Short stories read in December

Well, short stories and a book of poetry – it was quite short so I’ve included it here.

The really really good. I don’t often give five stars to short stories but there were some real treats this month.

Dr Bones and the Christmas Wish by Emma Jameson***** I love this mystery series set in a Cornish village at the beginning of WWII. Dr Benjamin Bones is a wonderful ‘hero’ and his relationships with his neighbours and patients plus a budding romance with Lady Juliet are delightful. The author is clearly not British and there are occasional anachronisms as a result, but the stories are fascinating and heart warming and the style is assured.

Goldilocks and the Bear by Clare London***** The story of Gil, Bruin and the Christmas Tree. How do you get a large Christmas tree through a narrow door? The story is light hearted fun with lovely references to the fairy tale and plenty of innuendos for grown ups – a kind of textual pantomime. It brightened my day.

The White Gods by Lawrence Osborne ***** This story in the Christmas Special of New Statesman absolutely hooked me. A wealthy American family tour Mongolia with guides, and inadvertently disturb a grave. To say any more would be to give spoilers and I really hope some of you might be able to find it somewhere.

Frost at Midnight by Elin Gregory***** A gorgeous look at Dafydd and Colin sharing a farm in the Welsh countryside. It has Dafydd attending midnight mass, and there is snow in the hills. The perfect story for Christmas.

The good. This is my default setting for short stories as a rule.

Gifts for the Season edited by RJ Scott **** This collection had some really gorgeous stories but some were set in series I hadn’t read and I quickly learnt to avoid those. Anthologies are always difficult to grade as they inevitably have at least some content that is not to this reader’s taste. The profits go to The Trevor Project and the book is worth buying for all the lovely standalones, and because this is a worthwhile charity.

Katy by Bryan Washington**** This story appeared in the Guardian on 20th December. The narrator moves back to Katy (a town) to help his friend open a bakery. It’s a very sweet mm story that shows how people can be wrong about events in the past, and that there’s always hope for the future. It pleased me because it appeared in mainstream media with no hint of apology or explanation for its inclusion.

The readable – well written but ultimately boring to me.

A Christmas Intervention by Mara Ismine *** This was a very readable story but for my tastes there was too much explicit sex, especially for a short piece. If you like ‘steamy’ mm romance, you’d enjoy it because it’s well written.

Boxing Day 1975 by Drew Payne *** This can be found in Stories written on lined paper. It’s quite short and the use of Rashomon style is clever but didn’t go far enough. Drew isn’t afraid to experiment: Rashomon style uses more than one narrator for the same event and the reader has to make up their own mind about reliability. The story suggests one of the characters is outed as gay, and looks at family reactions but I would have preferred some kind of follow-up using the same technique.

 Travelling Light edited by A Elliott-Cannon and Neil Adams *** This is a book of poems I unearthed from one of our boxes and couldn’t remember having read. I’m not surprised. It’s a collection of semi-humorous poems by a variety of authors and the standards are very varied too. The good ones can be found in other anthologies.

And the ones I didn’t like

Handspun by Charlie Descoteaux** This is very short and is mostly explicit sex so although the writing is technically good I didn’t enjoy it at all.

Difficult Times by Adrian Tchaikovsky** A sci fi tale about a pop group called Cosmic Strings. It appeared in the New Scientist Christmas special. I nearly abandoned it but husband wanted confirmation that it was rubbish… It wasn’t well written and the concept could have been much better handled. Then we saw that the writer has had multiple awards for his work. I have no idea why.

Incidentally, I didn’t abandon any novels or short stories this month. In fact, the only thing I abandoned was the Peak Cavern Concert I referred to in my post about December viewing.

The picture is an enlarged version of an icon by roxicons.

A concert for January

I thought I’d write about this concert while it’s still available on various streaming sites, in most cases till the end of January. In UK it’s on BBC iPlayer and I know it’s broadcast around the world so assume other people can catch up with it too.

Every year we watch the New Year Concert from Vienna, featuring the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing in the Golden Hall in Vienna. That is, I and my brother in law and his wife watch. My husband listens, busy with other things. This year, of course, we couldn’t be in London with our family but were ‘imprisoned’ in our own home so there wasn’t quite the same sense of family tradition. I watched about half then downloaded the rest on iPlayer because it’s a 150 minute affair and that’s a lot to watch all at once on your own. I’ve since watched the rest.

The concert is broadcast on New Year’s Day in the morning then highlights are repeated in the evening. It is usually simultaneously on TV and radio. The Golden Hall is always exquisitely decorated, with flowers from Vienna’s Parks and Gardens Department, and the TV version gives you a wonderful view of the flowers and the architecture of the hall, both as a panorama and in close-up. It also has a commentary which gives interesting information about each of the pieces played.

In normal years the concert hall is booked out well in advance and there is a terrific sense of tradition and occasion as the cameras focus on the audience. This year, of course, the hall was empty of all except the orchestra and the floral arrangements. The orchestra went through a rigorous schedule of Covid testing in order to be able to rehearse and play together for the world.

The programme is fairly conservative with a heavy emphasis on the Strauss family. However, some attention is paid to little known pieces. In the middle of the programme there is always an ‘interlude’ of ballet. The orchestra, of course, plays, but the dancers are seen filmed against various Vienna backgrounds, often historic houses or gardens. This year was no exception. The dancing, the choreography and the costumes bring to life hidden parts of the city’s glorious heritage and provide a much fresher and more original version of ballet than that sometimes seen on a stage. That part of this year’s programme was in fact filmed during the summer when Covid restrictions were somewhat relaxed. It was delightful to see summer greenery as a backdrop.

The programme always finishes with The Blue Danube and The Radetsky March. Most years, the latter can barely be heard through the rhythmical clapping of the audience but the conductor, Riccardo Muti, pointed out this year that for once it was being heard as the composer intended, without interruption. He also spoke movingly about the part music plays in our lives and how important it is for the cultural health of society and the mental health of the individual. He ended by making a plea for governments worldwide to encourage musicians of all kinds and make it easy for them to reach a global audience.

Although I’m sure the music would be lovely on radio, it really is worth watching the televised version with its virtual ‘tour’ of architectural detail and its loving focus on various members of the orchestra. I fell in love with the guy playing the timpani – and yes, I know he’s an ‘older’ man but then I’m ‘older’ too so…

Traditionally popular ‘light’ classical music, ballet, lovely film of interesting places and things – perfect to lift your spirits at the beginning of a new year. Try to catch at least part of it before it vanishes! And note it in your mental diary for next New Year’s Day.

The Four Places Meme

Once upon a time, DJ Jamison posted this meme on FB and I finally got round to playing! Only about a year late. I can’t find my UK photographs. I’ve hidden them so safely in the cloud that they’re inaccessible. So I’ve used a montage of Manchester (where I currently live) from the internet.

Four places I’ve Lived
1. Newcastle upon Tyne (UK)
2. Ilford, Greater London (UK)
3. Greater Manchester (UK)

4. Oliveira do Hospital (Portugal) – and no, I have no idea why Word and WordPress insist on a line space.

Four places I’ve worked:
1. Birmingham (North Birmingham Poly)
2. Durham College of FE
3. Tameside Multicultural Support Service (Greater Manchester) 
4. Redbridge Language Centre (Ilford)

Four things I love to watch on TV:
1. Spiral (French cops and lawyers drama)/Line of Duty
2. Scandinavian detective dramas 
3. BBC Parliament 
4. Grand Designs

Four places I’d LOVE to visit (but haven’t yet):
1.China (especially those spiked mountains)
2. Greece
3. Southern Poland (Krakow and area)
4. Japan

Four things I love to eat:
1. Chocolate (especially with salted caramel added)
2. Brie (and yes, I eat the white mould)
3. Avocados
4. Pasta

Four things I like to drink:
1. Coffee (espresso)
2. Ginger beer (with or without alcohol added)
3. Fruit tea (no strawberry, please, because I’m allergic)
4. White Port (chilled)

December reading

All but one of my December reads were novels. There was an inevitable focus on holiday themed stories, most of them absolutely delightful. I should perhaps point out that the books are reviewed in the order in which I read them and not in any other order!

The excellent – really well written novels with exactly the kind of holiday cheer we all want at this time of year, especially after what 2020 threw at us! Buy them and save them for next December!

Wonderland by J Scott Coatsworth***** The zombie apocalypse, a helpful ghost and a snowed up cabin provide the background for a heartwarming mm romance.

Eight Nights in December by Keira Andrews***** This mm romance is built around Hannukah rather than Christmas and it’s always good to see other traditions given the star treatment.

A Cop for Christmas by Jamie Fessenden***** The relationship starts badly when the cop gives a speeding ticket to someone returning to the small town for the holidays. A lovely family centred mm romance with Rufus the dog to make it even more charming.

Finally Home by K-Lee Klein***** Josiah only went ‘home’ for Christmas to sort out his dad’s estate, but his childhood friend Wyatt might make him change his mind about selling.

Tic-Tac-Mistletoe by NR Walker***** Ren finds an Australian tourist whose rented car has gone offroad in a snowstorm. Another ‘snowed up together’ mm romance but beautifully done.

December Roses by Fiona Glass***** I’d probably give this six stars if I was willing to break my own rules. Nat was badly injured in Northern Ireland (during the ‘troubles’) and after hospital treatment is sent to Frogmorton Hall for rehabilitation. The story of how he meets Richie, who may not be all he seems, in the gardens of the hall encompasses glorious descriptions of the garden past and present, interesting personal issues, and an exploration of PTSD plus a reaction to injury. The world and character building are superb. Whilst Nat’s story is at times difficult it ends on a gloriously hopeful note.

Christmas Lane and Gingerbread and Mistletoe by Amy Aislin***** These two stories, each following a separate mm romance, bring the little town of Lighthouse Bay to life with all its characters and its holiday celebrations.

The good.

Cupcakes and Christmas by RJ Scott**** This is the only holiday story that lost a star. Not because of the plot, characters or style, all of which are excellent. The problem lay in the proof reading which surprised me. RJ Scott’s novels are usually exemplary. But here it was with changes of tense and person that I could imagine from a first draft but not in the finished publication. I can only think it was published in haste. As I said, the normal great plot, character development, etc. It takes place during a baking contest and the competition itself is fascinating, quite apart from the growing romance between Brody and Justin. However, I couldn’t honestly give it five stars because of the typos. Worth reading all the same.

Engines of Privilege by Francis Green and David Kynaston**** When I subscribed to New Statesman the subsscription offer included a book on the UK economy. They never sent that but gave me this instead. I didn’t open it for ages but once I did I was really interested. It’s a long and detailed study of the effects of the British Public School system and attempts, historical and current, to alter the situation. It has various suggestions for a way forward. I was particularly interested because I went to a Public School. I didn’t recognise all the aspects they described but then my school was a church school with a very small number of pupils, in the north, and was at the time for girls only so some of the things that apply to e.g. Eton and Harrow weren’t really applicable. I did recognise some things and was fascinated to read about studies that showed just how these affected our society in general and education in particular. I can recommend the book to anyone who is interested in education in UK as it provides a detailed overview and offers some new perspectives. It lost a star by being perhaps too long and too detailed for an overview.

The readable. Don’t pay for them but if you find them in the library you might be interested.

The Sitar by Rebecca Idris*** I struggled with this book. It contains romance but is mainly concerned with teenagers from ethnic minorities growing up in the Midlands, and how some of them are led into extremist groups and terrorism. The story was interesting, as were the main characters, but the author was clearly not a native English speaker. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but she really should have found a better editor because at times the misuse of vocabulary, tense, etc. made the text hard to read.

Nemesis by Philip Roth*** This is one of those minor famous novels I had always intended to read. I was disappointed. It is set during the polio epidemic in the middle of last century and tells the story of a group of people from a small town caught up in the situation. The main focus is on a young teacher who survives but spends the rest of his life suffering the effects of survivor guilt. I found the story long-winded and repetitive and got impatient with the amount of introspection. The story was sad, and had, I think, lessons for our pandemic, but was not, in my opinion, worth all the hype attached to this author.

The Ice Monster by David Walliams*** This is a children’s book but I was disappointed. A great deal of the humour (often what is collectively described as ‘toilet humour’) is directed at a particular age group, probably roughly 9-13. The reading level of the text certainly suggests they are the target group. However, a lot of the humour seems forced, and as though the author has one eye on the parents/teachers who might be reading the book alongside the child, hoping to make them either snigger or express shock. The story itself would, I think, be better suited to a slightly younger age group but in that case the actual telling is too long. The ice monster of the title is a frozen mammoth, and there is an attempt to suggest some serious research but this sits oddly with the general tone of the book. Altogether a very mixed up offering but worth skimming if you think any children in your life might enjoy it.

I made the picture as a social media icon. It’s a heavily Photoshopped version of a birthday card that only gave the publisher and not the artist. The original was on the back of the card, not as a main picture so it was about icon size anyway. Enlarging it for use here has made it a bit fuzzy.

Five things in my WIP

Fiona Glass didn’t tag me but said anyone could join in with the five things in your current WIP meme.

The Seekers (working title) is a stand-alone fantasy based on some characters I developed in an rpg some years ago. I started it during Nanowrimo but always knew it was a long term project. I got about 30k words done in November but have been busy with Christmas ever since. Yesterday I got back to my characters who were getting fretful and feeling ignored. I only managed 500 words but it was a start! I mentioned my current writing in my poem about plot bunnies but thought I’d make it clear what I’m working on at the moment.

Five things in the story?

*A found family on a quest to escape their current lives

*Disinherited royal fairy twins – one gay and one asexual

*A goblin pedlar (on his coming of age travelling year) who is seeking his heart’s desire

*A large talking bird who helps fight bandits

*A fairy princess who needs new shoes for the primce’s ball in the desert

The icon was made for me about fifteen years ago by kethlenda, a friend on Live Journal.

What I watched in December

I’ve decided to split my reviews so that I can manage a few more in depth reports on each section without getting overwhelmed. So this year there’ll be a number of monthly review posts instead of one main one, and an occasional longer critique. I’ll start by looking back at film and TV I watched in December 2020.

As usual in December, I watched quite a lot! Very little of it was typical holiday viewing. A lot of it was extremely good.

First the excellent:

Nordic Murders 1 and 2*****This, for Brits, should still be available to stream. It was shown on More4 and I understand there are to be more episodes. Each is film length and follows a different murder inquiry but the family dynamics between the main characters steal the show. It is set on Usedom, a German island in the Baltic, near the Polish border, and some of the action takes place in Poland, involving the Polish police. I was really hooked by the overarcing plot and an extra pleasure came from knowing the area.

Tamara Drewe ***** A group of writers at a retreat deep in the Dorset countryside are gradually drawn into the events in a village that end in death and chaos. The acting is brilliant and the twists and turns of the plot are never predictable. As you’ll gather from the five stars,, I loved it.

The Wrong Trousers***** A re-watch. Surely everybody has to love Wallace and Gromit? I find the ‘claymation’ much more immediately satisfying than most ‘funny’ cartoons. I could watch the whole series all day, admiring the technical way the models are manipulated (Gromit’s expressions are wonderful) and enjoying the understated Brit humour.

The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity***** Probably still available on BBC iPlayer. I don’t always laugh at this series which I think tries too hard and therefore often fails, but The Nativity was wonderful and I never stopped giggling. I think it was so funny because I know all about school and church nativity plays. (One of my favourite Christmas films is Flint Street Nativity.)

Britain’s Most Historical Towns: Manchester (Alice Roberts)***** The historian explored the history of Manchester and of course we watched – we live in Greater Manchester after all. Alice Roberts is always worth listening to, and gives us a broad sweep of history while at the same time concentrating on a wealth of details that bring a place to life. Shown on Channel 4 and probably still available.

Freddie Mercury: a Christmas Story***** I’ve seen a number of biopics etc. about Freddie and Queen. This was a particularly good one.

Billy Elliot***** Another rewatch. I love this film. For anyone who doesn’t know it’s the story of a young boy in the north east of England who decides, almost accidentally, to learn ballet, much to the initial horror of his family. He eventually becomes a principle ballet dancer and the film follows his progress.

Knives Out ***** Daniel Craig stars in this quirky detective story set in America. Although I like Craig and his acting is good, the only flaw I would point to in this film is his accent. I suppose it’s meant to be Southern American but let’s face it, he’s Brit, and it doesn’t quite come off. Through various perspectives and a number of flashbacks which may or may not be recounted by unreliable narrators, Craig, as a private detective, gets to the bottom of a case the police are unable to solve. Worth watching.

I also thoroughly enjoyed a couple of concerts on YouTube – the Hallé Christmas Concert ****** and the Virtual Carol Concert – Online Carol Concert – LordsTaverners.org. ****** These were both delightful, but we also started watching a carol concert filmed in Peak Cavern in our local Peak District and gave up. It was filmed before the pandemic and seemed somehow unreal. Also, the music was excellent (a brass band from our area) but the soloists were too loud and not to our taste. I’m not sure why I wanted a more ‘distanced’ performance but I did. It was the only thing I abandoned in my December viewing.

The good.

The Shape of Water**** A deaf cleaner working in a research facility realises that an alien is being abused by the people investigating him. Gradually, with help from some of the scientists, she gains the alien’s trust, then his love. It’s an interesting idea and has an unlikely but romantic ending. The acting is excellent and the direction is tight, making sure the story is gripping.

Return of the Black Death: Secret History**** Another More4 production that looked at the history of the Black Death in the middle ages, the mid-seventeenth century ‘plague’ in London, and the implications for our current situation. Fascinating. I knew most of the historical information but it is always good to see links made and explored, and to set the present day in context.

Princess Alice: The Royals’ Greatest Secret**** This was on Channel 5 and was a biography of Alice, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh and therefore mother-in-law to the queen. She was a very interesting person in her own right and it was good to get more information about her as well as throwing light on Prince Philip’s childhood, young adulthood and marriage.

The World’s End**** This was a re-watch and in fact it might be the third time I’ve seen it. It’s a film by the team that brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc. and it has moments of hilarity followed by moments of terror but I have always thought the ending was contrived and less than stellar. The acting is, of course, as you’d expect, superb.

The Clown **** This Christmas offering for children is based on the book and drawings, by Quentin Blake. As you’d expect, the drawings are excellent and the story is quite nice but somehow doesn’t reach the heights of The Snowman or The Gruffalo. A toy clown is thrown out in the trash and escapes. He then decides to rescue his fellow toys who are all waiting to be collected by the bin men.

The watchable if there’s nothing else on

The Valhalla Murders*** This was billed as the new Scandi-noir and was set in Iceland. It wasn’t well filmed, and there were too many incidents where the investigating team put themselves in harm’s way by e.g. entering dangerous premises alone at night. The investigators themselves clearly had severe family problems but these were never properly explained or resolved, just used to add to the atmosphere. The scenery was interesting, though somewhat black and white (Iceland in winter) and the acting was better than the script or the direction.

Happy Feet*** I love penguins but I’m not sure a full length animation film is quite to my taste. I almost fell asleep. The film naturally lacks colour, being about a black and white bird in a mostly white landscape, and there is a focus on the way penguins do in fact live, so the whole thing never really decided whether it was story about a lovable penguin, an animated attempt to ‘sell’ the idea of conservation, or a documentary in black and white. I was tired, but even so… I really felt I’d wasted a couple of hours.

Achievements and resolutions

Many of my friends are posting some kind of summary of the writing they did during the last year and their plans for this.

In 2020 I published the final volumes in two fantasy series, and posted three auction fanfics and a Secret Santa one. I wrote a shorter story for a free Solstice treat, and started a novel in November, reaching a half way point before holiday celebrations took over my life. The poem is a snapshot of the chaos in my head during the year.

As I hope the poem explains, I reached a number of goals in 2020 and am now working on a novel about a found (fae) family on a quest. One of my resolutions is to write more – well, not exactly more but more regularly with some kind of discipline. Another is to post more often and keep you better informed.

My other resolution is not to acquire any more books, even free ones, till my to-be-read piles (one print, one digital) reach saner and less dangerous proportions.

Plot Bunnies of 2020

There were plot bunnies running round inside my head,

multiplying like, well, like rabbits, well fed,

careless of the environmental damage they might do.

Normally

my plot bunnies are orderly;

they take their turn, one by one by one,

or sometimes two by two,

waiting to see

which will be most beneficial,

taking my needs and plans

into account;

deferring, in other words,

to me.

***

One would sniff the air,

sensing its time was near,

swell and grow,

towering over the rest

who’d cower,

recognising their erstwhile friend

as bunny of the hour

who in the end

ruled the warren while I nurtured him,

turning him into a tale, groomed and finished;

ready to bound into the world, out of my head.

***

Time came and went.

I worked contentedly,

Polishing, editing, formatting, and then

casually throwing a carrot or two

into the warren.

A fae pair,

minor characters at best,

informed me that their story needed air

but, being a winter solstice tale could wait a year.

Even so,

I outlined everything,

wrote their first scene,

let their emotions sing,

even enjoyed watching the plot take shape,

knowing there was no haste.

***

Cop buddies, seeking a serial killer in the Caribbean,

showed promise,

likely to be full grown for Valentine’s Day

but had so much to say

their short sweet story threatened to become

a whole novella and was put aside

until sufficient time could be allotted

to do justice to their complex plot while they

did justice in their own inimitable way.

***

In February I offered fanfic, heedlessly.

The auctions were for such worthy charity

and there were bidders winning promises,

handing out brand new bunnies like largesse.

I had no cages, no carrots, and no

time but oh,

with eyes were so pleading and with coats so soft,

I could not let them go.

***

Aliens have their own intense appeal,

especially those

who find romance

with humans

or provide

reasons for those humans to boldly go

into the starry universe outside.

And so

I frantically sought

lettuce, cucumber and early grass

and watched those bunnies grow.

***

I built them cages in my mind,

hoping against hope

they’d keep themselves apart

in discrete clusters till I made a start.

They’d have to compete for water and nourishment

with princes, who, arranged marriage consummated,

assured me they could continue to hunt

unicorns until I had time to seek

their truth – but they had waited

long enough, did not deserve

to stand back for brash newcomers,

and would serve

to add structure to my time.

***

Quietly in the backmost cage a fae family

waited, thinking their time would, sooner or later, come.

But when the aliens moved in,

tails bobbing, paws scrabbling, I think those older bunnies

knew their orderly queued existence had been overrun.

And so, revolution in the rabbit house;

bucks and does alike, with supporting kits

broke from their cages, demanded more supplies,

invaded my dreams and grew before my eyes

***

They were running around my thoughts,

breeding, interbreeding, making more noise

than rabbits ought to make.

Sooner or later – probably sooner – I

would have to take a stand,

order them back in place,

ration the carrots and greens,

but just for a day or two,

for I was intrigued and watched

as they mixed, matched, bred

and now I had plot bunnies galore

running rings around my head.

***

A year passed. The princes are with my editor,

their first draft finished.

All auction fics were written, posted, gifted.

The minor fae,

a Solstice free novella, waited

for their polished chance to shine.

The fae family are well on their way

through an adventure that

involves a goblin, an elf, a talking bird

and a supercilious deaf cat.

The police pair slumber for now on their tropical sands

and

my head is quieter but I have to say,

I miss the now familiar racket and might just look

for new plot bunnies

who’d like to come out and play.

Sounds of winter: day 31

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=to1xT93IlUI

Auld lang syne is the traditional song for New Year’s Eve. It’s played here by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to the accompaniment of views of the Scottish scenery taken from across Scotland. Unless you are already in Scotland this will be as close as you get until the pandemic is over.

If you need the words, the poem by Robert Burns can be found here:

https://poets.org/poem/auld-lang-syne

The picture is a doorway to a (locally made) chocolate shop in the Portuguese Christmas village. By the time it was dusk it was hard to get well lit photographs because of the LED lighting, but I still thought the decorations were beautiful. (See link on Day 28.) I loved this one, and thought it appropriate for the doorway into the new year. Let’s hope it’s a doorway to a better world for all of us.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my month of winter music.

Happy New Year Everybody! That’s for midnight tonight wherever you are!

Sounds of winter: day 30

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVKLo9YepUg

Salva nos sung by the Mediaeval Baebes. (Pray for us, star of the sea and queen of the heavens.) I love the Mediaeval Baebes and they’re one group I have actually paid a lot to see live. I couldn’t decide which of their Christmas songs to choose (from their album Salva Nos) so I thought you could have two, today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXkBk8nK5AM 

Verbum Caro Factum Est (the word is made flesh) is also sung by them.

The photograph is of the main buildings of Manchester University which I attended; the building where I sat my exams and received my degree. This winter phtograph perfectly encapsulates the time I spent there – university terms are squeezed into the winter months, whereas summer, once exams are over, is for home and travel. I am still in touch with one or two of the people who were students with me. In those days we had smog as well as snow – it was before the Clean Air Acts. So my memories of the place from that time are much like this picture. I don’t live far away from it and of course nowadays I am used to its cleaned-up glory in much clearer weather. But today I imagine it looks just like this!