It’s that time of year…..OR the Good, the Bad and the unfortunate Ugly…of Christmas.

Merry Christmas every one.

Yes it’s time to bring out the hideous jerseys and grow weird things out of the top of your head.

Stop any child in the street and ask them what Christmas means to them…..and you’ll probably get arrested for attempted child abduction or molestation….it’s an unfortunate sign of the times. “Stranger Danger” has been drummed into kids these days, which means as a result, that we no longer have kids coming Christmas caroling door to door – as their parents are in constant fear of perverts grabbing them. If you were able to ask a child in the street – without their mother dragging them away while dialing the police on 911….111….or 999 depending on what part of the world you’re in – they would be more likely to reply either “Santa” or “Presents”, rather than “it’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – the son of God, sent to earth to save mankind”.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly a one word answer is more likely from a child on the street, than an entire coherent sentence, particularly if it means that they have to look up and break their concentration from the video game they are playing on the latest iPhone….and secondly Christmas has been abducted by commercialism and the jolly fat man in a coca cola trademark coloured suit. A third reason, if we need one, would be that religion – at least the Christian religion – doesn’t seem to have the pull it used to have when we were all “God fearing”. The churches are all but empty these days except for weddings and funerals. BUT I’m not going to get into a long rant about religion and which one, if any, is right and which one is wrong…..because I don’t know the answer. If we’re honest no one does. We can claim to know…..but it’s actually a belief….not a known fact. That’s why they call it “Faith”. However, I’ll put the lid on that can of worms because it’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I remember the magic of Christmas as a child. Christmas eve was the only evening of the year that my parents could get me and my brother to go to bed early…..in the sure and certain knowledge that Santa would be coming, and the sooner we were asleep the sooner he could come and leave us oodles of gifts. We didn’t have “stockings hung with care” on the fireplace. Oh no, not me and my brother. We’d sussed out that you could get a lot more presents in a pillowcase than you could in a miserly stocking. So, we’d lay out a clean pillowslip at the foot of our beds and cover our heads with the blankets with the intention of staying awake to catch Santa in the act. Pretending to be asleep, snug and warm under the blankets, soon gave way to actually falling asleep and that was that… until morning…..usually very early morning – 6am even.

Which ever one of us awoke first we’d whisper very, very loudly to the other “Has he been yet?” And one of us would scurry to the foot of the bed, look over the edge and seeing the stuffed to overflowing pillowcases gorged with colourfully wrapped presents would confirm “He’s been….He’s been!!!”

We’d immediately leap up, grab our stuffed pillowcases and drag them into mum and dad’s room. One pillowcase left at dad’s side of the bed, one at mum’s side and me and my brother would jump up onto the bed and snuggle down in the warm gap between the two of them – excited and fidgety and eager to start opening presents. BUT, just to stretch the agony of waiting, either mum or dad…..usually mum….would get up and make a cup of tea first. Can’t have presents being opened without a cup of tea for sustenance, can we? It’s the British way!

And then FINALLY the gifts would be brought out one at a time…..one from the pillowcase on mum’s side…followed by one from the one on dad’s side, so we could all watch each gift being unwrapped and OOhed and Aahed over…..or more likely see the look of anticipation and expectation turn to the look of disappointment and dismay. It’s not that me and my brother were ungrateful little shits, it was more because mum and dad used to buy us “nearly gifts” – as in not what we actually asked for but nearly the same – similar but not – close but no cigar. Usually the decision to get the “nearly” gifts was made based on cost. There was never a lot of money in our house when we were kids, but we were well fed and cared for. So rather than buying the popular brand, they’d go for a cheaper knock off – made in China – gift that was meant to be similar but didn’t usually come close. This was back when “made in China” meant cheap and crappy – now EVERYTHING is made in China. Then there would follow the arguments….or should I say animated discussions…. about why this particular gift is “So much better” than what we’d actually asked Santa for. And whilst demonstrating how much better this toy was….a bit would drop off and so it would be consigned straight to the rubbish bin. An example of a nearly gift would be “Lego” building bricks – that we had asked for and didn’t get – and the “Chad Valley build a home set” that we did get, with flimsy plastic panels and plastic beams with little lugs to affix the panels to….which would snap or split the first time you touched them. OR the time my brother asked for an Action Man toy – a soldier….the doll for boys lol. BUT got some cheap Chinese copy with a squashed head and a leg that kept falling off.  OR, sometimes they would actually surprise us and really push out the boat by buying a top brand item…well made….lasts for ever….expensive even. BUT again not quite what we’d asked for. My bike was an example. All the kids on our street had “scrambler” type bikes with big 20 or 24 inch wheels and cow horn shaped handlebars that made them look like speedway bikes – they were so masculine they almost reeked of testosterone – and we’d race around a dirt track in the edge of the local woods on them until we were sweaty and covered in mud. What did I get? Well….the brand was Raleigh – a top brand and very well made, BUT it was a commuter type bike with tiny 14 inch wheels with white tyres (I mean WHITE! Who ever invented white tyres needs to be shot. They’re only ever clean looking before you ride the bike. After that they are forever dirty.), and a carry-rack on the back complete with a white shoe box size and shaped saddle bag, with a delicate little strap and buckle on it, to match the white of the tyres, seat and hand grips. Oh JOY! It looked very feminine! It screamed “Sissy on a bike – please beat me up!” It was orange which was all that differentiated it from the bike that a girl up the street had….hers was purple, but otherwise identical in every way. I was shocked, embarrassed and depressed – rather than elated and excited – what mum and dad were hoping for – and then dad tried to sell the idea of this new bike to me by saying “If you notice just here….the columns for the handlebars and the seat extend, so it’ll last you for ever, no matter how much you grow.” It really added to the whole experience.

But a bike, sissy or not, is still a bike. I’d take the bike on long rides well away from the village, in the hope that no one would see me on it. The only good thing good about that bloody bike was that it had a battery powered siren – rather like the sound of a police car – instead of a bell. This was just an added torture though, because even though I wanted to sound the siren – because it sounded soooo cool – I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was riding a girls bike! It was purgatory! And it wasn’t only confined to toys…it was the same with clothes. Winter in Britain is bloody cold and I’d asked for a duffle coat which for boys came in one colour – just like the original Ford motor cars – you could have any colour as long as it was black. So I was expecting a black coat with a tartan interior to the hood and plain wooden toggles as buttons. What did they get me? Exactly the same coat as a girl in my class at school was already wearing….kind of a blue and black herringbone pattern. It wasn’t that it was a bad coat….just that if a girl already has one….it’s a girls coat!

Enough of my reminiscing….and wallowing in self pity. I learned from the feeling of discomfort and disappointment suffered as a child….. and therefore inflicted the same on my own kids! No I didn’t….at least I hope I didn’t. I hope that we bought them…or I should say…I hope that Santa BROUGHT them what they asked for rather than us being “Nearly” parents. I must say, when you have kids of your own, Christmas retains that magical feeling. The excited anticipation of Santa’s arrival rubs off on us adults too and we actually….through our children….enjoy Christmas and all it’s crass commercialism. When my young sons went off to bed straight after dinner on Christmas eve to get to sleep early……I’d hide outside their bedroom windows and ring little bells…..pretending to be the bells on the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. It kept them awake for hours and meant that they’d be so exhausted in the morning that me and the wife would be able to sleep in for an extra hour or two.

These days though, our children have grown up and flown the nest and since there are no grand children (yet) to pamper, Christmas has sort of lost it’s magic. What I do enjoy most about it these days, is the simple act of gathering family and friends around the table for Christmas lunch. Togetherness….AND being that we live in New Zealand, in the southern hemisphere, which means that Christmas falls in the middle of summer…..we’ll be gathered around the dining table outdoors, in the garden, in the sunshine, in shorts and t-shirts…..table laden with food and drinking a nice cold beer.

However, having been born in the UK and having first experienced cold snowy Christmases, it feels alien to me to have Christmas in summer, which is why – even though Christmas day always falls on December 25th – it always seems to sneak up on me, catch me unaware and unprepared so my Christmas cards always miss the last mail for the year….always arrive in the northern hemisphere to friends and family there…late! AND having only mailed them yesterday I have inadvertently kept up this unwanted tradition – they will be late yet again.

New Zealand Christmas lunch in the garden.

I wish you…..and all in the WordPress family of bloggers, writers and readers, a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous (as opposed to preposterous), New Year.

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My top 10 Stephen King books.

I’ve been a reader of Stephen King books for about 30 years – his first book Carrie was written even longer ago, back in 1973. It was a book that may have never seen the light of day. He threw the first draft of the book into the bin. It was retrieved by his wife…..he persevered with the story and sold it to Doubleday. His advance was a miserly $2,500 and he later earned over $400,000 for the paperback rights alone. Not bad for a book that had been thrown in the garbage.

I have seen numerous top ten lists for King’s books, but mine is purely based on the books that I have personally read. I don’t pretend to have read all 59 of his novels plus other short story collections. These books are all on my bookshelf.

Counting down in reverse order…..

10. The 1992 thriller Gerald’s Game is my choice for number 10 on my top 10 Stephen King books list. I just enjoyed the twisted mind of King in this one. The idea that a married couple go away to a remote cabin by a lake in the back of beyond for a weekend of kinky sex. What could possibly go wrong???  Well, how about as soon as the husband has handcuffed his wife to the bed head ready for a little debauchery….he drops dead from a heart attack. What happens to the wife? Does she get out or does she lay there until she starves to death? Does someone else find her there helpless – if so do they set her free or have their wicked way with her? Is she attacked by wild animals?  Read the book and all will be revealed. 

9. Cell – written in 2006. This book is a story about an apocalyptic event, caused by a pulse sent through the cell phone network, that turns cell phone users into rabid monsters. Far fetched yes…..but what King book isn’t. Most of his books are written starting with the idea of “what if?” And through the actions of the primary characters he lets the story pretty much write itself. It’s a return to King’s horror roots after years of dabbling in other things. Some of his stories up to this point had seen him wallowing in elaborate character building and long drawn out scenes that have you screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” – but not in this book. He grabs you by the balls in the first few pages and drags you screaming all the way to the end. An homage to the old Zombie movies!

8. The Dark Half – 1990. I just had to include The Dark Half as it was the first King novel that I ever read, so has a special place in my literary heart. Without this book I may never have read or collected as many of King’s works as I have. It’s a story of a writer, who creates an evil, wicked character for a story he’s writing……but the character manifests itself, turns up on the writers door step and begins to take over his life. He creates mayhem in the small town where writer Thad Beaumont resides. Murder after murder follows and Beaumont realises that things have gone way out of control. How does he put the character of George Stark back into Pandora’s box once he’s released him? Is there any way back? Great story – Really enjoyed it.

7. Thinner – written under the name of Richard Bachman in 1984 as a stand alone novel. BUT I recall first reading it as part of a collection of stories… Any story that begins with the main character, a very overweight guy, getting – how can I put this tactfully? – sexual gratification, from his wife, while driving a car should probably make this list. It’s what happens while his wife is “busy” and HE is distracted that sets the scene for the incident that really starts the story. While distracted by his wife he accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman. He goes to court but gets off the charges (pun intended!) because he knows the judge. Case dismissed! BUT as he leaves the courthouse an old gypsy man walks over to him, taps him once on the arm and says the word “thinner”. Just that one word. Initially puzzled by this, the very next day our “hero” realizes that he’s lost weight. At first he’s quite happy about it – he could do with losing a few pounds…But the next day he’s lost more and continues to lose weight at an alarming rate –  victim of a gypsy curse. Can he track down the old gypsy and get the curse removed before he disappears completely?

6. Dream Catcher 2001 – a story about 4 friends who head off to a cabin in the woods for some R & R but end up encountering an alien invasion and a crazy – I mean really really crazy – military man. Covering eliments of horror, suspense and alien invasion/abduction….not to mention a fair chunk of lavatorial humour…..and an unlikely hero who has Down’s Syndrome. As I look at what I’ve just written it sounds like a ridiculous story but King has a way of carrying the plot along and to make you believe in what you’re reading. King himself was recovering from a life threatening traffic accident when he wrote this book…so maybe the plot line had something to do with the pain killer medication? Ha-ha! It made the list at number 6.

5. The Regulators – again written as Richard Bachman. 
In the beginning, we learn about the residents of Poplar Street, a normal Ohio block. There is a singular “token” black couple, another guy who is an alcoholic, his wife is the local busy body who no one can abide. Another lady lives with her autistic nephew, who’s family was murdered in a drive by shooting……and then a newspaper delivery boy is murdered by a mysterious shooter in a van. It seems that maybe Poplar Street isn’t quite as normal and idyllic as it first appears. Death and destruction follow at an alarming rate. 

And 4. Is the sister book to the Regulators – Desperation. The two novels represent parallel universes relative to one another, and most of the characters present in one novel’s world also exist in the other novel’s reality, albeit in different circumstances. Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolate highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for the abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to “rescuing” a family from a nonexistent gunman. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive. They begin to fight for their freedom, sanity and lives before realizing that if they are ever to escape Desperation, they must trap Tak in the place from which he came. But do they????

3. Number 3 in my list is the JFK book – 11/22/63. A high-school teacher is a regular at a run down diner in small town America. One day the owner of the diner reveals a supernatural secret to the teacher…..in the back of the diner is a kind of time portal – a worm hole if you like – back to the late 1950’s. If that’s not weird enough, Al, the diner owner, tells Jake, the teacher, that no matter how long you stay in the 1950’s world at the other side of the portal you are only away from the current world for a maximum of 2 minutes. You can be gone for days or years, but pop back to the side you came from and poof only 2 minutes have passed. There are other rules relating to this “time travel system” – but you’ll have to read the book to find out about them. The whole pretext of the book is the idea of going back in time to change a vital event. If you could go back and alter one thing that could change history, what would it be? King in this book chooses the assassination of John F Kennedy. Can Jake, under Al’s guidance save Kennedy…..starting a change of events that could then also save Kennedy’s brother Robert, save Martin Luther King, prevent the race riots, maybe even prevent the Vietnam war?

2. Number 2 is the extended/uncut version of the dystopian novel “The Stand”. It’s an interesting book to read from a modern day “Prepper” point of view. Would you react the same way as the lead characters in this story if faced with a similar situation? The scenario is that a strain of influenza, which has been modified as a biological weapon, is released, by accident, into the atmosphere causing an apocalyptic pandemic killing off most of the human population and causing a complete breakdown of society. It’s an epic story with a stellar cast of characters, who are for the most part quite believable – in such an horrific situation. Human frailties are highlighted by King – as is the tendency of “man-kind” to repeat the same mistakes over and over without learning from them. It is without doubt one of Kings finest stories. The only reason I have not made it number 1 is that I feel, after the wonderful work done throughout the story – it’s as though he had to hurry the end – which incidentally I think was a very weak and disappointing ending. I read later – years later – that King admitted having writers block while writing The Stand – which could account for the ending. It’s still an amazing book though – a MUST READ!

Fanfare and drum roll please…………..

NUMBER 1. On my list the top spot goes to King’s classic ‘bump in the dark’ novel “IT”, which reminds all of us of our childhood fears of bumps in the night and monsters under the bed. King first had the idea of IT in 1978, started to write down notes in 1981 and published in 1986…..so it was a long time coming. BUT worth the wait. IT is a classic horror story and one that deals with themes that have become in many of his books King’s staples…..I’m talking about the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood, the ugliness lurking behind a facade of small-town quaintness, and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice. The evil being in this story appears in the guise of Pennywise the Clown who preys on small children…..and hides in the storm drains under the streets of small town America. This is only one of IT’s manifestations however, as it shape-shifts and feeds off the children’s fears. Our heroes in the story are a bunch of 7 misfit kids nicknamed the LOSERS. Of course where there are misfit kids there are also the town bullies – who add another dimension to the story. The timeline of the tale runs over many years and follows the Losers into adulthood – where they re-unite in a bid to rid the town of IT forever. It’s just a classic scary novel and I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read IT, you’re missing a treat.

Other novels that could have made my list but just missed out are the serialised novel “The Green Mile” and another epic story “Under the Dome” (which like The Stand – I feel had a very weak ending). 

It must be BARCELONA! – home of Picasso, Gaudi and Olympic Gold Medalist Pickpockets.

Kind of a weird title, but it will become clear as you read the post.

Travel, from my own experience, has always been a very positive experience. I have met some wonderful people from all around the world, seen some marvelous sights and had some very positive, at times life-changing moments. In all my years of international travel (I first travelled overseas when I was 14 so that’s 45 years of experience), I have only had the displeasure to experience either muggers or pick-pockets three times. 

The first time was way back in the mid 1980’s in Harlem, New York City – partly my own fault as I was still a bit green and didn’t have much in the way of street smarts – when I encountered a couple of guys who wanted to relieve me of my bag – containing my camera, wallet and passport among other things. Fortunately I was young and fit and managed to turn heel and out run them….almost bowling over a railway security guard in my haste to get away.

The second and third times involved pick pockets or, I should say, attempted pick pockets. Once in Nice in the South of France and, yes you guessed it once in Barcelona and both within a month of one another….but we’ll get to that event later.

I had visited Barcelona very briefly over 40 years ago as a 16 year old and remember being propositioned by the prostitutes along the main street through the centre of Barcelona called las Ramblas. Other than that and the statue of Columbus at the sea shore end of las Ramblas along with the flower sellers stalls in the middle of the street, I can’t really remember much about it.

Columbus statue at the end of las Ramblas.

For our recent visit though I had a reason to be there, or two reasons to be exact – one being Pablo Picasso the world famous artist, and the other being Antoni Gaudi equally famous for his fantastic architecture…..or at least equally famous here in Barcelona.

I had bought a book “Gaudi – the Complete Works”- by Juan-Edwardo Cirlot, with photos by Pere Vivas and Ricard Pla –  on arrival in Barcelona and flicked through the pages in awe of the genius of the man.

But first Picasso. Picasso was born in Malaga, southern Spain in 1881, but in 1895 moved to Barcelona where he thrived. He looked upon Barcelona as his true home and it was here that he was accepted into the School of Fine Arts at the tender age of 13. At 16 his father and uncle decided it would be best for him to go to Madrid and attend Spains foremost art school the Real Academia de Belles Artes de San Fernando. He hated the structured regime there and quit soon after enrolling. He remained in Madrid though for a time visiting the museums and galleries for inspiration.

In 1900 he made his first visit to Paris and it was love at first sight…..as it is for many of us. He then divided his time between living and working in Paris and Barcelona. However in later years he lived prodominantly in France, which became his new adopted home.

It’s here though, in Barcelona, where you will find the museum completely dedicated to Picasso – The Museu Picasso – which opened in 1963 and houses over 4,000 pieces of Picasso’s work. Although he’s most famous as an artist and was a leader of the cubist movement, he was also a sculptor, ceramicist, printmaker, collagist, stage designer, poet and playwrite. A busy and versatile man!

entrance to the Picasso Museum.

The museum is very much worth visiting to view the range of his work. It is housed in 5 adjoining medieval palaces in Barcelona’s La Ribera district – a haven for artists, artisans, designers, tradesmen and merchants – on Montcada Street. The museum is open 6 days a week (closed Mondays). For full details of opening times and ticket prices see their website. http://www.museupicasso.bcn.cat/en

Even though Picasso is an artist of world renown, who’s works sell for millions of dollars, he is not my main reason for being here in Barcelona. The focus of my trip is another artistic genius, Antoni Gaudi. The difference being that his artistic genius manifests itself in architecture – amazing, imaginative, magical and almost mythical architecture.

The buildings he designed were highly individualised one off designs – very much stand-out buildings and a feast for the eyes. Having visited a number of his buildings in Barcelona, as well as Park Guell – a public park composed of gardens and architectural pieces – I can confirm the genius of this man. The park and the buildings he designed in Barcelona have been given USESCO World Heritage status. His most famous building, mainly due to the size and difficulty of building it, is without a doubt the still unfinished, massive church known as the Sagrada Familia.

To view many of Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona we went on a “Free” walking tour with Runner Bean Tours. The tour is, as it says, free of charge…..but you can make a donation at the end if you thought the guide and the tour itself was good value. Some people take the tour and give nothing. Others, myself included, chipped in around $10 per head as a thank you for the almost 3 hour tour. Well worth at least $10….probably $20 would not be out of place. They also do paid tours for groups and for individuals. Website link is:  https://runnerbeantours.com/

Our guide was wonderful. Very clearly spoken, amusing, patient and knowledgeable. Our tour began at the meeting place just off las Ramblas, at the Placa Reial, by the water fountain. We were asked to look around the square and see if we could see anything that Gaudi may have designed. It was pretty obvious that the guide was referring to the ornate lamp posts – complete with serpents and winged helmets – so brightly coloured.

The tour took in several of Gaudi’s buildings – the first stop being Palau Guell – a building designed for The Guell family who were Gaudi’s primary patrons – very wealthy. As we were standing on the footpath opposite the building and our guide was giving us the spiel of all the facts and figures relating to the design and build of this amazing building, I noticed that 3 extra people who were not on our tour had tagged on to the back of the group. Two men and a woman. But, instead of looking at the building they seemed to be concentrating on the other people in the group. Naturally this was a signal to me that something wasn’t quite right. 

I had a rather expensive camera with me, but other than that only had a few euro’s in a zipped cargo pocket down by my knee. Of course our three tag alongs had no way of knowing that. As the tour guide wound up his talk and motioned for the group to follow him to the next destination we turned into a narrow alleyway and it was here that they made their move. I had hung back, at the back of the group and as soon as I entered the alley, the bigger of the men cut in front of me and immediately bent down as if picking something up that he’d dropped. It was such a sudden movement that I couldn’t stop myself from bumping into him and coming to a halt. The instant I bumped into him, the other two – the man and woman – “accidentally” crashed into me and the guys hand went straight into my my pocket. Although this was obviously a practiced move of theirs it was clumsy. I grabbed his wrist, spun around and started yelling obsenities at him to attract attention and hopefully that someone in our group would hear and come to the rescue. Pick pocketing is so common in Barcelona that no one even blinked at the incident unfolding in front of them.  Passers by just kept on their merry way, minding their own business. Three on one are not good odds and there was no way I could contain all three of them. As it turned out, once I had rumbled their plan they simply put up their hands in a “Woops OK you caught me” gesture, smiled and shrugged apologetically and turned and left in the other direction.

Once I had caught up with our tour leader I took him to one side to explain what had just happened and to suggest that maybe he should issue a warning to the rest of the group – just in case. During his warning speech that he gave at our next stop he commented that pick pocketing was so rife here in Barcelona that if it was to become an Olympic sport, Barcelona would become the undisputed Gold Medalists…..hence the title of this post. He also said that most pick pockets are not violent and unlike muggers will not resort to force…..and if caught are usually good natured and walk away.

Our tour continued taking in a number of Gaudi works and buildings of architectural merit of some of Gaudi’s competitors. All very interesting and beautiful to see unlike a lot of todays modern monstrosities which have cost as their primary concern. The building I was most interested in seeing though was Casa Batllo – with its dragonlike roof. It’s been called a number of names including “the fairytale in stone”, “the house of yawns” and even “the cat house”. You can see from the photos that follow how it got those names.

I was very keen to see inside this amazing building, but entry to the buildings is not included in the tour. Each Gaudi Building, being privately owned, cost pretty decent money to get in to do a tour of the interiors. My wife and I decided to come back the next day and pay whatever it cost to view the inside.

The tour concluded at the Sagrada Familia. Again only viewed from the outside. It’s amazing that when Gaudi died in 1926 the church was only about 15% to 25% completed. The building work began in 1882 and is not expected to finish until around 2026…..although the expected finish date has been pushed back several times already so don’t hold your breath.

If you’re wondering what the literary connection is in this post…..other than the Gaudi book I mentioned earlier – the Sagrada Familia was commissioned by a book seller named Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José (Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph).

The next day we visited the interior of the Casa Batllo – and marveled at it’s hand carved staircase that looked like a huge curved spine as if it was made from bones, were frankly amazed at the amount of thought that went into this building particularly when it came to bringing daylight into the various rooms on each floor. There was a sort of central courtyard….just a few metres across that went from roof level all the way down to the ground floor. The walls of this “courtyard” were tiled in blue and white tiles and topped by a glass roof allowing light to enter the interior. The top floor was closest to the light, so this section of the courtyard walls were tiled mainly in dark blue tiles as the top floors were well lit and didn’t need to receive a lot of reflected light from the courtyard walls. As we travel downwards toward lower floors, more light is needed so the next floor down has a mixture of both blue and white tiles on the courtyard walls….lower still you see more white and less blue. There was also a ventilation system bringing in air from the outside and carrying it throughout every room of the house. These things may seem straight forward now but remember this building was built back in the early 1900’s.

There really are too many features to mention here, except to say that Gaudi was not a fan of the straight line. In his own words “There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature, therefore there should be no straight lines or sharp corners in architecture”…and….”The straight line belongs to man, the curve belongs to god”. One feature that I will quickly mention – the roof – is said to be a nod by Gaudi to Catalonia’s saint, Saint George (also the saint of England). This is represented by the dragon-like roof and the turret with a cross on top. Said to represent the dragon killed by St. George – his sword being the cross on the turret. We don’t know for sure if this is correct as Gaudi refused to either confirm nor deny the speculation.

Our final place of interest in our search for everything Gaudi is Park Guell. Again commissioned initially by the wealthy Guell family. Actually Gaudi pretty much bankrupted them with his outlandish style and his habit of redoing work over and over again until it was absolutely perfect. Every job that Gaudi did, he blew the budget wide open. It is free to enter the park and to look at the gardens and architectural features created by Gaudi, but there is a small area that is reserved for paying customers. You can see into this area from the “free” area, but you don’t get the tactile experience of touching Gaudi’s creations or seeing them close up.

Words don’t really come close to describing the wonder of Gaudi’s creations so again I am putting here a gallery of photos to show the variety of his work within the Park Guell.

Just a couple of final observations. Within the park, officially you are not allowed to set up stalls and sell tourist merchandise – there are police patrols to enforce this. It doesn’t seem to stop dozens of entrepreneurs form laying out their wares on blankets along the pathways in the park. as soon as the police are in sight, they gather the corners of their blankets and disappear like smoke on the breeze – to return moments later when the police have gone by. It would seem also, by the grafitti on one of the picnic tables in the park that the locals are not 100% behind having tourists invade their space. See photo below.

Not exaclt a welcoming message.

We were in the great city of Barcelona for a week, so obviously saw more than the Picasso Museum and Gaudi’s buildings……so I may take another look at Barcelona in another post sometime along the way. Meantime, thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you liked it, please do click on the “Like” button and I have many more articles to share with you, so please feel free to also hit that “Follow” button. As usual any comments or constructive criticism are gratefully received. Adios for now.

Never judge a book by its cover…

I bought a few books…..well 16 actually….at the recent “Friends of the Library” book sale. Our local library had a stack of discarded books to get rid of so a book sale was the order of the day. Only NZ 50 cents per book. So I grabbed a few bargains –  having only a quick look at the covers and thinking “yep I’ll have that one…..and that….and that”.

One such book was “Nightscape” by David Morrell.  I have read a lot of his books in the past and mostly they are of the espionage/assassin genre. The first 3 books of his I read were “The Brotherhood of the Rose”, “The Fraternity of the Stone” and “The League of Night and Fog”. All were brilliant books predominantly about assassins. Full of twists and turns, action and adventure, destruction and mayhem.  Morrell is probably most famous though for writing the Rambo novel “First Blood”. I have, since then, read many more of his books – all of them extremely well written and fast paced. He has a way of writing that propels you at speed to the very last page.

Anyhow I broke the cardinal rule about never judging a book by its cover and assumed from the moody night in the city shot on the front of the book that it would be more of the same (a story about assassins). WRONG! It’s actually a book of short stories. I cast aside my initial disappointment though, opened the book and started to read. I absolutely barrelled my way through the intro and 5 of the 8 stories in the first sitting. This guy writes nail biting assassin stories, but his short stories – none of which are about espionage or assassins – certainly had my eyes glued to the page.

The intro is about Morrell’s life as a child and his stormy relationship with his mother and his step-father. The step-dad was a complete arse by the way!

The short stories are a mixed bag of subjects ranging from “Remains To Be Seen” – about a trusted soldier being tasked with spiriting a crate (contents unknown) out of a beseiged city to finally deliver it to his Excellency, after having to change plans several times enroute……to one called “ELVIS 45” in which an English Lit professor decides to run a course of lectures about the culture of Elvis Presley – a very dramatic ending to that one!

All of the stories have “interesting endings” – so even if you are able to guess how a couple of the stories will turn out, there is enough intreague in how the story develops to keep you reading.

The blurb on the back of the book says ” By and large the kind of tales an author writes are metaphores for the scars in the nooks and crannies of his/her psyche. In David Morrell’s youth, thrillers and horror stories provided an escape from his nightmarish reality. Is it any wonder that, as an adult obsessed with being a writer, he has compulsively turned to the types of stories that provided an escape when he was a child? In his own words, perhaps he is eager to provide an escape for others. Or perhaps he is still trying to escape from his past.”

Written with a haunting emotional intensity and lightning pace that has made Morrell the master of action/suspense writing. The short story collection includes the short novel “Rio Grande Gothic” – and will leave you wanting more. It certainly has with me.

A thank you and a question.

A short post at this time to mark the first 2 months of my Blog. 

I love to write and to read and to share my thoughts on books and literature by way of this blog “A Literary Bent”. So, I just wanted to say a heart felt thank you to everyone who has either clicked the button to follow my blog, or clicked the “like” button on any of my posts, or taken the time to make a comment.  Many of us live busy lives so I am grateful to you for taking the time to read my posts and to follow, like, or comment.

I’m only 2 months into my blog and intend to keep writing for a long time….or for as long as I have the passion to write about books and anything remotely connected with books and writers.

In the 24 posts I have written so far, I have covered subjects such as The International Organisation of Book Towns, done book reviews, written travel related articles, poetry, written about specific writers, talked about Zombies, discussed collecting books and the treasure to be found in second hand shops, written about and recommended book shops, written about my favourite photographers, penned a tongue in cheek piece about cats and dogs, and bemoaned the death of the written letter and the postal service.

If there is a subject among these that you’d like me to write more about…..or, for that matter, less about – please let me know. OR if there’s something book/ literature, or anything related to “the Arts” in general, that you’d like me to cover in my blog – I would be delighted to hear from you. Otherwise, I’ll just keep rambling on in my own merry way.

Once again THANK YOU. I do appreciate it. 

DEADLINE….you can’t beat a good Zombie novel.

I love an exciting Zombie story

Two weeks ago I bought about 15 books from the local Lions Club charity book sale, one of which DEADLINE – by Mira Grant – I have just finished reading.

The book in question DEADLINE – the second book in a series of Zombie “Newsflesh” stories by Mira Grant.

Right now you probably have the same look on your face as my wife did when I showed her the front of the book I was so engrossed in – a look that said – Meh,  another Zombie book….they’re all the same.

But this one was different. Although it’s the second book in what is currently a series of 4 books (the first book was called FEED), it can be read as a stand alone story as you get to know about what happened previously very early on in the story. From then on you’ll be running hell for leather to the final page. Which incidentally has a double surprise at the end. For once, a Zombie story with an unpredictable ending. I literally said out loud – “Wow I was not expecting that!” – but it has set things up nicely for the next book in the series “BLACKOUT”.

It’s written from the perspective of former Blogger, now official journalist Shaun Mason, who’s blog about living with Zombies morphed into a major news organization called “After the End Times”. It’s set in 2041….after the initial Zombie outbreak of 2014 – which sparked, the end of the world as we knew it. It’s not just another Zombie story though. It’s not “the Walking Dead” – there are guns and bombs – but there is also political foul play, horror, miniature bulldogs (yes you read that correctly – miniature bulldogs),  the interplay or relationships between the main characters, journalism, suspense, action, science “Facts” to back up what was happening, mad scientists, sane scientists who appeared slightly mad…..and of course who could forget Shaun’s dead sister Georgina (who he refers to as George and whom I assume gets killed in the first book of the series) speaks to him, from the grave, in his head – and he talks back to her. Oh yes…this story has it all.

Described as “Perfect Summer Apocalypse Reading”, it is one of the few well written Zombie novels that I have come across and I ended up caring what happened to these characters. Sci-Fi Magazine praised the first book FEED as “The Zombie novel Robert A. Heinlein might have written”.

The blurb on the back goes as follows….”Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn’t seem as (much) fun when you’ve lost as much as he has. BUT when a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of Zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news – he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead. Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun”.

All of which sounds quite exciting – if slightly incorrect – you should never EVER use a shotgun on Zombies -potential contamination from blood splatter is increased by using a shotgun as opposed to a bullet from a pistol or rifle…. (as you’ll find out if you read DEADLINE).

Mira Grant  – the writer – lives in California, sleeps with a machete under her bed, and suggests you do the same (not to ward off Zombies – this is California after all!). Mira Grant is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire – winner of the 2010 John W Campbell Award for best new writer.

The 3rd book in the “Newsflesh” Series “BLACKOUT” was nominated for a Hugo Award…..and there is a 4th book FEEDBACK released in 2016 that I now feel I have a duty to track down and read.

The end of DEADLINE has me not knowing what direction the 3rd book, BLACKOUT will take. Must get on to reading that very soon. 

Meantime….my machete and baseball bat are beside my bed and this little lot are hanging behind my bedroom door…..just in case.

Are you prepared……for the Zombie Apocalypse?

The death of the letter…..

Is it just a sign of the times, is it progress, or is it a tragedy?

New Zealand Post Mailboxes…..disappearing from a town near you!

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the closure and subsequent franchising of the Post Office – more specifically of NZ Post Shops here in New Zealand….which in a way could lead to the ultimate death of the hand written letter.

Back in 1880 New Zealand had 850 post offices dotted around the country, serving the needs of the community. The population of NZ at that time was less than half a million people. At its peak there were 880 post offices. Now however, in 2018 and with a total population of a tick under 5 million, NZ Post are in the process of closing down their final 79, stand alone, post offices – and turning what’s left of the business over to the likes of pharmacies and supermarkets to run – as a franchise operation along side their existing business functions. The Post Office began life as a public service, but these days of commercialism and profit and loss – not to mention shareholders waiting for their dividends – it’s all about the money. And if the money isn’t rolling in, the service has to go…..sold to the highest bidder! No matter how incompetently it will be run, even if it brings about it’s eventual destruction.

I know that we have to move with the times – I’m not a Luddite – but I question how well the service will be run by supermarkets in particular when it comes to sending a letter or parcel to some obscure overseas destination. I see delays at the counter and delays in the service.  Already, home postal deliveries are reduced to only certain days of the week. Post boxes, on street corners, to mail your letters have been slowly and silently disappearing over the years (1300 have disappeared since 2008), in an obvious wind down of the postal service as a whole.

Part of the problem is that people don’t write letters these days, nor do they send as many greetings cards as they used to…..thanks to e-mail’s and e-cards. I am as much to blame – or possibly more to blame than most. More to blame? – you ask.  Let me explain my reasoning for saying this.

Back in pre-internet days I was a prolific letter writer. I had pen-pals all over the world – 52 of them in 48 different countries, on every continent except Antarctica. Some would only write a few times each year, but with others, letters would travel back and forth across continents with eager regularity. As I have mentioned in a number of my posts, one of my passions is travel, and letters to pen-pals was a wonderful way to make not just contacts, but friends around the world and to learn about other countries, about other ways of life, other customs. I believe that if we all had a friend in every country and knew of their lives and customs we’d be less likely to allow our leaders to declare war, or put in place economic sanctions – just to win a political point. When you strip everything back, we are all human beings, regardless of colour, religion, customs and politics.

This was in the mid 1980’s though, and sadly I have lost touch with most of them since then, partly because I moved from the UK to New Zealand almost 30 years ago. BUT these days, even those I do still keep in touch with, that communication is done by electronic means – the internet and e-mails , or via social media.

My wife and I met thanks to letters. We were pen-friends from opposite sides of the world – me in the UK and she in New Zealand. We started writing to one another over 33 years ago, met 32 years ago and have been together ever since – the last 30 of those years as husband and wife. More important for me than getting a book published – my letters brought me my greatest possible literary prize – my wife.  So for me particularly, the decline and slow and inevitable death of the Post Office and therefore the written letter, is a personal, sad event. 

Did anyone else meet their significant other via the magic of the hand written letter?