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Sid Nuncius (London)

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Krisk French Runner Bean Slicer, Cutter and Stringer Gadget Tool
Krisk French Runner Bean Slicer, Cutter and Stringer Gadget Tool
Offered by Harts Of Stur
Price: £5.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent little gadget, 28 Nov 2014
I have owned one of these for many, many years. It’s a brilliant device for preparing runner beans – simple and efficient, it leaves you with perfectly sliced beans with the strings removed. I wouldn’t be without one, and I’d recommend it very warmly.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ( 2013 ) Paperback
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ( 2013 ) Paperback
by Ruth Ozeki
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Readable and intelligent, 28 Nov 2014
I thought this a very good book in many ways and although it did take me a long time to get into it, I found it a very involving and rewarding read in the end.

Ruth Ozeki writes very readable prose which is sometimes rather beautiful but never tips over into the self-regarding. The story, well summarized elsewhere, is of a writer (Ruth) on a remote Canadian island who discovers, washed-up on the beach, a container with letters and the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl (Nao). The narrative alternates between the diary and Ruth reading it and investigating its story and its author. I confess that I found the first 100 pages or so difficult to get into and a bit stilted and self-conscious, but Nao's voice and her insights into Japanese society drew me in eventually, and I found her story involving and touching. I never quite felt the same about Ruth's sections which always felt slightly artificial and mannered to me, although Ozeki generates a very good sense of place and atmosphere around the characters.

There is a lot of philosophical content here, much of which is very good. It includes some rather profound insights about love, about growing up and learning to look outside yourself and about Zen. Late in the book there is also quite a bit about quantum physics. My heart sinks a bit when I realise that a novelist is starting on quantum physics because it often degenerates into dreadful nonsense, but to Ozeki's credit she gets the physics right, although I thought that her drawing of parallels between quantum physics and Zen were less successful and didn't really add up to that much. (But then, from Fritjof Capra's The Tao Of Physics onward there has been a great deal of nice-sounding verbiage and a good deal less real substance written about physics and Zen, so she's not alone.)

I could also have done without the mystical elements toward the end. (I won't give any spoilers) I could see what Ozeki was driving at and why she structured it as she did, but in a factual narrative it seemed a little silly in places. Not quite Carlos Castaneda, thank heavens, but heading that way at times.

This review may seem rather more critical than I mean it to. I enjoyed the book in the end and think it had some important things to say. I did have reservations, but would still recommend it as a readable, intelligent and in places quite profound book.

EMI CFP - CFP 40339: Tallis Scholars: Allegri - Miserere / Mundy - Vox Patris Celestis / Palestrina - Missa Papae Marcelli: Peter Phillips: LP
EMI CFP - CFP 40339: Tallis Scholars: Allegri - Miserere / Mundy - Vox Patris Celestis / Palestrina - Missa Papae Marcelli: Peter Phillips: LP

5.0 out of 5 stars Still an absolute gem, 28 Nov 2014
I bought the LP of this wonderful recording in the early 80s after hearing a snippet on the radio and it absolutely transfixed me with its sheer beauty. It still does. There have been dozens of recordings of Allegri's Miserere since then, many of them very fine, but none has surpassed this groundbreaking performance, in my view. Recorded in the perfect acoustic of Merton College Chapel, Oxford and beautifully sung with an ideal separation and balance of the choirs, it has a limpid, spiritual loveliness with an undertow of passion which makes the whole thing glow from start to finish.

The disc also features Mundy's colossal motet Vox Patris caelestis and another landmark recording, this time of Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli. The Tallis Scholars' full-voiced, vibrato-free and perfectly balanced performance really makes this wonderful music blaze with power and tenderness as appropriate - for example, the two colossal "Amens" which conclude the Gloria and the Credo are simply stunning. The fabulous beauty of Palestrina's music shines out of this recording, and the disc would be worth buying for this mass alone.

This recording has given me huge pleasure for getting on for 30 years and continues to do so. Now it is at budget price it is an absolute snip, and is recommend very warmly indeed.

Goodmans Heritage Bluetooth DAB and FM Clock Radio - Green
Goodmans Heritage Bluetooth DAB and FM Clock Radio - Green
Price: £112.62

4.0 out of 5 stars A handy unit with pretty good sound, 28 Nov 2014
This is a good DAB/FM radio with both Bluetooth and jack socket connectivity, so you can play music from most sources through it. I like many things about it, but I do have some slight reservations.

The dimensions given on this page at the time of writing give the radio a base area about that of the Olympic Stadium and a height roughly equal to Canary Wharf, which is a bit of an exaggeration. It's actually around 32cm long, 16cm deep and 17cm high, and weighs in at about 3kg, which does make it a substantial, solid unit. It is in a mock 50s/early 60s style which I rather like but my wife doesn't (oh, the joys of matrimony!), and which I think is quite well done.

The unit has sleep and alarm functions and you can select dim/off functions for the display if you like, but it may be a bit big for a lot of people's bedsides. I'd say it was more of a bookshelf or kitchen unit and although you can unplug and move it if you need to, it's mains powered only and not a portable radio.

The DAB radio is very simple to set up and use, and it works very well. Basically, you turn it on, it tunes itself and you're away. It also has FM radio, which gives pretty good sound, too. You can select a variety of equalizer settings and create your own (rather basic) equalizer setting. They are fairly easy to move between and can be useful, although I do find it a fiddle having to find and select the Speech setting, for example, rather than just turning a tone control. Another bedside problem for me is that there are no Preset buttons; presets are accessed by pressing a button (not easy to find in the dark), scrolling to find your station by turning the knob and then pressing to select. In the middle of the night I need just to grope groggily for a simple button for the station I want, and excessive fiddling with the radio can also wake my wife who, at 3.30am, is apt to express some very firm views on the matter with considerable vigour.

You can toggle between four input modes: DAB radio, FM radio, Bluetooth and an AUX jack input. Bluetooth connection was a doddle and gave good sound and a decent range of 6m or so at least. I found the volume perfectly adequate for my needs, but I never play my music very loud. I tried it at top volume: it's distortion-free and I'd say it is OK for a small gathering but not enough for a party.

The sound itself is pretty good. The bass is very solid and it gives a pretty good thump when turned up on the right EQ setting. The middles are good, too, but I do find the treble a little flat. I've given it a thorough workout on a variety of classical and rock music and it's the same throughout - not bad sound with good bass but lacking a bit of sparkle in the top. For a unit of this size and price I think I'd expect a little better.

I think this will make a nice kitchen radio/Bluetooth speaker or a good bedside radio if you have the space, and I can recommend this overall as a good, flexible music unit with quite adequate sound for casual use.

The Strangest Man: The Life of Paul Dirac by Farmelo. Graham ( 2010 ) Paperback
The Strangest Man: The Life of Paul Dirac by Farmelo. Graham ( 2010 ) Paperback
by Farmelo. Graham
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding biography, 27 Nov 2014
This is a really excellent book. It is fascinating and thoroughly engrossing as well as being funny, touching and very sad in places. Some biographies are worthy and turgid, others full of racy but tenuous speculation. This is neither - Graham Farmelo has a deep affection for this subject but preserves a commendable objectivity. He gives a fine account of Dirac’s life and work in prose which is a pleasure to read and with a perfectly judged leaven of amusing stories and poignant personal revelation.

Dirac was (as you will almost certainly know if you’re considering this book) the greatest English physicist since Newton, and considered to be almost on a par with Einstein. That he is so little known is largely due to his astonishing reticence and at times almost hermit-like attitude to other people. Farmelo gives an excellent account of both the amusing and the sad aspects of this, and in a brief chapter at the end of the book puts forward the idea (meticulously backed by evidence) that Dirac was autistic. It’s very plausible, and I particularly like the way in which he never uses the biography itself to expound this thesis. It’s exemplary biographical writing.

Physicists shouldn’t look to this book to give a detailed account of Dirac’s work – that can be found elsewhere and this is a more general biography, giving an excellent sense of Dirac’s life and why what he did was so important, with what seems to me to be a very well-balanced description of the work for the general reader. Non-physicists needn’t worry too much about the physics – it is kept to a very descriptive level and even if you can’t follow all of it, the book will still give great rewards.

It’s a cracking book, very warmly recommended.

Sorensen & Ockeghem: Requiem
Sorensen & Ockeghem: Requiem
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars A gem, 27 Nov 2014
This is another innovative project by the great Paul Hillier. I haven't always liked his more adventurous exploits, but this one is quite brilliant, I think. He has interspersed the wonderful Requiem setting by Ockeghem with pieces (Fragments of Requiem) by the contemporary Danish composer Bent Sorensen, which could easily have turned out to be a horrible mess, but it works extremely well. Sorensen's work is distinctively 21st Century in some of its harmonic structures, but captures a similar spare and beautiful sense to Ockeghem's great work and the two composers complement each other really well. I think the result is quite spellbinding.

Hillier and Ars Nova Copenhagen perform it all brilliantly. They have a lovely, haunting sound which is exactly right for this music and the technical excellence to make it glow with beauty. Hillier uses his decades of experience to bring out just the right feel in both composers' works so that they blend very well together while retaining their individual identities. It is exemplary work, I think, and beautifully recorded so that the overall sound is quite breathtaking in places.

I would warmly recommend this even to those who, like me, are a bit sceptical about mixing contemporary music with great polyphonic works. I love Ockeghem's Requiem and was very concerned that this would simply spoil it, but tried it because Paul Hillier can produce something truly special sometimes. This is one of those times, in my view and I would urge people to try it. I think it's a real gem.

Rore: Missa Doulce Memoire | Missa A Note Negre [The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice] [Hyperion: CDA67913]
Rore: Missa Doulce Memoire | Missa A Note Negre [The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice] [Hyperion: CDA67913]
Price: £13.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the best de Rore recording, 26 Nov 2014
I have been a great admirer of The Brabant Ensemble for years now and some of their recordings, notably of Phinot Missa Si bona suscepimus and Moulu Moulu: Missa Alma Redemptoris (Missa Missus Est Gabriel Angelus/ Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater) are among my very favourites. Although I like this disc, I don't think it is really in the same league as their best.

The music itself is good but perhaps not as rewarding as some of the finest polyphony of the period. Nonetheless, it is well worth hearing and a really great performance could give it real depth and beauty; I don't think the Brabants quite manage that here. As other reviewers have noted, the balance of voices is very top-heavy which robs the music of a good deal of its texture, and this is exacerbated by the recording. It is echoey and distant so the rich, intimate sound of the choir is much diminished and they sound rather disembodied and detached. Also - and this may just be my ears - the normally impeccable intonation of the Brabants sounds slightly off in a couple of places to me. All of these things combine to mar the disc rather and they do diminish my enjoyment.

I don't want to be too harsh - there are moments of real clarity and beauty here, and I applaud the Steven Rice's continuing efforts to bring to light some of the more obscure but beautiful Renaissance repertoire. However, for me this isn't one of the Brabant Ensemble's best discs by any means and I can only give it a rather qualified recommendation.

(For a great recording of de Rore I would suggest The Tallis Scholars' fabulous disc of motets and the mass Praeter rerum seriem Rore - Missa Praeter rerum seriem; Motets, or their fine compilation Flemish Masters Flemish Masters which includes the mass.)

Australian Red Wine - Willy Willy Shiraz (Case of 12)
Australian Red Wine - Willy Willy Shiraz (Case of 12)
Offered by Laithwaites Wine
Price: £101.88

5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking shiraz, 25 Nov 2014
I think this is a cracking shiraz at an excellent price. It's not going for delicacy or subtlety of flavours, but it has real character and isn't over-jammy. There are notes of smoke and burnt caramel which temper the fruit ideally so that you get a powerful but very nice and quite complex mouthful.

I have enjoyed Willy Willy for years (stop that silly sniggering at the back, please). It goes very well with roast or barbecued meats or a robust casserole, and makes a very enjoyable glassful on its own. Warmly recommended.

Smiley's People
Smiley's People
by John Le Carré
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Still brilliant after all these years, 25 Nov 2014
This review is from: Smiley's People (Paperback)
I have just re-read this after about 35 years, and it is still very good indeed. There's not much in the way of violent action, although its aftermath does feature, but le Carré's brilliant storytelling keeps the tension high and kept me reading well after I should have gone to sleep.

I think what makes this so good is le Carré's mastery of character and dialogue. He knows the world of Intelligence intimately, of course, and he peoples it with plausible, beautifully drawn characters. There are also moments of description which encapsulate and idea or experience quite brilliantly, like "the unclearable litter of old age" or "a clarifying loneliness." These lift the book above just being a very good spy novel and make it a very fine novel in itself, I think.

This is the third in the Karla Trilogy, and it's best to read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy first, but this can be read on its own with great pleasure, too. I would recommend it very warmly – it is the work of a true master at the height of his powers.

Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Variable but basically pretty good, 24 Nov 2014
This review is from: Family (Audio CD)
I was going to write a detailed review of this album, but I find that Andy Sweeney has already said almost exactly what I was going to say.

In summary, this is basically a pretty good album although the material is of variable quality. It's not a Thompson classic by any means, but fans of the Thompson clan will certainly want this. For me it's one to keep and play occasionally rather than a staple of my listening like many of RT's albums, but my advice is to read Mr Sweeney's excellent review and then decide whether to buy it. If you're a Thompson devotee I think you'll find it generally pleasing.

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