Turning an honest penny?

There has been a care home in our area for many years. Some residents leave it on foot and risk crossing the road to the newsagent or the supermarket, though constant traffic, mostly exceeding the speed limit, make this a hazardous undertaking.


Recently, two new businesses have opened nearby. The first is a funeral undertaker, who has spotted an obvious  market niche as people entering the home by the front door tend to leave by the back.


The second was more unexpected, an outfit offering to pamper us all, both in mind and body. My wife suspected this might be a front for a house of ill repute, catering entirely for the body and letting the mind go hang. But it transpires that the business is, how shall we say, ‘straight up’.


This may be seen by the special offers they post from time to time on a swinging metal board on the pavement outside; for example, holistic massage with mineral salts. But the current one takes the biscuit (holistic biscuits, no doubt, offered with a glass of Madeira). And what was this special offer, I hear you ask? A Jurassic Mud Foot Soak!

I took the photograph on a Sunday when the shop was closed, so avoiding the risk that the staff would rush out and drench me in patchouli oil or ylang ylang. Had it been open, I would have been tempted to wander in, assume the innocent expression of the aged and infirm, and ask where they sourced their supplies of Jurassic mud. I mean, who falls for this sort of thing?

Will the business last? I have no idea, but will keep you posted if I live long enough.


Coming back to the classics

I was tempted into doing this again by two imprints, both new to me, though no doubt they shouldn’t have been. One is Alma Classics, the other Hesperus Classics. In my case the classics I mean are Russian. When I was young, I read War and Peace and Crime and Punishment, but apart from that knew little of Russian literature. In the lean years since I have read quite a few classics, but none of them Russian. This was not a policy, just a thoughtless accident. The only exceptions I can think of are a two works by Gogol: Dead Souls, and The Government Inspector.

This changed a few weeks ago when I walked into my local bookshop and found myself looking at a large display of two imprints, Alma Classics and Hesperus Classics.

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I snapped up six titles:

The Story of a Nobody, by Anton Chekhov, translated by Hugh Aplin  (Alma Classics)

The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Hugh Aplin (Alma Classics)

The Tales of Belkin, by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Hugh Aplin (Hesperus Classics)

Two Princesses, by Vladimir Odoevsky, translated by Neil Cornwell (Hesperus Classics)

Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov, translated by Stephen Pearl (Alma Classics)

Notes From The Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Translated by Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes)

All of these books come with what might be called a ‘scholarly apparatus’. But far from making them dry as dust, I have found these additional sections  very helpful. Typically, there is an introduction, notes, life and select bibliography. Some have photographs as well.

To take one book as an example, The Story of a Nobody is beautifully produced. At the front there is a generous selection of photographs and at the end, after the notes, a brief life of Chekhov with a guide to content in the margin. Before reading this book, I didn’t realise how brutally his father, a devout Christian, used to beat up his children. This is the same father who, hearing that the local Greek school had high academic standards, sent his children to it. Not a smart move since they couldn’t speak Greek. I was sad to see that a photograph of this man has survived. And here is Anton himself.

English: Chekhov

English: Chekhov (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only thing I can’t comment on is the quality of translation. I have spent many an evening listening in dismay as three Russian teachers descended into heated argument over arcane aspects of Russian grammar. One of them, Harry Milne, had been awarded the Pushkin Medal, but even that didn’t save him when he ventured an opinion. The one thing they did agree on was that Russian is a difficult language. So I feel like awarding the Hart Medal (Oak Leaf and Bar) to Stephen Pearl. Translating Oblomov must have been an arduous task. (Pearl contributes a translator’s note to this edition.)

I came across both these classic series (Alma and Hesperus) in my local bookshop, Blackwells .Blackwells have branches in Oxford, Cambridge, London, Edinburgh, and many other places in the UK, usually where there are universities. The Edinburgh shop is on the South Bridge, very central, and its labyrinthine layout adds to the charm, though maybe not for the staff. They have taken the wise precaution of incorporating a Caffe Noir into the building, entered from the bookstore itself or directly from Infirmary Street.

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Smart move. I like this shop a lot, and not just because it stocks my books.

My Titles Blackwells

Here are links to Alma, Hesperus and Blackwells, Edinburgh. In addition to their stores, Blackwells have an excellent website, and if you sign up tempting offers will appear in your inbox. Good reading!




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Telling the story in stone (1)

I live in a city unusually interesting to the eye. One aspect of this is ornamental stonework, of which there are many examples, though most of these adorn older buildings. Spending money on masonry isn’t the fashion these days, and some popular materials such as concrete and glass are not suitable.

Today I give you the Oddfellows Hall. Taking photographs of this building is by no means easy. You can turn up week after week with your camera only to find one or more large vans blocking your view by parking illegally on the double yellow lines directly in front of it. Given the Gestapo-like tendency of the parking ‘attendants’, I’m amazed the drivers get away with it.

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Former Oddfellows Hall, Forrest Road, Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many natives of the city are blissfully unaware that this hall exists. Walking past it on the pavement outside you are too close to see it clearly. And from the opposite side of the road, if your view isn’t blocked by vehicles then it is by a tree – though complaining about a tree in Forrest Road does not seem reasonable.

Moving in on the front elevation, this is what we see – an uplifting classical scene. I find this both derivative and comforting. The fact that it is derivative doesn’t bother me at all. It is well executed and attractive to the eye. I live in the past. I like it.

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And moving to the top of the building, another.

Oddfellows Hall 3 web

Now, I hear you ask, who exactly were these Oddfellows? The truth is, I don’t know ‘exactly’. In the past they seem to have been more like guilds than Masons. As far as I can discover, they were not given to rolling up trouser legs, greeting each other with unusual handshakes, engaging in arcane ceremonial and wearing aprons.

The present building was used by The Scottish Order of Oddfellows, which seems to have been the original owner of Oddfellows Hall, and had a district and lodge structure by 1870. It was also used by The Independent Order of Oddfellows, whose district headquarters and registered office was also here at Oddfellows Hall.

That was then. The Oddfellows still exist, though no longer in this city. If you want to know more, here is a link to their website.


Today the Oddfellows operate as Friendly Society with a wide range of services available to members.