Monday, April 30, 2007

Spot the difference

Maxine of Petrona drew my attention to A Book A Week's posting on same covers which in turn reminded me of this...

Here is the cover of my Viking hardback ONE DAY THE ICE WILL REVEAL ALL ITS DEAD:

And here is the paperback of Kathryn Harrison's SEAL WIFE:

The same figure trudges away in the snow - lonely, isolated and forgotten. It's a haunting image and I'm not surprised it was used more than once. (I do like the cover of my book the best, though, by a long way...)

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Some days start like this.
A dread comes from nowhere
and for no reason.
It lingers in the stomach,
gripping hard.
Hours pass and nothing happens
except the grip tightens
into the smallest fist
shrinking to nothing.

Parasite or twin?
Monster or brother?
We grow unequally.
No long bones
no hair
just tiny fingers
with the uncut nails
squeezing tighter.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Romancing the Male.

Congratulations to Rosie Thomas who has won the romantic novelist of the year award for the second time for her novel IRIS AND RUBY.

There is an interesting quiz here to guess which of a series of extracts from the short-listed novels is written by a male author.

Gratifyingly, the extract I liked the best turned out to be from the winning novel. In fact I liked it so much that I may well read it one day, although I've never thought that romantic novels were quite my thing. I wonder what defines a romantic novel. I suppose love has to come into it somewhere.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Child Without A Voice.

This comes to you via Minx.

The Wandering Author is hoping to assemble an anthology of fiction in order to help a child who has no voice. It sounds a splendid idea to me and intend to make a contribution.

You can find out more here.

The Flash

Morning and for a long time I try to pretend it isn't happening, but it is. Why is it so difficult to sleep at three in the morning and so hard to wake now?

The radio goes on at Hodmandod Senior's side of the bed and I can't be bothered to reach over and switch it off. Hodmandod Senior himself is presently holed up in a hotel somewhere near Venice...but only near Venice, unfortunately.
'The Italian version of Runcorn,' he told me last night.
'That good, huh?'
I'll have to do a post on Runcorn sometime. It is...interesting.

Eventually forced out of bed by John Humphrey's incredulous tone (apparently 20 000 people have queued outside a supermarket yesterday morning to buy a £5 cotton bag (yes, I agree, Mr Humphreys, people on the whole tend to be pretty stupid - I guess we should know since we are two of them)) I amble into the study and switch on the Mac.

In amongst the junk there is an email I actually want to read; it is from Pete Wild telling me that an anthology is out tomorrow with one of my very short stories in them.

The anthology is called THE FLASH because it is composed of pieces of flash fiction (there was a word limit but I'm afraid I can't remember what it was) and since Pete was kind enough to send me a galley to check I have been able to read several of the other contributions and I thoroughly recommend the ones by Patricia Duncker and Sara Gran. These are just the ones that happened to catch my eye, I am sure there are many other wonderful ones too. My little offering, unfortunately, is can I put this...ah yes, recyclable, I think is an appropriate and highly topical term. Still, you can always skip over a couple of pages and since the rest are excellent please buy one. Proceeds go to Amnesty International.

There is to be a launch tomorrow night (Friday 27th April) in the Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London with readings by Nick Royle, Shiromi Pinto, Andrew Holmes, Conrad Williams, Rhonda Carrier, Nick Johnstone and Pete Wild. Unfortunately I can't be there but I wish I could. There are people in that list I would love to meet.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

LSE workshop: 'How Well Do 'Facts' Travel?'

I have been meaning to write about the LSE conference I went to last week. It was on the topic 'how well facts travel' and all of the papers, without exception, were very interesting.

The first was by Jon Adams, a research officer at the LSE. By looking at Michael Crichton's recent novels (e.g. Next) he discussed the boundary between popular fiction and popular science. Some of Crichton's recent work use fictional material interspersed with fact so that the reader is not quite sure where one ends and the other begins. Of course that is what all novelists do to some extent, however Crichton apparently uses his mixture to mount campaigns and it is then that the fact and fiction divide becomes important.

Simon Singh described the compromises and tensions involved in converting interviews into documentary material using his TV programme Horizon on Fermat's Last Theorem as an example (the research from this resulted in his book of the same name). He presented the changes he'd made for our consideration; for instance when one interviewee attributed a postulate to three mathematicians rather than the two everyone else was using this was edited out to keep the naming consistant.

Then there was me: I attempted to show how I had derived a voice for my Alfred Wegener from snatches from his diary and then converted scientific facts from papers from journals to the voice in my novel. There will be more on this topi later when I have completed my paper.

This tied in well with the talk that followed from Joan Richards. She considered the difference between the way narrative authors and academic writers present their facts; the first show rather than tell whereas the second tend to do the opposite. She then considered the possibility of finding some intermediate ground between the two. Her interest in this topic follows the success of her book Angles of Reflection:Logic and a Mother's Love which combines autobiographical writing with a study of nineteenth century logic. It was written when her nine year old son became ill with a brain tumour (from which he recovered) and then a particularly nasty arm injury. Her descriptions of this were so interesting I have just ordered myself a copy now.

Jon Turney (whose work I have been reading recently - I especially recommend his book on Gaia) argued that even the 'straightest' explanations in scientific writing are a form of narrative and explained how this works.

The first day finished with Jane Gregory's summary of Fred Hoyle's work. Fred Hoyle was unusual in that as well as being a highly regarded astronomer was also a writer of science fiction novels (e.g. The Black Cloud). In fact he used his fiction to develop his ideas once some of his more controversial ideas (that life and indeed evolution was due to intersteller dust falling to earth) were no longer accepted for publication in scientific journals. He seems to have been something of a maverick and I found this talk particularly fascinating. Apparently Hoyle was one of the first people to be convinced by Alfred Wegener's ideas on continental drift.

The second day started with a lecture by David Warsh on the different ways of communicating facts (in this case ecomomics) by journalists and the academic community. In some cases there is a difference of opinion about the 'fact/fiction' ratio. David Warsh, who was a columnist in the Boston Globe and is now the proprieter of the website Economic Principals, has written a book about economics from the journalist's point of view called Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations which I have bought because I know absolutely nothing about economics and this seems to be a good place to start. Although I've read just the first couple of pages so far the writing does seem extremely engaging (more to follow).

The next talk was by Greg Radick on Counterfactuals in the Darwinian Tradition. Counterfactuals are the 'what ifs' that Bryan Appleyard discusses on his blog. Charles Darwin cometimes considered imaginary pasts and presents in his writing as did Stephen Jay Gould in his book Wonderful Life and Greg Radick considered the influence of such counterfactual conjectures in the Darwinian tradition of scientific writing. I am grateful to Greg Radick because besides giving a very interesting talk he also introduced me to the writing of Stephen Jay Gould which I am enjoying very much.

Geoffrey Cantor looked at the way writers have interpreted Newton's discoveries about light and colours and the way the nature of light became a 'fact'. Another very interesting subject. Geoffrey Cantor is Emeritus Professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Leeds. His research interests seem to be mainly in optics in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and he has written several interesting books associated with this topic. His most recent is Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwin which is a collection of essays on Jewish repsonses to Darwin's ideas. Sounds fascinating - and something I've heard little about. It would be interesting to contrast these with the ideas of the creationists, for instance.

Heather Schell's talk was different again but just as interesting. Heather Schell is Assistant Professor of Writing at the George Washington Universtiy. She looked at the way romance novelists (e.g. like those who write for Mills and Boon) have adopted the 'apha male' hero in defiance of feminist publishers. One of the justifications for this choice from these romance writers (who are often university academics in the US) is, rather surprisingly, evolutionary psychology. This does actually make sense really, when you think about it - and certainly Dr Grump nodded in agreement when I mentioned this idea to her.

The final talk was by David Kirby. David Kirby is lecturer in Science Communication at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester. He looked at the way scientific facts are used in Holywood films including block busters such as Jurassic Park. These films employ scientists as consultants to help them transform scientific facts into Holywood 'facts' and the talk looked at the role of these consultants and the outcome of their work.

The whole conference finished with a discussion and although I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures I felt slightly out of my depth during this part of the conference. Historians and economists have their own language, I find - and although it didn't seem to matter in the talks it did here. Or, perhaps it was just that by that stage I was even more tired than I thought.

Anyway, it was a fascinating couple of days and I was very grateful to Dr. Jon Adams and Professor Mary Morgan for inviting me. Although the papers were on diverse topics they blended together remarkably well and it opened a new world to me.

Gaia: a search for life.

(This is a post I wrote several weeks ago and somehow left in drafts by mistake. Only happened to find it now because I wished to refer to it. Ah well, brain cell degeneration seems to be a more serious problem than I realised.)

There is something very satisfying about finishing a book in a day. Since I am not a particularly fast reader that book has to be short; and one that fits this criteria very well is LOVELOCK AND GAIA: SIGNS OF LIFE by Jon Turney. It is such a sweetly-sized book - just over 150 pages that fit so nicely into the hand - giving a concise overview of Lovelock's concept of Gaia or the earth as a living organism.

Gaia is a term first suggested to Lovelock by his neighbour William Golding. It evokes the idea of Mother Earth: a being that can think and change deliberately to preserve herself. It is a weird idea but one I find attractive - if only as a springboard for fiction or analogy.

Lovelock (and Lynn Margulis, his collaborator) has modified his hypothesis gradually since he first wrote about it in the seventies. It was in response to some work that he did for NASA, answering the question: How do we detect life on other planets? Lovelock suggested that one possible method could be by detecting a decrease in disorder. Unlike a drop of ink that slowly disperses in the bowl of water 'life' takes the chaotic and assembles it into order. It enforces a new equilibrium to suit itself. It regulates and controls. Detect an ambiguous equilibrium and you have detected life. Mother Earth is an example of such an incongruous equilibrium - the presence such a reactive gas as oxygen in the atmosphere is odd and theoretically shouldn't exist at all - it is an indication that the earth (all of it) is alive.

The idea of the earth as an organism seems to have evolved (although I suppose I am using that term inaccurately, but I couldn't resist it since most of those against the theory were Darwinists) in the last ten years to become something the scientific establishment can accept much more readily; that of the earth as a complicated interdependent system involving the geological, biological, chemical and physical processes at work on the planet.

On the face of it this hypothesis seems to me to be common sense. At school we were taught about various cycles - the carbon, the nitrogen, the rock - and I suppose I'd always had the idea that these were just representatives of many cycles. But now I know through reading this book there are other cycles that have to be accommodated too: a sulphur cycle for instance, to explain the apparent discrepancy between the flow of sulphur compounds to the land to the sea, and form the sea to the land. It is not a great step to envisage them all being part of a complicated and poorly understood system - rather like the system of our bodies which I am learning is poorly understood too.

The book gives the social history of the idea, gracefully indicating how Lovelock grew with his idea too, allowing his ideas to soften a little so that they became more acceptable to the newer, younger scientists that have had to grow up with the reality of climate change.

One stage along the way appealed to me very much: the idea of a daisyworld. Lovelock envisaged a world covered in two sorts of daisies; some with black petals and some with white. At first the sun was cool and the black daisies proliferated, absorbing what radiation there was and keeping the world warm. Then, as temperatures rose, the white daisies took over this time reflecting the heat so that again the temperature stayed the same. This system started as a thought experiment that was quickly modelled on an early computer in the eighties. The computer showed that the temperature of such a system would stay fairly constant until the heat of the sun grew too hot and the system broke down and Lovelock was delighted. It was an indication that Gaia could keep herself in order, he thought.

According to Lovelock then, Gaia is in balance. But this balance is delicate. In this article (and his latest book THE REVENGE OF GAIA) he explains that the world, by rights should be hotter than it is and it is only life that has kept it at temperate temperatures for the last three and a half billion years. But Gaia is ill, he says, and it is up to all of us to try and find a cure before she becomes as lifeless as Venus.

LOVELOCK AND GAIA which was published in 2003 ends as it began with the search for life on other worlds. By sending out probes and sniffing the atmosphere of other planets we might learn our own fate. If we can detect ozone then that will be an indication of an atmosphere rich in oxygen and therefore life. If these planets tend to be orbiting old suns then maybe that indicates that life takes a long time to appear; but if the planets tend to be only around young suns then maybe life appears often and is usually transient. Or it could be that we find no ozone at all and we will know that Gaia is perhaps an only child without any sisters.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Caracol gigante - Big snail

Now that's what I call a snail...Thanks to Debra for this one.

A Little Tribute to Leonhard Euler

300 years ago last Sunday Leonhard Euler was born. The event is being celebrated in Basel this week. With Newton, Archimedes and Gauss he is generally considered to be one of the four pre-eminent mathematicians in history. Today I've been reading the book Leonhard Euler: Life, work and Legacy. It is a series of academic essays. Euler seems to have been a genial man, kind to the humans he found around him, not terribly interested in stirring up controversy and, of course, a genius.

One of the many things he demonstrated, from observations from various geographical expeditions, was that the earth was an oblate spheroid (flattened on the top, rather like a mandarin orange) - just as Newton had thought - rather than the elongated spindle favoured by the followers of Descartes (the Cartesians).

Euler was born in Basle, educated in Germany and spent his working life in St Petersburg with an interim period in Berlin where he seems to have done a lot of his most important work. He was an incredibly productive man and left a huge legacy of publications behind him. One of the most interesting was a compilation of 'Letters to a German Princess'. The princess concerned was a girl of fifteen called Charlotte. In these letters (about two a week from April 1760- May 1763) he wrote about science and philosophy and they are a valuable example of the popularisation of science of the time. It sounds to me that Charlotte was quite lucky - if she had managed to ingest all of this information she would have been incredibly well educated - but wonder if she appreciated her opportunity.

'A letter's come for you.'
'Another one? Is it from Berlin?'
'Ah. Maybe I'll open it later.'

By the end of his life Euler was blind. He lost his first eye to an abscess in middle age and his second eye after an operation to remove a cataract became infected. But by this time he had declared sight to be a distraction. His memory was phenomenal and apparently at the age of 16 he could recite long passages from Virgil's Aeneid by heart and at the age of seventy he still knew the work in its entirety. This photographic memory was particularly useful once he was blind because he could remember and follow entire tracts of mathematical expressions that his students read out to him which enabled him to continue working well into old age.

On the day of his death ( September 18th 1783) he gave his grandson a maths lesson, made mental calculations on how high a hot air balloon could rise, discussed the orbit of the planet of Uranus and then had his tea. It was then that his pipe fell from his hand. He stooped to pick it up but rose again empty handed. Then, clapping both hands to his chest he exclaimed 'I am dying' and collapsed. As usual he was right. He died about six hours later without regaining consciousness.

Having a memory like Euler's must be very useful in many professions. My brother has always been good at remembering the most obscure facts and then regurgitating them at will. I, in contrast, frequently have trouble remembering the end of a sentence I have just begun. Somehow I lose interest in it and my mind wanders...And just as I finish writing this remember where I first read about Euler - in that Draaisma book about life speeding up as we get older. Which is all about memory, ironically enough.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Alan Johnston Petition.

"We, the undersigned, demand the immediate release of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston. We ask that everyone with influence on this situation increase their efforts to ensure that Alan is freed quickly and unharmed."

I have just added my name to this petition.

By pressing the Alan Johnston button on the side bar you can find out more and add the Alan Johnston button to your blog too.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Dr Grump's grumbles No 1: Einstein.

Dr Grump was in a particularly black mood today. I knew there was going to be trouble because she was walking so quickly her stillettos were making sparks against the concrete floor in the communal space outside our office.
'What is it?' I asked.
'Einstein. Looks like he was right, dammit.'
I waited while she shoved back her hair so viciously that the skin of her forehead was temporarily drained of blood. 'Well, aren't you going to ask me why?'
'Why?' I said.
'Black holes.' She was being deliberately mysterious. It is one of less attractive features.
'If Einstein was wrong then black holes wouldn't exist and that would be one less thing to worry about. Ever since I first heard about these things the thought of them has terrified me so much I have avoided looking into space. I imagine a black hole coming and the stars going out one by one.'
'It wouldn't happen like that.' I said. 'I think there would be some sort of warning.'
But she wasn't listening. ' I hate the thought of space,' she said. 'It makes everything we do on this tiny planet so insignificant and futile. Eating, killing, drinking, having sex, children... talking to you.'
I smiled.
'Especially talking to you.' she said, and a few more sparks flew from her heels.

London in April

The Presidential Hotel overlooks Russell Square. It is clean, tidy and cheap. I recommend it highly.

The white twenties building on the left is the University of London's Senate House and to the left is the GPO tower which graces the cover of Ian McEwan's novel SATURDAY.

By 9.30pm (when I arrive having been ejected from the British Library) most of the dinner guests have gone, and there is just me. I imagine I seem lonely, pathetic, out of place.
'A table for one, madam?'
I should be used to this but I always feel so conspicuous. I tuck myself into a corner and decide on the 'light meal'.
'Would you help yourself to salad?'
By this time the oiled pasta has a greasy sheen and the lettuce wilts. The sweetcorn freshly decanted from a can a couple of hours ago is a strangely non-vibrant yellow, rather like ochre. Nothing has bite but then I am rather too exhausted to chew. I sip my wine, contemplate the flaccid piece of rolled up salmon and think about these people's lives: one waitress who seems as middle-aged and as tired as I am, a more energetic man with the cork screw and wine list, and someone more corpulent who appears to be in charge and, tucking in his napkin into his collar sits at a table at the far end and begins to accompany my listless chewing with a more enthusiastic mastication of his own. Every day they dress in black and white and then come here from 7.00pm until ten. I wonder about their homes, their children, their brothers and sisters and if their parents are still alive and living...elsewhere. Perhaps they send back money. They lay out cloths, knives, forks and glasses. They defrost the frozen desserts and open cans. They switch on the fluorescent strips above the chilled cabinets and place one prawn cocktail by the one before; one melon segment and then another; each one sitting patiently in line even if no one comes.

They were here, though. More mouths than mine. The gateau is half gone and the trifle a mess of jelly and custard.
'Would you like some more?'
I shake my head. No doubt at seven o'clock the bean salad looked more inviting.

I return to my room on the seventh floor. It is properly dark now and the buildings lit with a suitably ostentatious splendour.

London continues to roar by. Buses rattle to a stop and then rattle again to start. Sirens punctuate each fifteen minute paragraph of gently fluctuating sound with an uneasy tension. I plug into my ipod to obliterate one noise with another but I still hear the room creak as it cools. It is too hot for April.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Off to London again tomorrow. I'm looking forward to this. I have a lot of books ordered at the British Library but sadly they are irrelevant now...maybe I shall go and sit beside the Thames with a book, or visit St Paul's Cathedral because I still haven't been there...but whatever I do I shall look out for the little surprises and take my camera.

Olfactory Bulbs and Memories (republished)

Our ability to smell seems to come from somewhere primitive. Unlike the rest of the senses whose input seems to feed into the thalamus (part of the brain stem) our input for smell comes into the olfactory bulb which is tucked away beneath the temporal lobes.

Perhaps that is why a smell has such a powerful effect on our emotions. A certain smell can cause an inadvertant physical reaction (the smell of rotting meat for instance) and just adding a smell to a descriptive passage of prose adds immediate power. Yet it is easy to overdo and I often feel that there are not enough words for 'smell' - just perfume or odour.

Our ability to detect smell is quite extraordinary. It takes just one molecule to set off a signal, and just a slight change in the shape - just the mirror image of the molecule - can initiate an entirely different sensation. This makes the construction of artifical noses quite difficult. This was something I was involved in trying to produce during my post-doctoral work. The artificial nose has to be able to detect very low concentrations of gases and also be uniquely selective. In the project I was working on we used a sensitive electrical balance. My function as a chemist was to design coating that would adsorb (absorb just on the surface) the required molecule. The plan then was to construct an array of miniscule balances so that each smell would generate a fingerprint. It was very interesting work and sometimes I wish I was still doing it.

On the Athanasius Kircher site there is a feature about smells preserved from East Germany. That is something few of us ever think of doing - and yet the memory of a smell can sometimes transport us into our pasts more effectively than any other sense.

(This post has been repubished with 'comments allowed'. Comments seemed to be disabled before - I have no idea why becuse when I checked my settings - which I hadn't touched since my last post - they seemed to be still allowed. Ah well, they seem to be back now. Another little mystery, I guess).

Monday, April 09, 2007

LadyLumps,Comfort Writing, Third Eyes... and Everything Else.

I would like to recommend the following:

1. Twitches's clip from Alanis Morrisette.
2. Mumpsimus's excellent essay on comfort writing (complete with very interesting and intelligent discussion following (to which I also made a contribution but unfortunately blogger swallowed it whole so it is now forever lost to the world)).
3. Snail Tales's news of a snail with three eyes.
4. And BLDGBLOG's interview with the polymath Walter Murch. This is stunning in scope and reminds me somewhat of W G Sebald's work. Quite fascinating.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Eulogy.

"One day everything is all gravy... next... you're gone... ged just 15... you should never have died before you got to live... the only comfort i have right now is that you've gone to a better place... nobody deserves to live in a world with people who think that have the right to kill."

According to this BBC website this was a tribute written for a young teenager - one of the latest stabbed to death in London. It is heartbreakingly sad...and yet has a universality. Sometimes being human is a very depressing place indeed.

Friday, April 06, 2007

By popular request...

... my ear.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ear Stories.

Today I have been reading, very slowly, Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man. Close to the beginning he discusses ears. He says that a sculpter friend of his has told him that some human ears have a little point in the side as indicated. Darwin says this is left over from when our ears were pointed.

So I did a little survey.

Here is Hodmandod Minor's ear.

Ah, an adorable ear, is it not? Rather like a shell. Rather like his mother's. It was a bit of a struggle bringing this shot to you, but it was worth it because looking carefully I have to say that I can see a distinct point. Maybe it is not very obvious but it is definitely there. Hodmandod Minor is half-wolf. It explains a lot.

And here is Hodmandod Senior's ear, which, rather disappointingly, shows no indication of a point at all.

Now Hodmandod Senior's ears are actually one of his best and most interesting features. This is because he can waggle them with quite a good degree of control. He has found that this ability can be used to defuse some potentially aggravating situations.

For instance, when a student, he had a particularly irritating supervisor who liked to berate him for little alleged transgressions. Hodmandod Senior's answer, apparently, was to give his ears a bit of a waggle, and the man would stop mid-sentence, forget completely what he was saying, and just watch the ears.

When we were first married these ears used to fascinate me. Sometimes I used to ask him for ear-wagging lessons but the activity seems to require muscles I don't have. It was a disability hard to get used to at first but over the years I have learnt to cope. Although my mother-in-law was also an impressive ear-waggler it does not seem to have been passed down to the next generation, which is disappointing.

So the ability to ear-waggle is not sex-linked. I expect Darwin would have been interested in that.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Earliest Memory: The Effect of Age

Another essay in the Draaisma book pointed out that as we get older we remember more about our youth. Around about the age of sixty we start to remember details of events from our youth that we didn't remember before. This has happened to my mother. For a long time she knew that a cousin had once told her about the origin of her surname but she couldn't remember the detail. It was something she often told me. Her name was Wilde, something derived from a Huguenot name but she couldn't remember what it was. Then one day recently it came to her. DeWilde. The name was DeWilde. They were a family of shopkeepers and the 'De' had been removed because it was thought to look 'too foreign' to hang above the shop front in Treorchy in the Welsh valleys. Not only could my mother now remember this fact, but she could remember other details of when her cousin told her.

It makes me wonder what is happening in the brain - why suddenly the links are there and something that was hidden in the unconscious springs forth into the conscious. Why should there be this uncovering? I know our brains change as we age - and it is not all bad (as my mother's account shows). Perhaps it is like an unwrapping and as that something is peeled back (or removed) there is more room which allows different connections to be made between neurons. We have to make new links with our 'plastic' dendritic nodes and find new routes in order to access our thoughts. Then, because we are making different journeys, we also pass by different views - and memories that have been laid to rest in the unconscious suddenly break through into the light.

Seven am

and for a few minutes the sun that we share

lit my wall with an orange glow.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

An indulgent weekend.

Just when I had given up on TV three excellent programmes come along at once:

On Saturday Dr Who which I have always loved though Tom Baker will always be the best doctor for me.

Then later ABOUT SCHMIDT which starred Jack Nicholson. This was one of the best films I've seen for a long time. It was by turns funny, profound and in the end extremely moving without any suggestion of mawkishness. It seemed to me to be an exploration of what is meaningful in life and the answer, in the end, came from a child's simple drawing.

And finally, PERSUASION, an adaptation of the Jane Austin novel. There have been three adaptations of separate books over successive Sundays and in my opinion this was by far the most successful. Sally Hawkins, who played Anne Elliot was excellent but I also enjoyed the performance of Amanda Hale as Mary Elliot whose quirkiness came over very well. As an added bonus Lady Russell was played by Alice Krige (AKA the queen of the Borgs). The direction was magnificent (Adrian Shergold) as was the dramatisation (Simon Burke).

A highly enjoyable weekend, but very lazy.