.  It is perhaps a bit far fetched at times but is wonderful escapism, and as Jean calls himself a book doctor I was instantly smitten - after all we run this service at the library!

The Oregon Trail - Rinker Buck
I'm only half way through this but I'm finding it hard to put down.  Rinker writes very much like Bill Bryson and on finding out a little about the Oregon Trail decides to recreate the epic waggon journeys of the 18th century.  Along with his brother he sets out in a covered waggon with three mules to travel 2000+ miles.  The book is a mixture of history, humour and autobiography and so far the balance is perfect. As a fan of the Little House on the Prairie series of books, and having visited some of the frontier towns in the USA,  finding out more about the journey behind the westward expansion is great.  I hope the second half is as good.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The French do it again...

Book Review:
George's Grand Tour - Caroline Vermalle (translator Anna Aitken)

I won this in a competition on Twitter but there was no obligation to review the book, however after finishing it I knew I just had t o share this book with everyone - in fact my sister already has the physical copy!

It starts like so many books currently, with an old man planning an adventure that will take him away from home and fussing family.  This time George and his friend Charles are going to follow the course of the Tour de France - not on bikes, they are over 70 after all - but by car.  They are going to take their time, seeing all of the sights that the commentators mention when the cyclists whizz by.

George's escape is almost thwarted when his estranged granddaughter gets in touch but thanks to the mobile phone all is not lost.

The account of the hit and miss nature of hotels when you are on the road really stuck a chord with me and the descriptions of food made me salivate and work out when we can have a trip to Normandy and Brittany.

This is another book from the Gallic Press and I think that they really have a talent for picking books that are beautiful, whimsical and with real heart. I haven't yet read one from them that I didn't like.

I'm not going to say any more about this book as I want everyone to discover it like I did, the twists weren't what I expected at all.  My one word of advice - possible don't read this on a crowded train...

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Eleven

Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre, London. April 2015.

Apologies for the radio silence - April has been an important study month with two essays to research and write.  I've broken the back of them now and so time to catch up on other areas!

Way back at the start of the month a friend and I went to London on a whim to see Shakespeare in Love. For me it was a recommended play/film for my Shakespeare's Legacy course and my friend is also studying Shakespeare currently.

This was a delightful way to spend the afternoon, the play followed the film throughout and now that I have spent a few years studying the Bard I found it a lot funnier than I recall. In fact at a couple of points my friend and I found ourselves laughing at lines that others in the audience didn't...

The set for this play was magnificent and very clever as it moved back and forth to show the different locations in which the action takes place.  Some of my favourite parts were very simple, for instance when Shakespeare is in the row boat cast members dip hands in and out of buckets of water to create the sound effects.  The use of the actors to move the scenery was very well done, and I liked the way that most of them appeared on stage throughout. It did remind me in someways of Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre as staged in the two theatres at the Globe but was still modern. It mixed the styles very well.

Sadly this play closed in the middle of April but I hear rumours that it will be going on tour and if it does then I do recommend trying to see it.  It is a fun romp that leaves you with a smile and sometimes that is just what you want from a play. This is the first film-to-play show that I've seen and I think that it worked very well, I do wonder if a lot of this is due to the fact that Tom Stoppard (renowned playwright) wrote the script to the film.

There is also an adorable dog in the play who steals the show entirely in the couple of scenes he appears in - although I'm not sure he deserved the biggest cheer at the end!